Sunday, September 21, 2014


I had given up hope for paddling the season. It looked like every weekend save for a very few were booked up. The fall season, while it can offer great paddling days, is also notorious for rainy weekends. Work was feeling like a long, bleak slog to nowhere. Is it any wonder that most representations of Autumn in literature are bleak and hopeless.
Then TM e-mailed asking me to post a Jamestown circumcision paddle on a day that I had free!! I only had two days notice, but I was hopeful that I'd get clearance. I was a little uncertain about my stamina and skills for a long haul paddle, but felt that I could handle the distance and the price I'd pay the next day.
Saturday morning I woke up achy and stuffy... Initially, I thought it was just lingering effects from a long week. As the day wore on, I started thinking it may be a cold. Knowing there was a potentially excellent paddle the next day made me even more miserable.
The forecast for the following day was looking pretty grim as well. There was a better than 50% chance of thunder showers. In New England 50% is hardly a sure thing. I checked with TM and his feeling was that the showers were a red herring.
H kept asking if I was still thinking about going. I kept saying that I was holding off until morning to see if I felt any better. Secretly, I think both of us had come to the conclusion that I was going to be home.
I was not prepared to admit defeat. I packed the car and deployed the roof racks.
Sunday morning I woke up feeling much better. At least better enough to go paddling. The sky was grey and the forecast still called for showers, but the paddle was not being canceled. H was very kind and said nothing and helped me load the kayak on the car.
The paddle crew was an interesting mix of old faces and new faces. It was odd not knowing everyone. It was odd to be using the stick again. It was even odder to feel like I may be the weak link in the chain. I resolved to just pretend everything was normal and that I was still the same seasoned paddler I was years ago.
As it turned out, I am still a pretty good paddler. All the paddles in Big Red kept my paddle muscles in functional shape. The rest of the skills are like riding a bike. I little time on the water and I felt pretty good.
The paddling was an interesting mix of play boating and distance paddling. Our first leg was up to the dumplings to see if there was any current to play in. There was a little, but not enough to hold our interest for long. We then headed south along the Jamestown coast. There was enough energy in the water to make things fun and require helmets. We worked our way down the coast and around Beavertail. Then we headed north up the other coast. TM wanted to lunch at Ft. Getty, so we passed most of the little coves that dot the coast. After lunch we passed Dutch Island and into the harbor. We carried over the beach and headed back to Ft. Weatherill.
It was a long paddle at nearly 13 miles. I was tired, but I felt good. I was fully re-energized and ready for a week of work.... even if I was planning on being a little stiff on Monday.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Big Red Gets Ice Cream

We bring all of our toys with us on vacation. The car is not happy about lugging everything to the far reaches of Maine, but that is the car's raison-de-etre. So, we spent four days in Searsport camping.
On Friday, we biked around Belfast and found a Cool Spot that has great ice cream and coffee.
On Saturday, we wanted to use the kayaks. Bug mostly wanted to hang out and it took us until mid-afternoon to get our acts together. We used ice cream as the lure to get Bug's buy in for the adventure. The paddle to Belfast is along a pretty protected coast with no major crossings. I'd guessed that it was maybe four miles one way, and would take about an hour.
Once we got on the water Bug cheered up. She enjoyed playing with her paddle and looking for birds on the water.
We moved along the coast at a nice pace until Bug had to pee. I didn't think this was a big deal. I suggested that she just climb out of the boat, hang on the side, and do her business. There was no chance of Bug tipping Big Red and she was wearing a PFD. It would be a quick in and out stop. I was overruled and we headed into shore to find a decent place for Bug to get out and pee in shallow water. It took a little doing, but we did find a spot.
Back on the water, Bug and chatted about all sorts of things as we made our way to ice cream. Then we repeated the pee stop.
The last third of the paddle was free of stops and involved the only crossing of the trip. The Passagassawakeag River empties into Belfast Bay. The currents are barely noticeable, but it was enough to stir up some anxiety.
The paddle turned out to be more like six and a bit miles. It took closer to two hours. Our time for ice cream was going to be short. If the return trip took as long, we would just beat sunset.
Once on land, we rushed to the Cool Spot for yummy, and deserved, ice cream. We each got our own version of chocolate decadence. The flavors are lush. It was hard leaving.
After ice cream, the fun stopped. Bug didn't want to get back into the kayak. She refused. It was clear that the return trip was not in the cards, despite our best efforts. Fortunately, we were in a populated area and could call a cab. H returned to the campground and got the car.
The trip was good until it wasn't. H and I learned that you cannot always push a four year old. Bug is usually pretty flexible, but has her limits. Our plan was ambitious for adults.
I'll take a good oneway trip with the family any day. Even if we don't complete the whole mission.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Bug's Big Adventure

This was the first weekend day in a long while that we didn't have any obligations, so we decided to take advantage of the perfect weather and have a family adventure. Many options were discussed including kayaking at various locations and biking on the Providence to Bristol trail. I wanted to kayak and, fortunately, the rest of the family agreed.
To my pleasant surprise, H mentioned kayaking out of Hingham Harbor and checking out Grape Island. We had talked about camping on Grape several times, but the camp sites were booked full since early in the season. The weather was perfect for the paddle and the tides were favorable, so it seemed like a great idea.
We planned on launching around 10 or 10:30. That put us on the water when there was plenty of water and give us more than enough time to explore before low tide turned the harbor into miles of sticky mud. Plans are funny things....
We got a very late start. We all slept in a little. We tried a new way to tie Big Red to the roof. We had to revert back to the original way of mounting Big Red. We forgot the sunscreen and had to make an extra stop on the way to the beach....
We managed to get on the water before noon. We still had plenty time to play. We brought along a bunch of sand toys for Bug to use on the beach at lunch. She also had her new paddle along for the ride. It is a "daddy" built greenland paddle. It is not terrible effective as a paddle, but it put a smile on Bug's face and made her feel like she was part of the team.
Bug's new paddle also makes it easier for me to paddle. She used to bring along half of a real kayak paddle and drag it in the water... That could create a lot of drag. The new paddle doesn't create nearly as much drag and it is double sided, so she can actually paddle with it.
The paddle over to Grape is about 2.5 miles and is mostly along the shore. It was a nice relaxing paddle. Bug pointed out all of the boats and birds and planes. H paddled along nearby in her kayak. There were a few bumpy spots, but nothing major. Bug wasn't sure what to make of the bigger waves, but seemed to enjoy them once she realized we were safe in the kayak.
Lunch on Grape was nice. There were a number of people waiting for the ferry to bring them home. We spoke to one of the park rangers who told us that the island, despite what the reservation site says, is rarely full. Apparently, you can all over the day you want to camp and they can usually accommodate you. It is cheaper to pay for the unused site than cancel a reservation....
After lunch we were going to play on the beach. Bug was all set to play near the kayaks, but H wanted to go on an adventure to see what was just around the corner from the kayaks. After some protestation from Bug, we made our way around the corner. H sat down on a nearby bench and figured Bug would stop and play in the sand.
Bug didn't get the memo and wanted to continue the adventure to see what was around the corner... We walked around the corner. There was plenty of interesting things to see as we walked around the corner. We saw crabs, all sorts of shells, interesting trees, more kayaks, and even some other people. After a while, Bug started getting tired and wanted to be carried as we continued the adventure around the corner. By that time, it was shorter to keep going than to turn back. After a nice walk around Grape we returned to our kayaks.
Our trek ate up all our time on the island. The tide was receding and we didn't have a lot of time to get back before the mud flats took over the boat landing. On the paddle back we went around the back of Slate Island before crossing over the closer to shore. Bug curled up in the front cockpit for a little nap. It was a pleasant paddle back.
We got back just before the mud flats raised their sucking maws. A few people who came in after us were not as lucky.
We finished the day off with some nice cold brew coffee and excellent burgers. What a great day!

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Rain, Rain, No Way

This weekend was our annual Boston Harbor Island paddle. I was jonesing for a big boy paddle. I love getting on the water with the family, but sometimes a boy needs to stretch his blades....
The weather forecast didn't look promising. On Friday it was a chance of thunderstorms. On Saturday it was a 50% chance of thunderstorms. Late Saturday it was a 60% chance of thunderstorms.
I checked on Saturday with PB to see what he wanted to do and he figured we would stay the course. The forecast looked a lot like the forecasters were essentially tossing their hands up because they couldn't tell what was going to happen. In addition, we could always stick to the inner harbor and be safe. It was the answer I wanted to hear. Without a second opinion, I may have whimped out and canceled the paddle.
Sunday morning was reasonably sunny, but a little windy. The wind was actually good. PB and I needed the reminder that paddling to the outer harbor was a bad idea. There is enough stuff to see on the inner harbor for an interesting day on the water.
The weather forecast was enough for a number of people to decide against paddling. The only ones rugged enough to join us were TM and CMO. Four boats is a very nice size pod for a day on the water.
We launched from windmill point and crossed the gut to the outside of Peddocks. We made our way along the outside of Peddocks under clear skies and almost no wind. The island shielded us from the blow. Peddocks is a deceptively big island. It is like two islands: the half with the fort and the half with the houses. There were people out on the beach enjoying the morning as we paddled along the shore.
When we rounded the end of Peddocks, we hit the blow. From the tip of Peddocks to Grape we paddled in wind. It was a strong beamy blow that churned up the water into a pleasant chop. It was my favorite section of the paddle. The Q is happiest in choppy water. The wind did cause some weathercocking, but that just added to the fun.
As we neared Grape ominous storm clouds filled the sky. We knew something was coming, but there was no thunder. We had lunch by the ferry dock on Grape Island with the camper waiting for the ferry. Just after breaking out the food, I got a text from H making sure we were off the water. Then the rain came down.
It rained, but didn't thunder for about 30 minutes. Once the sky dried up, we continued on our way back to the cars. The rain washed away a lot of the wind and chop. There was still a beam wind that pushed the back of the Q around, but it was far less than what we saw coming from Peddocks to Grape.
Our return trip took us around Slate and over to Bumpkin. We figured if the thunder did arrive we could hang out at the shelters on Bumpkin. There was no need to worry. We paddled under clear skies the whole way back to the put in.
I did try a couple of rolls before landing. I came up both times, but they were ugly. My blades dove both times. It is a clear sign that I need more practice....
The rain didn't really come until we were sitting having coffee and pastries. That was a perfect time for the storms. It meant less hosing down at home...

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Big Red

After two years, we upgraded Bug's kayak. The barge was an OK first kayak for introducing a two-year old to paddling, but it was far from a great kayak.
Now that Bug is a little older and more independent, she wants her own seat and we want to get a little more adventurous.
Looking around for an upgraded was frustrating. Most of the double kayaks we saw were firmly in the recreational category. We wanted a touring double. These turned out to be a rare and expensive breed. Seaward makes a few models. NDK makes one model. VCP makes one model. They are all expensive and hard to find. We weren't sure if we could afford the leap, but kept looking.
We visited our local REI to buy a tent on what turned out to be a garage sale day. Sitting on the lawn next to the front door was a big red double sea kayak!! It was a cast off from the previous years training fleet and marked down to $1000!!! A quick inspection showed no obvious damage. A quick online search for information about the make and model, a Wilderness System Northstar, gave us generally positive reviews. It was an offer we could not refuse.
The kayak is deceptively heavy. H insists that it feels lighter than the barge, but at 90lbs it is heavier. The weight is distributed over a longer area. The barge was a pudgy 15 feet long; Big Red is a sleek 19 feet long. Big Red's size and weight make transporting a challenge, but it seems more manageable than the barge was.
Big Red came with a rudder that needed to be reattached. This has been the biggest issue to date with the kayak. It is likely a stupid installer problem, but I cannot seem to find clips for attaching the wires to the rudder that are worth a damn. We have had the kayak on the water twice and both times the clips pulled apart within minutes. The latest set have held well enough so that I could use the rudder for most of the trip, but only just.
Aside from the issues with the rudder, I have found Big Red to be a pleasure to paddle. Bug has her own cockpit up in front that we could put a spray skirt on if we wanted. Both cockpits have comfortable seats with plenty of adjustments. The foot pegs in the rear cockpit are a little squishy, but that is typical with ruddered kayaks.
The hull is slightly swede form and that makes it relatively easy to manage with, or without, the rudder. Both times I have paddled Big Red, I have done so without the rudder for large parts of the trips. It isn't as easy to manage as the Q-boat, but it isn't impossible either. I found that a good sweep turn will suffice for most maneuvering. A stern rudder will keep Big Red straight in most conditions. I even used a "bow" rudder to effect a turn in ideal conditions.
The rudder works well and does make it easier to manage Big Red in cross winds.
Big Red feels stable in leaned turns, but I haven't been too aggressive yet. Bug doesn't have a skirt and we have not spent a lot of time practicing what to do in the case of a capsize. We have been in some minor chop and it felt stable throughout. Bug loved the way the nose felt as it dropped off the waves.
Big Red has three bulkheads, but only two truly dry compartments. The front and rear hatches are walled off from the cockpits by foam bulkheads. The third bulkhead is between the front and rear cockpit. There is a third hatch that opens into a space between the middle bulkhead and the rear cockpit. The space is not fully sealed off, but it does have a nice storage bag in side for holding gear. The hatches have hard plastic covers with neoprene covers underneath. The combination keeps the hatches dry, but the neoprene covers are a PITA.
For a $1000, Big Red is a great kayak. Even at full price it is a good kayak. I'm looking forward to many more years of family adventures in Big Red.