Thursday, October 29, 2015

Where Did My Ride Go

Earlier this week I asked if we had any plans on Sunday. She just said “So, you are paddling.” TM had posted two touring paddles for the weekend. Saturday was packed with Bug fun, so it was Sunday for me.

On Saturday H asked me multiple times if the paddle was still a go. I looked at her like she was crazy until the third time she asked. A quick look at the forecast made her concern clear. The weather was not looking good. Wind and rain do not make for a fun paddle. There was nothing on the message board at 11pm Saturday.

The forecast was worse in the morning. A Small Craft Advisory was in effect for the bay. At 7am there was still no cancellation posted on the message board, so started to get ready to go.

Then Bug figured out that I was going kayaking for the day… She was not thrilled despite the fact that my going kayaking meant the she was going to get to spend the day relaxing at home. She proposed that we do a quick art project together. How could I say no? 30 minutes later we had drawn two things we were calling owls.

Fortunately, I had done most of the packing on Saturday night and all that was left to do was pop the pumpkin on the car. I was ready to hit the road by 8:10 which left me plenty of time to get to the put-in and not hold things up much… I did one more quick check for a cancellation. It was all clear.

At the put-in the weather was grey and foreboding. Bay Campus was shielded from the worst of the wind, but a quick look south was all it took to see the angry white caps marching up the west passage.

The original paddle route was to cross over to Jamestown, cut across the beach at Mackerel Cove, make our way south to Beavertail, cross to Whale Rock, and then come north along Bonnet to Bay Campus. The extended forecast was for the already significant winds to gain strength later in the day. This information lead TM to reverse the plan. We would paddle into the conditions along mainland, cross over, and get blown home along the eastern Jamestown coast where the island could shield us a bit.

The first leg of the paddle was not too much of a struggle. The bluffs between Bay Campus and Bonnet Shores kept the worst of the wind off of us. You could see the swells piling up farther south. It was a little intimidating and more than once I wondered what drove me to do these foolish things. A sane man would be somewhere nice and warm with his family on a day like this.

At the entrance to Bonnet Shores, TM noticed that the winds were causing the group to spread out despite being packed full of strong paddlers. To stop the drift, TM decided to assign lead paddlers and to occasionally rotate who was in the lead. It worked pretty well. We managed to stick together for the whole paddle.

Once past Bonnet Shores we started feeling the full force of the wind. The swells were a good three to four feet and fairly steep. The pumpkin did a fair amount of bow slapping. Where the Q-boat’s pointy bow sliced through swells, the pumpkin’s planing hull rides over them and then falls into the trough. It makes for a bumpy ride. Despite the slapping, the pumpkin handled beautifully. It stayed on the line without much correcting and kept up with the group with no issues.

At Whale rock we took a minute to get water and regroup. It was a good idea physically. It was not a great idea mentally. It provided a nice view of exactly what conditions we were paddling into and enough time to think about it. It was a moment of terrifyingly bemusing reflection. I find this fun; what is wrong with me?

Getting to Beavertail meant a long crossing in big, beamy seas. At first I tired to keep the pumpkin on a fairly straight line. Like the Q-boat, she gets knocked about quite a bit; unlike the Q-boat, she is easy to get back on the line. The pumpkins miniature stature, prodigious rocker, and wide, flat bottom makes quick adjustments both required and easy.

It didn’t take long, however, to figure out that it was faster, easier, and more fun, the ride the swells diagonally across the Bay. I found myself dashing across the face of a big swell and knew that this was the way the pumpkin wanted to make the crossing: I could fight her, or I could go with it. Going with it was the fun choice. The planning hull loves to skim along the face of a wave and all it takes is a little push. Zoom across the face of a swell for a bit, turn up the next swell to stay on the proper line, zoom again....

I was really looking forward to turning north and riding the following seas along the Jamestown coast. I got a few good rides early on, but once we were in the shadow of the island the swell diminished. Conditions were surprisingly reasonable.

I was surprised to see a paddler out of their kayak near the rocks. TM swooped in and did a quick rescue while the rest of us sat back thinking that we should probably use our toe ropes to keep the rescue off the rocks….

TM was so smooth that we all figured any help would just get in the way. They did get kind of close to the rocks though….

We had lunch in Hull Cove. The swells may have died down, but they still made landing a chore. Getting surfed into the rocky beach was not on my agenda.

After lunch, the swells made getting off the beach a soggy affair. I decided to go backwards off the beach and to not seal up my skirt before hitting the water. The backwards part meant that the pumpkins skinny stern punched through the swells and washed the water right into my exposed cockpit. I had to spend some time on the open water bailing out before rejoining the group.

While I was bailing out my cockpit, one of the other paddlers decided things had been too boring and decided to paddle though the rocks around short point. Before I managed to rejoin the group, he had managed to seal land on one of the rocks. He managed to self-rescue by ditching the kayak into the water and scrambling back onto it.

Things were quiet for the rest of the paddle up Mackerel Cove. There were a few waves to ride, but nothing too exciting.

We landed and I noticed that my day hatch was not quite sealed. I thought the back of the kayak felt heavy….

We carried the kayaks across the road, and into the mud. Tide was low, so there wasn’t a lot of water to paddle. TM said we would have to walk the kayaks to the sandbar before paddling out, so I hooked up my short tow and started pulling. The mud was smushy, sticky, and sucky.

About half way across the mud puddle I noticed that everyone else was in their kayaks and shallow paddling to what looked like an opening into deep water. I decided that was a better idea than muck walking. I unhooked the short tow. Then I made sure I was on firmish ground and lifted one leg up over the cockpit. As I started to lift the other foot, I encountered some resistance. I pulled a little harder and the foot popped loose. And I flopped off the far side of the kayak. The mud was soft, sticky, stinky, and sucky. I dragged myself back to my feet after getting sucked in a few more times.

Winded, I started pulling the pumpkin towards the solid looking mud bar standing between me and the open water. The mud turned into glue as I got closer to the mud bar. Then it hardened up and I was able to pop right into the cockpit.

Paddling to the outlet was slow going. The mighty stick could not find purchase in an inch of water. Then it all stopped. The mud had sucked the hull of the kayak into its maw. I considered using my hands to crab walk to deeper water. I didn’t want to get my hand stuck in sticky mud. It didn’t look like the mud that is good for the skin. I was loathe to get out of the kayak for fear of ending up waist deep, but I didn’t see any other good options.

It turned out that the ground under the kayak was pretty firm. It was a short and easy drag to water that was deep enough for the mighty stick to be mighty.

Looking across to Bay Campus from Dutch Island, the water looked calm. Whatever weather that had been forecast had blown itself out in the morning. The crossing back to the put-in was anticlimactic.

The post paddle coffee and baked goods was enjoyed on the deck at Fuel. The view wasn’t quite as good as the view from the deck of Java Madness, but the coffee and company was good. It was a nice place to unwind after the paddle and refuel for the long ride home through football traffic.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

The Great Pumpkin Rides Again

The great pumpkin has slept since it went into the shop for repairs at the end of July. Carl turned the repairs around quickly, but vacations, weather, and family obligations meant there were no opportunities to get her back on the water.

Truth be told my crazy conjured up images of there being more damage than Carl had noticed or that I hit another rock. These were not reality based concerns.

Carl always does solid work and this repair was no different. He reinforced the area with extra glass and from the outside you could not tell where the damage was done. Carl did leave some of the scratches in place so I could brag.

This weekend the stars finally aligned. I had time and the weather was good. Two paddles were scheduled: surfing at Narragansett Beach and a tour along the outer coast of the Bay from Pier 5 to Harbor of Refuge. I decided to go with Pier 5 because Sunday is better for me and while the pumpkin is made for surfing I enjoy some variety in a paddle.

On Saturday, one of my chores was to clear cut a tangle of vines and prickly thorns out from behind the garage. How hard can pulling out a bunch of weeds when you are equipped with a pair of mucho grande shears? When you are an office drone in his mid-40s, it can be a crippling experience. I yanked on a particularly truculent weed and felt by back tweak. In a fit of not wanting to admit I’m middle aged, I didn’t stop the clear cutting to give my back a rest….

By dinner time I was barely able to walk, but I was not willing to admit I couldn’t paddle. I packed my gear in the car and parked my butt on the couch with a heating pad. I even swallowed my crazy dislike of Tylenol and took two before bed.

H made me promise that I wouldn’t make any stupid decisions in the morning…. She didn’t want to rescue me once I was in Narragansett.

Things didn’t get much better. By bed time, I could barely move. I wasn’t even sure I was going to be able to sleep….

When I woke up, I gingerly rolled onto my feet not sure if I’d crumble to the floor. I felt a little twinge. As I went about my business, the twinge went away. I still popped a dose of Tylenol for good measure. Then I finished kayak prep by putting the pumpkin on the roof.

I was excited to see CC and RB on the paddle. It felt like years since the last time I saw either of them. I looked forward to catching up with them as we made our way to the Harbor of Refuge.

Once on the water, it became clear that the forecast didn’t match the reality. The winds was steady and out of the south.

Eight miles is a long way to fight a steady wind.

The group succumbed to the fate of all kayak groups in a steady wind. We started spreading out. Fast paddlers ran away from slower paddlers. Then the fast paddlers have to stop and wait and the slow paddlers have to struggle to catch up. Over time, this makes for trouble. The fast paddlers get cold with all the waiting. The slow paddlers work really hard and don’t get enough rest.

TM made the smart call and had us stop before we reached the light house. We lunched on a sheltered rocky beach.

The conditions on the return trip were in the pumpkin’s sweet spot: following seas. I pretty much surfed the whole way back. The most difficult part of the return trip for me was not getting too far ahead of the group of longer kayaks.

A few people took the opportunity to play in the rocks. I, however, decided to stay clear of anything that might hurt the pumpkin. It was tough to resist the siren song, but it is still too soon to test my mettle.

After paddle coffee was at Java Madness. We lingered over our coffee. Visiting with old friends cannot be rushed.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Camping with a Bug

For our first kayak camping trip with Bug we decided on Grape Island. It is a short hop from Hingham and does not involve any major crossings. The ferry provides the ultimate emergency escape. We also enlisted two of Bug’s favorite camping friends: the Benders.

When we planned the trip, we thought it would be a piece of cake. Sure H was just starting school, but all of our camping gear was ready to go from our previous camping trip. Also, we were going for one night and launching from a major metropolitan area. Easy as pie….

The meltdowns started before anyone was in clothes. Bug didn’t want to go anywhere. We hadn’t really done any packing before hand. H was stressed out. We got out the door an hour after we planned. Then as we were getting on the highway we realized that we had forgotten the bulk of the food.

Fortunately, we knew that there was a store across from the put-in and that once we were on the water, relaxation and joy would was over us all.

By the time we were done restocking on the food, everyone was in a better place. Getting the kayaks packed up was a breeze. It was the first time packing up Big Red and the first time in a **long** time packing up H’s kayak. Big Red’s hugmungoness made packing up easy as pie. We could have packed all of the Bender’s gear into our kayaks without much trouble.

The paddle over to Grape Island was pleasant. We took our time and got into the spirit of things. There wasn’t much breeze or boat traffic to shake things up.

Once we were on the water H relaxed. Bug started splashing around and pointing out all the birds. She took out her paddle and helped paddle. It was exciting to see her get it right.

The only tension on the trip to the island was not keeping the Benders waiting any longer than necessary. We left the beach more than an hour after they did. We needn’t have worried. The Benders took an extra tour over to Bumpkin Island.

They had been on Grape long enough to scope out the camp sites and set up their tent. They decided that the best spot was in the overflow area. The main sites are all in the woods, but the overflow site is fairly close to the dock and close to the outhouse. The site, despite the closeness to things, offered a lot of privacy.

It was a great choice.

The rest of the day was spent chilling on the beach by the dock. We played some frisbee, dug in the sand, collected snails, and watched a gymnastic show (or two).

Just before bed time, I went on a little adventure. I took a wrong turn coming back from the outhouse. I wandered down a dark path deeper and deeper into the woods. Every turn looked like the one that would lead me back to camp. Next thing I know, I am on the beach facing Boston. I followed the beach for a while looking for a path back into the woods and back to the docks. I stumbled upon a couple that pointed me in the direction of a path. Eventually, I entered a clearing full of Outward Bounds kids. They pointed me back to the docks. I was lost for so long I had to pee again. H was just about ready to send out a search party….

We had big plans of getting up early and taking a ferry over to Georges Island to see the fort. Instead we lolly gagged around. It was too nice to rush.

We took a leisurely and meandering route back to Hingham. We went around Grape and its sister island. We then weaved our way back through the little islands that spot Hingham Harbor. Bug helped paddle for a little bit. She sang us a few tunes.

I for one wanted to enjoy the water for as long as possible. The beach meant the real world and all of its associated stresses. No need to rush back to that….

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Banged up in Boston

It was time for the annual Boston Harbor paddle. PB and I always get an interesting crew for the paddle and it is always a nice time. I expected today to be no different. The weather was predicted to be nice. The tides were ideal: the gut would be a non-issue, the current would carry us out to the islands in the morning and push back to the launch in the afternoon.

PB’s plan was to be at my house at 7:30, load boats, and be on the road before 8am. That gave us plenty of time to get to the launch by a little after 9am and prepare for a 10am launch.

At 7:40 I woke up and sort of panicked. PB was in the driveway getting ready to call and wake me up…. I had relied on Bug being my alarm clock since she never sleeps past 7. Oops.

We managed to stay on schedule. We were at the put in just after 9am and mostly ready to go by 10am. More impressive was that we did it without rushing or forgetting anything.

Our launch was a little delayed by the friendliness of the local rowing and lifeboat historical society. Several members came over to check out our kayaks and give us updates on the conditions in the outer islands. We were not in any rush and they told us about a really cool art exhibit at the fort on Georges Island.

When we got to Boston Harbor Light, the keeper, in full period garb, came down to inform us that the island was full. We were welcome to come back for a tour between ferry groups. She must have known that a RIC/KA group with only one Tim was trouble.

Before moving on to explore the more interesting parts of the Brewster Islands and the Shag Rocks, we donned our brain boxes. The water was just on the fun side of bumpy and we all wanted to play. The Aries was itching for some fun.

We made our way around to the backside of Little Brewster and out to Shag Rocks. Then over to Great Brewster for lunch. It was fun paddling. The bounce was just enough to make things exciting. We played in and around the rocks a lot. It made me appreciate the Aries even more. It is built for play.

After lunch we headed around the backside of Great Brewster. With the added exposure, the conditions were just a little more bouncy. We were having a good time looking for play spots.

About halfway around Great Brewster, there was an interesting little inlet with a big rock formation in the middle. Two paddlers went in for a look. TG and I planned on skipping it since it didn’t look that interesting. I, however, drifted near the center rock formation keeping an eye on the paddlers in the cove. The waves were small and manageable, so I was not concerned….

Then a bigger than average set of swells drove me sideways into the rocks. I was pinned with my side on the rock ledge and the hull against the portion of the rock sticking out of the water. Rolling was not an option since I was basically on dry land, with the occasional wave slapping the hull back into the rock.

I decided the only plan of action was to get out of the kayak, push it into the clear water, jump after it, and let the others do an open water rescue. It all went according to plan. TG was right there to scoop me up on the bow of his kayak while the Aries was retrieved. They popped me back into he cockpit with ease and made sure I was all set before releasing me to my own care.

Everyone kept asking if I was OK. I was fine aside from a few scrapes. Once out of the kayak I was on a nice stable ledge and once I jumped into the water I was clear of any rocks. I was far more worried about the Aries. A quick look showed only minor scrapes and there didn’t appear to be any leaks.

We continued our trip out around Cliff Island and crossed over to Georges Island by way of Lovels Island. I’d like to say that my brush with doom made me play it safer. The chances for play were just too good to ignore. Besides, the chances of me wrecking twice in one paddle were low.

On Georges I got the chance to inspect my injuries and the Aries. The minor scrapes were bigger than initially thought. There was nothing that required stitches, but there was a lot of scrapage. My left calf was hamburgery. It gave Dr. Paul another chance to break out the industrial first aid kit. He applied some sexy purple self-adhesive tape to my leg to keep it clean. Reportedly, I was only a slightly less fidgety patient than Bug getting her splinter pulled.

The Aries had a decent crack on the deck. It didn’t puncture the glass, but it did do some damage. It was going to need to visit Dr. Carl.

The art exhibit turned out to be a bit of a bust. There was one big display by the beach and a few things that may have been displays. The one big display was inside the fort. It was made up of some pulleys and other stuff. I think it was supposed to be a wind powered instrument of some sort. The group, made up mostly of scientist and engineers, spent a lot of time trying to figure out how it worked and reverse engineering it. It was less of an art installation than an engineering problem. In either view, it was a bust. It didn’t work.

The paddle back to the beach was uneventfully pleasant. It was a great way to come down from an exciting paddle.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Rushing to the Reefs

On Friday, I called PB to see if he was up for a Saturday adventure. He was undecided, but leaning towards a bike ride. He would decide in the morning.

I went to sleep planning on driving myself to Stonington and hoping that PB would decide to paddle and pick me up on the way.

I got half my wish. I woke up in the morning and checked my e-mail. PB was going to paddle, but he wanted me to drive.

My sense of time is skewed towards optimistic, so I figured there was plenty of time: ten minutes to pack lunch and get dressed; ten minutes to put the kayak on the roof; thirty minutes to drive to PB’s house….

An hour and a half later, I managed to get to PB’s house. According to the Waze, we would arrive at the put-in just in time. Launch time 10am; ETA 9:58am.

We pulled in just as TG was about to give the pre-launch talk. Needless to say we rushed to get the kayaks unloaded and our kit together. The other paddlers graciously helped us out. Miraculously, we got all of our stuff together without forgetting anything critical. I had forgotten my croakies at home, but I knew that before getting to the launch.

The tides were not going to turn until after lunch. So the plan was to paddle east over to Napatree. From there we would cross over to Fishers Island by way of Wicapisett rock. After a leisurely lunch, we would see what the reef gods would offer up for fun. Finally we would drag ourselves home.

As we rounded the tip of Stonington and turning east towards Napatree, I decided to check my watch to see what our pace was. I discovered that getting my kit together didn’t go quite as smoothly as I initially thought. The watch was gone. I still had hopes that it might be in the day hatch or had fallen into the cockpit or I had put it in the clothing bag by accident.

We stopped for a check in and break on the backside of Napatree. I checked the hatches for the watch, it was nowhere to be found. I also decided to change the lenses in my sun glasses. It was overcast and the polarized lenses I was wearing were too dark. The orange tint lenses brightened things up a lot. They also prompted a number of comments about how I was dressing to match the Aries and turning into a big pumpkin.

The crossing from Napatree to Fishers was uneventful, but fun. There was some texture to the water. All in all the morning paddling was a nice warm up. People got the chance to chat and get some sea legs before tackling the tide race.

After lunch we drifted out to the race. The play area was well defined. Wicapisett rock created a calm pocket for resting at the head of the race. The outer edges were also easy to spot. We set up so that resting and the return path were along the outside of the race.

TG reminded us to make sure we kept our eyes out for each other while we were playing. While the conditions were not extreme, a swimmer would still get separated from their kayak quickly. The current would also make it difficult for us to get to a swimmer.

The race was not at full mayhem, but there was a wind opposing the current. There were standing waves to ride and I had a kayak built for wave riding.

I don’t know exactly how long we spent in the race. Time flies when you are having fun, and I was having a blast. The Aries is way more fun in a tide race than the Q-boat. It catches waves effortlessly and can be easily controlled on the ride. I paddled out into the race waited for a wave to pass under the kayak and then geared up. The kayak shoots forward, gliding down the wave face and into the next one. A few well times paddles, and the kayak keeps gliding along.

The best part of the race was the front. The waves were better formed, taller, and easier to predict. It was a perfect way to end each run through the race. Just when I thought the kayak was done running, I’d wait for one more more wave to pass under and hit it again. Whoosh!!

PB commented that this was the happiest he had seen me in a kayak. The Q-boat in a tide race could be fun, but it was a chore. The Aries was fun.

TG demonstrated excellent navigation and leadership skills on the return to the put-in. He assigned a lead kayak and set him on a bearing. At first glance, the bearing seemed way off. As we paddled along, the current dropped us into perfect position to hit the harbor. It was like magic.

Sadly my watch was not to be found at the put in. It was a costly day of fun, but it was definitely a day of fun.