Monday, November 22, 2021

Hunting for the Hound of Wetherill

The best way to integrate the skills picked up at the Gales is to turn around a kayak the next weekend!! I'm not sure what H was thinking giving me a paddle pass two weeks in a row.

It was a great day to paddle: sunny with a slight breeze and some swell coming up the bay.

We worked our way south towards Beavertail hugging the coast and playing in anything that looked remotely interesting. I was feeling pretty bold, so I tried anything that looked passable. There were plenty of getting through ugly, but the conditions were gentle enough so that there was no carnage.

The rocks just to the north of Mackerel Cove had a nice break over them, so we headed out there to do some surfing. It was a nice wave and just about everyone caught a good ride. I, however, just couldn't get it straight. The first couple of times I was just out of perpendicular to the wave and my stern got pushed. After Tim G. explained to me that the trick was to see what the wave was breaking over and then point the bow towards it, I tried one last time....

The wave broke and crashed right over a giant pointy rock. I just couldn't make myself do it. At the last minute, I slid my butt just a bit and let the stern get turned by the wave and surfed away from the rock. Bold only goes so far some days...

We lunched at Hull Cove and debated heading further south towards Beaver Tail. There was also some politics being batted about, but politics and paddling definitely do not mix.

After lunch the swell and the wind disappeared. There was still enough going on to find some play spots, but noting quite as fun as in the morning. We managed to find some trouble though. I may have donated more gel coat to the water gods on the way home than on the way out.

When we got back to Wetherill nobody was ready to get off the water, so we paddled around the bend to see if there was any action by the big house. It was a nice extension to the paddle, but conditions remained calm.

After a quick photo shoot, we headed back to the put in and called it a day.

A few rolls proved what I was suspecting at the Gales; my neck gasket needs to be replaced and the dry suite will need to spend a few weeks in the shop.

The day was a great way to end a paddling season while I wait for my dry suite to be ready for some winter paddles.

Friday, October 29, 2021

Autum Gales

 I love Greg Paquin's annual Autumn Gales event despite the fact that I usually only attend one of the three days. The coaching is always excellent and the conditions are always a little challenging.

Unfortunately COVID kept the UK coaches that usually attend in the UK, but Greg has plenty of local, or at least US-based, coaching talent available and as expected my one day was full of adventure and learning. I heard the Saturday and Sunday sessions were even more fun. One of these years, I will apply for a multiway hall pass from the family....

After the morning briefing, my choice of groups was either to off with Greg and do rough water rescue practice or to go off with some new coaches and work on reading conditions and other open water comfort skills. Greg suggested that working with new coaches was always a good idea, so I went off with them.

The day looked iffy for any really big conditions in the areas we were headed. There was plenty of wind and plenty of current around; it just all happened to be going the same way. That did make it a perfect day for practicing reading conditions. We talked about current direction and wind direction and how they interact with each other to create waves. We talked about how they interact with our kayaks and which would most likely impact our ability to navigate.

There was a wave break off the nearby point that was caused by some submerged rocks. We paddled over to check out the action. The waves were close to shore and mostly pushing into a rocky area. There was one wave that was rideable...if you could catch it.

The wave was extremely localized and had to caught at just the right spot to get a good, safe ride. The problem was that the gap between waves was not insignificant and there were a lot of factors pushing a kayak out of position. A few people managed to catch nice rides, but I was not one of them. I would set up in what I thought was a good position, but by the time the wave came I was out of the slot. The wind and current was pushing off shore making it hard to hold in the sweet spot.

After a frustrating stay at the wave, we grabbed some lunch at a protected bit of sand. The spot was nice because it offered a bit of a wind break to keep us warm. It was also positioned nicely so that the landing was nice and smooth. The wave action was minimal.

During lunch we talked a little about wave periods because the plan for after lunch was to head around the point and try to practice landing in dumping surf. Figuring out wave periods is a skill that escapes me - it could be that I just suck at counting. I didn't feel too bad because there seemed to be a lot of variability in the periods being offered up... But the general consensus was that the period was long enough to make a surf landing in dumping waves within safe margins.

After lunch the wind and tides had changed so that a nice surf break set up running mostly parallel to the beach. The waves were not huge, but they were well formed and predictable; perfect for some fun. Because they were running along the shore and not into the shore, you could catch some long runs. It was a great way to kill 30 minutes before heading around the point to practice smashing into the sand...

On the northern side of Napatree, the waves were going into shore and dumpy. We had a brief chat about how to land in dumpy surf; use the back of a wave, get out quickly, don't get stuck between your kayak and the beach.

The landing part was easy. The waves were well spaced out and not too big. I caught I nice ride most of the way in, backed off just in time, and let the back of the following wave drop me gently on the sand.

The launching part was less easy. I've never really been great at surf launching... My turtle motion is not fast enough, I tend to start too far up the beach, or too close to the surf. I almost always get turned around at least once and today was no different. I did get off the beach in one piece, and that is what counts....

After surf landings we headed over to a nun to see what the current and wind were doing. Looking at the nun made things look surprisingly dynamic. You could definitely see the current moving against the sides and see how things were pushing us around.

The coaches had us do an exercise where we paddled up to the nun and then turn around it. It was a little unclear which way were supposed to circle the nun, so I did it a couple of ways in each direction. It was also a little unclear what the point of the exercise was - not that I didn't enjoy playing dodge the nun in traffic. The Aries is made for just that sort of thing. It spins around big metal obstacles with glee; a little sweep stroke here, a bow rudder there, and a butt scootch will get the Aries to do a 360 just about every time.

The point of the exercise was to see how a kayak's handling is effected by wind and current and which one was the biggest factor in this situation. Because I can be clueless and paddle a magic spinning kayak, I didn't notice any big effect from either the wind or the current. Fortunately others did and the coaches got to explain what was going on and strategies for handling it. The biggest factor was the wind and typically what happens when paddling and turning into the wind is that your bow gets pinned in the water and the stern gets pushed around. The trick is to work the back of the kayak to unstick it and get it to move around. I took the tip and put it in my back pocket for when I am trying to go straight.....

Then we paddled back over to the sea wall where we practiced some towing in moving water. My partner feigned being unable to stay upright, so my option was a contact tow across current and fighting wind: not the easiest choice. I managed to get back behind the wall and into calmer waters with some work. There was a lot of correcting going on and it wasn't fast. For the second round, I got to be towed but now it was a race. My partner used a short tow which was an ideal choice until we got tangled up in another groups long tow... Towing in a crowd is never a great idea.

After the towing we played around for a bit longer doing nothing in particular. I tried some rolling and working the currents coming around the breakwater.

The paddle back was a good chance to take the tip about working the stern to practice. The wind was at enough of an angle that the Aries, which never really goes straight, was getting weather cocked something fierce. I tried using the skeg to straighten her out, but never could get the right adjustment and gave up. What did end up doing the trick was throwing a little sweep into the end of a few paddle strokes. The extra push on the back of the stroke was just enough to correct for the wind.

Unlike my last few Gales, this one lacked epic (borderline unsafe) conditions. But it did offer plenty of opportunity to work skills in challenging conditions with great coaches.

Maybe next year, I'll put in for a weekend pass and attend more than one day....

Saturday, October 09, 2021

The Big Swell

 On Sunday I asked for clearance to paddle today. There were no paddles scheduled, but was confident that someone would post something. With a busy family, pre-clearance is always a good thing. Time that is not scheduled gets eaten.

When Thursday rolled around and no paddles had appeared on the message board I started to get worried. I was not ready to coordinate a paddle or convinced that anyone would drive north to played around in Boston Harbor.

Fortunately someone jumped in and proposed a crazy reef paddle out of Stonington. More experienced and level heads intervened and the venue was changed to the Bay Campus. We would still get a chance for big swells and wind without the tide race and exposure.

From the put in things seemed pretty tame. There was some wind and a little swell. It was the perfect weather for trying out my new Peak UK paddle jacket.

Our plan was to cross over to Jamestown paddle towards Beaver Tail, cross over to find a lunch spot, and paddle back along the bluffs. This plan meant paddling into the wind and swell on the way out, but getting a nice ride on the way home. It also offered some flexibility in terms of where we crossed back to the mainland.

The crossing over to Jamestown was bumpier than usual, but not too rough. We all could have used a little warming up before heading straight out, but we were impatient. This ultimately cost us a paddler. One of the group through their back out making the crossing and needed to be towed back to Bay Campus.

Two paddlers kindly volunteered to do the towing and catch back up with the rest of the group. The pairing was both needed to do the tow - one to stabilize the injured paddler and one to do the towing - and so that they could safely set out again after making sure the injured paddler was safely on shore, packed up, and capable of getting home.

The rest of us headed down Jamestown taking our time and playing in the rocks. We were in the lee of the island so the wind was not much of a factor and the swell was just enough to make things fun. Practicing boat control in tight spots is always a good time.

It is also a good time to do some rescue practice. I was waiting for my turn on a feature where you slipped between a couple of rocks and the shore when the paddler working their way through got stuck. They put up a good fight, but just couldn’t stay upright.

Before starting into do a rescue, you should have a plan… I just started moving around the outside of the feature hoping the paddler would push their kayak out of the hole for me to grab and then swim out. That didn’t happen... Next thing I know I’m in the entrance to the feature with one hand on my paddle and the other hand holding an upside down kayak with its pilot hanging on to it. 

I could not do a one handed scull and tow us out.. then I remembered that I had a cowtail attached to my PFD!!

Once I latched the clip onto the other kayak, we were out of the rocks and into a position where someone could safely put the paddler back into the boat. In short order everyone was back in their kayaks and we were off.

As we worked our way towards Beavertail the swells picked up significantly. Once we got to the point the wind was also making itself felt.

Crossing over to Whale Rock was going to be a fun ride!

Before we started the crossing, we were told to stay together as much as possible and not get carried away catching the swells.... It is like they were reading my mind.

Before I could stop myself, I was out in front of the pod flying surfing the following seas. The swell was nice and uniform, so the Aries just glided over the water.

It didn't take too long for me to realize that I was out of order, so I laid down some rudder and let the pod catch up. Once back with the pod, I was careful to watch my speed and my bearing.

Once we got to Whale Rock we turned back up the Bay to find a lunch spot that was out of the wind and with at least some sand.

After lunch, we head back into the wind and paddled across Bonnet Harbor before tucking in behind the big rock for a quick break.

Once we were along the bluffs, I took the opportunity to practice boat handling in the rocks. There were definitely a few times where I was working the paddle too far away from the hull for maximum efficiency. I was sticking the blade way out hoping to get a big pull and instead just got my body out of position without the strength needed to strong arm the kayak. What I really needed was finest and to keep the blade close to hull with good body position. Fortunately, the Aries will forgive a little bad technique and still turn it just takes more energy and a little bit of panic.

Before long we were safely back at Bay Campus where all seemed like a pleasant fall afternoon.

Today was a perfect paddle. It nice mixture of conditions to keep things interesting, but not scary.

Sunday, September 19, 2021

Falling Down the Water

 Early in the week the announcement went out that the scheduled paddles for the weekend were cancelled. My heart sank. I was really looking forward to playing on reefs in Stonington.

Then, like a paddling angel, Tim G. resurrected the Sunday reef play session!!

Tim is a great paddle coordinator. Not only is he an exceptionally good paddler, he is also always over prepared, chill, and keeps the whole group's needs in the forefront. You know it will be a fun and safe day on the water.

The plan was to paddle out to Sugar Reef and work our way down to Watch Hill for pit stop. Then we would head home. Tim made sure we all knew that this trip was different from going over to Wicopesset and playing. Sugar reef does not offer any places to get off the water and very few eddies for resting.

We were going to be on the water for a long time before we got to a beach for a proper rest and food break. Snacks is the perfect use for the deck hatch. I loaded it up with fruit chew packs and a nutritious bar.

We headed straight out to the spire and found a nice play area. There was plenty to surf and the wave field was well organized.

Early on I had some issues with directional control. My bow kept peeling out down the wave.

I tried using the standard stern rudder to keep on course, but that rarely worked out. Some times it just failed completely and I just kept speeding along until I was parallel to the wave. Other times it just ate enough speed to knock me off the wave and left me like a sitting duck waiting to be taken out by the next wave in the train.

I tried using sweep strokes to push the bow back on track and had more luck with them. Sometimes, it took an extended paddle to get enough force. That still wasn't a sure thing though.

I tried using a stern draw to pull the back of the kayak into line which also worked on occasion.

What really seemed to work was combining the stern draw with a sweep stroke and some edging.

The truth is that the Aries biggest strength is also its biggest weakness. It is easy to turn....

While at the Spire I had a near run-in with another kayak. As I was surfing down a wave, unable to straighten out I noticed another paddler setting up to ride straight down the same wave. I know the right thing to do is for the paddler at the bottom of the wave to flip over... but the other paddler was way more experienced than I am and me flipping over could easily have turned into a rescue situation... After a brief hesitation, I flipped over and prayed that the other kayak would not ram into me and that I would be able to roll up before getting washed into the Spire...

Once under, I waited a bit to let things sort themselves out, set up, and popped back up ready to surf! It was my first "emergency" roll in a very long time.

After a while at the Spire we moved further down the reefs towards Watch Hill.

I was initially under the impression that we were going to head in towards the beach. However, everyone else seemed to be staying out on the waves. I was not about to argue about playing in the surf....

Eventually we stopped just below the lighthouse for a late lunch. I was very happy that I had stuffed the mini-hatch with quick snacks, so I wasn't starving...

After lunch, we headed back to the put in but kept an eye open for possible play spots.

We found some surf off a spit of land on the way back. The waves were hard to predict, but everyone got a few nice runs. On my last run I managed to lose my support and end up in the drink. I set up for a roll and got smacked back down by an incoming wave. Apparently there is a wrong side to roll up on in surf.... I set up on the other side and popped back up. Two emergency rolls in one day!!!

It was definitely time to call it quits.... The rest of the paddle back was quiet and uneventful.

I am really grateful for Tim taking the time to set up these reef paddles with a bunch of less skilled paddlers. They make a world a difference for my quality of life.

Saturday, September 11, 2021

Wetherill to Narrow River

 I always think of Wetherill as a place to launch for rock gardening, but today’s paddle was going to be a touring trip. The plan was Wetherill straight across to Beavertail, then Beavertail to Whale Rock, and finally Whale Rock to Narrow River. The return trip would be basically the same, but hugging the Jamestown coast a little more to see if we could find any fun rocks. The possibility for surfing at Narrow River was also left open.

One interesting thing I noticed was that two of the paddlers who usually paddle Aries showed up with different kayaks. One was paddling a Romany Surf and the other was paddling their Cetus. Both cited 

We started out as seven, but two of us had dinner plans and told us they would not be taking the full tour. In fact they peeled off very shortly after we left the harbor in search of rocks and an unusual tide race that had set up along the coast. The race was likely caused by the combination of strong winds and current coming up the Bay.

The paddle to lunch was largely unremarkable. The tide was coming in and the wind was against us, but neither were particularly strong. Wave conditions were enough to provide some bounce, but nothing exciting. We did need to plan a ferry angle from Beavertail to Whale Rock to compensate for the current and winds, but that was not extra ordinary.

Whale Rock looked very impressive when we got there. The waters around it were frothy and the waves provided spectacular views. However, it was more bark than bite.

We proceeded down the coast to Narrow River and decided to lunch just across from the beach. Instead of taking the outside route through the tide race and surf, we tucked in behind the rocks. There was plenty of water. There was enough swell for everyone to get a little ride.

During lunch we watch a few people surfing off of Narragansett Beach. The waves were small, but tight and dumpy. The would be surfers were getting wiped out more often than they were catching rides. No-one in our party was tempted to join them...

The wind, waves and currents conspired to make conditions more interesting on the way home. We had following seas and wind that trended toward Beavertail as we crossed the West Passage.

During the crossing it made the difference between the other kayaks on the trip and the Aries standout. The other kayaks definitely seemed to track straighter into the swell and winds. In the Aries, I was always correcting course to stay with the group. On the flip-side, I was definitely catching more waves and picking up more speed from the following seas. It doesn't take much for the Aries to start planing.

I was not uncomfortable with the situation, nor did I really mind the extra correcting required to stay with the rest of the group. I knew what I was getting when I purchased as Aries as the one arrow in my quiver. Maneuverability and surfablility vs. speed, straight-line navigation, and storage capacity.

I did consider dropping my skeg to assist in the tracking, but I almost always err on the side of playfulness over the added tracking. The Aries' skeg does a good job in increasing its tracking in most conditions. I find that given the Aries maneuverability, correcting its course, while a constant of paddling, is easy. Although there is always the danger of over correcting.

Once we rounded Beavertail, I thought we were going to hug the coast and play along the rocks. I headed toward the shoreline, but the others stayed out on a straight line course for Wehterill. I struggled with being a good group member and playing along the rocks. I don't think I succeeded in being a good group member. I tried to straddle the middle ground by letting the swells take me towards the coast and the rocks and then correcting course to get closer to the main group.

In either case, the paddle back was more fun than the paddle over to Narragansett. I am definitely more of a rough water, play kayaker than a distance, touring kayaker.

Back at the put in, a class was getting off the water. One of the instructors was paddling a new P&H Volan and sang its praises. Apparently it hits the sweet spot between a Cetus and an Aries. The instructor claims that it tracks as well as a Cetus and maneuvers as well as an Aries; there are reviews that make similar claims.

Not having paddled one, I cannot say what is true. However, in my experience, anything that claims to be the best of both worlds, is usually mediocre at most things. Kayaks are expensive and having a fleet boats for all use cases is not realistic for most people, so it makes sense that boat makers are always trying to make the one kayak to rule them all.

Even on a paddle like todays, where the brief was touring focused, I prefer having a kayak that has a clear bias towards a specific brief - even if it is the wrong one.