Saturday, August 21, 2021

Mt. Desert Camping

 We just did our annual (except for COVID 20202) Mt. Desert Island camping trip. It is a great way to end the summer. The campground we go to, Mt. Desert Island Campground, is great and I, personally, think we have one of the best sites in the place. We have a huge site that is right across from the docks. We can get to the water in one minute and don't have to put up with all of the foot traffic on the path running from the road to the dock.

For me one of the best parts of the trip is that I get to kayak just about everyday. I get up before everyone else and spend about an hour kayaking around the top of Sommes Sound. It is not very exciting kayaking since it is very sheltered, but it is relaxing. I get to practice some boat control, generally chill out, and occasionally see some cool wild life. This year I saw seals, a loon, a bald eagle, and several harbor porpoises. The porpoises were the coolest because they are hard to spot and sleeker than the other swimmers. This time they were so close I could touch them with my paddle. (I did not even try.)

We also did some nice hikes: Acadia Mt. Flying Mt. Mt. Gorham.

I think we nearly broke the friends we brought with us. We did the hardest hikes early on....

The Stars over Sand Beach was disappointing this year because it was too cloudy to see anything. The rangers did an outstanding job keeping the crowd interested even without the stars of the show....

We accidentally got a nice long ride on the carriage trails. We originally planned a nice flat and short ride over to Jordan Pond that was maybe six miles round trip. The first mis-step was that I misread the map and though there was parking where there was not, so we had to change our starting point. Still the ride looked pretty flat and still about 6 miles. The second mis-step was not clearly reading the topo lines on the map.... Our friend's kid had a one speed BMX trick bike that was not made for climbing and there was climbing...

After popovers at Jordan Pond house, we decided that some of us would ride back and get the car so that we would not kill the child with the climb back. The third mis-step happened shortly after we headed back for the cars.... We came to a trail junction and realized that we had missed a key turn at the very beginning. We either had to ride three miles back to Jordan Pond house and then another three miles back to the cars or we could keep going another six miles that were mostly downhill and flat to get to the cars... We decided to keep going. It was the right call. The ride back to the cars was very nice and were along parts of the trail system I hadn't seen before. There was some 'splaining to do about how long it took us to get back and some bribing of a less than thrilled child who got dragged along for the extra riding, but it was worth it.

The Ascent also saw plenty of use and earned some of its Monster Truck keep. Because it can seat seven, our friends and us could get everywhere in just one car.

The weather was also as close to perfect as one could hope. The next day was always forecasted to be the worst day of the week. We did get one night of rain... but our eating tent was dry and we slept through most of it anyway.

Sunday, August 08, 2021

The Reefs and Paddling with Intention

 When the currents are right, the reefs off of Stonington offer one of the best playgrounds in the area. Despite some rain, today looked like it would be a promising day for fun and some learning.

Tim G. and Nick Shade volunteered to take a group of us out to the reefs and share some of their expertise.

Before setting out, we all talked about what we hoped to get out of the day. A common theme was accelerating onto the waves. It seems like such an easy thing to do: just dig deep and paddle fast. If only....

One the way out Nick asked me to do my best three strokes to get up to speed. I leaned a bit forward in the cockpit, stood the paddle up high, and speared the water. I got a nice little boost. Then Nick asked a bunch of pointed questions trying tease out what it was about the stroke that made it work. How was it different than a cruising stroke; where in the stroke was the power coming from; what could be done to optimize it? In the moment, the questions were a little frustrating because I didn't feel like I had good answers. With some time to reflect, I don't think having ready answers was the point; thinking about the stroke was the point and it was definitely helpful to get the brain engaged.

We stopped on Wiccopesett rock for a quick lunch to watch the race form up and talk about how to best experience it. Nick explained to us, in amazingly detailed, yet simple, terms what was happening with the water and how our kayaks behaved in relationship to the water.

What I took away from it was that it was all about controlled falling. When a kayak surfs a race it is falling down waves that are created by wind pushing against water falling in the other direction. The other thing I took away from the talk was that in a tide race, waves don't move because they are the result of features on the ocean floor. You need to see where the waves are and find the best path through to get a good ride.

When I got back on the water I tried to put the lessons into action.

I payed attention to how my power strokes felt and how to get the most out of them. For me, it is a lot like spearing the water by knees with the paddle face flat and transitioning to a more normal stroke as the blade passes by hip. It takes me more strokes to accelerate onto the waves with a stick then with a normal paddled - maybe three strokes instead of one. This just means I need to plan a little better and maybe wait for the wave behind the wave.

I also started watching where the waves were on the race and trying to "hop" from one to the next; use the wave I was on to fall into the next wave to link together long rides. It took a long time to figure out what how to string the rides together. The waves don't set up in a straight line and even if they did keeping the Aries surfing in a straight line takes work.

My bow seemed to be constantly getting pushed to the right (this could be a loading issue, the wind, the waves, or just bad technique). My first thing to do was get better control of the kayak on the wave. Tim had a nice tip for doing this; instead of hitting a hard stern rudder and trying to pry the bow in the right direction, he suggested using a seen rudder on the other side to arrest the bows movement and then using a forward stroke to correct direction. You loose less speed and keep more active control over the kayak. (I could be totally misremembering what Tim said, so ask him about this personally.) For me the takeaway was the "active" part. Instead of using ruder strokes that killed forward momentum, which with the stick was hard to regain, I needed to use more active control strokes that would keep my forward momentum as much as possible. More sweep turns, more edging. more using my feet to guide the kayak, and more maneuvering using strokes at the bow. In general, it seemed to work and I was better able get where I wanted to go.

The next trick was getting from wave to wave. As Nick pointed out, this involved looking not at the next wave, but three waves down the line. As I rode each wave through the field, I had to adjust my course to be in the right place to catch the next ride. Looking one wave at a time just didn't work for getting through the full race. It would get me maybe three rides, but then I'd be in the wrong place to keep going and need to paddle through the slop to the next position. Plotting a few waves out allowed me to make corrections on each wave so that I was much more likely to be in the right place at the right time for longer.

The forward planning was particularly important when starting from the very back of the races. The back edge of the races were always more chaotic than the front of the race. Nick explained the physics of why this happens, but I cannot remember it.

After some playing we headed in for quick bite to eat and decided that instead of heading all the way down the reefs to sugar reef, we would do a short play on the other side of Wiccopesett and head back.

We spent some more time surfing, and the post such session was just as fun. I really felt like I was starting to get the hang of things. It has been a long time since I've had a chance to really feel confident in my kayak while having so much fun.

I even got to do some "rough" water rescue practice. One member of the group got breached by a wave and I happened to be the closest paddler. At first I was a little nervous, but glided right in and took control of things. The swimmer was excellent as they knew how to handle themselves, which always makes a rescue easier. We got them back in the kayak without issue and get them back to Wiccopesett for a rest.

We spent a little longer surfing before regrouping and paddling back into the harbor.

It was a great day on the water. I learned a lot and had fun doing it - paddle with intention.

Sunday, July 25, 2021

Playing in a Race

 Today had great tidal conditions for playing. Originally, we were going to go out to the reefs off Stonington for some fun, but the forecasted afternoon thunder showers put a damper on that plan. Instead we choose a location closer to home where we could get off the water quickly in the off chance of foul weather.

The mouth of the Narrow River provides a great race and surf experience, but also quick escapes in case of thunder. It also is only a mile, or less, from put in to race along a sheltered river.

We put in at the bridge and paddled down the river around the point. We tucked into the eddy behind the big rock at the mouth of the river to organize. The wave field was not organized; H would call the conditions a washing machine.

The Tims recommended that we all take some time just paddling around and getting a feel for how the kayaks handle in chop and current. It was a good suggestion. I took my time just noodling around out in the wave field. I worked the kayak across the field a few times and generally did turning drills for a while.

The noodling was just what I needed. It gave me time to get my muscle memory and confidence back. I spent a lot of time playing with edges to see which was better for turning and support. I spent time just holding one position. I spent time bobbing near rocks. I even did some back paddling.

Once I felt good, it was time to do some surfing. The combination of the shore break and the race makes for an interesting ride. The race waves fall diagonal to the beach towards the mouth of the river, but the shore break creates waves that push you into the beach. I would paddle out to the back edge of the field, wait my turn and catch a nice race wave to fall down. If I was lucky, I could get a nice ride, with some paddling to make sure I kept transferring to the next wave in the series, before a breaker would roll up and turn the bow into the beach.

Surfing in the Aries is always fun. It catches waves like toddlers catch colds. Once on the wave it stays nimble and stable.

My biggest was accelerating enough to get onto the waves. Sticks are great at distance, but not so great at immediate power. You have to get the entire blade into the water to get the same surface area as a Euro paddle for power strokes, and that requires doing very unstick like things. Instead of the nice low canted stroke, it requires standing the paddle upright and jamming the whole thing into the water just in front of the cockpit.

I did manage to catch several nice long runs. It was an exhausting blast.

After we had our fill of surfing, the Tims thought it would be a good idea to try some rescue drills...

The first drill was contact towing. I paired off with a bigger paddler and it was not easy to get the two kayaks moving while keeping them together. Because the kayaks were rafted together, stability was not a problem. Getting a grip on the water on the far side of the other kayak was the problem. The end of the stick just couldn't grab enough water. A quick change of strategy fixed things. I used a sliding stroke where I extended the paddle out to the end when stroking across the other kayak. Once I got traction, things worked great.

Then we did some actual rescues. My turn as a rescuer was fine. I am a little out of practice, but once you get moving it all becomes muscle memory. The one thing I didn't think of was having the swimmer hang onto the side of my kayak by the day hatch. They would have gotten onto my kayak faster and would not have been bounced into the waves at my bow quite as much.

I practiced a few rolls in the current and they were surprisingly easy.

After a quick rest and snack, we paddled back up the river to our cars. The paddle up river was against the current, but I was so pooped I hardly noticed.

Despite the grey sky and the constant threat of rain, it was one of the best paddling day I have had in a long time.

Monday, July 12, 2021

Grade Isle

Bug was off to her first over night camp and it happened to be on Lake Champlain. We decided to take advantage of the opportunity to do some camping (and save some driving time) We camped for a few days at Grande Isle State Park right on Lake Champlain. While I’m not a huge fan of fresh water padding, how could I pass up a chance to paddle on what is basically and inland sea?

The weather for our stay was less than ideal. It was basically rain ever day. There was one afternoon without rain and without plans.

I really wanted to paddle over by Bug's camp to check out the outdoors gymnastics set up, but I also knew that the pumpkin was visible for miles. I didn't want her to see me or be embarrassed that her Dad was checking up on her while she was supposed to be "one her own".

I couldn't help myself and headed off across the bay towards South Hero. My plan was to check out a island in the middle of the bay and stay far enough off shore to not be spotted. Once around the island I headed out to another island in the middle of the lake. I did think about heading over to scope out the camp, but decided to preserve my child's dignity.

It was relaxing paddle. The conditions were flat and calm. The only thing working against me was a slight breeze that required a little correction. Since I was just doing a lake paddle, I dropped the skeg to make my life easier.

It turned out that the second set of islands I was going to were farther out than I thought, or I was paddling slower than I thought. I checked my watch and realized that I was going to have haul it back to shore if I were going to make landfall when promised. Fortunately, I had two pieces of gear to help me out:

  • A GPS watch with routing capabilities
  • A state of the art carbon fiber stick
I had never actually used the fenix's navigation features on the water before, so I wasn't sure what to expect. It gave me a couple of options and I tried to pick the one that would give me a straight bearing back to my starting point. I got it on the first try and it worked like a charm. All I had to do was occasionally check my wrist to get a line on where I was heading and match that with the deck compass.

I was a little concerned about the new stick having the power to really power up to a good speed. It is a Greenland shape and not the Aleutian shape I have used for years. The Aleutian shape with is defined power face could be paddled at a high angle for good forward power. It turns out that my Gearlab Kalleq can bring the power when needed. I was able to get up to speed and stay there without any trouble.

Once back at the put it, I looked for H, who was my ride back to the camp site, and didn't see her, so I took some time for some skills practice. I did some forward and backward figure eights. The backwards eight took a couple of tries as I relearned how to get the kayak to do the right thing going the wrong way. It was mostly getting the edging correct. Going forward, you can get the Aries to turn on either edge by either pushing or pulling the bow around with your legs. Going backwards, there is only one choice.....

I did some rolls to finish the day off.

I wasn't exciting, but it was relaxing. It was nice to get a chance to explore a new spot.

Saturday, June 26, 2021

The Rocks, The Rocks

 I got early clearance for paddling thing week because I was looking for a chance to get some real ocean action. H was happy to give it, but questioned how excited I was about going. She wasn't wrong; I really wanted to paddle, but also didn't really want to get up earlier enough to make a 9am put in in Newport.

The pandemic has mostly eliminated all of the hours between 1am and 8am from my life. Child doesn't really go to bed until 10pm and with my commute consisting of the short hall from the bed room to the kitchen, with a stop at the fridge for coffee, there is no need to get up before 8am.

Newport at 9am means being on the road by 6:30am which means being awake at 6am. It also means being awake enough to get ready quietly so as not to rouse the child or the dog, which would rouse the wife and make her day harder....

Last night I packed up the truck and set my alarm noncommittally. I got up and felt it, I'd go. If I hit snooze, there will be other paddles....

At 6:15 my watch buzzed me awake and I slid out out bed. I quietly gathered my paddling clothes, so as not to wake anyone while changing. Walked out into the kitchen expecting the dog to stir, but he just looked at me like I was an idiot for being up so early and put his head right back down...

The conditions were primed for a good paddle; moderate winds of 10-12knts and moderate swell of 2ft. Because King's Beach is exposed to the open ocean and littered with shoals and rocks it does not need to much to make a fun day. The only real bummer was the fog. It cut visibility down to just a few hundred yards and refused to burn off.

We were a large pod of 14 kayaks. It was nice to see so many people particularly ones I had not seen for a long time. On the other hand, that many kayaks piling up around features can be like rush hour on 128 or worse.

Early in the paddle I was pretty conservative about what features I played around and how close I got. Some of it was just needing to warm up; some of it was fear; some of it was self-doubt; some of it was doing the math on how much money I could spend on boat repairs....

As the morning wore on, my caution waned. It rocks' siren song grew loader and before I knew it I was looking for ways to get up close and personal with them. For the most part, things were pretty tame and I kept my head firmly planted on the right side of caution. Warning signs of future trouble that should have been obvious went unnoticed. On more than one occasion, I misread the set pattern or got caught by a slightly bigger than normal wave.

After lunch, I was feeling fine and ready to play at max speed (max speed for an out of practice old guy with a stick), and the rocks were more than willing to comply. We paddled along the coast and found amply rocky outcroppings and ledges to bounce around near.

There was one particular nice set of rocks with a big ledge around it. If you could get into the middle of it, there were some nice slots and other play areas. Sadly getting in proved beyond me. I did try once, but ended up nearly getting speared by another kayak. I was trying to pick my way along the break zone without getting in the way of anyone wanting to surf, but with 14 kayaks that didn't leave a lot of room.

I thought I had a clear path that would take me between two of the other paddlers while the water was calm. Then the water decided to rear up and break in front of me. Fortunately, the paddler in front of me was fast enough and strong enough to back off the wave and I was good enough to not get surfed backwards into a big rock.... or maybe it was just that the Aries is maneuverable enough to allow me some slack...

It was another sign that maybe today was not the best day for stupid Eric tricks...

After we turned back home, I stayed near the rocks. The Aries is so much more fun when the water is bouncy...

We came upon a slot that I was convinced was a no go. Another paddler studied it for awhile and waved it off. Then the best two paddlers in the group came over and decided it was doable if the timing was right. The water had to be coming in from both sides of the slot and not breaking on either side. If it wasn't coming in from the front but was from the back you'd get pushed into a hole. If it was coming in from the front and not the back you'd get pushed into a ledge - unless you could handle your kayak well enough to avoid either fate.

The first one slipped through with no troubles. The second went through even easier. A thrid paddler slipped through.

I was left staring at a slot that three people had slipped through with ease - a slot that less than five minutes earlier I would never have considered trying. They had made it look so easy; all I needed was good timing of the swells. I also needed to get a move on or lose my nerve.

I got into position, waited for what seemed like the right moment, and made my move. A swell picked up behind me just as the water in the front of the slot emptied out. No bow was pointed straight at a big rock and moving fast. I managed to turn just enough and get just enough of a push to just glance the rock and turn out before getting slammed into the ledge.

I got through ugly, but unscathed. Luck was on my side that time.

Not too much later we had our first rescue of the day. I did not see the wipe out, but it happened on a surf break through a fairly wide slot. There was a barely submerged rock in the middle of the slot and was being marked by a member of the group. Tales of the event made it sound like a confluence of a bigger than expected wave, bad positioning, and a missed turn.

The rescue itself was well executed and low key. The area where the rescue took place was rocky, but protected from swells. One kayak scooped up the swimmer, one scooped up the empty kayak, and I scooped up the paddle. Within minutes everyone was in their kayaks and paddling again.

The next rescue was just around the next bend.

The slot was not that complicated or particularly narrow. It was around a bend, so you had to paddle in on and angle and make a slight turn to avoid the rock at the other end. The trick was timing the swells so that you didn't get stopped before the end or get side surfed onto the rocky shore.

A couple of paddlers made it through like it was a piece of cake. Without even considering all the ill omens being sprinkled throughout the day, I decided to give it a go. The water was flowing through the slot perfectly for a quick dash.

Then a big swell rushed into the front of the slot and stopped me dead in my tracks. I dug in to not get washed out and hopefully maintain some momentum for when the swell lost some of its force. Then a second swell hit me from the side and pushed me up the rocks. I did a quick brace into a draw to keep myself off the rocks, and followed up with a forward stoke hoping to ride the swell down and out of the slot.

I didn't make it out. A swell stopped me and pushed me back up into the rocks. This time my brace didn't work and I ended up wrong side up. I quickly ran the numbers on trying a roll. I am out of practice, so chances of success were not high. Missing the roll would put me in a potentially dangerous position given the rocks. I tucked the paddle in and pulled the escape loop. I dropped out of the cockpit and pushed the kayak towards the end of the slot.

I got lucky and both the kayak and myself ended up in fairly safe positions. Gary and Tim G. executed a near perfect rescue and had me back in the cockpit in no time. I suffered nothing more than a bruised ego - but not too bruised. If you don't spend some time upside down, you are not trying hard enough.

I did spend some time thinking about what I could have done differently to not turn into a swimmer. That is healthy and how we grow. I did not beat myself up or spend time dwelling on the fact that other paddlers, with more skill, practice, and maybe more natural ability would have made it. That is not productive and anyone can have a bad run.

The two things I could think of that would have helped were timing the run better and putting some more power into my second forward stroke. Having a solid roll would also have helped. For an old guy who only gets on the water once a month, I think I did pretty well.

The remainder of the paddle was uneventful. The water was still bumpy and the rocks were plenty, so the fun level didn't;t decrease. I just stayed a little bot further away from them. I was tired and decided I had had enough close calls for one day.

I am always amazed at much a hard day on the water can recharge my batteries. I try to draw out the end of paddles just to get a few more minutes. But like all good things. paddles have to end and we have to go back to regular life just a little happier.