Thursday, December 28, 2006

Battle of the Boats

I've been batting around a comparison of the trusty Endeavor and the quirky Q-Boat for a few weeks. While the Q was in the garage being fitted with a keel strip, I had the opportunity to take the Endeavor for a ride and compare how it handled with the Q. I figured that there would be subtle differences in how the two kayaks felt, but I discovered that the differences were marked.
Given the dramatic differences in hull shape, I should not have been surprised. The Endeavor is a West Coast take on British kayak design. When it was built it was the only skeg kayak in Seaward's line-up of West Coast rudder kayaks. I'm not one who is religious about the skeg/rudder debate or the West Coast/British design debate, so I'm not saying that the design of the kayak is inferior. In fact, I think the Endeavor has a great hull design. It is a soft chined shallow v shaped hull that is 23" at its widest. It has a moderate fish form and the oddly small cockpit is placed close to the center of the kayaks 17.5' length. Like most modern sea kayaks, the Endeavor has three hatches. The fore and aft hatches are covered by neoprene that is supplemented by solid fiberglass covers. The day hatch is covered by a standard round rubber hatch. The deck is pretty high and, despite the tiny cockpit, the kayak has a ton of volume. You can easily pack enough gear for for an extended trip.
The Q-Boat is a modern take on the traditional kayaks. It is hard chined with an extremely low back deck. The front deck is of average height for a modern sea kayak. It has a pronounced fish form and most of its 18' length is behind the cockpit. Despite having most of the length in the rear of the kayak, the Q-Boat carries most of its volume in the front. The back of the hull tappers quickly and the the back deck is very low. In contrast, the front of the kayak looks gigantic. The hull is marked by a very square bow (Valley calls it a clipper bow) that has no rocker until just aft of the cockpit. Aft of the cockpit, the rocker becomes very pronounced.
When I got in the Endeavor after having paddled the Q-Boat for a few months the first thing I noticed was the volume. I felt like a cork bobbing around. In the Q-Boat you are very close to the water. The extra volume also makes it more difficult to edge the kayak. The added volume resists tipping which is reassuring in rough water. It also makes it harder to roll the kayak, but more on that later.
The Endeavor, despite being 6" shorter, tracks better than the Q-Boat. However, the Endeavor is also more difficult to correct, without using the skeg, when it does start to weather cock. The Endeavor also feels slightly faster than the Q-Boat. This could be due to the increased rocker in the Q-Boat.
The increased rocker of the Q-Boat pays off in its incredible maneuverability. The Q-Boat handles more like a 16" kayak than an 18" one. She responds to leans and subtle corrections easily and predictably. The Endeavor, while not being too stiff, takes more work to maneuver. She is nimble for a midsized kayak, but is not ideal when you want to dance around in the rocks.
The volume of the Endeavor makes it a rock solid performer in rough water. The volume provides enough resistance to tipping to provide a nice buffer. the soft chines also provide plenty of feedback when the kayak starts to list. A little corrective leaning goes along way. The straight ahead performance of the Endeavor is also reassuring in rough water. The hull slices through big waves easily.
The Q-Boat is also a great rough water boat, but for entirely different reasons. Because it is so nimble, the Q-Boat is easy to keep upright. The trick is that you have to keep it upright. The hull does not help much. The hard chines provide almost no feedback on the listing of the kayak. The limited volume offers little resistance to being knocked over. However, once you learn the feel of the hull and how the chines work in the water, it is easy to keep the kayak sitting upright in big water. The clipper bow slices big waves easily when moving forward.
The other factor that makes the Q-Boat a good rough water kayak is its ability to be braced and roll. The Q-Boat, because of the hard chines, is easy to brace. The hard chines act like little kayak bottoms when they are in the water and provide a ton of stability. The low volume and low back deck make rolling easy also.
The Endeavor has a lot of secondary stability, so it does not require you to brace as much as the Q-Boat. However, that added stability makes it harder to lean the kayak for turns. The volume and high rear deck of the Endeavor make it harder to roll than that Q-Boat, but that does not mean it is hard to roll.
The Endeavor can carry a lot more gear than the Q-Boat. The Endeavor's bulkheads swallow gear and keep their contents very dry. The Q-Boat's front bulk head is good sized and can carry a decent load. The Q-Boat's rear bulkhead is about as useful as the trunk in a Spitfire. It is narrow and shallow. The skeg housing takes up 50% of the space. I don't mind the lack of space because the back hatch is not a very dry place.
Ultimately, both the Endeavor and Q-Boat are very good kayaks. They are both built like tanks and are obviously well-designed. However, they are geared for different types of kayakers.
While it can be playful, the Endeavor is a long-haul kayak. It is geared for going out and eating up miles in whatever conditions the sea can throw at you. It also make a great platform for kayak camping.
The Q-Boat is a play boat. It is geared for playing in rocks, practicing Greenland kayaking skills, dancing around in races, and that sort of thing. At 18", it can keep up and go long distances with ease. It can also be used for short camping trips. But that is not where it shines.

Thursday, December 21, 2006


One of the great things about blogs is that you, the reader, get to provide feedback in the form of comments. If I write somethong you like, tell me. If I write something you hate, tell me. If something in a post sparks a thought, comment on it. If you just want to see your name in print, write a comment.
Seriously, the comments add to the knowledge, if that is what you want to call it, that is built up in a blog. For example, I'm sure others had insight into the rescue review in the last post and I'd love to hear it and I'm sure other's would too.
Go ahead... Post a comment. You know you want too;)

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Rescue Review

It is important to digest and dissect rescues. They offer great learning experiences.
The trip last Sunday offered a number of lessons.
Lesson 1: Eric Tries to Rescue Bob and Ends up Getting Rescued
I am not certain my decision to go in after Bob was the soundest decision I could have made. I say that after having been smashed, but even before that it was a questionable decision. I wasn't feeling at my best after being off the water for a few weeks, out of the Q-boat for a solid month, and not having paddled in anything more serious challenging than a salt pond for nearly six weeks. In the moment, with the adrenaline running, I felt I could do the rescue. The wave that squished me was pretty extreme.
Paul's rescue was flawless. He talked to me enough to determine I was OK, but not too long to delay the rescue. He quickly assessed the situation, made the plan clear to me, and executed the rescue. His call to toss me a line and tow me to safety was excellent. The conditions where the rescue started were big, steep swells that made maneuvering tricky. Paul's kayak could easily have whacked me if he had attempted to secure my kayak. Once he had towed me out of the rocks and swell, it was much easier to put me back in my kayak. Fortunately, I was properly dressed for being in the water and the few extra minutes were not critical. Even if I had not been properly dressed for immersion, Paul's choice to tow me out was probably still the right one. Trying to do the rescue in the swells could have taken longer or resulted in Paul's going into the drink also.
Lesson 2: Bob Plays in the Rocks and Takes a Swim
One could say that Bob should have had the sense to stay out of the rocks given the conditions. However, that was Bob's call to make. If he honestly believed he was a match for the conditions, he cannot be faulted for looking for some fun.
What happened once Bob got squished is ripe for analysis. We did some after the paddle and I have been thinking about it since. After I was dumped, Matt moved into help Bob. I'm not sure what happened while I was being rescued, but I know that Bob, his kayak, and Matt were still being bounced around in the rocks after I was safely back in my kayak. From what I heard, Bob had found his way out of the water and onto the relative safety of some rocks and was trying to drag his kayak up with him. Meanwhile, Matt was sitting just off the rocks to help. After a few minutes, Bob managed to get his kayak on the rocks with him and drag it to a section of water that was protected enough to allow or a launch.
While everything turned out OK, the whole thing took too long and left at least one kayak in needless danger. Based on what I heard, I think the root cause of the trouble was a lack of communication compounded by a lack of clear command and control. When rescuing me, Paul took charge of the situation. It sounded like neither Matt nor Bob took charge of Bob's rescue. This makes a confusing situation worse.
It looked like Matt was following standard rescue protocol. If there is a swimmer near the rocks and the swimmer is separated from his kayak, the first rescuer secures the swimmer and tows them to safety. A second rescuer gets the kayak. Once both swimmer and kayak are out of danger they are reunited.
Bob's goals and perspective were very different. He reported that felt pretty safe on the rocks. He was out of the water and felt that it would be easier to get himself and his kayak to the protected water on the far side of his little outcrop. He reported that he saw Matt's kayak as a danger to himself because it was being tossed around and could easily have whacked him.
I'm not sure if either Matt or Bob were right about how to proceed, so I'm not going to pick sides. Matt's approach is the correct one in 90% of situations. Bob made a good case for his approach given the particular circumstances.
I will say that one of them needed to take charge of the situation. Bob either needed to clearly wave Matt off, or Matt needed to just latch onto Bob and drag him out. The third option would have been for Matt to simply leave Bob on the rocks once he saw that he was OK. As it was Matt sat off the rocks, in harms way, for too long. It also took too long for the rest of the group to have a sense of what they needed to do.
Lesson 3: What to do with nervous paddlers?
While the rescues were going on, MA and Bob were sitting out in the Bay with Carole. Needless to say they were nervous. The swells where they were waiting were large and the wind was pretty strong. Carole wanted to take them closer to the end of the Bluffs where things were more settled. She figured that there were five paddlers to help out rescuing Bob and we could handle it.
While I'm not a big fan of splitting groups in general, there are times when it is appropriate. I think this was one of them. Getting the less experienced paddlers to safer conditions would have lessened the chances that one of them would have gone in the drink also.
However, the decision was made to keep the group together. This makes sense also. If there had been trouble once they moved off their lower numbers increased the danger of a rescue.
Lesson 4:Staying Warm
Becca's brush with hypothermia is a good reminder of the dangers inherent in winter paddling. In the summer what you wear is hardly a concern. Heat management is not that hard. In the winter, however, heat management is critical and difficult. Picking the right clothes to wear under a drysuit is a matter of safety as well as comfort. You need to be warm enough to keep your core temp up, even in the water, but not so warm that you sweat away the benefits of a drysuit.
Becca's situation is also a reminder that all the members of the group need to keep an eye on each other right up to the point that boats are stowed and dry clothes are donned. Hypothermia hits fast and is unforgiving. The signs to look out for are slurred speech and someone acting more spacey than is normal.
Thankfully, Ken spotted the signs and reacted quickly. To treat hypothermia you need to warm the victim. Get them into dry clothes, put them in a warm place, and give them something warm to drink. If they don't start to show signs of improvement call 911.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Chilling Out

On Tuesday the weekend forecast looked promising and Paul put the bug in people's ears. When the weekend roared in, the temperature was still high but so were the winds. Paul's original plan was to paddle south from Narragansett town beach and make for Pt. Judith. The westerly winds forced us to move the launch point north and the direction up in the air. Paul figured it would be better to get blown into Jamestown than get blown into Tiverton if things got bad.
NOAA had decided to post a small craft advisory due to the high winds. Despite the winds things look deceptively calm. Early recon of Narragansett town beach and Bonnet Shores showed that the winds were blowing the surf out. All the action was along the Jamestown shore and around Beavertail. It looked like a few well prepared paddlers could find some safe paddling and a little action.
Nine of us showed up at Bay Campus ready to paddle. Carole, MA, and Bill were all sporting shiny new Kokatat drysuits. Ken, Paul, Matt, Becca, Bob, and myself were all in our old drysuits. The majority of the suits (7) were GoreTex Kokatats. They are the gold-standard and is priced accordingly. Bob's suit, while a Kokatat, is not the revered drysuit. Instead he has the Tropos paddle suit which costs about $300 less. Instead of a gasket at the neck it has a high neoprene collar to keep the water out. I have a Reed paddle suit which costs around $400. It is made out Reed's Chill Cheater fabric that is water proof and breathable. Becca has a non-breathable, nylon suit.
I also had the Q-boat back from Carl Ladd's skilled hands. He patched up the rock damage and installed one of his new ballistic strength keel strips. It is made of the same stuff they use for truck liners and looks like it could take a rock at high speed without a nick. The keel strip runs the length of the boat and, unlike most keel strips, runs along the sides of the skeg. The black looks like it was built for the boat.
We decided to head south so that the winds would blow us back home after battling our way down the coast. It was a battle too. Once we got up to the Bonnet bluffs the gusts were strong enough to bring the group to a crawl. The waters were pretty lumpy also. We were happy to duck into the relative calm of Bonnet harbor to regroup.
After some discussion, we decided to poke our heads out around the point but not plan on going too far. As Ken pointed out, if things were tough along the bluffs they would be worse beyond the point. So we worked our way along the shore playing in the rocks. Once around the point thing got more interesting. The swells were pushy and you could see that things further out looked very rough. It didn't stop us from testing our mettle a bit.
After lunch we made our way along the coast towards Bonnet Shore's beach where there was a little bit of surf. Before getting into the surf we got back into the rocks. I think everyone lost a bit of gelcoat. I managed to scrape despite the keel strip by catching a bit of barnacle to the side of the strip.
At the beach several of us played in the surf and caught a few good rides. Each of us, save Bob, managed to take a dunk or two. I found myself in the water twice after trying my luck at surfing backwards. I think that I'll wait until summer to try that again. Only one of the dunks resulted in my ejecting the kayak. As with the others who had to eject,I found myself stuck in water that was deep enough to keep the kayak floating but shallow enough to make rolling impossible.
After being washed around in the surf, we turned and made for home.
The trip home along the bluffs offered us a choice of playing it safe or playing in the rocks. The smart ones-Carole, Paul, MA, and Bill-played it safe. I decided to take the middle path by staying close enough to the rocks so that I could get closer if things looked good and get out if they started getting dodgy. Others, including Bob, decided to play in the rocks.
Early in the return trip, Bob, as he was being sloshed around close to jagged, hungry rocks, yelled to me that he was in a very bad place. I agreed and decided that it was a good time to stay a little further off the rocks. A little later I spotted Bob in a much worse place. He was in close to rocks and getting beat up by waves that just got stronger. Before Bob could get out of the ring, the waves KO'ed him.
Since I was the closest, I went in to extract him. Before I could get to him, I spotted a nasty looking wave moving towards me and a nice ledge that was going to cause the wave to break right on top of me. I turned into the wave hoping to get over it before it broke. It was a good plan, but not good enough. Right behind the wave I saw was a bigger one. After getting through the first one, I was crushed by the second one. It lifted the Q's bow to about 80 degrees and tossed me to the opposite side from the first wave. I struggled in vain, but found myself upside down, out of position for a roll, and uncertain how close to the rocks I was. I had a fleeting thought about rolling up, but realized that I was better off out of my kayak. Out of the kayak I could be sure my head was above water and I had a chance of keeping my head off the rocks. Even if I made the roll I wasn't sure I'd be in position to get out of danger. So, I pulled the grab loop and ejected into the cold water.
Because we had such a strong group, I was confident that I would not be in the water for long. I was also glad that I had dressed properly for immersion. My drysuit, although not a Kokatat, performed admirably. However, Paul and Matt performed better. They were on top of me almost as soon as I came up. Paul took over my rescue and Matt headed in to rescue Bob. Because the conditions were so unsettled, Paul decided to toss me the end of his tow belt instead of attempting to either do a T-rescue immediately or hook the belt on my belt by himself. Since I was lucid and calm there was no reason to risk smashing me with his kayak. I caught the line and he towed me into calmer waters where we could more easily get me back into my kayak.
Once I was safely back in my kayak we could turn our attention to Bob's rescue. Things were not going so smoothly for Bob and Matt. Bob was fairly safe because he had managed to get himself out of the water and onto some rocks. At the very least he was on dry land. His kayak, however, was proving to be a bit less cooperative. It was full of water and the swells were not giving up their lunch without a fight. After a few minutes, Bob managed to get his kayak across the rocks to a place where things were calmer and he could safely get back on the water.
For more detailed thought on the rescues see here.
Bob and I were both lucky. We were both prepared for the worst and surrounded by people we knew were capable of handling bad situations. The combination kept us alive and in good enough shape to still enjoy the rest of the paddle.
Back at Bay Campus there was the mandatory rolling and rescue practice. Both Matt and I suffered ice headaches. I think that my rolling practice may just be over for the winter.
Bill did his first roll!! He wanted to try going over in the cold water to see what it was like. I guess he didn't find it appealing since he rolled right back up!! It was an impressive site.
Usually once everyone is back on shore the danger is assumed to be over. The dangers of paddling are all on the water aren't they? Aside from the danger of pulling something from lifting a kayak that is?
Once the weather gets chilly the danger really isn't over until everyone is in dry street clothes and sitting in a heated car on the way to post paddle feeding.
Becca, whose drysuit is not breathable or dry, started talking gibberish once she got back to her car. She was acting spacey and sluggish. Ken realized what was happening immediately, got Carole to get Becca dressed in warm clothes, and got his truck warmed up. Once Becca was dry and dressed, he put her in the heated truck. Slowly, she started to regain her wits and function again.
It took less than five minutes for her to go from able to function normally to incapacitated by the cold. That was in 45 degree air. Imagine how long it takes in 30 degree water...
Fortunately we all recovered and were able to enjoy a great meal at Italian Village in Peacedale. What could have been a run of the mill paddle--which is still a great thing--turned into an exciting, educational mini adventure.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Thanksgiving Treat

One of the many things that I gave thanks for this year was that I am able to get out and kayak with great people. This year I was lucky enough to be thankful and enjoy a paddle to boot. The weather forecast for Saturday and Sunday was perfect: mild temps and low winds.
A few people were daring enough to head out into the maelstrom Friday. I may have been one of them, but I was saved from myself because I needed to drop the Q-Boat off at Carl Ladd's repair shop for some gelcoat patching and the installation of keel strip. I figure that a keel strip is a wise investment since I bought Q-Boat to play rough. The new keel strip application Carl is installing looks like it will survive an impact with a high-speed ferry.
The planning started with an e-mail from Bob H. imploring people to get out. The e-mail languished in cyberspace until Friday when we all started waking from our Turkey comas. Then there was the mid-day lull while people were out doing stuff. There was also the wait to get connected with the Tim. Finally, after rounds of e-mail, some whining by Bob H., debate over if we wanted to just do the same old Bay Campus paddle, and some more phone calls, we finally had a plan: Fogland.
Fogland offers some open water conditions without being so exposed that you cannot easily recover from a bad turn. It also had the advantage of not being the Bay Campus. We were all up for paddling a different spot.
We also debated the merits of posting the paddle on the message board for the rest of the group. I didn't want the paddle to be exclusive. I also didn't want to step on the toes of the group planning to paddle out of the Bay Campus. In the end it didn't really matter. The plan didn't come together until late Saturday evening.
Sunday morning we arrived at Fogland looking forward to a sunny, windlesss late fall paddle.
Despite the fact that she was not paddling, H provided unloading assistance so I could focus on getting on the water. It is surprising how much using a different kayak can mess up a pre-paddle routine. The Endeavor's hatches are much larger than the Q-Boat's, so packing it up is different. The hatch covers are also totally different. The Endeavor's comps needs to be mounted. It has a place to store the pump in the cockpit. The little details all add up.
The big differences became obvious once we got on the water. I felt like I was bobbing around like a cork. The Endeavor rides like a Lincoln with air-suspension compared to the Q-Boat. I had gotten very used to being close to the water and having the kayak respond almost instantly to my movement. The Endeavor took a little more work to turn and lean.
The slight difference in maneuverability didn't stop me from following Bob through the rocks. It did cost me a bit of gel coat here and there. Fortunately, the Endeavor is built like a tank. MA learned quickly to wait and listen for the scraping sound before following me through a slot. I'm not sure if it was a good indicator because her Avocet is much more responsive than the Endeavor.
We all did a fair share of rock dodging to make up for the lack of wind early in the paddle. As the paddle progressed, the wind picked up. It was much stronger than predicted, but that was OK because it kept things interesting.
As always, H had impeccable timing. She pulled into the lot as we pulled into the beach. Before washing ashore, I had to prove to myself that I could roll the Endeavor. I can, but it is much harder. Then, just to be cool, I tried the off-side roll. I came up, barely, and, as punishment for showboating, I got a royal ice cream headache.
While getting dressed, Paul treated the crowd to a table dance. Someone put a dollar in his sock to take it off. Bob offered him a dollar to put it back on. I did my best to steer clear of the whole thing. My focus paid off and for the first time I was not the last person ready to go. In fact, I even beat Tim.
After paddle libation was had at Coastal Roasters. While sipping coffee drinks, we discussed each others secret names. We also debated the merits of DVRs (I love them), digital music players (I could make it through a work day without my iPod), computers and phone technology. The technology discussion was sparked off by Tim joining the 20th century by finally getting jacked into the internet and e-mail. H and I also made a technology investment over the weekend and joined the VoIP revolution.
We finally tore ourselves away from the excellent view and the excellent company. The work week awaited. Fortunately, we'd had the chance to recharge before diving into the grind.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Birthday Paddle

Today was auspicious for many reasons: I got to paddle, hang out at my favorite coffee joint, and do all these things in excellent company. There was some anxiety about the plans coming together. I couldn't make the Saturday paddle and wasn't sure who would be up for a Sunday paddle. On Friday night Tim and I decided that we would do a low key paddle out of Marina Park and then get some coffee at Java Madness. To complicate matters even more, neither one of us had access to any form of modern communication gear until later on Saturday. H was on the fence about paddling in the cold. Our oven was thwarting her efforts at baking bunt bliss. Ultimately, the little frustrations made the outcome even more delicious.
H and I packed up the kayaks Sunday morning and before hitting the road pondered how long it had been since the egg proudly wore both of our kayaks. It had been at least a month and more likely six weeks. H didn't paddle on the Barking Crab expedition and I was trapped at work on the Veteran's Day paddle out of Wickford. It is a little sad to think that the gaps between paddles will get longer before they get shorter. H, I'm sure, feels it a little more than I do since she does not paddle in the winter.
For a change, we were the first people at the launch. Tim showed up a few minutes later and Bob, in his sexy back box, followed in short order. Paddle preparations took a back seat to checking out Bob's box. The little Scion B model is pretty impressive. The seats are comfy, there is a ton of room in the back end, and the racks have plenty of span. It even has a satellite ready radio.
As we were getting ready to paddle, it became evident that H was not going to be able to go. Her lips were turning blue and she was getting very cold. Wisely, she decided that, despite wanting to paddle with on me on my B-day, she would visit a friend while we were on the water. She figured I'd have more fun if I didn't have to worry about her freezing. She also figured it would be more fun to be in a good mood for the post paddle partying.
The final group of paddlers was Tim, Bob, Rich, and myself. We headed out of Marina Park along the docks at a leisurely pace. I needed some time to warm up. I'm not sure if it was the Flu shot I got on Friday, the fact that I'd been out of the kayak for a few weeks, or the cold weather gear, but I was feeling out of sorts when we started out. I was stiff, couldn't find my rhythm, or keep the Q-boat's tail from wandering. I kept whacking the skeg control, so adjusting the drift with the skeg was tricky.
Once past the point of Harbor Island we hugged the western shore and wended our way towards Snug Harbor. Along the way we found plenty of shallow water and rocks--not the fun kind of rocks either....
I was paddling along talking to Bob when WHACK. I ran the Q-boat bow first into a sleeper. The nose of the Q-boat has steep angle and the rock was perfectly poised to inflict maximum damage to the "impressive clipper bow." The scar is superficial, but long and ragged. I've put the Q-boat in plenty of desperate straights in the few short months I've captained her and earned nary a scratch. The irony is delectable.
I'd never been to Snug Harbor. It looks like it would be interesting at the right point in the tide, but today wasn't happening. There was a decent current running. I managed to use it to impress Bob. As a power boat came into the channel, I did a speedy sculling draw while moving backwards. The current did all of the work, but I took all of the credit.
From Snug Harbor we headed back past the commercial fishing docks and under the bridge to head down the eastern side of the pond. It looked like Tim was going to drive the group back to the launch without lunch. Bob and I quickly started whining and Tim, after consulting his new watch ($14 at Target), decided that we could stop for a quick lunch.
Over lunch we debated the plausibility of the Block Island Ferry being completely automated. Rich was told, by an authoritative source, that the Ferries were run completely on automatic. According to his source, the pilots didn't even perform the docking maneuvers. Tim, Bob, and I took the contrary position. Tim and Bob took the it doesn't make sense from a safety position. I took the it doesn't seem technologically feasible based on the economics position. The discussion veered off to a discussion of how they use GPS to anchor oil platforms and other large vessels that need to be held at precise positions in open water.
Before hitting the water, Tim broke out the birthday bunt muffins. We even had candles. H's frustration from the night before paid off. The muffins were a blast of chocolate goodness. Bob's became the brick of chocolate goodness that kept bubbling to the surface, but that is a tale for him to tell.
The paddle back to the put-in was superb. What little wind there had been died down. I was feeling back in form and lunch energized me. I decided to just open it up. As I picked up the cadence, I felt better and the Q-boat grew steadier. Tim calls the state I was in Zen paddling. It is an apt description. You allow yourself to focus on the cadence, the weight of the blade through the stroke, the motion of the kayak in the water, the sound of the group. The rest of the stress, confusion, pressure, and happiness of the rest of your life fades to the background. The effort of paddling energizes you from a primordial well that lays hidden from the workaday world.
Back at the launch Tim, Rich, and I practiced our cold water rolling while H, who pulled into the parking lot as we pulled into the dock, snapped some "action" shots. It is amazing how much the cold can effect things. For a couple of rolls I wore a warm fleece cap and it wasn't bad. Then I took the hat off... Talk about an ice cream headache. The water is still in the 50's.
Once we got changed and repacked, Tim, Bob, H, and I convened at Java Madness for a well deserved cup-o-joe. We gossiped, heard Bob's tale of terror from Saturday's paddle, and talked about big paddle plans for next season. These are the things that will get us through the cold weather: good conversation over warm coffee, dreams of adventures to come, and the knowledge that we have excellent friends to enjoy them.
I am a very lucky man who had an excellent birthday. May we all be so fortunate.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Urbane Paddling

The weather this weekend was a blessing. It was cool enough--mid 40's--that H decided her kayak season was over, but it was sunny enough for seventeen of us to enjoy a beautiful day of paddling. While we had a great day on the water, it is hard to argue with H's decision to stay dry. Once you get past the middle of October, the water is cold enough to be dangerous, the air is cool enough for a paddler to get chilled, but it also warm enough so that you sweat in a drysuit. If you do not like the cold, paddling in November could not be all that fun. It can also be dangerous.
I do not mind the cold and don't easily get chilled. Today's paddle also held little chance of danger. It was a very different paddle for the group: it was in Boston. We were paddling from Magazine Beach in Cambridge to the Barking Crab, in the Fort Point Channel. The route took us down the Charles, escorted by a number of racing shells, through the canoe path carved out by the Esplanade, under the Zakim bridge, through the locks, and past the Boston water front. Unlike most of the paddles we do, this paddle does not offer any opportunities for playing in the rocks, it does not offer any beaches to land on, it does not offer any expansive views of ritzy residential waterfront homes. It does offer the chance to paddle through a major city, it does offer the chance to paddle through some locks, it does offer the chance to see a major seaport.
As a general rule, kayaking is something I do to get away from the city. However, there is something special about seeing Boston from the water. Sure the cars are careening along the edges of the river, but they are silent. The crowds along the river are happy and vibrant. The skyscrapers thrust into the sky in blazes of glassy glory. You can almost forget that the city also harbors a festering, crowded rot born of too many busy people jammed into too many small spaces. The only hint of the subterranean gloom city dwellers spend the time in between busy stops, is the red line as it crosses the Charles. From the water, it is easy to remember the grand things about our old city.
We had a great time on the water and a great feed at the Barking Crab. The staff did a great job of accommodating 16 stinky paddlers and two lovely guests. They made us sit outside--who wouldn't have--but they sent someone out to take our orders. The food was fast and tasty. The fries were a huge hit!!
We got back to the cars just before dark. The veterans of this paddle thought this was the best of the three. The newbies were pleasantly surprised at what a nice paddle you can find in Boston.
I was close enough to home that I managed to have time to see Borat. Borat is not nearly as relaxing as the paddle to the Barking Crab.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Windy Wistfulness

Another weekend with wind and without paddling. Reports from the front said the Bay was in full hurricane state. Roads were washed out. Sailboats were washed up. Surf was everywhere. Saturday was a monsoon. Sunday was a gale.
Saturday's paddle was going to be a trip from Manchester-by-the-Sea, MA to the Misery Islands. Durring the summer, paddling out to the Miseries is a pleasant little paddle. You can get a hint of open water and a short crossing. This late in the season, the paddle can be a real adventure. Last time I was involved in a late season Miseries trip we found ourselves in over our head. So, there was no way that paddle was happening.
There was some hope of a paddle on Sunday. A few people held out hope that the winds would calm and the sea would settle. Perhaps, they could find a little shelter and manage a paddle. We watched the message board hoping against hope.
Why would anyone continue entertaining the idea of paddling despite the facts? I did it because, as I learn anew every fall, paddling is my outlet for stress. Once the season starts my alternative outlets fade into the salty spray. So, now, as at the end of every season, I find myself befuddled for the first few weeks without paddling. I spent the days in a fog casting about for something to do. I went to the mall. I did some work around the house. I read a little. I watched some Battlestar Galactica. I watched the message board. I kept thinking that the weather could break....
This is the transition time. The gray days when the weather is too unpredictable to paddle every week and too warm to stay inside. If I were a man of balance, like many paddlers, I would have kept up biking through the season. It would make these days easier and provide an alternate outlet.
So, like an addict of sorts, I will slowly ween myself off of kayaking for the winter. I'll rediscover other forms of exercise and promise myself that next season I will keep them up. Hopefully, the wind has blown itself out for a few more weeks. Otherwise, my weening will be a crash withdrawl....

Saturday, October 21, 2006


I love paddling in Westport and was looking forward to it all week. On Friday when we checked the forecast it looked bad. Wind gusts up to 30knts in October didn't sound like much fun. Tim called and wondered if we were going. He was taking the opportunity to hang with his son, but was planning on going to the pot luck. H had no intention of paddling in the wind and the cold. I wasn't fond of the idea of slogging around in the Westport River. The fun part of Westport is at the mouth of the river and just beyond.
So Sat. morning we called Carleen to make sure the potluck was still on and settled into having a quiet day at home. It was really strange being home on a Saturday and not paddling. H and I went out to breakfast and stopped by the Farmer's Market. I had time to catch up on bills, making a web site for our wedding, and other routine household tasks without staying up way too late on a weeknight. On the other hand, I felt like I should be doing something else completely. It wasn't the first weekend I hadn't paddled since the spring, but it was the first one I could have paddled and didn't. Since winter is rapidly approaching I'm going to have to start adjusting to weekends without paddling.
We did however get our fix of RICKA friends. We drove down to Carleen's house to bask in the warmth of friends and laughter. The intrepid souls who braved the paddle reported that it was breezy, but fun. There was plenty of food and cheer. One of the many highlights was when Tim was presented with a Kelly Kettle ( for all of the time and effort he put in to running the Wednesday skill sessions. His patient tutelage helped a lot of people hone their skills and made paddling more fun. Carole graciously arranged the gift and it was a big hit. Tim turned red as a beet.
After the presentation of the gift, Carole took out her Kelly Kettle so we could see one in action... You are supposed to be able to spark one of these things up with random detritus from around the beach and boil water. 45 minutes, several packages of matches, many people laying on the ground blowing the kettle, and copious amount of paper later, we finally had a fire and some hot water. The Irish fisherman who use these things to make coffee must have some magic (or a never ending supply of peet). Lunch stops may grow into hour long events while we get the kettles fired up. But then again, it is nice to have hot tea.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

The Beauty of October

Fall paddling can be hit or miss. The weather is starting to get cool and more unpredictable. The water is cooling off. The size of the groups shrinks. The desire and ability to take risks diminishes. While even a bad day on the water beats any day on land, the possibility of a bad day on the water increases once the calender rolls into October.
Today was a home run. The sun was warm, the water lively, and the company delightful. Tim, Carole, Bob H., Tony, Paul, Rich, H, and myself launched from the Bay Campus a little after 10 to poke around down by Bonnet Shores. Since the beach was closed for the season we figured we could might be able to find a little surf action. If not we figured it would be a good place for lunch.
This was the first time all summer I had seen Bob H. in his kayak. The last time was when he wrenched his back out. That was on the first of July. He paddled a bit for Labor Day, and I had heard he was feeling well enough to use his kayak. I wasn't sure what to expect, but Bob was back in good form. He was a bit more cautious than before, but was still able to play.
We launched at mid-tide so there were plenty of rocks to play in as we paddled over to Bonnet Shores. There was also enough action in the water to make it fun without too much excitement. We all worked on our kayak handling skills as we tried to keep the gelcoat on our hulls.
Tony, in his Tsunami double, wasn't as worried as the rest of us. On two occasions he found himself perched atop a rocky spire like the ark when the flood cleared. The first time he just waited for the water to come back and shimmied his way off the perch. The second time he just hooped off his kayak and dragged it back into the water. That kayak must be pretty tough. I don't know too many kayaks that would take that kind of a casual beating.
At Bonnet Shores we were greeted by a nice line of small surf. This stuff was just big enough to break and perfect for some easy, early fall practice. Never a group to pass up a gift, we took the time to enjoy the surf. We all caught smooth rides into the shore. There was plenty of room to slip off the wave and paddle out for the next one. Tim even took the opportunity to practice his back surfing.
Seeing Tim back was a call to arms for me. I was going to back surf!! I had never done it on purpose, but Tim made it look so easy.... The first time I flipped immediately. The Q-boat breeched with blazing speed and grace. I, on the other hand, fumbled around trying to figure out where to brace. The second try was much like the first except that I planted my melon squarely on the sandy bottom. After the third try, Tim and Paul informed me that it may not be possible to back surf a Q-boat. Even in these minuscule waves the tail of the boat was completely submerged. Not willing to accept the futility of the effort, I asked Tim for his secret. Simply put, it is to lean forward and brace. The info did the trick. I managed to actually keep the Q-boat up right for a few nice rides. Bracing backwards still felt weird, but I had it all sorted out.
After two nice rides, I caught one of the bigger waves and started on a sweet run for the beach. Looking over my shoulder I spotted Bob H. sitting in my path. At the speed I was moving there was nothing I could do but wait for the crunch. Fortunately, Bob was fast on the paddles and moved just enough. Instead of getting speared by the Q-boat's tail he managed to catch it across his chest. I'm sure his back loved that...
After the surf we puttered our way over to the East Passage lunch spot. Along the way, Paul got caught in a rocky spot. Unlike Tony, he couldn't just hop out and move the kayak. Instead he waited for the water to come back to give enough lift to scrape the kayak off the rock.
Once we had fed ourselves, the group headed further down the Bay towards Whale Rock. Conditions this far down the Bay were more rugged. We spent a little time playing around in the rocks. Even H, who is typically the sane one, took some time to play around near the rocks. She did a wonderful job with the pretty green Capella in close to the gelcoat hungry rocks.
We headed back before getting all the way to Whale Rock. People were starting to get tired, nobody had a helmet, and there was no desire to risk spoiling such a wonderful day. The paddle home just continued the joy.
Once back at the Bay Campus it was time to do some rescue practice. The rescue to be practiced was paddling with a swimmer draped off the end of your kayak. Bob latched on to the front of the Q-boat and did his best to dump me. Carol even joined in the fun. Fortunately the Q-boat is pretty stable.
Meanwhile, Tim was giving Paul a serious demonstration of what it is like to paddle with a swimmer on the kayak. He got a ride on Paul's bow and then one on Paul's stern. Paul and his kayak handled the added weight very well. When Tim hopped on the back of the Q-boat, however, we nearly sank. The volume of the Q-boat's stern is too low to carry around a swimmer. The bow, on the other hand, did alright.
I guess that means the Q-boat is perfect for lovely days and not so good for unlovely ones. Here is hoping that all paddles are as nice as todays.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Isles of Shoals or Isles of Death

H and I decided to skip the camping on Saturday night for a number of reasons. One was the fact that we had to travel to CT for my nephew's third birthday. The other was that H did not want to risk the downsides of sleeping outside on a cool October night before a big adventure.
Like Paul B., H had never done a long open water crossing and was understandably apprehensive. She was concerned about being comfortable in her kayak for two plus hours without a break. She was concerned that the condition might take a turn for the worse while we were on the water. She was concerned for a lot of very sensible reasons. A long crossing in colder water warrants a bit of concern. The trick is to not let the concerns overwhelm your judgement.
The lure of the Isle of Shoals was enough to motivate both of us. H had been out to Star Island with her Mom once and when she lived in Portsmouth she could always see them from the shore. I always dream of kayaking to islands that are at the edge of my vision from shore. To add to the allure there are all sorts of interesting stories about the islands.
We arrived at the put in and were a little put off to find that there was a $10 per car parking fee. It was a little more disconcerting that the coordinators were surprised by the parking fee. I was expecting that they had scoped out the launch site prior to arrival. This was a new area for most of the participants and nobody knew where we could park and launch. The idea of moving the launch site was not something that inspired a lot of confidence.
Since H was familiar with the area we headed out to scout the area for a free parking area that also offered a decent launch site. The two beaches with free parking didn't look like ideal launch sites. They were breaking surf on both beaches. The surf heightened H's concerns because she felt that the surf was a harbinger of rough conditions at sea. This was not far fetched given the rough seas on Saturday.
While we were scouting, the rest of the group decided on a new launch site. It was a small beach/boat ramp just down the road from the original put-in. It was ideal: free parking and a sheltered beach.
Once the put-in was secured, things began running smoothly. There was the discussions about what to wear. It was warm for a fall day, but the water was on the cool side. Would a wetsuit be enough if someone went in the water? Would a drysuit be too warm? Could I get away with shorts and a dry top? H only had a wetsuit, so her decision was easy. I decided to wear my drysuit on the way out. If I was too warm, I could change into shorts and a dry top for the return journey. The rest of the group was pretty evenly split between drysuits and wetsuits. Joe S. was the only daredevil in shorts and a shorty dry top.
The plan: Paddle out to White Island to see the light, make a stop at Star Island, lunch at Smuttynose, and paddle back home. The first and last leg are just over seven miles. At a good pace that meant about two hours each way.
The trip out was pretty mellow. The seas were bumpy enough to keep things lively, but not enough to cause any real concerns. As Carleen warned us, there were occasional rouge waves. The rouges added a trifle more excitement.
From White Island we spotted an obelisk on Star Island. It seemed like an odd thing to put in the middle of an Island that is owned by a church. (Star Island is owned by the Unitarian Universalist Church.) The other obvious structure on Star Island is the huge resort that is used as a retreat and conference center. It started life as a 19th century summer resort for the rich and famous.
As we pulled into the harbor at Star Island we discovered a dead seal. Once on the island we split up to explore the island. The obelisk was a grave marker for a long dead minister. As I made my way back to the kayaks to find the group, H found me and told me that the group was heading off to Smuttynose for lunch. I was holding up the group. I had missed the memo about this being a five minute stop. Most of the group waited, while a few others headed over to lunch.
Smuttynose Island has a bizarre history of death and murder. In the 19th century there was a brutal murder. Someone murdered the family that was living on the island. It was suspected that the son of the socialite living on Appledore Island was the killer, but a man from Portsmouth was convicted of the crimes. This was despite clear evidence that no one could have rowed to the island, committed the murders, and rowed back given the sea conditions that night. There was also the story of the Native Americans buried on the island. The most tragic tail of death was that of a few shipwrecked Spaniards. Their ship smashed into the island in a blizzard. The survivors made it within a spitting distance of the shelter on the island before they froze to death. The minister found their bodies the next morning.
As we were leaving we saw a dead bird.
The paddle back was almost as uneventful as the paddle out. There was some confusion about the course we were supposed to follow, but Joe's GPS guided us back safely. There was also a bit of surf around the harbor entrance. The surf spurred a little yelling, and H was shocked by a big swell as she entered the harbor.
The post paddle pig out was held at a great lobster shack in Hampton. There is nothing better than lobster, fried clams, and good friends to end an interesting paddle.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Dearth of Dublin Paddling

Last week I was in Dublin for work. Being completely addicted to kayaking, I had my heart set on doing some paddling in Dublin Bay. It is a beautiful body of water with tons of rugged coast. I thought for sure that there would be a number of places that rented kayaks or ran paid trips. Sadly, this is not true. The closest place I could find was in West Cork which is several hours from Dublin.
At first I was mystified by the lack of paddling opportunities. I could not imagine being that close to the ocean and not kayaking on it. One person I met there mentioned that there are some strong currents in the Bay. There is also a decent amount of boat traffic. Still....
Then I remembered that Boston also lacks good places to rent kayaks or take trips out into Boston Harbor. We are fortunate to have Charles River Canoe & Kayak on the Charles River, but that is not the Harbor.
I wonder why this is? The Harbor is a great resource. It presents a whole new view of the city. Is the boat traffic really that bad? Are the currents really that tricky?
One thing we have over Dublin is local paddling clubs with easy to find web sites. I couldn't find a paddling club anywhere near Dublin. NSPN and BSKC are great resources for out of town, or in town, paddlers.
If anyone knows of paddling resources in Dublin please post them in the comment section. I will be going back and still want to experience Dublin Harbor.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Back to the Bay Campus

How many times do you have to paddle in the same location before it gets boring? I only ask because I've paddled out of the Bay Campus more times than I care to remember, but I still find new reasons to enjoy it. The route is usually one of two:

  1. Bay Campus to Ft. Getty, follow the Jamestown coast to Beaver Tail, across the mouth of the Bay to Whale Rock, back to Bay Campus

  2. Follow the Narragansett coast from Bay Campus to Whale Rock, cross the mouth of the Bay to Beaver Tail, follow the Jamestown coast to Ft. Getty, and cross back to Bay Campus

You'd think given our culture's drive for the next new thing and short attention spans, that I'd have grown tired of the route. It is also reasonable to think that as my skills got better, I'd seek out a more challenging scene. Yet, I still get a thrill out of it. The route, although the same on the map, is as changeable as the water itself. It can be calm, rolly, or scary. Sometimes it is a bit of each. Sometimes it doesn't matter because you just need to get out. Sometimes the people in the group make the difference.
Today I just needed to get out. The previous two weeks had been full of change and general life stress with little opportunity for release. This was also the only chance I was going to have to get on the water for several more weeks. It was paddle or...
H and I met up with Tim M. at the Bay Campus around 9:30am. Tim, free of the devil boat, was also ready for some serious paddling. The Aquilla looked mighty atop his truck.
In short order, we were joined by George and Debbie from CT who was celebrating a birthday. We inspected the fine quality of the work Carl Ladd did fixing up George's Q-Boat. Carl had patched up the gel coat damage George had done on our demolition outing, lowered his seat, and added a keel strip. Other than the grey keel strip, you couldn't see where any of the work was done.
We also compared H's Capella 161 to the Debbie from CT's Capella 161. H's Capella was prettier, but Debbie from CT's Capella was, although just a standard fiberglass layup, much lighter. I guess she had it sent back when her original turned out to be heavier than advertised.
We set out around 10:30 and planned on being back by 2pm. People had some time constraints. That meant that we were going to do the loop without a lunch stop. It was fine with me. I wanted to blow some of the crud out of the carburetors anyway.
Early in the paddle I got to talking with Debbie. She was very interesting. Up until Friday she had been working as a carpenter for Yale. She did furniture and installation pieces for the University. On the side, she also did some custom cabinet work. However, she was looking to make a change in careers. After years of doing carpentry, she was looking into working as a career counselor. We talked about finding your way in your professional life which was quite interesting.
Eventually, the need to really paddle started eating away at my consciousness. Despite the fact that we were having an interesting conversation, I was having a hard time keeping my natural pace scaled back to her natural pace. Sometimes going slow can be a lot of work. So, I politely pulled ahead. Once I started moving, I just opened it up and pushed the Q-Boat to see just how fast it would move.
Conditions were a happy medium at the mouth of the Bay. There was some action, but not enough to make it particularly nerve wracking. The only cause for concern was an uncertainty about the high-speed ferry schedule. It supposedly has some excellent radar, but it is not the kind of thing to test out in a kayak crossing its path.
There was a minor brush with danger on the return trip to Bay Campus.
The open water paddling hadn't quite quenched my thirst for paddling fun. To address this I tried to sneak my Q-Boat through a dodgy slit in some rocks along the Bonnet Bluffs. I had paddled into a spot where the only options were back paddling a fair distance into a rock field or squeaking through a slot in an overfall that was just about wide enough for the Q-Boat and then make a sharp turn before spearing a rock. I decided to go forward and got lucky. Just as I made my move some water filled in and gave me a little more room to play with. It also provided a tiny push on the stern which made the turn a breeze.
George was not quite as lucky. He had followed me into the slot and decided to follow me out. He didn't get the fortuitous wave to help him slide out. Instead, the bow of his kayak got pinned on a rock and he exited the cockpit.
If we had been properly outfitted, this wouldn't have been a big deal. The water near George was shallow enough for him to stand up and the waves were not enough to knock him around. With a tow belt we could have just tossed him a line and pulled him out to deeper water to do a rescue. George was the only one wearing a tow belt. Mine was in the egg and Tim's was in his day hatch.
So, I went in to help George. Meanwhile, Tim dug out his tow belt, put it on, and worked his way into position to tow us off the rocks. Then we needed to find a pump to get the water out of George's cockpit. His had floated away. Mine was with my tow belt. Fortunately, Tim had recovered George's pump and had his tied to his deck.
If conditions had been worse, this easy rescue could have turned ugly. It was a not so subtle hint that I need to bring my safety gear along with me regardless of the paddle. Complacency breeds its own form of danger.
After a quick lunch at the Bay Campus, Tim and I hit the water for some serious practice. The rolling around, stroke practice, and rescue practice felt good. It was a pleasant way to exhaust myself. My confidence and my sanity was restored. I was ready to face a few more weeks off the water.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Labor Day Trials

Photos courtesy of Cheryl Thompson Cameron

After a grey, windy paddle on Saturday and being grounded on Sunday, H and I were looking forward to paddling under Labor Day's sunny skies. H was a touch apprehensive because there was going to be surf at Narragansett Beach. I was of many minds about the surf. One part of me was hoping it would be small so H would enjoy herself and have a safe landing. One part of me was looking forward to putting the Q-Boat through its paces in the surf. One part of me was concerned about my own safety in the surf. One part of me was wishing there were rocks around.
Before we had to worry about the surf, we had to get on the water. Why the seemingly simple job of getting on the water is such a chore for me remains a mystery, but today at least there were a few explanations. There was a surprising amount of traffic on the beach. We had to figure out what combination of clothing would create the delicate balance between staying warm in the event of a swim and staying cool while paddling. The air was cool, but it was sunny. The water was still warm, but once out of the drink... There were some good swells, so paddling was going to require some work. Tim M. was wearing a full dry suit, but I wasn't quite ready to break mine out. Most of us opted for a combination of a dry-top with shorts.
Then there was the question of what to do about the helmets. I opted to just wear mine. There is no convenient place in the Q-Boat to store a helmet and still have easy access to it. Fortunately, my melon protector fits comfortably and I can wear it for long periods of time. The other paddlers choose to stow the helmets until we reached Narragansett.
Once we got past Bonnet Shores we could feel the power Ernesto had left in the water. The swells, while not huge, were insistent. Whale Rock was being pummelled. The cliffs of Bonnet were oddly placid. Despite the power in the water, the conditions were tame and allowed us to make easy progress.
Along the way, we lost two members of the group. Because most of the group paddle together frequently, we've developed a certain rhythm and pace that works. We had a new paddler with us today and the group's pace, which seemed normal to us, was too fast for her. So she and another person headed back to Bay Campus to do a different paddle.
On the final approach to Narragansett Beach our surf suspicions were confirmed. Once we passed Whale Rock, we could see the breaks off the rocks that guard that end of the beach.
We paddled past the rocks on the oceanside to get a clear view of the beach before deciding what to do. People were talking about simply turning back to Bay Campus without landing. Tim was spooked by the "devil boat." Joe was not in a hurry to re-injure his shoulder. H didn't want to smash up her new kayak or be swept out to Davey Jone's Locker.
After surveying the break, which was steady but not large, the rest of the group donned their helmets for the surf run. This did not reassure H! "It is not reassuring to see all the helmets." I offered her mine since she does not own one, but she demurred.
With mellons properly protected, paddlers paraded beachward. Carleen made easy work of the run. Joe A. rode his skin boat on the surf like it was part of him. Tim, on the other hand, was whirlpooled in the devil boat. He washed ashore soggy and shaken.
H and I, meanwhile, were still sitting beyond the break deciding what to do: land or turn tail. Having never surf landed, H was understandably concerned about landing. However, she also wanted to enjoy the beach and the picnic. So we talked about it. It was one of those awkward moments that come up when you're a couple. I tried to convince her that a surf landing was safe and that she would be OK. I also reassured her that it was OK if we went back. She didn't want to look foolish, or get hurt, or put a damper on the day. The helmets, the rip current, and Rich's reluctance to paddle in were tangible evidence of her. We needed an intervention.
Joe S. paddled over, assessed to situation, and devised a plan. I would paddle into the beach. Once safely on the shore, I would scope out the surf. When it looked like the best (best = smallest) set, I would signal by spinning my paddle over head. Heather would then paddle like a dunked dingo for the shore.
Relieved that we had a plan and excited to put the Q-Boat into some surf, I paddled into the break zone. Sometimes I find it hard to catch waves using the stick because it takes a little more time to get up to speed, but not today. I let a few little waves roll by and waited for a big one. Once I saw it, I revved up the engine and hopped on the front of the wave. The Q-Boat behaved admirably on the wave. With just a touch of rudder, it held a tight line right up until the wave started to collapse. In a splash, she spun breach to the wave trapping my paddle on the beach side. I was over in the foam. Luckily the water was deep enough that I could hang out in the cockpit without whacking my head. I waited until the wave, and the one following, it moved past, set up on what I thought was the wave side, and rolled up. I quickly remembered why you don't set up beach side. A wave smacked into me and dropped me back in before I was all the way up. So, I waited for the wave to clear out, set up on the other side, and rolled up. This time I got it right and had time to get the Q-Boat heading towards the beach for a second sweet ride. I glided right into the beach and did a little victory dance. I wanted to head back out and do it again, but I had a mission to complete.
After making sure the Q-Boat was properly stowed above the water line, I grabbed my trusty stick and took up position on the shore. From where I stood the biggest problem getting H in was the swarm of surf kayaks darting about. The surf was starting to flatten out. Just to make sure I watched a set or two before signalling her to start her run. When it looked good I started waving the paddle over my head.
On the water, Joe and Tony, who had come over to lend a hand, couldn't see me. Joe decided that he was needed elsewhere and left H in Tony's capable hands. When he thought it looked good he sent her in.
H, depite being scared wittless, did a great job. She made a perfect run into the beach and was even smiling!!
Once H was safely on the beach and properly congratulated, Bob H. and I helped pull in a few other paddlers who did not have such a good ride. One person had made one of the classic surf blunders: they were between their loose kayak and the beach. Bob H. and I tried to get the person to watch out, but the kayak whacked him in the knees first. Fortunately, no permanent damage was done.
Bob H., who has been laid up all summer, couldn't wait to sit in H's new boat and try out her paddle, even if he couldn't leave the beach. His back was feeling up to a short paddle from the Narrow River Bridge to the beach, but not the surf. It was great to see him out and about. It looked like his back was finally starting to heal. Hopefully he'll be able to join in the winter kayaking fun!!
After some socializing and lunching, it was back through the surf for the return run. I always find surf launches physically harder than surf landings, but I also find them to be far easier mentally. Punching through a wave takes a tremendous amount of strength, but seeing it before it buries you somehow makes it easier to handle. H looked more settled about launching and made it look easy despite the big waves pounding into her tiny kayak.
Tim, on the other hand, looked like he was about to do a forced march through a nuclear mine field. Each time he put a blade in the water it was more like a test step to see if the ground was firm. Instead of attacking the waves, it looked like he was praying the waves would take pity on him. Instead the waves took pity on Rich R. and did a number on Tim. Surprisingly, Tim did make it out without incident, but it was obvious that he and the devil boat were not going to be a pair much longer.
I was still itching for some more time in the surf, but the rest of the group was more than ready to paddle back to Bay Campus. There was still plenty of swells out in the West Passage and we made good time riding them home. The group started breaking up once and Joe attempted to get us regrouped. I was just enjoying the open water, H was getting tired, Joe A. was feeling a bit out of sorts in his skin kayak, and Tim was barely able to keep the devil boat upright when he paddling. Stopping the group was easier said than done. Joe A. and I rafted up with Tim to lend him some support while we waited for the rear of the group.
Once we had gotten the group back together we took off again. It didn't take long for the group to spread out again. This time regrouping, although considered, was not an option. Joe S. and Carleen were corralling the stragglers as we passed the Bonnet Cliffs, so the lead kayaks headed straight for the safety of the Bay Campus.
Once back at the Bay Campus it was time for a little post paddle confidence recouping. Tim and Joe A. were both feeling less than happy about their skills after being unsettled all day. Joe A. was still readjusting to his skin boat and had missed a roll earlier in the day. Tim was just shaken from being pinned in the devil boat all day. So, to prove to themselves--the rest of us knew they were just having an off day and wished some of our good days could go so well--they decided to do some rolling. Joe managed to hit a few rolls and do a balance brace. He even managed to teach me how to do one. It is a neat trick to lay in the water and keep the kayak from tipping. It would be an even better trick if I was smooth enough to get into the position with out a helping hand.
Back on the beach, Tim was being consoled by his wife who had come down to enjoy the sun. It was a good thing too because some of the comments being bandied about concerning the benefits of wide boats pushed his blood to boiling. There is a fine line between joking around and kicking a guy when he is down....
Fortunately, a calming influence was present and once the storm passed the euphoria of spending a sunny day on the water with good friends settled over us. We even managed to restore Tim and Joe A.'s confidence. Is there ever a bad day on the water?

Saturday, September 02, 2006

What's a Little Wind?

All week questions loomed. Will I join the campers? Will I call the paddle due to bad weather? How bad will the weather be? Is a small craft advisory really that big a deal if we stay inside of Hull? How many people are going to be crazy enough to drive from RI to paddle in less than ideal conditions? Can I trust the weather forecasters?
On Friday afternoon two things were clear. H and I were not camping and we were paddling on Saturday. So, we went out partying with non-kayaking friends for the evening.
At 9am, we showed up at Hingham Town Beach to find Tim M., traumatized from the long drive through the hinterlands of the South Shore, waiting and ready to paddle. In short order, others, from far and wide, showed up for our little extreme weather paddle. Eli drove up from Western MA. Ed drove up from RI. Pablo drove in from Quincy, MA. There was even a kayaker from Cape Cod.
The weather radio was not being very reassuring about our chances of having a pleasant paddle. A small craft advisory was in place. The Boston Harbor Buoy was reporting swells of 7 feet. The winds, already at 20knts, were forecasted to increase throughout the day. The icing on the cake was predicted rain.
To make matters worse I had forgotten my preferred kayak paddle. The mighty stick was sitting in my basement. Fortunately, my back-up paddle hangs out with H's paddles and had gotten packed. Heavy winds are one of the best times to have the mighty stick, but I was going to have to make due with a big, sail-like Euro paddle... and have to remember how to paddle feathered.
Figuring that even a bad day on the water was better than a bad day sitting around the house and that kayaks were not small crafts, we decided to head out. I am not totally crazy, so I planned a trip that kept us well inside of the Hull peninsula and provided some shelter from the winds. The plan was to paddle out to Bumpkin Island, where the campers would have breakfast waiting. From Bumpkin, we would head up the Weir River which runs between World's End and Hull's dump. After exploring the river, the campers would head back to their cars in Hull and the Hingham crowd would paddle back from whence we came.
The paddle out to Bumpkin was downright uneventful. The wind was strong but nothing like what was predicted. The water was calm. There were hardly any boats out. I was grateful for the easy conditions. Adjusting to the Kinetic Touring blade was not too difficult. It was weird though. More than a few times I could feel the wind grabbing at the upper blade and trying to wrestle it from me.
We arrived at Bumpkin ready to chow and found the campers languidly packing. Apparently there had been a tragic egg mix up, so they offered up brownies, banana bread, cookies, and nuts. Marianne's brownies were delectable. They were perfectly under cooked to retain their moisture. Mmmmmmmm.
From the beach, which offered plenty of shelter from the wind, we could watch the few other brave souls who had ventured into the gale. A wind surfer was rocketing along. A catamaran slid by riding a single hull at high speed.
Once the campers finished packing up, we all pushed off toward the Weir River which is a short paddle from Bumpkin Island. The Chinese wind god Yu Ch'iang must have been watching us, because as soon as our little band set off the wind whipped into a gale. The short paddle into the river, and up the river, was a struggle.
We found a pleasant cove just before the bridge, over the river Weir, where we were out of the wind. The river ends just beyond the bridge and we were all tired of fighting the wind, so we called a lunch break. As usual, H and I split Tim's extra P&J. There were also plenty of leftover brownies and cookies to finish off.
After lunch, we paddled out of the river and the groups went our separate ways. The paddle back to Hingham was blissfully calm. The wind was at our backs and Worlds End provided some cover. The only issue was the darkening clouds threatening to rain on our parade.
Once back at the beach, and still safe from the rain, Tim, Eli, and myself did the mandatory roll fest. I discovered that I can roll even with a crazy Euro paddle, but it is not a pretty site. Tim, still struggling with the devil boat, also managed to do a few rolls and wisely didn't push it.
Once off the water, we tried to arrange a post paddle meet up with the campers, but after several phone calls we called it quits. We were not hungry enough to eat a meal, and the campers were looking to chow down. So, H, Tim, Eli, and I retired to a nice little coffee shop in Hingham called Brewed Awakenings.
A bad day on the water, particularly one that turns out pretty good, is always better than a day sitting around the house.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Brenton Point Break Away

After two weeks without kayaking, Saturday's paddle whetted my appetite for some serious conditions. Since it was looking like trouble was bound to break out, H wisely decided to stay home and made me promise not to get too hurt. Further increasing the probability of trouble, the weather was full of wind and rain and I woke up in a particularly ornery mood.
I showed up for the 10am launch just before 9am hoping to get a good parking spot and a nap. Both goals were foiled. The parking lot was full of cars from the divers who frequent Ft. Wetherill and a few paddlers had not checked to message board to see that the paddle had been postponed until 10am. It was probably for the best since I still had trouble getting ready on time....
One of the early birds was Jerry B., who had his new Night Heron. She is a beautiful looking kayak. Jerry's modesty aside, he did a wonderful job crafting her. The angled pattern on the hull and the shine of the hull speak to the patience and care that went into the work.
With amazing speed, the group of paddlers swelled to seventeen!! The less than auspicious weather was not dampening anyone's spirits. In fact, there were a few people who came looking for some rough water paddling.
Joe, who was substituting for Frank M., decided that conditions called for a safer plan. He, despite offering up rough water options, intended to take the group along the shore by Fort Adams where there would be plenty of protection. Given the size and composition of the group, his plan was definitely the correct one, if not the most popular one.
To mollify us danger seekers, or perhaps hoping to scare us straight, Joe lead the group out of the Ft. Wetherill cove and crossed to Castle Hill Light. With some cajoling, Joe kept the group in a tight formation across the channel. Once at Castle Hill, he stopped the group so people could get a look at the conditions in the outer bay. Since most of the group knew the plan they stayed close to the shore waiting to paddle towards Fort Adams.
Spotting the danger lust in my eyes, Joe told me that I could, if I wanted, form a break away group. Unfortunately, the only people who had ventured out to take a look was a paddler I didn't know, Matt, and Eli. I decided that, given my options, it was wisest to stick with the group and headed back.
While I was making my way back to the group, Tim M. was making his way towards the point. He wanted to take a peak at the conditions just beyond the point, so I turned tail and headed out with him. The original plan was just to take a peak and then return. Then we noticed that Eli and Matt were tagging along and Paul B. was rapidly catching up.
Since we now had a group, and Joe had given me permission to form a breakaway group, we headed off to Brenton Point to see what trouble could be had. Tim and I really wanted to see what our new kayaks were like in bigger conditions. Matt, it turned out, also had a new kayak, a full sized Nordkapp, that he wanted to feel out. Paul and Eli were just out for some fun.
We paddled about 3/4 of the way to the point battling some pretty heavy winds and chop. Then we moved a little further off shore to really get into the swells and turned back towards Castle Hill to catch the following seas. Despite looking like he was riding a rabid horse with the shakes, Tim handled his new kayak, which he has dubbed "the devil boat", with aplomb. We all caught several good rides on the generous swell.
On our way back towards Castle Hill we spotted another group of paddlers heading out for trouble. Ken, Becca, and Carole had left the main group once they realized others had also wandered away. After dressing us down for not telling the main group we were leaving and not asking them to join in our adventures, they joined us and we headed back towards Breton Point.
As Becca pointed out, it was hardly fair of us to hog all the good conditions for ourselves. It's not like there are a ton of opportunities for RI paddlers to enjoy some rough stuff.
As we wended our way back to Brenton Point, we took turns dodging rocks. The game of choice was to back the kayaks into a rock formation, try to touch the tail to the rock, and hang out for as long as possible. We also found just about every navigable slot along the shore to dart through. It was great boat handling practice.
Once back at Brenton Point, we found some real fun. Along the break water that juts out from the point, the water was really rough. The swells piled into each other and the reflection off of the wall created some clapotis. It was exactly the kind of conditions a smart mariner avoids and a kayaker seeks out.
I dashed in and the waves pretty much submerged the Q-Boat. I'd gotten used to its stearn having water over it during the course of the morning. Any wave over six inches covers it. The Q-Boat's bow, which is like a gigantic bubble, had been pretty dry until I tested my luck. Luckily for me, the Q-Boat is, like its little sister the Anas Acuta, as stable as a six legged table that is bolted to a two ton piece of granite. I dashed out just as quick.
Tim M. had a different idea. He was feeling pretty good about his handling of the devil boat and decided now was the time to really push it. He paddled up along the wall, right into the worst of the clapotis, and decided to hang out...
From the Tim's mouth:

Probably not the best place to push it, but I felt I was getting a feel for the boat. The confluence of two wave sets with a small resulting area of clapotis was too much to resist. Once I got in there, I got knocked down by a good sized wave combination. I then rolled up and went right back down again a couple of times in the following chaos. I then hung-out and sculled for support to gain air. That's when Eli got there and asked me if I wanted a bow. I replied yes and told him to bring the bow in, and then dropped back into the water to protect myself and await the bow. That's when another big wave hit. I didn't think Eli's bow bow would be forthcoming. I also figured that the rocks had to be getting closer and that things were getting more dangerous. That's when I decided to bail.

The big wave had indeed knocked Eli out of position, and surfed me right into position. I grabbed Tim's bow and asked for someone to tow us out from the rocks while we put Tim back into his kayak. It was a little dodgy for a second or two. I had to lean out a bit too far to really get a hold of Tim's kayak and almost went over. The waves were not calming down. Tim lost his paddle. Eli, while retrieving Tim's paddle, nearly went over.
Ken, thankfully, made quick work of towing Tim and I out of the soup and things were all good. Tim got his kayak pumped out, I got my kayak, which had filled up while supporting Tim's kayak, pumped out. Paddles found their owners. Towlines were stowed.
Once everyone was situated, we turned towards home. least Castle Hill for lunch. Along the way we continued to enjoy the conditions.
Coming around the point at Castle Hill we had another accident. This time we all stayed in our kayaks, but we needed to rethink our plan. Matt, who is used to paddling a sporty little Anas Acuta, not a SUVish Nordkapp, pushed himself a little too hard. He pulled a big muscle in his side and was in a fair amount of distress.
So, we paddled, slowly, back to Ft. Wetherill and the cars. We made sure Matt got his gear back up to the parking lot and properly stored and sat down for lunch on the rocks. It was not a fun pit stop. There was no hiding from the damp, bitting wind and none of us were really well dressed for the conditions. Things were so bad that Becca and Ken packed up and headed home.
The few, tough, indomitable, paddlers left--Tim(against his better judgement), Paul, Eli, Carole, and myself--headed over to the Dumplings to see if we could get into more trouble. We figured the current would be running at a good clip and we were not disappointed.
Along the way out we ran back into the main group. Joe chastened us about not being clear about our intentions. Apparently, the group had waited to see if we were coming back. Joe had also paddled out to make sure we okay. I felt bad about the confusion and that we had slowed the group down a bit.
Typically, the members of the break away group work pretty hard at being good group members and ensuring that everyone has a good time. Sometimes, however, you just need to go your own way. In the end, despite, the confusion, our splitting off was for the best. The members of the main group had a nice paddle and the crazy people got to play.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Noodling Around New Castle

H and I had a family thing in Portsmouth this evening, so we decided it was a perfect opportunity to do some paddling in a new area. Having heard the rumors that paddling near Portsmouth was tricky because of the crazy currents, we consulted H's coastal kayaking guides to find a trip that was not totally dependent on the tides, offered some nice scenery, and was of moderate length.
The trip we decided on doing was a circumnavigation of New Castle Island. According to the guide book, the trip is roughly 6-7 miles long, has plenty of historical sites, at least one place to stop, and can be paddled at any time. The book did suggest that it is best to plan the paddle so you are not paddling up the Piscataqua River against the tide. It also recommends not paddling along the backside of New Castle Island at low tides because the area empties out and the channel gets pretty narrow.
After getting a late start, H and I arrived at the launch around 1:30pm which was about 30 minutes before high tide. This meant that we were going to have to paddle the Piscataqua against the tide, but at New Castle Island the current is no more than 1 or knots at max flow. H mentioned that we could do the trip in reverse and paddle the Piscataqua first, but I decided that it would be just as well to do the paddle as planned. I probably would not have mattered much because we would have been paddling against the river either way because the currents in the river are off from the tides.
After paying the $10 launch fee ($5 per kayak) at the Pierce Island Boat Ramp, we unloaded the egg, threw some duct tape on the crack in the Q-Boat's hull, and loaded up the kayaks. While getting ready to go we saw a variety of paddle craft coming and going. There was a couple in a crazy looking Seda double also prepping for departure. An older couple and their daughter were launching their kayaks. The couple had a Folboat and the daughter had a Carolina. Neither was using spray skirts. While on the water we also saw a wide variety of recreational and sea kayaks. When we landed we met a couple who took their toddler out in one of their kayaks. The area behind New Castle offers a cornucopia of paddling experiences.
The trip from Pierce Island to Little Harbor takes you through a wide, shallow, sheltered sound. The big attraction was the Wentworth Coolidge Historic Site. It has a lovely mansion and gardens. The guide book said that the gardens were home to some of the first lilacs planted in the area.
The one bit of paddling excitement was served up by a small boat wake. It hit the stern of the Q-Boat just right and sent the Q-Boat skidding along the water. I had to do a quick rudder to get the kayak straightened out. H was about to chide me for goofing around until she realized that I was victim of a rogue surfing Q-Boat.
Little Harbor is home to the Portsmouth Yatch Club and the fabled Wentworth-by-the-Sea resort. The stately resort that dominates the shore apparently sat empty and rotting for years. According to the guide book, the heating costs were just too much. In the late 90's the Marriot Corporation purchased the resort and restored it to its full grandeur. It is hard to imagine that such a prime location stayed abandoned for so long with out some developer trying to turn it into a strip mall or sub-division of McMansions, but I'm glad it did.
Once past the breakwater at the mouth of Little Harbor, we were in the North Atlantic. The water got a little colder and a little more forceful. It, however, didn't lose any of its clarity.
The day was so clear we could see the Isle of Shoals and make out buildings. I joked with H about taking a little detour... Then I spotted a lighthouse much closer to shore and wanted to check that out. Sadly, we were on a relatively tight schedule and couldn't make either trip.
We made a quick stop at Great Island Common to grab a bite and take a break. The beach was full of families enjoying the cool, but sunny, summer afternoon. We took a walk up to one of the parks more interesting attractions. Along the shore there is a metal frame with a cutout of a painter. When you look out through the frame it looks like the painter is painting the scene for you.
Once back on the water, H and I steeled ourselves for the paddle up the Piscataqua River. It is only a couple of miles up the river to Pierce Island and our car, but it was going to be against the tides. The guide book says to use back eddies whenever you are not blocked by docks.
We found a number of spots where the currents were strong and confused. The first spot was at the point housing the Coast Guard station. After that H, who is new to river currents, suggested that we stick close to each other. As you progress along New Castle's northern shore, there are a number of points of land that create eddies of varying strength. H commented that it was hard to see where the trouble spots where in these eddies because she is so used to looking for waves as a sign of trouble. The eddies were mostly flat water with a tell-tale swirly pattern.
The strongest and most confused sections of the paddle were at the end of New Castle Island where, in addition to a large point of land, you have two bodies of water draining into each other. As we approached I told H to paddle straight ahead. Once we crossed the eddy line the current grabbed our bows and started to spin us into the middle of the river and the shipping channel. Like a pro, H braced and corrected her course. I followed suit and we headed across to Pierce Island. The short crossing required a lot of concentration. The colliding flows created a lot of chop and conflicting currents. One minute you would need to correct to port. The next you'd have to brace and correct to starboard...
The last bit of current was at the very tip of Pierce Island. The point created a small, but strong, eddy that we had to navigate to get back into the landing site. After the crossing, the eddy was a piece of cake.
Although a relatively short paddle, we experienced a new place and H had a chance to try out paddling in some funky river currents.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Gilligan's Outer Islands

Here's a trip report from Paul Bender:

"It was all Carole's idea" is the way I would describe it. With the end of summer approaching she was looking for a little adventure beyond the confines of Narragansett Bay. Her suggestion was Cape Anne but I (Paul B.) countered with Boston Harbor Outer Islands because of the option of staying inside Hull if the weather turned out worse then we expected when we arrived. The day we chose had perfect tides for leaving the Hull Gut and then for carrying us back later in the day. So with little more than that and a bunch of maps for a plan, Mary Ann B. and I arrived at the Hull boat ramp. As we waited for Carole C. and Becka S. to arrive the conversation had already turned to "Gilligan's Island" and the misadventures we might have as the day went on. MA's part was obvious. If you know the hat I wear it was clear that I would be Gilligan. C was assigned to Ginger and B was to be Mrs. Howell. And so after 2 or 3 cell phone calls from the RI contingent as to where the end of Hull was it was clear who would be assigned the maps and that the theme was appropriate. None of us had ever done this paddle before.
We launched our boats into a beautiful day with very light wind and comfortable temperatures. The pass through the gut was uneventful and we passed Boston light on the outgoing tide way too soon to be getting out of our boats. So Becka pointed to Shag rocks and announced that that was where we were headed (Becka was now known as "Lovey" and was playing the part with a fine British accent which somehow seemed appropriate.)
As we arrived at the rocks we were treated to clear views down 6-8 feet into undulating kelp and a bevy of passing stripped bass. Lovey and I started rock gardening passing back and forth through the rocks, followed by the others. I found a 30 ft passage that was barely the width of a kayak and again the three of us went through. C cautiously watched, presumably just waiting to scrape us up from the rocks. As I made my second, scratch free path through the skinny tunnel I could hear MA beginning to hoot it up. As I rounded the corner I was treated to the sight of B in her kayak levitating about 6 inches above the water with rocks supporting both ends of her kayak. She held position long enough that she was ready to get out of her kayak as MA and I went in to help. Finally another set of waves freed her bow and slid her safely into the sea right side up.
C’s response was to put on her tow belt.
From here we headed to Outer Brewster Island. I announced that I though that the other side would be a better place to have lunch. My decree was challenged and after explaining that I always take a window seat when flying out of Logan I had to admit that I had no idea. But we went around to the other side just the same. We landed at dead low tide on seaweed coated rocks. A short climb to dry rocks placed us with a great view of Graves Light House and the entertaining antics of the resident sea gulls. After a lunch punctuated with cookies provided by C, we mutually decided that we were headed to Graves.
As we approached Graves we were reminded about how powerful the ocean really is. The seas that I would describe as less than a foot in open water were unleashing amazing power on the rocks, the first thing they had found in 100’s of miles. We did some more rock gardening. The passages were alternately named the PB "Tunnel of love" or PB "Love Canal". Although the Graves looked fairly close from OBI the view back indicated just how far out we were.
Next stop was Green Island. We explored a decaying barge from our boats and then MA and B headed through another Love Canal. As I entered the passage all the water drained out from under my boat. This wasn't too bad but I knew all the water was soon to return. As expected (and feared) I managed to surf my boat into the rock wall as the surge returned. Once inside, inspection showed a chunk of gel coat removed from my bow and the fact that we were in a lagoon and had to pass back out the same route of demise. With favorable timing we all exited safely.
Now it was C's turn to decree "We're going to explore this Island". We landed our boats on a small gravel beach and I took the opportunity to pop off my shoes to let my feet dry a bit. (A fateful decision.) As we walked the rocks it was clear that we really wanted to be on the main part of the island that was a short wade across a shallow channel. Somewhat because we hadn't pulled the boats up too far, somewhat because I didn't want to get wet, and somewhat because I didn't want to wade in bare feet, I let the three ladies go across and I stayed back. I climbed the rocks a bit and they "shopped" the island for beach glass and shells. After an indeterminate amount of time I turned around to see two of our boats floating away. I ran over to the two remaining boats, jumped in B's boat paddled out to clip into the first boat (mine) with my tow belt. I simply wrapped my rope around the toggle of the second boat only to have it come loose again. Meanwhile the girls looked over and said "Oh look, Paul is bringing the boats over to us and one got away." "Should we go help him?" "No, let him be, he's got a little project going!"
From Green I. we touched a number of islands back to Great Brewster I. Now it was my turn to decree "We're going to Lovell to check out the camp grounds." We passed along some neat wave action along GB spit where waves approached each other from each side forming little Geysers where they collided. We landed on Lovell and found that there are some great tent sites with awesome views of the city.
After over 14 miles of what was a wonderfully fun day of paddling we arrived back at the launch. But the adventure was not over yet. Dinner provided more mayhem than the paddle…. But that's a story for a different forum.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Demolition Derby

The ultimate day of my vacation was a day of extreme paddling off of Sakonnet Point with Tim Motte and a motley crew of paddlers looking to test their mettle against a few rocks.
I showed up ready to power nap before the rest of the paddlers showed up and found the limited parking mostly full. Fortunately, I squeezed the egg into a spot and crashed so hard I nearly slept through the put-in. When I roused myself, Tim, Peter, and George were plotting parking logistics figuring I was off seeing a man about a horse.
Once roused I was ready to go!! I popped the Q-Boat, still salty from Saturday's paddle, off the egg and packed her up for some serious paddling. I made sure that my first aid kit was topped off and stowed extra duct tape for good measure. I donned my tow-belt instead of packing it in my day hatch for safe keeping. To finish my battle prep, I unveiled the bright yellow knoggin shield--an ProTech Wake Helmet--I purchased on vacation. It was surprisingly comfortable and the ear flaps didn't hinder my hearing much.
Our small, but daring, group consisted of Tim, Peter H., Bob B., Mike K., George, Eli, and myself. Despite reports that she was definitely coming, Carleen did not make the launch. Bristling with anticipation, we headed out of Sakonnet Point harbor to test our manly mettle...
Rounding the break water we were faced with calm seas and a light breeze. It was hardly the conditions we had faced on our last outing from Sakonnet Point. Still, we, intrepid adventurers to a man, were determined to find danger among the rocks.
Tim reported that the paddle around the point was the scariest paddle he'd experience in many seasons. The new Nordkapp LV twitched like a squirrel on amphetamines. The others in the group doubted the voracity of Tim's report because he looked so damn good. None of us were close enough to smell his fear...
Before we could hit the rocks, Mike K. had to return to shore to do surgery on his helmet. Apparently the model of ProTech Ace he purchased has little foam nubbins that were attempting to bore into his skull. The nubbins were no match for Mike's knife and he rejoined us before long.
We spent a good bit of time looking for trouble along the rocks off of the point without finding much more than some surflets. There were a few interesting slots that we all ran.
One in particular offered two paths through. One required a pretty sharp turn and only involved a brief time near any rocks. The other path took a straight line along a jagged ridge and was just wide enough for a kayak to pass through without scraping. We all ran the first path and it was exhilarating. Before the group moved on, I, because I have to be different, decided to try the second slot.
I watched how the waves filled and evacuated the slot and picked the best time to make my run. As soon as the Q-Boat was fully in the slot, the water evacuated the slot and left me barely afloat and without a way forward. The water returned with enough force to push my bow out of position to escape the slot. To paddle through the slot I needed to make a forceful right turn, but I was thwarted by my choice of paddle. In close quarters a traditional paddle doesn't provide the force required to wrench a kayak around against surf. You need some room to extend the paddle to generate the kind of force required. So, my only option was to back out to the soothing sounds of Peter H. yelling instructions at me.
After a some more morning daring do, we stopped on the beach for lunch. I gave the Q-Boat a quick check for damage and was pleased to see little more than scratches. Bob B. broke out cookies and we had a stimulating discussion about Middle Eastern politics.
As we were breaking camp a white kayak appeared out of the east. As it got closer, we wondered who would be crazy enough to paddle alone. Then the paddler took form. It was Carleen. After a trying morning, she showed up at the launch late and set out to find us. While we had been playing in the rocks, she had paddled right by us at least once.
We gave Carleen a brief spell to rest up and scarf some food before heading out for more. Having exhausted the rocks directly off of Sakonnet Point, we headed East towards Round Pond and Long Pond. The area between Round Pond and Warren Point offers plenty of rocks to dodge and easy access to a sandy beach if needed.
We found a nice rock formation that offered a thrill filled ride through a washing machine hole. If not timed right, the water on either end of the hole would drop your bow on a nasty over fall. In the middle, you could hang out and wait for the water to return, or you could just sit in the slosh and test your balance.
There was also a rock garden near shore that lead into a secluded sandy beach. The opening looked innocent enough if you didn't mind practicing your boat control skills. Things got interesting when a swell rushed in, picked up the stern of the kayak, and surfed it toward the cluster of rocks at the end of the slot.... Fortunately, the swells weren't strong enough to push a paddler into more than a panic.
The best slot was just past the point past Round Pond. There was a deep, straight slot between two rocks that the water frothed through. Scouting the slot revealed a nasty overhang on each end, but with good timing it offered a fun ride. Everyone took the ride. Some of us went both ways.
The last one to take the plunge was George. It looked like he picked the perfect swell to ride through the slot, but the water was moving a little too fast. It washed out of the slot before George and left the bow of his Q-Boat to slide down one of the rocks. As we prepared to rescue him, George braced the Q-Boat upright, waited for another swell, and paddled out. It was an excellent display of skill and nerve.
Once out of danger, George, accompanied by Peter H. and Mike K., landed on the beach to see how badly he had banged up his kayak. This left a number of us on the water with time to kill. We mostly diddled around practicing rolls and trying out Bob B.'s Kinetic Wing paddle.
The rolling was the best of times and the worst of times. Eli and I managed to hit our rolls. Not to toot my own horn too much... I was able to roll, on and off side, with my stick, Tim's Kinetic Touring paddle, and Bob's Kinetic Wing paddle. I owe a lot to the ease of the Q-Boat to roll and a lot to Tim's patient tutelage. Tim, on the other hand, struggled with his roll. In fact, he missed a roll for the first time in a long, long while. He thought it may have been the new boat. Eli thought it may have been the helmet strapped to his back deck that was causing the problem. Largely the group was just in shock that Tim missed a roll.
After a long, careful inspection, George, Peter, and Mike found a good sized chunk of gelcoat missing from George's Q-Boat. They applied some duct tape to the scrape to protect the hull. Then they rejoined us on the water.
Upon regrouping, we headed back to the harbor. After watching George bounce off a rock and Tim miss a roll, I thought that it was time to get off the water. There are signs that your luck is running low and it is best to head them. We made one quick stop to bail my cockpit out, other then that the paddle back to the harbor was uneventful.
Once we reached the put-in Tim decided he needed to give the roll one more shot. He tossed the helmet ashore, set up, and made two valiant, but fruitless, attempts. After peeling himself from the cockpit, he limped ashore and cursed his aging back.
Later, after multiple doses of coffee, some BK, and a long drive, I discovered that cursory damage checks can miss things. While hosing down the Q-Boat I spotted a dent in the hull. There was a nasty spider crack in the gelcoat to match the indentation. Fortunately, the spot wasn't spongy and the matting on the inside looked unscathed.
As H reminded me: It is never good to find cracks on a new kayak, but it a sign that you are getting your money's worth out of the purchase.