Sunday, June 25, 2006

Being Bad at the Bay Campus

Watching the weather and hoping for a clearing has become standard operating procedure this season. So, I watched the forecast and the message board all week hoping that Tim would not cancel the Outer West Passage paddle. It is one of my all time favorite paddles because it offers a bit of distance, a taste of open water, and some rocks. It is also the third in Tim's progression of paddles from easy(Narrow River) to hard(Castle Hill).
I was happy to hear on Friday that Tim was planning on running the paddle rain or shine. I was even happier on Saturday when I got confirmation that the trip was a definite. The only concession to the weather was a delay in start time. I gladly dodged rain drops to get my boat and gear loaded up Saturday evening.
The drive to the put-in was unpleasant. The conditions alternated between heavy drizzle and heavy rain. There were patches of blinding fog and patches of hydroplane inducing standing water.
It didn't matter. I was going to paddle as long as there was no thunder. Kayaking is not a dry sport, so I wasn't worried about getting wet. I'd packed my drytop, drysuit, and plenty of layers, so I wasn't worried about getting cold. The crappy weather would keep the boat traffic down. The wind was calm. I'd been locked in an office all week battling intractable mind games for little reward beyond a paycheck. I was paddling.
As I expected, the Bay campus parking lot was empty when I arrived. It was early and I only expected a few people--Tim, Paul B., Bob H., and maybe Carole--to show. Shortly after I pulled in, Rich pulled in. Then Sean from CT showed up. Before I knew it, twelve kayaks were lined up on the beach ready for a rainy, foggy paddle. A touch a cabin fever?
Tim considered modifying the paddle to adjust for the fog and the fact that there were a few new people on the trip. The crossing from Beavertail to Whale Rock can be treacherous in fog. The commercial fishermen don't stop for a little bad weather and then there is the high speed ferry... In the end, it was decided that we would try to do the whole trip. If the fog was heavy at Beavertail, we could head back along the coast and cross at a more sensible point.
There was some confusion at launch time. Rich was practicing his sculling and needed a rescue, which Peter H. performed in lackadaisical fashion. While that was happening, Mike K. made multiple trips to his car for gear. Eventually, everyone was in their kayak, on the water, and ready to start.
While we were waiting to get underway the fog had lifted, so Tim set a brisk pace down the Jamestown coast. He hoped to get to Beavertail before the fog settled back down. We were assisted down the coast by a favorable tide. Without much effort, the group easily made it to Beavertail in about an hour.
It was rainy, but the fog stayed away. We could easily make out Whale Rock from the channel marker off of Beaver Tail, so we made the crossing. This crossing, while still in the Bay, is pretty open. It is parallel to the mouth of the Bay and there is nothing in the way of ocean swells. Today the swells were tame and he crossing was uneventful.
From Whale Rock, we headed to lunch propelled by a tail wind and following seas.
The rain held off for lunch, but the fog returned to Jamestown. The high speed ferry also made an appearance. If we had been slower, the crossing would have been much more difficult. It may have been treacherous.
The paddle back to the Bay campus along the mainland was quick, but pleasant. We had following seas to push us along. There was also plenty of opportunity to play in the rocks.
Once back at the Bay campus several people were reluctant to call it a day. It was only 1:30. So, Carole started offering up different types of rolls for people to try. The first one was called the butterfly roll ( Rich tried it and got very close. I also tried it, several times, and didn't come quite as close as Rich. I did offer Becca a chance to practice her assisted rescue skills though.
The other was a maneuver where you pass the paddle over the hull of the kayak and set up on the other side. I managed this "stupid kayaker trick", but cannot see how this would be useful in a real situation. It is much easier to move the paddle under the deck to reset for a roll on the other side.
The tricks coaxed Tim back into his boat to see why people were tossing paddles around. Not to be left out of the rolling festivities, Tim did a few rolls. Paul and Peter rolled over also. Even Becca showed off a picture perfect roll.
Bob did a spectacular half roll at speed.
While demurring to dunk herself, Carole did prove that it takes no effort to get young men to roll over and do stupid kayaker tricks:)

Sunday, June 18, 2006

The Wonders of Wellfleet

Cape Cod has some great paddle locations. Unfortunately, tourist traffic makes getting to them unreasonable. So, when Michael B. offered the opportunity to paddle in Wellfleet before tourist season began, I jumped at it. H, who was suffering under deadlines, took a bit of convincing, but eventually saw the light.
Even without traffic, traveling from Waltham to Wellfleet is a long trip. H and I were up at 6:30 to make the 9:30 meeting. The drive was about two and a half hours. We did stop for a healthy breakfast of Egg McMuffins and Honey Dew Ice Coffee at a rest stop.
When we arrived at the put-in trouble loomed. The original put-in had been turned into a sticker only beach, so we had to move to more public digs. Once at the new put-in, the wind, which was stronger than forecasted but nothing to cause any concern, had some of the group thinking about moving the paddle to a whole new location. Fortunately, inertia is a force to reckon with and the group decided to stay put.
The beach we were launching from is lined with a number of shellfish beds that are exposed at low-tide. Of course we were putting in at low tide. The men were there tending their beds and eyeing us suspiciously as we lined up our kayaks in the direction of the newly seeded beds. One stray paddle would be enough to damage or destroy the nets that protect the baby clams. One of the shell fishers eventually came over and showed us the path through the maze of beds. It was a winding path wide enough for us to get through single file.
As this was a BSKC trip, the pre-paddle talk was much more focused on group safety than your typical RIC/KA trip. Michael had actually collected emergency contact info for all of the participants. He pointed out the proposed route and who the experienced paddlers were. He even set up a point and sweep.
When we first set out, the wind was in our faces, but couldn't have been more than 10knts. It was enough to keep it from being too hot and to keep the paddling from being too boring. Wellfleet Harbor is pretty sheltered and provides a great spot for an experienced beginner to get some time in salt water. In fact, there were two beginners on this trip. One of the women had just purchased a new Capella and had used it only a few times. One of the men had just finished building a stitch and glue boat and it was his first time on the water-ever. He picked up the kit looking for a woodworking project and decided he had to use it once it was built.
There were a number of people on the trip who use traditional paddles--Linda, Brian N., and Mike B. use Greenland paddles. I use an Aleutian paddle. The newbies inquired about how they worked since they look so skinny. I don't know the real answer to the question. The answer I always hear and parrot is that the blades have the same amount of surface area as a Euro paddle, but it is spread out over a longer distance. Whatever the answer is, I prefer my paddle to a Euro paddle. I get plenty of bite out of it and I am far more agile in my boat with it.
About halfway out to Jerome Pt.--the outer point of Wellfleet Harbor--we took a pit stop. On the beach Arron found a Conch shell that was still occupied. It was the first time H or I had ever seen one. It was kind of icky looking, sort of a big slug thing. There was also a crazy little crab with a huge white claw scampering all over the beach.
When we headed back out on the water the wind had completely dropped off. The water was dead calm. Under these conditions we paddled over to Jerome Pt. where we found some seals. Then we slipped around the point to Billingsgate Shoal.
Billingsgate Shoal is called the Atlantis of Cape Cod. Up until the early 1900's, it was an island that supported a small town and a lighthouse. In the mid-1800's the town was big enough to support a baseball team. By the 1900, coastal erosion had taken it toll. People started abandoning the town. Now all that is left is the remnants of the seawall and the foundation from the lighthouse. Even this is underwater at high tide. See the Wikipedia entry at
We had lunch on the shoal and watched a couple of very bold seals lounge in the water about 10 yards off the beach. They were definitely checking us out and had no fear. It was relaxing until the beach started to vanish.
The seals stuck around until we passed back into the harbor proper. By then they were probably tired of watching us watch them.
The paddle back was hot and long. The wind had died, the water was dead calm, and the sun was blazing. We slowly made our way back to the beach with frequent stops to recollect the group. Fourteen kayaks are hard to keep together even under conditions that mild. The man with the wooden boat was trying out edging and other steering techniques. The women were chatting. Everyone was stopping for the occasional bow dip to cool off. I even stopped once for an open water bathroom break while H kept my boat from tipping.
Despite the heat, it was a pleasant paddle back to the cars.
The tide had come in, so the clam beds were safely underwater. This made getting back the the beach much more straight forward than leaving was.
Before disembarking, a few people practiced their rolls. Watching Brian roll helped me figure out what was going wrong with my roll. I need to remember to sweep until I'm leaning onto my back deck.
The man with the wooden boat practiced a paddle float rescue. Before doing his wet exit, he tossed his paddle away to everyone's horror. He said he was just trying to pretend something bad had happened. We explained to him that if you loose your paddle, something VERY bad had happened. Once his paddle was retrieved, he did a nice paddle float rescue and called it a day.
H, still looking for the right boat, tried out Linda's Rumor. She had tried one at the Kayak Center's demo days and thought it fit like a glove. However, she thought it was really squirrelly. This time she looked and felt a lot more comfortable in it. The Rumor is definitely a boat for a small paddler because it has negligible freeboard or volume. It is also the only boat I've ever seen that has negative rocker.
After a pleasant dinner and some nice mocha, espreso frappes, we headed back to reality. The traffic was backed up from Plymouth to Brockton. It took 4 hours to get home, but it was worth it.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Playing Hooky

When the weather gods hand me a sunny day after so much rain, and it happens to coincide with a scheduled paddle in a great spot, I have a hard time passing it up. I hedged my bets all week, kept an eye on the weather, and refused to let myself get too excited. Thursday afternoon, after Tim M. confirmed that he was going and the weather forecast continued to look like a gift, I e-mailed my boss and told him I needed a personal day. My boss is an Irishman with a keen respect for the occasional mental health day, so after a bit of ribbing, he gladly agreed.
Friday morning I pulled into the Westport boat ramp and had a brief moment of panic. All of the parking spaces were marked "trailers only." A quick phone call to H, who was being a good dooby and working, confirmed that I was at the right spot. Shortly after I got off the phone and started to nap, Tim M. pulled in, followed shortly after by Paul B. and Bob H.. With four cars it was easy to fill up a couple of trailer spots in a manner that seemed to appease the parking police.
The trip provided a good opportunity to play in currents and practice ferry glides. Carleen--who missed the paddle due to a babysitting emergency--picked a day where the river was running against us both ways. Fortunately, there was very light boat traffic, so we had plenty of room to play. On the way out we just did a couple of zig-zags to get out to the ocean. We were all itching for some swells and open water. On the way back in, we played in the currents for a while. There was a nice eddy along the sea wall so I would poke out into the current, glide into the channel, ride a few bumps, slip back into the eddy, make my way back to the top of the eddy, and repeat. Tim and Paul mostly just hung out gliding around in the current.
The ocean portion of the trip had something for everybody: swells, wind, long haul paddling, rocks, and rescue practice.
We paddled out to the Marsh whose name I forget. There was a nice wind in our faces that kept the heat at bay and the swells up. That area of the coast has a lot of interesting features that Tim M. explained to us. There are a few exposed rocks to create little breaks, but we hung pretty far out to sea. We lunched by the marsh and soaked up the sun after a few embarrassing mini-surf landings.
The launches also offered a bit of comedy. The beach was just steep enough and the surf just big enough to breach my boat before I could get the stern afloat. Finally, with a few shoves from Bob H. I did manage to get off the beach.
On the return trip, we decided to make the trip a bit more exciting. It was rock time. There is a nice big rock formation right by the beach that we played dodge the waves with a couple of times before turning homeward.
We decided to stick a little closer to shore and see if we could find any safe rocks to play around and not get our knoggins bashed.
All went well until Bob went in search of a surf wave... The next thing we know there was a bright yellow spot where Bob should have been. Nobody, including Bob, knows exactly what happened, but we had a swimmer near a wave break and rocks. This is where rescue practice pays off. Bob held onto his boat and paddle; I spun around, locked up his boat and started the rescue; Paul B. clipped his tow-line into my bow and pulled us away from the rocks. In short order, Bob was out of harm's way and in his cockpit.
A bit later, I nearly got trounced by a wave. We were all trying to move outside a break and I was the innermost boat. A little wave crept up and forced a brace. Right behind it a bigger wave rolled in and took me for a ride. I managed to use my brace to stay upright and spin the boat so that I was facing down the wave. It was a roller coaster ride. While on the wave being pushed towards some rocks, I was terrified. Once safe, I was exhilarated.
We decided to test our luck once more on the rock formation just outside the mouth of the Westport River. There was a nice gap where the waves broke a little. Tim, Bob, and I all took several runs through it. Going out towards the waves was the easiest run because you could see what was coming. Going in was a rush because if you mistimed it, you could end up parked on a ridge waiting for the next wave to flip you or bash you into the rock. Tim actually got caught in the swirly on his first trip through, but held himself off the rocks.
I knew I had pushed my luck to the limit and decided to call it quits after four or five runs. It was a good thing too. While we were rounding the sea wall into the river a little breaker caught my boat just right and I had to brace in a hurry. It was definitely a sign...
The weather gods and the water gods shined on us.
Post paddle coffee was had at Tiverton Roasters--Great Coffee. The conversation was deep and thoughtful. Then the party moved to Evelyn's--a tradition reborn from its ashes--for fried sea food.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Rescue Me

Last weekend two experienced paddlers found themselves in trouble and required a rescue from the Coast Guard. They have put together a very detailed and well thought out incident report at Plum Island Incident Report.
Be sure to read Nick Shade's comments also.
The take aways:

  • You can never be too prepared.

  • You can never be so skilled that you always be able to save yourself.

  • You can never be so smart that you won't be surprised by Ma' Nature.

  • You can always use a friend, or friends, when things go wrong.

Monday, June 12, 2006

The Sun Comes Out to Play

After days, or was it weeks, of rain, the weather gods blessed us with a sunny Sunday. Never ones to let a gift like that slip by, H, Tim M., Bill H., Bob H., and I gathered at the Bay Campus for a spot of leisurely kayaking. Since the wind was forecasted to pick up later in the day, we decided to paddle along the shore towards Whale Rock.
I've paddled this stretch more times than I can count and it still amazes me. The rocky cliffs sparkled with run-off and sun shine. The water was a crisp green. The sky was a sharp blue. There was just enough wave action to make playing in the rocks fun.
Tim found a cool nook with a small waterfall. It was a little small for two boats, but that didn't stop Bob from trying to sneak in.
We lunched at the usual spot just past Bonnet Shores. It was nice to just sit in the sun. As a bonus, H made low-fat, but still yummy, brownies. The secret has something to do with apple sauce. According to Tim, apple sauce can be used as a universal condiment. It is particularly good with broccoli.
After lunch, we initially decided to paddle up to Whale Rock and then over to Beaver Tail. The weather gods had different plans for us however. The wind slipped around to the north and gathered strength. Instead of facing a long slog back in addition to two crossings, we turned back to Bay Campus.

It was a wise decision. The paddle back was tough, but not miserable. We still found some nice rock dodging spots. We also gawked at some of the gaudy houses being put up along the shore.
By the time we made it back to Bay Campus, we were pleasantly pooped and relaxed enough to face another week of work.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Eskimos and Staying Put

After the practice on Saturday, Carol mentioned that Wayne Hurodowitch had said that instead of teaching newbies how to exit their boats, instructors should be teaching them how to stay in their boats. Both of us agreed that it is best for a kayaker to stay in the boat, but that it is probably unrealistic for most people. Rolling is one of the last things sea kayakers are taught. The early focus in safety training is on self-rescues, like the paddle float rescue and T-rescues.
Thinking about it while writting about the rescue session, I wondered if that is really the best approach. In white water kayaking, one of the first things you learn how to do is roll. The theory is that you should only come out of the boat if there is no other option. Most eskimos couldn't even swim, so they rarely left the boat. It is possible to stay in the cockpit of an upside down boat and get air by swimming or sculling.
Maybe it would be best to focus on teaching people to stay in the kayak? It would make rescues easier and eliminate the need for pumping out an open cockpit in rough water. In cold water, it means that a lot less of the person is in the water..
The reality is... the majority of paddlers are purely recreational and don't venture into conditions where a rescue is that tricky. Many are not particularly athletic. Most paddlers paddle in a group, so there are plenty of people to facilitate a rescue.


Saturday was the RIC/KA sea kayaking rescue session lead by Tim Motte. Despite the inauspicious weather (downpour) in the morning, seven people showed up and practiced safety skills. As the incident last weekend off of the MA coast attests, safety skills cannot be underestimated. You never know when you are going to need to be plucked from the drink or need to pluck somebody from the drink.
Tim ran through a progression of skills starting with wet exits. While it can be argued the safest strategy for a paddler is to never come out of their boat, the reality is that most paddlers cannot always roll a kayak up, do the rat swim, or hang upside down holding their breath long enough for somebody to perform an eskimo rescue. We all need to know that we can get out of our boats and how to do it quickly and safely.
After wet exits, Tim went over the standard T-rescue. During his talk he pointed out two very important things:

  1. When you paddle with a group it is important to be a part of the group. When you go over and wind up swimming, you let the group rescue you. When somebody else goes in, you help rescue them.

  2. When you wind up in the water, don't just be a passive victim. Be proactive in facilitating your rescue by holding onto your paddle and boat, making noise to attract attention, and listening to the rescuer.

Tim also demonstrated using a stirrup for helping a swimmer into their boat. We went over the pros and the cons of the stirrup. The pros are that the stirrup makes it easier to get heavier people in their boat and the stirrup, if used properly, stabilizes the rescue boat. The cons are that the stirrup can easily become an entrapment for the swimmer to become ensnared and it takes some time to set up the stirrup.
Eskimo rescues were also demonstrated and debated. Most people have only ever seen them used during practice sessions. For instance, they are great when doing rolling practice. I have seen it used once in the wild, but it was a rare case of factors lining up just right to make the rescue work. The biggest question was about how realistic it is for a capsized paddler to stay in his boat long enough for a rescuer to get a boat in position? Another question was about the risk of the swimmer banging their head.
See Eskimos and Staying-put for more thinking about sticking with the boat.
There was also a heated debate over paddle leashes. Some people love leashes because the leash alleviates the paddler from worrying about losing their paddle. Tim said he could see where leashes have their uses during rescues, but still doesn't use one. I personally don't like leashes for a few reasons:

  • they get in the way.

  • they are an entrapment risk.

  • they make people sloppy.

You should always, always, have to think about keeping your paddle secure.
After lunch we went over self-rescues. Everybody practiced the standard paddle float outrigger rescue. It is a good rescue in calmer water, or if you have the right rigging behind your cockpit. Mike K. showed off the cowboy rescue and a few people tried them out. I, personally, don't see how the cowboy would be useful for more than showing off, but I have good deck rigging for a paddle float. Rolls were also mentioned in passing and a few of us practiced them.
Of course, the safest self-rescue is to paddle with other people who you trust to be able to help out when things go awry...

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

It Never Gets Boring

I was talking to Paul B. last night and he mentioned that paddling on ponds and rivers was also fun even though it was not like paddling on the ocean. It reminded me of one of the things that I like most about kayaking: no matter what the water is, it always offers something interesting.
I can paddle the same stretch of water over and over again and each time it is a little bit different. It might just be a slight change in wind, the angle of the sun, or some fog. It might be calm one day and rough the next. It may be something like a deer on the shore or spotting a beaver.
Each time it is new. It is true of a lake or a stream or the Bay or the open ocean.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Winded in Wickford

After being rained out on Sat. I was ready to hit the water. The marine forecast Sat. night called for a grey, but calm, day.
When I woke up Sunday and it was a bit rainy way up north in Framingham, I wasn't worried. The forecast had said that we may get a some drizzle in MA, but that RI was clear and dry. Sure enough as I drove south and drank my latte, the rain dried up.
As usual, I arrived at the put in, Wilson Park, early and napped. The front seats of my wee Subaru are pretty comfortable for short pre-paddle naps.
When I emerged from my car and began talking to the other paddlers, it became clear that once again the winds would not be our friend. The forecast had been ratcheted up from a paltry 5-10knts to a blustery 15-20knts. The winds put the plan to paddle to Rome Pt. in question because this was a level 2 paddle. However, after consultations with the group, we decided that the best course was to stick to the original plan, but to make frequent checks at critical points along the way.
Despite the grayness and the wind, a good size group showed up. There was a new face from MA, an old face making his return, and a bunch of the usual gang.
After I butchered the standard RIC/KA disclaimer about my utter lack of responsibility, I reminded everybody that we are a group and that we needed to be responsible for each others safety. Then we headed off for the mouth of Wickford Harbor. The harbor was oddly still. There was a lot of money sitting dormant at there moorings. Inside the harbor the wind was pretty calm.
Once we got to the harbor entrance, we conferred and decided that everybody was Ok with heading down to Rome Pt. The harbor was a little bumpy, but not too bad. I sometimes worry that when the group decides, people do not always voice their concerns for fear of looking silly. I know that I have been guilty of such. However, not being a mind reader...
We made our way down to Rome Pt. admiring the houses and the quiet of the day. At Rome Pt., we tucked in behind the headland for a brief pit stop. After I managed to drag myself away from a stimulating conflab about AMC web policies, I got down to the business of planning the rest of the trip.
The day was so nice and people were enjoying being on the water so much that some people wanted to continue on towards the bridge. However, the wind was a concern and other members of the group, while wanting to stay on the water, were concerned that they would have trouble paddling back if we went further.
Bob Bomes graciously offered to take the level two people back to Wickford so the rest of us could stay out, but I do not think it is a good idea to split groups in that manner. It is one thing when a paddle is advertised as having two groups, but splitting a trip in the middle is never a good idea. Often what happens is that the tired and less experienced paddlers wind up split off from the stronger and more experienced paddlers. Even if one or two of the better paddlers does go with the other group, it is still not as safe if the whole group sticks together. Part of paddling in a group is occasionally sacrificing your desires for the safety of the group.
Anyway... the whole group headed back towards Wickford and the wind blew into our faces. Turning back was the right choice. When the members of the group make wise decisions about their abilities and comfort level, it makes the whole day a lot more fun.
We stopped for lunch at Duck beach. There was a big black lab on the beach that played catch with Bob H. I managed to blow my roll and get to once again make sure that my drysuit didn't leak. Tim made me get back in my boat and try again. The 2nd time was the charm.
After lunch we once again battled the wind back into the harbor. Back at the put-in, several people were loathe to retire so early. So, there was practice. Bob H. practiced being rescued. Rich practiced sculling. I practiced breathing under water while waiting for a boat to save me. Tim, as usual, showed all how to roll a cargo ship.