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.

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