Monday, July 31, 2006

Paddling to Prudence, Again

After a long day on the water Sat. H and I, against H's better judgment, dragged our slightly achey bodies out of bed and headed down to Bristol, RI for another visit to Prudence Island. It may seem silly to paddle to the same spot two days in a row, but I figured we'd get a different perspective given the different put in. Besides, I wanted to get some more time in the new kayak....
The weather forecast was for HOT--like Africa HOT and the weather lived up to the forecast. It was so hot that the water felt like bath water. Rolling to cool off didn't even offer much relief. A few minutes after coming back up, your clothes were dry and hot again. If there had been a wind, it too would probably have been hot too. However, the air was still and the water, at least in Bristol Harbor, was as smooth as 12 year old scotch.
H and I were not the only repeat paddlers on the trip. Carole, Mike K., and the other Mike also showed up ready to paddle. I can only hope that when I get into my 3rd childhood that I'm half as spry.
There were some late arrivals, but Frank took it all in stride. We took our time getting ready and catching up with people we hadn't seen in a while like George, also an owner of a Q-Boat, and Brian. Tim used the time to give the Q-Boat a quick test drive. I was a little worried that I might have to spend the day paddling the Aquilla(the "A kill ya" as I like to call it.)
We paddled out of Bristol Harbor and around the end of Poppasquash Point. From there we crossed over to Prudence in an impressively tight formation. In response to Frank's comment that the water was flat, the ocean got lumpy as we crossed the channel. There wasn't much power boat traffic, but there was enough to confuse the waters.
We landed near the entrance to the tidal estuary on Prudence Island and portaged into the tidal river. Tim gave a brief explanation of the estuary's basic properties and the different types of fauna before we set back out for the ocean. It was cool to paddle in a small, windy river in the middle of the bay. We even had a boat capsize on one turn. Apparently, Ed used too much edge to make one of the turns...
Lunch at the beach was very pleasant. The river was a nice place to wade and escape form the heat. There was a cute family on the beach whose children were using their tube as a raft. There was also a puppy who was intent on checking out everything that moved.
Brian took the opportunity to share his mole joke with me. All I can say is that if you get a chance, ask him to tell it. It's not dirty...really....
From the beach on the far side of Prudence, we turned north to return to Bristol by way of the North point. At this point the group started spreading out. A few people in the group were starting to get tired and H was not feeling great. The head of the group was good about not getting too far ahead of the tail and Frank did a great job of keeping an eye on the whole group. He was very good about making sure we were all safe and enjoying ourselves.
Before making the crossing back to Bristol, we took another quick break. The spot where we took out has a nice little nearby, so Tim and I took the opportunity to play a little. The break was very welcome--except for the biting bugs--as it breathed new life into H before the big crossing.
The return crossing was also bumpy. There was more boat traffic, but the bigger boats steered clear of out tight pod of kayaks. Once at Poppasquash Point, Frank decided to split the group. The faster paddlers went ahead and he stayed back with the slower paddlers. It was a nice gesture. Paddling too slow can be just as tiring as paddling too fast. Everyone has got a certain rhythm range and paddling outside of that for too long can be arduous.
By the time we got back to OSA, H was back to her cheery self and ready for dinner. We ate at J.G. Goff's Pub. The heat of the day had abated and the view of the harbor at sunset, combined with the excellent nachos, made for a great ending to a nice paddle.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Paddling to Prudence

I was a little apprehensive about today's paddle as I'd never launched from Head's Beach, had never been to Prudence Island, had lost my chart of the Bay, and I was subbing as coordinator. To make matters worse the coordinator for the level 2 paddle, Peter H., was also a substitute. Fortunately, Peter was much better prepared than I was and Ray B. showed up and graciously took the level 3 reigns from my hands.
In addition to doing a completely new paddle, I was taking the maiden voyage in my new Q-Boat. The Q-Boat, its actual name is a barely pronounceable Greenlandic word that was probably invented in an English pub, is billed as a high volume Anas Acuta. I'm not certain that I would call it that, but it does have many characteristics of the Anas Acuta and is big enough for me to sit in comfortably without sinking. The Q-Boat's chines are hard, it's front-end is a big bubble, it's tail is long, and it's ends are pointy. Michael Brokenshire said it looks like an arrow.
Also sporting new rides for the paddle were Mike K. and a new paddler, Bethany. Mike's new ride is a shiny red Eddyline Flacon that he hopes will give him some added speed on calm water paddles. Bethany's new kayak is a red over white Nordkap LV. Both boats got rave reviews at the end of the day. Mike was actually in the middle of the pack for most of the day!!
At a little after 10am 25 kayaks set out from Head's Beach to paddle to Prudence Island. There were a couple of new people, several people I had not seen in a while, and a lot of the regular crew. The plan was to paddle along Jamestown, cross over to Prudence, and take a quick break at the beach. From the break point, the level 3 paddlers were going to head up to the local store for goodies. The estimated mileage was about 6 for the level 2 trip and 15 for the level 3 trip.
For most of the paddle I was concentrating on getting a feel for the new kayak so I didn't get to talk to as many people as I would have liked. I also didn't get quite as nice a view of Jamestown as I would have liked. However, the Q-Boat made up for those lapses.
Paddling the Q-Boat is a dream. At 18' long, she has plenty of speed, however, due to the rocker in the tail, she is also plenty maneuverable. It doesn't take much to make her spin around on a bow rudder. Being hard chined, she is also amazingly easy to get and hold on edge. The hard chines make her feel a little unsettled when the water gets bumpy, but that is largely due to my unfamiliarity with how it feels. The water slaps the chines and can make the hull rock a touch. Based on her stability on edge, however, my guess is that in rough water she has plenty of stability.
After a pleasant stop at the beach on Prudence where we feasted on H's oatmeal chocolate chip cookies and Lori Bomes' delectable cookies, the level three group headed off to the store. By this point, I was settled into the new kayak and took the time to look at the sights. Prudence was pretty. I liked the little light house and the store/post office was pleasantly run down.
By the time we hit the store, H and I had used up a good bit of our water supplies due to the heat. It wasn't so hot that it felt oppressive, but you could tell it was warm. The cold beverage and ice cream from the store were a nice treat.
The paddle back to Jamestown seemed much longer than the paddle out. This was due to the fact that we didn't stop for a break on the return trip. This was also due to the fact that it was a long trip and people were getting tired. At first I thought it may have just been the heat, but come to find out the trip was 18 miles long and not the advertised 15. Ray had no sympathy. As he said after dinner: "It's the end of August. You guys should be in shape to do that kind of distance no sweat."
The paddle back afforded us a view of a gigantic ship as it took the channel between Jamestown and Prudence to the East Passage. I was prepared for the monster to throw a huge, surfable wake, but it only caused a few paltry waves. Still, it was impressive.
The return trip also offered me several opportunities to practice my combat roll. One time I tried to spin the kayak around on itself and edged over a tad too far. The other time I was paddling backwards and caught a wave just wrong. Fortunately the Q-Boat rolls with hardly a thought. The trickiest thing is waiting for the kayak to settle before starting the roll.
The post paddle pig out was held at the Jamestown Portuguese Club. The wait staff was harried, but pleasant. The portions were big and the prices were reasonable. Oh and the food was mostly excellent. The cod only got an OK rating. Dinner conversation seemed to hover around things that can kill you... Great whites hunting seals off of Monomoy... Man-O-War on RI beaches... just about anything in Australia. Not sure what that says about us...
I want to give kudos to Lori's friend Marianne. She did the level three trip and was at the head of the pack for the whole time!! I'd also like to thank Ray B. for doing such a great job on short notice.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Bluff Point Paddle

Here's a trip report from Bill Hahn:

July 8
Bluff Point Park, Groton, CT.

My friend Mike and I arrived early, about 9 for a 10 am departure. Much to my surprise the parking lot, which is quite large, had quite a few vehicles in it, many with sea kayaks still on their roofs.
We parked and walked over to some activity at the beach. Karen Knight was doing a demonstration of paddle strokes for the ConnYak club. After the demonstration she would be giving a clinic for women for the remainder of the day. There was a large ConnYak contingent watching the demo. As the RICKA crew arrived for our paddle they joined the group watching from the beach.
I had never heard of Karen but her paddling skills were considerable. She was able to make a small one person canoe and a sea kayak do things I had only dreamt of. She used single bladed paddle as well as the standard two bladed paddle. She literally made the kayak dance.
The demo finally ended about 9:30 and we started to pull the paddle together. Because Karen was using the beach we prepared to launch at the far lower side of the parking lot. The remainder of the ConnYak group, guys and the ladies that were not taking Karen's class also started gearing up for their own paddle so it was a very crowded put in.
I noticed one of the ConnYak paddlers had a S&G Night Heron. As this is the boat I am also building I was anxious to talk to him about the construction as well as how the boat performed. After grilling him as long as I could I was happy to confirm that the boat was a good choice.
12 People arrived for the RICKA paddle including a couple of people from CT. We finally got off about 10:25 or so waiting for a late arrival but slightly ahead of the ConnYak group. They were doing about the same paddle and we agreed to try and meet for lunch.
The day was perfect with little wind and a good tide in the river. The plan, based on earlier paddles from Bluff Point at this level, was to go out the river, down the coast towards Mystic, pull into Mumford Cove, come back to the beach, have lunch and return.
The lack of wind and an energetic group got us to Mumford Cove way ahead of schedule. The near shore temperatures in the Cove were uncomfortable with the light winds and we decided to go further down the coast since everyone was doing fine. We passed Groton Long Point and went into Palmer Cove. At the head of the Cove was a small sandy area and we pulled in for lunch. Across the street from this location was a public beach with a concession stand and real restrooms, a great luxury on any paddle. We did not run into the ConnYak group and missed our lunch date.
After a leisurely lunch we headed back. The water level in the river was down but not enough to be a problem.
Karen's class was still going on in the beach area. She had the group on the grass going over some techniques. A number of our group watched from a distance. She then moved the group into the water. At this point I must commend Ray B. for exercising incredible self control while this women only class was taking place.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Quantum Leaps

I finally got to see H in her new Capella 161 and she was a totally different paddler. It is amazing how much changing a kayak can effect a paddler. The Shadow she was paddling was an OK kayak for a beginner or some one bigger than she is, but ultimately it was her albatross. It had excellent primary stability, but, when you could wrench it on its side, it was unstable on it edges. It also had a gigantic cockpit and way too much volume for her.
The Capella on the other hand is a very nice fit. It is the same length, 16ish feet, but is much narrower at 21". It also has excellent primary stability, is easy to get on the edge, and has very predictable secondary stability. The fit is also much better.
H, Tim, and I paddled out of the Bay Campus and headed towards Beaver Tail to give H her first real paddle in the new kayak. The conditions when we set out were pretty mellow. There was a decent bit of chop and a light wind. As we paddled down the Jamestown coast the wind picked up to a respectable clip and the swells got bigger. H had no problems keeping pace with Tim and I and, despite the bumps, seemed perfectly comfortable. I even saw her smile a few times. In her Shadow she would have been struggling the whole time. The Capella behaved better in the swells and because it fit better, and had solid foot pegs, allowed her stroke to shine. The rotation was better and it showed.
When we turned to head back, she took off. In a following sea, the Capella surffed like a champ. It shot down the swells straight as an arrow. There were times that Tim and I were having trouble keeping up because we had to work keeping our kayaks straight. H looked like a pro.
The crossing from Ft. Getty to Bay Campus presented us with the most challenging conditions of the day. There were beam winds and beam swells. Initially, I had trouble finding the magic skeg spot to keep my kayak on course. I kept either pegging it too far down and turning downwind, or pulling it too far up and turning up wind.
H, on the other hand, held a solid course and made good headway. Her little boat handled the swells easily and she braced on the big ones. I was very impressed.
On the beach she demurly said "I'm glad I looked good, because I felt like I had no idea what I was doing."
Given that her new boat is 2" narrower than her old boat and she has always had a rudder, it is understandable that she felt a touch out of sorts. However, she certainly looked like she knew what she was doing!! It was an amazing quantum leap in performance.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Tai Chi, Head Games, and Kayaking

These three things have all gotten jumbled up in my head lately, so bear with me while I try to explain.
It all started with a couple of tough paddles and a post-paddle conversation on the deck of Java Madness. Tim mentioned something about kayaking being, in large part, a head trip. He was making a point about how much there is to learn about kayaking and that he is constantly learning new things about technique. My mind went off on a completely different track with the comment however.
I think that a big part of kayaking is a mind game you play with yourself. How much of learning to roll is about technique and how much is just a matter of convincing yourself that you are OK for a little while under the water? How much of staying upright in trying conditions is about having good balance and a strong brace and how much is a matter of confidence and focus? How much of learning to really edge a boat is a matter of technique and how much is a matter of having the confidence to accept that you may capsize? How much of a successful rescue is about the hours of practice and how much is it about staying calm and projecting that to the swimmer?
A few weeks ago H and I started taking a Tai Chi class through Newton Community Ed.. Two of the major points of Tai Chi are that all movement comes from the core and the idea of focusing on the movement. Since, I'm obsessed with kayaking, I immediately started making correlations between what we were learning in class and what we learn on the water.
The idea that all movement originates from the core is key to kayaking. The core is the drive shaft of the forward stroke. It is also the major player in most boat handling strokes. Plenty of people try, and succeed to a certain extent, to paddle without their core engaged, but they always tire out and have trouble swinging a kayak around. In a forward stroke, the rotation from the core drives the paddle through the water and your arms act as a guide for that force. When stabilizing a kayak, the motion of the hips is all centered around the core. A powerful sweep turn uses the core to pull the boat around the paddle, while the arms are providing a brace. Even a rudder turn comes from the core because it involves some rotation, some balance, and the use of the legs/hips to turn the boat. The core grounds and drives the whole endeavor.
The concept of focused, purposeful motion feeds back into the idea that kayaking is largely about the head games you play with yourself. Your motions become fluid and natural not because you don't need to think about them, but because they are purposeful. When you make a movement in Tai Chi you are supposed to focus on the movement and directing the energy of your body. The same is true of a paddle stroke. You focus on directing the paddle through the water and driving the boat forward. When you turn, you focus on directing the boat towards its destination. The focus on movement also forces you to focus on staying in the moment. You cannot worry about what might happen, or what just happened. Paddling becomes about what is happening. You feel the boat as it reacts and only look a few waves out. The voices in your head quite as your concentration becomes focused on the moment and the movement.
Paddling = Zen?

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Feeding the Need

Many of my non-kayaking friends think it is strange that I get a little tweaked out, sort of like the shakes, if I go too long without paddling--even the ones who smoke. So, after nearly 10 days off the water, I was starting to feel pretty off-kilter.
Fortunately, Tim M. is on vacation and itching to paddle. I took the day off and we headed down to Westport to feed the need. While the rest of NE sweltered in the heat, it was a nearly perfect day on the water. The temperature was in the low 80s, the humidity wasn't too oppressive, and there was a nice breeze.
For the most part we just poked around in the river and practiced sculling and rolling. We did head out around the break water to look for some waves and rocks to play in.
I was without my trusty stick--it was undergoing a refinish job. In its place I started off using a Tooksook, or as Tim calls it "the Toxic Paddle." In theory, the Tooksook is a blend of a traditional paddled and a Euro paddle. Sadly, like most hybrids, it has all the weaknesses of both and none of their strengths.
It didn't take me long before I decided to switch to my normal back-up paddle which is a Kinetic Touring. In my opinion, the KT is one of the best paddle shapes made. It is a big scoopy blade, but it does not abuse your body. Still, it is 100% more forceful than my stick. For the first half hour I felt every stroke and nearly toppled myself trying to reacclimated to the feather. It wasn't long before I was back up to speed. Most skills transfer smoothly between a Euro paddle and a stick. The only stroke that is really different is the forward stroke. Rolling, for example, is pretty much the same. The biggest difference is in the force generated by the blade in the water.
Just on the edge of the break water we found a great tidal rip with some little standing waves to play in. We also did some practice sculling and rolling in the current along the beach. The effect of moving water on how a paddle reacts is surprising. I tried a roll on the side of the boat facing the current and the water kept driving my paddle into the water. I got zilch for lift. I swallowed a bunch of water before trying it on the other side of the kayak, but Tim tells me that it is much easier because the current would add lift to the blade.
Of course, paddling was followed up by coffee. The venue of choice for that side of the Bay is Coastal Roasters. Despite the drive to get there, it is worth every minute out of my way!!
Now I can go back to work and feel like a human again...

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Poking Around Plymouth

H and I spent the weekend camping with friends at Myles Standish State Park in Carver, MA. The park is huge and offers several lakes, ponds really, to swim in, miles of trails for hikers and bikers, and an array of family friendly programs. They also have some excellent camping sites for short money. Our group had five sites for three nights and it cost about $100. There were also bathrooms and showers.
Since we were nearby and this group of friends are creatures of leisure, H and I decided to check out Plymouth in our kayaks. The guide book, Sea Kayaking Coastal Massachusetts from the AMC, provided good directions to a put in and a detailed description of the harbor. We stuck to the trip plan outlined in the book for a pleasant 14 mile paddle.
We put in at Stephen's Field just outside Plymouth center. It has plenty of parking and bathrooms. It is also has a local baseball field and tennis courts. The boat ramp is a break in the bushes that leads down to the water. It is mostly gravel at high tide and mostly muck at low tide. The haul at low tide is not too long and the muck is not deep enough to claim any footwear.

From Stephen's Field, we headed north towards Plymouth. This section of the harbor is protected from the rest of the bay by a seawall. It houses the Plymouth Rock and the Mayflower II. The Rock seemed much smaller than my childhood memories. From the ocean you can see the back of it through the grates. Despite the nice weather, the Rock had very few visitors.

The Mayflower II also seemed smaller than I remembered. It was pretty cool looking though. Unlike the Constitution in Boston, the Mayflower II is accessible by water. No armed guards pointed rifles at us when we paddled up to the hull and peered in the windows. There were also two large dinghies at the Mayflower II that are replicas of the boat the Pilgrim's used to land on Plymouth's shore.
While checking out the Mayflower II we were treated to a mock pirate battle. One of the tour companies has a little pirate ship out in the harbor. When the tour boat gets close, the pirates attack the ship with water guns. The tour passengers are also armed. It was quite a site.
From the Mayflower II we headed out of the harbor under a bridge that breaks the seawall near the shore. Once out of the seawall we turned for Plymouth Beach which is across the harbor. Plymouth Beach is a tiny sliver of sand that forms the southern rim of Plymouth harbor. It is a popular spot for migrating birds, beach goers with boats, and kayakers. We saw several people in kayaks poking out along the beach.
From the tip of Plymouth Beach, we crossed over to Duxbury Pier Light, affectionately known as Bug Light, and then to Saquish Head Point. This was the trickiest part of the paddle because it involved crossing a fairly wide and busy channel.
From Saquish Head we meandered up Saquish Beach along towards Gurnet Light.
Saquish Beach was busy and full of SUVs. The only access to the beach and the small cottages that line it is by SUV. While it may sound horrible, it wasn't bad at all. The SUVs drove slowly and nobody was doing donuts on the beach. For the most part people were just lounging about in the sun.

The water along Saquish was clear enough to see the bottom. The bottom was lined with seaweed covered rocks and the odd fish. While eating lunch, H and I followed a brave hermit crab around under the water trying to get a picture of him. I'm not sure who was crazier, him for not just bolting or us for persisting...
At the far end of Saquish Beach sits the Gurnet Light. This is the oldest wooden lighthouse in America. From the water it is hard to get a good view of the light because it sits high on highly eroded cliffs. From a distance, however, you can get a glimpse of its bright white sides.

The water at the point was a wonderland. The water was crystal clear and we spent time mesmerized by the landscape of seaweed covered boulders and lobster traps. There weren't any fish in view, but that was OK.
We made our way back to Plymouth Beach by retracing our steps along Saquish Beach. While crossing the channel, H saw a skate along one of the shoals. We even got a chance to check out Bug Light because it was protected by a shoal that kept most of the boat traffic out of our way.
Back in the harbor, we followed the channel along Plymouth Beach to make our way back to Stephen's Field. It was low tide and as the guide book made clear, the harbor was mostly empty. The channel, which is clearly marked, has plenty of water and most of the paddle back was easy. Once we got to the point where we needed to break away from the channel the water got very shallow, but we never had to walk the kayaks.
Plymouth offered us an easy paddle with a bit of open water exposure, some history, and some gorgeous water gazing.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Slugging it out with the Southwesterlies

After Saturday's paddle, I was ready to open up the engines and do some long-haul paddling. The trip from Pier 5 to Galilee is seven miles of straight-forward ocean paddling. It parallels the coast so there is plenty to see and plenty of spots to get off the water if needed. It also takes you outside of the Bay so you get to experience open-ocean swells.
The forecast before H and I hit the road was for possible late day thunderstorms and some wind, but nothing too drastic. As I was heading into Narragansett along 1A, I realized that the winds may be trouble. The leaves in the trees along the road were dancing to a crazed techno beat.
At Pier 5, Tim, Kevin, Sean, and John were hanging out with their gear still stowed on the cars. Because of the winds, Tim was considering dropping the Galilee run and moving the paddle over to the Bay Campus. Things were blowing pretty hard out in the Bay. At the end of Pier 5, the wind was blocked by a head land, so it didn't feel too bad. One look at the water to the south, however, clearly warned us against testing the group's luck. There were bands of wind whipped white caps waiting for us. One could only imagine what the entrance to the Harbor of Refuge looked like in those conditions.
The trip was advertised as a level 4, but conditions were looking a lot more like a tough level 5. Seven miles of slugging out against 25-30knt winds is not exactly recreational, so we changed venues and headed for the Bay Campus.
The final kayak count that launched from the Bay Campus was 9. Bob B., Becca, and Carole had arrived at Pier 5 while we were discussing the conditions.
The original plan was to head south from Bay Campus and take advantage of the cliffs near Bonnet Shores to provide some protection from the wind. Depending on conditions, we planned to head down as far as Whale Rock. Then sail home on the SW winds.
The group made it to the end of the cliffs before turning around. The wind made forward progress slow and the waters out by Whale Rock looked fierce. The swells were large and close together. They were conditions that could either make for an exciting challenge or for a serious mess. In the interest of fun, we chose to avoid a mess.
The modified plan was to paddle up to the Jamestown Bridge. There is more protection from the wind further north.
The paddle up to the bridge was a breeze. The houses along the coast are beautiful and there are some nice spots to dodge rocks. We lunched just before the bridge. H offered up the remains of the "chocolate clam cakes" from Saturday's paddle. The healthy and tasty chocolate cookies didn't look too appetizing after spending two days in the sun, but they still tasted yummy. Lori Bomes' cookies took the spotlight however. Lori's cookies are divine!!
The return trip was a slugfest. There may be some protection from the wind north of the Bay Campus, but the wind still fought us the whole way back. We definitely earned the cookies.
Paddling into a constant headwind is a good test of your forward stroke. Even the slightest inefficiency becomes apparent. For a physically powerful paddler it is possible to overcome this by sheer strength. For the rest of us, it is all about technique. While seemingly pretty easy to master, the forward stroke is really a complex mixture of small things. There is rotation, paddle angle, stroke length, paddle entry and exit placement, and driving with the lower body.
To further complicate matters there is the subtle interaction between your equipment and your technique. How long your paddle is affects how effective your stroke is and how much you can rotate. Having a rudder can make it impossible to really drive your kayak with your lower body. Your kayak's proclivity for weather cocking determines how much of your stroke goes into forward motion and how much goes into correcting course.
On the way back, H, who usually has no problem keeping up with the group, kept falling behind and was getting frustrated. I looked at her stroke. She was rotating and appeared to be doing everything else right. I am far from a technical expert on the forward stroke and I use a traditional paddle, so I knew that I was probably missing something subtle. The forward stroke with a traditional paddle, while it looks the same from the sidelines, is a completely different beast. The blade angle is backwards, the rotation is completely different, and the stroke is longer.
I asked Carole to see if she could offer any good advice. She suggested several bits of info. Of course, she talked about driving with the lower body. This was not much help since the rudder in H's kayak doesn't provide solid foot-pegs to push against. The other key bit of advice was that you shouldn't begin to rotate until the paddle is in the water. It makes perfect sense, but is rarely mentioned.
Once back at the Bay Campus, we did some rescue practice. The Bay Campus offers a great place for rescue practice because you can get some nice swells to simulate real conditions, but the beach is close enough to offer a safety valve.
H rescued me in a picture perfect T-rescue. After a bit of difficulty grabbing the bobbing nose of my kayak, she emptied it. She then slid it along side of hers and held it steady while I heaved myself in. This is not as easy as it sounds given that I outweigh her by a few pounds and there were some swells.
John demonstrated why it is a good idea to carry a spare paddle on your kayak. He tried to do a brace and one blade fell off of his paddle. There was a hair line fracture on the paddle that just gave way. He paddled back into shore to get the spare paddle out of his van. Once back out on the water, he was eager to practice rescues and rolls.
Tim, after he wound up in the water while trying to switch kayaks with Kevin, offered some sage advice about rescues in rough water. He suggested that if the rescuer is having a hard time getting hold of the front of the swimmer's kayak, they should paddle along side of it and grab the whole hull. Once the rescuer has the hull, they can maneuver it into position to do a T-rescue, or simply just flip it over. If the water is really rough, it may not be worth the time to empty the swimmer's kayak. It can always be pumped out once they are in the cockpit. It boils down to this: While practicing perfect rescue technique is probably a good thing, the reality is that rescues are never perfect. A good rescue is one where everybody ends up in a kayak with a paddle.
Hopefully, next week the winds will die down....

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Stretched at Sakonnet

H and I showed up at Sakonnet Pt. looking forward to a nice warm up paddle before Sunday's Pier 5 to Galilee paddle. Earlier in the week Tim M. had suggested a bit of playing around in the rocks and perhaps a quick trip over to Brigg's Marsh. Nothing too crazy was planned.
We showed up close to launch time-around 8:40-to find Tim already in the water practicing. He'd showed up early and was eager to get the show on the road.
We got our gear together as a few others showed up. There was Rod, who has a sweet looking Pygmy kayak that he built, John, Eli, a new guy from CT, and Jonathan. Carole and Bob H. were also scheduled to arrive.
Since Tim was itching to go and Carole and Bob H. were late, Tim, Eli, John, H, and I headed out. Jonathan and Rod waited for the stragglers.
As we were heading out of the harbor, H pointed out some white caps off in the distance and asked if it was anything to worry about. Since the wind didn't feel too strong and it looked like there was a boat nearby, I said "nah, it's just boat wake." Once around the breakwater, I realized that I might've been very wrong. The conditions in the river were challenging. We were paddling into a 20knt SW wind and an incoming tide. The combination of wind and tide not only made making headway tricky, it also created big rollers that occasionally crested in a frothy white brew.
The level of the trip went from three to five quickly.
This was the first time H had been out in these conditions in a while and was understandably concerned. It is funny how fear worked in this situation. She wasn't worried about capsizing on the way out of the river, she was anticipating the return journey. This made paddling in the conditions as they were that much more difficult because she wasn't focused on the moment. I can remember many times when this has happened to me also, and it is always a struggle to force myself back into the moment.
She did a great job of working through it. In short order, we were tucked behind the rocks off the point. With the rocks acting as break for the wind and waves, the water was much calmer.
The boys wanted to test their luck out amongst the rocks and the waves, so H decided to hang out on the beach. Rod also chose the wise path and explored the protected areas near the beach before joining H.
On the outside of the rocks, conditions were interesting. The wind driven swells crashed off the rocks creating a stew of refracting water. We bobbed along near the rocks, kept our hips looses, kept our braces ready, and avoided bashing our heads on any hard surfaces. The rugged conditions were a good challenge and provided an exciting opportunity to test my skills. It looked like everybody else also enjoyed themselves.
While keeping my head, which really should have been in a helmet, off the rocks, I also worried about the safety of the other paddlers and their ability to help out in a crisis. One of the challenging parts, for me at least, of paddling with a group is the fact that you are sometimes paddling with people you don't really know. Because I'm a bit of a closet control freak, this makes me feel like I need to be extra vigilant. I always look out for the other members of the group, but with people you always paddle with it seems to be a lot easier. I understand how they think and I know their skill levels. When the conditions get challenging, that knowledge is comforting.
Back at the put-in, however, there was less joy. Bob H. suffered a back spasm while launching and was completely incapacitated.
Meanwhile, us happy paddlers collected the beach crowd and poked down the coast of Little Compton for a bit. Nobody was really ready to go back, but nobody really wanted to push things either. The wind was picking up and the current in the river was going to start to run against the wind around 1pm. The combination would make getting back a potentially dangerous slog. We decided to stick close to the shore and make sure we were back at the river by 12:30. That way we would be in the river at slack tide and the conditions would be at their best.
While paddling up the coast most of the group stayed far enough off shore so that they were out of the rocks. The SW wind was working for us, so nobody really minded it too much. Eli, on the other hand, decided that the rocks would be fun and darted in without checking to see if anybody was watching out for him. Naturally, somebody was... I enjoyed playing in the rocks, but not the knowledge that I was essentially on my own if I got into trouble.
On the way back, the wind forced the group to a slow crawl. There is nothing like a strong, sustained headwind to wear a paddler out.
Once tucked back into the rocks off of Sakonnet Pt., we decided not to stop for lunch. The time was ripe for getting into the river and back to the protection of the harbor. The wind was as quiet as it was going to get, the rollers were looking smaller, and the tide was slack.
We dashed into the river pushed along by following seas. It was the easiest part of the whole paddle. The biggest challenge was keeping the kayak from being twisted around. Since the seas were pretty reasonable, that was a piece of cake.
On the beach at the put-in, Bob H. was in bad shape but keeping a stiff upper lip. We rallied around him and made sure he got the proper care. Jonathan contacted a massage therapist who was able to see Bob. We all helped get him in Carole's car. Even Rod and John, who don't know Bob from a hole in the wall, stayed to make sure he was going to be OK. It is refreshing to see people band together to help out a person in need. The world could use more of that spirit.