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....

No comments:

Post a Comment