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.

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