Sunday, August 13, 2006

Demolition Derby

The ultimate day of my vacation was a day of extreme paddling off of Sakonnet Point with Tim Motte and a motley crew of paddlers looking to test their mettle against a few rocks.
I showed up ready to power nap before the rest of the paddlers showed up and found the limited parking mostly full. Fortunately, I squeezed the egg into a spot and crashed so hard I nearly slept through the put-in. When I roused myself, Tim, Peter, and George were plotting parking logistics figuring I was off seeing a man about a horse.
Once roused I was ready to go!! I popped the Q-Boat, still salty from Saturday's paddle, off the egg and packed her up for some serious paddling. I made sure that my first aid kit was topped off and stowed extra duct tape for good measure. I donned my tow-belt instead of packing it in my day hatch for safe keeping. To finish my battle prep, I unveiled the bright yellow knoggin shield--an ProTech Wake Helmet--I purchased on vacation. It was surprisingly comfortable and the ear flaps didn't hinder my hearing much.
Our small, but daring, group consisted of Tim, Peter H., Bob B., Mike K., George, Eli, and myself. Despite reports that she was definitely coming, Carleen did not make the launch. Bristling with anticipation, we headed out of Sakonnet Point harbor to test our manly mettle...
Rounding the break water we were faced with calm seas and a light breeze. It was hardly the conditions we had faced on our last outing from Sakonnet Point. Still, we, intrepid adventurers to a man, were determined to find danger among the rocks.
Tim reported that the paddle around the point was the scariest paddle he'd experience in many seasons. The new Nordkapp LV twitched like a squirrel on amphetamines. The others in the group doubted the voracity of Tim's report because he looked so damn good. None of us were close enough to smell his fear...
Before we could hit the rocks, Mike K. had to return to shore to do surgery on his helmet. Apparently the model of ProTech Ace he purchased has little foam nubbins that were attempting to bore into his skull. The nubbins were no match for Mike's knife and he rejoined us before long.
We spent a good bit of time looking for trouble along the rocks off of the point without finding much more than some surflets. There were a few interesting slots that we all ran.
One in particular offered two paths through. One required a pretty sharp turn and only involved a brief time near any rocks. The other path took a straight line along a jagged ridge and was just wide enough for a kayak to pass through without scraping. We all ran the first path and it was exhilarating. Before the group moved on, I, because I have to be different, decided to try the second slot.
I watched how the waves filled and evacuated the slot and picked the best time to make my run. As soon as the Q-Boat was fully in the slot, the water evacuated the slot and left me barely afloat and without a way forward. The water returned with enough force to push my bow out of position to escape the slot. To paddle through the slot I needed to make a forceful right turn, but I was thwarted by my choice of paddle. In close quarters a traditional paddle doesn't provide the force required to wrench a kayak around against surf. You need some room to extend the paddle to generate the kind of force required. So, my only option was to back out to the soothing sounds of Peter H. yelling instructions at me.
After a some more morning daring do, we stopped on the beach for lunch. I gave the Q-Boat a quick check for damage and was pleased to see little more than scratches. Bob B. broke out cookies and we had a stimulating discussion about Middle Eastern politics.
As we were breaking camp a white kayak appeared out of the east. As it got closer, we wondered who would be crazy enough to paddle alone. Then the paddler took form. It was Carleen. After a trying morning, she showed up at the launch late and set out to find us. While we had been playing in the rocks, she had paddled right by us at least once.
We gave Carleen a brief spell to rest up and scarf some food before heading out for more. Having exhausted the rocks directly off of Sakonnet Point, we headed East towards Round Pond and Long Pond. The area between Round Pond and Warren Point offers plenty of rocks to dodge and easy access to a sandy beach if needed.
We found a nice rock formation that offered a thrill filled ride through a washing machine hole. If not timed right, the water on either end of the hole would drop your bow on a nasty over fall. In the middle, you could hang out and wait for the water to return, or you could just sit in the slosh and test your balance.
There was also a rock garden near shore that lead into a secluded sandy beach. The opening looked innocent enough if you didn't mind practicing your boat control skills. Things got interesting when a swell rushed in, picked up the stern of the kayak, and surfed it toward the cluster of rocks at the end of the slot.... Fortunately, the swells weren't strong enough to push a paddler into more than a panic.
The best slot was just past the point past Round Pond. There was a deep, straight slot between two rocks that the water frothed through. Scouting the slot revealed a nasty overhang on each end, but with good timing it offered a fun ride. Everyone took the ride. Some of us went both ways.
The last one to take the plunge was George. It looked like he picked the perfect swell to ride through the slot, but the water was moving a little too fast. It washed out of the slot before George and left the bow of his Q-Boat to slide down one of the rocks. As we prepared to rescue him, George braced the Q-Boat upright, waited for another swell, and paddled out. It was an excellent display of skill and nerve.
Once out of danger, George, accompanied by Peter H. and Mike K., landed on the beach to see how badly he had banged up his kayak. This left a number of us on the water with time to kill. We mostly diddled around practicing rolls and trying out Bob B.'s Kinetic Wing paddle.
The rolling was the best of times and the worst of times. Eli and I managed to hit our rolls. Not to toot my own horn too much... I was able to roll, on and off side, with my stick, Tim's Kinetic Touring paddle, and Bob's Kinetic Wing paddle. I owe a lot to the ease of the Q-Boat to roll and a lot to Tim's patient tutelage. Tim, on the other hand, struggled with his roll. In fact, he missed a roll for the first time in a long, long while. He thought it may have been the new boat. Eli thought it may have been the helmet strapped to his back deck that was causing the problem. Largely the group was just in shock that Tim missed a roll.
After a long, careful inspection, George, Peter, and Mike found a good sized chunk of gelcoat missing from George's Q-Boat. They applied some duct tape to the scrape to protect the hull. Then they rejoined us on the water.
Upon regrouping, we headed back to the harbor. After watching George bounce off a rock and Tim miss a roll, I thought that it was time to get off the water. There are signs that your luck is running low and it is best to head them. We made one quick stop to bail my cockpit out, other then that the paddle back to the harbor was uneventful.
Once we reached the put-in Tim decided he needed to give the roll one more shot. He tossed the helmet ashore, set up, and made two valiant, but fruitless, attempts. After peeling himself from the cockpit, he limped ashore and cursed his aging back.
Later, after multiple doses of coffee, some BK, and a long drive, I discovered that cursory damage checks can miss things. While hosing down the Q-Boat I spotted a dent in the hull. There was a nasty spider crack in the gelcoat to match the indentation. Fortunately, the spot wasn't spongy and the matting on the inside looked unscathed.
As H reminded me: It is never good to find cracks on a new kayak, but it a sign that you are getting your money's worth out of the purchase.

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