Sunday, September 17, 2006

Back to the Bay Campus

How many times do you have to paddle in the same location before it gets boring? I only ask because I've paddled out of the Bay Campus more times than I care to remember, but I still find new reasons to enjoy it. The route is usually one of two:

  1. Bay Campus to Ft. Getty, follow the Jamestown coast to Beaver Tail, across the mouth of the Bay to Whale Rock, back to Bay Campus

  2. Follow the Narragansett coast from Bay Campus to Whale Rock, cross the mouth of the Bay to Beaver Tail, follow the Jamestown coast to Ft. Getty, and cross back to Bay Campus

You'd think given our culture's drive for the next new thing and short attention spans, that I'd have grown tired of the route. It is also reasonable to think that as my skills got better, I'd seek out a more challenging scene. Yet, I still get a thrill out of it. The route, although the same on the map, is as changeable as the water itself. It can be calm, rolly, or scary. Sometimes it is a bit of each. Sometimes it doesn't matter because you just need to get out. Sometimes the people in the group make the difference.
Today I just needed to get out. The previous two weeks had been full of change and general life stress with little opportunity for release. This was also the only chance I was going to have to get on the water for several more weeks. It was paddle or...
H and I met up with Tim M. at the Bay Campus around 9:30am. Tim, free of the devil boat, was also ready for some serious paddling. The Aquilla looked mighty atop his truck.
In short order, we were joined by George and Debbie from CT who was celebrating a birthday. We inspected the fine quality of the work Carl Ladd did fixing up George's Q-Boat. Carl had patched up the gel coat damage George had done on our demolition outing, lowered his seat, and added a keel strip. Other than the grey keel strip, you couldn't see where any of the work was done.
We also compared H's Capella 161 to the Debbie from CT's Capella 161. H's Capella was prettier, but Debbie from CT's Capella was, although just a standard fiberglass layup, much lighter. I guess she had it sent back when her original turned out to be heavier than advertised.
We set out around 10:30 and planned on being back by 2pm. People had some time constraints. That meant that we were going to do the loop without a lunch stop. It was fine with me. I wanted to blow some of the crud out of the carburetors anyway.
Early in the paddle I got to talking with Debbie. She was very interesting. Up until Friday she had been working as a carpenter for Yale. She did furniture and installation pieces for the University. On the side, she also did some custom cabinet work. However, she was looking to make a change in careers. After years of doing carpentry, she was looking into working as a career counselor. We talked about finding your way in your professional life which was quite interesting.
Eventually, the need to really paddle started eating away at my consciousness. Despite the fact that we were having an interesting conversation, I was having a hard time keeping my natural pace scaled back to her natural pace. Sometimes going slow can be a lot of work. So, I politely pulled ahead. Once I started moving, I just opened it up and pushed the Q-Boat to see just how fast it would move.
Conditions were a happy medium at the mouth of the Bay. There was some action, but not enough to make it particularly nerve wracking. The only cause for concern was an uncertainty about the high-speed ferry schedule. It supposedly has some excellent radar, but it is not the kind of thing to test out in a kayak crossing its path.
There was a minor brush with danger on the return trip to Bay Campus.
The open water paddling hadn't quite quenched my thirst for paddling fun. To address this I tried to sneak my Q-Boat through a dodgy slit in some rocks along the Bonnet Bluffs. I had paddled into a spot where the only options were back paddling a fair distance into a rock field or squeaking through a slot in an overfall that was just about wide enough for the Q-Boat and then make a sharp turn before spearing a rock. I decided to go forward and got lucky. Just as I made my move some water filled in and gave me a little more room to play with. It also provided a tiny push on the stern which made the turn a breeze.
George was not quite as lucky. He had followed me into the slot and decided to follow me out. He didn't get the fortuitous wave to help him slide out. Instead, the bow of his kayak got pinned on a rock and he exited the cockpit.
If we had been properly outfitted, this wouldn't have been a big deal. The water near George was shallow enough for him to stand up and the waves were not enough to knock him around. With a tow belt we could have just tossed him a line and pulled him out to deeper water to do a rescue. George was the only one wearing a tow belt. Mine was in the egg and Tim's was in his day hatch.
So, I went in to help George. Meanwhile, Tim dug out his tow belt, put it on, and worked his way into position to tow us off the rocks. Then we needed to find a pump to get the water out of George's cockpit. His had floated away. Mine was with my tow belt. Fortunately, Tim had recovered George's pump and had his tied to his deck.
If conditions had been worse, this easy rescue could have turned ugly. It was a not so subtle hint that I need to bring my safety gear along with me regardless of the paddle. Complacency breeds its own form of danger.
After a quick lunch at the Bay Campus, Tim and I hit the water for some serious practice. The rolling around, stroke practice, and rescue practice felt good. It was a pleasant way to exhaust myself. My confidence and my sanity was restored. I was ready to face a few more weeks off the water.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Labor Day Trials

Photos courtesy of Cheryl Thompson Cameron

After a grey, windy paddle on Saturday and being grounded on Sunday, H and I were looking forward to paddling under Labor Day's sunny skies. H was a touch apprehensive because there was going to be surf at Narragansett Beach. I was of many minds about the surf. One part of me was hoping it would be small so H would enjoy herself and have a safe landing. One part of me was looking forward to putting the Q-Boat through its paces in the surf. One part of me was concerned about my own safety in the surf. One part of me was wishing there were rocks around.
Before we had to worry about the surf, we had to get on the water. Why the seemingly simple job of getting on the water is such a chore for me remains a mystery, but today at least there were a few explanations. There was a surprising amount of traffic on the beach. We had to figure out what combination of clothing would create the delicate balance between staying warm in the event of a swim and staying cool while paddling. The air was cool, but it was sunny. The water was still warm, but once out of the drink... There were some good swells, so paddling was going to require some work. Tim M. was wearing a full dry suit, but I wasn't quite ready to break mine out. Most of us opted for a combination of a dry-top with shorts.
Then there was the question of what to do about the helmets. I opted to just wear mine. There is no convenient place in the Q-Boat to store a helmet and still have easy access to it. Fortunately, my melon protector fits comfortably and I can wear it for long periods of time. The other paddlers choose to stow the helmets until we reached Narragansett.
Once we got past Bonnet Shores we could feel the power Ernesto had left in the water. The swells, while not huge, were insistent. Whale Rock was being pummelled. The cliffs of Bonnet were oddly placid. Despite the power in the water, the conditions were tame and allowed us to make easy progress.
Along the way, we lost two members of the group. Because most of the group paddle together frequently, we've developed a certain rhythm and pace that works. We had a new paddler with us today and the group's pace, which seemed normal to us, was too fast for her. So she and another person headed back to Bay Campus to do a different paddle.
On the final approach to Narragansett Beach our surf suspicions were confirmed. Once we passed Whale Rock, we could see the breaks off the rocks that guard that end of the beach.
We paddled past the rocks on the oceanside to get a clear view of the beach before deciding what to do. People were talking about simply turning back to Bay Campus without landing. Tim was spooked by the "devil boat." Joe was not in a hurry to re-injure his shoulder. H didn't want to smash up her new kayak or be swept out to Davey Jone's Locker.
After surveying the break, which was steady but not large, the rest of the group donned their helmets for the surf run. This did not reassure H! "It is not reassuring to see all the helmets." I offered her mine since she does not own one, but she demurred.
With mellons properly protected, paddlers paraded beachward. Carleen made easy work of the run. Joe A. rode his skin boat on the surf like it was part of him. Tim, on the other hand, was whirlpooled in the devil boat. He washed ashore soggy and shaken.
H and I, meanwhile, were still sitting beyond the break deciding what to do: land or turn tail. Having never surf landed, H was understandably concerned about landing. However, she also wanted to enjoy the beach and the picnic. So we talked about it. It was one of those awkward moments that come up when you're a couple. I tried to convince her that a surf landing was safe and that she would be OK. I also reassured her that it was OK if we went back. She didn't want to look foolish, or get hurt, or put a damper on the day. The helmets, the rip current, and Rich's reluctance to paddle in were tangible evidence of her. We needed an intervention.
Joe S. paddled over, assessed to situation, and devised a plan. I would paddle into the beach. Once safely on the shore, I would scope out the surf. When it looked like the best (best = smallest) set, I would signal by spinning my paddle over head. Heather would then paddle like a dunked dingo for the shore.
Relieved that we had a plan and excited to put the Q-Boat into some surf, I paddled into the break zone. Sometimes I find it hard to catch waves using the stick because it takes a little more time to get up to speed, but not today. I let a few little waves roll by and waited for a big one. Once I saw it, I revved up the engine and hopped on the front of the wave. The Q-Boat behaved admirably on the wave. With just a touch of rudder, it held a tight line right up until the wave started to collapse. In a splash, she spun breach to the wave trapping my paddle on the beach side. I was over in the foam. Luckily the water was deep enough that I could hang out in the cockpit without whacking my head. I waited until the wave, and the one following, it moved past, set up on what I thought was the wave side, and rolled up. I quickly remembered why you don't set up beach side. A wave smacked into me and dropped me back in before I was all the way up. So, I waited for the wave to clear out, set up on the other side, and rolled up. This time I got it right and had time to get the Q-Boat heading towards the beach for a second sweet ride. I glided right into the beach and did a little victory dance. I wanted to head back out and do it again, but I had a mission to complete.
After making sure the Q-Boat was properly stowed above the water line, I grabbed my trusty stick and took up position on the shore. From where I stood the biggest problem getting H in was the swarm of surf kayaks darting about. The surf was starting to flatten out. Just to make sure I watched a set or two before signalling her to start her run. When it looked good I started waving the paddle over my head.
On the water, Joe and Tony, who had come over to lend a hand, couldn't see me. Joe decided that he was needed elsewhere and left H in Tony's capable hands. When he thought it looked good he sent her in.
H, depite being scared wittless, did a great job. She made a perfect run into the beach and was even smiling!!
Once H was safely on the beach and properly congratulated, Bob H. and I helped pull in a few other paddlers who did not have such a good ride. One person had made one of the classic surf blunders: they were between their loose kayak and the beach. Bob H. and I tried to get the person to watch out, but the kayak whacked him in the knees first. Fortunately, no permanent damage was done.
Bob H., who has been laid up all summer, couldn't wait to sit in H's new boat and try out her paddle, even if he couldn't leave the beach. His back was feeling up to a short paddle from the Narrow River Bridge to the beach, but not the surf. It was great to see him out and about. It looked like his back was finally starting to heal. Hopefully he'll be able to join in the winter kayaking fun!!
After some socializing and lunching, it was back through the surf for the return run. I always find surf launches physically harder than surf landings, but I also find them to be far easier mentally. Punching through a wave takes a tremendous amount of strength, but seeing it before it buries you somehow makes it easier to handle. H looked more settled about launching and made it look easy despite the big waves pounding into her tiny kayak.
Tim, on the other hand, looked like he was about to do a forced march through a nuclear mine field. Each time he put a blade in the water it was more like a test step to see if the ground was firm. Instead of attacking the waves, it looked like he was praying the waves would take pity on him. Instead the waves took pity on Rich R. and did a number on Tim. Surprisingly, Tim did make it out without incident, but it was obvious that he and the devil boat were not going to be a pair much longer.
I was still itching for some more time in the surf, but the rest of the group was more than ready to paddle back to Bay Campus. There was still plenty of swells out in the West Passage and we made good time riding them home. The group started breaking up once and Joe attempted to get us regrouped. I was just enjoying the open water, H was getting tired, Joe A. was feeling a bit out of sorts in his skin kayak, and Tim was barely able to keep the devil boat upright when he paddling. Stopping the group was easier said than done. Joe A. and I rafted up with Tim to lend him some support while we waited for the rear of the group.
Once we had gotten the group back together we took off again. It didn't take long for the group to spread out again. This time regrouping, although considered, was not an option. Joe S. and Carleen were corralling the stragglers as we passed the Bonnet Cliffs, so the lead kayaks headed straight for the safety of the Bay Campus.
Once back at the Bay Campus it was time for a little post paddle confidence recouping. Tim and Joe A. were both feeling less than happy about their skills after being unsettled all day. Joe A. was still readjusting to his skin boat and had missed a roll earlier in the day. Tim was just shaken from being pinned in the devil boat all day. So, to prove to themselves--the rest of us knew they were just having an off day and wished some of our good days could go so well--they decided to do some rolling. Joe managed to hit a few rolls and do a balance brace. He even managed to teach me how to do one. It is a neat trick to lay in the water and keep the kayak from tipping. It would be an even better trick if I was smooth enough to get into the position with out a helping hand.
Back on the beach, Tim was being consoled by his wife who had come down to enjoy the sun. It was a good thing too because some of the comments being bandied about concerning the benefits of wide boats pushed his blood to boiling. There is a fine line between joking around and kicking a guy when he is down....
Fortunately, a calming influence was present and once the storm passed the euphoria of spending a sunny day on the water with good friends settled over us. We even managed to restore Tim and Joe A.'s confidence. Is there ever a bad day on the water?

Saturday, September 02, 2006

What's a Little Wind?

All week questions loomed. Will I join the campers? Will I call the paddle due to bad weather? How bad will the weather be? Is a small craft advisory really that big a deal if we stay inside of Hull? How many people are going to be crazy enough to drive from RI to paddle in less than ideal conditions? Can I trust the weather forecasters?
On Friday afternoon two things were clear. H and I were not camping and we were paddling on Saturday. So, we went out partying with non-kayaking friends for the evening.
At 9am, we showed up at Hingham Town Beach to find Tim M., traumatized from the long drive through the hinterlands of the South Shore, waiting and ready to paddle. In short order, others, from far and wide, showed up for our little extreme weather paddle. Eli drove up from Western MA. Ed drove up from RI. Pablo drove in from Quincy, MA. There was even a kayaker from Cape Cod.
The weather radio was not being very reassuring about our chances of having a pleasant paddle. A small craft advisory was in place. The Boston Harbor Buoy was reporting swells of 7 feet. The winds, already at 20knts, were forecasted to increase throughout the day. The icing on the cake was predicted rain.
To make matters worse I had forgotten my preferred kayak paddle. The mighty stick was sitting in my basement. Fortunately, my back-up paddle hangs out with H's paddles and had gotten packed. Heavy winds are one of the best times to have the mighty stick, but I was going to have to make due with a big, sail-like Euro paddle... and have to remember how to paddle feathered.
Figuring that even a bad day on the water was better than a bad day sitting around the house and that kayaks were not small crafts, we decided to head out. I am not totally crazy, so I planned a trip that kept us well inside of the Hull peninsula and provided some shelter from the winds. The plan was to paddle out to Bumpkin Island, where the campers would have breakfast waiting. From Bumpkin, we would head up the Weir River which runs between World's End and Hull's dump. After exploring the river, the campers would head back to their cars in Hull and the Hingham crowd would paddle back from whence we came.
The paddle out to Bumpkin was downright uneventful. The wind was strong but nothing like what was predicted. The water was calm. There were hardly any boats out. I was grateful for the easy conditions. Adjusting to the Kinetic Touring blade was not too difficult. It was weird though. More than a few times I could feel the wind grabbing at the upper blade and trying to wrestle it from me.
We arrived at Bumpkin ready to chow and found the campers languidly packing. Apparently there had been a tragic egg mix up, so they offered up brownies, banana bread, cookies, and nuts. Marianne's brownies were delectable. They were perfectly under cooked to retain their moisture. Mmmmmmmm.
From the beach, which offered plenty of shelter from the wind, we could watch the few other brave souls who had ventured into the gale. A wind surfer was rocketing along. A catamaran slid by riding a single hull at high speed.
Once the campers finished packing up, we all pushed off toward the Weir River which is a short paddle from Bumpkin Island. The Chinese wind god Yu Ch'iang must have been watching us, because as soon as our little band set off the wind whipped into a gale. The short paddle into the river, and up the river, was a struggle.
We found a pleasant cove just before the bridge, over the river Weir, where we were out of the wind. The river ends just beyond the bridge and we were all tired of fighting the wind, so we called a lunch break. As usual, H and I split Tim's extra P&J. There were also plenty of leftover brownies and cookies to finish off.
After lunch, we paddled out of the river and the groups went our separate ways. The paddle back to Hingham was blissfully calm. The wind was at our backs and Worlds End provided some cover. The only issue was the darkening clouds threatening to rain on our parade.
Once back at the beach, and still safe from the rain, Tim, Eli, and myself did the mandatory roll fest. I discovered that I can roll even with a crazy Euro paddle, but it is not a pretty site. Tim, still struggling with the devil boat, also managed to do a few rolls and wisely didn't push it.
Once off the water, we tried to arrange a post paddle meet up with the campers, but after several phone calls we called it quits. We were not hungry enough to eat a meal, and the campers were looking to chow down. So, H, Tim, Eli, and I retired to a nice little coffee shop in Hingham called Brewed Awakenings.
A bad day on the water, particularly one that turns out pretty good, is always better than a day sitting around the house.