Sunday, October 29, 2006

Windy Wistfulness

Another weekend with wind and without paddling. Reports from the front said the Bay was in full hurricane state. Roads were washed out. Sailboats were washed up. Surf was everywhere. Saturday was a monsoon. Sunday was a gale.
Saturday's paddle was going to be a trip from Manchester-by-the-Sea, MA to the Misery Islands. Durring the summer, paddling out to the Miseries is a pleasant little paddle. You can get a hint of open water and a short crossing. This late in the season, the paddle can be a real adventure. Last time I was involved in a late season Miseries trip we found ourselves in over our head. So, there was no way that paddle was happening.
There was some hope of a paddle on Sunday. A few people held out hope that the winds would calm and the sea would settle. Perhaps, they could find a little shelter and manage a paddle. We watched the message board hoping against hope.
Why would anyone continue entertaining the idea of paddling despite the facts? I did it because, as I learn anew every fall, paddling is my outlet for stress. Once the season starts my alternative outlets fade into the salty spray. So, now, as at the end of every season, I find myself befuddled for the first few weeks without paddling. I spent the days in a fog casting about for something to do. I went to the mall. I did some work around the house. I read a little. I watched some Battlestar Galactica. I watched the message board. I kept thinking that the weather could break....
This is the transition time. The gray days when the weather is too unpredictable to paddle every week and too warm to stay inside. If I were a man of balance, like many paddlers, I would have kept up biking through the season. It would make these days easier and provide an alternate outlet.
So, like an addict of sorts, I will slowly ween myself off of kayaking for the winter. I'll rediscover other forms of exercise and promise myself that next season I will keep them up. Hopefully, the wind has blown itself out for a few more weeks. Otherwise, my weening will be a crash withdrawl....

Saturday, October 21, 2006


I love paddling in Westport and was looking forward to it all week. On Friday when we checked the forecast it looked bad. Wind gusts up to 30knts in October didn't sound like much fun. Tim called and wondered if we were going. He was taking the opportunity to hang with his son, but was planning on going to the pot luck. H had no intention of paddling in the wind and the cold. I wasn't fond of the idea of slogging around in the Westport River. The fun part of Westport is at the mouth of the river and just beyond.
So Sat. morning we called Carleen to make sure the potluck was still on and settled into having a quiet day at home. It was really strange being home on a Saturday and not paddling. H and I went out to breakfast and stopped by the Farmer's Market. I had time to catch up on bills, making a web site for our wedding, and other routine household tasks without staying up way too late on a weeknight. On the other hand, I felt like I should be doing something else completely. It wasn't the first weekend I hadn't paddled since the spring, but it was the first one I could have paddled and didn't. Since winter is rapidly approaching I'm going to have to start adjusting to weekends without paddling.
We did however get our fix of RICKA friends. We drove down to Carleen's house to bask in the warmth of friends and laughter. The intrepid souls who braved the paddle reported that it was breezy, but fun. There was plenty of food and cheer. One of the many highlights was when Tim was presented with a Kelly Kettle ( for all of the time and effort he put in to running the Wednesday skill sessions. His patient tutelage helped a lot of people hone their skills and made paddling more fun. Carole graciously arranged the gift and it was a big hit. Tim turned red as a beet.
After the presentation of the gift, Carole took out her Kelly Kettle so we could see one in action... You are supposed to be able to spark one of these things up with random detritus from around the beach and boil water. 45 minutes, several packages of matches, many people laying on the ground blowing the kettle, and copious amount of paper later, we finally had a fire and some hot water. The Irish fisherman who use these things to make coffee must have some magic (or a never ending supply of peet). Lunch stops may grow into hour long events while we get the kettles fired up. But then again, it is nice to have hot tea.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

The Beauty of October

Fall paddling can be hit or miss. The weather is starting to get cool and more unpredictable. The water is cooling off. The size of the groups shrinks. The desire and ability to take risks diminishes. While even a bad day on the water beats any day on land, the possibility of a bad day on the water increases once the calender rolls into October.
Today was a home run. The sun was warm, the water lively, and the company delightful. Tim, Carole, Bob H., Tony, Paul, Rich, H, and myself launched from the Bay Campus a little after 10 to poke around down by Bonnet Shores. Since the beach was closed for the season we figured we could might be able to find a little surf action. If not we figured it would be a good place for lunch.
This was the first time all summer I had seen Bob H. in his kayak. The last time was when he wrenched his back out. That was on the first of July. He paddled a bit for Labor Day, and I had heard he was feeling well enough to use his kayak. I wasn't sure what to expect, but Bob was back in good form. He was a bit more cautious than before, but was still able to play.
We launched at mid-tide so there were plenty of rocks to play in as we paddled over to Bonnet Shores. There was also enough action in the water to make it fun without too much excitement. We all worked on our kayak handling skills as we tried to keep the gelcoat on our hulls.
Tony, in his Tsunami double, wasn't as worried as the rest of us. On two occasions he found himself perched atop a rocky spire like the ark when the flood cleared. The first time he just waited for the water to come back and shimmied his way off the perch. The second time he just hooped off his kayak and dragged it back into the water. That kayak must be pretty tough. I don't know too many kayaks that would take that kind of a casual beating.
At Bonnet Shores we were greeted by a nice line of small surf. This stuff was just big enough to break and perfect for some easy, early fall practice. Never a group to pass up a gift, we took the time to enjoy the surf. We all caught smooth rides into the shore. There was plenty of room to slip off the wave and paddle out for the next one. Tim even took the opportunity to practice his back surfing.
Seeing Tim back was a call to arms for me. I was going to back surf!! I had never done it on purpose, but Tim made it look so easy.... The first time I flipped immediately. The Q-boat breeched with blazing speed and grace. I, on the other hand, fumbled around trying to figure out where to brace. The second try was much like the first except that I planted my melon squarely on the sandy bottom. After the third try, Tim and Paul informed me that it may not be possible to back surf a Q-boat. Even in these minuscule waves the tail of the boat was completely submerged. Not willing to accept the futility of the effort, I asked Tim for his secret. Simply put, it is to lean forward and brace. The info did the trick. I managed to actually keep the Q-boat up right for a few nice rides. Bracing backwards still felt weird, but I had it all sorted out.
After two nice rides, I caught one of the bigger waves and started on a sweet run for the beach. Looking over my shoulder I spotted Bob H. sitting in my path. At the speed I was moving there was nothing I could do but wait for the crunch. Fortunately, Bob was fast on the paddles and moved just enough. Instead of getting speared by the Q-boat's tail he managed to catch it across his chest. I'm sure his back loved that...
After the surf we puttered our way over to the East Passage lunch spot. Along the way, Paul got caught in a rocky spot. Unlike Tony, he couldn't just hop out and move the kayak. Instead he waited for the water to come back to give enough lift to scrape the kayak off the rock.
Once we had fed ourselves, the group headed further down the Bay towards Whale Rock. Conditions this far down the Bay were more rugged. We spent a little time playing around in the rocks. Even H, who is typically the sane one, took some time to play around near the rocks. She did a wonderful job with the pretty green Capella in close to the gelcoat hungry rocks.
We headed back before getting all the way to Whale Rock. People were starting to get tired, nobody had a helmet, and there was no desire to risk spoiling such a wonderful day. The paddle home just continued the joy.
Once back at the Bay Campus it was time to do some rescue practice. The rescue to be practiced was paddling with a swimmer draped off the end of your kayak. Bob latched on to the front of the Q-boat and did his best to dump me. Carol even joined in the fun. Fortunately the Q-boat is pretty stable.
Meanwhile, Tim was giving Paul a serious demonstration of what it is like to paddle with a swimmer on the kayak. He got a ride on Paul's bow and then one on Paul's stern. Paul and his kayak handled the added weight very well. When Tim hopped on the back of the Q-boat, however, we nearly sank. The volume of the Q-boat's stern is too low to carry around a swimmer. The bow, on the other hand, did alright.
I guess that means the Q-boat is perfect for lovely days and not so good for unlovely ones. Here is hoping that all paddles are as nice as todays.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Isles of Shoals or Isles of Death

H and I decided to skip the camping on Saturday night for a number of reasons. One was the fact that we had to travel to CT for my nephew's third birthday. The other was that H did not want to risk the downsides of sleeping outside on a cool October night before a big adventure.
Like Paul B., H had never done a long open water crossing and was understandably apprehensive. She was concerned about being comfortable in her kayak for two plus hours without a break. She was concerned that the condition might take a turn for the worse while we were on the water. She was concerned for a lot of very sensible reasons. A long crossing in colder water warrants a bit of concern. The trick is to not let the concerns overwhelm your judgement.
The lure of the Isle of Shoals was enough to motivate both of us. H had been out to Star Island with her Mom once and when she lived in Portsmouth she could always see them from the shore. I always dream of kayaking to islands that are at the edge of my vision from shore. To add to the allure there are all sorts of interesting stories about the islands.
We arrived at the put in and were a little put off to find that there was a $10 per car parking fee. It was a little more disconcerting that the coordinators were surprised by the parking fee. I was expecting that they had scoped out the launch site prior to arrival. This was a new area for most of the participants and nobody knew where we could park and launch. The idea of moving the launch site was not something that inspired a lot of confidence.
Since H was familiar with the area we headed out to scout the area for a free parking area that also offered a decent launch site. The two beaches with free parking didn't look like ideal launch sites. They were breaking surf on both beaches. The surf heightened H's concerns because she felt that the surf was a harbinger of rough conditions at sea. This was not far fetched given the rough seas on Saturday.
While we were scouting, the rest of the group decided on a new launch site. It was a small beach/boat ramp just down the road from the original put-in. It was ideal: free parking and a sheltered beach.
Once the put-in was secured, things began running smoothly. There was the discussions about what to wear. It was warm for a fall day, but the water was on the cool side. Would a wetsuit be enough if someone went in the water? Would a drysuit be too warm? Could I get away with shorts and a dry top? H only had a wetsuit, so her decision was easy. I decided to wear my drysuit on the way out. If I was too warm, I could change into shorts and a dry top for the return journey. The rest of the group was pretty evenly split between drysuits and wetsuits. Joe S. was the only daredevil in shorts and a shorty dry top.
The plan: Paddle out to White Island to see the light, make a stop at Star Island, lunch at Smuttynose, and paddle back home. The first and last leg are just over seven miles. At a good pace that meant about two hours each way.
The trip out was pretty mellow. The seas were bumpy enough to keep things lively, but not enough to cause any real concerns. As Carleen warned us, there were occasional rouge waves. The rouges added a trifle more excitement.
From White Island we spotted an obelisk on Star Island. It seemed like an odd thing to put in the middle of an Island that is owned by a church. (Star Island is owned by the Unitarian Universalist Church.) The other obvious structure on Star Island is the huge resort that is used as a retreat and conference center. It started life as a 19th century summer resort for the rich and famous.
As we pulled into the harbor at Star Island we discovered a dead seal. Once on the island we split up to explore the island. The obelisk was a grave marker for a long dead minister. As I made my way back to the kayaks to find the group, H found me and told me that the group was heading off to Smuttynose for lunch. I was holding up the group. I had missed the memo about this being a five minute stop. Most of the group waited, while a few others headed over to lunch.
Smuttynose Island has a bizarre history of death and murder. In the 19th century there was a brutal murder. Someone murdered the family that was living on the island. It was suspected that the son of the socialite living on Appledore Island was the killer, but a man from Portsmouth was convicted of the crimes. This was despite clear evidence that no one could have rowed to the island, committed the murders, and rowed back given the sea conditions that night. There was also the story of the Native Americans buried on the island. The most tragic tail of death was that of a few shipwrecked Spaniards. Their ship smashed into the island in a blizzard. The survivors made it within a spitting distance of the shelter on the island before they froze to death. The minister found their bodies the next morning.
As we were leaving we saw a dead bird.
The paddle back was almost as uneventful as the paddle out. There was some confusion about the course we were supposed to follow, but Joe's GPS guided us back safely. There was also a bit of surf around the harbor entrance. The surf spurred a little yelling, and H was shocked by a big swell as she entered the harbor.
The post paddle pig out was held at a great lobster shack in Hampton. There is nothing better than lobster, fried clams, and good friends to end an interesting paddle.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Dearth of Dublin Paddling

Last week I was in Dublin for work. Being completely addicted to kayaking, I had my heart set on doing some paddling in Dublin Bay. It is a beautiful body of water with tons of rugged coast. I thought for sure that there would be a number of places that rented kayaks or ran paid trips. Sadly, this is not true. The closest place I could find was in West Cork which is several hours from Dublin.
At first I was mystified by the lack of paddling opportunities. I could not imagine being that close to the ocean and not kayaking on it. One person I met there mentioned that there are some strong currents in the Bay. There is also a decent amount of boat traffic. Still....
Then I remembered that Boston also lacks good places to rent kayaks or take trips out into Boston Harbor. We are fortunate to have Charles River Canoe & Kayak on the Charles River, but that is not the Harbor.
I wonder why this is? The Harbor is a great resource. It presents a whole new view of the city. Is the boat traffic really that bad? Are the currents really that tricky?
One thing we have over Dublin is local paddling clubs with easy to find web sites. I couldn't find a paddling club anywhere near Dublin. NSPN and BSKC are great resources for out of town, or in town, paddlers.
If anyone knows of paddling resources in Dublin please post them in the comment section. I will be going back and still want to experience Dublin Harbor.