Sunday, November 26, 2006

Thanksgiving Treat

One of the many things that I gave thanks for this year was that I am able to get out and kayak with great people. This year I was lucky enough to be thankful and enjoy a paddle to boot. The weather forecast for Saturday and Sunday was perfect: mild temps and low winds.
A few people were daring enough to head out into the maelstrom Friday. I may have been one of them, but I was saved from myself because I needed to drop the Q-Boat off at Carl Ladd's repair shop for some gelcoat patching and the installation of keel strip. I figure that a keel strip is a wise investment since I bought Q-Boat to play rough. The new keel strip application Carl is installing looks like it will survive an impact with a high-speed ferry.
The planning started with an e-mail from Bob H. imploring people to get out. The e-mail languished in cyberspace until Friday when we all started waking from our Turkey comas. Then there was the mid-day lull while people were out doing stuff. There was also the wait to get connected with the Tim. Finally, after rounds of e-mail, some whining by Bob H., debate over if we wanted to just do the same old Bay Campus paddle, and some more phone calls, we finally had a plan: Fogland.
Fogland offers some open water conditions without being so exposed that you cannot easily recover from a bad turn. It also had the advantage of not being the Bay Campus. We were all up for paddling a different spot.
We also debated the merits of posting the paddle on the message board for the rest of the group. I didn't want the paddle to be exclusive. I also didn't want to step on the toes of the group planning to paddle out of the Bay Campus. In the end it didn't really matter. The plan didn't come together until late Saturday evening.
Sunday morning we arrived at Fogland looking forward to a sunny, windlesss late fall paddle.
Despite the fact that she was not paddling, H provided unloading assistance so I could focus on getting on the water. It is surprising how much using a different kayak can mess up a pre-paddle routine. The Endeavor's hatches are much larger than the Q-Boat's, so packing it up is different. The hatch covers are also totally different. The Endeavor's comps needs to be mounted. It has a place to store the pump in the cockpit. The little details all add up.
The big differences became obvious once we got on the water. I felt like I was bobbing around like a cork. The Endeavor rides like a Lincoln with air-suspension compared to the Q-Boat. I had gotten very used to being close to the water and having the kayak respond almost instantly to my movement. The Endeavor took a little more work to turn and lean.
The slight difference in maneuverability didn't stop me from following Bob through the rocks. It did cost me a bit of gel coat here and there. Fortunately, the Endeavor is built like a tank. MA learned quickly to wait and listen for the scraping sound before following me through a slot. I'm not sure if it was a good indicator because her Avocet is much more responsive than the Endeavor.
We all did a fair share of rock dodging to make up for the lack of wind early in the paddle. As the paddle progressed, the wind picked up. It was much stronger than predicted, but that was OK because it kept things interesting.
As always, H had impeccable timing. She pulled into the lot as we pulled into the beach. Before washing ashore, I had to prove to myself that I could roll the Endeavor. I can, but it is much harder. Then, just to be cool, I tried the off-side roll. I came up, barely, and, as punishment for showboating, I got a royal ice cream headache.
While getting dressed, Paul treated the crowd to a table dance. Someone put a dollar in his sock to take it off. Bob offered him a dollar to put it back on. I did my best to steer clear of the whole thing. My focus paid off and for the first time I was not the last person ready to go. In fact, I even beat Tim.
After paddle libation was had at Coastal Roasters. While sipping coffee drinks, we discussed each others secret names. We also debated the merits of DVRs (I love them), digital music players (I could make it through a work day without my iPod), computers and phone technology. The technology discussion was sparked off by Tim joining the 20th century by finally getting jacked into the internet and e-mail. H and I also made a technology investment over the weekend and joined the VoIP revolution.
We finally tore ourselves away from the excellent view and the excellent company. The work week awaited. Fortunately, we'd had the chance to recharge before diving into the grind.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Birthday Paddle

Today was auspicious for many reasons: I got to paddle, hang out at my favorite coffee joint, and do all these things in excellent company. There was some anxiety about the plans coming together. I couldn't make the Saturday paddle and wasn't sure who would be up for a Sunday paddle. On Friday night Tim and I decided that we would do a low key paddle out of Marina Park and then get some coffee at Java Madness. To complicate matters even more, neither one of us had access to any form of modern communication gear until later on Saturday. H was on the fence about paddling in the cold. Our oven was thwarting her efforts at baking bunt bliss. Ultimately, the little frustrations made the outcome even more delicious.
H and I packed up the kayaks Sunday morning and before hitting the road pondered how long it had been since the egg proudly wore both of our kayaks. It had been at least a month and more likely six weeks. H didn't paddle on the Barking Crab expedition and I was trapped at work on the Veteran's Day paddle out of Wickford. It is a little sad to think that the gaps between paddles will get longer before they get shorter. H, I'm sure, feels it a little more than I do since she does not paddle in the winter.
For a change, we were the first people at the launch. Tim showed up a few minutes later and Bob, in his sexy back box, followed in short order. Paddle preparations took a back seat to checking out Bob's box. The little Scion B model is pretty impressive. The seats are comfy, there is a ton of room in the back end, and the racks have plenty of span. It even has a satellite ready radio.
As we were getting ready to paddle, it became evident that H was not going to be able to go. Her lips were turning blue and she was getting very cold. Wisely, she decided that, despite wanting to paddle with on me on my B-day, she would visit a friend while we were on the water. She figured I'd have more fun if I didn't have to worry about her freezing. She also figured it would be more fun to be in a good mood for the post paddle partying.
The final group of paddlers was Tim, Bob, Rich, and myself. We headed out of Marina Park along the docks at a leisurely pace. I needed some time to warm up. I'm not sure if it was the Flu shot I got on Friday, the fact that I'd been out of the kayak for a few weeks, or the cold weather gear, but I was feeling out of sorts when we started out. I was stiff, couldn't find my rhythm, or keep the Q-boat's tail from wandering. I kept whacking the skeg control, so adjusting the drift with the skeg was tricky.
Once past the point of Harbor Island we hugged the western shore and wended our way towards Snug Harbor. Along the way we found plenty of shallow water and rocks--not the fun kind of rocks either....
I was paddling along talking to Bob when WHACK. I ran the Q-boat bow first into a sleeper. The nose of the Q-boat has steep angle and the rock was perfectly poised to inflict maximum damage to the "impressive clipper bow." The scar is superficial, but long and ragged. I've put the Q-boat in plenty of desperate straights in the few short months I've captained her and earned nary a scratch. The irony is delectable.
I'd never been to Snug Harbor. It looks like it would be interesting at the right point in the tide, but today wasn't happening. There was a decent current running. I managed to use it to impress Bob. As a power boat came into the channel, I did a speedy sculling draw while moving backwards. The current did all of the work, but I took all of the credit.
From Snug Harbor we headed back past the commercial fishing docks and under the bridge to head down the eastern side of the pond. It looked like Tim was going to drive the group back to the launch without lunch. Bob and I quickly started whining and Tim, after consulting his new watch ($14 at Target), decided that we could stop for a quick lunch.
Over lunch we debated the plausibility of the Block Island Ferry being completely automated. Rich was told, by an authoritative source, that the Ferries were run completely on automatic. According to his source, the pilots didn't even perform the docking maneuvers. Tim, Bob, and I took the contrary position. Tim and Bob took the it doesn't make sense from a safety position. I took the it doesn't seem technologically feasible based on the economics position. The discussion veered off to a discussion of how they use GPS to anchor oil platforms and other large vessels that need to be held at precise positions in open water.
Before hitting the water, Tim broke out the birthday bunt muffins. We even had candles. H's frustration from the night before paid off. The muffins were a blast of chocolate goodness. Bob's became the brick of chocolate goodness that kept bubbling to the surface, but that is a tale for him to tell.
The paddle back to the put-in was superb. What little wind there had been died down. I was feeling back in form and lunch energized me. I decided to just open it up. As I picked up the cadence, I felt better and the Q-boat grew steadier. Tim calls the state I was in Zen paddling. It is an apt description. You allow yourself to focus on the cadence, the weight of the blade through the stroke, the motion of the kayak in the water, the sound of the group. The rest of the stress, confusion, pressure, and happiness of the rest of your life fades to the background. The effort of paddling energizes you from a primordial well that lays hidden from the workaday world.
Back at the launch Tim, Rich, and I practiced our cold water rolling while H, who pulled into the parking lot as we pulled into the dock, snapped some "action" shots. It is amazing how much the cold can effect things. For a couple of rolls I wore a warm fleece cap and it wasn't bad. Then I took the hat off... Talk about an ice cream headache. The water is still in the 50's.
Once we got changed and repacked, Tim, Bob, H, and I convened at Java Madness for a well deserved cup-o-joe. We gossiped, heard Bob's tale of terror from Saturday's paddle, and talked about big paddle plans for next season. These are the things that will get us through the cold weather: good conversation over warm coffee, dreams of adventures to come, and the knowledge that we have excellent friends to enjoy them.
I am a very lucky man who had an excellent birthday. May we all be so fortunate.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Urbane Paddling

The weather this weekend was a blessing. It was cool enough--mid 40's--that H decided her kayak season was over, but it was sunny enough for seventeen of us to enjoy a beautiful day of paddling. While we had a great day on the water, it is hard to argue with H's decision to stay dry. Once you get past the middle of October, the water is cold enough to be dangerous, the air is cool enough for a paddler to get chilled, but it also warm enough so that you sweat in a drysuit. If you do not like the cold, paddling in November could not be all that fun. It can also be dangerous.
I do not mind the cold and don't easily get chilled. Today's paddle also held little chance of danger. It was a very different paddle for the group: it was in Boston. We were paddling from Magazine Beach in Cambridge to the Barking Crab, in the Fort Point Channel. The route took us down the Charles, escorted by a number of racing shells, through the canoe path carved out by the Esplanade, under the Zakim bridge, through the locks, and past the Boston water front. Unlike most of the paddles we do, this paddle does not offer any opportunities for playing in the rocks, it does not offer any beaches to land on, it does not offer any expansive views of ritzy residential waterfront homes. It does offer the chance to paddle through a major city, it does offer the chance to paddle through some locks, it does offer the chance to see a major seaport.
As a general rule, kayaking is something I do to get away from the city. However, there is something special about seeing Boston from the water. Sure the cars are careening along the edges of the river, but they are silent. The crowds along the river are happy and vibrant. The skyscrapers thrust into the sky in blazes of glassy glory. You can almost forget that the city also harbors a festering, crowded rot born of too many busy people jammed into too many small spaces. The only hint of the subterranean gloom city dwellers spend the time in between busy stops, is the red line as it crosses the Charles. From the water, it is easy to remember the grand things about our old city.
We had a great time on the water and a great feed at the Barking Crab. The staff did a great job of accommodating 16 stinky paddlers and two lovely guests. They made us sit outside--who wouldn't have--but they sent someone out to take our orders. The food was fast and tasty. The fries were a huge hit!!
We got back to the cars just before dark. The veterans of this paddle thought this was the best of the three. The newbies were pleasantly surprised at what a nice paddle you can find in Boston.
I was close enough to home that I managed to have time to see Borat. Borat is not nearly as relaxing as the paddle to the Barking Crab.