Sunday, December 10, 2006

Chilling Out

On Tuesday the weekend forecast looked promising and Paul put the bug in people's ears. When the weekend roared in, the temperature was still high but so were the winds. Paul's original plan was to paddle south from Narragansett town beach and make for Pt. Judith. The westerly winds forced us to move the launch point north and the direction up in the air. Paul figured it would be better to get blown into Jamestown than get blown into Tiverton if things got bad.
NOAA had decided to post a small craft advisory due to the high winds. Despite the winds things look deceptively calm. Early recon of Narragansett town beach and Bonnet Shores showed that the winds were blowing the surf out. All the action was along the Jamestown shore and around Beavertail. It looked like a few well prepared paddlers could find some safe paddling and a little action.
Nine of us showed up at Bay Campus ready to paddle. Carole, MA, and Bill were all sporting shiny new Kokatat drysuits. Ken, Paul, Matt, Becca, Bob, and myself were all in our old drysuits. The majority of the suits (7) were GoreTex Kokatats. They are the gold-standard and is priced accordingly. Bob's suit, while a Kokatat, is not the revered drysuit. Instead he has the Tropos paddle suit which costs about $300 less. Instead of a gasket at the neck it has a high neoprene collar to keep the water out. I have a Reed paddle suit which costs around $400. It is made out Reed's Chill Cheater fabric that is water proof and breathable. Becca has a non-breathable, nylon suit.
I also had the Q-boat back from Carl Ladd's skilled hands. He patched up the rock damage and installed one of his new ballistic strength keel strips. It is made of the same stuff they use for truck liners and looks like it could take a rock at high speed without a nick. The keel strip runs the length of the boat and, unlike most keel strips, runs along the sides of the skeg. The black looks like it was built for the boat.
We decided to head south so that the winds would blow us back home after battling our way down the coast. It was a battle too. Once we got up to the Bonnet bluffs the gusts were strong enough to bring the group to a crawl. The waters were pretty lumpy also. We were happy to duck into the relative calm of Bonnet harbor to regroup.
After some discussion, we decided to poke our heads out around the point but not plan on going too far. As Ken pointed out, if things were tough along the bluffs they would be worse beyond the point. So we worked our way along the shore playing in the rocks. Once around the point thing got more interesting. The swells were pushy and you could see that things further out looked very rough. It didn't stop us from testing our mettle a bit.
After lunch we made our way along the coast towards Bonnet Shore's beach where there was a little bit of surf. Before getting into the surf we got back into the rocks. I think everyone lost a bit of gelcoat. I managed to scrape despite the keel strip by catching a bit of barnacle to the side of the strip.
At the beach several of us played in the surf and caught a few good rides. Each of us, save Bob, managed to take a dunk or two. I found myself in the water twice after trying my luck at surfing backwards. I think that I'll wait until summer to try that again. Only one of the dunks resulted in my ejecting the kayak. As with the others who had to eject,I found myself stuck in water that was deep enough to keep the kayak floating but shallow enough to make rolling impossible.
After being washed around in the surf, we turned and made for home.
The trip home along the bluffs offered us a choice of playing it safe or playing in the rocks. The smart ones-Carole, Paul, MA, and Bill-played it safe. I decided to take the middle path by staying close enough to the rocks so that I could get closer if things looked good and get out if they started getting dodgy. Others, including Bob, decided to play in the rocks.
Early in the return trip, Bob, as he was being sloshed around close to jagged, hungry rocks, yelled to me that he was in a very bad place. I agreed and decided that it was a good time to stay a little further off the rocks. A little later I spotted Bob in a much worse place. He was in close to rocks and getting beat up by waves that just got stronger. Before Bob could get out of the ring, the waves KO'ed him.
Since I was the closest, I went in to extract him. Before I could get to him, I spotted a nasty looking wave moving towards me and a nice ledge that was going to cause the wave to break right on top of me. I turned into the wave hoping to get over it before it broke. It was a good plan, but not good enough. Right behind the wave I saw was a bigger one. After getting through the first one, I was crushed by the second one. It lifted the Q's bow to about 80 degrees and tossed me to the opposite side from the first wave. I struggled in vain, but found myself upside down, out of position for a roll, and uncertain how close to the rocks I was. I had a fleeting thought about rolling up, but realized that I was better off out of my kayak. Out of the kayak I could be sure my head was above water and I had a chance of keeping my head off the rocks. Even if I made the roll I wasn't sure I'd be in position to get out of danger. So, I pulled the grab loop and ejected into the cold water.
Because we had such a strong group, I was confident that I would not be in the water for long. I was also glad that I had dressed properly for immersion. My drysuit, although not a Kokatat, performed admirably. However, Paul and Matt performed better. They were on top of me almost as soon as I came up. Paul took over my rescue and Matt headed in to rescue Bob. Because the conditions were so unsettled, Paul decided to toss me the end of his tow belt instead of attempting to either do a T-rescue immediately or hook the belt on my belt by himself. Since I was lucid and calm there was no reason to risk smashing me with his kayak. I caught the line and he towed me into calmer waters where we could more easily get me back into my kayak.
Once I was safely back in my kayak we could turn our attention to Bob's rescue. Things were not going so smoothly for Bob and Matt. Bob was fairly safe because he had managed to get himself out of the water and onto some rocks. At the very least he was on dry land. His kayak, however, was proving to be a bit less cooperative. It was full of water and the swells were not giving up their lunch without a fight. After a few minutes, Bob managed to get his kayak across the rocks to a place where things were calmer and he could safely get back on the water.
For more detailed thought on the rescues see here.
Bob and I were both lucky. We were both prepared for the worst and surrounded by people we knew were capable of handling bad situations. The combination kept us alive and in good enough shape to still enjoy the rest of the paddle.
Back at Bay Campus there was the mandatory rolling and rescue practice. Both Matt and I suffered ice headaches. I think that my rolling practice may just be over for the winter.
Bill did his first roll!! He wanted to try going over in the cold water to see what it was like. I guess he didn't find it appealing since he rolled right back up!! It was an impressive site.
Usually once everyone is back on shore the danger is assumed to be over. The dangers of paddling are all on the water aren't they? Aside from the danger of pulling something from lifting a kayak that is?
Once the weather gets chilly the danger really isn't over until everyone is in dry street clothes and sitting in a heated car on the way to post paddle feeding.
Becca, whose drysuit is not breathable or dry, started talking gibberish once she got back to her car. She was acting spacey and sluggish. Ken realized what was happening immediately, got Carole to get Becca dressed in warm clothes, and got his truck warmed up. Once Becca was dry and dressed, he put her in the heated truck. Slowly, she started to regain her wits and function again.
It took less than five minutes for her to go from able to function normally to incapacitated by the cold. That was in 45 degree air. Imagine how long it takes in 30 degree water...
Fortunately we all recovered and were able to enjoy a great meal at Italian Village in Peacedale. What could have been a run of the mill paddle--which is still a great thing--turned into an exciting, educational mini adventure.

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