Monday, December 31, 2007

Best Paddle of '07

The end of the year seems to awaken the need to reflect back on the year as a whole. (Personally, I think reflection should be an everyday event, but I have a job that requires a lot of sitting around thinking...)
This has been one hell of a year for me. I purchased a house and got married in the middle of the year. I picked up the responsibility for my local kayaking club's Web presence, managed to keep up a blog, grew aquatinted with a new stick, ND discovered (and lost for now) a forward finishing roll. At work, I spearheaded a pilot to rethink the way my team produces content, wrapped my head around the realities of documenting open source software, and trained a new writer.
I also managed to do an awful lot of excellent kayaking. If I hadn't managed to kayak as much as I did I likely would have gone totally bonkers. Kayaking is my coping mechanism, my way of processing life.
There were many lessons learned over the course of the year, but most were of the personal kind that don't translate well into words. Nor do they make for very interesting blog reading.
So to reflect back on '07, I'll do something that will be more fun to read about than my reflections on what I think I know about what I learned about myself while paddling my kayak. I decided I'd actually try to choose a best paddle from 2007. I figured it would be tough to narrow it down to even a few paddles. They were all excellent in their own ways.
To my relief two paddles glowed brighter in my mind than the others:
* Paddling in Glacier Bay, AK for several days as part of my honeymoon (see here)
* Playing in the full moon currents at the mouth of the Westport River (see here)
The two paddles were as different as could be. In Alaska the water was calm and the paddling was mellow. We only had one day where we pushed for distance. On the Westport the water was rough and the paddling adrenaline fueled. We only took brief breaks from the action.
Yet they both represented a step out of my comfort box.
The Glacier Bay trip took was my first real back country excursion. I've done kayak camping before, but Alaska was on a different level. Once we left the ranger station we were alone in bear country. There was very little boat traffic and very few people. Our radios were only marginally helpful since we could not directly radio to the ranger station. It was spectacular, regenerative, and scary. I left that trip with a greater respect for nature and more confidence in our ability to survive.
The Alaska trip also represented the first leg of an even more exciting journey: marriage. After surviving the hazing ritual that is wedding planning (not to mention buying a house at the same time), I was pretty sure a few days in the woods wouldn't be much of a problem for H & I. We'd also done some camping and traveling together before Alaska, but Alaska was more intense. We also had relied on our traveling companions to do most of the planning, so we felt a little out of sorts from the get go.
The Westport River trip was the first time I really pushed things in racing currents. We had done some current practice the day before and the currents were arguably more turbulent. However, the space at Stone Bridge makes rescues easier. A paddler being washed out of the race at Stone Bridge will hit calm water in short order and beaches are easily accessible for resting. A paddler in trouble at the mouth of the Westport River is going to get washed into Buzzards Bay before the current lets them go and getting to a beach is either a long paddle or a fight against tough currents. The mouth of the Westport River also had more boat traffic than Stone Bridge. Taking a chance there was much more nerve wracking.
Part of what made the Westport River trip more exciting/fulfilling than the previous outing at Stone Bridge was also the group of paddlers with whom I was paddling. The group at Stone Bridge was excellent. They provided a lot of safety, good company, and opportunities to practice rough water rescues. However, the group on the Westport River was one that makes it easier for me to push my limits. We paddle together all of the time and that familiarity breeds an extra level of comfort. We all know how the others in the group paddle and approach risk.
If I had to choose just one paddle as the best, I'd pick Alaska. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity. I'll get other shots at big currents at the mouth of the Westport River.
Enough looking back - on to some great living in 2008!

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

A Lovely Ending

December has been a tough month for me in terms of getting on the water. The Q-Boat was in the shop for a few minor repairs (new deck lines, repairing a section of shoddy seam tapping, and one more attempt to fix the leaky back hatch). It being the holiday season, H and I had a number of visiting commitments that fell on weekends.
Today was the only day that looked clear. I needed to take a number of vacation days from work (use them or loose them policy) and one of H's friends was up visiting. I was clear and desperate to get on the water. I sent out e-mails trying to gauge interest and got a few responses. When I tried to firm up plans, I got silence. I was not surprised since it was Christmas Eve. I kept checking to see if anyone was going to join me.
As the hours passed, I started to get desperate and started thinking about doing a solo trip. I generally avoid solo trips for safety reasons - even in the warm weather - but I wanted to paddle. I could have taken the kayak up to Walden Pond (if it wasn't iced over and the parking lot was plowed), I could have found a local river to paddle, or I could plot out a very conservative paddle in upper Narragansett Bay. Or I would most likely listen to my sensible self and stay safely on dry land.
Christmas morning I saw CR and her husband's post that they would be paddling out of West Island in Fairhaven, MA on the 26th. I would be able to paddle!! Then I got an e-mail from PB asking if we should join CR. Melancholy turned to joy. I couldn't remember paddling in the area, but any time on the water was going to be great.
I got directions and set out early in the morning. As I neared the put-in the roads looked familiar, but a lot of back roads near water look familiar after awhile. PB was convinced that I had paddled here last year, but I was still drawing a blank.
The forecast was for a partly cloudy day with temps in the low 40s. It was a perfect day for winter paddling. PB, CR, and I set out into flat conditions with minimal winds. There was a bit of current, but it was not enough to be a factor. It was perfect for waking up my dormant paddle mind.
Slowly I began finding the rhythm of the blades in the water. I found the right angle of the stick and the right places to apply the power. My balance settled into place. The behavior of the Q-Boat started to feel familiar. After about a half-hour I was the groove. My muscles were achy from disuse, but they were happy.
The original plan was to circumnavigate West Island, but PB wanted to check out Ram Island. CR, who had the chart, altered our course accordingly.
The water was spotted with buoys and birds. There were pods of ducks that CR thought were eiders floating on the water.

Within a mile we were spotting seals. Then we paddled into the aquaculture pens and we were surrounded by seals. The seals kept a distance, but did not look shy. They would follow behind our kayaks. We paddled backwards for a bit to try and catch glimpses of them. CR sang to the seals which they seemed to like.
We lunched on Mattapoisett Neck. It was a feast of PB&J, chicken soup, tea, Christmas treats, and H's corn bread. The sun kept us from getting too chilled, so we didn't rush.
From the beach we could see Seal Island. It is a bunch of rocks covered with seals.
After lunch we plotted our return trip so that we would not retrace our steps and keep a safe distance from Seal Island. The course took us about a 1/4 mile north of Seal island. As we passed by, the seals came along and checked us out. This batch of seals got even closer than the seals in the morning.
As we approached West Island we spotted more eiders. There was also a couple of buffel heads. The buffel heads were easy to spot because they stayed clear of the main group and because of the large white spot on the back of the male's head.
As we rounded the eastern point of West Island we spotted a seal hauled out on the rocks. We changed course to give it a wide berth and not disturb it. A little latter we were surprised by another seal that was hauled out on a random rock. We did our best to give it plenty of room. Fortunately, the seal didn't appeared to be bothered by our presence.
Back at the put-in, I tried a few rolls. I don't enjoy dunking myself in 40 degree water, but I feel like I must. A roll is a delicate thing and I think it is important to practice it at least once a paddle - especially in the winter.
The paddle was just what the doctor ordered. We had a beautiful winter day in MA. The distance was enough to make me feel it, but not enough to make me sore for days. The conditions were boring, but that is fine for a winter paddle. The seals made for interesting viewing. And the company was - as always - excellent.
Upon returning home, I got an e-mail from PB with a link to my blog entry about paddling West Island last year....
Here's looking forward to some great paddling in '08.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Chasing Stars

For the last year, TM and I have discussed the value of working up through the BCU star system. TM was uncertain at first. Then he figured if he could pass the 3 star evaluation and the 4 star evaluation in one year, it would be OK. Then he'd be in great position to go through the 5 star training the following year. At the very least the training would be a worthwhile experience.
I, on the other hand, dismissed the whole thing. The value of the training is limited by the fact that I wouldn't be allowed to use my paddle of choice. I'd heard the BCU training is exclusively for Euro blades and I'm a stick monkey. I was not about to give up my stick for a patch and a pat on the back.
So, TM took the 3 star training and evaluation. TM has 10-plus years experience in a kayak and is as strong a paddler as any of the 4 star paddlers I see on a regular basis. He failed the evaluation because he didn't look perfect performing maneuvers in flat water. He also reported that the skills taught at the course were pretty basic. It was a pretty disheartening experience.
TM's experience only reinforced my feelings that chasing stars is a fool's errand.
I enjoy and value getting instruction from people who are more skilled and experienced than I. I soak up their advice, their instruction, their hints, and their adjustments. Then I go off and make the technique fit my personal conditions - the reality of my kayak, my paddle, my body.
I also value simply paddling a lot: in big groups, in small groups, in all sorts of conditions. One of the joys of kayaking is that every paddle is a learning experience. Each time out I refine my boat control skills a little more. I learn something new about functioning in a group. I learn a little more about reading conditions. I learn a little bit more about managing risk. I learn a little bit more about how mistaken paddlers who believe in a "bomb-proof" roll and being completely self-sufficient are about reality.
I wonder how much I'd learn from the classes that prep for an evaluation. My SAT and GRE test courses taught me little more than how to take the test. I also wonder what passing the evaluation really signifies. I got great SAT and GRE scores, but was a lousy college student. I got great test scores in most of my engineering classes, but was a lousy engineer. It took a lot of time, effort, and experience before the skills I demonstrated with high test scores became useful in the real world.
I guess for me it is not worth the time or money to work at passing a couple of tests. I'd rather spend my time and effort paddling, learning, and growing. I'd rather spend my money getting instruction geared towards building skills and not towards passing a test.
I also cannot see myself caring too much about the number of stars on a paddler's PFD. Good paddlers are easy to spot with or without stars.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Group Management

It's the time of year when instead of paddling constantly, I think about paddling constantly. The topic on my mind lately is group management. There are a few reasons for this. One is that winter paddling always makes me more cautious about paddling conditions. The group I'm paddling with are part of the conditions. One other is that there have been a few incidents recently where paddlers got into trouble.
One is documented here and here. We didn't make good decisions about conditions and the ability of the people in our group. Our communication broke down at critical points. A paddler was also left to return to the put-in by himself because the members of his group did not stick together. We ended up with a paddler in the water and performing a long distance tow in windy conditions. Once the incident happened and the group slipped into crisis management mode things went smoothly and it ended up fine.
Another incident happened a week later (I was not a participant and only report based on what people who did participate reported.) A group of paddlers paddled into an exposed part of the Bay on a windy and cold day. One of the paddlers decided to paddle knowing that he was pushing the limits of his skills. He believed that two experienced members of the group, who had paddled with him previously, were familiar with his skills. As the group progressed into more exposed conditions, the new paddler grew increasingly uneasy, but did not speak up. The group decided to make an exposed crossing in an area that is known to get rough and the group drifted apart. At one point the the newer paddler ceased being able to control his kayak and eventually ended up in the water.
In both cases the management of the group fell short. Experienced paddlers made decisions based on their own skill levels and desires. Less skilled paddlers didn't judge their skills appropriately. The participants didn't consider the group as a whole.
Paddling is a recreational activity for most of us and we'd rather not have to herd cats. RIC/KA, as a matter of policy, eschews placing a trip coordinator in a position of responsibility. How can a group be managed if nobody is in charge?
One thing that makes managing a group easier is paddlers making sound judgements about what paddles are appropriate for them. Paul has a great post about self assessment here.
Another thing that makes managing a group easier is all members of the group being considerate of the other members of the group. They show up on time. They stay with the group. They don't take undue risks. They speak up when they are uncomfortable. They help out if another paddler seems distressed. They don't push the group into conditions that are beyond the weakest member of the group. They accept group decisions. etc.
However, there are times in almost every paddle where someone needs to be in charge and make decisions. Sometimes the decision may be unpopular, but needs to be made. Someone needs to reign in the experienced paddlers if they are pushing the group beyond its level. Someone needs to alter the paddle plan if it becomes clear that conditions are changing or a paddler is beginning to be distressed. Someone may even have to tell a paddler that they should stay on the beach.
Groups are tricky things and I know that I'm not a great group manager. I'm much more comfortable lending a trip coordinator a hand in keeping a trip running smoothly. I suppose that is why when thinking about paddling in tough conditions, I don't think about open trips. I think of paddling with a close knit group of people I know and trust. I think of paddling with a self-herding group of cats.
Managing a group may be tough work, but if you choose to paddle in a group it must be done - particularly in rough conditions. Doing a rescue puts everyone at risk and can ruin an otherwise great day on the water. Hurt feelings are easy to repair - bodies are much harder.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

The November Paddle

Once the cold water paddling season starts, I recalibrate my expectations for paddling. Instead of trying to get out once a week, I live with once a month. Instead of looking to push the envelope, I stay inside the safety box. It is nice to just get on the water and stretch the paddling muscles.
Today's paddle was nearly perfect as a winter paddle. PB posted a show and go out of Third Beach. Since I hadn't managed to get on the water all month and I wasn't sure about the group going out on Sunday, I was definitely going to make this paddle.
I had trouble getting out of the driveway in the morning and was late getting to the beach, but everyone was very laid back about getting on the water. It was cold and sunny. Eventually, we (PB, BH, CR, CMC, CC, TM, and myself) got on the water and headed towards Second Beach.
TM was a new paddler to the group, so I made a point to talk to him. New paddlers can be a bit unnerving on cold water paddles because the safety margins are slimmer. The conditions were mild and TM was up to the challenge.
We noodled around the point and landed on the beach for lunch. After a sunny lunch, we launched and headed back to the put-in. TM had to get to work, so it was a short paddle.
On the way back, CR and BH stopped to pick up a huge ball of fishing line. The line was stranded on one of the rocks along the coast.
Back at the put-in, PB and I took our turns at rolling. PB's looked effortless. Mine felt rusty, but I came up without worry. The water, a balmy 50 degrees, chilled my noggin.
I look forward to a equally pleasant Dec. paddle.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Giving Thanks

Yesterday's American holiday is the day to think about the things for which we are thankful. (I firmly believe, and try to act on the belief, that you should be thankful every day.)
I've got a lot to be thankful this year: the beginning of a great marriage to a great woman, a new house top, a wonderful Alaskan adventure, a new iPhone, several great parties, seeing some of my friends have solid relationships, reconnecting with an old friend, a job that I don't hate, etc.
I'm also thankful that most of the people I know also have a lot of reasons to be thankful. Let's face it any one blessed enough to enjoy kayaking has a lot of reasons to be thankful: having enough disposable income to own (and maintain) the kit needed to kayak, a living space large enough to accommodate a kayak, decent health, plenty of leisure time, the company of good people, experiencing nature, good weather, etc. Plenty of people are not so lucky. They struggle to make ends meet. They cannot find the time to smell the roses. They have some infirmity. They cannot see the light at the end of the tunnel. They face the constant threat of violence.
Our lives may not be all that we would wish. However, our balance sheets are in the black. I know mine is and I thank the universe for my good fortune.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

The Winter Cometh

It is getting colder, days are growing shorter, and the water chills the bones. Winter looms. Kayaking days are scarce and therefore more precious.
Ironically, the volume of non-kayaking obligations grow also. The leaves need to be racked and bagged. The grass needs to be mowed. The gutters need to be cleaned. Friends and family schedule holiday gatherings. Work picks up in preparation for the holiday lull.
The kayaks have been sitting unused in the garage for weeks and I'm beginning to sense the gathering clouds of winter gloom. How to preempt the gathering darkness?
I still plan on kayaking at least once a month. I'm also planning to do some snowshoeing and some projects around the house. My plan also includes regular visits to the gym. I've got no faith in my actually getting to the gym. Toiling away on a spinning wheel in a neon lit dungeon is not spiritually satisfying. My body feels better, the malaise eases a bit, but the spirit doesn't feel better.
It is the energy of nature and friends that nourishes the spirit. Fortunately, the season offers plenty of opportunities for seeing friends and family. I plan on making the most of them (as well as the kayaking).

Sunday, October 28, 2007

When Level Two Trips Go Bad

H wanted to get at least one more paddle in this season, so I posted a level two trip heading from Bay Campus to Rome Point. The distance was pushing the upper limit of a strict level two, but still within the cutoff. Joe, looking for a more adventurous outing decided that he'd run a level three from the Bay Campus as well.
The winds were whipping when we arrived at Bay Campus and they were forecasted to stay steady throughout the day. At the put-in we briefly discussed moving the paddle to Tuckertown Pond to gain shelter from the wind. For a strict level two paddle we should have moved to the pond, because the winds were definitely over the prescribed limit. However, the assembled group (H, CC, BH, PB, LB, TM, and DV) were all capable level three paddlers and voted to stay on the Bay. We would paddle close to the shore to stay as protected from the wind as possible and slowly fight our way into the wind up to Rome Point.
Joe's plan was to cross over to Jamestown and paddle into the wind. He, JS, and Larry set off ahead of the level two group.
As I was gathering my gear, H noticed that I was leaving my tow-belt in the car.
"You really should take that," she pointed out.
"But its just a level two paddle, I'm not going to need to tow anybody," I protested.
"Still," she said with a disappointed look.
I put the tow-belt on. Somehow, the tow-belt incident through me off and it took me forever to get on the water. I could hear the group collectively tapping their toes waiting for me.
I finally got on the water and, along with TM, proceeded to hug the shore going north. The rest of the group paddled outside of the mooring fields. The combination of the wind protection we gained from being near shore and our native paddling speed opened up a wide gap between us and the rest of the group. We held up and the rest of the group caught up and joined us closer to the shore.
As we moved up the coast toward the bridge we had to monitor our individual progress according to the group as a whole. The wind exacerbates the problems of keeping a group together and increases the importance of keeping the group together. The wind makes slower paddlers slower, makes faster paddlers less likely to look behind them, and makes communication even more difficult.
About 3/4 of the way to the Jamestown Bridge, we spotted two kayaks crossing the channel from Jamestown to the mainland shore. It looked like Joe and JS, but we didn't think it could be them. They left the beach as a threesome that included Larry. Once they approached we learned that Larry had turned back and they had let him go it alone. Without knowing any of the details, we all immediately questioned the soundness of the call. It was not how we usually operate and it was definitely out of character for Joe. He typically works very hard to keep the group together.
(As I found out later, the whole thing was the result of a breakdown in communication. Larry had fallen behind and decided to turn back. He told JS, who was fishing, and split. By the time JS had rejoined Joe and communicated Larry's decision, it was too late to do anything. Larry was either safely back on the beach or being blown out to sea.)
I stopped the group just before we reached the bridge to see how people felt. There was a reasonably protected beach for lunch or resting, so if the group was looking to rest it was a perfect spot. I was also thinking that it would be good turn around point instead of going all the way to Rome Point.
Paddling under the bridge is always tricky because things get choppy and the wind is funneled straight under the bridge. Once under the bridge, we'd loose any wind protection until we reached Rome Point. H hadn't been in her kayak much this fall. DV was paddling an unfamiliar kayak. The wind was more than any of us had anticipated.
I could have simply called lunch. This was a level two paddle and we were already beyond level two conditions. I could have also decided that since we were already in level three conditions, we would complete the mission and paddle straight to Rome Point. Instead, I opted for taking a vote. As with the vote on the beach, nobody had a strong opinion, but generally felt like sticking to the original plan.
So, we continued onward.
Once under the bridge, the wind slammed into us. It didn't take long for people to get worn down. About halfway between the bridge and Rome Point, DV asked if we could stop. His back was beginning to bother him and he didn't want to push it much more. Others were happy to oblige. Someone did mention that Rome Point was just a little further. The group, however, stopped for lunch and decided that from lunch we'd head back to Bay Campus.
Joe and JS once again split with the group after lunch. They planned to head up to Rome Point and see if they could find any more fish.
The rest of us got on the water in pods. While people were launching I paddled up to TM and said "lighthouse" and he smiled. From the shore it didn't look like the conditions over by the lighthouse were bad. If either of us had used our brains, we'd have known what it was really like between us and the lighthouse - unpredictable, big chop, and a strong, beamy wind.
H was one of the last people on the water and I rafted up with her to mop some of the water out of the Q-Boat. While we were drying out my cockpit, the rest of the group headed out to the lighthouse....
After I got the water out of the Q-Boat, H and I turned to rejoin the group or what was left of it. I could see a pod of kayaks about halfway to the lighthouse and few other kayaks closer to the lighthouse. Since I thought the group was going to the lighthouse, we pushed down along the bridge. Conditions were what H calls the "washing machine". The chop was big and coming from all directions. It was not ideal, but neither was getting separated from the group. I insisted on rejoining the group since we could manage the chop.
H, on the other hand, wanted to slip under the bridge and get out of the chop. She spotted half of the group on the southern side of the bridge parked near the shore. She repeatedly tried telling me about the others.
I could not hear her, so I continued pushing towards the lighthouse and the kayaks I could see.
Finally, she caught my attention and pointed out the rest the group. Once I saw that there was part of the group in calm water, I knew the right thing to do. We turned and paddled under the bridge.
There was still a scattered group out in the center of the channel, so I wanted to make sure they were OK. My first priority, however, was getting H to the safety of the group. She, however, had also seen the stray group and noticed that one of the kayaks was capsized.
"There is someone in the water," she told me. "I'm fine, you go help."
I raced out the rescue sight. TM was heading over to a nearby fishing boat to ask them for assistance. BH had a hold of DV and his capsized kayak. PB was stabilizing BH. There were paddles floating all over the place.
I collected the paddles while BH attempted to put DV back in his kayak. The conditions were making the rescue hard and DV was making it even harder. He didn't seem to have the strength to get himself back in the kayak. At one point he just quit and wanted to get a ride home in the nearby fishing boat. Eventually, after TM and BH told him it would be harder to get him into the fishing boat, he managed to get back in his kayak.
Since he had so much trouble getting in the kayak, we decided that it would be best if DV was towed for awhile. BH, since he was already stabilizing DV's kayak, would stabilize DV while under tow.
Since I had my tow belt on and was in the best position, I hooked the two kayaks up - I snaked my tow line under the BH's inside dock line, then under the inside of DV's front deck line, and then hooked the tow line together to make a lasso. Towing two kayaks is a bitch. At first I wasn't sure I could get enough power using the mighty stick and considered asking TM to get my spare Lendal off my back deck. However, I didn't relish the idea of starting from a dead stop again. Once I got a rhythm going, things got easier. Then PB, who had borrowed BH's tow belt, hooked onto the front of the Q-Boat. That made towing much easier.
After what seemed like an eternity, we got close to the shore and managed to catch up with the rest of the group. DV was feeling better, so we dismanteled the tow. Once free of the tow, DV took off for home. TM, who may have been the only one capable of matching his pace, followed. H decided to stick with TM as a back-up.
The rest of us wended our way back to Bay Campus and prepared for what promised to be a serious debriefing. CC was upset that we had even tried to paddle to the lighthouse given the conditions. LB was upset that she had been left alone for a period of time in the rough water. H was upset that I had made her attempt to paddle into the middle of the channel. The boys were upset because we had made some bad judgment calls. Everyone was upset that Larry's fate was unknown.
Once safely on the Bay Campus beach, we debriefed. Post-paddle debriefs are one of the best learning experiences and this one was no different. Nothing got solved and no blame was laid. We did learn that communication needs to be better, that level two trips need a strong hand when it comes to making decisions about when to stop, that your group is only as strong as its weakest paddler, and that when conditions are tough everything is harder and more important. Maybe benevolent dictatorship is not always a bad idea...
Fortunately, everyone ended the day healthy and wiser. A bad day on the water is better than a good day at the office....

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Return to Old Stone Bridge

The lunar cycle is 29.53059 days which means that every 30 days the moon is full. For those nautically inclined, it also means the bigger than average tides happen every 30 days. Big tides equals big tidal currents.
The full moon was Friday the 26th, so the currents at Old Stone Bridge promised to be fast on Saturday the 27th. I posted a practice session and bristled with anticipation for the chance to play. As Saturday approached, the weather aligned with the currents to ensure a maelstrom.
It was rainy and windy when I showed up to a flooded put-in. The channel was already looking lumpy and the real action was more than an hour away. I wandered up to Coastal Roasters to get a coffee and wait for the rest of the brave (foolish) paddlers to arrive.
We got an excellent turn-out. There were eight kayaks and eight paddlers. Three of the paddlers were new to the group (Gerry, Rich, and Larry) while the balance of the group were RICKA regulars (TM, PB, PH, CR). The pre-paddle preparations included a talk by TM about being ready to rescue people. It also included TM asking me if I was going to wear a helmet. I was not because I figured there were no rocks around to squish my mellon. TM's question, however, made me rethink my plan and I plopped the helmet on my mellon.
We spent a little time near the beach getting loosened up and sizing up the maelstrom in the channel. It was perfect. The winds was blowing up river as the water rushed down river. Waves boiled up at irregular intervals. The eddy lines were clear and full of whirlpools. The bad weather kept the fisherman to minimum so the area was clear of fishing lines.
It didn't take long before the group drifted into the thick of things. We spread out across area. TM wanted to spend time practicing boat handling skills in the eddies. The Ps wanted to dive right into the standing waves. I wanted to work on boat handling skills in the the maelstrom. The others all found there own spot to work. The area was dynamic. You could be sitting in relatively calm water just on the edge of the really big stuff. It was easy to slip out to get a quick breather. It was easy to slide along the side and slip into the really big stuff. There was a section in the center that would flatten out and offer a rest every so often.
It didn't take long before somebody went in the drink. Larry was playing near the evil bouy and flipped. I was in the center of the channel about 10 yards away, so I turned to make the rescue. I edge the Q-Boat a little too much, however, and also flipped. I set up my roll facing down stream and popped up with too much ease. I went over the other side. I set up my roll on the upstream side and came up just enough to get some air. It felt like the Poseidon grabbed the might stick and pulled it under. I pulled the loop and became a second swimmer.
Gerry was on me in a flash. He made sure I was OK, assessed the situation, and decided to tow me into calmer water before trying to put me back in the kayak. He latched on the Q-Boat's bow and starting towing the upside down kayak closer to the beach. It was a struggle because kayaks are not designed to travel through the water upside down... Once I was in calmer water, TM did a t-rescue to put me back in the kayak. The water was rough enough, the I managed to bounce my helmeted mellon off the Q-Boat's hull and TM's hull a few times.
Hardly shaken, I rushed back into the fray. Before long, I got to repay the rescue. Rich went over and I was in perfect position to rescue him. I decided that the water was calm enough to do the rescue. The boiling water and standing waves made it tough to get a good grip on Rich's kayak, but once I had it firmly in hand the rescue went smoothly. It was not text book, but it was successful.
Paddling in those types of conditions is tiring and we decided to take a break after about an hour. We drank some water, ate some snacks, and drained the water out of our cockpits. We also got a chuckle TM trying to squeeze into Rich's Nordkapp LV. TM's memory of the Devil Boat needed a little refreshing. Fortunately for all of us, TM couldn't squeeze in to the cockpit. We would have spent the rest of the morning pulling TM out of the drink...
After the break, I decided to spend some time experiencing the eddies. They were very clearly defined and pocked with whirlpools. I practiced crossing the eddy line without getting completely turned around. It was a challenge trying to figure out which combination of strokes and edging worked most effectively. I tried sweep strokes to counter the initial punch of on the bow, followed by a stern rudder to straighten out. It was only partially effective. I tried starting with a stern rudder, but that failed completely. The trouble was countering the initial punch to the bow. The force of the current rushing downstream wanted to push the bow downstream with and the stern of the Q-Boat offered little resistance. In the end, all that really seamed to work was finding the best angle to attack the line and digging the edge in to arrest the turn.
The whirlpools were fun. I'd stick my bow into the edge and it would push the nose around and a well timed switch to the other edge of the hull would keep the spin going through the full 360. The centers of the whirlpool looked mean. They dropped a good foot or two, and, while I'm sure they didn't have the force needed to suck the Q-Boat to a watery grave, I was not about to go sticking my bow in their to find out.
After playing in the eddies, I wanted to get back out into the boil. I slipped across the eddy line, go tmy bow pointed back up stream, and let the current suck me down between the cans. Once there I worked on holding my position and playing on the waves. It was fun until I found myself upside down. Disoriented, I set up my roll on the upstream side. It was like moving through gello and I barely got enough air to catch a breath. I slipped back under the water laying on the back deck. I felt a little panicky and just grabbed for the loop.
Needing to be rescued twice in one day didn't sit well with me. I felt like I hadn't kept my center when I most needed to keep it. After a short rest, I set out to practice rolling in the midst of the maelstrom. I was going to master the situation even if mastery meant swimming. I enlisted PB to spot me and headed back up the flow.
Along the way, PH hopped in front of me trying catch a few good rides. I found myself sitting next to him in one of the random calm spots until the boiling started. PH went over and tried to roll. Before I could get over to him, a wave picked me up and shot me forward. Fortunately, PB and several of the other paddlers were right behind us.
A smart paddler would have waited for his support to regroup before attempting to roll in conditions that had resulted in two previous rescues. I'm not always smart. I flipped myself over, made sure I set up downstream, and rolled upright. Not happy with just one, I did it again. And again. Then I set up parallel to the current and rolled up. Still not satisfied, I set up facing upstream and struggled back upright. To prove to myself that it was not a fluke, I went over again and set up facing upstream. When I finished the roll with my head still in the water, I felt the panic start and let it wash through me. Then I switched sides and rolled into the sweet air.
It was time to end the madness and land the kayak. I had regained my confidence. I had pushed my luck enough. I was exhausted. Everyone else was heading in as well.
We'd only been on the water for three hours, according PB's GPS, we'd only traveled about four miles, and we'd gained a incalculable amounts of experience. Getting a feel for confusing conditions, waves, and currents in a controlled area with a good group is a rare pleasure. The rescues made the day even better. Knowing that the others in the group can catch you if you fall boosts your confidence to push the limits and grow.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Banging Around

As summer fades into fall, we all start looking for the last big trip. PB suggested a wilderness get away to cap a great season of paddling and camping. The only constraints put on the plan were:

  • it not be too close to Boston

  • it not be too far from RI

Casco Bay in Maine meets both of those conditions if you can launch from some place in Freeport or Portland. It also offers plenty of island camping and spectacular views for a small group.
The group was going to be pretty small. H was going off with non-kayaking friends for a girl's weekend. RB was camping with an old friend as part of a long standing annual tradition. MA had signed up for an AMC kayaking excursion. So it was only going to be PB, CC, BH, and myself. It was a small, but perfectly formed group.
PB picked me up bright and early Saturday morning. We were going to head up early and find a launch before the RI crew arrived. PB had called about overnight parking at Winslow Park in Freeport early in the week and had not received a return call. We figured it would be wise to check it out before trusting our cars there for the weekend.
Winslow park is a nice place to launch kayaks from. It has a nice boat ramp and is sheltered. At this time of year it was largely deserted. There were some crew races going on and we saw one power boat launching. It also has plenty of parking. PB called the state police to ensure the cars would not get towed if we left them. Once we knew that we were all set, we called CC and BH to inform them of their final destination.
By the time BH's battle box pulled into the park, PB and I had figured out how to stuff most of our gear into our kayaks.
The trick to packing the Q-Boat is still a work in progress. The front compartment is spacious and dry, so it has become the default place for clothing, tent, and sleeping bag. The back hatch is cramped and wet, so it is pretty much useless. I stuffed the stove fuel, the tent poles and the water in the rear hatch. I also tried to cram my kitchen supplies in there, but they would not fit. The kitchen ended up in the cockpit.
While CC and BH packed up their kayaks, PB and I rustled up some tasty sandwiches at a near by country store.
After packing and eating, we got on the water around noon. It was a leisurely trip and our planned camp sites was only six miles away. We were not worried about day light and the forecast was clear for the whole day.
The paddle out to Bangs Island was nice. The islands we passed by were sparsely populated. The sun was shining. The temperature was mild. One could hardly ask for more.
It was the first time in many moons that I navigated. Matching shore line features to a chart is not easy even on a clear day. PB had his GPS as a backup, so I felt better.
Once we found Bangs Island, we had to locate the camp sites. After circumnavigating the island we located the southern camp site. It was too small for our four tents. The middle site was big enough for our tents, but it was wet and didn't offer a good view. The northern site was big enough, had a nice rocky beach, and looked out over the expanse of the Bay.
After unpacking our kayaks and setting up the tents, we set about collecting fire wood and getting dinner ready. BH stoked up a major bonfire out of the collected drift wood. PB cooked up an excellent pasta dish with sausage and meatballs. CC & I helped out where we could.
After dinner, we settled in front of the fire to enjoy marshmallows and other tasty treats. We were also treated to thrilling tales of BH's days as a youngster. PB reportedly saw many shooting stars.
During the night, the weather began to shift. The wind picked up and the temperature cooled down.
BH's kayak grew a blue hand over night. This was the second time his kayak ventured to Maine waters and grew a new appendage. It is freaky.
BH treated the group to a breakfast of strong coffee, oatmeal, and fruit. As we ate, the wind died down and the temperature grew comfortable. We decided to take the long way home. We were going to round Whaleboat Island and check out a number of other islands on the way home. Whaleboat Island has some nice camping spots on it and we wanted to scope it out for future expeditions.
A plan decided on, we broke camp and reloaded the kayaks. I'm always surprised that nothing fits in the kayak the same way twice... While we packed, the wind picked up and shifted to the NW - a perfect headwind for our trip home.
We crossed over to the lee side of Whaleboat to check out the camp sites there. As we paddled and explored, the winds stiffened and the sun retreated behind the clouds. Despite being in the lee of a large island we could feel the wind. Rounding the end of the island and turning homeward was going to expose us to the full force of the wind.
Sure enough, we rounded the northern tip of Whaleboat island and were slammed. We slogged for about half mile before stopping for lunch on Little Whaleboat Island. We plotted out a route that was four short crossings between small islands. We could rest in each of the lees. We all also added to our layering. The wind was kicking up two foot chop that soaked us. The wind and lack of sun meant we chilled quickly.
The return paddle was tough, but fun. The wind and chop made for tough going. However, it also kept things interesting. A little work is good for the soul.
By the time we reached Winslow Park, we were all ready to put on dry clothes and eat some warm food. I, however, wanted to attempt rolling the Q-Boat while it was fully loaded. I managed to nail both my onside and my offside once.
Then it was time to dry off, load up, and chow down. We found an excellent Mediterranean place in Freeport. The food was different and definitely good. It capped off an excellent expedition.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Long Hauling

TM decided to take the week after Columbus Day off and wanted to do at least one long haul paddle. He was thinking of doing either Stone Bridge to Sakonnet Pt., around Jamestown, or both. I'm fortunate enough to work for a company with a liberal vacation package and to have a boss who encourages his workers to use their vacation time, so I was up for at least one of the options.
We decided to paddle out of the Bay Campus, cross over to Jamestown heading north, round the island, and cross back over to Bay Campus. It is a 20-plus mile endeavor. The day dawned rainy. While the rain ended as I drove to RI, the fog and drizzle persisted. At least my coworkers wouldn't suspect I was ditching work to frolic in the sun....
I misjudged the amount of traffic I'd hit and arrived late. TM was waiting patiently. He was surprised that I hadn't decided to bag the whole trip. I hadn't even considered bagging the trip. Kayaking is a wet sport. Drysuits keep the soak off the skin and keep you warm. Besides there is sticker on my desk at work that reads: "I'd rather be upside down in my kayak, than upright at my desk." Unless the conditions are dangerous, I'll take a day of paddling over a day of work.
We launched about 30 minutes later than planned and headed for the north end of Jamestown. The weather kept boat traffic to a minimum, so we were clear to take a long diagonal across the West Passage. Our course took us past the end of Dutch island before we reached the Jamestown coast. The long crossing seemed easy. There was only a mild wind and I couldn't feel much effect from the currents.
However, once we got in closer to the Jamestown shore the paddling got noticeably easier. The current out in the open was deceiving. With no discernible disturbance on the water, visibility suffering from a lack of contrast, and good conversation, I was totally oblivious to what the water was doing to my kayak. While it may not have seemed like much, the extra effort could have wreaked havoc on the pacing for a long paddle.
Paddling north along the western coast of Jamestown, we worked against a northwest wind. It was a nuisance. The wind was just enough to require occasional correcting strokes. I eventually just dropped my skeg to deal with the weather cocking. (For no logical or explainable reason, I loathe using my skeg.) TM's new Explorer's skeg had been removed over the weekend (it has failed twice in the few months he's owned it and the system was out for repair), so he was forced to keep correcting. Fortunately for him, the Explorer tracks well.
After rounding the northern point of Jamestown, the wind became more than a nuisance. It was now working on the Q-Boat's stern which is exceptionally susceptible to wind pressure. While the naked back deck of the Q-Boat doesn't offer much for the wind to grab, the spare paddle and the bilge pump stuck under the bungee cords do. The stern portion of the hull is flat and does not need much encouragement to slide around. Even a little well placed wind pressure will weather cock the kayak. I continually tried to adjust the skeg to neutralize the wind, but I just couldn't find the right amount of skeg to apply. It was frustrating and tiring. I wasn't looking forward to fighting this for 10 miles.
By the time we reached the Newport bridge, I was feeling the strain. My shoulders and obliques were starting to burn a bit. A urinary emergency was building, likely caused by the DD Great One I consumed on the drive down. I was beginning to get a bit fidgety. My stomach was starting to grumble. One foot was asleep. I was feeling wimpy considering we'd only been in the kayaks for three or so hours and had only covered about twelve miles.
To keep from mentally collapsing, I focused on reaching Jamestown center: restroom & lunch break. With a goal in site, the aches subsided and my mind calmed. Tim's presences helped immensely too. It is a great thing to have company.
Long haul paddling, like any endurance activity, is as much a mental challenge as it is a physical one. I cannot imagine how guys like Chris Duff manage to do major solo expeditions without going batty. Or just quitting.
Lunch at Jamestown was uneventful. We didn't want to linger too long lest we get too chilled. We also didn't want to waste too much day light. Crossing the west passage in the dark, after a twenty mile paddle, was not a happy thought.
After lunch, we continued south towards Beavertail. We were feeling better after eating and walking around for a bit. Sometimes, you need to get out of the cockpit for a spell. It also helped that the wind seemed to have settled down-the island was shielding us from it.
However, we were still feeling a little tired. The air was a little chillier and the fog was thickening.
Mackerel Cove was our point of no return--our safety hatch. We'd either turn into the cove, carry over the beach, and paddle home, or we'd continue around Beavertail. I was prepared to go around Beavertail, but wasn't sure it was the wisest path. TM was also postponing the decision.
We made it about half way across the mouth of the cove before TM made the call. We were turning into Mackerel Cove and taking the short-cut. The fog looked impenetrable at Beaver Tail. It was getting late in the day (3:30pm). We were not at our freshest.
While we wanted to complete the big loop, we'd be taking unnecessary risks. There was likely to be fishermen out at Beavertail. If the fog held, or got denser, we'd have no way to see them or judge the conditions. We'd also be risking the fog moving up the Bay and blinding us as we tried to cross back to Bay Campus. If we were fresh, we may have been more capable of dealing with the adverse conditions. Instead we were well-worn.
Kayaking is fun and a good escape from the pressures of life. It is not a good way to die--at least not yet. I've got too many other good things to want to take stupid risks.
So, we crossed over the beach watched by a couple of kids who were playing in the sand with their grandmother. While, many people would have given us strange looks (two men wearing funny suits and carrying funny looking boats out of the water on a rainy day is pretty strange) the kids waved and went back to playing. The grandmother waved and asked if we were enjoying ourselves. We were.
On our way back to Bay Campus, we lingered a while at the Dutch Island Lighthouse. They are doing some major restoration work on the it. It looks like they are going to put a new light in the tower. I'm psyched to have a new beacon shining over one of my favorite put-ins.
We made the short cross over the Bay Campus and closed our 2o mile loop. Despite the weary burn in my muscles, I had to do a roll before getting out. The roll was surprisingly easy.
It was definitely time to get out of the water. I good roll is a perfect way to finish a solid day of paddling.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

The Barking Crab

Bridge in the Mist

Today was the annual Barking Crab paddle. I scheduled it early this year hoping to get some better weather and I changed the put-in to add some distance and scenery. I also made sure the Crab knew a group of kayakers was going to show up for lunch.
The changes were a mixed blessing. The weather was warmer than in past years, but the morning was gray and raw. After lunch, the weather cleared up and turned exceptional. The new put-in location resulted in a few people getting lost. The new location, at the CRCK kiosk on Soldier's Field Road, had plenty of safe parking and did offer exceptional views of Cambridge.
With a total of 17 kayaks, it was a large group. I feared that it would get hard to manage that large a group. My worry was unfounded. Most of the paddlers had been on the trip before and knew the drill. (H was one of the few Barking Crab virgins.)
We wended up the Charles, through the canoe lagoon next to the Esplanade, through the old locks, under the Zakim Bridge, through the locks, past the Boston waterfront, and into Four Point Channel. We had a pleasant lunch and actually managed to figure out the bill without fisticuffs. Then we returned home following the same path.
The return journey was the better of the two legs. The ride in the locks was more dramatic. The weather turned warm. The group spread out just far enough so paddlers who wanted quiet could avoid the chatter boxes.
After the paddle H and I had people back to our new abode for cake and coffee. It was a great time. People who usually dash off after paddles came for the after paddle. We were happy that people seemed comfortable and enjoyed themselves.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

The Four Amigos

The effects of a full moon on currents last for days, so we had a second opportunity to muck about in some serious currents. According to NOAA the mouth of the Westport River promised some scary fun. The river always runs fast, but today the river promised to race. The forecasted winds promised to conspire to stand up some waves.
Today was also the day for Carleen's fall pot-luck paddle. A level 2 and a level 3 paddle were planned.
H and five others joined KB on the level 2 trip. He took them up river to avoid the currents at the mouth. All of the participants raved about the paddle, KB's knowledge of the area, and the scenery. In addition, KB treated the participants to a preview of his Toastmaster's speech.
After JS showed TM and I a nice technique for eddy hopping, I along with TM, PB, BH, JS, JS, MK, and CMc headed towards the mouth for the level 3 paddle. When we left the dock, there was no plan, but I suspected that the group would split at the mouth. Some of us wanted to play and others were looking for a typical level 3 experience.
At the mouth of the river, CMc decided that the plan was to head east around Gooseberry Pt. and portage across East Beach Road which would put us back in the River. It was a good plan, if one was looking for a relaxing day paddle with a bit of ocean swells. JS, JS, MK, and CMc followed the plan and paddled out of the mouth.
The four amigos decided that it would be better to wait and see what peak flow would offer.We had a couple of hours before it completed the change and ramped itself up into full furry. To while away the hours, we played in the eddies that the changing current stirred up. When the eddies died down, we paddled around the knubble and played on the western edge of the mouth. There were a few rock clusters that offered interesting play. We also took a long, leisurely lunch on the beach to recoup any spent energy. The melee would require all of our paddling power.
With a half hour to go before max flow, we headed back onto the water. It was a short paddle back to the mouth of the river and, we hoped, some serious action.
When we rounded the corner, we came face to face with a real tidal race. There was a clearly defined eddy along the knubble on the south side of the mouth. Just beyond the eddy, towards the center of the channel, water was pushing out of the river in a lumpy, powerful flow. Just what the doctor ordered.
After a brief review of the scene, we jumped in to the fray. Paddling against the flow was hard work until you found a wave to surf. I'd spin the stick like a mad pinwheel and barely make headway. Then I'd catch a wave and ride it forward, against the current for several yards.
On many occasions the waves were so powerful and so close together that the Q-Boat's bow would get driven into the wave in front of it. There would be woosh sound and a slight feeling of slowing down, like when an elevator slows down before stopping, and the bow would completely submerge. the ride wouldn't end because there was a enough power in the water to drive the Q-Boat through the wave and the bow would emerge on the other side.
After each run, we'd slip into the eddy, paddle up to the beach behind the knubble and rest a bit in the calm water. I made the mistake of thinking that the water was calm because it was not moving very fast. Believing that I was in still water, I decided to take off my paddle jacket without heading into the beach. I took off my helmet, my (prescription) sun glasses, and my watch and placed them in a pile on the deck. Then I proceeded to pull off my top. After I got my head out of the top, and still had my hands firmly trapped inside of the top, I realized that I was rapidly being sucked out into the melee. Fortunately, there was a rock in my path that I could grab onto with my one free hand and yell for help. TM, PB, and BH moved quickly to stop my motion and give me the time to get disentangled from my top. They also scooped up the gear that slid off my deck while I clung to the rock. Sadly, the watch and sun glasses sank. Happily though I was safely out of my top and back in position to paddle in the melee again.
It only took about an hour to completely wear ourselves out. There was very little boat traffic to get in our way and the Harbor Master seemed content to let us be, so our fun was largely uninterrupted. Nobody tried rolling in the thick of it. Nobody needed to roll in the thick of it. We each took the opportunity to push the envelope knowing that the others would be right there if needed.
One of the great things about paddling with a group on a consistent basis is the comfort level that develops among the paddlers. I've paddled with TM, PB, and BH enough to know what there skill levels are, what there comfort levels are, and what they are likely to do in most situations. That knowledge makes me much more comfortable pushing my limits when they are around. It also makes paddling that much more fun.
After the paddle we all headed to CMc's house for the pot luck dinner. We were joined by several people who didn't paddle today. It was a perfect way to end an excellent paddle.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

The Evil Buoy at Old Stone Bridge

TM has been talking about doing extreme paddling all season and he had finally spotted the perfect conditions. The currents whipping through Old Stone Bridge in Tiverton are pretty strong and today was a Spring tide. The max ebb current was forecasted to run about 3.5knts at around 11:15am. Because it is an ebb tide we'd get washed into the clear water heading towards Fogland. Because it's fall, the boat traffic would be lessened. Because it is forecasted to be sunny, the temperature would be pleasant.
After fretting for weeks about posting the paddle or making it invite only, we posted it. The more the merrier. The posting made it clear that this was strictly to play in the currents and that paddlers were going to need to spot each other.
Getting to the paddle was an adventure. Sometimes I drive on automatic pilot and this morning was one of those times. I operate the egg with full conscious attention, but navigate it with habit. So, when the time came to continue on Rt. 128 or take Rt. 95 south, I choose Rt. 95 south like I was launching from the western shores of Naragansett Bay. The deja vu set in quickly. Fortunately, I realized my mistake before I came to Rt. 495 and could quickly transfer back to Rt. 24 south without back tracking.
I pulled into the little beach parking lot off of Rt. 77 fearing I was going to be late. However, only TM and PB had arrived and they were having a leisurely conversation off to the far side of the parking lot. Slowly, others drifted into the lot. There was BH, RB, RR, and BD.
It was great to see BD. He is a great guy and we don't get to see him much. He is positive addition to any paddle.
We scoped out the building race by the buoys and decided to let it build a little more before getting on the water. We didn't want to wear ourselves out before the action really started. So, we decided to get coffee and take our time getting our stuff together.
I could have used more time. Because we were not paddling far from our cars, I decided not to worry about bringing my lunch, my spare paddle, my extra water, and a few other things. The one thing I did want to make sure I had was my tow belt. If someone got in trouble, it would come in handy. So I put it around my waist while I was getting the rest of my kit sorted out. When I got ready to clip the end of the belt to my PFD, I discovered that the carabiniere that I used to clip onto other kayaks was gone. I scoured the beach to no avail. Fortunately, PB had a spare. (PB is always saving someones bacon.)
Finally, I got on the water and got a chance to check out the race. The current was moving at a good clip, but there were no standing waves of stature. The wind was blowing in the direction of the current and effectively flattening things out. There was still a good half hour before max flow and nobody seemed particularly worried about the lack of big waves.
We all took opportunities to practice eddy turns, ferry glides, and paddling against the currents. It was exhilarating and exhausting. The best place to practice eddy turns was on the west side of the channel near the green buoy. The green buoy is evil and draws kayaks straight towards it. Practicing the eddy turn required that you either turn very sharply to pass outside the buoy or wide to pass inside the buoy. Paddling in the race required constant attention because swells bubbled out at random. The evil buoy was always laying in wait for a paddler to make a mistake.
Fortunately, it was easy to get a rest. To either side of the channel that remains of Stone Bridge creates eddies and a nice back current. We could duck out of the race, or wash out the back of it, and easily paddle back up the edges. It also meant that a paddler was always out of the melee and acting as a safety valve for the others.

The best conditions of the morning were provided by a mini-ocean liner. It steamed up the channel and left a lumpy mess in its wake. We were waiting like gnats along the edge of the channel as it passed through. Immediately after the ship was clear we darted into the soup. For five minutes it was a mass of confused waves and moving water. A few other power boats wakes added fuel to the cauldron.
Once the cauldron calmed, we believed the show was over. To cool down, we paddled around Gould Island and headed back to the beach. Just off the shore RR practiced his rolling and balance bracing. I did a few rolls. BD headed home. The others did various practicing. It was early and the weather was just too nice to quit early.
The race sympathized with our plight and bubbled up once more. BH, RB, PB (no relation), and I headed back into the fray for round two. This time around the conditions were more consistent and the evil buoy was more active. It was swirling around and sucking kayaks into its orbit with malicious glee. Of course, the best conditions were positioned on the edge of the evil buoy's reach. BH was the first one to be chased by the evil buoy. Shortly after BH had escaped, I had to spin the stick at a furious pace to escape it. Then as I and PB were watching, the evil buoy slowly dragged BH into its maw. Fortunately, BH heard PB and I talking about him, looked behind him, and started paddling for his life before it was too late.
After getting our fill of fun, we headed back to beach for some lunch. As we were heading in, TM and RR decided to head out for a second chance. Sadly, the currents and waves had subsided. There was still some moving water for practicing eddy turns and ferry glides, but not enough for serious playing.
We stopped for a spot of coffee at Coastal Roasters before going back to our homes for the evening. I was definitely satiated. The conditions were not raucous, but they were enough to seriously challenge me. My muscles were tired, my confidence bolstered, and my mind well fed.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Zen and Smuttynose

I started the day in a funk. In fact, the week had ended with me in a funk. Too much going on at work, a lot of projects to complete at home, and a drastic reduction of sunlit hours put me off my game.
Fortunately, I had pre-packed the egg and installed my new kayak attachment--a 4" wide, 8.5' long piece of PVC pipe designed to keep the mighty stick out of the passenger compartment. All that we needed to do before heading north to meet the rest of the gang was make some PB&Js and put the Q-Boat on the egg. Still, these were daunting tasks simply because they existed.
H was happy that she didn't need to do the conga to sit in the egg. Her hand had not healed enough for paddling, so she was also looking forward to spending a pleasant day in Portsmouth. It helped her mood that the forecast was windy. For as much as she enjoyed the paddle last year, she didn't relish the thought of paddling back against a steady head wind.
The forecast had me excited and concerned. The wind meant that the water wouldn't be flat and make for a potentially boring paddle. It also meant that there was more potential for things to go wrong. Wind has a way of wearing a paddler out faster than expected, of spreading a group out on the water, and of flipping up rouge waves when least expected.
A good group showed up for the paddle: CMc, JS, CC, MK, BH, PH (no relation), RB, and Scott from JP. From the put-in the weather seemed perfect. There was plenty of sun and a light breeze. I should have been in a great mood. Instead, I was slightly annoyed at everything.
I considered staying on shore since my mood could detract from the group, but decided against staying. Long stretches of open water generally perk me up and they also provide plenty of opportunity to be alone if I didn't turn my mood around. I wasn't going to do anything stupid or risky. I was definitely physically up for the paddle.
We paddled out of Rye Harbor and into the North Atlantic Ocean. The sea state lived up to the weather predictions. We had a nice tail wind and fun, but manageable, following seas. It was possible to catch a ride every now and then. You could paddle close enough to another paddler to have a conversation, but it was difficult.
I was glad for the space. It allowed me to find my groove and unwind. The world didn't slip away or blend into the background or melt into one seamless essence. I didn't become one with my paddle and my kayak. I just let the rhythm of the stick in the water rise to the fore. I concentrated on how the stick slipped into the water and how it felt as it swept through its arced stroke. For the first time this season, I felt like I had found my stroke.
The movement of the kayak on the water and the sounds of the other paddlers added context and texture to the experience. Every now and then my balance would require focus. At regular intervals I would shift focus to ensuring the group was OK.
At every moment, I was fully aware of each of these thing: the stroke, the kayak, the weather, the group, the individuals in the group. However, I only focused on one thing at a time. The others floated at the periphery. They were shadows and whispers.
By the time we reached Star Island my mood had cleared. The world was good again. I was thrilled to be in a beautiful place on a sunny day with great companions.
We poked around the back of Star Island and headed straight for the landing at Smuttynose. Star Island looked busy and we were all famished. To JS's chagrin, we did take the opportunities for rock play that were presented. CC & RB even did some rolling practice.
Lunch was a restful affair. I scarffed down my sandwiches, snapped a few photos, and discovered that Scott from JP was a fellow caffeine addict. He even knows the secret ingredient that makes Red Bull more potent than just plain caffeinated sugar water. Then many of us settled into the sun warmed grass for a spot of napping. I'm uncertain what the others did, but I'm told it was fun. I doubt that it was as rewarding as a nap.
Once we returned to the water, I appreciated the nap even more. The winds had picked up and were in our faces. We faced seven miles of paddling into a head wind with no place to hide.
The wind exaggerated the speed differences between the members of the group. The faster paddlers pulled ahead and the slower paddlers fell behind. We resorted to making frequent regrouping stops. This helped keep the group together. However, it also allowed us to see how slowly the Isles were shrinking and the mainland was growing.
In between regroups, I enjoyed the feel of my mighty stick as it sliced through wind and water. Since finding my stroke on the way out to the Isles, I was paddling with renewed efficiency and vigor. Paddling into a steady head wind was still tiring, but it was not a death march.
To help lighten the mood, MK and PH repeatedly checked in with JS to make sure we were on course. They were convinced that we needed to make a course correction so we would not pass wide of the mouth of the harbor. JS, equipped with a GPS, calmly listened to their recommendations and held his course. We were paddling on a bearing that would, in the absence of wind and current, would take us wide of the harbor. With wind and current added to the mix, our bearing was a good estimate. As we closed in on the harbor we did need to make a small correction, but JS put us inside the bulls-eye. (When in doubt, I trust the guy with a working GPS.)
I returned to the beach a changed man. Paddling long distances is rejuvenating.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Rocks, Currents, and Risky Weather

I needed a kayaking fix and intended to get it despite the poor forecast. Today was the only break in my schedule for what seemed like weeks. The forecast was for diminishing rain and increasing winds. The afternoon was forecasted to be particularly brutal with 30knt winds. I figured the icky weather would keep the power boaters at home, kayaking is a wet sport, and we'd be off the water before the wind really started to howl.
I pulled into the parking lot at Fort Wetherill to find two surprises. One was that the parking lot was full of divers - some taking up spaces just for their gear. The other, much more pleasant, surprise was that RB was waiting to paddle. I hadn't seen RB in ages (at least since before the wedding). He was his usual gruff and chipper self. Apparently work had been keeping him way too busy, so he took a "sick" day to paddle.
In short order the rest of the gang arrived: TM, CC, BH, PH, and RR. It looked like a good crew for some rough stuff.
The plan, or what I was passing off as a plan, was to head over toward Bretton Reef and look for rocks and surf. I was thinking that we could continue on towards King's beach for lunch and then head back. However, I'm pretty laissez faire when it comes to planning show & go trips. I just wanted to get out and have some fun without having too much responsibility.
For the fourth paddle in a row, I launched with a helmet firmly on my head. I didn't want to find fun and have to fish my helmet out of a hatch before I could play. Not everybody followed my logic. When we passed Castle Hill and found the rocks, there was a lot of hatches being fished through.
With helmets in place we all found our way into various nooks and crannies. After his stint at the rough water symposium, PH was looking very confident in his skills and his plastic hull. RR was also making some impressive looking maneuvers. BH was, as usual, in the thick of it all.
I was feeling a little cautious today. I wasn't avoiding trouble, but I was being picky about the trouble into which I was willing to venture. It may be the knowledge that I cannot afford major repairs to the Q-Boat. It may be an aversion to putting dings in my new stick. It may be that I haven't been feeling at the top of my game this season. It may also just be that I'm getting smarter.
As we approached Bretton Reef it looked like a thick fog, or a nasty rain, was heading our way. RB and TM both suggested heading back towards the put-in. It would be best to make the crossing from Castle Hill to Fort Wetherill while we had good visibility and before the winds really started howling.
Since their wasn't much surf at Bretton Reef, it was easy to get the group to turn around. I suspect that if there had been surf, certain surf addicts may have more difficult to redirect.
The paddle back to Castle Hill was mostly uneventful. We all took opportunities to play in the rocks some more. PH took some risks and had some nice rides. Then he decided to follow BH....
BH caught a sweet ride through some nasty looking rocks. It looked liked like he even meant to do it. PH decided to follow him. I think it was a wise Carl Ladd who said it was not a good idea to blindly follow a paddlers path through the rocks. This warning should be double heeded when it comes to following BH.
PH caught a wave and started out in excellent form. Then the back of his kayak got lifted a bit too high and he breached a bit too far. He gave his roll several good tries, but eventually popped out of the cockpit.
CC told me to do a toggle rescue, but I had no clue what she was talking about. Instead, I hooked my tow line up to PH's kayak and towed the kayak, with PH, off the rocks. While I held them off the rocks, BH put PH (no relation) back into his kayak. The only real issue was getting the tow line moved from PH's bow onto BH's bow. It's best to have the rescuer's kayak under tow during a rescue. I'm not sure what the issue was because holding a rescue on a tow line in surf is hard work.
After we got everything sorted out, we continued on our way. CC explained a toggle rescue to me and it sounded like a much better option than the tow rescue. In a toggle rescue the first kayaker into the rescue has the victim wrap their legs around the rescue kayak while still holding onto their kayak. The rescuer would then paddle the victim and their kayak out of danger. It sounds faster than deploying a tow line, would allow the rescuer to have better view of the victim, and would get the victim out of the water a bit.
After the work of towing, I was famished and decided that we would eat at the Castle Hill Coast Guard station. I was willing to gamble that the fog was not going to materialize. The wind was going to pick up and dissipate any fog.
Like a fool, I decided that the high docks at the Coast Guard station would make a perfect place to practice getting out my kayak onto the docks at the Barking Crab. I nearly face planted on the dock a few times, nearly back flopped into the water several times, and nearly flipped myself under the kayak several times before managing to wiggle myself onto the dock.
Naturally, it started to mist and get grayer as we sat down for lunch under the trees. However, just over the hill the sky was clearing and the winds were building. Before we finished eating and preparing to leave, the sky was a clear, sunny blue.
Instead of learning from my fumbling effort to get out of the Q-Boat using the dock, I decided I could enter the cockpit from the high dock. I somehow managed to slither into the cockpit without falling face first into the oily water or losing the kayak. It wasn't pretty though.
From the Castle Hill Coast Guard station, we crossed over to Jamestown. Instead of heading straight back into Fort Wetherill, we decided to check out the dumplings. The current was supposed to be at max, nobody was really ready to call it a day, and the winds would blow us towards Fort Wetherill from the dumplings. We also figured that since the currents were not forecasted to be strong and the wind was blowing the same direction as the tides, there would be nothing happening at the dumplings.
We were wrong. The dumplings had plenty of action. The current was creating a lot of small waves and clearly defined eddies. Without really thinking about what we were doing, all of us headed into the melee. Some of us, I'm sure, were careful to keep an eye out for our fellow paddlers. There were plenty of times, however, when one of us was too far away from any support to be easily rescued. It would have been safer if we had communicated a plan before heading into the rough water. That way we could each have had an opportunity to push the envelope or try some skills outside of the comfort zone.
After we had our fill, we headed back into Fort Wetherill. It was a good paddle and gave me a much needed opportunity to burn off some of the cruft that builds up when I don't get on the water. It also provided me a number of new things to ponder. Kayaking is as much a mental thing as it is a physical thing.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Adventures in Picnicing

The RIC/KA labor day picnic is always an adventure. Last year, H did her first, and possibly last, surf landing. Previous years have also had their share of excitement. This year promised to follow suit.
The forecast was for strong winds in the afternoon and building seas, so H decided it would be prudent to take the Narrow River route to Narragansett Town Beach for the picnic. I decided that I was definitely doing the Bay Campus to Narragansett paddle. Winds and big seas sounded like a perfect way to end a long weekend.
H deposited the Q-Boat, the mighty stick, and myself at Bay Campus to await the rest of the paddlers. I was sure that at least TM and Bubbles would show. A little wind wouldn't scare them into paddling along the river...
Sure enough TM crested the hill shortly after H and the egg disappeared over it. We were joined by Bubbles, CMC, and CC. CC had spent the previous three days at the Rough Water Symposium, so we spent a while listening to her tales. It sounded like a great event and we were all a little jealous that we had missed it.
We launched into calm seas and a light wind. However, once we gained a bit of exposure the head wind made itself felt. It made for slow going as we paddled along the bluffs towards Bonnet Shores. We frequently had to check our progress so the group did not drift too far apart.
When we reached Bonnet Shores, we decided to duck into the harbor and get some cover from the wind. The shore on the far side of the harbor was high enough to cut the wind significantly. Once inside the cover of the bluffs, we dashed across the harbor. The rocks were calling and we were not going to resist.
We turned the corner out of the harbor and were back into the wind. We were also in prime rock playing territory. The winds had kicked the swells into good shape. There was plenty of water pushing into the rocks and we all took opportunities to play.
Once we passed the nice rocks, the group drifted apart a little. TM was taking a tight inside line to stay out of the wind. Bubbles and CC were following TM a few kayak lengths back. CMC was hanging much farther off shores. I split the distance between the two pods.
When we turned the corner into Narragansett Town Beach we were shocked to find almost no surf. There were a few paltry waves and a few dedicated surfers were hunting for runs. I decided that it wasn't worth the trouble and ducked into the mouth of the Narrow River to find a nice flat landing spot.
Despite the wind and lack of surf, there was a lot of people present. Both the sea kayaking and the flat water groups were well represented.
TM, however, was getting a bit nervous. The conditions were already big and the winds were going to continue building. The tide was also going to turn and start running against the wind. If we spent too long on the beach conditions were likely to get dangerous.
After riding the current into the narrow river and eating a lovely pair of PBJs, it was time to head back to Bay Campus. The winds were picking up and the tides were turning. CC decided that she was going to paddle back up the river with H. CC could get a ride to her car at Bay Campus with H who had to pick me up at Bay Campus anyway.
TM, eager to make a safe return, launched to fetch CMC and Bubbles. They were out trying to catch some sides on the wavelets. I was having difficulty getting the Q-Boat launched. The current running into Narrow River and the little waves kept pushing the bow back into the beach.
Once I managed to get on the water, TM had made the rounds and was waiting patiently. I asked him what the game plan and where CMC and Bubbles were. He said that the plan was to head back straight away and that the other two had decided to stay behind.
So, we left. Once around the corner, we were in some pretty rough conditions. The wind was whipping up big swells. The swells pounded into the rocks and mixed together to make a bouncy soup. We did not waste any time playing around. We moved a further off shore and rode the following seas.
The Q-Boat tends to wander in flat water. In following sea, it definitely wanders. TM was still adjusting to his new Explorer HV, so he was also wandering a bit. To avoid colliding, we kept a good amount of distance between the kayaks. It was a nice, if at times harrowing, ride.
While TM and I were enjoying our ride back to Bay Campus, Bubbles and CMC were having less fun. Apparently there had been some miscommunication between TM and CMC. She had returned to the surf to get Bubbles so we could return as a foursome. When TM and I bolted, they decided to attempt to catch us. As they turned the corner to begin the run back to Bay Campus, CMC got tossed and had to come out of her kayak. Bubbles did an excellent job getting her to safety and back into her kayak. They then proceeded to Bay Campus without further incident.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Rocky Road in Sakonnet

The forecast was not promising if you wanted a calm paddle. 20-25 knt winds can whip the waters off of Sakonnet Pt. into a mad house of lumps.
I was a little bummed about not going to the rough water symposium, so the rough conditions did the trick for me. H, on the other hand, decided that she had work to get done. She was planning on doing the post paddle socializing, so it was great. I love paddling with her, but sometimes a boy needs to play in the rocks without worrying.
We ran into to TM and Cam getting coffee at Coastal Roasters. After a brief pow-wow, we drove down to Sakonnet Point. At one point in the drive, TM started weaving. H and I were worried that he may have OD'ed on Americanos, but he quickly straightened out. We arrived at the put in without further incident.
While waiting for CMc and JS, the coordinators, to arrive, we chatted with Cam about our ME trip, considered a reasonable strategy for a safe, fun paddle, and met a new paddler from MA. Bubbles made the group seven strong and added a level to the adventure we might encounter.
The plan was to head out of the harbor, head south, and tuck in behind the point. The land would provide some shelter from the gusting northish winds. It also put us in the heart of rock country!!

Paddling around the point was fun and the group did a good job keeping together. The winds were not that strong. The water was not that lumpy. It was just enough to warm up the balance and the hips.
Once we rounded the point the group splintered... TM and I headed off to one clump of rocks; Bubbles and CMc headed to another; JS headed off to fish... Fortunately, most of came to our sense quickly and regrouped. Six of us formed a lose, but firm, plan: we'd head east along the shore to see what trouble we could find and stick together.

As we pushed down the coast we found plenty of rocks. One particularly fun clump of rocks was right near a swimming beach and a few of us were reminded that kayaks are not welcome in swimming areas...
That was OK since we were looking for crevices that sane swimmers shun. The wind and generally clam seas kept things at a reasonable level for fun with moderate chances of doom.
For lunch we regrouped with our fishless seventh and found a nice patch of sand that required a surf landing. The six inch dumping waves required more skill than seemed possible to land with your dignity intact. Bubbles scored a 10 by catching the backside of a wavelet and letting it carry him past the dump zone.
After lunch we faced the daunting task of getting back through the breaklets. Six kayaks got off the beach with only moderate breaching. I, on the other hand, required several attempts to find the water. I could not get enough water under the stern to get the Q-Boat off the beach before the waves pushed the bow around and I was parked under the dumping waves parallel to the beach.
TM and Bubbles kept yelling for me to roll the Q-Boat over on its side to spin the bow back into the waves. On the water the Q-Boat rolls onto its side easily. On the sand the hard chines dig in and makes rolling it over nigh impossible. With an inordinate effort I rolled the Q-Boat on it side, spun the bow around, and set up for another attempt.
The first wave in lifted the bow off the sand and left the stern sitting... The second wave knocked the lifted bow around. I was breached again.
This time I got out, dragged the Q-Boat into the water, and flopped into the kayak. Fortunately I did not need to go far before I was beyond the miniature surf and I was able to stay up right as I slipped into the seat.

On the way home the group once again shrank back to six (at times five.) We found a excellent rock outcropping to test our mettle. I sat and studied one approach for a while before deciding I was not ready to risk sending the Q-Boat in for surgery. From the approach I was studying, a kayaker would have to paddle into an incoming surge, with an accompanying overfall from the right, to possible make it over the ledge on the far side. The rocks, which the overfall would certainly push a bow into, hid the swells from vision so it was a blind ride.
The other side of the approach was much nicer. TM kept eyeing it. He'd slip his bow in and then back out, study it some more, slip his bow in... Bubbles couldn't take it much longer and requested the right of first run. TM ceded and Bubbles made it look easy. TM then also slipped through.
The rest of the trip home was uneventful. Eventually the wanderers found their way back to the group. However, the new guy kept rushing ahead of the group. Maybe we smelled?
Back in the safety of the harbor we had a kayak and paddle swap. JS tried out the mighty stick and discovered that it really does make rolling easier. CMc took the Q-Boat for a spin and considered the possibility that I would not notice the difference between my white kayak and her white kayak.
I took Bubble's Pintail out for a spin to see how the ocean cockpit felt. Getting in was more difficult, but once in it was very comfortable. I liked the fact that my knees were not forced into any particular position. I was also very glad that my roll has been reliable lately because I did not relish the thought of trying to squeak out of the tiny hole in an emergency. I actually got the chance to test my roll in the Pintail. In a vain attempt to look cool, I tried to do a cross bow rudder using a Euro paddle. The blade slipped into the water at the perfectly wrong angle. The kayak spun like it a pinwheel. When I rolled up and landed everybody was impressed with the new way I found to initiate a practice roll.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Westport Warm-Up

After five days of paddling, I was ready for a rest. All I wanted to do this weekend was help out a friend with his charity bike ride and do some yard work. Paddling was not even on the radar. (No, I am not lying about this.)
So when H mentioned that she was surprised I wasn't paddling on Sunday, I was confused. There was no paddle scheduled for Sunday and I was not really up for paddling. Then she told me TM had posted a Westport River paddle and that helmets were recommended.... Still, I was doing a big bike ride on Saturday and I had just done a ton of paddling over the last week. But, it was the Westport river, the currents were looking promising, and TM recommended helmets....
Sunday morning I showed up at the Westport River boat launch a little stiff, but ready to play. If we timed things right we'd hit the mouth of the river at max current and still have time to head out of the river and find some surf.
We hit the water around 10:15 with a group of six stalwart sailors: TM, PB, RB (no relation), CC, RR, and myself. Unlike the previous weekend, the wind was calm and we made short work of paddling to the mouth.
At the river mouth we found a pleasant spot along the breakwater to play. In the middle of the channel, the current was running nicely. Along the edge of the breakwater, a nice eddy had formed. We could play in the current and use the eddy to rest and reposition. The eddy also made a nice spot for a safety person.
The sweet spot for me was the spot where the river passed the breakwater. The incoming swells added a little bounce to the equation and put me in position to watch the other paddlers. The spot's only drawback was that incoming boat traffic liked to pass through it.
We were careful to give the powerboat traffic plenty of room. The power boats also did their best to avoid us. Some of the bigger boats were kind enough to supply some wake waves to the mix.
During lunch RB, PB, and I did some kayak tryouts. RB is thinking about an upgrade from his Wilderness Systems kayak; PB wanted to give the Q-boat a whirl, and I wanted to take TM's new Explorer HV for ride. RB tried out both the explorer and the Q-boat and liked them both. PB didn't like the way the Q-boat rolled. I found the the Explorer HV to be pleasant enough, but way too big for me. It is very hard to get a good feel for any kayak on flat water and after only a few minutes.
After lunch, we headed out of the river. The current had died down and we wanted to see if we could find some surf or rocks in which to play. There is always something to play in along the coast.
Just outside the river we found a nice rock clump. It had a few different slots provided fun runs in the moderate swells. Everyone got a few good rides. I wasn't feeling 100%, so I spent a lot of time hanging back as a safety. It was hardly boring for me. It gave me time to practice some boat control skills and sometimes holding a position is more challenging than running a rock slot.
TM's back was bothering him, so we turned back towards home after about 20 minutes. The trip back into the river should have been uneventful. The swells were tiny, the current was minimal, and the boat traffic was non-existent. The only place where trouble could be found was close into the sea wall. Just off of its tip some waves were breaking and it looked like you could catch a nice ride into the river. Looks can be deceiving...
PB started to catch a wave, felt his nose get pulled towards the rocks, and backed off. I started to catch a wave, but was not really in position to catch a good ride. CC was just inside of me and was in a perfect position to catch the wave. She got a great ride, but was pushed in behind the sea wall. Realizing that she was between breaking waves and hard spot, she started to back paddle away from the sea wall. She made it over one breaking wave, but the second one flipped her. (Somebody needed to play the role of Bubbles in this paddle.)
PB was in a perfect spot to rush in and stabilize CC's kayak. I took a few seconds to spin the Q-boat around to get into position. Meanwhile CC realized she could stand-up and stabilize her own kayak. She just needed one of us to hold it while she hopped back into the cockpit.
Safely back inside the river, we all tried out our rolling skills. CC wanted to see the continuos storm roll I had learned in the Greenland course the weekend before. Although I was not confident I could even do a regular roll, I gave it a shot. I rolled right back up and CC gave it less successful try. She even tried it with a stick. RR and RB both showed off nice balance braces. PB's rolling luck had been jinxed by his earlier miss in the Q-boat. Rolls are delicate and fickle creatures. Like an Italian sports car or a great writer, a roll can be spooked by a spec of dust or a drinking the wrong water.
We retired for good chat and great coffee at Coastal Roasters. TM laid out his plans for tackling some bigger currents and rougher conditions over the next month or so. This was just a warm up. He wants to take on Stone Bridge at max current and maybe take run out to the Race....

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Island Paradise

CC made eggs, toast, and home fries to fuel us for the start of our island camping adventure. She had a cool toast maker that sat on the Coleman stove and held the toast in a ring. It toasted one side and then you had to flip the bread to toast the other side. H & I were quite impressed as we had never seen anything like it.
After breakfast, the group set about packing up the kayaks. H & I, and P & L, didn't actually have to break our tents down. H & I brought along our small tent in case we ended up kayak camping. (The Nova 4 would require its own kayak for transport.) So, all we had to do was pack clothes into dry bags, gather water, pack up our food, and stuff our sleeping bags into dry bags. Then we had to pack all of our stuff into the kayaks...
Bubbles had never packed up his Pintail and was keen to see how it went. He did a fantastic job packing his gear into the kayak and the kayak did a fantastic job carrying the load.
H & I were better off than Bubbles in that we had at packed up our kayaks once, but not by much. We had way more stuff to pack this time than the one other time we had packed the kayaks. H's kayak is pretty easy to pack. It isn't very long, but its compartments are normally proportioned. The Q-Boat, on the other hand, has odd proportions. The front compartment is cavernous, but the back compartment is flat, narrow, and long. The skeg box blocks the back third of the rear compartment, making it even smaller. The imbalance in compartment size makes balancing the load in the Q-Boat difficult. We solved the problem by putting the water in my back hatch as well as some of the food and putting clothes in the front hatch.
Once everyone was packed up we headed out to Harbor Island. We got a late start so we paddled straight for the Island and didn't stop for lunch. We arrived to find the island deserted!! All we had to do was find a nice spot to land and pick out the best tent sites. CC, Bubbles, and RB decided to seal land on the rocks. P & L found a sheltered, but rocky beach to land that was just behind the camp sites. H & I decided to paddle farther down the island to the beach near the meadow camp sites. It was sheltered, but we had to carry our stuff up a short incline.
H & I checked out the meadow as a camp site, but held off setting up tent to see what the others were doing. We walked over to the other side of the island to find people setting up tents. We liked the meadow site because it was soft, had nice views, and was on the west facing side of the island. However, we didn't want to be away from everyone else. After surveying the remaining sites near the others, we decided the quite, empty meadow was the perfect place to set up camp.
After getting our tent set up and regrouping with the others for lunch, we spotted a large group approaching our island. They were going to land and camp on the island... Before we knew it, H & I were in a tent city populated by a family of eight people from RI and MA. Fortunately, they were very nice people and nobody snored too loud.
After lunch, we , sans H who was getting a headache, set off for Isle Au Haut. CC thought we'd find a little town with shops, but I knew better. A few years ago, I had spent several days on Isle Au Haut. The only store on the island was tiny and only opened a few hours a week. When, we arrived, dripping wet, the store happened to be open, so we went in to find ice cream and other Isle Au Haut delicacies. As it turns out, the store did have a selection of heirloom cheeses and ice cream. But, we didn't get a chance to buy anything.... We had soaked the floors of the store, gotten in the way of restocking, and generally upset the storekeeper and her workers. They shooed us out and slammed the door behind us. They did say we could come back in fifteen minutes. Feeling the offer insincere, we paddled back to the island.
Back at the island, H was playing Goldilocks with people's tents. She just couldn't find a nice place to nap.
She did get enough rest to cook an excellent mexican dish while the sun set over the meadow. It was quite a feat of culinary skill. She cooked the whole shebang on two camp stoves. As a dinner aperitif, Bubbles passed around some 123 punch (a deadly combination of rum, brown sugar, and limes).
After dinner we retired to rocky side of the island for a camp fire. There we met an odd couple. The woman seemed very nice, but her male companion.... He was in the movie business, but never disclosed exactly what he did in the biz. RB quickly became a groupie and spent the next day talking about the movie guy.
The next day we woke to sun and clear skies. Bubbles cooked up some oatmeal and provided plenty of mix-ins. The group then started talking about forming a plan of action for the day. H & I retired back to meadow for a bit to start packing up some of our gear figuring we'd spend the day meandering our way back to Old Stone Quarry.
When I returned to the rest of the group, an hour or so later, they were sunning on the rocks like a bunch of lizards. The plan seemed to be no plan.
This didn't work so well for H. She was feeling under the weather and wanted to head back. She decided that taking a quick nap would hopefully help her feel better and give the group time to formulate a plan.
When she awoke to eat some lunch and nobody had moved much, she decided that we were heading back regardless of what the group wanted to do. She was not feeling better. In fact, she was beginning to feel worse. After H headed back to our tent site in the now empty meadow, I told the group what our plan was. This kicked things into gear for everyone. They were not going to let H & I paddled back to Old Stone Quarry alone.
We chose a route back to Old Stone Quarry that was direct and offered plenty of chances to rest. It was also different than the paths we had taken the previous days. H was a trooper and paddled the whole way back without much help. We did take the opportunity to practice some towing techniques, and H was an obliging subject. We hooked her up to a double I formation tow. We tried using contact lines to stabilize her kayak. I tried to use just my arms as a contact line, but it didn't work out so well. I couldn't keep the bows of the kayaks close enough. The result was that the kayaks pulled to one side of the tow.
After we unpacked the kayaks and showered, we headed into town for dinner at Fisherman's Friend Restaurant in downtown Stonington. The place had a very extensive menu of seafood. The waitress, who was a touch too perky, had memorized the whole thing as well as all of the options for sides. The food was good, but not great. The prices were moderate. The decor was clean and well lit. I think Stonington could use some more competition in the dining scene.
Exhausted and full we all crashed to rest up for the rest of our adventures. RB was heading straight home. H & I planned to meander our way home. CC & Bubbles were staying another day and then heading to Kennebunkport for an anti-war rally. P & L were planning a multiday trip home.