Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Rolling Pictures

Here are a few photos from the last two rolling sessions. If you want really good pictures, Cheryl Thompson Cameron took some excellent shots that you can see at: http://community.webshots.com/user/stonefoxfarm.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Group Paddling Creed

One of my readers (yes there is at least one other person who reads this) sent me a link to Wayne Horodowich's University of Sea Kayaking site. Under the "Reflection's from the Cockpit" section he has many interesting observations. One that caught my eye was Group Paddling Creed.
After listing a number of common frustrations, he starts the creed off:

When I choose to paddle in a group I realize I have a certain responsibility to the group. I understand the group members can be on the paddle for different reasons. Some of my personal desires and freedoms may take second place to the needs of the group.

The list of principles he presents are all common sense. Some of them are part of the RIC/KA paddling guide lines. Others are common courtesies. They all remind the paddler what it means to be a good group member. Together they are tools to ensure that all members of the group enjoy the paddle.
If leaders recited this creed before a group paddle leaves the beach, they'd establish that when you join a group paddle you are part of a cohesive unit. Paddlers who choose to join the paddle will know what is expected of them. Once the expectation that you paddle as a group is set, the paddle has a greater chance for success.
The message that "I'm not responsible for your choice to paddle. Only you are responsible for your own safety" is counter to ensuring group cohesion and responsibility. Without an established sense of responsibility, paddles have the chance to become dangerous and frustrating. It is hard to ensure that paddles are enjoyable and safe for all. Without a sense of group responsibility, there is no such thing as a group paddle.
One kayak may look like an island, but no man is an island.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Important Skills

A number of conversations and experiences have gotten me thinking about what skills/traits are really important in sea kayaking. There are the "technical" skills like a good forward stroke, strong braces, a deep repertoire of boat handling skills, a solid assisted rescue, and rolls. I'm not convinced that mastering the skills necessarily make a good paddler. There is a certain amount of athletic ability and physical stamina that come into play, but again I'm not convinced of the importance of those qualities.
Ultimately, I think the qualities that separate a skilled paddler from a good paddler are less tangible. Just because a paddler knows every rescue in the book and can do them in rough water, can carve up the surf, or has a "bomb proof" roll does not mean the paddler can perform the same skills when it really counts. Nor does it mean that they can avoid situations where such skills are needed. Being in superb physical shape does not mean that you are capable of making a 10 mile open water crossing.
I think given the right set of mental qualities, even a paddler with mediocre skills can be a good paddler. Here are a few of the mental things that I think count:

  • keeping your head when things turn ugly

  • watching out for the other paddlers in the group

  • respecting the authority of the group leader

  • respecting the knowledge of other group members

  • being honest about your skill level and physical condition

  • putting the interests of the group before your own interests

  • thinking more than one paddle stroke ahead

This is by no means an exhaustive list. But it does contain the top things I would consider in putting together a group of paddlers to do trips that push the envelope.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

It Could Have Gone Either Way

On Friday night I was having a little anxiety about paddling on Saturday. The weather forecast was not looking great for cold weather paddling. There was a sixty percent chance of rain and the winds were going to be over 10knts with gusts to 20knts. In addition, I was a little concerned about the make up of the group. I had taken a chance, with Carleen's encouragement, and posted the paddle on the message board.
I'm a bit of a control freak, so when conditions are going to be subpar, bordering on dangerous, I want to know who is going to show up and what they are like as paddlers. I also like to have some control over how the different personalities in the group mesh. I also like to have control over the weather too...
Often you cannot have the control you'd like. Part of belonging to a club is opening up paddles to the whole group, not just the people with whom you feel comfortable. There are a lot of people in the club who have a lot to offer on a paddle, but that I don't paddle with often enough for me to have any level of comfort. So, I took the risk.
Saturday morning didn't inspire a lot of confidence. It was gray, wet, and windy as H and I put the Q-Boat on the egg. Most of the drive down to Pier 5 was plagued by drizzle and there were a number of times I considered turning around and canceling the paddle. However, I really wanted to paddle and I also thought that if the right group of paddlers showed up it might be a good day for some rough water play.
At Pier 5 the weather was grey, wet, and windy. Visibility was short. Fortunately, the water looked reasonably calm.
It was shaping up to be a good day to paddle. I generally like grey and wet days for kayaking. There are less boats on the water and only hard-core paddlers tend to show. In the winter, these days are not as ideal. To balance off the cold, winter paddling adds drysuits which make the wet a non-issue.
My worries about who would show up on the paddle proved to be largely unfounded. The final tally of 10 included a large contingent of strong paddlers. Everyone was appropriately kitted for the conditions and seemed ready to play nicely as a part of a group.
Once everyone was on the water, we headed south towards Scarborough Beach. I don't get to paddle this part of the Bay often. It is not as convenient to paddle as the stretch of coast from Bay Campus to Whale Rock. Once you get past Narragansett the conditions are much less predictable because there is less protection offered by Jamestown and you are paddling in open ocean conditions. The more southerly portions of the coast also don't offer as much easy parking. Pier 5 fills up quickly when the weather is warm and there is no access from the public beaches.
As we paddled, the conditions settled. There was a steady west wind, but it was not the predicted 15knts. The swells made themselves felt, but never posed a challenge. A paddler looking for a real challenge would have been disappointed, but for someone just looking to get out and do some ocean paddling it was perfect.
Tony found some fun by staying in close to the shore. Some of us took the opportunity to open up the throttles and feed our needs for speed. Others just decided to enjoy the time on the water to chat and reacquaint themselves to being in a kayak.
To avoid spreading the group too much the faster paddlers stopped occasionally to take in the sights and let the others catch up. The stretch of coast from Narragansett to Scarborough is rocky and dotted with very large houses. Unlike the stretch along Bonnet Shores though, it is not sheer cliffs. Given the right sea conditions, the area looks like it would be perfect for playing in the rocks (or getting into some serious trouble).
On one of the rest breaks a paddler informed me that his back was bothering him and that he was feeling sick. We were about a 1/2 mile, or less, from Scarborough Beach, there was no place to land safely that was closer, and the paddler reported that he could continue paddling. Given the information, we decided to push on to Scarborough and come up with a return plan once on dry land.
Towing was suggested, but was not used. The paddler was making headway on his own. I was concerned that if he stopped paddling, his sea sickness might worsen. My call was to keep him moving and stay close. If he started fading, I could latch on with a tow line and call someone over to help stabilize his kayak. If he went in the drink we could quickly rescue him.
Fortunately none of that was necessary. We all made it safely to the beach where we worked out a plan for getting us back to our cars with an injured paddler. We had a number of options:

  • call H for a pick up
  • walk back to Pier 5 and get a car
  • have the injured paddler ride in Tony's double and tow the empty kayak back
  • leave the injured paddler and his kayak on the beach while the rest of the group paddled back to the cars

The preferred option was to have H do a pick up. Luckily, H was willing to leave the comfort of Java Madness and play kayak taxi. She was hanging out at Java Madness and didn't mind lending a hand. So, we loaded the injured paddler into the egg, strapped his kayak onto the roof, and sent him back to his car in H's trusty hands.
Meanwhile, another paddler discovered that his drysuit was not so dry. During lunch he discovered that his under layers were soaked. From what I heard, the neck gasket was far too loose. He had taken the top off to allow the water to evaporate despite the general dampness in the air. He was lucky that it had stopped raining during lunch.
Fortunately for my sanity, I didn't find out about this until after we were back on the water and the paddler seemed to be doing fine. The weather was warm, so the danger of hypothermia was lower. However, it was not zero and had I known what had transpired on the beach, H would have been called for a second pick up.
After lunch, the group headed south along Scarborough Beach until we reached the end of the sand. Then we turned back and half the group took the opportunity to play in the small surf peppering the coast. As a reminder of its dangers, the cold water flipped one of the kayak surfers. He safely ejected from his kayak and got to shore, but once there he was forced to take a seat. The sudden immersion in bitter cold water made him dizzy for a few minutes. Even from the water, you could tell that he was ill and needed to take a quick break.
Once his head cleared, the surfer rejoined the group and we headed back to Pier 5. The conditions should have made for an uneventful return trip. The wind had died down, the swells had flattened, and the current was in our favor.
Since the conditions were ideal and the group was solid, I decided it would be OK to paddle back along the rocky coast. I was joined by a few others. I wasn't planning on getting close enough to play in the rocks or need my helmet. Neither was anyone else. We were just looking for a little more excitement.
The water and rocks were more than happy to oblige in their own way. With quick swoosh, the water dropped one of the paddlers on a rock. He listed to the side like a wounded whale. With the same speed as it retreated, the water crashed back into the rock with just enough force to keep the paddler pinned. The rest of the group closed in, ready to help, but unable to get close enough to do anything without facing a similar fate. As I freed my tow line's beener and readied it for a toss, the paddler managed to right his kayak. The water, in a fit of mercy, rushed in with enough volume to lift the stranded kayak off the rock and it calmed enough for the paddler to escape unharmed.
Impressed, and chastened, we headed home a little further from shore. We arrived at Pier 5 without further incident.
Even with the few bumps in the road, it was a good paddle. We all enjoyed ourselves and the bumps kept us on our toes. If there weren't any challenges, life would get boring. It is just nice to have a solid group around you to pull you off the rocks or give you a ride home when you need it.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

A Relaxing Start to the New Year

There is a group of paddlers who will paddle through the bitter cold of winter. I've even been blocked from returning to a put-in by an ice flow. So when the forecast for the weekend called for sun and balmy temps, it was a given that I was going to paddle. So when Paul e-mailed to ask if I wanted to paddle, my only question was "Where?"
I was looking for a chance to see some new stretches of coast and was pondering the North Shore (in Massachusetts). Paul suggested Fairhaven and West Island. Fairhaven is located along Buzzards Bay, just east of New Bedford, and offered a chance for some varied paddling conditions. The location had the added benefit of being within easy reach of RI based paddlers.
The put-in is easy to find and offers a sheltered launch area. However, it is at the end of a dirt road that is pitted with pot holes. The scene caused me a few flashbacks to the paddle that resulted in the drowning of my first egg. A friend and I parked in a very similar boat ramp in Gloucester, MA a few years ago for a nice relaxing paddle along the Annisquam River. When we returned, my car was sitting in a few inches of water. Before long the salt water was above the wheels. It was a long night waiting for the tide to go down so the tow truck would drive to the landing and tow my poor egg to the safety.
Today we were launching at close to high-tide so there was no chance of the parking lot flooding. Reassured that my car was safe, I set out along with Paul and the other paddlers. The plan was to circumnavigate West Island and look for some possible bumpy water out on the Buzzards Bay side of the island. The reality was that the water was flat. The biggest challenge we faced was trying, desperately, even delusionaly, to spot a seal. The only bumps we saw where the ones caused by running into each others kayaks.
One tricky thing about today's conditions was the temperature. It was in the mid to high forties which, while not balmy, is warm when you are wearing a drysuit and a couple layers of fleece. The water was also in the mid-forties which is chilly even when you are wearing a drysuit and a couple of layers of fleece. Dressing so that you don't over heat, but also have thermal protection in the event of a swim is a delicate balance. You don't want to be so warm that you sweat too much and are likely to suffer from chill when stopped for lunch or a break on the water. You also don't want to find yourself in the water without enough layers to keep you warm.
I opted for a pair of fleece pants, heavy wool socks, a polypro t-shirt, and a midweight rash guard under my drysuit. I also wore gloves and a fleece hat. Because my hands are always wet when I'm paddling, I need gloves to stay warm. I was comfortable for the most part, but I did get a little chilled at lunch.
It is always a little sad to have completely flat paddle, but it is also very relaxing. We had plenty of time to catch up, talk politics, and just enjoy being outside with good company.


I was incorrect in my description of the events surrounding Becca's cold scare. Carole had already taken the initiative to begin getting Becca into dry clothes before Ken arrived on the scene.