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.

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