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.

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