Sunday, April 22, 2007

Sunday Morning Quicky

Combine the stress of buying a house, a week of deluge, and a few sunny days and you've got an Eric itching to get on the water. There was a paddle scheduled for Sakonnet Pt. that sounded fun, but there was also a lot of personal things that also needed to get done -- those pesky things like cleaning, laundry, banking, putting together wedding invitations, plans with non-kayaking friends... So as a compromise, and to get H on the water too, I decided that a quick spin on the Lake District portion of the Charles River would suffice.
The Lake District is the portion of the Charles river between the Charles River Canoe and Kayak boat house in Newton and the dam on Moody Street in Waltham. In this section the river is wide and slow moving, even when there has been a lot of rain. It is also pretty clean-for the Charles. It makes a great place to do a leisurely paddle, with some distance, or to do a spot of practice. Unlike the portion of the Charles that runs through Boston, or the section that runs through Watertown, this part of the river is suburban. The banks are lined by large houses and parks. You can hear the road, but it is not intrusive. You can also see plenty of birds, fishers, dogs, canoeists, and kayakers. You even run into the occasional sculler.
The launch for this paddle is a five minute drive from our current digs (10 minutes from the new digs), so we didn't rush to get moving. We pulled out H's gear from its long slumber and relearned how her kayak sits in the egg's hooks. It is surprising how different her kayak sits in the hooks than the Q. Despite its diminutive size, her kayak fills the hooks, where as the Q leaves plenty of space.
It was nice too not have to rush or fumble around, half asleep at some crazy hour in the morning to get our kayaks on the water for 10am. We pulled out of the driveway at 9:45 and had everything unpacked and ready to go by 10am. Even with a quick drive to a restroom and a drawn out debate about what to wear, we were on the water and paddling by 10:05. Now I know how TM and CC can paddle so often - does the green tint show?
I decided, despite the sun and 70 degree temp to wear the drysuit. The water temp was still only in the 40's and I figured better safe than sorry. As a bit of rebellion, I did decide to forgo the fleece under layer. I just wore a t-shirt and a pair of swim trunks. H, since she lacks a drysuit, wore a paddle top and a two layers of warm stuff. She also decided that she would not try anything that may land her in the drink. I know myself too well to think I could stick with that decision for long....
The paddle was pleasant. H took time readjusting to being in the kayak and freshening her forward stroke. I took the opportunity to work on hanging draws and high-stern rudders. It was relaxing and just enough work.
The thing that sort of threw both of us off was the slight current. It was not strong enough to make paddling up river hard, but it was strong enough to effect the directional stability of the kayaks. H kept saying how she was veering to the left and initially attributed it solely to being out of practice, but if she stopped applying forward motion to the kayak the current peeled her bow to the left. I was having a hard time getting a hanging draw to work on my right side. It would start off working great and the kayak would drift right. However, as the kayak lost speed, the kayak would stop moving to the right and slowly begin peeling to the left.
Good practice for handling a kayak in adverse conditions.
We saw swans (one was very aggressive), the ubiquitous geese, a cardinal, and an oriel. It was great to see the birds. I cannot remember the last time I saw an oriel or a cardinal.
We were back at the put-in by noon and home by 12:30. The other great thing about paddling on the Lake District is that it is fresh water. We had no clean-up save for hanging out the wet stuff.
If only ocean paddling were so close or so easy.....

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Pond Practice

I'm not always a big fan of dragging the Q-Boat down to RI just for a practice session. The two hour drive seems to demand a more substantial outing than dinking around practicing strokes. In all honesty I rarely do pond practice close to home either. There always seems to be something else to do that does not involve lugging 60 awkward pounds of glass fiber around and dealing with soggy, pond stenched clothes.
I try to make sure I practice my strokes while on actual paddles and generally spend sometime after the paddle doing rolling and rescue practice. (rolling and rescues are different!! And rescues are more important if less sexy!!)
In the spring, when the water is still too cold to push things, it is a good idea to get out on a pond and push the boat control strokes that don't always get used in the winter. A pond also provides a nice environment to really analyze what you are doing, and if you bring a friend it makes a nice morning. It also makes for a surprisingly good workout.
So, today TM and I launched onto Tucker Pond to do a little practice. This is part of TM's pre-season ritual. Around the beginning of April, he spends a few weeks in Tucker Pond warming up for the season. Then in May, he starts leading some level-2 paddles in controlled locations. By June, he is back out on the Bay and looking for some real action.
While I cannot be so regimented, or spend that long off the ocean, I can see the benefit of the ritual. It is similar to the way endurance athletes build up to a big race. Start slow and over time add more and more difficulty. You avoid injury and possible psychological trauma.
Despite paddling through the winter, I found that my endurance and skills had atrophied a bit. As we wended our way around the pond, dodging the opening day fishers, we chatted about paddling and tried different strokes. We did the basics like forward and reverse sweep strokes, draw strokes, sculling, and rudders (bow and stern).
Along with the basics we worked on hanging draws. It is amazing how much finesse those require and how quickly you forget where your paddle goes. The first few times I could either get the kayak to slide sideways or had it turning into the draw. It was nice to have a quiet spot to keep trying until I found the sweet spot.
TM also showed me a "high stern rudder." Instead of placing the paddle in the water even with the deck of the kayak, you hold the off-water hand near your chin and do not push in or out with the blade. From this position you can use the paddle in the water like a tiller. By adjusting the angle of the blade relative to the hull you can turn the boat either way. Turning the blade into the hull will turn the kayak into the rudder; turning the paddle out will turn the kayak the other way. (I could have this backwards, but the effect is essentially the same.) It is not so dramatic with the mighty stick, but when I got the angle right it did work well. It is a cool idea and definitely requires some work....
At one point we lucked out and got some good wind to practice boat handling in the wind. We talked about what strokes work best in relationship to wind and kayak direction. I'm a little dyslexic so I'm not certain this is right... When trying to turn up into the wind, you want to release the stern and work strokes forward of the mid-line. This will allow the wind to push the stern around while holding the bow in place. When turning down wind, you want to plant the stern and work strokes behind the mid-line. This allows the wind to push the bow down wind while holding the stern in place.
We also practiced some rolls. TM's roll is still solid. Mine is less so... My offside is still old-reliable. My not so on-side roll, is iffy. TM said I look a little stiff and recommended yoga.... has worked wonders for a few paddlers I know.
Soon there will be ocean paddling a plenty and the practice will pay-off.