Saturday, June 30, 2007


A wedding is not exactly a paddle, but is a pretty big event. H and I made it legal in a very short ceremony at Mt. Hope Farm in Bristol, RI. We followed it up with a long party to celebrate. It was great to have our families and close friends there to share the event with us!!

The minister, Rev. Charles Flag, did an wonderful job of making the ceremony personal, non-denominational, and short. He did two short readings that spoke to the course of mature love; its ebbs and flows; its delicate, powerful essence. One of H's close friends played the bag pipes for us which added to aura of the ceremony.

The party, with food provided by Blackstone Caterers and music by Rhythm Productions, was a blast. Instead of a sit down dinner we had stations: risotto, noodles, salad, and beef/chicken plates. It made for a fun and informal feel. People danced the night away and then returned to the hotel on a school bus.
It was a beautiful launch for what looks to be a grand journey!!

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Connecticut in the Wind

The plan for the day was to meet at Esker Point in Groton, paddle over to Race Point on Fisher's Island, reconnoiter the Race, paddle back, and then party in Mystic. The marine forecast was not encouraging (SW winds around 20knts), but I wasn't about to let a little thing like that dampen my spirits. My rational brain knew that given the forecast, paddling out to the race was not and ideal plan for a relaxing day on the water. The wind would push us over to Race Point, but would pound us all the way back. The wind would also work the waves into a frothy mess.
Undaunted by rational thoughts, I arrived at the put in early and took a nap. I figured PB, TM, and BH would show up shortly there after. Some time later, PB calls me to see where I was parked... The directions to the put-in from the RIC/KA website are not the greatest. PB had found the parking lot across the street from the put-in. BH showed up on PB's heels. But TM was still missing.
TM had taken the long way to the put-in to reconnoiter possible places to crash in the evening. He was also suffering a bit from several consecutive days of paddling.
Once he arrived TM quickly squelched any plans to paddle to Race Point. His back was not up to it. The rest of rejoiced that at least one of us had enough sense to not embark on a death paddle. PB, BH, and I were willing to give the original plan a shot despite our good judgement.
The modified plan was to hug the coast and paddle east towards Mystic and Stonington. That would give us some cover from the wind and still offer interesting paddling.
We set out of the nice protected cove at the put-in and entered the wind. The wind had kicked up some good chop and it was pushing the stern of the Q-Boat around.
I was pretty happy that we weren't heading out into Fishers Island sound. I was having a heck of a time finding the right amount of skeg to settle the Q-Boat's stern. Eventually, I settled on not using the skeg. It was easier to correct for the wind by edging when needed.
BH needed to make some adjustments. So stopped at the monastery in Mystic Harbor. We kept looking for their kayaks.
We stopped for lunch on a pleasant beach between Mystic and Stonington. It was right on the railroad tracks, but it was not a problem. The train was very quiet and the view was superb. The beach also kept us out of the wind which was nice.
After lunch we headed over to Stonington for some ice cream.
Our first attempt at landing nearly got TM eaten by a large German Shepherd. We paddled up to what looked like a public dock and TM and BH proceeded to pull ashore. Meanwhile this woman on her sailboat was growing agitated watching helplessly as we invaded her private beach. Her husband was sitting idly by and their shepherd was quietly eyeing the boarding party. I politely asked her what the issue was and explained that we were looking for a public dock. As the shepherd was eyeing TM, we decided it was best to move to the public landing.
We found the public docks. There was a bathroom, but no ice cream.
The paddle back to the cars was a slog into the wind.
Back at the cars we located my brother, who was drinking at the near by restaurant, and made a plan for the evening festivities. Find rooms in Mystic and then eat.
We caravanned around Mystic vainly looking for a room. Mystic is a very popular place on sunny summer weekends.
After being shut out of all the hotels in the area, we decided to bag finding rooms and get some food. BH guided us to the Packer Inn Pub. It is a small colonial era pub with great atmosphere. We got a table in the corner and enjoyed a fantastic meal and some nice beers.
After dinner we grabbed some ice cream and headed home. It was not quite what I planned, but it was a fun day with great friends.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Coffee, Fish, Currents, and Coffee

This is my last weekend as a bachelor and I wanted to spend it having a big adventure. The fates seemed to have a slightly different plan in mind. My original plan was to spend the weekend paddling the new RI blue water trail, but there was no place to stay at the end of the trip. The back-up plan was to paddle over to Block Island on Friday, circumnavigate BI on Saturday, and return on Sunday. However, this weekend is the end of Race Week and the only rooms available on the island are at the center of the Race Week drinking...
The plan evolved into spending Friday playing in the big currents off of Stone Bridge in Tiverton today and checking out the Fisher's Island race on Saturday. Neither place was going to be running at full steam, but the predictions were for enough current to make things fun.
The morning did not start auspiciously. On auto-pilot, I turned off of 128 to continue on 95 south to Providence when I should have continued on 128, which becomes 93 north (the engineering of space/time at this road junction is a feat of convolution.) It was not a huge problem because there are several ways to get back on track.
Then the phone rings... Bubbles is running late - he was just putting the gelcoat on the repairs (Bubbles' tussle with the rocks last week did a tad of prodigious damage to his Pintail). He was going to meet us at some point, but probably not for coffee. Maybe he'd meet us at lunch.
After getting off the the phone with Bubbles, I started to dial TM. Before I hit the Call button, I remembered that he had already left his house and, still living in the 70s, had no cell phone... TM would panic a little, but the speedy egg would get me there only a few minutes late.
At Coastal Roasters, I found TM enjoying an Americano and the superb view. I got a Coco Loco- espresso and cocoa powder melded into a magical smoothness. We sat, checked out the charts for the Fisher's Island paddle, and talked about the plan for the day. We'd put in under the Tiverton bridge, scope out Stone Bridge, paddle around, Gould Island and over to Evelyn's for lunch. After lunch, our bellies full of fried sea food, we would play in the currents.
Around 11, I decided to get my phone and call Bubbles. Before I got the phone out of the egg, the Bubble Box pulled up to Coastal Roasters. A quick look at my phone, revealed that while TM and I were enjoying coffee, the phone had been ringing off the hook. CC and H had both called looking for TM. There was a car crisis effecting H's paddle and CC wanted her spare Explorer back - if it was not on the top of TM's car.... Of course, it was. Everything worked out fine with a little help from our friends. CC borrowed a kayak from the Bomes.
All crisis resolved, TM, Bubbles, and I actually managed to get on the water. We paddled down past Stone Bridge and determined that the Coastal Roasters' side was going to be the easiest side to pass when the current was running. We then paddled around Gould Island.
Gould Island, or Ghoul Island, looks like something out of a Bond movie. We kept expecting the side of the island to open up and expel a menacing ship or divers to silently drag us under and into the layer of a maniacal madman.
Nothing exciting happened. The guano stench is more than any respectable madman would tolerate. The birds simply glowered as we passed.
At Evelyn's we settled into the outside dinning area and enjoyed the best Fish and Chips I've ever had. The fish was lightly fried and flakey. Unlike some other fried fish, this didn't ooze grease. Once past the crisp bread layer, it was yummy cod fish. The chips were just passable, but nobody really cared.
Paddling back into the Sakonnet River we were smacked in the face with a brutal head wind. It made paddling out of the pond and into the river a fair slog. It also made the prospect of facing the opposing current less than pleasant.
Fortunately when we turned up the river, the wind died to a reasonable level. The current didn't even look formidable. I feared an anti-climax.
Once at the bridge we were rewarded with a clear eddy. Bubbles paddled up into it, was pushed to the side a bit, and pushed through to the other side. I followed suit and almost got stuck. At one point I looked over and realized that despite paddling at full tilt, I was not moving. Then I looked over and saw TM being washed back down the river.
Bubbles and I slipped back into the current to play. There were a few small standing waves to ride. In the middle of the channel, I played with some rudder strokes. The sense of danger was provided by the fear of smacking into the buoys. It was thoroughly enjoyable. At one point, I was playing around in the center of the two buoys and heard a grotesque sucking sound. I looked over to the left and saw the green can slowly rising back out of the depths. It then rapidly vanished again.
After about 10 minutes of playing, Bubbles and I realized that TM was just sitting over near the moored sail boats on the far side of the bridge. We ferried across the current and joined back up with TM. Apparently, TM was a daunted by the current. He had a tough time of getting through because he was uncertain about how to handle the fact that the current, when the bow crosses the eddy, is immediately swept back down river. Nobody really talks about how to paddle up river and reacting to currents is the opposite of reacting to waves. Bubbles and I managed by acting instinctively. Bubbles used a quick rudder stroke to straighten out and paddled like the dickens. I used a sweep stroke to push the bow back into position and paddled like the dickens. TM, being a thinker, was trying to do the right thing but wasn't really sure what that was. Eventually, he decided that we had the right idea and just pushed his way through.
It didn't help that he was not used to the way the bow of the Explorer floats freely. Apparently, Valley kayaks are designed so that the bows stay locked in place and the stern floats. Looking at the front of the Q-Boat, with its sharp, prodigious snout, I can see how that is true. NDk kayaks are designed so that the bows float freely. TM's Aquilla, which he has paddled forever, is an old school Valley kayak and he is not used to the different feel.
After getting the kayaks back on the cars, we went back over to Coastal Roasters for some more coffee. We also planned out the next days trip in a little more detail.
We broke up just as the black clouds that had been building all day filled the sky. As I finished sealing myself in the egg, the sky opened.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

It started off so calm....

The outer west passage is a classic Naragansett Bay sea kayaking trip. It offers a gamut of conditions without too much exposure. It is long, but doesn't require months of training or risking blisters. There are two crossings and plenty of coastline with varying amounts of tidal effects and rocks.
Todays weather was sunny, warm, and just a touch breezy. It seemed like a perfect day for perusing the Jamestown coast and trying to catch some sun bathers with their pants down. At least at before 9am. Did I mention that I'm not so good in the morning?
So we set off from the Bay Campus beach 13 kayaks strong. The crossing to Ft. Getty was uneventful and we turned our sights on Beavertail. RS, Bubbles, and I decided to hug the shore while the main part of the fleet kept to the middle of the Bay. It was high tide so most of the pocket beaches were submerged, but there were still plenty of rocky outcrops to explore.
About halfway to Beavertail, the wind picked up and the swells got a little higher. It made things more interesting while we were close to the shore and not too close to Beavertail. However, it meant that getting past Beavertail and crossing to Whale Rock could be unnerving to a few of the paddlers in the group.
Wisely, TM decided to break for Whale Rock before we got to Beavertail. This saved us from navigating the rough water that hangs around the oceanic tip of Jamestown. It also bought a little more protection for the crossing. When crossing from the channel marker off of Beavertail to Whale Rock, you are at the mouth of the Bay and the swells have their full force. Just a few hundred yards inside the Bay, the swells lose a little of their power.
The crossing was a nice chance to experience open ocean conditions. We paddled into the 2' swells and stayed in a tight group.
Once at Whale rock we turned back towards Bay Campus and our lunch spot at Anawan. This meant following seas. A lot of paddlers find following seas unnerving and difficult to manage. Following seas tend to push your kayak around and you cannot see the waves coming at you to make adjustments. Others find them to be a great chance to catch some rides. With the Q-boat following seas are both a challenge and a thrill. Because the stern of the Q-boat is so low volume the swells approaching from the back have their way with the stern like a monkey with a banana. The Q-boat's stability and maneuverability, however, means that I can exert enough directional control to enjoy the rides.
As we turned into Bonnet cove, DV was caught off guard and capsized. H was the first kayak in and was already to do the rescue, but I tried to help out by rafting up with her before should got a solid grip on DV's bow. Fortunately, TM slipped into position and started the rescue. TM got the kayak empty in no time and stabilized the kayak so DV could reenter. The reentry did not go smoothly. DV nearly managed to drag TM, who was paddling his Aquilla, into the water. RB spotted what was happening and pulled up next to TM to stabilize TM. I pulled up next to DV's kayak and helped stabilize it. With a four kayak raft, we managed to get DV back into his kayak and back on his way to lunch.
The Anawan side of Bonnet Cove offers some choice rock formations to play in and the conditions were so mild I couldn't resist. I saw a nice slot that ran between two rocks, emptied out behind a low ledge, and had a nice wide path back to open water on the far side. The predominant swell pattern was a large number of small swells followed by a smaller number of large swells. It looked like we were in the middle of a set of small swells, so I slipped into position to catch a ride. I caught a moderate sized swell, rode it through the slot, and made a smooth turn to avoid hitting the shore. I then turned towards the open water.
Just as I started to make my way out, Bubbles set up to follow me. I could see the large swell starting out just as he moved into line with the slot. By the time he saw how big the swell was, it was on top of him and he was in the middle of the slot. I heard his cry of elation/panic and saw the yellow belly of his Pintail flip into the rocks. I was sure Bubbles was going to come up unconscious and bleeding. Bubbles has nine lives and popped up holding his kayak. As he tried to pull his kayak closer to shore and get it under control, I worked to get into position to through him a tow line so that I could tow him and his kayak out of the rocks.
We were in the middle of a set of big swells. Bubbles couldn't really get his kayak stable. Every time I got close enough to toss a line, I had to dodge a big swell to keep myself off of the rocks. TM also came in to help out. Three kayaks in a small space being tossed around by big swells is not an ideal situation. At one point TM was pinned between the Q-boat and the rocks as a big swell rolled through the area. Fortunately, I managed to move just enough and TM is a master of kayak maneuvering.
Eventually the swells calmed and we were able to tow Bubbles and his kayak out of the rocks. We then put him on his kayak and went to lunch.
The post lunch paddle plan was to enjoy a nice, relaxed paddle back along the bluffs to Bay Campus and then do some practice...
After a lunch, and making sure Bubbles was OK, we decided to paddle a little further into Bonnet Cove before breaking for Bay Campus. There are several tempting rock outcroppings along the edge of the cove. One fjord-like outcropping caught my, and Bubbles', eye. I checked the swells and decided to check it out. Bubbles followed closely on my tail. As soon as we got up close to the rocks, the swells grew and decided we need to be on the rocks... This time, both of us managed to dig our paddles in, keep ourselves off the rocks, and get back to open water.
It was a definite sign and both of us decided we'd had enough of the rocks for the day. I had no desire to split my new mighty stick on its second outing. It has to last at least until after the wedding...
The paddle along the bluffs was uneventful and the group spread out as they paddled back to the put in. As I neared the Endeavor's dock I realized that I could no longer hear TM and CC talking in the rear of the group. I stopped and looked to make sure they were OK. After a quick double-take I realized that I only saw one set of blades moving, so I paddled back to them. CC was giving TM a contact tow to get some practice.
By the time the three of us got back to the put-in several people were already off the water and either sunning or packing up to go home. A few people stayed on the water to practice, including myself. It was too nice to lay about on the beach.
However, all good things must come to an end.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Gloomy or Gloucester?

There was a lot of hemming and hawing about getting on the water. H wanted to paddle, but not to Cuttyhunk. The other RIC/KA paddle didn't really seem worth the drive given that we both had a lot to do. I was thinking that I'd rather not lose an entire day to the Cuttyhunk paddle, but if that was the only option for a paddle I'd probably just go.
About mid-week H decided that a shortish paddle close to home on Sunday would be the best option. The plans were pretty open, but the Barking Crab was high on the list. It is a fun, close and short paddle. Much of the crew planned on doing the Cuttyhunk trip, or had other commitments. PB and LB (not blood relatives) were interested in doing something - at least before the weekend rolled in with a gloomy rain and covering the land in a soporific mist.
Saturday I could barely get myself going. There was painting to be done and all I could muster was the energy for eating lunch. I guess P & L were feeling the same way because they sent an e-mail that sounded less than enthusiastic about kayaking on Sunday. When I spoke with PB, he sounded even less enthused. Their kayaks were in Northboro, they were in Providence, the weather didn't look like it was going to be worth the drive... It made sense. I wasn't sure I had the energy to paddle in the Gloom.
I went to bed Saturday zonked, but unable to sleep. H rolled in from a bachelorette party around 2am concerned that she may not get enough sleep to paddle the next day....
I woke up Sunday refreshed and ready to go. The sun had also recharged PB & LB because they had gotten up early and were making for Gloucester to explore. They were making a stop in Northboro to get the kayaks. It wasn't the Barking Crab, but it was still in the same state... Who am I kidding? Paddling on the North Shore is chocolate to the Barking Crab's carob chips. H and I planned to meet them at the Gloucester High launch just after lunch and set about getting our butts in gear.
To sweeten the pot even more, H gave me my wedding present: a custom made stick. It is a beautiful piece of wood working by Wolfgang Brink. The paddle is a grooved Aleutian style paddle. Just looking at it you can see the vast differences between the new stick and the old stick. The old stick, a prototype by the maker of Cricket Greenland paddles, is much longer, both the loom and the blades, and has a polyurethane finish. The ridge is almost much more pronounced. The new stick has a Tung oil finish and is made from only two pieces of wood. I was dying to put the new one in the water to see if it felt as good as it looked.
At the put-in there was a bit of a scene brewing. Gloucester High was having a graduation and the attendees were flooding the boat ramp parking lot - despite the big signs making it clear that cars without trailers would be towed. As experienced non-trailer boaters, we doubled up in a trailer spot. As we carried the kayaks over to the ramp, the harbor master asked us which cars were ours. After we pointed them out, he ensured us that we would not be towed. "You guys are doing too much work to get towed," he commented. The harbor master was so impressed with us he waived the standard parking fee.
Getting the kayaks in the water involved a little bit of mud slogging since we were putting in at low tide. Low tide also meant that we had to be careful as we made our way out of the river and into the harbor. The channel from the high school to the harbor is narrow and can be congested. Fortunately, the traffic was light as we slipped down the channel, under the bridge, and into the harbor.
Gloucester harbor is an interesting place. It houses a working commercial fishing port, a substantial Coast Guard station, and is lined with multi-million dollar homes. We made our way out to the ocean along the southern edge of the harbor. It was sunny, but the chilly water and a slight breeze kept us from overheating - even H who was wearing a wetsuit and a paddle jacket.
The conditions were benign, almost boring, but there was plenty to see and nobody in the group was really looking for too much excitement. PB and I did manage to find a few rocks to play in while the women watched disdainfully. If we had gotten into trouble, there was not much they were going to be able to do about it.
We made our way out of the harbor to check out an ugly castle/monastery just south of the harbor entrance. After peering up the cliffs at the structure, we turned north to check out Gloucester light. This took us straight across the mouth of Gloucester harbor and into the way of the North Atlantic swells as they roll into the calmer waters behind the break water. There were a few instances when the swells got unexpectedly big. They were not panic inducing, but they made things interesting as we crossed the harbor.
Once we saw the lighthouse from the ocean side of the break water, we paddled back into the harbor and found a nice beach for a lunch break. The beach we stopped at looked way too nice to not be private. We were convinced that our lunch stop would be cut short by a cop shooing us back into the sea. After a long, languorous rest, broken up by H's occaisional dash to pull the kayaks out of the rising water, we filled a dry bag with beach sand and returned to the water.
The paddle back to the high school took us along the northern edge of the harbor, past the Coast guard station, the old fishing docks, and the greasy pole. We then turned under the bridge into the river. It was a relaxing end to a lovely paddle.
Back at the put-in I had to do one more thing: roll with the new paddle. Out on the open water the paddle performs superbly. It slips through the water easily and provides plenty of power. The differences between the new paddle and the old paddle are subtle. The new paddle seems to be a little harder on my joints, but that could be due to my lack of conditioning. The new paddle has a nice snap at the end of the stroke that the old one does not. The new one, because it is shorter, feels like it may not have the power to brace or swing the kayak around.
Rolling with it the first time was a little nerve wracking. What if I couldn't use it to roll? What if it wasn't going to work for bracing in real conditions? What if it just didn't have the required leverage to pull my fat arse to the surface?
I set up on my on-side, I think it was my on-side, and rolled the Q-boat upside down. I wasn't quite able to settle my nerves and rushed through getting fully into position. I also rushed through the roll and tried to power my way through the roll. I needn't have worried. The Q-boat rolled right up.
Once was enough to call it a perfect day on the water and go home.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Going Dutch

TM's Dutch Island paddle is first the ocean paddle in his series of summer paddles. Launching from the Bay Campus, it offers decent protection from the fury of the open Atlantic, but it also offers a taste of an open water crossing. TM's theory is that his series of paddles gradually build on each other offering paddlers slightly more advanced conditions. Doing them in order offers newer paddlers, and older paddlers, a chance to build up their skills over the course of the season without scaring anyone or hurting anyone (too much)...
H couldn't paddle this weekend, so I was solo. This meant that I was extra-late putting my act on the water. People kept talking to me... Only JS took longer to get ready, but only because he paddled back to the beach to get his chart out of the car as I was putting my kayak in the water...
BH got his new Longbow Greenland paddle and I was compelled to check it out. The paddle is odd. It is carved out under tension, like a longbow, to make it extra-strong. Like a longbow, it flexes like a cat getting up from a nap. The blades are razor thin. BH started the paddle like a kid with a strange new toy - apprehensive but excited.
Since this was a level 2 paddle there was very little excitement in terms of conditions or pace. That was fine though. It was nice just to be out on the water and catch up with people. We circumnavigated Dutch Island and set out for Jamestown to eat lunch.
On the way to lunch I gave BH's Longbow paddle a try. When I put it in the water it initially felt like a wet egg noodle as it bent back on itself. Then at the end of the stroke it snapped back with surprising force. After I adjusted to the odd feel of it, the paddle offered plenty of power for a forward stroke and for sweep strokes. I didn't try much else with the paddle, but it would be interesting to see how it performs when bracing, sculling, and rolling.
Lunch was the typical RIC/KA kayak swap.
There was a new paddler with us who wanted to get a feel for a "real" sea kayak. The new guy started out in TM's (I mean CC's) Explorer. As I'm standing there free of my paddling gear, TM looks at me and says "I hope you're ready to rescue that guy." As the words left TM's mouth the Explorer leaned over and wobbled back up. With in seconds, it leaned over to the other side and exposed its shiny white belly. Fortunately, JS was trying out BL's Caribou and performed a rescue.
Undaunted, the new guy decided to try out more kayaks. The Q-boat was his next adventure. Then he tried an Avocet and the Caribou. There were no more rescues.
JS tried out most of the other kayaks on the beach and TM took the Q-boat for a spin. JS was unimpressed by any of the kayaks. He loves his Gulf Stream. The new guy and TM enjoyed the Q-boat. I think Valley designed an winner in the Q-boat (if you don't need to carry more than lunch and some sun screen).
The paddle back Bay Campus was as uneventful as the paddle to Dutch Island. Bubbles did try to start some trouble. Level 2 paddles can cause outbreaks of mischief among paddlers looking for excitement...
The day didn't end when we got back to Bay Campus... There was rescue practice to be done. After putting on some extra layers to keep ourselves warm while in the water, a group of us watched Carole rescue people. It was pretty impressive to watch her pull all manner of paddler out of the drink and put them back in their kayak. BR provided the most entertainment when he played up the victim roll to soap operatic heights.
Post paddle coffee and foodage was convened at Java Maddness. It is still the best place to get a cuppa joe and soak up the afternoon sun.