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.

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