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.

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