Sunday, August 26, 2007

Westport Warm-Up

After five days of paddling, I was ready for a rest. All I wanted to do this weekend was help out a friend with his charity bike ride and do some yard work. Paddling was not even on the radar. (No, I am not lying about this.)
So when H mentioned that she was surprised I wasn't paddling on Sunday, I was confused. There was no paddle scheduled for Sunday and I was not really up for paddling. Then she told me TM had posted a Westport River paddle and that helmets were recommended.... Still, I was doing a big bike ride on Saturday and I had just done a ton of paddling over the last week. But, it was the Westport river, the currents were looking promising, and TM recommended helmets....
Sunday morning I showed up at the Westport River boat launch a little stiff, but ready to play. If we timed things right we'd hit the mouth of the river at max current and still have time to head out of the river and find some surf.
We hit the water around 10:15 with a group of six stalwart sailors: TM, PB, RB (no relation), CC, RR, and myself. Unlike the previous weekend, the wind was calm and we made short work of paddling to the mouth.
At the river mouth we found a pleasant spot along the breakwater to play. In the middle of the channel, the current was running nicely. Along the edge of the breakwater, a nice eddy had formed. We could play in the current and use the eddy to rest and reposition. The eddy also made a nice spot for a safety person.
The sweet spot for me was the spot where the river passed the breakwater. The incoming swells added a little bounce to the equation and put me in position to watch the other paddlers. The spot's only drawback was that incoming boat traffic liked to pass through it.
We were careful to give the powerboat traffic plenty of room. The power boats also did their best to avoid us. Some of the bigger boats were kind enough to supply some wake waves to the mix.
During lunch RB, PB, and I did some kayak tryouts. RB is thinking about an upgrade from his Wilderness Systems kayak; PB wanted to give the Q-boat a whirl, and I wanted to take TM's new Explorer HV for ride. RB tried out both the explorer and the Q-boat and liked them both. PB didn't like the way the Q-boat rolled. I found the the Explorer HV to be pleasant enough, but way too big for me. It is very hard to get a good feel for any kayak on flat water and after only a few minutes.
After lunch, we headed out of the river. The current had died down and we wanted to see if we could find some surf or rocks in which to play. There is always something to play in along the coast.
Just outside the river we found a nice rock clump. It had a few different slots provided fun runs in the moderate swells. Everyone got a few good rides. I wasn't feeling 100%, so I spent a lot of time hanging back as a safety. It was hardly boring for me. It gave me time to practice some boat control skills and sometimes holding a position is more challenging than running a rock slot.
TM's back was bothering him, so we turned back towards home after about 20 minutes. The trip back into the river should have been uneventful. The swells were tiny, the current was minimal, and the boat traffic was non-existent. The only place where trouble could be found was close into the sea wall. Just off of its tip some waves were breaking and it looked like you could catch a nice ride into the river. Looks can be deceiving...
PB started to catch a wave, felt his nose get pulled towards the rocks, and backed off. I started to catch a wave, but was not really in position to catch a good ride. CC was just inside of me and was in a perfect position to catch the wave. She got a great ride, but was pushed in behind the sea wall. Realizing that she was between breaking waves and hard spot, she started to back paddle away from the sea wall. She made it over one breaking wave, but the second one flipped her. (Somebody needed to play the role of Bubbles in this paddle.)
PB was in a perfect spot to rush in and stabilize CC's kayak. I took a few seconds to spin the Q-boat around to get into position. Meanwhile CC realized she could stand-up and stabilize her own kayak. She just needed one of us to hold it while she hopped back into the cockpit.
Safely back inside the river, we all tried out our rolling skills. CC wanted to see the continuos storm roll I had learned in the Greenland course the weekend before. Although I was not confident I could even do a regular roll, I gave it a shot. I rolled right back up and CC gave it less successful try. She even tried it with a stick. RR and RB both showed off nice balance braces. PB's rolling luck had been jinxed by his earlier miss in the Q-boat. Rolls are delicate and fickle creatures. Like an Italian sports car or a great writer, a roll can be spooked by a spec of dust or a drinking the wrong water.
We retired for good chat and great coffee at Coastal Roasters. TM laid out his plans for tackling some bigger currents and rougher conditions over the next month or so. This was just a warm up. He wants to take on Stone Bridge at max current and maybe take run out to the Race....

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Island Paradise

CC made eggs, toast, and home fries to fuel us for the start of our island camping adventure. She had a cool toast maker that sat on the Coleman stove and held the toast in a ring. It toasted one side and then you had to flip the bread to toast the other side. H & I were quite impressed as we had never seen anything like it.
After breakfast, the group set about packing up the kayaks. H & I, and P & L, didn't actually have to break our tents down. H & I brought along our small tent in case we ended up kayak camping. (The Nova 4 would require its own kayak for transport.) So, all we had to do was pack clothes into dry bags, gather water, pack up our food, and stuff our sleeping bags into dry bags. Then we had to pack all of our stuff into the kayaks...
Bubbles had never packed up his Pintail and was keen to see how it went. He did a fantastic job packing his gear into the kayak and the kayak did a fantastic job carrying the load.
H & I were better off than Bubbles in that we had at packed up our kayaks once, but not by much. We had way more stuff to pack this time than the one other time we had packed the kayaks. H's kayak is pretty easy to pack. It isn't very long, but its compartments are normally proportioned. The Q-Boat, on the other hand, has odd proportions. The front compartment is cavernous, but the back compartment is flat, narrow, and long. The skeg box blocks the back third of the rear compartment, making it even smaller. The imbalance in compartment size makes balancing the load in the Q-Boat difficult. We solved the problem by putting the water in my back hatch as well as some of the food and putting clothes in the front hatch.
Once everyone was packed up we headed out to Harbor Island. We got a late start so we paddled straight for the Island and didn't stop for lunch. We arrived to find the island deserted!! All we had to do was find a nice spot to land and pick out the best tent sites. CC, Bubbles, and RB decided to seal land on the rocks. P & L found a sheltered, but rocky beach to land that was just behind the camp sites. H & I decided to paddle farther down the island to the beach near the meadow camp sites. It was sheltered, but we had to carry our stuff up a short incline.
H & I checked out the meadow as a camp site, but held off setting up tent to see what the others were doing. We walked over to the other side of the island to find people setting up tents. We liked the meadow site because it was soft, had nice views, and was on the west facing side of the island. However, we didn't want to be away from everyone else. After surveying the remaining sites near the others, we decided the quite, empty meadow was the perfect place to set up camp.
After getting our tent set up and regrouping with the others for lunch, we spotted a large group approaching our island. They were going to land and camp on the island... Before we knew it, H & I were in a tent city populated by a family of eight people from RI and MA. Fortunately, they were very nice people and nobody snored too loud.
After lunch, we , sans H who was getting a headache, set off for Isle Au Haut. CC thought we'd find a little town with shops, but I knew better. A few years ago, I had spent several days on Isle Au Haut. The only store on the island was tiny and only opened a few hours a week. When, we arrived, dripping wet, the store happened to be open, so we went in to find ice cream and other Isle Au Haut delicacies. As it turns out, the store did have a selection of heirloom cheeses and ice cream. But, we didn't get a chance to buy anything.... We had soaked the floors of the store, gotten in the way of restocking, and generally upset the storekeeper and her workers. They shooed us out and slammed the door behind us. They did say we could come back in fifteen minutes. Feeling the offer insincere, we paddled back to the island.
Back at the island, H was playing Goldilocks with people's tents. She just couldn't find a nice place to nap.
She did get enough rest to cook an excellent mexican dish while the sun set over the meadow. It was quite a feat of culinary skill. She cooked the whole shebang on two camp stoves. As a dinner aperitif, Bubbles passed around some 123 punch (a deadly combination of rum, brown sugar, and limes).
After dinner we retired to rocky side of the island for a camp fire. There we met an odd couple. The woman seemed very nice, but her male companion.... He was in the movie business, but never disclosed exactly what he did in the biz. RB quickly became a groupie and spent the next day talking about the movie guy.
The next day we woke to sun and clear skies. Bubbles cooked up some oatmeal and provided plenty of mix-ins. The group then started talking about forming a plan of action for the day. H & I retired back to meadow for a bit to start packing up some of our gear figuring we'd spend the day meandering our way back to Old Stone Quarry.
When I returned to the rest of the group, an hour or so later, they were sunning on the rocks like a bunch of lizards. The plan seemed to be no plan.
This didn't work so well for H. She was feeling under the weather and wanted to head back. She decided that taking a quick nap would hopefully help her feel better and give the group time to formulate a plan.
When she awoke to eat some lunch and nobody had moved much, she decided that we were heading back regardless of what the group wanted to do. She was not feeling better. In fact, she was beginning to feel worse. After H headed back to our tent site in the now empty meadow, I told the group what our plan was. This kicked things into gear for everyone. They were not going to let H & I paddled back to Old Stone Quarry alone.
We chose a route back to Old Stone Quarry that was direct and offered plenty of chances to rest. It was also different than the paths we had taken the previous days. H was a trooper and paddled the whole way back without much help. We did take the opportunity to practice some towing techniques, and H was an obliging subject. We hooked her up to a double I formation tow. We tried using contact lines to stabilize her kayak. I tried to use just my arms as a contact line, but it didn't work out so well. I couldn't keep the bows of the kayaks close enough. The result was that the kayaks pulled to one side of the tow.
After we unpacked the kayaks and showered, we headed into town for dinner at Fisherman's Friend Restaurant in downtown Stonington. The place had a very extensive menu of seafood. The waitress, who was a touch too perky, had memorized the whole thing as well as all of the options for sides. The food was good, but not great. The prices were moderate. The decor was clean and well lit. I think Stonington could use some more competition in the dining scene.
Exhausted and full we all crashed to rest up for the rest of our adventures. RB was heading straight home. H & I planned to meander our way home. CC & Bubbles were staying another day and then heading to Kennebunkport for an anti-war rally. P & L were planning a multiday trip home.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Maine Land

After I finished the excellent Greenland comprehensive course (at 5pm), I raced home, grabbed a quick bite to eat, transfered the Q-Boat from H's car to the egg, loaded H's kayak onto the egg, showered, and hit the road for Stonington, ME. I was pooped, so H took the helm of the egg and guided us through the lonely ME night to Old Stone Quarry Campground where the rest of the crew was soundly snoozing to dreams of the glorious kayaking to come.
We arrived just after midnight and set about locating our tent site. The directions: go to the main parking lot and set up your tent in the corner site. In the day light, after we had gotten some sleep, these directions made perfect sense...
We spotted what we thought was our site off to the far side of the parking lot. It had a nice fire pit and an enclosed food area. We were pretty sure that this set up was far too posh, but we rummaged through all of the stuff for clues anyway. Then we crossed the parking lot to where we found three little tent perched on the edge of the road. H spotted a RI Audubon Society mug and decided that this had to be the right place.
Our site located, we pulled out the Taj, an EMS Nova 4 that our kayaking friends gave us as a wedding present. Wisely, we had set it up in our back yard a few days earlier and didn't have to puzzle out the assembly in the dark while sleep deprived. For such a large tent (it has a screened entry room), the Taj is a snap to set-up. Three poles slip into well marked sleeves and the tent is erect. The real difficulty lay in finding a large enough flat spot for its perch. We wound up settling for a gentle slope that put our feet just below our heads. We could fix it in the morning.
After a sound, but cold, slumber, H and I woke to find the rest of the crew mulling about making breakfast. P & L made pancakes, bacon, and coffee on RB's two burner stove. You could hardly call it camping. The food was dinner quality and the setting was outdoor patioesque. It was hard for me to even think about getting into my kayak.
One other twist was sapping my motivation. There were diverse goals to be worked out. H & I, along with P & L, were content to camp at Old Stone Quarry and do day paddles. The sites, while not ideal, were functional, the two burner stove made cooking a snap, and the cars made zipping into town a breeze. In addition, we were not keen on the idea of packing up our kayaks, spending a good part of the day ferreting out a camp site, unpacking our kayaks, and setting up camp. There was also the issue of needing to pack out all of your waste products. (Not to mention that I was being a bit paranoid about not having done proper planning for a wilderness camping trip.)
CC, Bubbles, and RB wanted to do some island camping. It would be an adventure and definitely more picturesque than Old Stone Quarry. It also meant that we could venture farther out into the islands on day paddles.
We decided on a compromise plan. Today, we would just do a day paddle to reconnoiter possible island camping and return to Old Stone Quarry. If we found a good spot to camp, we'd pack up the kayaks tomorrow morning and camp out on the island tomorrow night.
With a rough plan laid out, we carried our kayaks down to the launch and set off to see the islands. The conditions were lovely - almost no wind, plenty of sun, and just a tinge of coolness in the air. It didn't take long for Bubbles to spot a pod of porpoises feeding along our path.
We meandered around the islands with CC playing the role of navigator. She had marked up her chart to indicate which islands had camping possibilities. H also had a chart and did her best to keep track of the group's location.
Before lunch we stopped at one island to investigate the camping sites. CC & Bubbles surveyed the island while RB pulled muscles from the rocky shore. The rest of us just floated around enjoying the views.
For lunch we stopped on a long sand spit extending out from one of the many islands in the harbor. This island was occupied by a couple with a friendly, and hungry, black lab. The dog enjoyed our lunch stop with us. Bubbles made sure the dog didn't starve for food or attention.
After lunch, we headed across Merchant's Row to check out Harbor Island. According to CC's chart it had plenty of camp sites and we could have a fire. We found the island occupied by a few campers that were planning on leaving the next day. It offered plenty of excellent camp sites and great views. We also met a very nice couple from Jamestown who were sailing along the ME coast with their blind dog. They were using the island as a doggy park for the evening.
After seeing Harbor Island, we decided that we would return tomorrow for camping. It was well worth the effort of packing up the kayaks and lugging all of our waste out.
We chose a different, more direct, path back to the campground. We were all getting hungry and there was one more island camp site to check out.
Back at the campground, I decided to try my roll. I figured that I wouldn't get too cold and could just pop on some dry clothes. The water is that cold and I was only wearing a light rash guard... By the time I was back on dry land, had the kayaks safely pulled up above the tide line, and had unpacked the dry clothes, I was starting to feel dangerously cold. My typically addled mind was slipping into full fledged addledome. As quickly as possible, I scooped up dry clothes, ran to the shower room, and soaked in a very warm shower to reheat. It took a while in warm, dry clothes for me to feel completely normal.
For dinner, RB cooked up a spicy shrimp and tomato-sauce dish that he capped with steamed muscles.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Greenland Comprehensive

I'm a pretty much self-taught stick paddler. I've gotten pointers along the way from a variety of other stick paddlers, but never taken any formal instruction. Generally, I'm better at learning by doing, so formal instruction does not really suit me. Still, I've always wanted to get some refined instruction from the "pros".
A few weeks back, BH e-mailed me to tell me the Carl and Sam Ladd where hosting a Greenland course by Cheri Perry & Turner Wilson (kayakways LLC). Without a second thought, I jumped at the chance to register. I had been seriously thinking about attending the RI Rough Water Symposium over Labor Day weekend just for the chance to get some instruction from these two renowned Greenland-style paddlers. A one day course gave me the opportunity to check them out before dropping $500 and three days on the symposium. It also meant that if I ultimately decided against going to the symposium, I could still get some instruction.
For the 2nd time in two days, I drove down to Osprey Sea Kayak Adventures for training. I arrived to find BH and GF milling around as Carl waited to find out where the course was going to be located. Apparently, the original location, Sakonnet Pt., was besieged by tournament fishers. While waiting we moved the Q-Boat from the Osprey trailer to the roof H's car. (Mine was being packed up for our ME adventure.)
After driving to Fogland, we met the rest of the class. Cheri & Turner's classes are limited to eight people which means that everybody gets plenty of individual attention. In addition to BH, GF, one of Carl's assistants, and myself, there were three other paddlers from CT taking the course. With the exception of GF and Carl's assistant, we all had experience with using a stick so the class was pretty well matched in terms of experience. We all had similar goals for the course too: fine tuning our skills and hopefully learning some new tricks. I had hopes of learning a forward finishing roll and cementing my balance brace.
Before we got on the water, Cheri & Turner answered some general questions about traditional paddling. They talked about using traditional paddles for more then simply rolling. One interesting point that Turner made: while many paddlers find their way to stick paddling late in their careers as a remedy for aching joints, stick paddling requires a certain amount flexibility and athleticism to master. Some of the rolls and a good balance brace require a very loose back. It does mean you need to be a superstar to use a stick, it just means that like all things in life, one must be realistic about expectations. (I'm never going to be a master stick ninja, but I'll get by just fine.)
Unlike "normal" kayaking courses which start with learning wet exits, this course started off with a rolling demonstration. (Greenland paddlers didn't wet exit. They rolled or died.) For anyone who has not seen a Greenland-style rolling demonstration, I'll simply say "go see one!". They are impressive displays of grace and melding of paddler with kayak.
Since this was part of a course, Cheri moved through the demo slowly while Turner discussed how she moved the kayak. the movement comes from a combination of driving the water-side leg into the kayak's deck and balancing the body's buoyancy in relation to the kayak's buoyancy. Getting your shoulders as close to flat in the water with the torso perpendicular to the deck positions the body for maximum support from buoyancy. It also forces your leg into the proper position to provide left to the kayak.
For our rolling instruction, we were fitted into micro-kayaks. I'm not sure I could have wet exited from the one I was put into even if I tried. I felt like the jelly in my lunch - squeezed into a tiny space awaiting my inescapable doom. We were also fitted out for tuiliqs. A tuiliq is basically a neoprene sack that closes tightly around your face and seals around the cockpit rim. You don't where a PFD.
Once fully encased in our neoprene sacks and squeezed into the miniature kayaks, we hit the water. On the water, the purpose of the miniature kayaks became apparent - because of their tighter fit and lower volume they were easier to work. It was like learning to roll in a white water kayak (except these were much longer). The tuiliq also facilitated learning. It provides a ton of buoyancy and made moving around in the kayak much easier. I never realized how much a spray skirt, with its form fitting deck, restricts movement.
They started us off using float bags to practice getting into and out of the sculling/balance brace position. We laid onto the back deck and slid off into the water holding the bag. To get into the proper position I had to concentrate on lifting my forward shoulder. Lifting the one shoulder brought the back shoulder down forcing my shoulders roughly parallel to the water. To right the kayak was a simple of mater of using the stomach muscles to pull your torso onto the back deck while keeping the waterside knee engaged. Getting into and out of position required a sturdy lower back.
After working with the float, on both sides of the kayak, we moved to using paddles for sculling. The position is the same, but adding the paddle complicates things. In addition to remembering how to position the body, you have to remember how to hold and move the paddle. The trick I used to position myself with the float worked against me with the paddle. While it worked to keep my shoulders correctly placed, concentrating on lifting my forward shoulder caused me to lift the paddle into a useless angle.... I had to change from lifting the forward shoulder to pinning the paddle to my back shoulder. Once I got that straightened out, I was good to go.
After working the sculling, on both sides of the kayak, we moved onto rolling. The basic Greenland roll is an extended paddle sweep roll. When teaching the roll, Cheri and Turner purposely never talked about "hip snap". From what I gathered, if you do the Greenland roll properly, the kayak should be righted before you'd do a hip snap. The combination of leg pressure and your body's position relative to the kayak should cause the kayak to roll back underneath your body. With the micro 'yaks it certainly seemed pretty effortless. Carl's assistant was even doing hand rolls before lunch.
After I got the basic roll, on both sides of the kayak, Cheri showed me some exercises for working on a forward finishing storm roll. One involved the float bag: Lie face down in the water parallel to the kayak and sweep towards the bow while trying to drive your knee into your nose. (Sounds like fun huh?) After doing that a bunch of times, on both sides of the kayak, she gave me back the paddle and had me work on the actual roll. You hold the paddle out to the side of the kayak with one hand, roll away from the paddle while still holding onto the paddle, and after capsizing grab the paddle, palm down, with your free hand. Once you've got one hand in place, grab the paddle with the other hand and pull up on the paddle while trying to push your knee into your face. Amazingly, it worked most of the time. I had difficulty finding the paddle at times until Turner told me that I'd need to work on how I positioned the paddle based on the kayak I was using at the time. Because different kayaks have different hulls and paddlers have different arm lengths, what works for one paddler in one kayak is not always the best way to do things.
I was very impressed with the patience, skill, and humor Cheri & Turner used in their instruction. All of the participants were able to achieve a level of success and gained new skills/confidence.
During lunch Turner talked about paddles and the basic forward stroke. Traditional paddles, unlike the common Euro paddle, are meant to be fitted to the person using them. You can buy commercially made paddles that are very good, but the best ones are made to fit (either by a professional craftsman or by yourself). My new stick, that H bought me as a wedding gift, was made to fit by Wolfgang Brink (Wolfgang Brink Small Boats). Turner makes his own paddles and is experimenting with skinnier blades.
He also discussed the different materials that can be used for a wood paddle. Cedar is good for rolling or for light touring because it is light and buoyant. For rougher conditions, or bigger paddlers, he recommended using a sturdier wood like spruce. The cedar, as my experience with snapping paddles shows, is not sturdy enough for rough playing unless they are made extra chunky.
While discussing the forward stroke, one of the class members asked what the proper angle of entry was for the blade. Turner responded by saying that he found roughly 45 degrees worked for him, but that it will be different for each paddler. He spoke truth to the reality of each paddler, kayak, and paddle being unique. What works for one paddler, in one kayak, with one paddle will be off for the same paddler in a different kayak or with a different paddle. Getting it right takes some experimentation on the part of each paddler. The instructors can only offer a guide to finding the path.
The afternoon was dedicated to stroke practice. I pulled out the Q-Boat to get a feel for the doing the strokes in my own ride. Cheri & Turner had us keep changing paddle to get a feel for the differences. It was particularly rough for me the first time I had to switch. The Greenland sticks are subtly different than my Aleutian stick and they feel alien for the first few strokes. (It is not as odd as switching back to a Euro paddle.) I could feel the differences between the different Greenland paddles. Each had a distinct character that took a moment of adjustment. One would bite the water quicker. One had more buoyancy. One flexed a bit more.
It was great to get pointers on cleaning up my strokes and honing my kayak handling skills. BH found it very frustrating. He was in an unfamiliar kayak (an old school Nordkap) and working to adjust to that as well as different paddles. I heard Turner tell him at one point that he was using the paddle like it was a Euro blade - putting all of the effort into the stroke at the fetch and not the release. A Greenland stroke is all about the release. The blade should slip into the water like a wing and provide all of the power as it exits the water.
The day left me hungry to practice my strokes and work on my storm roll. Fortunately, I was racing home to begin a four day kayaking trip in ME with some of the RIC/KA crew.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Leadership Training (or something like that)

RIC/KA's sea kayaking contingent takes a middle of the road approach to trip leading. The MA based clubs have official trip leaders who take special training. ConnYak has moved to a leaderless trip format. RIC/KA has a group of paddlers, who are screened, that act as trip coordinators.
A coordinator is responsible for choosing the put-in, developing a float plan, and giving the pre-launch talk. Unlike a trip leader, a coordinator is not responsible for screening paddlers or making sure paddlers stick to the proposed plan. While the official line is that a coordinator is not responsible for the group, the coordinators take on the responsibilities of a trip leader. They work to keep the group together, make changes to the float plan based on the conditions and the group composition, and generally keep an eye out for trouble. It can be a lot of work.
This year RIC/KA organized a day of coordinator training with Carl Ladd. (The flat water coordinators spent a day working with Sam Ladd.) Despite my crazy summer schedule and my general lack of coordinating this year, I was invited to participate. However, I decided to leave the space open for another person because my schedule was crazy and I had already taken a coordinator's workshop a few years back.
At the charity event for Carl and Sam, it was brought to my, and H's, attention that my participation was not optional... It was assumed that I was going to attend regardless of how much I protested. So, I protested just enough... and then sheepishly accepted my fate - day of rough water instruction by one of the best coaches around. (Drat!)
I arrived to find the shop bustling. Carl, Sam, and their workers were trying to get three classes organized and open shop. PB, KB (no relation), Tony M., and Tim M. rolled in around the same time as I did. Bubbles showed up just after Tony M. and tried to merge the nose of his Pintail with the stern of Tony's kayak... CC, CM, and MK rounded out the sea kayaking contingency. The sea kayaking group was going down to the Westport River in the Osprey van, so we moved the kayaks onto Carl's trailer, filled out all the required waivers, and wondered how Carl was going to deal with the building wind.
At the put-in our concern grew... The wind was whipping up the river as was the current. Carl's plan was to paddle down to the mouth of the river to play in the currents and see if we could find any rough conditions in which to play. The wind was not only going to make paddling to the mouth a slog, it was also knocking down any waves that thought about poking up their heads. The howl of the wind also limited our ability to communicate on the water.
Undaunted, Carl, and his faithful assistant Hugh, led us out of the boat launch and towards the mouth of the river. As predicted, the paddle was a slog. As usually happens when a RIC/KA group paddles into a head wind, the group spread way out. The stronger paddlers in the group pushed hard to make progress against the wind and broke away from the pack. CC and Carl stopped to fix something and got blown back from the pack.
When we reached the bend, Carl pulled the group together for a teaching moment. He pointed out that it is common for people to get anxious and up their paddling cadence when paddling into the wind. This means that faster paddlers will paddle that much faster. The combination of anxiety and lowered communication increases the risk that a group will spread out. When that happens, the paddlers in that back of the pack become doubly anxious. They not only need to paddle harder to beat the wind, they also need to paddle harder to keep up with the rest of the pack... Their grip tightens up, their cadence picks up too much, their rotation suffers, their focus slips from the water to the paddle spin... "Capsizes rarely happen at the front of the pack."
We all had comments about how to address the situation, or rationalizations for why it happens. The only real point was that it happens and that as leaders, we need to be aware and work to keep the group together - particularly as conditions get tougher.
At the beach along the mouth of the river, Carl again had us group up and laid out a plan for playing while maintaining safety. From the beach, we could see how the wind and the currents were creating nice spots to play, where boat traffic was flowing, and where a capsized paddler would drift. Based on this input we determined the best place to put safeties. The safeties job was to keep an eye on the kayakers playing in the roughest conditions and be ready to rescue. As Carl pointed out, this did not mean the safeties couldn't also play. A few of the safety spots provided opportunities to play. Carl also pointed out that paddlers had to rotate who was a safety. Most important was the reminder that having safeties did NOT absolve the playing paddlers of responsibility for watching out for their compatriots.
As it turned out, rotating in and out of safety was a natural occurrence as we each got tired of banging around in the currents and small standing waves. Playing safety provided a nice chance to rest and recoup. It also provided a chance to watch how conditions were evolving.
We all got plenty of chances to test our mettle and do some rescuing. PB blew a roll and required a quick rescue. The rocks along the beach created some nice eddies and standing waves to play with. The current in the main channel was strong enough to ride. I dropped my paddle and required a stick recovery. Fortunately for me the Q-Boat is very stable in rough water, PB was quick to offer me a bow for stability, and Bubbles was quick to retrieve the stick. Can you say embarrassing....
After lunch, Carl showed us a few land drills for edging and sweep turns. One of Carl's big things is using your lower body to work the kayak. He like to tell people that when you are in a kayak, the hull becomes your legs. Use your core to move the hull like it is an extension of your body. Of course doing this requires that you edge the kayak. The more you edge the more control you get from your legs.
After lunch, we practiced kayak control drills and then headed home. Carl managed to educate us and entertain us despite the wind. There was a lot to process over fish and chips at Evelyn's.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

It's Been a LONG Time...

For some reason it has been hard to find time to get on the water this summer.... Life conspires to keep us wrapped up with other things.
After a several weeks of working on the house, being tangled up with work, and meeting non-kayak based social obligations, H & I finally managed to get back on the water for a paddle. We planned an unofficial show & go out of Gooseberry Point. The weather was perfect - sunny but not too warm. There wasn't much wind and the seas looked calm.
This meant that the parking lot at Gooseberry was packed when we showed up for a 10am meeting time. It was a good reminder about why summer paddles put-in at 9am. H & I kept our eyes peeled for parking spaces as the rest of the crew arrived. We were expecting three more cars - MA, Bubbles, and CC with Cam.
I really wanted to paddle over to the wreck off Gooseberry and Bubbles really wanted to head over to Allen's Pond. So, we decided to do both. We'd paddle over to the wreck first and then head to Allen's Pond for lunch.
I had a rough idea where the wreck was, but not an exact location. I knew that it was somewhere off Gooseberry heading towards the mouth of the Westport River. I figured we'd spot it as we paddled along. The rusting hulk is pretty large...

My lack of specificity gave Cam a chance to learn how his GPS worked. The screen showed a label that looked like it could be a wreck that was in the generally correct direction. Since nobody had a better idea, we followed the GPS and found a nice little rock garden....
From the rock garden, however, we could see the wreck. It is a pretty neat structure to paddle around. The ship (or possible barge) is split into two pieces that you can paddle between and around. The structure, and the rocks that caused the wreck, create some interesting water conditions.
Today the water was flat everywhere; so, after checking out the hulk we turned towards Allen's Pond.
At Allen's Pond we took an extended lunch break. H was glad to just have some time to lay on the sand. Bubbles played in the miniscule race at the mouth of the pond. CC and Cam explored the beach. MA did a little lounging and a little exploring. I did a little longing and a little playing.
After we were sufficiently lunched out, we headed back to the put-in.
Before getting off the water CC, Bubbles, and I did some rolling practice.
After a thoroughly enjoyable return to the water after a long, long absence, we all headed to the Head of the Westport for the Roll-Up and Rebuild event to support Carl and Sam Ladd's recovery from the fire that destroyed their inventory early in the season. The event was a great time. They had awesome food, good music, and a large crowd.