Saturday, September 29, 2007

The Evil Buoy at Old Stone Bridge

TM has been talking about doing extreme paddling all season and he had finally spotted the perfect conditions. The currents whipping through Old Stone Bridge in Tiverton are pretty strong and today was a Spring tide. The max ebb current was forecasted to run about 3.5knts at around 11:15am. Because it is an ebb tide we'd get washed into the clear water heading towards Fogland. Because it's fall, the boat traffic would be lessened. Because it is forecasted to be sunny, the temperature would be pleasant.
After fretting for weeks about posting the paddle or making it invite only, we posted it. The more the merrier. The posting made it clear that this was strictly to play in the currents and that paddlers were going to need to spot each other.
Getting to the paddle was an adventure. Sometimes I drive on automatic pilot and this morning was one of those times. I operate the egg with full conscious attention, but navigate it with habit. So, when the time came to continue on Rt. 128 or take Rt. 95 south, I choose Rt. 95 south like I was launching from the western shores of Naragansett Bay. The deja vu set in quickly. Fortunately, I realized my mistake before I came to Rt. 495 and could quickly transfer back to Rt. 24 south without back tracking.
I pulled into the little beach parking lot off of Rt. 77 fearing I was going to be late. However, only TM and PB had arrived and they were having a leisurely conversation off to the far side of the parking lot. Slowly, others drifted into the lot. There was BH, RB, RR, and BD.
It was great to see BD. He is a great guy and we don't get to see him much. He is positive addition to any paddle.
We scoped out the building race by the buoys and decided to let it build a little more before getting on the water. We didn't want to wear ourselves out before the action really started. So, we decided to get coffee and take our time getting our stuff together.
I could have used more time. Because we were not paddling far from our cars, I decided not to worry about bringing my lunch, my spare paddle, my extra water, and a few other things. The one thing I did want to make sure I had was my tow belt. If someone got in trouble, it would come in handy. So I put it around my waist while I was getting the rest of my kit sorted out. When I got ready to clip the end of the belt to my PFD, I discovered that the carabiniere that I used to clip onto other kayaks was gone. I scoured the beach to no avail. Fortunately, PB had a spare. (PB is always saving someones bacon.)
Finally, I got on the water and got a chance to check out the race. The current was moving at a good clip, but there were no standing waves of stature. The wind was blowing in the direction of the current and effectively flattening things out. There was still a good half hour before max flow and nobody seemed particularly worried about the lack of big waves.
We all took opportunities to practice eddy turns, ferry glides, and paddling against the currents. It was exhilarating and exhausting. The best place to practice eddy turns was on the west side of the channel near the green buoy. The green buoy is evil and draws kayaks straight towards it. Practicing the eddy turn required that you either turn very sharply to pass outside the buoy or wide to pass inside the buoy. Paddling in the race required constant attention because swells bubbled out at random. The evil buoy was always laying in wait for a paddler to make a mistake.
Fortunately, it was easy to get a rest. To either side of the channel that remains of Stone Bridge creates eddies and a nice back current. We could duck out of the race, or wash out the back of it, and easily paddle back up the edges. It also meant that a paddler was always out of the melee and acting as a safety valve for the others.

The best conditions of the morning were provided by a mini-ocean liner. It steamed up the channel and left a lumpy mess in its wake. We were waiting like gnats along the edge of the channel as it passed through. Immediately after the ship was clear we darted into the soup. For five minutes it was a mass of confused waves and moving water. A few other power boats wakes added fuel to the cauldron.
Once the cauldron calmed, we believed the show was over. To cool down, we paddled around Gould Island and headed back to the beach. Just off the shore RR practiced his rolling and balance bracing. I did a few rolls. BD headed home. The others did various practicing. It was early and the weather was just too nice to quit early.
The race sympathized with our plight and bubbled up once more. BH, RB, PB (no relation), and I headed back into the fray for round two. This time around the conditions were more consistent and the evil buoy was more active. It was swirling around and sucking kayaks into its orbit with malicious glee. Of course, the best conditions were positioned on the edge of the evil buoy's reach. BH was the first one to be chased by the evil buoy. Shortly after BH had escaped, I had to spin the stick at a furious pace to escape it. Then as I and PB were watching, the evil buoy slowly dragged BH into its maw. Fortunately, BH heard PB and I talking about him, looked behind him, and started paddling for his life before it was too late.
After getting our fill of fun, we headed back to beach for some lunch. As we were heading in, TM and RR decided to head out for a second chance. Sadly, the currents and waves had subsided. There was still some moving water for practicing eddy turns and ferry glides, but not enough for serious playing.
We stopped for a spot of coffee at Coastal Roasters before going back to our homes for the evening. I was definitely satiated. The conditions were not raucous, but they were enough to seriously challenge me. My muscles were tired, my confidence bolstered, and my mind well fed.

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