Sunday, September 30, 2007

The Four Amigos

The effects of a full moon on currents last for days, so we had a second opportunity to muck about in some serious currents. According to NOAA the mouth of the Westport River promised some scary fun. The river always runs fast, but today the river promised to race. The forecasted winds promised to conspire to stand up some waves.
Today was also the day for Carleen's fall pot-luck paddle. A level 2 and a level 3 paddle were planned.
H and five others joined KB on the level 2 trip. He took them up river to avoid the currents at the mouth. All of the participants raved about the paddle, KB's knowledge of the area, and the scenery. In addition, KB treated the participants to a preview of his Toastmaster's speech.
After JS showed TM and I a nice technique for eddy hopping, I along with TM, PB, BH, JS, JS, MK, and CMc headed towards the mouth for the level 3 paddle. When we left the dock, there was no plan, but I suspected that the group would split at the mouth. Some of us wanted to play and others were looking for a typical level 3 experience.
At the mouth of the river, CMc decided that the plan was to head east around Gooseberry Pt. and portage across East Beach Road which would put us back in the River. It was a good plan, if one was looking for a relaxing day paddle with a bit of ocean swells. JS, JS, MK, and CMc followed the plan and paddled out of the mouth.
The four amigos decided that it would be better to wait and see what peak flow would offer.We had a couple of hours before it completed the change and ramped itself up into full furry. To while away the hours, we played in the eddies that the changing current stirred up. When the eddies died down, we paddled around the knubble and played on the western edge of the mouth. There were a few rock clusters that offered interesting play. We also took a long, leisurely lunch on the beach to recoup any spent energy. The melee would require all of our paddling power.
With a half hour to go before max flow, we headed back onto the water. It was a short paddle back to the mouth of the river and, we hoped, some serious action.
When we rounded the corner, we came face to face with a real tidal race. There was a clearly defined eddy along the knubble on the south side of the mouth. Just beyond the eddy, towards the center of the channel, water was pushing out of the river in a lumpy, powerful flow. Just what the doctor ordered.
After a brief review of the scene, we jumped in to the fray. Paddling against the flow was hard work until you found a wave to surf. I'd spin the stick like a mad pinwheel and barely make headway. Then I'd catch a wave and ride it forward, against the current for several yards.
On many occasions the waves were so powerful and so close together that the Q-Boat's bow would get driven into the wave in front of it. There would be woosh sound and a slight feeling of slowing down, like when an elevator slows down before stopping, and the bow would completely submerge. the ride wouldn't end because there was a enough power in the water to drive the Q-Boat through the wave and the bow would emerge on the other side.
After each run, we'd slip into the eddy, paddle up to the beach behind the knubble and rest a bit in the calm water. I made the mistake of thinking that the water was calm because it was not moving very fast. Believing that I was in still water, I decided to take off my paddle jacket without heading into the beach. I took off my helmet, my (prescription) sun glasses, and my watch and placed them in a pile on the deck. Then I proceeded to pull off my top. After I got my head out of the top, and still had my hands firmly trapped inside of the top, I realized that I was rapidly being sucked out into the melee. Fortunately, there was a rock in my path that I could grab onto with my one free hand and yell for help. TM, PB, and BH moved quickly to stop my motion and give me the time to get disentangled from my top. They also scooped up the gear that slid off my deck while I clung to the rock. Sadly, the watch and sun glasses sank. Happily though I was safely out of my top and back in position to paddle in the melee again.
It only took about an hour to completely wear ourselves out. There was very little boat traffic to get in our way and the Harbor Master seemed content to let us be, so our fun was largely uninterrupted. Nobody tried rolling in the thick of it. Nobody needed to roll in the thick of it. We each took the opportunity to push the envelope knowing that the others would be right there if needed.
One of the great things about paddling with a group on a consistent basis is the comfort level that develops among the paddlers. I've paddled with TM, PB, and BH enough to know what there skill levels are, what there comfort levels are, and what they are likely to do in most situations. That knowledge makes me much more comfortable pushing my limits when they are around. It also makes paddling that much more fun.
After the paddle we all headed to CMc's house for the pot luck dinner. We were joined by several people who didn't paddle today. It was a perfect way to end an excellent paddle.

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