Saturday, September 15, 2007

Rocks, Currents, and Risky Weather

I needed a kayaking fix and intended to get it despite the poor forecast. Today was the only break in my schedule for what seemed like weeks. The forecast was for diminishing rain and increasing winds. The afternoon was forecasted to be particularly brutal with 30knt winds. I figured the icky weather would keep the power boaters at home, kayaking is a wet sport, and we'd be off the water before the wind really started to howl.
I pulled into the parking lot at Fort Wetherill to find two surprises. One was that the parking lot was full of divers - some taking up spaces just for their gear. The other, much more pleasant, surprise was that RB was waiting to paddle. I hadn't seen RB in ages (at least since before the wedding). He was his usual gruff and chipper self. Apparently work had been keeping him way too busy, so he took a "sick" day to paddle.
In short order the rest of the gang arrived: TM, CC, BH, PH, and RR. It looked like a good crew for some rough stuff.
The plan, or what I was passing off as a plan, was to head over toward Bretton Reef and look for rocks and surf. I was thinking that we could continue on towards King's beach for lunch and then head back. However, I'm pretty laissez faire when it comes to planning show & go trips. I just wanted to get out and have some fun without having too much responsibility.
For the fourth paddle in a row, I launched with a helmet firmly on my head. I didn't want to find fun and have to fish my helmet out of a hatch before I could play. Not everybody followed my logic. When we passed Castle Hill and found the rocks, there was a lot of hatches being fished through.
With helmets in place we all found our way into various nooks and crannies. After his stint at the rough water symposium, PH was looking very confident in his skills and his plastic hull. RR was also making some impressive looking maneuvers. BH was, as usual, in the thick of it all.
I was feeling a little cautious today. I wasn't avoiding trouble, but I was being picky about the trouble into which I was willing to venture. It may be the knowledge that I cannot afford major repairs to the Q-Boat. It may be an aversion to putting dings in my new stick. It may be that I haven't been feeling at the top of my game this season. It may also just be that I'm getting smarter.
As we approached Bretton Reef it looked like a thick fog, or a nasty rain, was heading our way. RB and TM both suggested heading back towards the put-in. It would be best to make the crossing from Castle Hill to Fort Wetherill while we had good visibility and before the winds really started howling.
Since their wasn't much surf at Bretton Reef, it was easy to get the group to turn around. I suspect that if there had been surf, certain surf addicts may have more difficult to redirect.
The paddle back to Castle Hill was mostly uneventful. We all took opportunities to play in the rocks some more. PH took some risks and had some nice rides. Then he decided to follow BH....
BH caught a sweet ride through some nasty looking rocks. It looked liked like he even meant to do it. PH decided to follow him. I think it was a wise Carl Ladd who said it was not a good idea to blindly follow a paddlers path through the rocks. This warning should be double heeded when it comes to following BH.
PH caught a wave and started out in excellent form. Then the back of his kayak got lifted a bit too high and he breached a bit too far. He gave his roll several good tries, but eventually popped out of the cockpit.
CC told me to do a toggle rescue, but I had no clue what she was talking about. Instead, I hooked my tow line up to PH's kayak and towed the kayak, with PH, off the rocks. While I held them off the rocks, BH put PH (no relation) back into his kayak. The only real issue was getting the tow line moved from PH's bow onto BH's bow. It's best to have the rescuer's kayak under tow during a rescue. I'm not sure what the issue was because holding a rescue on a tow line in surf is hard work.
After we got everything sorted out, we continued on our way. CC explained a toggle rescue to me and it sounded like a much better option than the tow rescue. In a toggle rescue the first kayaker into the rescue has the victim wrap their legs around the rescue kayak while still holding onto their kayak. The rescuer would then paddle the victim and their kayak out of danger. It sounds faster than deploying a tow line, would allow the rescuer to have better view of the victim, and would get the victim out of the water a bit.
After the work of towing, I was famished and decided that we would eat at the Castle Hill Coast Guard station. I was willing to gamble that the fog was not going to materialize. The wind was going to pick up and dissipate any fog.
Like a fool, I decided that the high docks at the Coast Guard station would make a perfect place to practice getting out my kayak onto the docks at the Barking Crab. I nearly face planted on the dock a few times, nearly back flopped into the water several times, and nearly flipped myself under the kayak several times before managing to wiggle myself onto the dock.
Naturally, it started to mist and get grayer as we sat down for lunch under the trees. However, just over the hill the sky was clearing and the winds were building. Before we finished eating and preparing to leave, the sky was a clear, sunny blue.
Instead of learning from my fumbling effort to get out of the Q-Boat using the dock, I decided I could enter the cockpit from the high dock. I somehow managed to slither into the cockpit without falling face first into the oily water or losing the kayak. It wasn't pretty though.
From the Castle Hill Coast Guard station, we crossed over to Jamestown. Instead of heading straight back into Fort Wetherill, we decided to check out the dumplings. The current was supposed to be at max, nobody was really ready to call it a day, and the winds would blow us towards Fort Wetherill from the dumplings. We also figured that since the currents were not forecasted to be strong and the wind was blowing the same direction as the tides, there would be nothing happening at the dumplings.
We were wrong. The dumplings had plenty of action. The current was creating a lot of small waves and clearly defined eddies. Without really thinking about what we were doing, all of us headed into the melee. Some of us, I'm sure, were careful to keep an eye out for our fellow paddlers. There were plenty of times, however, when one of us was too far away from any support to be easily rescued. It would have been safer if we had communicated a plan before heading into the rough water. That way we could each have had an opportunity to push the envelope or try some skills outside of the comfort zone.
After we had our fill, we headed back into Fort Wetherill. It was a good paddle and gave me a much needed opportunity to burn off some of the cruft that builds up when I don't get on the water. It also provided me a number of new things to ponder. Kayaking is as much a mental thing as it is a physical thing.

1 comment:

  1. It looks like I didn't quite get the toggle tow description right.

    From Carole:
    The toggle tow is best used when the person in the water is alert and uninjured and only needs to be towed a short distance away from rocks or breaking waves. The paddler being rescued grasps the bow toggle of their boat and either the bow or stern toggle of the rescue boat and wraps their legs around their own boat (not the rescuers boat). They also hold onto their paddle. (I guess the person being rescued could wrap their legs around the rescue boat but I think it would be dangerous in rough water to have your head so close to a bobbing boat with no one in it or on it.) When going in for the rescue, the rescuer decides whether s/he wants to go in bow or stern first. The advantage of bow first is that during the tow, the rescuer can see the person in the water. The advantage of going in stern first is that the rescuer can see the waves coming at them as they paddle out. It's also easier for most people to paddle forward rather than backward - and towing someone in the water with their weight on their boat's bow makes for a very strenuous paddle