Thursday, October 11, 2007

Long Hauling

TM decided to take the week after Columbus Day off and wanted to do at least one long haul paddle. He was thinking of doing either Stone Bridge to Sakonnet Pt., around Jamestown, or both. I'm fortunate enough to work for a company with a liberal vacation package and to have a boss who encourages his workers to use their vacation time, so I was up for at least one of the options.
We decided to paddle out of the Bay Campus, cross over to Jamestown heading north, round the island, and cross back over to Bay Campus. It is a 20-plus mile endeavor. The day dawned rainy. While the rain ended as I drove to RI, the fog and drizzle persisted. At least my coworkers wouldn't suspect I was ditching work to frolic in the sun....
I misjudged the amount of traffic I'd hit and arrived late. TM was waiting patiently. He was surprised that I hadn't decided to bag the whole trip. I hadn't even considered bagging the trip. Kayaking is a wet sport. Drysuits keep the soak off the skin and keep you warm. Besides there is sticker on my desk at work that reads: "I'd rather be upside down in my kayak, than upright at my desk." Unless the conditions are dangerous, I'll take a day of paddling over a day of work.
We launched about 30 minutes later than planned and headed for the north end of Jamestown. The weather kept boat traffic to a minimum, so we were clear to take a long diagonal across the West Passage. Our course took us past the end of Dutch island before we reached the Jamestown coast. The long crossing seemed easy. There was only a mild wind and I couldn't feel much effect from the currents.
However, once we got in closer to the Jamestown shore the paddling got noticeably easier. The current out in the open was deceiving. With no discernible disturbance on the water, visibility suffering from a lack of contrast, and good conversation, I was totally oblivious to what the water was doing to my kayak. While it may not have seemed like much, the extra effort could have wreaked havoc on the pacing for a long paddle.
Paddling north along the western coast of Jamestown, we worked against a northwest wind. It was a nuisance. The wind was just enough to require occasional correcting strokes. I eventually just dropped my skeg to deal with the weather cocking. (For no logical or explainable reason, I loathe using my skeg.) TM's new Explorer's skeg had been removed over the weekend (it has failed twice in the few months he's owned it and the system was out for repair), so he was forced to keep correcting. Fortunately for him, the Explorer tracks well.
After rounding the northern point of Jamestown, the wind became more than a nuisance. It was now working on the Q-Boat's stern which is exceptionally susceptible to wind pressure. While the naked back deck of the Q-Boat doesn't offer much for the wind to grab, the spare paddle and the bilge pump stuck under the bungee cords do. The stern portion of the hull is flat and does not need much encouragement to slide around. Even a little well placed wind pressure will weather cock the kayak. I continually tried to adjust the skeg to neutralize the wind, but I just couldn't find the right amount of skeg to apply. It was frustrating and tiring. I wasn't looking forward to fighting this for 10 miles.
By the time we reached the Newport bridge, I was feeling the strain. My shoulders and obliques were starting to burn a bit. A urinary emergency was building, likely caused by the DD Great One I consumed on the drive down. I was beginning to get a bit fidgety. My stomach was starting to grumble. One foot was asleep. I was feeling wimpy considering we'd only been in the kayaks for three or so hours and had only covered about twelve miles.
To keep from mentally collapsing, I focused on reaching Jamestown center: restroom & lunch break. With a goal in site, the aches subsided and my mind calmed. Tim's presences helped immensely too. It is a great thing to have company.
Long haul paddling, like any endurance activity, is as much a mental challenge as it is a physical one. I cannot imagine how guys like Chris Duff manage to do major solo expeditions without going batty. Or just quitting.
Lunch at Jamestown was uneventful. We didn't want to linger too long lest we get too chilled. We also didn't want to waste too much day light. Crossing the west passage in the dark, after a twenty mile paddle, was not a happy thought.
After lunch, we continued south towards Beavertail. We were feeling better after eating and walking around for a bit. Sometimes, you need to get out of the cockpit for a spell. It also helped that the wind seemed to have settled down-the island was shielding us from it.
However, we were still feeling a little tired. The air was a little chillier and the fog was thickening.
Mackerel Cove was our point of no return--our safety hatch. We'd either turn into the cove, carry over the beach, and paddle home, or we'd continue around Beavertail. I was prepared to go around Beavertail, but wasn't sure it was the wisest path. TM was also postponing the decision.
We made it about half way across the mouth of the cove before TM made the call. We were turning into Mackerel Cove and taking the short-cut. The fog looked impenetrable at Beaver Tail. It was getting late in the day (3:30pm). We were not at our freshest.
While we wanted to complete the big loop, we'd be taking unnecessary risks. There was likely to be fishermen out at Beavertail. If the fog held, or got denser, we'd have no way to see them or judge the conditions. We'd also be risking the fog moving up the Bay and blinding us as we tried to cross back to Bay Campus. If we were fresh, we may have been more capable of dealing with the adverse conditions. Instead we were well-worn.
Kayaking is fun and a good escape from the pressures of life. It is not a good way to die--at least not yet. I've got too many other good things to want to take stupid risks.
So, we crossed over the beach watched by a couple of kids who were playing in the sand with their grandmother. While, many people would have given us strange looks (two men wearing funny suits and carrying funny looking boats out of the water on a rainy day is pretty strange) the kids waved and went back to playing. The grandmother waved and asked if we were enjoying ourselves. We were.
On our way back to Bay Campus, we lingered a while at the Dutch Island Lighthouse. They are doing some major restoration work on the it. It looks like they are going to put a new light in the tower. I'm psyched to have a new beacon shining over one of my favorite put-ins.
We made the short cross over the Bay Campus and closed our 2o mile loop. Despite the weary burn in my muscles, I had to do a roll before getting out. The roll was surprisingly easy.
It was definitely time to get out of the water. I good roll is a perfect way to finish a solid day of paddling.

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