Saturday, October 27, 2007

Return to Old Stone Bridge

The lunar cycle is 29.53059 days which means that every 30 days the moon is full. For those nautically inclined, it also means the bigger than average tides happen every 30 days. Big tides equals big tidal currents.
The full moon was Friday the 26th, so the currents at Old Stone Bridge promised to be fast on Saturday the 27th. I posted a practice session and bristled with anticipation for the chance to play. As Saturday approached, the weather aligned with the currents to ensure a maelstrom.
It was rainy and windy when I showed up to a flooded put-in. The channel was already looking lumpy and the real action was more than an hour away. I wandered up to Coastal Roasters to get a coffee and wait for the rest of the brave (foolish) paddlers to arrive.
We got an excellent turn-out. There were eight kayaks and eight paddlers. Three of the paddlers were new to the group (Gerry, Rich, and Larry) while the balance of the group were RICKA regulars (TM, PB, PH, CR). The pre-paddle preparations included a talk by TM about being ready to rescue people. It also included TM asking me if I was going to wear a helmet. I was not because I figured there were no rocks around to squish my mellon. TM's question, however, made me rethink my plan and I plopped the helmet on my mellon.
We spent a little time near the beach getting loosened up and sizing up the maelstrom in the channel. It was perfect. The winds was blowing up river as the water rushed down river. Waves boiled up at irregular intervals. The eddy lines were clear and full of whirlpools. The bad weather kept the fisherman to minimum so the area was clear of fishing lines.
It didn't take long before the group drifted into the thick of things. We spread out across area. TM wanted to spend time practicing boat handling skills in the eddies. The Ps wanted to dive right into the standing waves. I wanted to work on boat handling skills in the the maelstrom. The others all found there own spot to work. The area was dynamic. You could be sitting in relatively calm water just on the edge of the really big stuff. It was easy to slip out to get a quick breather. It was easy to slide along the side and slip into the really big stuff. There was a section in the center that would flatten out and offer a rest every so often.
It didn't take long before somebody went in the drink. Larry was playing near the evil bouy and flipped. I was in the center of the channel about 10 yards away, so I turned to make the rescue. I edge the Q-Boat a little too much, however, and also flipped. I set up my roll facing down stream and popped up with too much ease. I went over the other side. I set up my roll on the upstream side and came up just enough to get some air. It felt like the Poseidon grabbed the might stick and pulled it under. I pulled the loop and became a second swimmer.
Gerry was on me in a flash. He made sure I was OK, assessed the situation, and decided to tow me into calmer water before trying to put me back in the kayak. He latched on the Q-Boat's bow and starting towing the upside down kayak closer to the beach. It was a struggle because kayaks are not designed to travel through the water upside down... Once I was in calmer water, TM did a t-rescue to put me back in the kayak. The water was rough enough, the I managed to bounce my helmeted mellon off the Q-Boat's hull and TM's hull a few times.
Hardly shaken, I rushed back into the fray. Before long, I got to repay the rescue. Rich went over and I was in perfect position to rescue him. I decided that the water was calm enough to do the rescue. The boiling water and standing waves made it tough to get a good grip on Rich's kayak, but once I had it firmly in hand the rescue went smoothly. It was not text book, but it was successful.
Paddling in those types of conditions is tiring and we decided to take a break after about an hour. We drank some water, ate some snacks, and drained the water out of our cockpits. We also got a chuckle TM trying to squeeze into Rich's Nordkapp LV. TM's memory of the Devil Boat needed a little refreshing. Fortunately for all of us, TM couldn't squeeze in to the cockpit. We would have spent the rest of the morning pulling TM out of the drink...
After the break, I decided to spend some time experiencing the eddies. They were very clearly defined and pocked with whirlpools. I practiced crossing the eddy line without getting completely turned around. It was a challenge trying to figure out which combination of strokes and edging worked most effectively. I tried sweep strokes to counter the initial punch of on the bow, followed by a stern rudder to straighten out. It was only partially effective. I tried starting with a stern rudder, but that failed completely. The trouble was countering the initial punch to the bow. The force of the current rushing downstream wanted to push the bow downstream with and the stern of the Q-Boat offered little resistance. In the end, all that really seamed to work was finding the best angle to attack the line and digging the edge in to arrest the turn.
The whirlpools were fun. I'd stick my bow into the edge and it would push the nose around and a well timed switch to the other edge of the hull would keep the spin going through the full 360. The centers of the whirlpool looked mean. They dropped a good foot or two, and, while I'm sure they didn't have the force needed to suck the Q-Boat to a watery grave, I was not about to go sticking my bow in their to find out.
After playing in the eddies, I wanted to get back out into the boil. I slipped across the eddy line, go tmy bow pointed back up stream, and let the current suck me down between the cans. Once there I worked on holding my position and playing on the waves. It was fun until I found myself upside down. Disoriented, I set up my roll on the upstream side. It was like moving through gello and I barely got enough air to catch a breath. I slipped back under the water laying on the back deck. I felt a little panicky and just grabbed for the loop.
Needing to be rescued twice in one day didn't sit well with me. I felt like I hadn't kept my center when I most needed to keep it. After a short rest, I set out to practice rolling in the midst of the maelstrom. I was going to master the situation even if mastery meant swimming. I enlisted PB to spot me and headed back up the flow.
Along the way, PH hopped in front of me trying catch a few good rides. I found myself sitting next to him in one of the random calm spots until the boiling started. PH went over and tried to roll. Before I could get over to him, a wave picked me up and shot me forward. Fortunately, PB and several of the other paddlers were right behind us.
A smart paddler would have waited for his support to regroup before attempting to roll in conditions that had resulted in two previous rescues. I'm not always smart. I flipped myself over, made sure I set up downstream, and rolled upright. Not happy with just one, I did it again. And again. Then I set up parallel to the current and rolled up. Still not satisfied, I set up facing upstream and struggled back upright. To prove to myself that it was not a fluke, I went over again and set up facing upstream. When I finished the roll with my head still in the water, I felt the panic start and let it wash through me. Then I switched sides and rolled into the sweet air.
It was time to end the madness and land the kayak. I had regained my confidence. I had pushed my luck enough. I was exhausted. Everyone else was heading in as well.
We'd only been on the water for three hours, according PB's GPS, we'd only traveled about four miles, and we'd gained a incalculable amounts of experience. Getting a feel for confusing conditions, waves, and currents in a controlled area with a good group is a rare pleasure. The rescues made the day even better. Knowing that the others in the group can catch you if you fall boosts your confidence to push the limits and grow.

No comments:

Post a Comment