Wednesday, December 26, 2007

A Lovely Ending

December has been a tough month for me in terms of getting on the water. The Q-Boat was in the shop for a few minor repairs (new deck lines, repairing a section of shoddy seam tapping, and one more attempt to fix the leaky back hatch). It being the holiday season, H and I had a number of visiting commitments that fell on weekends.
Today was the only day that looked clear. I needed to take a number of vacation days from work (use them or loose them policy) and one of H's friends was up visiting. I was clear and desperate to get on the water. I sent out e-mails trying to gauge interest and got a few responses. When I tried to firm up plans, I got silence. I was not surprised since it was Christmas Eve. I kept checking to see if anyone was going to join me.
As the hours passed, I started to get desperate and started thinking about doing a solo trip. I generally avoid solo trips for safety reasons - even in the warm weather - but I wanted to paddle. I could have taken the kayak up to Walden Pond (if it wasn't iced over and the parking lot was plowed), I could have found a local river to paddle, or I could plot out a very conservative paddle in upper Narragansett Bay. Or I would most likely listen to my sensible self and stay safely on dry land.
Christmas morning I saw CR and her husband's post that they would be paddling out of West Island in Fairhaven, MA on the 26th. I would be able to paddle!! Then I got an e-mail from PB asking if we should join CR. Melancholy turned to joy. I couldn't remember paddling in the area, but any time on the water was going to be great.
I got directions and set out early in the morning. As I neared the put-in the roads looked familiar, but a lot of back roads near water look familiar after awhile. PB was convinced that I had paddled here last year, but I was still drawing a blank.
The forecast was for a partly cloudy day with temps in the low 40s. It was a perfect day for winter paddling. PB, CR, and I set out into flat conditions with minimal winds. There was a bit of current, but it was not enough to be a factor. It was perfect for waking up my dormant paddle mind.
Slowly I began finding the rhythm of the blades in the water. I found the right angle of the stick and the right places to apply the power. My balance settled into place. The behavior of the Q-Boat started to feel familiar. After about a half-hour I was the groove. My muscles were achy from disuse, but they were happy.
The original plan was to circumnavigate West Island, but PB wanted to check out Ram Island. CR, who had the chart, altered our course accordingly.
The water was spotted with buoys and birds. There were pods of ducks that CR thought were eiders floating on the water.

Within a mile we were spotting seals. Then we paddled into the aquaculture pens and we were surrounded by seals. The seals kept a distance, but did not look shy. They would follow behind our kayaks. We paddled backwards for a bit to try and catch glimpses of them. CR sang to the seals which they seemed to like.
We lunched on Mattapoisett Neck. It was a feast of PB&J, chicken soup, tea, Christmas treats, and H's corn bread. The sun kept us from getting too chilled, so we didn't rush.
From the beach we could see Seal Island. It is a bunch of rocks covered with seals.
After lunch we plotted our return trip so that we would not retrace our steps and keep a safe distance from Seal Island. The course took us about a 1/4 mile north of Seal island. As we passed by, the seals came along and checked us out. This batch of seals got even closer than the seals in the morning.
As we approached West Island we spotted more eiders. There was also a couple of buffel heads. The buffel heads were easy to spot because they stayed clear of the main group and because of the large white spot on the back of the male's head.
As we rounded the eastern point of West Island we spotted a seal hauled out on the rocks. We changed course to give it a wide berth and not disturb it. A little latter we were surprised by another seal that was hauled out on a random rock. We did our best to give it plenty of room. Fortunately, the seal didn't appeared to be bothered by our presence.
Back at the put-in, I tried a few rolls. I don't enjoy dunking myself in 40 degree water, but I feel like I must. A roll is a delicate thing and I think it is important to practice it at least once a paddle - especially in the winter.
The paddle was just what the doctor ordered. We had a beautiful winter day in MA. The distance was enough to make me feel it, but not enough to make me sore for days. The conditions were boring, but that is fine for a winter paddle. The seals made for interesting viewing. And the company was - as always - excellent.
Upon returning home, I got an e-mail from PB with a link to my blog entry about paddling West Island last year....
Here's looking forward to some great paddling in '08.

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