Sunday, May 25, 2008

Safety Practice

Today was the annual RIC/KA safety practice. It is usually a great experience and a fun way to practice the skills you never want to need.
This year, however, was a little different. TM usually leads the session from the water and is an active participant. Sadly, he had a landscaping lumbar incident and was sidelined. Instead of directing things from the water, he was attempting to direct things from the safety of shore.
At first, I was unsure how this was going to work out. I think TM was uncertain also. Unsurprisingly, it went very well. TM had us run through the typical rescues using other paddlers as dummies. We did the traditional T-rescue, demoed an all in rescue, and practiced towing.
For boat control, TM had us practice edging by using a few different drills. My favorite is to lean the boat on edge and practice circling using just sweep strokes and using the return as a low brace.
After the formal practice a few of us headed out through the breach way to see what was happening on the ocean. It was pretty tame, but we did manage to find a few rocks to dodge. We also found some opportunities to roll.
When we reentered the breach way the current was beginning to run. I played for a little bit, but it was late. People wanted to head to the post-paddle pot luck.
CR hosted another fantastic pot luck. There was plenty of delicious food. CR's house, the yard in particular, is incredible. She took us on a tour as she gave away plants. Several people were glad to have them to spruce up their landscapes.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Maine Bunk House Adventure

As winter settled in those many months ago, a group of desperate paddlers starting planning adventures for the following season. One of the adventures was to spend a weekend at the AMC's Knubble Bay hut and do some late Spring paddling on the Maine coast. As winter settled in and started turning into early Spring, the Knubble Bay trip started to take shape. We made reservations for the hut, assembled a list of participants, developed a budget, and organized cooking details. What I thought was going to be a mid-sized group of core RIC/KA paddlers turned into a group of 19 paddlers. By the day of the trip, the group had shrunk to 14.
I do better in smaller groups and I was a little concerned about how I'd do being in a small house with such a large group. I was also nervous about how the sleeping arrangements would work; it is not a large house. Making me even more concerned was the talk of paddling to Hell's Gate, which is a great place to play in strong currents just outside of Bath. In mid-May the water in Maine is still cold, big groups are hard to manage, I hadn't been paddling much, I was unfamiliar with a number of the people on the mailing list, and I was not convinced that I would listen to the little voice in my head in the heat of the moment. Basically, I was being a nervous nelly.
Last week the forecast for the weekend looked abysmal for a paddling weekend in Maine. When we finished packing the car on Thursday night, and both predicted a 90% chance of rain in Bath for Saturday. Friday at lunch the forecast had not changed. H and I were considering just staying home. Fortunately, we decided to take a chance and got in the car.
The drive up was long. We started off by sitting in traffic - and rain - for an hour. We, however, were not the last to arrive. That honor fell to J&BD.
The Knubble Bay hut is relatively new facility. It has solar powered lighting, propane cooking and refrigeration, and two composting toilets. However, there is no running water. The water must be pumped out of the well.
For sleeping there are plenty of bunks on the 2nd floor and two futons on the 1st floor. BH and MO decided to sleep outside. Finding a comfortable place to sleep was not a problem.
Saturday dawned grey and overcast. Fortunately, the breakfast crew prepared plenty of coffee, eggs, fruit, and oatmeal squares to perk up the group before we donned our kayaking gear. It was a drysuit day. Naturally, there was plenty of discussion about exactly how much polypro and fleece to wear under the drysuit. The air was in the 50's and the water was in the 40's, so I choose to wear two long-sleeve polypro shirts on top and a single layer of long johns on bottom. I wanted to make sure I'd have some thermal barrier between me and the drysuit if I took a spill. However, I did not want to be so warm that I soaked the inner layers with sweat.
The plan was to paddle down the coast about 7 miles to Reid State Park. Given the predominantly calm conditions, it was going to be a relaxing paddle. Feelings among the group varied. A few people were hoping for a little more action. They consoled themselves with the knowledge that there are plenty of rocky ledges along the route.
As expected the paddle to the park was uneventful. The overcast sky held back the rain and the steely gray skies highlighted the craggy beauty of this area. The rocky shoreline is flush with evergreens and a growing population of ostentatious houses. People spotted seals, a dolphin, and Ospreys along the way.

As we pulled into Reid State Park, the rain broke through the clouds for a short shower. We ate lunch in the pavilion to stay dry. Once the skies cleared people started wandering around the park. The beach on the ocean side of the park is a classic New England beach. The wooded paths almost made you forget the roads that were just on the other side of the trees.
On the rocks we all spotted what appeared to be a lesson plan on tidal zone biology and a sheet of paper. We all wondered what had happened to the person who who had left this behind. Where they swept out with the tide? Were they in the bathroom? Was this left out intentionally so that people could doodle on the pad and learn from the accompanying laminated chart?
Before we could figure it out, we got distracted by BH paddling up into a small inlet where the water was gushing through a bridge opening. He was looking to play in the raging current. Before long, BH was joined by RB, MO, CC, and RS. I don't think anyone made it into the current, but they sure gave it an old college try.
Seeing people on the water made me a little antsy, so I headed back to beach and suited up for paddling. By the time I was ready to launch, CC and RB had paddled back to the beach. BH had gone missing and they were looking for him. We paddled out the big rocky outcropping he said he was going to explore. No luck. We started paddling over to where MO and RS were last seen. No Luck. As CC and I started around the back of the rocky outcropping one more time, RB found the missing paddlers.
They were checking out the one spot in the area with any action.
On the back side of a large rock there was a nice chasm and at its opening one of the points has a shallow rock sitting a kayak's width off of it. The swells were just big enough to generate some splash and the constricted space made maneuvering tricky. During the summer, with a helmet, it was something I would have jumped into without thought....
MO played in the slot for a while. He is a master boat handler and made it look easy. RB, after putting on his helmet, took Sparkles in for her maiden encounter with the rocks. Some good size waves pushed through while he was in the hole, but RB looked good and Sparkles never seemed to scrape the rocks. Then it was time for another person to jump in.... I was in position, I wanted to play, I knew I could handle the conditions, I wasn't wearing a helmet.... I jumped right in the slot and took a few good sized swells. It was exhilarating.

Then everyone went in for seconds. MO took a huge wave that nearly stranded him on the rock, but he expertly recovered. RB and I also had bigger waves during our second round in the rocks.
I also took the opportunity to take the Q-Boat into the chasm near the rocks. It was getting some crashing swells at the end that looked like fun. Once I had nosed into the chasm and played a little, I needed to get back out. Instead of back paddling out into a crowded area where others were playing in the rocks and nobody could maneuver well, I tried to spin the Q-Boat around and paddle out forward. The Q-Boat is 18' long and the chasm was maybe 18' wide when the water was at its highest. No matter how agile I find the Q-Boat to be, she still needs a certain amount of space to spin around. I didn't really have the space and the water was not flat. Somehow, I made it around and back to the group without any damage to the Q-Boat or my skull.
After we finished playing in the rocks, the group turned back to the lodge. The sun burned through the clouds and the sky turned a brilliant blue. We were totally lucking out in terms of the weather.
The sun was both a blessing and a curse. We were paddling against a slight current and there was no wind. People starting getting a little warm in their drysuits. Some people took breaks to do Eskimo cooling, some made their own wind by paddling at speed, others practiced their rolls. It was, for the most part, a leisurely paddle back.
At the intersection of Sheepscot Bay/Booth Bay and Knubble Bay, we spotted a pod of seals and stopped to check them out. We floated around for a bit and watched them. They swam around and watched us. It was a fun break and allowed people to catch their breath.
Before getting off the water, I took the opportunity to practice my rolls. They felt good. The water is still too cold for me to do more than a few regular sweep rolls. I'm hoping the water will warm-up soon and I can spend more time working on stupid rolling tricks.
For dinner, MO and RB provided us with a hearty meal consisting of a chorizo and pasta dish and a chicken curry dish. The dinner was capped off with H's knock-you-naked-bars.
The evening entertainment consisted of pleasant conversation and various activities. H and I spent some quiet time enjoying the clear night and the view of the bay in the moonlight. RB provided some musical entertainment. People slowly drifted off to sleep worn out and well fed.
On Sunday, most of the group planned a short paddle to Hell's Gate. It was a six mile round trip and they planned to be back by 1pm. H wanted to get home early and told me I could paddle if I wanted. Knowing how "short" paddles with an interesting water feature along the way easily morph, I decided it was best to skip the paddle. The possible fun was not equivalent to the certain guilt.
It was all good though. The Saturday paddle was a perfect early season paddle. And I didn't have to hose our gear out in the dark while dreading work on Monday.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

A Little Patience

H wanted to get on the water this weekend. We are heading to Maine for a kayaking trip next weekend, and she wanted to get on the water at least once before then. She bought a whole new cold water kit - a Koktat dry top and dry pants.
There was a scheduled trip leaving out of Sakonnet Point on Saturday, but H didn't think that would be a good first paddle. Sakonnet point can get dicy and the trip was rated a level 3. She wanted something tamer, so we were thinking about Narrow River on Saturday. It is sheltered, flat, and pretty.
By Wednesday, the forecast for the weekend was looking bleak. Saturday was going to be windy and wet. Sunday was looking like the day to paddle. PB sent out an e-mail to see if we were interested in a Sunday paddle, but made it clear he would rather not paddle Narrow River. He wanted something tame, but not flat.
Since Sunday was Mother's Day, H and I had to reschedule lunch with her Mom if we wanted to paddle. Fortunately, H's Mom is a very understanding lady and agreed to have Mother's Day on Saturday, so we could kayak on Sunday.
We decided on paddling from Oakland Beach in West Warwick to Patience Island. On the chart it looked like an easy paddle in Upper Narragansett Bay. The beginning of the paddle is sheltered, the middle of the paddle is a short crossing, and the last stretch is along the coasts of Prudence and Patience. All told, it is about an 8 mile round trip.
The weather was great for an early summer paddle. There was a little chill in the air, but the sun was bright. I was looking forward to a paddle.
We were a little late getting on the road. H and I are a little rusty when it comes to loading both sets of gear and both kayaks on the egg. It has been months since we did it. Getting my act together and one kayak on the egg is not always easy. Adding another set of gear, and another person, into the mix is exponentially harder - at least the first time.
Getting to the launch was also harder than we anticipated. We had directions to Oakland Beach - not the boat ramp. The area near the beach, and the boat ramp, is a morass of little one way streets. After 15 frustrating minutes, we finally found the boat ramp where PB was waiting.
Fortunately, getting the kayaks off of the cars and ready to paddle was smooth and quick. We had the normal, for this time of year, debate about how many layers to wear under the drysuit. We opted for one layer of fleece on the bottom and two layers on top - better to be too warm than too cool. H, who is a complete newbie to dry-clothes followed with what PB and I said.
Being on the water felt good. It was a little warmer than last weeks cloudy paddle on the Salt Pond.
H looked good in her dry-clothes and kayak. She said she felt good.
As we paddled out of the harbor and started to make the crossing, the conversation drifted to politics. It is always interesting to hear other people's thought on our current political situation.
H, who isn't really into politics, started to drift off. Partially, this was because she was focusing on her stroke. Partially, it was because the conditions on the Bay were a little bumpy. The conditions were far from threatening, but they did require a little attention. PB and I enjoyed the slight action. H enjoyed it too, but she needed a little time to get her sea legs back after the long winter.
We took a languid lunch on the beach at Patience. It was a perfect day for relaxing. The sun was warm, the air cool, and the breeze minimal.
After an hour, we slowly got ourselves sealed back up in our suits and on the water. PB and I wanted to give our rolls a try before heading back to the put-in. PB did a few flawless rolls. Then I, with a touch of trepidation, gave rolling a try. It was ugly. I missed the first attempt because I tried pulling myself up instead of doing a sweep. The second attempt was successful. It was still ugly, but I could breath air at the end.
As we paddled back to the put-in the wind starting building. There were a few times where I needed to play with my skeg to trim the weather cocking. By the time we were in the harbor, the channel in the Bay was spotted with white caps.
Back at the put-in PB wanted to try a few more rolls and a self-rescue. He did a few good rolls. His paddle float rescue looked easy despite his boots coming off. Sadly, he ended the day swimming.
I was determined to get past my rolling slump. I did two on-side rolls that felt excellent. I took my time setting up under the kayak and focused on sweeping the blade. It is amazing how easy a roll is when it is done correctly. Then I did the same on my off-side. A little patience was all it took to get my roll working again.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Group Paddling Creed

Now that the scheduled sea kayaking season has started off, it is time to start thinking about paddling in larger and more free forming groups. Big groups, groups that are not assembled from a close knit group of friends, groups that essentially show up on a shore for a paddle can be unruly and occasionally frustrating. I know I personally can struggle with group dynamics when groups get large.
A post by Wayne Horodowich called Group Paddling Creed has always helped me keep perspective.
After listing a number of common frustrations, he starts the creed off:

When I choose to paddle in a group I realize I have a certain responsibility to the group. I understand the group members can be on the paddle for different reasons. Some of my personal desires and freedoms may take second place to the needs of the group.

The creed is a list of respectful behaviors that members of a group can follow.
When I think about dashing off to play in some particularly fun water, I think about the creed. When considering sleeping for that extra twenty minutes the morning of the paddle, I think about the creed. When I get particularly frustrated when on a paddle, I think of the creed.
It is the little things that can make paddling in a large, diverse group be a fun experience.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Should I Stay or Should I Go

This was the first weekend of scheduled paddles for RIC/KA sea kayaking. It was a number of weeks since I last paddled. Work is getting crazy busy. I was looking forward to a relaxing paddle and there was a perfect salt pond paddle on the docket.
Unfortunately, the weather scheduled showers....
Last night, I called TM to see if he was going to cancel. He was also feeling the need for paddle. If the weather wasn't going to be totally miserable, he was going to paddle. I checked the forecast... 100% chance of showers. I set the alarm...
When I got up this morning, I checked the weather on the computer... 100% chance of rain until early afternoon. I checked the radar... patches of rain. I called TM... His wife sounded skeptical, but he was optimistic.
I started getting my stuff together. I dressed in doubles layers of polypro, packed some food, gathered my electronics, and packed up some dry clothes.
H looked on in a state of disbelief. She kept asking if I was really going to drive to the put-in, if I really needed to paddle bad enough to endure the rain, if I knew how much gas cost...
Then I went outside to pack up the car. It was gray and damp, but not raining. Once I had the my stuff in the egg, H helped me re-attach the roof racks and load the Q-Boat.
Then it started to rain. As I drove south, the rain got worse. By the time I was approaching Providence, I could barely see because it was raining so hard. I began doubting the wisdom of my choice, but drove on.
As I passed through Providence, the rain began to thin out. As I approached the Route 4 turn-off, it was just misting. By the time I pulled off of Route 1 and into Marina Park, the rain had abated.
TM and RR were waiting in TM's truck. We got the kayaks off the cars and down to the water. I donned my drysuit. We packed our gear into the kayaks.
The sky didn't leak once. It was pleasantly cool. The clouds get the sky gray.
We took our time paddling around the salt pond. We talked about politics, cars, paddling, retirement... It was nice to get the blades swinging again. Being outside was far better than the alternative.
I took a little time to warm up, but once I was warm paddling felt good. The currents and the wind were pushing the Q-Boat around, so I got plenty of opportunities to practice my boat control.
By the time we got back to the put-in, the sun was starting to burn through the clouds. The air was getting warmer. The late afternoon was shaping up to be a nice May day.
RR and I decided to practice our rolls. RR's rolls, sculling, and balance brace looked flawless. My roll felt much better than it had the last time I practiced. After one roll on each side, I decided to quit while I was ahead.
TM was not so keen on getting wet. The water was pretty cold, and he suspected that the gaskets on his drysuit may be leaky.
After we transferred our gear back to the cars, TM and I enjoyed the sun and some coffee on the Java Madness deck. (Have I mentioned how much I like Java Madness...).
Sometimes, taking a leap of faith is a complete disaster. Sometimes, taking a leap of faith is exactly the thing to do. Today it was the right call.