Sunday, June 29, 2008

Anniversary Paddle

H and I have been married a year now. It is hard to believe it has been a whole year. Time does fly when you are having fun. We have had our trials, but so far so good.
One of the minor trials was figuring out how to celebrate our anniversary. We didn't really have the money or the time to go away for the weekend. We also wanted to do something that would involve our friends.
H came up with the great idea of doing an anniversary paddle. For the first one we figured it would be symbolic to paddle out of Bristol since that is where we got married. The plan was to paddle from the OSA launch, cross the channel to Prudence, carry across into the marsh, slip down the river, round the northern point of Prudence, and head back to Bristol.
The day before the paddle the weather looked bad for making the crossing. There was forecasted fog and H was, quite rightly, concerned about crossing a shipping lane with limited visibility. TM, on the other hand, was looking forward to some "limited visibility" practice....
Fortunately, there was no fog for the actual paddle. There was a little more wind than we had hoped....
BH, RB, CC, PB, TM, MB, H, and myself all set out ready for a sunny day on the water. I was psyched to see MB. He has been recovering from some medical stuff over the last season and has not paddled. He was looking good and reportedly feeling excellent.
Paddling out to Prudence was a breeze. There was very little wind and the water was clam. It was hot though.
We landed on Prudence at the marsh. Upon inspection, there was barely enough water to make the marsh passable. We decided not to risk slogging through the muck, or carrying the kayaks. Instead we decided to head to the southern tip on the island and then cross back over.
After checking out several rocky lunch spots along Prudence's coast we finally settled on a spot near the Southern tip. The beach was sheltered from the light breeze and we suspected that we may roast in the sun. However, it turned out to be a great spot. Just enough breeze blew to keep us from over heating.
As we shared goodies, we spotted three kayaks approaching from the Warwick side of the Bay and making a bee line for our lunch spot. Apparently a few other RIC/KA paddlers decided that today was a good day to paddle to Prudence also. When they spotted H's hat, from two miles away, they headed straight for us hoping to find baked goodies.
After sharing some of our goodies with the invaders, our group set off for home.
The crossing back to the mainland was pretty easy. There was a good crosswind that caused some weather cocking. We also encounter some swells.
It was when we closed in on the shore, and turned north towards Bristol, that things got hard. The cross wind turned into a steady head wind. Paddling back to the point at the mouth of Bristol Harbor was a slog. Naturally the group got spread out as each paddler dealt with the wind at their own pace. I kept hearing Carl Ladd's comments from last years leadership training stressing the importance of keeping the group together in the wind. Fast paddlers deal with the wind OK. Slow paddlers tend to over compensate to keep up, tire out faster, and are prone to making mistakes.
Once we turned into the harbor, paddling got easier. We rode the following seas all the way back to the OSA landing.
Along the way we met up with RS who had been enjoying some light practice.
After the paddle TM took us into Bristol for some coffee at a secret little shop. At first, the mission to find coffee looked like a disaster of monumental proportion. We had to find parking in Bristol center which is brutal the weekend before the 4th. Then we wandered around - with the group getting very spread out - for a while. We were lead down some side street....
Finally, we arrived at the Beehive Bakery Cafe. It was worth the wandering. Their pastries, all freshly made in the store, looked delicious and from all reports tasted as good as they looked. The coffee was also excellent. To make things even better they have plenty of cozy seating: a ground-level patio, a rustic upstairs room with couches, tables, comfy chairs, etc., and a 2nd floor deck.
It was a great way to launch the second year of our marriage. If today's paddle was a sign of things to come, it will be a great year.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

The First Flip

After missing a weekend of prime paddling weather, H and I were ready for a serious paddle. TM's paddle out of Ft. Wetherill looked primed to offer conditions that would meet both H and my ideas of serious. Launching from Ft. Wetherill gives you plenty of options for a trip, but they all involve the potential for playing in the rocks, open water, big swells... Today there was also the possibility of fog and thunder showers.
The crew also offered opportunities to meet a wide range of paddle needs. We had surf/rock heads like RS and TM to the more conservative H and S. In between the extremes we had CC, TM, RR, RB, BH, T, and myself. It was a group ready to face any possible conditions.
TM's original plan was to paddle down to Beavertail, cross the West Passage, and lunch at Narragansett Beach. This plan was ruled out due the morning fog and the predicted thunder showers. Instead, we decided to cross over to Newport and play along the Newport Coast and lunch near Kings Beach. This path gave us more cover in the event we needed to get off the water in a hurry and a better shot at finding interesting conditions.
Going out we found the water to be relatively flat. There was barely enough action along to coast to make playing the rocks risky.
At Brenton Point, there was a little more action. People managed to catch a few good rides. For Brenton Point, it was dead.
The paddling was fun if not exciting. There was enough action to keep you on your toes. The sun was shining. The company was good.

We lunched next to Kings Beach fishing landing. While part of the group was settling in for lunch, BH, TM, RS, and I explored the rocky point just beyond the fishing area. We paddled through a narrow channel and saw some very cute baby seagulls. When we reached the point, we found the excitement.
TM timed his run perfectly and used the waves to avoid being stranded on the rocks. RS's timing was a little off and she was confronted with an unfriendly wave. It was no match for her skill and she scooted through. BH decided discretion was the better part of valor and took the point wide. I lucked out and slipped through between waves.

After lunch, we decided to just head back to the put-in. We figured it would be a relaxing, uneventful paddle back to the cars...
Minutes after I was off the beach, I spotted H in an area with breaking waves. I was hoping she'd luck out and slip by without issue, but a wave popped up right next to her and crashed down on her. From where I was sitting, it looked like she tried to brace, but the wave was too big. She took her first combat spill.
I was a little worried that she would panic, but confident that she would be fine.
Sure enough, she popped right out and never lost her paddle.
RR moved in for a rescue, but got flipped by a wave. RS then swooped in and took control of the situation. She clipped into H's kayak and started towing her out of the breaking waves. She also made sure someone was looking out for RR.
As it turned out RR was fine. He rolled back up without a hitch.
As RS was towing H to flatter water, I paddle up and made sure H was OK. H had stuck her paddle in her cockpit and it was flopping around. To make sure it was secure I stowed it under my deck lines. Unsure what RS's plan was, I backed off since the situation seemed under control.
TM then swooped in to put H back into her kayak. He unclipped H's kayak from the tow and clipped his kayak into the tow. Then he started performing a T rescue. Since the water was still pretty bouncy, I rafted up to lend some extra support.

H climbed into her kayak and was ready to go. Aside from a few bruises, she was none the worse for the wear. She was quite pleased with how well the rescue had gone. She was a little shaken, but also felt more confident in her ability to survive a mishap.
The rest of the paddle was pretty tame. We found a little surf at Brenton Point. The crossing from Castle Hill to Fort Wetherill offered up some following seas.
We had one more moment of excitement in the cove at Fort Wetherill. RB tried to run a slot on one of the rock outcroppings at the mouth of the cove and got stuck. After some comical flailing, he washed right off.
As part of the post paddle play session, I squeezed myself into H's Capella 161. It is a sweet little kayak. It is fast and turns much easier than the Q-Boat. I may need to take it rock gardening some time....

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Dutch Delights

After Saturday's aborted trip to Cuttyhunk, I was chomping at the bit for a relaxing paddle. I was also suffering from a sore shoulder.....
H, who is buried under yearend school work, had spent the week looking forward to today's paddle.
TM's Dutch Island paddle is an ocean going level 2 paddle. It is short, but because it involves crossing a portion of the West Passage it offers a taste of bouncy sea paddling.
The weather forecast for the day was for sunny, warm, and calm. Perfect.
We crested the South Ferry Road hill and saw that the parking lot was packed. My initial reaction was trepidation. Large paddles can be tedious. The more cats in the herd, the harder the herd is to coordinate. When there is a lot of new cats in the heard, I get even more nervous....
Fortunately, H preempted the worry. She reminded me:

  • that, in general, other paddlers are nice people.

  • that we are all out for an enjoyable day.

All told, we had 19 kayaks set out. Two left well after the main group because a paddler showed up late.
We crossed the channel between Bay Campus and Dutch Island. It is generally an easy crossing. This morning the water was flat and the wind was minimal. The group followed TM's lead and stayed close together. It made me feel much better about the day.
We paddled north along Dutch Island. When we rounded the north point of the island, we turned towards Great Creek. We paddled into Great Creek. Then we turned towards our lunch spot near Fort Getty.
After lunch, we headed back towards Dutch Island. We hit the island in the little cove just above the light house to regroup. From there we were going to make the crossing back to Bay Campus when we had an open path.
As we neared the point, we saw a line of colorful sails racing up the Bay. I whipped out my camera to try and capture the moment while bobbing in the swells. It was surprisingly easy to manage the camera with one hand and not swim. Getting good pictures with my compact camera was a whole different story....

Once the sail boats raced past, the group returned safely to Bay Campus.
I debated doing rolling practice. My shoulder had been tender throughout the day, but not painful. A smart man would not have pushed it and called it a day. I'm not a smart man....
I did a few rolls with my stick and a few rolls with a borrowed Euro-paddle. It was fun, but I'm sure I'll pay for it in the days to come....
We finished up our relaxing paddle with some relaxing coffee at Java Madness. I love summer!!

Saturday, June 07, 2008


Most years our club plans a paddle from Gooseberry Pt. in Westport to Cuttyhunk Island. It is a seven mile, open water crossing. It also involves crossing a major commercial shipping lane. I frequently get placed on the list of coordinators and I always think it is scheduled too early in the year.
Open water crossings of more than a few miles should be undertaken with a respectable cushion.In early June the water in Buzzards Bay is still cold enough to make a drysuit prudent, but the air temperature is warm enough to make hours of sustained paddling in a drysuit misserable. Most paddlers have only been on the water for a few weeks and have not really begun doing long paddles. The disparity between air temperature, land temperature, and water temperature cook up morning fog and afternoon winds.
The forecast for today was patchy morning fog, blistering temperatures, and building winds. TM even called last night to point out that the prevailing weather pattern was ripe for thunderstorms.
H made me promise not to attempt to paddle to Cuttyhunk in blinding fog. She wanted me to be the smart one.... Any paddle where I need to be the smart one is likely in trouble. I sometimes have a hard time listening to my inner voice of reason.
When I pulled into the parking lot at Gooseberry Pt. visibility was well under a 100 yards and I had no intention of getting my kayak off the car without a plan that didn't involve making a risky crossing.
As the other people showed up, the fog began to lift. Seeing as the forecast was for the fog to burn off and I was definitely going to do some paddling, I started getting ready to hit the water.
By the time everyone was ready to launch, the fog had thickened. Visibility was 10 yards to 20 yards. CC and I expressed serious reservations about the crossing. I, personally, thought the idea of attempting the crossing was crazy. It was not so much a navigation problem because I had a GPS. I could easily find the island. It was a safety issue. We would not be able to see a ship, and the ship wouldn't be able to see us, until it was too late. There is also the general sense of disorientation that fog can cause.
The majority of the group decided that we should paddle out to the edge of the shipping channel and then evaluate the visibility issue. The group had a bearing to paddle on and felt that we'd see the channel marker before we entered the channel. CC and I pointed out that given that paddling on a bearing in limited visibility and hitting a tiny marker several miles off shore was not reasonable. So, the plan was modified. We paddled on the bearing for 20 minutes and then reevaluated.
The fog had not cleared up in the least. We could hear boats, but couldn't see a thing.
So, we reversed our bearing and paddled back towards shore. The new plan was to paddle back to Gooseberry Pt. and then make our way along the shore towards the mouth of the Westport River. Once we got to the tip of Gooseberry Pt., the plan changed and we decided to make a crossing to the mouth further off shore.
It was a nice paddle. The fog and cool water kept the air temperature in the low 70s. The water was just bumpy enough to make it fun.
About 3/4 of the way to the mouth of the Westport River, we decided it was time for lunch. We spotted a nice section of beach that was unoccupied. We didn't want too many people on the beach as we surfed in on our kayaks. The surf was small, but even small surf makes landing an adventure.
During lunch the group decided that the plan for the afternoon was to paddle up the mouth of the river, then paddle up the river (against the current), into the marshlands beyond the town boat ramp, carry our kayaks (that are heavy and awkward out of the water) across a road, and finally paddle back to our cars. It was reported to be a very pretty paddle.
It was a very pretty paddle. The shelter of the river basin knocked the winds down. The fog had finally burned off and turned into haze. The effort of fighting the current made me work just hard enough to make my dry top into a sauna. Fortunately the company was excellent.
While people were disappointed that we didn't make the crossing, I think the group made the correct choice.
We could have attempted the crossing and likely would have been fine. I did hear someone mention that it was probably not foggy out at Cuttyhunk. Others mentioned that we had made the crossing in fog once before and it turned out to be perfectly sunny on the island.
On the other hand, why take the risk? We did not know the weather on the island. The weather on the island did not change the fact there was limited visibility in the shipping channel. The previous time we made the crossing in the fog, the visibility was much better than we had this morning. I was also younger, stupider, and had far less responsibilities.
Cuttyhunk will be out there for as long as any of us can still paddle. There is no rush.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Hingham High

Hingham is a great place to paddle. The public beach has a ton of parking. At mid to high tide the beach offers an easy launch and landing. The harbor provides easy access to a number of the Harbor Islands that are inside of Nantasket arm. The harbor also offers enough shelter and access to sheltered areas that even sub-prime conditions are manageable.
The only drawback to paddling out of Hingham is that I paddle with a Rhode Island paddling club. There is a kernel of truth behind the joke that people from Rhode Island think a trip to Providence requires packing an overnight bag. I knew that TM and PB were both unable to make the paddle. A few others had mentioned that they might show. H had a ton of work to do and wasn't going to paddle....
The weather was so perfect that as I pulled out of the drive way, I considered paddling alone if nobody showed. I had my drysuit, so taking a swim wouldn't be too bad. I also knew there were plenty of "easy" paddles in the area. If I had to go solo, I would stick to the Weir River or possibly paddle over to Grape Island. I was pretty sure, however, that someone would show. It was a beautiful day.
All the while a little voice in the back of my head was saying: This is how people die... Easy, solo paddles... The media will love another reckless kayaker story... Can you really resist the "easy paddle" out to Peddocks...
I showed up early and saw that a BSKC paddle was also leaving out of Hingham. I asked if I could join them if my group didn't show. They said it would be fine. They were doing a "novice" paddle out to Grape Island. They planned on grilling on the island.
In the mean time, MK pulled into the parking lot. I figured if it was just the two of us, we could still hook up with the BSKC trip. Two is not an ideal number for a level 3 trip.
As I began to resign myself to a short paddle, I spotted CC's CRV with two kayaks. It was followed closely by PH's car. Five makes a great number for a solid level 3 trip!!
The group consisted of MK, CC, BH, PH, and myself. (The H's are not related.) With a solid level 3 group, I was pretty sure we would have an exciting time. The plan, if you wanted to call it that, was to paddle out towards Grape Island, turn north and cross to Peddocks Island for lunch. After lunch, the plan was to cross to Bumpkin Island and from there to World's End. Then the plan was to follow the shore line around and back to the beach before low tide. It seemed doable since we were launching just after high tide.
Naturally, MK and I took longer to get our acts together than anticipated. We actually launched about an hour after high tide. I figured we still had plenty of time. The group was made up of fast paddlers in fast kayaks.
PH was paddling his shiny new Cetus which is supposed to be a fast cruiser with superb handling. In yellow and black, it is a pretty kayak. I also liked the front day hatch that provides a nice place to stow small items for easy retrieval.
The weather was warm and we all had trouble figuring out what to wear and be safe and comfortable. MK, CC, and PH opted for a combination of a wetsuit and a paddle top. BH and I opted for shorts and a dry top. A quick trip in the water before launching almost had me in my drysuit. The water was still extremely cold. I rued the day I discarded my wet suit... I also decided that there was no way I was coming out of my kayak on this paddle. I'd rat swim to shore if required.
The paddle over to Grape Island was a nice warm-up. There was enough breeze to make wearing a dry top reasonable. BH and I talked about his trip to Sante Fe the previous weekend. I love hearing about places that I have not been. It sounded interesting. However, without access to the ocean, it is lacking.
We also discussed his mild tendonitis in the elbow. Tendonitis scares me. It sneaks up on you, forces you to stop paddling until it feels better, and then never really goes away. BH was trying to see if using a bent-shaft paddle made paddling less stressful on his elbow. He was also trying to shorten the front part of his stroke. Both seemed to be having a positive effect for him.
The group decided not to stop at Grape and we headed straight for Peddocks Island. It is not a long crossing. However, the crossing is bisected by a major channel. It looked like the gas prices were keeping the traffic to a minimum. I've seen the channel look like 128 at rush hour. Today, it was busy but manageable.
We grouped up near one of the green cans. When the coast was clear we bolted across to the nearest red can. There was just enough wind to make the crossing bumpy.
Lunch at Peddocks Island was interesting. We found a picnic table on the very edge of the dock. PH and CC, who sat on the far end, were a slight tip from swimming. Fortunately, the rest of us provided a large enough counter balance. After eating, PH spotted lightning off in the distance as clouds threatened. We also watched the current in Hull Gut build.
The Gut did not look too threatening today. It is deceiving though. The current is powerful. When mixed with boat traffic the waves become unpredictable. The eddy along the beach could offer some relief, but the fishing lines and beach making that path tricky.
Since the threatening clouds and the lightening disappeared as quickly as the appeared, we decided to continue with the plan.
The crossing from Peddocks Island to Bumpkin Island was fun. The wind had picked up a trifle and was kicking up some small waves. I just enjoyed the experience and did my best to keep an eye on the rest of the group. BH and PH continually searched for wavelets to ride. It seemed like a lot of work....
After a quick exploration break at Bumpkin Island, we headed to World's End. Then we turned towards the put-in. The wind was beginning to pick up and low tide was rapidly approaching. Instead of hugging the shore we took a slightly more direct route to save time.
Ultimately, it did not make much difference. We had to pick our way through the mud flats to get close to the Hingham boat ramp. The mud flats stretched several feet from all access points to dry land.
Instead of landing, CC, PH, and I decided to do some rolls. Anything was better than slogging through the mud....
A few rolls did little to help the tide rise faster... I got the worst of the mud. I sank in to my knees. Everyone else sank to there ankles at the least. The kayak's hull got covered in the muck.... The egg's roof will take days to clean off.
Despite the mud, it was an excellent paddle. I got my weekly fix of paddling and socializing.