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.

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