Friday, August 29, 2008

Rough Water Symposium

TM tried for weeks to get me to attend this year's New England Rough Water Symposium. I wanted to go, but was torn. There was a potential family obligation that weekend, so I had an iron clad excuse for not attending. The family obligation just provided a good cover for the more complex reasons for not attending. The money issue was another good cover reason. The real issues keeping me back were fear based. I was afraid of going and finding out that I was not nearly as good as I think I am. In fact I was very afraid that I wouldn't be able to cut it with real instructors around. On the other hand, I really wanted to get some instruction from top notch coaches and stretch my skills a little bit.
The family obligation vanished last weekend, so I no longer had my iron clad excuse.... I still wasn't ready to drop $600 and three days to kayaking and potential emotional torture. Remembering that there had been talk of single day slots being offered, I decided to contact Maine Island Kayak, who organizes the event, to see if I could do a single day of current work on Friday. Fortunately, there was space available and I jumped at the opportunity. It seemed like a great compromise: one day of training in tidal races was worth a limited amount of self-inflicted emotional torture.
The day started early with a group meeting to load the trailer at 8am.
Fortunately for me, TM was gracious enough to offer me lodging. The food and amenities were superb.
After loading the trailer, we repaired to the cafeteria for a briefing on the BCU star system. Nigel Denis - THE Nigel Denis - gave our group a 30 minute overview of the revised BCU star system and explained some of the thinking behind it. TM and I were skeptical about the value of the session until it got underway. The new system makes a lot of sense. I particularly like the fact that they made the four star about more than just boat handling. Boat handling skills are key to being a good paddler, but judgment, navigation skills, and group skills make a good paddler a great paddler.
The presentation also made it seem like most RIC/KA coordinators operate at a near-four star level. I'm not saying that anyone of us could just walk through the four star certification. Based on the quick presentation, however, I do think that most of the coordinators would be able to take the four star training and not embarrass themselves.
The on-the-water action took place off of Stonington, CT. We paddled out to the race off of the eastern end of Fisher's Island and played a little bit. The conditions were not particularly big, but it was a nice warm-up. We all caught a few good rides.
One of the coaches pointed out that sticks were not the greatest for playing in currents and catching waves. I agreed that a stick is not the best choice for catching waves, but that it was more than adequate. The truth is that a big lollipop Euro blade is better at getting the quick acceleration required to catch waves than a stick. They grab more water and provide instant power. A stick is a more subtle instrument that is geared towards gentle, even acceleration. That does not mean that a stick cannot be used to catch waves. I definitely caught a few before lunch - and my body wasn't beaten to a pulp doing it.
After lunch we moved eastward to follow the races along Sugar Reef. The conditions in the afternoon were a little more powerful than in the afternoon. Harry, the British coach, encouraged us to hold off on using rudder strokes when we caught waves. His advice was to keep using forward strokes and use your lower body to control the kayak. Moving to a rudder stroke kills the kayak's hull speed and shortens your ride.
It was tricky. First, I had to overcome a very ingrained behavior. Second, I had to trust my balance to edge the kayak while on the wave. Several times the Q-boat decided to turn right down the face of a wave and I could not get it to straighten out. Harry suggested that I should drop my left foot off the foot pegs while edging to increase the pressure on the turn. Scary and in many cases only marginally more effective. He also said that sometimes there is just nothing you could do short of ruddering once the kayak's nose got more than a few degrees off of straight.
At one point in the afternoon I was trying to make a sharp turn and caught the edge of the Q-boat in the current. I did a quick brace and heard a loud crack. I was afraid I had broken the mighty stick. I did a quick inspection and it seemed fine. So, I continued to play.
A few minutes later I caught the edge again and just let myself go over. Rolled up easily and was right back in the fray.
At one point Harry offered to let me use his Euro paddle. It made getting on the waves much easier. I could get the Q-Boat up to speed much faster. I had fun for five or ten minutes until I got cocky...
I tried to make a quick sweep turn and tripped. I tried to roll up, but blew it. I considered making a second attempt, but decided against it. I was beginning to get tired and I had a strange paddle. I popped out and Harry rescued me.
On the way back to the put-in my paddle felt like it had a little extra flex in it. Then I felt a sharp spot on my hand when back paddling... There was a stress fracture in the mighty stick.
I was really bummed. H gave me this paddle as a wedding present, so it had a lot of sentimental value. It was also a great paddle. It felt really good in my hands, had a lot of power, and looked great. I was also dreading telling H it was broken. I was afraid she'd be heart broken. I was.
When I called H from the parking lot, she was happy that I had enjoyed myself playing in the currents. She was also less upset about the paddle than I was. She told me "I got it for you to use."
The day of training was great. I gained some confidence in my skills and learned a few little tricks.
Perhaps next year I'll do two days....

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Cuttyhunk Reduex

Today was the redo date for the yearly Cuttyhunk paddle. The attempt earlier in the year was completely fogged out. This time around there was no fog or wind. In fact, it was a near perfect day. The water was completely flat and the winds were calm.
The trip from Gooseberry Pt. to Cuttyhunk was uneventful. It was nice to just slip into the zone. The blades slip into the water effortlessly and then gradually bite. Almost as soon as I feel the bite the paddle gives a little snap and the blade comes around to begin the cycle again. Each time the stomach muscles tighten and release a little more of the weeks stress melts away...
On the return trip we decided to detour around Penikese Island. This added a few more miles to the trip and through some of pre-planned navigation off. TM had calculated bearings for both the trip out and the return trip. He did the recalculation on the fly to account for the detour, but some of the group were not convinced of the new bearing.
The navigation disagreement didn't immediately cause any real issues. Over time though, it became an issue. TM held steady to his bearing while others decided that he had corrected too much and followed a different bearing. The group started drifting apart. Paddlers didn't know which person to follow... I decided to stay in the middle of the group. I could easily see our destination, so I knew that ultimately it didn't matter who was right. Both bearings would get us to the landing with only a little extra paddling.
After the paddle, JS graciously invited us to his house for pizza and beer. His house is lovely and has an outdoor shower for washing the salt off a tired body. The pizza, beer, and lovely setting was just thing to unwind after a long day of paddling.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Pier 5 to Castle Hill

Pier 5 to Castle Hill is one of my favorite routes in Narragansett Bay. It is also the route TM uses to cap of his summer long sequence of paddles in the Bay. It is a six mile trek across the West and East Passage of the Bay. Unlike a lot of long crossings this one offers some great views and an open water feel. The trip is good for paddlers who are strong beginners to stretch themselves and for intermediate paddlers to paddle in their zone.
The forecast was for reasonable winds and small seas. I took that with a grain of salt since this paddle inevitably turns into a battle against the afternoon winds. Sitting on the pier things looked calm. Our group expected no problems.
The paddle to Castle Hill was interesting. The swells and wind were not strong enough to be worrisome. They were strong enough to be wearisome. Between Pier 5 and Beavertail (about half of the crossing), I continually needed to counteract the Q-Boat's weathercocking. My first inclination was just to throw in a sweep stroke once and a while. When once in a while turned into every other stroke, I decided to deploy the skeg. The skeg made the problem worse. It didn't stop the weathercocking and made correcting more difficult. I finally settled on a combination of cocking my hips into a permanent lean and throwing in a few sweep strokes as needed.
Once past Beavertail, the weathercocking stopped being a problem because the water got much lumpier and we needed to do double time across the channel. The channel between Jamestown and Newport is the preferred channel for large shipping traffic into and out of the Bay.
After a quick break at the Castle Hill Coast Guard station, we crossed back to Jamestown for lunch. TM wanted to get the crossing out of the way before the afternoon winds (and the boat traffic) reached its peak. On the crossing a Jamestown photographer snapped a bunch of pictures of us doing our thing. We could be famous!!
After lunch, we headed south down the Jamestown coast towards Beavertail. The swells weren't really big enough to make playing in the rocks fun. However, we did our best to find excitement. BH got caught by a wave and nearly flipped. He managed to catch himself on a rock. Then he braced up off the rock and paddled away. I was a little bummed to not get a chance to practice a rock rescue.
Once around Beavertail we lined up with Pier 5 and began the long slog home. The afternoon winds blew out of the west and pushed against us. The winds were not particularly strong, but they were constant. As often happens in windy conditions, the group drifted into a number of pods. One pod took off for the pier. Another fell behind a little bit. Another drifted around looking for surf waves. Another just tried to keep moving. It was typical, but still frustrating. In windy conditions in the middle of a shipping channel, we should be able to stay in a tight group...
We all made it back without a hitch and did some rolling practice.
Once off the water a group of us retired to Java Madness for post paddle coffee and snacks.
It was, despite the wind, a great paddle. It was a good workout and provided enough of a challenge. The weather couldn't have been much better.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Jet Lag versus the Perfect Day

Within days of returning from my Canadian adventure, I hopped a plane to Dublin, Ireland for three days of intensive meetings. It was a good thing I was well rested from my vacation, because I didn't get much sleep on the Dublin trip.
I returned home Saturday evening and immediately got ready to paddle Sunday morning. The weather forecast was just too perfect to waste. Plus the venue, Kings Beach, offers some of the best conditions in the Bay.
Needless to say, I was a little off when I woke up this morning. I was determined, however, to not let it effect me. I gathered a lunch, some dry clothes, and the miscellaneous other gear and set off. I was a little behind schedule, but not too worried about it. I had good directions and the egg was chomping at the bit.
So there was traffic on 128 and then I got a little lost.... I showed up just at 9am, but I was not the last one there!!!
Once on the water, I hit my stride. There was enough action on the water to make playing in the rocks fun. It also made just paddling in the clear fun.
Nothing particularly exciting happened on the trip, but we all enjoyed ourselves.
It was a perfect paddling day.