Saturday, September 20, 2008

Crossing Stone Bridge

We finally got a day where the currents and the weather lined up enough to give us some opportunity to play at Stone Bridge. H, who was feeling the effects of paddle withdrawal, even joined us.
TM planned the day so that we would get some calm water paddling in before lunch and then play for a little while in the afternoon.
The morning paddle was pleasant. We meandered our way north for a few miles. At the point where the Sakonnet River splits off into Mt. Hope Bay, we turned back for lunch. It was a nice way to warm up. The paddling was leisurely and the weather was perfect.
After lunch, we headed out to the race for some play. The current was pretty tame. H spent a little time getting a feel for moving water. A number of us tried to find some standing waves to surf. Sadly, there wasn't much there.
JS showed people a few good drills for doing eddy turns. The best was trying to cross the eddy line backwards. Most people took a swim trying it. What caught me up was the lean. My natural instinct is to lean the wrong way. The result is the edge gets caught in the current and over I went. Even when I tried to fix the proper lean direction in my mind before backing into the line, my first move was wrong. I had a hard time learning to drive in reverse too.....
Before heading back in, JS got most of us to practice our rolls in the current. Just about everyone managed to come back up.
Despite the mild conditions in the race, it was a fun day on the water. (Is there ever a bad day on the water?)

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Coordinator Training

First a warning: This post is going to end with a rant about internal club politics. I'll try to clearly indicate the switch, so the uninterested can skip it.
Today was the annual RIC/KA Sea Kayaking Coordinator Training/Reward course. This annual event is run by Carl Ladd and offered to people who have volunteered to help out the club by coordinating trips. A group of the more experienced RIC/KA paddlers (TM, OB, PH, CC, BH, JS, CMO, KB) and one newer paddler (RC), spent the day playing off of Sakonnet Point. Carl decided to run the class as a loose workshop. The conditions were pretty tame.
Before lunch we did a little playing in the rocks. In between play sessions, Carl gave us pointers on how to coordinate the group. The tip that sticks out in my mind was about rescuing paddlers in the rocks. Don't do it. Have the victim push their kayak out and swim away from the rocks. The chances of the rescue kayak injuring the victim is high. The chances of the rescuer becoming a victim is also high.
During lunch we talked about how to organize a group to avoid traffic jams in the rocks. We also discussed the proper etiquette in the surf zone.
After lunch we did a little surfing. We even got to practice rescues in the surf zone.
Overall it was a fun day on the water. We also got a few good tips on how to manage groups.
(Here comes the rant) While this yearly session is fun, I don't think it really maximizes the club resources:

  • It happens too late in the season. At this point in the season most of the group trips are over. We are not going to really practice things now that the water is cooling off. If the course happened early in the season we could use the skills and tips over the course of the season. We could even have a practice session or two.
  • The participants are hand picked. It doesn't really help bring paddlers through the ranks.
  • The open workshop format doesn't offer enough structure or situational challenges. Carl's tips are excellent, but it would be great to run through a number of situational challenges to experience first hand what can go wrong on a group trip.
I'd like to see a leadership/coordinator workshop at the beginning of the season. It would have a limited number of slots that any member of the club could take. Since, the number of openings would be limited, preference would have to be given to paddlers who agreed to lead at least one trip or have helped out on trips in the past. The course itself would consist of two parts: a classroom session where some navigation and basic leadership skills would be discussed and an on-water session where each member of the class gets to lead part of a trip and different scenarios are thrown at the class. I guess it would be a day and a half.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

After the Storm

Hurricanes can really screw up weekend kayaking trips. Hanah churned up the RI coast something fierce. The Saturday paddle out of Westport river was cancelled because of extreme conditions. The forecast for for the Sakonnett Pt. paddle called for nine to twelve foot swells. No sane person would consider paddling in those conditions.
Fortunately, TM had a back-up plan. Launch from Bay Campus and paddle the west passage of Narragansett Bay. The marine forecast for inside the bay only called for eight to ten foot swells at the entrance. The Bay Campus is pretty deep in the Bay. The swells would have lost their power before getting there. From the Bay Campus we could paddle towards the mouth and feel the big swells or we could retreat further into the Bay.
I thought TM's plan sounded excellent. How often does one get a chance to paddle in really big conditions in relative safety? Knowing TM, I knew we'd get a little crazy, but not that suicidal. To top it off the skies were going to be clear and partly sunny.
My only concern was that I'd drive the 90 minutes to Bay Campus to find that conditions were too big. The price of gas has reduced my willingness to drive without a guarantee of kayaking.
H, on the other hand, thought it sounded crazy. She started to doubt her assessment of TM as the cautious one of the group. It also had doubting my grip on sanity. Based on the forecast, she thought going on the water was a suicide mission.
Before letting me out the door, H made me promise to be the responsible one and to warn TM that if anything happened to me, he would incur the wrath of an H-bomb.
As I packed the car in the morning, I decided not to bring the substitute stick. I thought the conditions warranted a Euro paddle. I packed up my Kinetic Touring as a primary paddle and H's Kinetic Touring S as a back-up. The scoopy lollipop blades would give me more quick power. I figured quick power was a good thing in eight to ten foot waves.
I was shocked when I got to Bay Campus. The parking lot was packed with mad men looking to test their metal. As I expected, BH and NF were there. In addition, RR, JS and JS were waiting to test their metal.
From the beach the water looked calm. It wasn't until we reached the beginning of Bonnet Bluffs that the reality of the conditions became apparent. The swells, which were eight feet, had long periods so they didn't feel huge. When they crashed into the bluffs, however, the fury of the water was evident.
We stayed well off shore as we paddled towards Bonnet Shores. I didn't even seriously consider playing near the rocks. I kept checking on BH and NF to see if they were tempted to drift too close. One misstep and the surf would wreck a kayak, or a kayaker's skull, on the rocks.
We swung wide around the guardian rock at the entrance to Bonnet Cove and headed into Annawan for a quick rest.
While the others rested, NF and I stayed on the water and played in the rocks near the beach. I watched NF slip in behind a set of rocks with ease and then I looked behind me. I was sitting in the path of a wave with my name on it. Unfortunately, I was also sitting just in front of a set of sharp rocks.... I settled in, made a quick turn to point the Q-Boat towards a gap in the rocks and caught the wave. Once on the wave I dipped the paddle in for a strong ruddering stroke and dug in the Q-Boat's edge. Luckily, I managed to steer the Q-Boat through the narrow gap and fall off the wave between the rocks and the rocky shore.
I'd jumped out of the fire and into the frying pan. I was trapped between a large set of swells and the rocky shore. The rock ledge I had navigated through stood the waves up and sent them crashing down. My dash through the rocks left me breach to the waves, so I braced through the first wave. Then I edged the Q-Boat over, dug my ice cream scoop in, and yanked myself head on into the waves. One properly positioned I was able to work my way back into deeper water.
Before NF and I could get into any more trouble, the group decided to head over to Whale Rock to see what it was like at the mouth of the Bay.
Whale Rock is always an interesting place to paddle. There is usually some breaking waves. Today the waves were breaking big. Spray was going over the top of the tower.
Most of the group were content to stay a good distance off and just look. NF, however, thought it would be fun to get in close and see what fun could be had. I decided to get some pictures of him and drifted in close enough to get some decent shots.
Once I had my camera out and my paddle stowed, a set of extra-large swells rolled into the Bay. The swells split around Whale Rock and met where I was sitting. My world went from bobbing up and down to tilting wildly. I dropped the camera and grabbed the paddle. I heard someone yelling at me to "get out of there." That was my plan... The swells were breaking at random locations around me. One would break off my bow, the next would break to my starboard, the next off my bow, and then a set would break off my tail. I basically did a balancing act until the big swells moved past and things calmed down. It was probably only a few minutes, but it felt like twenty.
From Whale Rock we decided to cross the Bay and return home along the Jamestown coast. We could see Beavertail being pounded and decided to aim a good deal further inland than normal.
Crossing the Bay was easy. The swells were big, but long periods. The kayaks rode up and down, up and down.
Once we turned north along the Jamestown coast we figured we were clear. BH, NF, and I moved in closer to the rocks. Suddenly, some yelled for us to watch our backs. I turned to see a big swell racing towards us and the rest of the group moving to open water like a school of fish. I was behind NF and BH, so I made it to open water with ease. They also made it through the rouge swell, but it was much more exciting for them.
The rest of the paddle was pretty mellow. We had lunch on Jamestown and watched the swells battering Bonnet Bluffs. Despite the half-jokes about playing there, everyone knew that it was a bad idea.
We returned to the Bay Campus and found PB relaxing on the beach. He wanted to see who was crazy enough to go out in these conditions.
Once we were all off the water, we retired to Java Madness for a little post paddle coffee and conversation.
I knew TM's plan was a great idea!! The crazy ones always turn out best.