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.

1 comment:

  1. eric-where are the pix you took????
    (i say sitting over here in bristol having to not teach in the westport today)