Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Traditional Paddling Courses

I've been tossing around the idea of getting my ACA instructor certification and trying to make traditional paddling easier to access for regular paddlers. What I've noticed in my area is that traditional paddling, while it is becoming more accepted, is still considered a niche. There are very few ways, other than knowing someone, to get basic instruction.
There are some great coaches around. I took a course with Cheri and Turner that was pretty basic. They, along with Greg Stammer, offered some instruction at the Rough Water Symposium. But these are few and far between.
The other problem is that they are not really geared toward beginning or recreational paddlers. The course I took with Cheri and Turner started off with rolling. While I understand the rational, I also think that most recreational paddlers would be scared away. Symposiums are also not venues for beginners or soft-core paddlers.
The course, or series of courses, I have in mind looks a lot like the existing progressions but uses traditional paddles. So the first class in the series would focus on getting paddlers comfortable in their kayaks, a basic forward stroke, and some basic turning strokes. From that foundation, more advanced courses could focus on better boat handling and paddling in more adverse conditions.
The rational is that I think there are people who would benefit from using traditional paddles, but will never reach the level of kayaking where they are likely to be exposed to it. I imagine that there are plenty of paddlers whose shoulders or wrists hurt when using a Euro paddle, but never leave the estuaries and protected coves. Perhaps they only go a few miles along the coast in perfect weather. These paddlers will never buy, or use, a "real" sea-kayak. They may be using a 14' rec boat.
In my head this sounds like a great plan. I wonder if this is an actual need. Am I just making this up? Is there any merit to this?

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Barking Crab '08

The annual Barking Crab paddle was today.
This annual paddle is a big hit with people, so the early week weather forecasts saddened me more than usual. Then the weather gods decided to smile on me and flipped the weekend weather. Saturday went from sunny to windy and rainy. Sunday went from windy and wet to sunny!!!
As usual we had a good turn out. We had 12 paddlers in 11 kayaks.
While we were getting ready to paddle it was hard to decide what to wear. The overnight dampness and clouds were lingering making it a little chilly. The forecast called for the clouds to burn off and the temperatures to climb into the sixties. H decided to start off with her dry-top as did a few other people. I went the other way and decided to stuff the dry-top in the front hatch.
Within minutes of our hulls hitting the water, the sky cleared up. The temperatures started to climb. It didn't take long for people to start shedding layers.
The day was perfect for paddling. There was plenty of sun, the air was clear, and there was just a hint of a breeze. The trees blazed in reds, yellows, oranges, and greens. We had the river to ourselves.
We made decent time paddling up the river, through the locks, across the inner harbor, and to the Barking Crab. Nobody pushed themselves. It was nice doing a relaxing paddle where I could chat with people.
At the Barking Crab we did the awkward high-deck landing. There is nothing pretty about watching someone climb onto a deck that is two feet higher than the deck of their kayak. We had no swimmers.
Usually, we get put out in the back tent. Apparently the inside crowd doesn't appreciate a bunch of smelly, sharply dressed kayakers. This year, however, they put us inside. It was very civilized.
The paddle home was much more relaxed than the paddle to the Crab. There is nothing light about the food at the Crab, so we all felt a little slow. Besides there were distractions....
A group of people wanted to see just how close you could get to the Constitution without getting shot. You cannot get very close to the Constitution because they've closed off the entrance to its mooring. You can sneak in pretty close to the destroyer next to it before a park ranger shoos you away.
I suffered from an urgent bladder issue. I figured that there would be plenty of places I could stop and take care of it. Boy was I wrong. There are very few docks along the way. The places where one could stop and stabilize the kayak had audiences.
Finally, I found a deserted boat house that had a spot where you could hide and relieve yourself. I hopped out, ran around the back, did the business, and as I was finishing up spotted a boat rushing towards the boat house..., The college kids who disembarked didn't say anything as I slipped back into the Q-Boat.
Towards the end of the paddle people started getting tired. This trip is not difficult, but it is long. My guess is that it is between twelve and eighteen miles.
After the paddle, we invited people over the house for chilly and coffee. It is always nice to have good post paddle food and conversation.
This was a great way to start off the cold weather paddling season.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Howling Winds and Crashing Rocks

The weather this morning was looking dodgy for a paddle. The sky was overcast and the winds were forecast to be in the 20-25knt range with much stronger gusts.
I was, in what is a becoming scarily regular condition, feeling less than 100%.
My mind was teetering on the fence: go back to bed and spend part of the day catching up on house chores and work or go test my mettle by going on a rock gardening trip in high winds.....
I was willing to surrender to my inner lammo and packed the car. I also packed up my computer. The plan was that if conditions were really bad, or I just didn't feel up for it, I could find a coffee shop and join the ranks of the coffee-addled, Macbook Pro touting, headphone ensconced intelligentsia.
H was pretty sure that the computer would never be powered up. She knows me well enough to know that once I was at the put-in and TM showed up, I'd put aside any lurking doubts and paddle.
Crossing the Jamestown bridge and looking at the West Passage, I was convinced that there was no way the Q-boat was going in the water. However, I was still going to at least go to the put-in, so I could tell myself I gave it the old college try. Bailing out without showing up was just too lame.
I showed up early and then GP showed up. He started hauling his kayak off and getting ready. I was staunchly waiting to see if more people showed up. I wanted some safety in numbers and I wanted to know the plan before committing.
Eventually, TM, CC, BH, RB, Greg Paquin(, and PR arrived. Once everyone showed up, I took the Q-Boat off the car and donned the drysuit. H was right; I couldn't resist the energy of the group.
We started off heading into the wind. We paddled from Wetherill to Jamestown. By hugging the coastline we were able to avoid the brunt of the wind, but there were still spots where it was rip the paddle out of your hand strong.
Just past the DCR building, we were forced out of the protection of the coast and got slammed by the wind. Going forward was not a wise option. We decided to head back and play around the coast between Wetherill and Mackerel Cove.
On the way back the wind kept tripping the kayaks up. RB decided not to push his luck and stopped at Wetherill. The rest of the group continued down the coast looking for places to get in trouble.
The wind stirred up enough wave action to make the rocks challenging. We all pushed our boundaries on quite a few occasions. It was exhilarating. BH even got a chance to show off his combat roll in the rocks again.
Another nice thing was that despite the fact that we were all playing in the same formations, we rarely suffered from dangerous traffic jams.
Greg and PP, who both have a gift for paddling and coaching, gave us a lot of useful tips.
One of the best was to watch how the waves push your kayak around before deciding where to set up for a run through some rocks. You may want to set up out of position and let the waves push you into position as the wave runs through the formation. It makes perfect sense, but I'd never thought of it. I typically try to position myself perfectly for a run and then get frustrated when I cannot stay there at the crucial moment.
Another thing I learned was why a paddler would use cross-bow rudders instead of a regular bow rudder. The cross-bow rudder provides more leverage and a faster turn. I tried it several times, and it is a nice stroke. I'm still not comfortable enough with it to use in rough water. I feel a touch off balance.
After the paddle I was pooped, but very glad I had gone. It was the most challenging paddle of the season for me. The Q-boat has a few nice dings along the chines that need to be patched, which is good. I figure that if the kayak doesn't have a little damage at the end of the season I haven't really pushed myself.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

In Search of the Weekday Rush

TM has been on a quest to find the ultimate tidal conditions for the last few months. About a two weeks ago he made it clear that the best day in October for the Westport River was today. About a week ago, he started pushing to get people to skip out of work to play. By Friday, the paddle was posted on the message board.
I'm usually one of the first people to jump at the chance to skip out of work midweek and take a chance at playing in the mouth of the Westport River. The Westport River is one of my favorite places to paddle and midweek paddles are always fun. This time, however, I was feeling uncertain. Work is crazy lately. I've got an gargantuan, and growing, pile of tasks with high-priority stickers and immediate deadlines sitting on my desk. Part of me felt like it would be irresponsible of me to skip out of work for the day. Part of me realized that one day, a day that I have to take before the end of the month or lose, was not going to make the pile appreciably smaller. Part of me realized that the only way out of the ridiculous, unrealistic, unassailable hole I'm in at work is to take a much needed breather. The pile on my desk has been in perpetual backfill for months. As soon as one task gets completed, three more high priority ones take its place.
So, I promised myself that I would take the day and not think about work.
Except for the dial-in meeting that was of "super-high" priority. It was a dial-in meeting, so I could listen in from the safety of my car as I drove to the put-in... The dial-in information for the meeting was wrong, so I spent 30 minutes in a rest area trying to find the correct information and get dialed-in. When it was apparent that I was not going to get dialed-in and that I was going to be late for the paddle, I called PB to tell him I'd be late and got back on 128. I was not happy about how the day was starting.
Fortunately, the roads were clear and I made excellent time. It was surprising since I was driving during the AM rush hour.
I got to the put-in only slightly late and made excellent time getting ready. TM and PB got the Q-boat off of the car. CR and RR (no relation) helped me unpack the egg. i was ready to go in five minutes - a record for me - and didn't forget a thing.
We paddled out the mouth expecting to find the current flooding out like mad. What we found was fast, but flat, water flooding out. So, we decided to poke around the rocks on the outside of the river.
The waves from Buzzard's Bay were smallish and didn't pose any real challenges for rock gardening. It was fun to poke around and try out some skills that would be suicide in rough water. Still I was hoping for more....
We went back into the mouth to see if things were any more interesting, but it was still flat. The current was moving quick, but without an opposing wind it didn't make any waves.
We decided to head off towards Horseneck Beach to find some waves to surf. About half way, we found some small waves to play in. PB and I stopped to play before the others did and caught a few nice waves.
The others were about 100-200 yards away from us when we heard a large a loud crash. I looked over and saw RR shooting down a wave as JS and CR separated from each other. It looked like a close call where three people tried to catch the same wave.
When PB and I joined up with the rest of the group, we discovered it was much worse than a close call. CR's kayak had a fist sized hole in its side and she was paddling straight for shore. Apparently, JS caught a wave and found himself surfing into CR. He couldn't maneuver his kayak in time to avoid her and didn't think of flipping over to stop his momentum. (If you find yourself careening down a wave into another kayaker, a surfer, or any other person in the water, you need to flip your kayak over to arrest your momentum. The drag of your body in the water will precipitously slow the forward progress of your kayak. It is the best way to avoid seriously injuring the other person.) So, he speared her pretty hard. The nose of his kayak shattered her hull and whacked her thigh.
Fortunately, the beach was less than a half mile walk to the cars. We were able to get CR ice for her thigh, which swelled up like a ballon. We were also able to get a car to carry her kayak back to the put-in. She was determined to field patch her kayak and paddle it back. We were all convinced she could have managed it. However, there was no need to push lady luck. We carried her kayak to JS's car and she drove back to the put-in.
We expected the return trip to be a low-key affair, but PB noticed that there was some action at the mouth of the river. He started peel off from the group to investigate and I immediately joined him. TM and RR followed. As the water level got lower, the tidal stream at the mouth of the river got more active. The lowered water level meant that the surface was more effected by the contours of the river floor.
We got 10-20 minutes of solid play time in the race. The waves at the top of the race were decent sized and pretty consistent. The way things were set up made playing and resting easy. You could jump into the race and surf for as long as you'd like and then glide out the top into a nice calm pool of water. When you were ready to play some more, you could edge into the current, ride it out a ways, and jump back on the wave train.
After the paddle we made the long drive to Coastal Roasters for the best coffee in RI. The sun was poised perfectly. The view of Stone Bridge from the patio was a vision. As the sun set and we prepared to leave, a paddler swept through the abutments and towards a safe landing in Bristol.
Days like this make me wonder why I toil away under life sucking fluorescent lights and the glare of an LED computer screen.... Oh yeah, it is so I can afford to have days like today.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Paddling with Cruise Ships

I've found that over the years I've sort of outgrown level two paddles. Or the adrenaline junkie that I pretend doesn't exist cannot fathom paddling without the extreme possibility of mahem... Either way, I don't do a lot of level two paddles these days which is too bad. They can be fun and relaxing.
Today RC led a level two paddle out of Jamestown and over to Newport. Since today was the only open slot in H and my packed weekend schedule, we jumped at the chance to get on the water.
The weather was perfect: sunny, cool, and calm. The group was a nice mix of people: some that I don't get to see often since they avoid the crazy paddles.
We headed up the Bay towards the Newport Bridge. Then we crossed over to Roes Island. Then we turned into Newport Harbor.
The outer harbor was dominated by two cruise ships. One was an old school ship the other was one of the new style ships. They were both gigantic. Looking at the massive, tall ships I always think they would just tip over in the slightest of waves.

The inner harbor was a buzz with the launches from the ships shuttling tourists into Newport. The launches, which look like life capsules formed a steady line between the docks and the ships. As soon as one left the dock, another landed and another stepped into the batter's box.
We had lunch on the beach just before Fort Adams. Then we paddled along the Newport Coast to Castle Hill.
Once back along the Jamestown coast we paddled back to the beach.
It was exactly what a level two paddle should be: fun and relaxing.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

A Jewel of an Island

For the last few weeks we have been talking about doing one last kayak camping trip this year. With the warm weather vanishing, our window was shrinking. At a dinner gathering last weekend, we decided that we would definitely go this weekend.

We decided to return to Winslow Park in Freeport, ME for a launching point. It has a nice ramp, plenty of over night parking, and access to a number of nice camping islands.
When the weekend finally arrived, I was on the fence about actually going. Work has been completely crazy for me lately and I was beginning to feel very overwhelmed with my merciless pile of to-dos. I needed to spend the weekend attempting to catch-up. I needed to spend the weekend decompressing. I didn't want to stop H from enjoying the weekend.....
I decided to go and told myself that I would ignore the shrill little voice keening in my head.
We arrived at the launch before lunch and took our time getting on the water. The weekend was about relaxing...

Once on the water we planned on paddling out to Jewel Island. It is the farthest northern island on the Maine Island Trail and an eight mile paddle from the launch. We planned our route out so that we could bail out and camp on Bangs Island if we wanted.

Fortunately, we committed to paddling out to Jewel Island. The camp sites were great. We found an excellent group site where we ad a fantastic fire. In the morning we took advantage of the pleasant hiking trails to explore the island. Jewel was the site of a WW2 camp and the remains can be seen all over the island. The two best attractions are the fire towers that jut out over the tree line and offer spectacular views of Casco Bay. We also found some neat tunnels to explore, but we couldn't go to far without the flashlights.

After exploring the island we leisurely broke camp and prepared to paddle back to the cars. The return voyage was pleasant.
We had dinner at a lobster shack along the river. The food was fantastic and the deserts were better.

I definitely made the right decision in going. The work pile will isn't going anywhere....