Monday, August 31, 2009

Banging Around for Labour Day

H, PB, and I wanted to do a camping trip in Maine before the warm weather ended. We tried to get something together last weekend, but the weather and schedules didn't corporate. Since this weekend was a three day end of summer celebration and the forecast was reasonable, we managed to get something together.
It was a small group since a number of people had other plans. It included PB, EB, H, and myself.
Since H already had Friday off from work, she decided that the plan would be to turn our three day weekend into a Friday through Sunday affair. We would miss most of the traffic and still have a day off from work to lounge about the house and clean off our camping gear.
Friday morning didn't start off with a bang. H and I had troubles getting our acts in gear. Everything just took longer than we anticipated. We also had to make an unplanned stop at West Marine to try and order a new battery for my VHF. The connectors on the current battery corroded to the point where one of them just fell off. Even the West Marine stop took forever. It seems that West Marine does not carry spare batteries, or the AA battery pack accessory, for the VHF radios they sell. They can, however, special order them. The very nice kid at the desk took the special order, but was either new or "special" orders are so special they are rarely executed....
Once on the road we made excellent time to the put in at Dolphin Marina in Harpswell, ME. PB and EB were there well ahead of us since they had gotten on the road at the planned time. We didn't hold the show up too long though. H and I made quick work of getting the kayaks loaded.
We had discussed several possible islands for camping including Whaleboat, Bangs, and possibly Jewel. Our first choice was the camp site on the NE tip of Bangs. It has views of both sunrise and sunset, a sandy (for ME) beach for the kayaks and fires, and flat tent spots. All of the options, except for Jewell, were short paddles so we figured that we would go for the first choice and if we got skunked we could easily find another decent spot before dark.
To our delight, our first choice was available. We set up camp and immediately settled into island time. PB set out to collect fire wood. The rest of us sort of wandered about gazing at the scenery and moving towards dinner. Our eventual dinner was quite nice.
Eventually, we got our acts together enough to go on a moonlight paddle. The full moon spread silvery light over the landscape. We hardly needed extra lights. The moonlit island and water was lovely. We saw a heron that sat in place as we paddled by at a very close distance. The landscape was so transformed that we paddled right by our beach the first time.
On the way back, I decided to be cute and paddle backwards. As H chastised me, and I joked about how it doesn't matter that I was paddling backwards since I could see anyway, I backed onto a rock.... Fortunately, the keel strip took the brunt of the contact.
Once back at the campsite we got a fire going. The rest of the evening was spent basking in the glow of fire and friendly conversation.
The only tension was the slow march of water towards the fire. When the water finally snuffed the fire, we headed to our tents.
Saturday broke sunny and fresh. We again spent a good part of the morning meandering around. We eventually decided on an excursion to Admiral Peary's Eagle Island. The island is a Maine Historical Site. The original house has been turned into a museum and the grounds have been preserved for public viewing. The house is well preserved and full of interesting relics. One strange thing is that they make visitors put on plastic booties before entering the house. According to the caretakers, the booties keeps the salt on people's shoes from corroding the floor planks.
After Eagle Island we started over to Whaleboat Island to check out the campsites. The current and the wind were against us on the crossing. At first we didn't really notice how strong the current was working against us. The lobster buoys were sitting straight in the water, so there were no visual clues. Eventually, however, the current took its toll on our strength. We decided to abandon our push to Whaleboat and retreat back to the comfort of camp.
We spent our second night at camp the same way we spent our first. Sitting around a fire. Instead of doing a moonlight paddle, we watched as the tide slowly lifted a grounded sailboat out of its muddy trap. Actually, the real show was the stream of boats that motored out the sailboat, circled it, and returned home.
On our final morning, we did a quick search for the campsites on the opposite side of Bangs Island from ours. We scoured the coast from our kayaks for sign of them. We even checked the shore line by foot for signs, but found very little. There was a nice beach and a number of cairns marking the spot where the camp sites should have been. However, we couldn't find anything that looked like a tent site on the shore and there were no obvious paths into the woods.
After a quick lunch and repacking our kayaks, we decided to head home via Whaleboat island. We really wanted to find the campsites on that island for future trips. This time we were successful. The first set of sites we found are in the woods of the western shore of the island. They have a nice beach and plenty of shelter. We considered, briefly, extending our trip for a day and staying the night here. Sadly, we couldn't muster the energy to unpack the kayaks and reestablish camp.
So we headed back to Dolphin Marina. On the crossing from Whaleboat to South Harpswell, the water can play little tricks on your vision. The passage between the point of South Harpswell and the islands off of it can be hard to judge. I knew roughly where it was and headed straight for it. The rest of the group decided to trust their eyes and took a wider course. We never lost sight of each other, but it was fun watching them paddle out to sea for a while before realizing that I knew what I was doing.
It was a great weekend. As PB mentioned on the paddle home, the islands in Casco Bay are treasures that need to be preserved.

Sunday, August 23, 2009


We had the RICKA BBQ today.
In the past RICKA would have a holiday party as an annual gathering. It was a good time, but there is something off about a bunch of kayakers dressed all pretty having a sit down meal in the middle of the winter.
This year it was decided that a BBQ in the summer would be a more natural fit. I think it was a smashing success. There were paddles that went out in the morning. One trip went out to the mouth of the Bay. Another trip went around Dutch Island.
After the kayaking, we had a great BBQ meal at the Fort Getty Pavilion. After food, there was a brief awards ceremony and plenty of lawn golf.
The people who coordinated the event did a great job putting it all together. I cannot wait until next year's outing.

Bill Barely

I always have mixed feelings about paddling in hurricane swells. There is the natural concern for my own safety, the anticipation of pitting myself against nature, the anxiety of pushing my skills to the edge, the fear that the conditions will be too extreme to play in or, worse, disappointingly calm. Since today was also a club paddle, there was the added concern that the conditions would be present but the group would be unwilling or unable to take advantage of them.
When we got to Fort Getty to launch, it looked like the conditions were going to disappoint. The water looked as it does on any normal day. The swells just didn't impress.
Fortunately, as we worked out way down the Jamestown coast towards the mouth of the Bay conditions grew steadily more intense. The swell got bigger and the water's power made itself felt. Paddling near the shore was an adrenaline rush.
Close to Beavertail getting near to the rocks was nigh impossible. With some deft timing, a paddler could dart in and do some quick playing and slip out before a swell shattered them against the rocks.
The waves sweeping around the head stood a good eight feet tall.
The lead group of kayaks started heading out to the channel marker just past Beavertail. I'm not sure there was a clear plan as to what we were going to do out there, but the siren song was upon us. Just bobbing in the swells at the mouth would have been exciting. I'm sure there could have been some excellent open water surfing as well.
Then a whistle blew and broke the spell. People were concerned that the group was spreading out and there was no clear plan. Some members of the group were uncomfortable with the idea of heading out the marker before making the crossing to Whale Rock.
The group decided making a beeline to Whale Rock was the best plan. While not as exciting as heading out into the really big swells, the crossing was plenty exciting. The swells, while not epic, were big. They were also not particularly steep. It made for a nice elevator ride.
At Whale Rock we watched the ruins take a nice pounding. It was not the worst pounding we'd ever seen, but it was pretty big. I managed to find the perfect spot to get crushed by a wave. (It was a little deja vu from last year's hurricane paddle.) I was taking pictures and someone yelled for me to lookout. Fortunately, I managed to get out of the way before a big wave broke on my head.
We paddled up the Bay a good distance off shore. The swells were big enough to make getting in close tricky. With some keen observation, it was possible. The swells were pretty far apart and very regular. There was time to get in, play around, and get back out between sets.
BH, who got in pretty close, said that the water near the rocks was more like a river than the ocean. He wanted to get in closer, but had a newbie shadowing him. He decided discretion was best. If he goofed up his timing, we'd need to rescue two boats instead of just one...
All in all it was a nice day on the water. We had a little excitement and got to see some big swells up close. It was not, however, an epic day.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

A Hot Day in Newport

Halfday Tony was scheduled to lead level 4 trip out of Ft. Wetherill today. This usually means lots of rocks and some surf. His last level 4 trip out of Wetherill was the stuff of legends: high winds, rough seas, rescues, paddlers needing cab rides back to their cars. Being a sound leader Tony manages to keep the group safe and sound despite the conditions.
Regardless of Tony's prowess as a leader, H was not keen on going on the planned trip for the day. Tony had advertised the itinerary early in the week to get people prepared. He intended to paddle along the coast to Beavertail, cross the West Passage to Whale rock, and lunch at the mouth of the Narrow River. The entire route offers plenty of opportunity for rock gardening and the Narrow River usually offers some nice surf. None of these things hold any allure for H. She likes to paddle, not risk life and limb.
I suggested that instead of doing the level 4 paddle, we could offer a more low key level 3 option. We would paddle over to Newport, explore the harbor, lunch on Gould Island, and then return along the Jamestown coast. We would still be able to visit with friends before and after the paddle without any undue stress. It would also expand the opportunities for other club members to get on the water.
When we showed up at Ft. Wetherill, H and I discovered that we were on our own. The conditions along the coast were calm and everyone else wanted to do the level 4 paddle. TM tried to convince H to go along with the crowd, but she held firm in her decision to do the Newport route. I was a little surprised and a little disappointed. TM is usually very persuasive and it would have been fun to paddle with a bigger group. I was, however, 100% behind H's decision. She'd gone on a few stressful paddles, and missed a few days on the water, for my benefit. The least I could do was spend a sunny summer day on the water doing a paddle she wanted to do.
Once out of the cove at Ft. Wetherill we were graced with a pleasant breeze. It knocked some of the edge off the heat without making paddling difficult. The crossing to Newport was easy.
Sadly, once in Newport Harbor we were sheltered from the breeze. The heat settled on us. Fortunately, paddling in the harbor is not a strenuous activity.
Newport Harbor was not full of cruise ships like it was last year. There were, however, loads of megayachts. Some of these ships are big enough to be cruise liners. We saw ships that had bays for auxiliary speed boats and jet skis. We even saw one that had a helicopter sitting on deck. (I'd still prefer my kayak.)
Gould Island greeted us with a stench and a view of two unloading ore ships. We managed to find a spot where the breeze masked the heat and the stench. It was relaxing to just sit in the sun and munch on left overs knowing the return trip was going to be easy.
While the return trip didn't pose any real challenges, it was the most exciting part of the day. As we crossed Potter's Cove two ruffians on a barely controlled personal water craft nearly skidded us into Davey Jones' locker. Once we crossed under the Newport Bridge, the wind picked up and the seas got lively. We bounced our way back to Ft. Wetherill.
We weren't really ready to call it a day, so we decided to paddle along the coast towards Beavertail for a short bit. We figured the other group would be at least another hour, so we figured that we'd still beat them off the water...
Within minutes of deciding to continue on, we spotted the other group. They had paddled in largely calm water all day. The only excitement they saw was PB leading a landing party onto Whale Rock.
Since it was early, and I was still smarting from not passing the 2 star assessment, we decided to do a little skill practice in the cove. It was a perfect spot since there was some swells running into the cove, so the water was not quite quiet. I felt good running through the paces of rolls, sculling for support, sweep turns, and low brace turns.
Although the day was largely perfect, it ended on a sad note. I was practicing a sweep turn when I felt the mighty stick give way. I found myself upside down with a compromised paddle. I tried to roll, but the mighty stick finished splitting before I could even get a breath. RB rescued me promptly and I limped my way back to shore.
We will contact the manufacturer, Wolfgang Brink, since the paddle split doing a turn in deep water and it split along the repair he made to the paddle when it failed last year (also in deep water). I know paddles break, but I baby the mighty stick. I never use it as a lever to stabilize the kayak when getting into the cockpit, I never use it to push of the bottom, and I'm always careful not to put too much stress on it when it is not in the water. I have a Cricket paddle that has held firm through six years of abuse including all the things I do not do with the mighty stick. I also ran the Cricket paddle over with my car once....

Saturday, August 08, 2009

2 Star Training

Greg Paquin, owner and operator of Kayak Waveology, offered a couple of BCU 2 Star training for RIC/KA members. I missed the first class, but it got rave reviews.
H and I, with encouragement from TM, decided to take the class the second time it was offered. You can never get enough coaching and work on polishing up your skills. I also, despite my previous statements about how silly chasing stars is for non-professional paddlers, thought it would be neat to get a couple of stars.
Greg enlisted the help of his partner Paula for the day. We were a fairly large group with eight paddlers - four boys and four girls. Greg and Paula make a great team. One will demo the skill and the other will offer refinements. They also do a great job of circulating around the group offering pointers.
We covered all of the basics: reverse paddling, reverse sweep strokes, draws, sculling draws, moving draws, forward sweep strokes, low braces, bow rudders, low brace turns, and rescues. Part of the fun was the drills: to practice draws we lined up in a series of parallel lines and tried to catch each other using only draw strokes. Another drill involved paddling, backwards, in a line.
They showed us one new rescue called the ladder rescue. It starts off like a regular T-rescue. After emptying out the swimmer's kayak, the rescuer keeps it across his cockpit. The swimmer then climbs up the deck of their kayak, like in a cowboy rescue, and gets in the cockpit. Once everyone is sealed and has their paddle, the swimmer is launched back into the water. It sounds weird, but it is a stable rescue.
At the end of the day PB and I did the assessment. It involved several drills to show mastery of the skills: a reverse figure 8, turning the kayak 360 degrees in place using forward and reverse sweeps, recovering from a capsize using a low brace, etc..
I figured I'd skate right through the assessment. I use most of the skills on a regular basis and in ocean conditions.
When Greg had me do a hanging draw, I knew I was in trouble. The Q-boat's stern drifted out. Instead of gracefully sliding sideways, it just turned sideways without changing course. Greg gave me one more chance and it got a little better. The reverse figure 8 didn't go so well either. I tried turning on the wrong edge... I did manage to recover but what little confidence I had was gone. The draw strokes further doomed me. The sculling draw was fine, but the actual draw stroke was a joke. The Q-boat moved backwards and twisted in the (non)wind. Greg let me keep going until I got it right. After that I was tanked. My braces were half-hearted and my low brace turn was just a sweep and coast turn.
The only bright spot was my bow rudder. It is a thing of beauty.
Needless to say, I did not get the award. I was pretty upset, but not with Greg. For whatever reason, I did not demonstrate proficiency during the assessment.
It could be argued that Greg should have just given it to me because he has seen me control my kayak in rough conditions, but I would have thought less of him if he did that. It could also be argued that if I had used a Euro blade and a more Explorerish kayak, I would have sailed through with ease, but those are not the paddle nor the kayak I regularly use.
I want to pass because I earned it during the assessment and using my own gear.
Greg was very nice about failing me. He gave me pointers on what to work on and encouragement.
Now that I did not get the award, it is a mission. I will polish up the things that Greg pointed out, and I will pass the assessment using a stick and a Q-boat.

Sunday, August 02, 2009


While we were off gallivanting around Canada, TM was in Booth Bay getting his BCU 3 star and taking the BCU 4 star training. Because he is an excellent all around guy, TM freely shares his knowledge with the rest of the club. On our trip to Harbor of Refuge, he shared CLAP with us:

  • C - Communication

  • L - Line of sight

  • A - Avoidance (or Assessment depending on who you ask)

  • P - Position of most usefulness

They are the four things members of a group, particularly the leader (or coordinator if you prefer), need to think about.
Always keep the lines of communication in the group open. Pay attention to paddle signals and whistles. As a leader, you need to keep the group informed of the plan and any changes to the plan. As a group member, you need to communicate any issues to the leader.
Make sure you can see the other members of the group and any potential threats. As a leader, you need to be able to see the whole group. As a group member, you should also be able to see the other members of the group. You should also always be watching the surroundings.
Asses conditions to avoid endangering the group. As a leader, you need to take the entire group's skills in conditions into consideration when making decisions. Some times, the decision is between the lesser of two dangers. But your job is to keep the group as safe as possible. As a group member, you need to asses your own ability to handle conditions and also asses if your behavior could potentially endanger the group. Sometimes this means not playing in the rocks even if your not worried about personal safety.
Always attempt to be in a position to be useful to the group. In a situation, where do your skills fit the best? Should you rush in and do a rescue if you are better suited to being a tower? Which members of the group need the support of an experienced paddler? If you have a sea sick paddler, who should be in the raft and who should tow? When playing in a tidal race, where is a capsized paddler likely to get dragged? Should someone rush into the rocks to rescue a capsized paddler?

I Don't Remember It Being THIS Rough

After spending several days in a car driving through the wilds of Canada and Maine, I needed to do some paddling. TM was more than obliging to offer up a trip. He suggested paddling from Pier 5 in Narragansett to the Harbor of Refuge. It is roughly a seven mile paddle along the outer western shore of Narragansett Bay. It is exposed to open ocean swells that can get big and offers some places to play in rocks. It also offers a couple of easy outs if needed.
In my memory, the trip was a nice intermediate paddle with a taste of open ocean feel. There was not any really funky conditions or breaking water. Given my memory of the trip, I figured it would be a good chance for H to get out as well. She would be close to the edge of her comfort zone, but still inside it. She would get to see a new section of the RI coast, spend a nice day on the water, and gain some confidence. A threefur of sorts.
We met TM at Pier 5 in the morning and things looked perfect for the paddle. There was a small chance of thunder showers later in the day and it was humid, but the seas looked calm and the winds were low. The threat of showers and humidity seemed like a bonus to me because it made it less likely that there would a lot of boat traffic.
Once around the end of Pier 5 the water got lumpy and confused. This is normal for this section of the coast, but the water seemed more powerful than normal. H questioned TM about this, but seemed OK when he said it was normal. We chatted and enjoyed the challenge.
Around Scarborough Beach the water flattened out and I could see H relax. Then we spotted the white caps along Money Point....
The swells were breaking in waves off shore and then again closer to shore. I knew H could handle the conditions, but I also knew she wouldn't be happy about it. TM moved closer to shore to pick his way through the breakers. I knew H was not going in close to shore, but also didn't want to swing too far out from shore. Going far enough out to completely avoid the breaks would have made getting into the harbor that much more of an ordeal because it meant bigish following seas for a long time. So I tried to pick a course through the outer break and the inner break.
We easily slipped through the break zone. H was visibly nervous, but doing an excellent job of holding it together. At the entry to harbor TM took a line in close to the sea wall. There was a nice calm spot in close. I didn't think I was going to get H to move in close to the sea wall, so I told her to take a line to the right of the channel. It meant she would have to ride some big swells into the entrance, but would not need to worry about rocks. Her and her Capella are a great combination in following seas, so I was pretty certain she'd fly through the swells and into the harbor easily. If she did happen to go over, she'd get washed into the calm water of the harbor in deep water where TM or I could easily get her back in the kayak.
As expected, she rode the swells into the harbor like a champ. She really is pretty darn good despite her anxiety.
During lunch, H decided that she was not going to paddle back to Pier 5. She knew she could handle the conditions, but didn't want to needlessly suffer the anxiety of paddling another hour and a half in them. TM and I could paddle back, get the cars, and pick her up at the beach without any trouble. TM and I tried to talk her into to completing the trip, but did not push too hard. It was better that she was safe and happy.
Once we were out of the harbor, it was obvious that H had made a good call. Conditions were about the same as they were on the way down the coast: lumpy, strong swells.
TM and I took a much tighter path on the way back to Pier 5, so we could play a little bit more. It felt good to open up the stroke a little bit in rough conditions. The Q's tail was wandering a bit more than I'd have liked, but it was easy enough to control. For a long while I used the stern draw stroke I learned on the 3 star training to do course corrections. Then I switched to tossing in a little sweep stroke ever few strokes. Towards the end, I took the easy way out and dropped the skeg.
We made excellent time on the return trip. We covered the seven or so miles in an hour and a half. At the put in we did some rolling and bracing practice before reloading the cars. Once we were cleaned up and packed, we headed back to Pt. Judith to retrieve H.
It was an excellent day overall. H got some more exposure to big water. For the first time in a few months, I felt like my mojo was coming back.