Sunday, July 27, 2014

Rain, Rain, No Way

This weekend was our annual Boston Harbor Island paddle. I was jonesing for a big boy paddle. I love getting on the water with the family, but sometimes a boy needs to stretch his blades....
The weather forecast didn't look promising. On Friday it was a chance of thunderstorms. On Saturday it was a 50% chance of thunderstorms. Late Saturday it was a 60% chance of thunderstorms.
I checked on Saturday with PB to see what he wanted to do and he figured we would stay the course. The forecast looked a lot like the forecasters were essentially tossing their hands up because they couldn't tell what was going to happen. In addition, we could always stick to the inner harbor and be safe. It was the answer I wanted to hear. Without a second opinion, I may have whimped out and canceled the paddle.
Sunday morning was reasonably sunny, but a little windy. The wind was actually good. PB and I needed the reminder that paddling to the outer harbor was a bad idea. There is enough stuff to see on the inner harbor for an interesting day on the water.
The weather forecast was enough for a number of people to decide against paddling. The only ones rugged enough to join us were TM and CMO. Four boats is a very nice size pod for a day on the water.
We launched from windmill point and crossed the gut to the outside of Peddocks. We made our way along the outside of Peddocks under clear skies and almost no wind. The island shielded us from the blow. Peddocks is a deceptively big island. It is like two islands: the half with the fort and the half with the houses. There were people out on the beach enjoying the morning as we paddled along the shore.
When we rounded the end of Peddocks, we hit the blow. From the tip of Peddocks to Grape we paddled in wind. It was a strong beamy blow that churned up the water into a pleasant chop. It was my favorite section of the paddle. The Q is happiest in choppy water. The wind did cause some weathercocking, but that just added to the fun.
As we neared Grape ominous storm clouds filled the sky. We knew something was coming, but there was no thunder. We had lunch by the ferry dock on Grape Island with the camper waiting for the ferry. Just after breaking out the food, I got a text from H making sure we were off the water. Then the rain came down.
It rained, but didn't thunder for about 30 minutes. Once the sky dried up, we continued on our way back to the cars. The rain washed away a lot of the wind and chop. There was still a beam wind that pushed the back of the Q around, but it was far less than what we saw coming from Peddocks to Grape.
Our return trip took us around Slate and over to Bumpkin. We figured if the thunder did arrive we could hang out at the shelters on Bumpkin. There was no need to worry. We paddled under clear skies the whole way back to the put in.
I did try a couple of rolls before landing. I came up both times, but they were ugly. My blades dove both times. It is a clear sign that I need more practice....
The rain didn't really come until we were sitting having coffee and pastries. That was a perfect time for the storms. It meant less hosing down at home...

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Big Red

After two years, we upgraded Bug's kayak. The barge was an OK first kayak for introducing a two-year old to paddling, but it was far from a great kayak.
Now that Bug is a little older and more independent, she wants her own seat and we want to get a little more adventurous.
Looking around for an upgraded was frustrating. Most of the double kayaks we saw were firmly in the recreational category. We wanted a touring double. These turned out to be a rare and expensive breed. Seaward makes a few models. NDK makes one model. VCP makes one model. They are all expensive and hard to find. We weren't sure if we could afford the leap, but kept looking.
We visited our local REI to buy a tent on what turned out to be a garage sale day. Sitting on the lawn next to the front door was a big red double sea kayak!! It was a cast off from the previous years training fleet and marked down to $1000!!! A quick inspection showed no obvious damage. A quick online search for information about the make and model, a Wilderness System Northstar, gave us generally positive reviews. It was an offer we could not refuse.
The kayak is deceptively heavy. H insists that it feels lighter than the barge, but at 90lbs it is heavier. The weight is distributed over a longer area. The barge was a pudgy 15 feet long; Big Red is a sleek 19 feet long. Big Red's size and weight make transporting a challenge, but it seems more manageable than the barge was.
Big Red came with a rudder that needed to be reattached. This has been the biggest issue to date with the kayak. It is likely a stupid installer problem, but I cannot seem to find clips for attaching the wires to the rudder that are worth a damn. We have had the kayak on the water twice and both times the clips pulled apart within minutes. The latest set have held well enough so that I could use the rudder for most of the trip, but only just.
Aside from the issues with the rudder, I have found Big Red to be a pleasure to paddle. Bug has her own cockpit up in front that we could put a spray skirt on if we wanted. Both cockpits have comfortable seats with plenty of adjustments. The foot pegs in the rear cockpit are a little squishy, but that is typical with ruddered kayaks.
The hull is slightly swede form and that makes it relatively easy to manage with, or without, the rudder. Both times I have paddled Big Red, I have done so without the rudder for large parts of the trips. It isn't as easy to manage as the Q-boat, but it isn't impossible either. I found that a good sweep turn will suffice for most maneuvering. A stern rudder will keep Big Red straight in most conditions. I even used a "bow" rudder to effect a turn in ideal conditions.
The rudder works well and does make it easier to manage Big Red in cross winds.
Big Red feels stable in leaned turns, but I haven't been too aggressive yet. Bug doesn't have a skirt and we have not spent a lot of time practicing what to do in the case of a capsize. We have been in some minor chop and it felt stable throughout. Bug loved the way the nose felt as it dropped off the waves.
Big Red has three bulkheads, but only two truly dry compartments. The front and rear hatches are walled off from the cockpits by foam bulkheads. The third bulkhead is between the front and rear cockpit. There is a third hatch that opens into a space between the middle bulkhead and the rear cockpit. The space is not fully sealed off, but it does have a nice storage bag in side for holding gear. The hatches have hard plastic covers with neoprene covers underneath. The combination keeps the hatches dry, but the neoprene covers are a PITA.
For a $1000, Big Red is a great kayak. Even at full price it is a good kayak. I'm looking forward to many more years of family adventures in Big Red.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Big Red Rides the Slocom River

There are very few group paddles that we feel are OK to take along Bug. The Slocom River paddle felt like it would be an OK trip, so we e-mailed the coordinator to double check. She said it would be fine, so we packed up Bug's new kayak, a big red Wilderness System's Northstar double, and H's kayak for a fun adventure.
The night before we did a camp out night at the Y, so we our schedule to get to the put in was tight. We had to take down the tent, feed the cat, and ourselves before getting on the road. We actually figured we would be late and aimed to be just late enough that the group would leave without us and we could catch-up. My thinking was that it wouldn't hold anyone up. If we showed up before they left, say five minutes late, everyone would wait around for 10 minutes while we got our act together.
It turned out our plan didn't matter. Carleen and Cat, very nicely, decided to wait for us. As a result, the whole paddle kicked off 30 minutes late. The paddle was split into two groups, level 2 and level 3, by design. As it turned out, we were the only level 2 paddlers. Carleen graciously gave us a guided tour of the river.
It was a great day on the water. The weather was perfect: warm, sunny, and dry. There was a slight breeze, but nothing troublesome. Bug had fun on the way down the river. She looked for ducks and sang us a few songs. She also dragged her paddle in the water which made steering interesting. Fortunately, Big Red handles fairly well for a double and it was easy to keep on track without deploying the rudder.
At lunch we chatted and Bug made mud pies on the beach. We spotted little fish, crabs, and snails.
The wind was a little troublesome on the way back. It was just enough of an angle that Big Red weather cocked. I deployed the rudder and once I adjusted to using a rudder, the weather cocking stopped being a problem. I focused my paddling energy on forward motion and my feet on directional stability.
About half-way up the river, Bug put her paddle down, snuggled into her seat, and fell asleep. It didn't look like the most comfortable nap spot, but I'm sure her four year old body can be comfortable in places my forty year old body cannot.
There were a couple of places on the way back that the river gets pretty shallow. Carleen did a good job of keeping in the channel. I don't want to have to discover how hard it would be to drag Big Red out of a mud bank....
We all had a great day on the water. Carleen was very generous to take such good care of our little pod. The trip was a great length for all of us. Bug didn't get bored; H and I both went far enough to feel like it was a good paddle without going far enough to feel pooped. It is days like this that make me happy.