Sunday, October 05, 2014

Outer West Passage of Terror

It was a rough week at work. My boss resigned and my new master made it clear that I was no longer going to have as much freedom to address issues as I was used to having. So H pushed me to get out and paddle if possible.
TG posted a level 3-4 paddle out of Bay Campus for the weekend. Level 3-4 is around the top of my current range, but it is safely in the range-as long as things don't get too pear shaped. The forecast was for wind, but I was feeling pretty good about getting on the water. Then I read the message board on Saturday.....
There was a thread about how this was going to be an advanced level paddle, Only paddlers who had been paddling regularly should attend. There was a second post describing the conditions on Saturday as closer to level 4-5. I was feeling a little less confident that I was up for the trip. Was I really up for an edge of the envelope paddle? Would I slow the group down or become a safety issue?
Upon careful consideration of the facts, I decided to go. I had been paddling regularly. A lot of the paddling was not in rough conditions or on RIC/KA trips, but it was time on the water paddling. Pushing Big Red around exercises the same muscles and takes a good deal of skill. Maneuvering a double without help is not easy. The NOAA forecast for the area did not match up with the described conditions; they were night and day. It was a safe bet that reality was somewhere in the middle. I was comfortable with the middle. I also trusted that TG and TM would tell me if they felt I wasn't up to the conditions.
At the put in, it was a little windy. The seas looked bumpy, but not scary. The scariest decisions were where to park and what to wear. Autumn, like Spring, is always tricky from a wardrobe perspective. The weather was sunny, but a little windy. The water is a little cold, but not really cold. People were wearing drysuits and people were wearing shorts and paddle jackets. I wasn't ready to give up on the warm weather or admit that winter is bearing down, so I went with the shorts and paddle jacket.
We launched and crossed over to Dutch Island. From there we proceeded along the Jamestown coast. The wind and swells were a minor presence. You knew they were there, but just. It was nice to just paddle and catch up with people.
Once we passed Beaver Tail, the wind and swells picked up. Crossing the mouth of the Bay from Beaver Tail to Whale Rock is bumpy on a clam day. Today was no exception. It was bumpier than average, but far from uncomfortable.
From Whale Rock we paddled down to Narragansett Town Beach for lunch. Getting to the beach took some planning. The beach was busy, there was a little choppy surf, and the rip from Narrow River was in place. We stuck close to the rocks to avoid the rip and the surf. A few adventurous paddlers did take the opportunity to play.
Lunch was nice, but windy. It was the only point on the paddle that I regretted not wearing a drysuit. My legs got a little chilly. Several people pulled out storm cags for warmth. I took the opportunity to break out the emergency shelter for a little respite from the wind. The shelter, which is little more than a big nylon sheet, is a little unwieldy. Once inside the shell, you are toasty warm. From the inside, the shelter is easy to manage.
After lunch, we paddled back along the mainland coast and the rocks. The wind and the swell made it a fun ride. We also had the National Guard giving us a show of men being dangled from a helicopter. Gawking at the string of men being dragged through the air on a rope was a nice way to spend the breaks between surfing through rocks.
I've grown more cautious as I've gotten older. I am not more concerned about getting myself hurt; I'm more concerned about finding the time and money to get the kayak fixed. OK, I am also concerned about getting myself hurt. The worry is not really for myself though; it is for my family. How would my being injured effect them? Could I afford to get the kayak fixed without impacting them? That doesn't mean I don't want to play in the rocks. I just have to balance my desire to play with my responsibilities differently.
The rocks were fun. I didn't tackle all of the rocks, but I made anough runs to challenge and satiate the need. Ultimately, I think I enjoy the distance paddling more than the rock playing. The adrenaline rush is great. The quiet is better.
We ran into some paddler looking for surf in Bonnet Cove, so we checked the beach out. The surf was small. People played a little. I mostly just bobbed and recharged.
Back at the put-in, I did the mandatory roll on each side. I can still roll. They were not as pretty as in the past, but I get up.
The paddle was just what the doctor ordered. I drove home feeling much better and mentally relaxed. A good day on the water can wash away a lot of crap.