Monday, May 25, 2015

Rocks of Doom

Getting to paddle two weekends in a row is rare and beautiful. I was definitely looking forward to this paddle. It was scheduled as a rock paddle out of Fort Whetheril; perfect for breaking in the new Aries. A lot of other people were thinking similar thoughts. The flotilla included at least three Delphins which are the plastic older brother of the Aries.
I was hoping for some good wave action to make things exciting, but the water wasn't cooperating. Things were pretty benign. In some ways that was better for my nerves since I am still in the "please don't scratch it" stage of ownership. There was little chance of doing any damage to the Aries while playing.
We shadowed a group of Kayakwavology students along the coast. They moved much faster and further than we did. We spent a lot of time noodling around and taking turns trying to squeeze through tight spots.
I had a great time getting the feel for just how turns the Aries is in tight spots. It really is a white water boat made for sea kayaking.
After lunch we turned around and replayed the same rocks. Amazingly, they got more dangerous in reverse. TM managed to get some serious dings in his hull.
It turned out to be a shortish day on the water, but is was another good chance to adjust to the new kayak.

Sunday, May 17, 2015


Sometimes you see the details on the chart, but do not put all the pieces together. Sometimes you get lucky and put the pieces together in time to avoid disaster….This weekend was scheduled for a visit to my brother’s family in CT. His daughter was having a birthday party and it made for a good excuse for the families to get together. It conflicted with the perfect paddle for breaking in the new Aries, but family always comes first.What we missed on the party invite was that it was at a kiddie spa. The name of the venue suggested ice cream, not pedicures…. Fortunately, H realized this the day before the event. Later in the day my brother e-mailed saying he was working all day. So, the three of us were going to drive two hours to attend an all girl birthday party for an eight year-old at a spa….
H, who is a saint, made the command decision that I was no longer included in the birthday party plan. She and Bug would go to the birthday party, and I would go paddling. I tried to argue that I had to go to the party because it was my family…. She stood firm and insisted that I go paddling.
I got up in the morning, packed up the last of the paddling supplies, strapped the Aries onto the roof, and headed out with plenty of time to get to the put in. As I was driving down the hill from my house to the Starbucks, I noticed that the kayak’s bow was drifting to the left. My initial thought was that I just needed to tighten the straps down what I stopped to get coffee. When I checked the straps I saw that one of my cradles had suffered a catastrophic failure. The hinge attaching the lower portion of the jaw had snapped off. I wasn’t sure I could even limp the 3/4 of mile back up the hill to my house.
Saint H pulled through one more time. She dug out a spare cradle, packed up a very unhappy Bug into her car, and drove down to rescue me. She even helped me get the new cradle attached to the car so that I could continue on my way to the paddle.
The drive was not relaxing. I was caught between watching my speed for fear of a second rack failure and wanting to speed to make up for the lost time. I was sure I could make it to Westport before everyone left the put in, but I didn’t want to be that guy. I am particularly sensitive since I am incapable of getting on the water quickly. Time just slows down when between the opening of my car door and the time my kayak glides away from the beach.
I did make it the paddle in plenty of time. A lot of the time was taken up with people complimenting me on the new kayak. It was a little embarrassing, but fun as well. The yellow over bright orange is eye catching. Since this is only the second time the Aries has been in the water, I still wasn’t sure it was more than eye catching. Could it keep up with a pod of traditional length sea kayaks? Would it be fun to paddle in conditions without being too easy? Could the hull shape possibly live up to the hype?
This paddle was a good opportunity to answer some of those questions. There were a lot of traditional sea kayaks in the group. TM was the only other person in a play kayak--He was testing out his newly acquired Romany XL. The paddle to and from the mouth of the river is pretty traditional touring style paddling. The current and rock play provides plenty of opportunity for the areas where the Aries is designed to shine.
The paddle to and from the mouth of the river were pleasant. The wind was light and the current not too much of an issue. The Aries paddled nicely and I didn’t feel like I was working too hard to keep up with the other kayaks. It paddled like most other sea kayaks I have paddled. That was a big positive. For relaxed paddling in mild conditions, I want a kayak to feel neutral.
When we got to the mouth of the river the current was running pretty strong, but the wind was not cooperating. It was blowing with the current and flattening the waves.
Despite the lack of standing waves, it was a good chance to practice paddling in current. The first time I tried an eddy turn, I did a 280 before I knew what happened. After that, I had a much better sense of how to handle the turns with some edging. Out in the main flow the Aries skipped across the moving water. It was fun to just play around and see how the kayak handled. The few waves that popped up proved that the Aries loves to catch waves. It just hops on the wave and takes off.
It didn't take long for us to get bored and start thinking of new ways to spice up the paddle. It was supposed to be a play day. We decided to head out of the river and play on the rocks on the outside of the nubble.
After lunch we found a choice outcropping for playing. It offered multiple play spots. The most popular was in the middle of the out cropping. The waves crashed around and made a nice soupy mess. I quickly got over my oh it is too new to scratch and put the Aries in the thick of it. This was what the boat was made for…. It was stable and maneuverable through out. When I was done all it took was a little edge. The bow slid out and I was on the other side of the soup.

The other fun spot to play on the rocks was on the far edge. There was a nice little slot where the waves pushed through with a little less force. From the beach side it made a nice spot to practice keeping the bow in position. From the ocean side it provided a nice safe surf run.

While playing on this safe run, I managed to time a wave very poorly. I found myself getting pushed straight into the rock. The wave steepened and I felt the bow getting pinned. Once that happened, I knew there was no way to turn past the rocks. Just as I resigned to kissing the rock, the bow popped. I edged, the bow turned, and I slid past the rock with a huge smile on my face.

The trip back to the put in was uneventful. It was a nice relaxing way to cool down. It was also a nice reminder that the Aries was a capable regular kayak.

Friday, May 15, 2015


Last Sunday, we went down to Osprey Sea Kayak to get some work done on H’s kayak and Big Red. H needed her backband fixed and her deck lines tightened. Bug Red needed to get the rudder lines attached so that they stop falling off. Carl and Sam are our go to kayak repair people.

They also sell P&H kayaks, but that wasn’t part of the plan. I think P&H and I think Cetus and I was not keen on a Cetus. I really had my brain set on the Tiderace kayaks. Getting to New York was a hurdle I was prepared to jump.

When we pulled up I saw that Osprey had a used Nigel Foster Legend for sale. The Legend is a classic sea kayak and has always intrigued me, so I wanted to give it a try.

The Legend was fine. It fit me well. It turned OK for a touring kayak. The hull was in good shape. There was nothing about the Legend that made me change my mind about trying out the Tiderace kayaks.

As I got out of the Legend Carl slid an Aries 155 onto the boat ramp and told me to try it out. As soon as I backed into the river and turned the kayak, I knew it was a play boat. It spun around like a white water kayak. I paddled it around the river by the shop for awhile and was increasingly impressed. It not only turned like a dream, it went pretty straight when needed. According to H I was smiling the whole time I was paddling it.

After I dragged myself out of the kayak, I asked the obvious question: "Do you have any in stock?" They did have one: orange over orange with yellow trim.

Before I plopped down the plastic and gave up on the Tideraces, I had questions. The Aries is under 16 feet long; can it keep up with a pod of Ceti? Can it be packed up for a weekend of camping? I had read a few reviews, and knew that the reviewers thought the answers were yes. However, I wanted to hear it first hand from an actual Aries paddler. Carl uses an Aries 150 as his primary kayak. Carl and Sam both assured me that the Aries could keep up with a Cetus for most paddles and could carry enough gear for a weekend with some creative packing.

Like all kayaks, the Aries is about trade offs. The Aries is optimized for playing on the ocean and not for expeditions. It is at its best on bouncy water, surf, and dodging rocks. As an ocean play kayak, it is designed to have decent speed to get to the play spots and carry some extra gear. On an expedition, it is not at its best, but still OK.

So I pulled the trigger. It needed a keep strip and a compass, which was good since our car couldn’t carry three kayaks home...

I picked it today and took it for a break-in paddle on the Charles River in Waltham; it is the section of the Charles known as the lake district. The river is not the optimal place to paddle an Aries-the water is flat and there is not much to dodge-but that was sort of the point. I wanted to know that I hadn’t boxed myself into a corner with a kayak that was only good for the extreme stuff.

It was a nice paddle along this route. I did take time to play with turning and finding the edges. The Aries is a very turny kayak; I had fun just spinning it around a few times…. The straight line performance was good. The Aries didn’t feel particularly slow, nor did it feel fast. I spent most of the time trying to find issues and I could not really come up with one. The paddle was a nice confirmation that I made a solid purchase. I cannot wait to get it out on some real water….