Thursday, October 29, 2015

Where Did My Ride Go

Earlier this week I asked if we had any plans on Sunday. She just said “So, you are paddling.” TM had posted two touring paddles for the weekend. Saturday was packed with Bug fun, so it was Sunday for me.

On Saturday H asked me multiple times if the paddle was still a go. I looked at her like she was crazy until the third time she asked. A quick look at the forecast made her concern clear. The weather was not looking good. Wind and rain do not make for a fun paddle. There was nothing on the message board at 11pm Saturday.

The forecast was worse in the morning. A Small Craft Advisory was in effect for the bay. At 7am there was still no cancellation posted on the message board, so started to get ready to go.

Then Bug figured out that I was going kayaking for the day… She was not thrilled despite the fact that my going kayaking meant the she was going to get to spend the day relaxing at home. She proposed that we do a quick art project together. How could I say no? 30 minutes later we had drawn two things we were calling owls.

Fortunately, I had done most of the packing on Saturday night and all that was left to do was pop the pumpkin on the car. I was ready to hit the road by 8:10 which left me plenty of time to get to the put-in and not hold things up much… I did one more quick check for a cancellation. It was all clear.

At the put-in the weather was grey and foreboding. Bay Campus was shielded from the worst of the wind, but a quick look south was all it took to see the angry white caps marching up the west passage.

The original paddle route was to cross over to Jamestown, cut across the beach at Mackerel Cove, make our way south to Beavertail, cross to Whale Rock, and then come north along Bonnet to Bay Campus. The extended forecast was for the already significant winds to gain strength later in the day. This information lead TM to reverse the plan. We would paddle into the conditions along mainland, cross over, and get blown home along the eastern Jamestown coast where the island could shield us a bit.

The first leg of the paddle was not too much of a struggle. The bluffs between Bay Campus and Bonnet Shores kept the worst of the wind off of us. You could see the swells piling up farther south. It was a little intimidating and more than once I wondered what drove me to do these foolish things. A sane man would be somewhere nice and warm with his family on a day like this.

At the entrance to Bonnet Shores, TM noticed that the winds were causing the group to spread out despite being packed full of strong paddlers. To stop the drift, TM decided to assign lead paddlers and to occasionally rotate who was in the lead. It worked pretty well. We managed to stick together for the whole paddle.

Once past Bonnet Shores we started feeling the full force of the wind. The swells were a good three to four feet and fairly steep. The pumpkin did a fair amount of bow slapping. Where the Q-boat’s pointy bow sliced through swells, the pumpkin’s planing hull rides over them and then falls into the trough. It makes for a bumpy ride. Despite the slapping, the pumpkin handled beautifully. It stayed on the line without much correcting and kept up with the group with no issues.

At Whale rock we took a minute to get water and regroup. It was a good idea physically. It was not a great idea mentally. It provided a nice view of exactly what conditions we were paddling into and enough time to think about it. It was a moment of terrifyingly bemusing reflection. I find this fun; what is wrong with me?

Getting to Beavertail meant a long crossing in big, beamy seas. At first I tired to keep the pumpkin on a fairly straight line. Like the Q-boat, she gets knocked about quite a bit; unlike the Q-boat, she is easy to get back on the line. The pumpkins miniature stature, prodigious rocker, and wide, flat bottom makes quick adjustments both required and easy.

It didn’t take long, however, to figure out that it was faster, easier, and more fun, the ride the swells diagonally across the Bay. I found myself dashing across the face of a big swell and knew that this was the way the pumpkin wanted to make the crossing: I could fight her, or I could go with it. Going with it was the fun choice. The planning hull loves to skim along the face of a wave and all it takes is a little push. Zoom across the face of a swell for a bit, turn up the next swell to stay on the proper line, zoom again....

I was really looking forward to turning north and riding the following seas along the Jamestown coast. I got a few good rides early on, but once we were in the shadow of the island the swell diminished. Conditions were surprisingly reasonable.

I was surprised to see a paddler out of their kayak near the rocks. TM swooped in and did a quick rescue while the rest of us sat back thinking that we should probably use our toe ropes to keep the rescue off the rocks….

TM was so smooth that we all figured any help would just get in the way. They did get kind of close to the rocks though….

We had lunch in Hull Cove. The swells may have died down, but they still made landing a chore. Getting surfed into the rocky beach was not on my agenda.

After lunch, the swells made getting off the beach a soggy affair. I decided to go backwards off the beach and to not seal up my skirt before hitting the water. The backwards part meant that the pumpkins skinny stern punched through the swells and washed the water right into my exposed cockpit. I had to spend some time on the open water bailing out before rejoining the group.

While I was bailing out my cockpit, one of the other paddlers decided things had been too boring and decided to paddle though the rocks around short point. Before I managed to rejoin the group, he had managed to seal land on one of the rocks. He managed to self-rescue by ditching the kayak into the water and scrambling back onto it.

Things were quiet for the rest of the paddle up Mackerel Cove. There were a few waves to ride, but nothing too exciting.

We landed and I noticed that my day hatch was not quite sealed. I thought the back of the kayak felt heavy….

We carried the kayaks across the road, and into the mud. Tide was low, so there wasn’t a lot of water to paddle. TM said we would have to walk the kayaks to the sandbar before paddling out, so I hooked up my short tow and started pulling. The mud was smushy, sticky, and sucky.

About half way across the mud puddle I noticed that everyone else was in their kayaks and shallow paddling to what looked like an opening into deep water. I decided that was a better idea than muck walking. I unhooked the short tow. Then I made sure I was on firmish ground and lifted one leg up over the cockpit. As I started to lift the other foot, I encountered some resistance. I pulled a little harder and the foot popped loose. And I flopped off the far side of the kayak. The mud was soft, sticky, stinky, and sucky. I dragged myself back to my feet after getting sucked in a few more times.

Winded, I started pulling the pumpkin towards the solid looking mud bar standing between me and the open water. The mud turned into glue as I got closer to the mud bar. Then it hardened up and I was able to pop right into the cockpit.

Paddling to the outlet was slow going. The mighty stick could not find purchase in an inch of water. Then it all stopped. The mud had sucked the hull of the kayak into its maw. I considered using my hands to crab walk to deeper water. I didn’t want to get my hand stuck in sticky mud. It didn’t look like the mud that is good for the skin. I was loathe to get out of the kayak for fear of ending up waist deep, but I didn’t see any other good options.

It turned out that the ground under the kayak was pretty firm. It was a short and easy drag to water that was deep enough for the mighty stick to be mighty.

Looking across to Bay Campus from Dutch Island, the water looked calm. Whatever weather that had been forecast had blown itself out in the morning. The crossing back to the put-in was anticlimactic.

The post paddle coffee and baked goods was enjoyed on the deck at Fuel. The view wasn’t quite as good as the view from the deck of Java Madness, but the coffee and company was good. It was a nice place to unwind after the paddle and refuel for the long ride home through football traffic.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Fenix 3

Before the whole “smart watch” craze started, Garmin and Suunto were making GPS enabled ABC watches that could hook up to a bunch of Ant+ sensors and talk to a smart phone. I started using the original Garmin fenix in 2013. It was chunky, but was not too much to wear as a daily watch. It served as a bike computer by pairing up with speed and cadence sensors. It tracked my kayaking with the GPS. It tracked family hikes. A software update made it capable of receiving notifications from my phone.

The fenix did not count steps which was a limitation. That meant I was wearing the watch and a Fitbit. The combination worked OK. I occasionally forgot to take the Fitbit off in the pool or put it on in the morning.

The Apple Watch was announced at a fortuitous time. I had just lost my Fitbit for the second time and Garmin had released the vivosmart. It was a $100 wristband that tracked steps, told time, connected to my heart rate monitor and the speed sensor on my bike, and could forward notification to my phone. It became my daily watch.

The vivosmart was cool, but hardly life changing. The longer I wore it the more useful I found it to be. Leaving my phone on silent was a nice perk. The vivosmart had a find my phone function and it could keep track of all of my exercise data. The only thing it was lacking was GPS functionality. I had an old fenix for when I needed GPS on my wrist.I began to wonder what a truly smart watch could do. The possibilities of a bigger, color screen and a full API for developing apps felt huge. It would be nice to get a quick check of the weather or have loyalty cards without pulling out my phone.When the specs for the Apple Watch were released, I was disappointed. It was beautiful, but whimpy. It wouldn’t hold up to a kayaking trip, a weekend in the woods, or a trip in the pool. It was designed for the more urban, hip set.

Then I saw that Garmin was diving into the smartwatch pool. None of them had the fancy touch screen, taptic engine, or the slick apple design. They all, however, were waterproof, GPS enabled, and could last for days on a charge. One of the models, the vivosmart, even has a reasonable price.

The fenix 3 was a no brainer. Round watches look better. It also had the best specs for the price: waterproof to scuba depths, 5 day battery life, bluetooth, wifi, along with Ant+ and GPS. It didn’t have maps, but did have navigation features. All of the new Garmin watches also came with an SDK that allowed developers to create watch faces, widgets, data fields, and apps.

I had a big REI dividend check, so the $500 price was not an issue. The price tag is on the higher end of the fitness/smart watch category. When you look at only GPS enabled fitness/smart watches, it is still on the high end of the range, but not by much. For the premium price, you do get a premium watch. The watch body is metal and it doesn’t shout fitness watch. I wear the fenix 3 everyday and get compliments on how stylish it looks.

The fenix 3 is not as slick looking as the Apple Watch, but it does have a classic men’s watch look. The materials are nice and it comes in two finishes: grey and sliver. I opted for the grey. It is big watch with a two inch diameter, but it does not overwhelm my average sized wrist. The standard band is a rubbery plastic that is comfortable. The band uses standard pins, so it is easy to swap the standard band out for one of your choosing.

The watch face can be customized to your liking as well. The default watch faces are minimalist and classy. You can choose between an analog watch face with date or a digital watch face with a number of complications. If the built in watch faces are not to your liking, there are hundreds of watch faces you can install, for free, from the Connect IQ store. I have had a Homer Simpson watch face, a Smiley watch face, a wind gauge watch face, a watch face that was just two big circles that spun around. I am currently using a simple analog face that includes a step gauge and the date. Some of the watch faces are poor. A number of faces that are just attempts to emulate luxury watches. Regardless of your taste, there is likely a watch face that fits it. If you cannot find one, you can either make one for yourself or wait a little while. New faces appear everyday.

There are three other categories of applications that can be downloaded to the watch:

  • widgets are auxiliary screens that can be scrolled through from the watch face
  • data fields are views into the data collected by the sensors during an activity
  • applications are programs that completely takeover the watches functionality

For me, the widgets are the things I use the most. You scroll to them from the watch face and they show you easy to consume slices of information. The watch has several built in widgets for showing the data collected from the watch sensors like the temperature and the barometric pressure. I turned those off within hours of getting the watch. The ones I kept are the weather widget that pulls information from you phone to give you a quick look at the forecast, the steps widget, the calendar widget which shows the events from your phone calendar, and the notification widget that shows the notifications from the phone. The built in widgets also include one for controlling the music player on your phone and one for controlling a Virb action camera.

There are approximately a hundred custom widgets on the Connect IQ store. The widgets I use the most are the minute cast from weather channel and the sun and moon widget from Garmin.

There is only one application that I use and that is sky watch. It is a cool app that points out objects in the night sky. It uses the GPS and the other sensors to orient you. It is not super useful, but it is a fun way to show off when camping with friends.

There are two applications that I keep thinking about installing. One is a find your app that also keeps track of when your meter needs to be changed. The other lets you store bar code based cards on the watch. I don’t frequently park at meters or use a lot of cards with bar codes. If I did they would be useful.

The Connect IQ store has a ton of watch faces to choose from. I change mine frequently. They range in quality, but most look pretty good. I, personally, like the analog faces with step information on them. I do also have a sweet spot for one that is just a big yellow smily face with the time underneath it and the Homer watch face.

Like the Apple Watch, the Garmin watches can be great if the applications arrive. Sadly, the big names are not developing apps for the platform. It would be great if there was a Nest widget. I am surprised at the lack of applications for services that Garmin partners with. For example, they use My Fitness Pal to track calories, but there is no watch app or widget.

Unlike the Apple Watch, the Fenix 3 is a great watch even without cool apps. It does a great job of telling the time and tracking my activity levels. It is super durable. It has advanced fitness tracking features. It has built in navigation features. It has a battery that last for days. It has preinstalled smart features that get the job done.

Now Garmin just needs to figure out how to get the big name developers to come to their platform.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

The Great Pumpkin Rides Again

The great pumpkin has slept since it went into the shop for repairs at the end of July. Carl turned the repairs around quickly, but vacations, weather, and family obligations meant there were no opportunities to get her back on the water.

Truth be told my crazy conjured up images of there being more damage than Carl had noticed or that I hit another rock. These were not reality based concerns.

Carl always does solid work and this repair was no different. He reinforced the area with extra glass and from the outside you could not tell where the damage was done. Carl did leave some of the scratches in place so I could brag.

This weekend the stars finally aligned. I had time and the weather was good. Two paddles were scheduled: surfing at Narragansett Beach and a tour along the outer coast of the Bay from Pier 5 to Harbor of Refuge. I decided to go with Pier 5 because Sunday is better for me and while the pumpkin is made for surfing I enjoy some variety in a paddle.

On Saturday, one of my chores was to clear cut a tangle of vines and prickly thorns out from behind the garage. How hard can pulling out a bunch of weeds when you are equipped with a pair of mucho grande shears? When you are an office drone in his mid-40s, it can be a crippling experience. I yanked on a particularly truculent weed and felt by back tweak. In a fit of not wanting to admit I’m middle aged, I didn’t stop the clear cutting to give my back a rest….

By dinner time I was barely able to walk, but I was not willing to admit I couldn’t paddle. I packed my gear in the car and parked my butt on the couch with a heating pad. I even swallowed my crazy dislike of Tylenol and took two before bed.

H made me promise that I wouldn’t make any stupid decisions in the morning…. She didn’t want to rescue me once I was in Narragansett.

Things didn’t get much better. By bed time, I could barely move. I wasn’t even sure I was going to be able to sleep….

When I woke up, I gingerly rolled onto my feet not sure if I’d crumble to the floor. I felt a little twinge. As I went about my business, the twinge went away. I still popped a dose of Tylenol for good measure. Then I finished kayak prep by putting the pumpkin on the roof.

I was excited to see CC and RB on the paddle. It felt like years since the last time I saw either of them. I looked forward to catching up with them as we made our way to the Harbor of Refuge.

Once on the water, it became clear that the forecast didn’t match the reality. The winds was steady and out of the south.

Eight miles is a long way to fight a steady wind.

The group succumbed to the fate of all kayak groups in a steady wind. We started spreading out. Fast paddlers ran away from slower paddlers. Then the fast paddlers have to stop and wait and the slow paddlers have to struggle to catch up. Over time, this makes for trouble. The fast paddlers get cold with all the waiting. The slow paddlers work really hard and don’t get enough rest.

TM made the smart call and had us stop before we reached the light house. We lunched on a sheltered rocky beach.

The conditions on the return trip were in the pumpkin’s sweet spot: following seas. I pretty much surfed the whole way back. The most difficult part of the return trip for me was not getting too far ahead of the group of longer kayaks.

A few people took the opportunity to play in the rocks. I, however, decided to stay clear of anything that might hurt the pumpkin. It was tough to resist the siren song, but it is still too soon to test my mettle.

After paddle coffee was at Java Madness. We lingered over our coffee. Visiting with old friends cannot be rushed.