Sunday, October 15, 2017

Way More Than Expected

I was excited to get a late season paddle in before dry suit season. (A desk job in a small office has helped me out grow my dry suit....) I knew there was going to be a little wind, but a little wind is just a part of paddling.
As we left the shelter of Ft. Wetheril’s cove, it became obvious that Mother Nature delivered more than a little wind. We started out paddling headlong into big wind and big swells. With little warm up and less conditioning, I found the slog challenging. I was not worried about going over or losing control, I was worried I wouldn’t be able to keep up or make it to the lee for a break. I was an out of shape paddler in a short kayak surrounded by paddlers that paddled multiple times a week in long kayaks. Fortunately, I am stubborn and the Aries has a napoleon complex.
We made it into the lee of Jamestown and worked our way towards Beavertail in relative calm. It was a nice break before hitting the open water again and fighting our way around Beavertail.
On a quiet day Beavertail can be challenging. On a day with heavy winds blowing swells from the north into the shoals and cliffs, it was going to be a fight. At least it was a fight I was familiar with, I was warmed up from the slog into the lee, and I was a little rested from our too brief paddle close to the coast. I girded myself for battle and pushed out from the safety of the island.
Once out in front of Beavertail, conditions were not as bad as they could have been. The swells were big and the wind was pushy. To be safe, we stayed pretty far out from the coast so we wouldn’t get pushed into the rocks.
It was the kind of conditions where the Aries really shines. The planing hull means you get a little boost down the front of the swells. Its rocker and skimpy water line makes it easy to turn out before you get too close to any rocks. The maneuverability also means that you can almost always find away to overcome the weather cocking caused by the heavy wind. (The unfortunate thing is that you are always fighting to counter the weather cocking.)
Once we got around Beavertail, we found the paddling much easier. With the mostly at our backs we were getting nice pushes from the wind and the swells. This was another stretch of paddling the showcased the Aries’ strength, and its weakness. The push from the swells meant I had plenty of speed to keep up with the longer boats and even keep ahead of them. I got a number of nice long rides. However, I was always working to keep the Aries on a reasonably straight course. The wind pushed it around every which way. The skeg helped a little, stern rudders helped a little, sweeps helped a little, draw strokes helped a little. Tim M. suspected that a Euro paddle would have made it easier. I doubt it. I think it was partially the nature of the Aries and a lack of time on the water.
After we carried across into Mackerel Cove, we played in the tiny surf for a bit. It was perfect practice surf. Just big enough for a ride, but not big enough to cause trouble. It was a nice bit of play before heading back into the fray to make the hop back to Ft. Whetheril.
The stretch from Mackerel Cove to Whetheril turned out to be more fun than fight. The conditions were big enough to make being near the rocks dangerous, but comfortably dangerous. If I had my helmet, I would have been tempted to get into the rocks more. Since I had left my helmet in the car, I steered clear of anything too dangerous. I was torn: I wanted to be in the rocks; I wasn’t sure I was up to the challenge; I did not want to get hurt or endanger the group. In the end, I think not having the helmet was the best choice. I could take some small calculated risks without the false bravado the helmet would have given me.
Next year, when I have more time on the water, I can bring the helmet along and play hard.....
Although the day was harder than I expected, it was perfect. I got to spend a day doing what I love. I was challenged and learned that I could still hold my own. It also motivated me to work hard to drop a few pounds and get into the dry suit for some winter paddling.