Monday, November 22, 2021

Hunting for the Hound of Wetherill

The best way to integrate the skills picked up at the Gales is to turn around a kayak the next weekend!! I'm not sure what H was thinking giving me a paddle pass two weeks in a row.

It was a great day to paddle: sunny with a slight breeze and some swell coming up the bay.

We worked our way south towards Beavertail hugging the coast and playing in anything that looked remotely interesting. I was feeling pretty bold, so I tried anything that looked passable. There were plenty of getting through ugly, but the conditions were gentle enough so that there was no carnage.

The rocks just to the north of Mackerel Cove had a nice break over them, so we headed out there to do some surfing. It was a nice wave and just about everyone caught a good ride. I, however, just couldn't get it straight. The first couple of times I was just out of perpendicular to the wave and my stern got pushed. After Tim G. explained to me that the trick was to see what the wave was breaking over and then point the bow towards it, I tried one last time....

The wave broke and crashed right over a giant pointy rock. I just couldn't make myself do it. At the last minute, I slid my butt just a bit and let the stern get turned by the wave and surfed away from the rock. Bold only goes so far some days...

We lunched at Hull Cove and debated heading further south towards Beaver Tail. There was also some politics being batted about, but politics and paddling definitely do not mix.

After lunch the swell and the wind disappeared. There was still enough going on to find some play spots, but noting quite as fun as in the morning. We managed to find some trouble though. I may have donated more gel coat to the water gods on the way home than on the way out.

When we got back to Wetherill nobody was ready to get off the water, so we paddled around the bend to see if there was any action by the big house. It was a nice extension to the paddle, but conditions remained calm.

After a quick photo shoot, we headed back to the put in and called it a day.

A few rolls proved what I was suspecting at the Gales; my neck gasket needs to be replaced and the dry suite will need to spend a few weeks in the shop.

The day was a great way to end a paddling season while I wait for my dry suite to be ready for some winter paddles.

Friday, October 29, 2021

Autum Gales

 I love Greg Paquin's annual Autumn Gales event despite the fact that I usually only attend one of the three days. The coaching is always excellent and the conditions are always a little challenging.

Unfortunately COVID kept the UK coaches that usually attend in the UK, but Greg has plenty of local, or at least US-based, coaching talent available and as expected my one day was full of adventure and learning. I heard the Saturday and Sunday sessions were even more fun. One of these years, I will apply for a multiway hall pass from the family....

After the morning briefing, my choice of groups was either to off with Greg and do rough water rescue practice or to go off with some new coaches and work on reading conditions and other open water comfort skills. Greg suggested that working with new coaches was always a good idea, so I went off with them.

The day looked iffy for any really big conditions in the areas we were headed. There was plenty of wind and plenty of current around; it just all happened to be going the same way. That did make it a perfect day for practicing reading conditions. We talked about current direction and wind direction and how they interact with each other to create waves. We talked about how they interact with our kayaks and which would most likely impact our ability to navigate.

There was a wave break off the nearby point that was caused by some submerged rocks. We paddled over to check out the action. The waves were close to shore and mostly pushing into a rocky area. There was one wave that was rideable...if you could catch it.

The wave was extremely localized and had to caught at just the right spot to get a good, safe ride. The problem was that the gap between waves was not insignificant and there were a lot of factors pushing a kayak out of position. A few people managed to catch nice rides, but I was not one of them. I would set up in what I thought was a good position, but by the time the wave came I was out of the slot. The wind and current was pushing off shore making it hard to hold in the sweet spot.

After a frustrating stay at the wave, we grabbed some lunch at a protected bit of sand. The spot was nice because it offered a bit of a wind break to keep us warm. It was also positioned nicely so that the landing was nice and smooth. The wave action was minimal.

During lunch we talked a little about wave periods because the plan for after lunch was to head around the point and try to practice landing in dumping surf. Figuring out wave periods is a skill that escapes me - it could be that I just suck at counting. I didn't feel too bad because there seemed to be a lot of variability in the periods being offered up... But the general consensus was that the period was long enough to make a surf landing in dumping waves within safe margins.

After lunch the wind and tides had changed so that a nice surf break set up running mostly parallel to the beach. The waves were not huge, but they were well formed and predictable; perfect for some fun. Because they were running along the shore and not into the shore, you could catch some long runs. It was a great way to kill 30 minutes before heading around the point to practice smashing into the sand...

On the northern side of Napatree, the waves were going into shore and dumpy. We had a brief chat about how to land in dumpy surf; use the back of a wave, get out quickly, don't get stuck between your kayak and the beach.

The landing part was easy. The waves were well spaced out and not too big. I caught I nice ride most of the way in, backed off just in time, and let the back of the following wave drop me gently on the sand.

The launching part was less easy. I've never really been great at surf launching... My turtle motion is not fast enough, I tend to start too far up the beach, or too close to the surf. I almost always get turned around at least once and today was no different. I did get off the beach in one piece, and that is what counts....

After surf landings we headed over to a nun to see what the current and wind were doing. Looking at the nun made things look surprisingly dynamic. You could definitely see the current moving against the sides and see how things were pushing us around.

The coaches had us do an exercise where we paddled up to the nun and then turn around it. It was a little unclear which way were supposed to circle the nun, so I did it a couple of ways in each direction. It was also a little unclear what the point of the exercise was - not that I didn't enjoy playing dodge the nun in traffic. The Aries is made for just that sort of thing. It spins around big metal obstacles with glee; a little sweep stroke here, a bow rudder there, and a butt scootch will get the Aries to do a 360 just about every time.

The point of the exercise was to see how a kayak's handling is effected by wind and current and which one was the biggest factor in this situation. Because I can be clueless and paddle a magic spinning kayak, I didn't notice any big effect from either the wind or the current. Fortunately others did and the coaches got to explain what was going on and strategies for handling it. The biggest factor was the wind and typically what happens when paddling and turning into the wind is that your bow gets pinned in the water and the stern gets pushed around. The trick is to work the back of the kayak to unstick it and get it to move around. I took the tip and put it in my back pocket for when I am trying to go straight.....

Then we paddled back over to the sea wall where we practiced some towing in moving water. My partner feigned being unable to stay upright, so my option was a contact tow across current and fighting wind: not the easiest choice. I managed to get back behind the wall and into calmer waters with some work. There was a lot of correcting going on and it wasn't fast. For the second round, I got to be towed but now it was a race. My partner used a short tow which was an ideal choice until we got tangled up in another groups long tow... Towing in a crowd is never a great idea.

After the towing we played around for a bit longer doing nothing in particular. I tried some rolling and working the currents coming around the breakwater.

The paddle back was a good chance to take the tip about working the stern to practice. The wind was at enough of an angle that the Aries, which never really goes straight, was getting weather cocked something fierce. I tried using the skeg to straighten her out, but never could get the right adjustment and gave up. What did end up doing the trick was throwing a little sweep into the end of a few paddle strokes. The extra push on the back of the stroke was just enough to correct for the wind.

Unlike my last few Gales, this one lacked epic (borderline unsafe) conditions. But it did offer plenty of opportunity to work skills in challenging conditions with great coaches.

Maybe next year, I'll put in for a weekend pass and attend more than one day....

Saturday, October 09, 2021

The Big Swell

 On Sunday I asked for clearance to paddle today. There were no paddles scheduled, but was confident that someone would post something. With a busy family, pre-clearance is always a good thing. Time that is not scheduled gets eaten.

When Thursday rolled around and no paddles had appeared on the message board I started to get worried. I was not ready to coordinate a paddle or convinced that anyone would drive north to played around in Boston Harbor.

Fortunately someone jumped in and proposed a crazy reef paddle out of Stonington. More experienced and level heads intervened and the venue was changed to the Bay Campus. We would still get a chance for big swells and wind without the tide race and exposure.

From the put in things seemed pretty tame. There was some wind and a little swell. It was the perfect weather for trying out my new Peak UK paddle jacket.

Our plan was to cross over to Jamestown paddle towards Beaver Tail, cross over to find a lunch spot, and paddle back along the bluffs. This plan meant paddling into the wind and swell on the way out, but getting a nice ride on the way home. It also offered some flexibility in terms of where we crossed back to the mainland.

The crossing over to Jamestown was bumpier than usual, but not too rough. We all could have used a little warming up before heading straight out, but we were impatient. This ultimately cost us a paddler. One of the group through their back out making the crossing and needed to be towed back to Bay Campus.

Two paddlers kindly volunteered to do the towing and catch back up with the rest of the group. The pairing was both needed to do the tow - one to stabilize the injured paddler and one to do the towing - and so that they could safely set out again after making sure the injured paddler was safely on shore, packed up, and capable of getting home.

The rest of us headed down Jamestown taking our time and playing in the rocks. We were in the lee of the island so the wind was not much of a factor and the swell was just enough to make things fun. Practicing boat control in tight spots is always a good time.

It is also a good time to do some rescue practice. I was waiting for my turn on a feature where you slipped between a couple of rocks and the shore when the paddler working their way through got stuck. They put up a good fight, but just couldn’t stay upright.

Before starting into do a rescue, you should have a plan… I just started moving around the outside of the feature hoping the paddler would push their kayak out of the hole for me to grab and then swim out. That didn’t happen... Next thing I know I’m in the entrance to the feature with one hand on my paddle and the other hand holding an upside down kayak with its pilot hanging on to it. 

I could not do a one handed scull and tow us out.. then I remembered that I had a cowtail attached to my PFD!!

Once I latched the clip onto the other kayak, we were out of the rocks and into a position where someone could safely put the paddler back into the boat. In short order everyone was back in their kayaks and we were off.

As we worked our way towards Beavertail the swells picked up significantly. Once we got to the point the wind was also making itself felt.

Crossing over to Whale Rock was going to be a fun ride!

Before we started the crossing, we were told to stay together as much as possible and not get carried away catching the swells.... It is like they were reading my mind.

Before I could stop myself, I was out in front of the pod flying surfing the following seas. The swell was nice and uniform, so the Aries just glided over the water.

It didn't take too long for me to realize that I was out of order, so I laid down some rudder and let the pod catch up. Once back with the pod, I was careful to watch my speed and my bearing.

Once we got to Whale Rock we turned back up the Bay to find a lunch spot that was out of the wind and with at least some sand.

After lunch, we head back into the wind and paddled across Bonnet Harbor before tucking in behind the big rock for a quick break.

Once we were along the bluffs, I took the opportunity to practice boat handling in the rocks. There were definitely a few times where I was working the paddle too far away from the hull for maximum efficiency. I was sticking the blade way out hoping to get a big pull and instead just got my body out of position without the strength needed to strong arm the kayak. What I really needed was finest and to keep the blade close to hull with good body position. Fortunately, the Aries will forgive a little bad technique and still turn it just takes more energy and a little bit of panic.

Before long we were safely back at Bay Campus where all seemed like a pleasant fall afternoon.

Today was a perfect paddle. It nice mixture of conditions to keep things interesting, but not scary.

Sunday, September 19, 2021

Falling Down the Water

 Early in the week the announcement went out that the scheduled paddles for the weekend were cancelled. My heart sank. I was really looking forward to playing on reefs in Stonington.

Then, like a paddling angel, Tim G. resurrected the Sunday reef play session!!

Tim is a great paddle coordinator. Not only is he an exceptionally good paddler, he is also always over prepared, chill, and keeps the whole group's needs in the forefront. You know it will be a fun and safe day on the water.

The plan was to paddle out to Sugar Reef and work our way down to Watch Hill for pit stop. Then we would head home. Tim made sure we all knew that this trip was different from going over to Wicopesset and playing. Sugar reef does not offer any places to get off the water and very few eddies for resting.

We were going to be on the water for a long time before we got to a beach for a proper rest and food break. Snacks is the perfect use for the deck hatch. I loaded it up with fruit chew packs and a nutritious bar.

We headed straight out to the spire and found a nice play area. There was plenty to surf and the wave field was well organized.

Early on I had some issues with directional control. My bow kept peeling out down the wave.

I tried using the standard stern rudder to keep on course, but that rarely worked out. Some times it just failed completely and I just kept speeding along until I was parallel to the wave. Other times it just ate enough speed to knock me off the wave and left me like a sitting duck waiting to be taken out by the next wave in the train.

I tried using sweep strokes to push the bow back on track and had more luck with them. Sometimes, it took an extended paddle to get enough force. That still wasn't a sure thing though.

I tried using a stern draw to pull the back of the kayak into line which also worked on occasion.

What really seemed to work was combining the stern draw with a sweep stroke and some edging.

The truth is that the Aries biggest strength is also its biggest weakness. It is easy to turn....

While at the Spire I had a near run-in with another kayak. As I was surfing down a wave, unable to straighten out I noticed another paddler setting up to ride straight down the same wave. I know the right thing to do is for the paddler at the bottom of the wave to flip over... but the other paddler was way more experienced than I am and me flipping over could easily have turned into a rescue situation... After a brief hesitation, I flipped over and prayed that the other kayak would not ram into me and that I would be able to roll up before getting washed into the Spire...

Once under, I waited a bit to let things sort themselves out, set up, and popped back up ready to surf! It was my first "emergency" roll in a very long time.

After a while at the Spire we moved further down the reefs towards Watch Hill.

I was initially under the impression that we were going to head in towards the beach. However, everyone else seemed to be staying out on the waves. I was not about to argue about playing in the surf....

Eventually we stopped just below the lighthouse for a late lunch. I was very happy that I had stuffed the mini-hatch with quick snacks, so I wasn't starving...

After lunch, we headed back to the put in but kept an eye open for possible play spots.

We found some surf off a spit of land on the way back. The waves were hard to predict, but everyone got a few nice runs. On my last run I managed to lose my support and end up in the drink. I set up for a roll and got smacked back down by an incoming wave. Apparently there is a wrong side to roll up on in surf.... I set up on the other side and popped back up. Two emergency rolls in one day!!!

It was definitely time to call it quits.... The rest of the paddle back was quiet and uneventful.

I am really grateful for Tim taking the time to set up these reef paddles with a bunch of less skilled paddlers. They make a world a difference for my quality of life.

Saturday, September 11, 2021

Wetherill to Narrow River

 I always think of Wetherill as a place to launch for rock gardening, but today’s paddle was going to be a touring trip. The plan was Wetherill straight across to Beavertail, then Beavertail to Whale Rock, and finally Whale Rock to Narrow River. The return trip would be basically the same, but hugging the Jamestown coast a little more to see if we could find any fun rocks. The possibility for surfing at Narrow River was also left open.

One interesting thing I noticed was that two of the paddlers who usually paddle Aries showed up with different kayaks. One was paddling a Romany Surf and the other was paddling their Cetus. Both cited 

We started out as seven, but two of us had dinner plans and told us they would not be taking the full tour. In fact they peeled off very shortly after we left the harbor in search of rocks and an unusual tide race that had set up along the coast. The race was likely caused by the combination of strong winds and current coming up the Bay.

The paddle to lunch was largely unremarkable. The tide was coming in and the wind was against us, but neither were particularly strong. Wave conditions were enough to provide some bounce, but nothing exciting. We did need to plan a ferry angle from Beavertail to Whale Rock to compensate for the current and winds, but that was not extra ordinary.

Whale Rock looked very impressive when we got there. The waters around it were frothy and the waves provided spectacular views. However, it was more bark than bite.

We proceeded down the coast to Narrow River and decided to lunch just across from the beach. Instead of taking the outside route through the tide race and surf, we tucked in behind the rocks. There was plenty of water. There was enough swell for everyone to get a little ride.

During lunch we watch a few people surfing off of Narragansett Beach. The waves were small, but tight and dumpy. The would be surfers were getting wiped out more often than they were catching rides. No-one in our party was tempted to join them...

The wind, waves and currents conspired to make conditions more interesting on the way home. We had following seas and wind that trended toward Beavertail as we crossed the West Passage.

During the crossing it made the difference between the other kayaks on the trip and the Aries standout. The other kayaks definitely seemed to track straighter into the swell and winds. In the Aries, I was always correcting course to stay with the group. On the flip-side, I was definitely catching more waves and picking up more speed from the following seas. It doesn't take much for the Aries to start planing.

I was not uncomfortable with the situation, nor did I really mind the extra correcting required to stay with the rest of the group. I knew what I was getting when I purchased as Aries as the one arrow in my quiver. Maneuverability and surfablility vs. speed, straight-line navigation, and storage capacity.

I did consider dropping my skeg to assist in the tracking, but I almost always err on the side of playfulness over the added tracking. The Aries' skeg does a good job in increasing its tracking in most conditions. I find that given the Aries maneuverability, correcting its course, while a constant of paddling, is easy. Although there is always the danger of over correcting.

Once we rounded Beavertail, I thought we were going to hug the coast and play along the rocks. I headed toward the shoreline, but the others stayed out on a straight line course for Wehterill. I struggled with being a good group member and playing along the rocks. I don't think I succeeded in being a good group member. I tried to straddle the middle ground by letting the swells take me towards the coast and the rocks and then correcting course to get closer to the main group.

In either case, the paddle back was more fun than the paddle over to Narragansett. I am definitely more of a rough water, play kayaker than a distance, touring kayaker.

Back at the put in, a class was getting off the water. One of the instructors was paddling a new P&H Volan and sang its praises. Apparently it hits the sweet spot between a Cetus and an Aries. The instructor claims that it tracks as well as a Cetus and maneuvers as well as an Aries; there are reviews that make similar claims.

Not having paddled one, I cannot say what is true. However, in my experience, anything that claims to be the best of both worlds, is usually mediocre at most things. Kayaks are expensive and having a fleet boats for all use cases is not realistic for most people, so it makes sense that boat makers are always trying to make the one kayak to rule them all.

Even on a paddle like todays, where the brief was touring focused, I prefer having a kayak that has a clear bias towards a specific brief - even if it is the wrong one.

Saturday, August 21, 2021

Mt. Desert Camping

 We just did our annual (except for COVID 20202) Mt. Desert Island camping trip. It is a great way to end the summer. The campground we go to, Mt. Desert Island Campground, is great and I, personally, think we have one of the best sites in the place. We have a huge site that is right across from the docks. We can get to the water in one minute and don't have to put up with all of the foot traffic on the path running from the road to the dock.

For me one of the best parts of the trip is that I get to kayak just about everyday. I get up before everyone else and spend about an hour kayaking around the top of Sommes Sound. It is not very exciting kayaking since it is very sheltered, but it is relaxing. I get to practice some boat control, generally chill out, and occasionally see some cool wild life. This year I saw seals, a loon, a bald eagle, and several harbor porpoises. The porpoises were the coolest because they are hard to spot and sleeker than the other swimmers. This time they were so close I could touch them with my paddle. (I did not even try.)

We also did some nice hikes: Acadia Mt. Flying Mt. Mt. Gorham.

I think we nearly broke the friends we brought with us. We did the hardest hikes early on....

The Stars over Sand Beach was disappointing this year because it was too cloudy to see anything. The rangers did an outstanding job keeping the crowd interested even without the stars of the show....

We accidentally got a nice long ride on the carriage trails. We originally planned a nice flat and short ride over to Jordan Pond that was maybe six miles round trip. The first mis-step was that I misread the map and though there was parking where there was not, so we had to change our starting point. Still the ride looked pretty flat and still about 6 miles. The second mis-step was not clearly reading the topo lines on the map.... Our friend's kid had a one speed BMX trick bike that was not made for climbing and there was climbing...

After popovers at Jordan Pond house, we decided that some of us would ride back and get the car so that we would not kill the child with the climb back. The third mis-step happened shortly after we headed back for the cars.... We came to a trail junction and realized that we had missed a key turn at the very beginning. We either had to ride three miles back to Jordan Pond house and then another three miles back to the cars or we could keep going another six miles that were mostly downhill and flat to get to the cars... We decided to keep going. It was the right call. The ride back to the cars was very nice and were along parts of the trail system I hadn't seen before. There was some 'splaining to do about how long it took us to get back and some bribing of a less than thrilled child who got dragged along for the extra riding, but it was worth it.

The Ascent also saw plenty of use and earned some of its Monster Truck keep. Because it can seat seven, our friends and us could get everywhere in just one car.

The weather was also as close to perfect as one could hope. The next day was always forecasted to be the worst day of the week. We did get one night of rain... but our eating tent was dry and we slept through most of it anyway.

Sunday, August 08, 2021

The Reefs and Paddling with Intention

 When the currents are right, the reefs off of Stonington offer one of the best playgrounds in the area. Despite some rain, today looked like it would be a promising day for fun and some learning.

Tim G. and Nick Shade volunteered to take a group of us out to the reefs and share some of their expertise.

Before setting out, we all talked about what we hoped to get out of the day. A common theme was accelerating onto the waves. It seems like such an easy thing to do: just dig deep and paddle fast. If only....

One the way out Nick asked me to do my best three strokes to get up to speed. I leaned a bit forward in the cockpit, stood the paddle up high, and speared the water. I got a nice little boost. Then Nick asked a bunch of pointed questions trying tease out what it was about the stroke that made it work. How was it different than a cruising stroke; where in the stroke was the power coming from; what could be done to optimize it? In the moment, the questions were a little frustrating because I didn't feel like I had good answers. With some time to reflect, I don't think having ready answers was the point; thinking about the stroke was the point and it was definitely helpful to get the brain engaged.

We stopped on Wiccopesett rock for a quick lunch to watch the race form up and talk about how to best experience it. Nick explained to us, in amazingly detailed, yet simple, terms what was happening with the water and how our kayaks behaved in relationship to the water.

What I took away from it was that it was all about controlled falling. When a kayak surfs a race it is falling down waves that are created by wind pushing against water falling in the other direction. The other thing I took away from the talk was that in a tide race, waves don't move because they are the result of features on the ocean floor. You need to see where the waves are and find the best path through to get a good ride.

When I got back on the water I tried to put the lessons into action.

I payed attention to how my power strokes felt and how to get the most out of them. For me, it is a lot like spearing the water by knees with the paddle face flat and transitioning to a more normal stroke as the blade passes by hip. It takes me more strokes to accelerate onto the waves with a stick then with a normal paddled - maybe three strokes instead of one. This just means I need to plan a little better and maybe wait for the wave behind the wave.

I also started watching where the waves were on the race and trying to "hop" from one to the next; use the wave I was on to fall into the next wave to link together long rides. It took a long time to figure out what how to string the rides together. The waves don't set up in a straight line and even if they did keeping the Aries surfing in a straight line takes work.

My bow seemed to be constantly getting pushed to the right (this could be a loading issue, the wind, the waves, or just bad technique). My first thing to do was get better control of the kayak on the wave. Tim had a nice tip for doing this; instead of hitting a hard stern rudder and trying to pry the bow in the right direction, he suggested using a seen rudder on the other side to arrest the bows movement and then using a forward stroke to correct direction. You loose less speed and keep more active control over the kayak. (I could be totally misremembering what Tim said, so ask him about this personally.) For me the takeaway was the "active" part. Instead of using ruder strokes that killed forward momentum, which with the stick was hard to regain, I needed to use more active control strokes that would keep my forward momentum as much as possible. More sweep turns, more edging. more using my feet to guide the kayak, and more maneuvering using strokes at the bow. In general, it seemed to work and I was better able get where I wanted to go.

The next trick was getting from wave to wave. As Nick pointed out, this involved looking not at the next wave, but three waves down the line. As I rode each wave through the field, I had to adjust my course to be in the right place to catch the next ride. Looking one wave at a time just didn't work for getting through the full race. It would get me maybe three rides, but then I'd be in the wrong place to keep going and need to paddle through the slop to the next position. Plotting a few waves out allowed me to make corrections on each wave so that I was much more likely to be in the right place at the right time for longer.

The forward planning was particularly important when starting from the very back of the races. The back edge of the races were always more chaotic than the front of the race. Nick explained the physics of why this happens, but I cannot remember it.

After some playing we headed in for quick bite to eat and decided that instead of heading all the way down the reefs to sugar reef, we would do a short play on the other side of Wiccopesett and head back.

We spent some more time surfing, and the post such session was just as fun. I really felt like I was starting to get the hang of things. It has been a long time since I've had a chance to really feel confident in my kayak while having so much fun.

I even got to do some "rough" water rescue practice. One member of the group got breached by a wave and I happened to be the closest paddler. At first I was a little nervous, but glided right in and took control of things. The swimmer was excellent as they knew how to handle themselves, which always makes a rescue easier. We got them back in the kayak without issue and get them back to Wiccopesett for a rest.

We spent a little longer surfing before regrouping and paddling back into the harbor.

It was a great day on the water. I learned a lot and had fun doing it - paddle with intention.

Sunday, July 25, 2021

Playing in a Race

 Today had great tidal conditions for playing. Originally, we were going to go out to the reefs off Stonington for some fun, but the forecasted afternoon thunder showers put a damper on that plan. Instead we choose a location closer to home where we could get off the water quickly in the off chance of foul weather.

The mouth of the Narrow River provides a great race and surf experience, but also quick escapes in case of thunder. It also is only a mile, or less, from put in to race along a sheltered river.

We put in at the bridge and paddled down the river around the point. We tucked into the eddy behind the big rock at the mouth of the river to organize. The wave field was not organized; H would call the conditions a washing machine.

The Tims recommended that we all take some time just paddling around and getting a feel for how the kayaks handle in chop and current. It was a good suggestion. I took my time just noodling around out in the wave field. I worked the kayak across the field a few times and generally did turning drills for a while.

The noodling was just what I needed. It gave me time to get my muscle memory and confidence back. I spent a lot of time playing with edges to see which was better for turning and support. I spent time just holding one position. I spent time bobbing near rocks. I even did some back paddling.

Once I felt good, it was time to do some surfing. The combination of the shore break and the race makes for an interesting ride. The race waves fall diagonal to the beach towards the mouth of the river, but the shore break creates waves that push you into the beach. I would paddle out to the back edge of the field, wait my turn and catch a nice race wave to fall down. If I was lucky, I could get a nice ride, with some paddling to make sure I kept transferring to the next wave in the series, before a breaker would roll up and turn the bow into the beach.

Surfing in the Aries is always fun. It catches waves like toddlers catch colds. Once on the wave it stays nimble and stable.

My biggest was accelerating enough to get onto the waves. Sticks are great at distance, but not so great at immediate power. You have to get the entire blade into the water to get the same surface area as a Euro paddle for power strokes, and that requires doing very unstick like things. Instead of the nice low canted stroke, it requires standing the paddle upright and jamming the whole thing into the water just in front of the cockpit.

I did manage to catch several nice long runs. It was an exhausting blast.

After we had our fill of surfing, the Tims thought it would be a good idea to try some rescue drills...

The first drill was contact towing. I paired off with a bigger paddler and it was not easy to get the two kayaks moving while keeping them together. Because the kayaks were rafted together, stability was not a problem. Getting a grip on the water on the far side of the other kayak was the problem. The end of the stick just couldn't grab enough water. A quick change of strategy fixed things. I used a sliding stroke where I extended the paddle out to the end when stroking across the other kayak. Once I got traction, things worked great.

Then we did some actual rescues. My turn as a rescuer was fine. I am a little out of practice, but once you get moving it all becomes muscle memory. The one thing I didn't think of was having the swimmer hang onto the side of my kayak by the day hatch. They would have gotten onto my kayak faster and would not have been bounced into the waves at my bow quite as much.

I practiced a few rolls in the current and they were surprisingly easy.

After a quick rest and snack, we paddled back up the river to our cars. The paddle up river was against the current, but I was so pooped I hardly noticed.

Despite the grey sky and the constant threat of rain, it was one of the best paddling day I have had in a long time.

Monday, July 12, 2021

Grade Isle

Bug was off to her first over night camp and it happened to be on Lake Champlain. We decided to take advantage of the opportunity to do some camping (and save some driving time) We camped for a few days at Grande Isle State Park right on Lake Champlain. While I’m not a huge fan of fresh water padding, how could I pass up a chance to paddle on what is basically and inland sea?

The weather for our stay was less than ideal. It was basically rain ever day. There was one afternoon without rain and without plans.

I really wanted to paddle over by Bug's camp to check out the outdoors gymnastics set up, but I also knew that the pumpkin was visible for miles. I didn't want her to see me or be embarrassed that her Dad was checking up on her while she was supposed to be "one her own".

I couldn't help myself and headed off across the bay towards South Hero. My plan was to check out a island in the middle of the bay and stay far enough off shore to not be spotted. Once around the island I headed out to another island in the middle of the lake. I did think about heading over to scope out the camp, but decided to preserve my child's dignity.

It was relaxing paddle. The conditions were flat and calm. The only thing working against me was a slight breeze that required a little correction. Since I was just doing a lake paddle, I dropped the skeg to make my life easier.

It turned out that the second set of islands I was going to were farther out than I thought, or I was paddling slower than I thought. I checked my watch and realized that I was going to have haul it back to shore if I were going to make landfall when promised. Fortunately, I had two pieces of gear to help me out:

  • A GPS watch with routing capabilities
  • A state of the art carbon fiber stick
I had never actually used the fenix's navigation features on the water before, so I wasn't sure what to expect. It gave me a couple of options and I tried to pick the one that would give me a straight bearing back to my starting point. I got it on the first try and it worked like a charm. All I had to do was occasionally check my wrist to get a line on where I was heading and match that with the deck compass.

I was a little concerned about the new stick having the power to really power up to a good speed. It is a Greenland shape and not the Aleutian shape I have used for years. The Aleutian shape with is defined power face could be paddled at a high angle for good forward power. It turns out that my Gearlab Kalleq can bring the power when needed. I was able to get up to speed and stay there without any trouble.

Once back at the put it, I looked for H, who was my ride back to the camp site, and didn't see her, so I took some time for some skills practice. I did some forward and backward figure eights. The backwards eight took a couple of tries as I relearned how to get the kayak to do the right thing going the wrong way. It was mostly getting the edging correct. Going forward, you can get the Aries to turn on either edge by either pushing or pulling the bow around with your legs. Going backwards, there is only one choice.....

I did some rolls to finish the day off.

I wasn't exciting, but it was relaxing. It was nice to get a chance to explore a new spot.

Saturday, June 26, 2021

The Rocks, The Rocks

 I got early clearance for paddling thing week because I was looking for a chance to get some real ocean action. H was happy to give it, but questioned how excited I was about going. She wasn't wrong; I really wanted to paddle, but also didn't really want to get up earlier enough to make a 9am put in in Newport.

The pandemic has mostly eliminated all of the hours between 1am and 8am from my life. Child doesn't really go to bed until 10pm and with my commute consisting of the short hall from the bed room to the kitchen, with a stop at the fridge for coffee, there is no need to get up before 8am.

Newport at 9am means being on the road by 6:30am which means being awake at 6am. It also means being awake enough to get ready quietly so as not to rouse the child or the dog, which would rouse the wife and make her day harder....

Last night I packed up the truck and set my alarm noncommittally. I got up and felt it, I'd go. If I hit snooze, there will be other paddles....

At 6:15 my watch buzzed me awake and I slid out out bed. I quietly gathered my paddling clothes, so as not to wake anyone while changing. Walked out into the kitchen expecting the dog to stir, but he just looked at me like I was an idiot for being up so early and put his head right back down...

The conditions were primed for a good paddle; moderate winds of 10-12knts and moderate swell of 2ft. Because King's Beach is exposed to the open ocean and littered with shoals and rocks it does not need to much to make a fun day. The only real bummer was the fog. It cut visibility down to just a few hundred yards and refused to burn off.

We were a large pod of 14 kayaks. It was nice to see so many people particularly ones I had not seen for a long time. On the other hand, that many kayaks piling up around features can be like rush hour on 128 or worse.

Early in the paddle I was pretty conservative about what features I played around and how close I got. Some of it was just needing to warm up; some of it was fear; some of it was self-doubt; some of it was doing the math on how much money I could spend on boat repairs....

As the morning wore on, my caution waned. It rocks' siren song grew loader and before I knew it I was looking for ways to get up close and personal with them. For the most part, things were pretty tame and I kept my head firmly planted on the right side of caution. Warning signs of future trouble that should have been obvious went unnoticed. On more than one occasion, I misread the set pattern or got caught by a slightly bigger than normal wave.

After lunch, I was feeling fine and ready to play at max speed (max speed for an out of practice old guy with a stick), and the rocks were more than willing to comply. We paddled along the coast and found amply rocky outcroppings and ledges to bounce around near.

There was one particular nice set of rocks with a big ledge around it. If you could get into the middle of it, there were some nice slots and other play areas. Sadly getting in proved beyond me. I did try once, but ended up nearly getting speared by another kayak. I was trying to pick my way along the break zone without getting in the way of anyone wanting to surf, but with 14 kayaks that didn't leave a lot of room.

I thought I had a clear path that would take me between two of the other paddlers while the water was calm. Then the water decided to rear up and break in front of me. Fortunately, the paddler in front of me was fast enough and strong enough to back off the wave and I was good enough to not get surfed backwards into a big rock.... or maybe it was just that the Aries is maneuverable enough to allow me some slack...

It was another sign that maybe today was not the best day for stupid Eric tricks...

After we turned back home, I stayed near the rocks. The Aries is so much more fun when the water is bouncy...

We came upon a slot that I was convinced was a no go. Another paddler studied it for awhile and waved it off. Then the best two paddlers in the group came over and decided it was doable if the timing was right. The water had to be coming in from both sides of the slot and not breaking on either side. If it wasn't coming in from the front but was from the back you'd get pushed into a hole. If it was coming in from the front and not the back you'd get pushed into a ledge - unless you could handle your kayak well enough to avoid either fate.

The first one slipped through with no troubles. The second went through even easier. A thrid paddler slipped through.

I was left staring at a slot that three people had slipped through with ease - a slot that less than five minutes earlier I would never have considered trying. They had made it look so easy; all I needed was good timing of the swells. I also needed to get a move on or lose my nerve.

I got into position, waited for what seemed like the right moment, and made my move. A swell picked up behind me just as the water in the front of the slot emptied out. No bow was pointed straight at a big rock and moving fast. I managed to turn just enough and get just enough of a push to just glance the rock and turn out before getting slammed into the ledge.

I got through ugly, but unscathed. Luck was on my side that time.

Not too much later we had our first rescue of the day. I did not see the wipe out, but it happened on a surf break through a fairly wide slot. There was a barely submerged rock in the middle of the slot and was being marked by a member of the group. Tales of the event made it sound like a confluence of a bigger than expected wave, bad positioning, and a missed turn.

The rescue itself was well executed and low key. The area where the rescue took place was rocky, but protected from swells. One kayak scooped up the swimmer, one scooped up the empty kayak, and I scooped up the paddle. Within minutes everyone was in their kayaks and paddling again.

The next rescue was just around the next bend.

The slot was not that complicated or particularly narrow. It was around a bend, so you had to paddle in on and angle and make a slight turn to avoid the rock at the other end. The trick was timing the swells so that you didn't get stopped before the end or get side surfed onto the rocky shore.

A couple of paddlers made it through like it was a piece of cake. Without even considering all the ill omens being sprinkled throughout the day, I decided to give it a go. The water was flowing through the slot perfectly for a quick dash.

Then a big swell rushed into the front of the slot and stopped me dead in my tracks. I dug in to not get washed out and hopefully maintain some momentum for when the swell lost some of its force. Then a second swell hit me from the side and pushed me up the rocks. I did a quick brace into a draw to keep myself off the rocks, and followed up with a forward stoke hoping to ride the swell down and out of the slot.

I didn't make it out. A swell stopped me and pushed me back up into the rocks. This time my brace didn't work and I ended up wrong side up. I quickly ran the numbers on trying a roll. I am out of practice, so chances of success were not high. Missing the roll would put me in a potentially dangerous position given the rocks. I tucked the paddle in and pulled the escape loop. I dropped out of the cockpit and pushed the kayak towards the end of the slot.

I got lucky and both the kayak and myself ended up in fairly safe positions. Gary and Tim G. executed a near perfect rescue and had me back in the cockpit in no time. I suffered nothing more than a bruised ego - but not too bruised. If you don't spend some time upside down, you are not trying hard enough.

I did spend some time thinking about what I could have done differently to not turn into a swimmer. That is healthy and how we grow. I did not beat myself up or spend time dwelling on the fact that other paddlers, with more skill, practice, and maybe more natural ability would have made it. That is not productive and anyone can have a bad run.

The two things I could think of that would have helped were timing the run better and putting some more power into my second forward stroke. Having a solid roll would also have helped. For an old guy who only gets on the water once a month, I think I did pretty well.

The remainder of the paddle was uneventful. The water was still bumpy and the rocks were plenty, so the fun level didn't;t decrease. I just stayed a little bot further away from them. I was tired and decided I had had enough close calls for one day.

I am always amazed at much a hard day on the water can recharge my batteries. I try to draw out the end of paddles just to get a few more minutes. But like all good things. paddles have to end and we have to go back to regular life just a little happier.

Sunday, June 20, 2021

Freeport Harbor

 This summer we were able to get back into our yearly Freeport camping grove. We had an awesome water front site and great weather.

As typically seems to happen, we are camping over Fathers' Day and my one ask is that I get to go on a paddle for a few hours.

The timing can be tricky because of the tides. At low tide the ocean sits on the other side of an interminable mud flat from all points. At high tide you have to launch off of the rocky cliff. Thankfully, there has always been a day time window to get in and out without too much trouble.

Usually, I take the opportunity to really explore some of the islands in Casco Bay near Freeport. This year, however, I was asked to be more careful since I haven't really done much open water paddling during COVID and solo paddling is extra risky.

So, I meandered up the coast into Freeport Harbor - after doing recon on some strange formations that we had seen from shore. The strange formations turned out to be what looked like fish traps strapped to large pontoons. My only guess is that there are part of some fish farming operation....

Freeport Harbor is nice and full of luxury water craft to maneuver around.

Towards the end of the harbor, the water got shallow. I had forgotten that the tide was going out. Fortunately I never had to use my hands to duck walk trough the shallows, but it was close a few times....

I paddled back along the outer edge of the harbor where there are some big houses and a few very loud dogs. I didn't really mind that the outgoing tide kept me a ways off shore. Loud dogs and overly wealthy people were not on my agenda for the day.

I got back to camp just in time for lunch.

It was a perfect ending to a very relaxing paddle.

Saturday, June 05, 2021

Scary, but not really

 The first group paddle in two years was bound to be a little nerve wracking. So much of this transition out of COVID is socially nerve wracking without adding in paddling conditions. Do you wear masks on the beach and keep distance at lunch? Is everyone vaccinated?

Adding condition into the mix added an extra layer of anxiety. The sea was a carpet of white caps and the wind was forecast to increase. The conditions were nothing I haven't paddle in before, but I also haven't paddled in them in more than a year. Nor have I paddled in a group in more than a year.

Familiarity and trust go a long way in bolstering confidence.

When we rounded the point things were bouncy. The horizon was a line of breakers and we were heading straight into them.

I was feeling a bit on edge and questioning the wisdom of leaving the beach. However, I stayed the course. We had a core of strong, experienced paddlers in the group. I trusted that they would pick a reasonable route. Also, we each stroke of the paddle I began to get back into the groove.

About 30 minutes in I most of the edge I had burned off and I was feeling good. If there isn't any bounce, is it really ocean paddling?

We lunched just south of the nubble at the mouth of the Westport River. It was nice to just sit around and chat on the beach. We may have been a little more spread out than in previous years or not. It was just nice to hang on the beach and chat.

Since we were in a little bit of a time crunch, we decided to paddle straight from lunch to the tip of Gooseberry. The threatened winds were mild, the fog had burned off, and the white caps had mostly subsided.

It was a perfect route for experimenting with my skeg. The wind was just enough to cause some weather cocking. A little skeg could lighten the burden of using correcting strokes.  Too much skeg could be counter productive. Any amount of skeg blunts the Aries best feature.

In the end, I came back to my default position. Skegs are too complicated unless absolutely needed.... The Aries is maneuverable enough that keeping her on course with a little edging and slipping a little bow rudder into my forward stroke does wonders.

Rounding the point to get back to the beach looked a little intimidating. The tide had gone out enough to make the rocks visible and the swells breaky. We had two choices: paddle around or paddle through.

I was torn, but choose to go with the paddle around crew. We got to play a little on the far side where the swell was a little less pushy.

It turned out that the paddle through group wound up having to paddle around as well. Things got a little too shallow for comfort at the exit point.

Once I shook the cobwebs out, it was a nice day on the water. I am looking forward to a long paddling season with many group trips.

Sunday, May 16, 2021

Nice Intro to the Season

 I've been itching to get back on the ocean in my kayak now that I'm vaccinated.

Bug was occupied all day Saturday, so it was a perfect day to get out. I e-mailed TM to see if he was up for an easy paddle.

We decided to do a paddle out of Bay Campus and head north. It is ocean, but protected. Perfect for a first paddle.

TM got to the beach early and did some pre-paddle noodling about. Apparently he had spent the previous day bending over a kayak doing some boat repairs and tweaked his back.

Once on the water, we took it nice and easy. We mostly chatted about kids and retirement.

It was a very nice way to get the paddle muscles warmed up.

Back at the beach, I did some noodling about and practice some skills in nice safe water. I also wanted to prolong my time on the water as much as possible.

All was well and feeling good until I started working on reverse sweep turns. I must have edged over a little too far or caught the edge of the blade just wrong. One minute I was happily spinning around backwards, the next I was talking to the fishes.

I quickly set up up for a roll; a little too quickly. I got about two thirds of the way up and flopped back into the water laying on my back date.

I briefly considered resetting, and then pulled the plug.

The swim back to shore was refreshing. I was glad to have a dry suite.

Sitting at Fuel after the paddle was almost normal.

There is hope for 2021.

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

When Everything Seems Off

 On the mt. bike yesterday, things were just off. I knew from the the first downhill that it was not going to be a stellar ride. The back tire was bouncing around too much; the edge of the track was too close; the turns were jaggy. It was a tough trail, but one I had ridden plenty of times with no issues.

The bridge jumped out of nowhere and I had to stop to make the turn. The low rock wall sprouted new rocks and caught the front tire. The steep, but short, hill turned to scree under the back tire.

My legs were like rubber; my reflexes two seconds slower; my balance was wobbly.

At every "screw up" or missed feature, I was faced with the choice of beating myself up, finding the quickest way back to a paved road, and giving up. There was the voice in my head saying "you're too old for this" "you were never good enough to do this trail" "you're not going to get any better" "hang it up and stick to the safe stuff".

It is easy for me to fall pray to that voice and then the other voice that says "you are not only physically weak you are psychically week" gets its chance to play.

The hard choice is to look the bad ride in the face and make the best of it. Acknowledge the difficulties, make an honest assessment of what could have contributed to the difficulties, and if nothing fits just accepting that we all have bad days. One bad day is not a sign of decline or failure; it is a bad day.

That was the choice I made yesterday. I kept on going. I accepted the missed features, the slipping back tire, the occasional abrupt stop.

There were stretches that were better than others and even the bad parts were better than sitting in my jammies at home trudging through another day of monitoring a bunch of robots process words so the rich can get richer.

This is the lesson I try to impart to the child when she gets mad because she "lost" a skill or spends too much energy comparing herself to kids who have more skills.

We all have off days. At 10 you rarely "lose" a skill (at 50 you might). With practice you can get the skills. If you love doing something , do it.

Do your best not to listen to the voice that puts you down and if you forgive yourself and get back up.

Life is rarely easy. The only way to make it enjoyable is to keep on doing the things that bring joy into the world - particularly on days when it is all a struggle.

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Dining with the Vaccinated

My in-laws are fully vaccinated. To celebrate they decided a family dinner was in order.

After a year of wearing masks everywhere and only eating with H and Bug, it was weird. They seemed perfectly comfortable, but then again they are vaccinated. We are no danger to them. For at least some period of time the vaccine means their chances of getting gravely ill are close to zero.

But could they be a danger to us? The jury is still out on that question. The preliminary data seems good, and they are not really mingling with the general population. We also are one dose into our vaccinations which give us some protection.

How close do you sit? When do you put your mask after eating? Do you mask up as soon as you finish? Or do you wait? Do you eat quickly? Do you stay for coffee?

I guess this is how things will be for a while as we readjust to mingling. Everyone will be a little awkward and a little unsure. Eventually, we will get used to seeing people inside without a mask again. We will share meals with family and friends without thinking too much about it.

At least I hope that is true.

The Greenway

I decided today would be a good day to loop the Western Greenway. The weather was pleasant and I needed a good ride to clear my head. I set out on what I think of as the reverse loop. I usually head from my house, past Our Ladies, behind the soccer fields, and then across to the big woods. Today, I went down towards the Y, the high school, and out to the Payne Estate.

The section from my house down to the high school is a tricky ride. It is mostly downhill, so it is not physically taxing. However, it is very rocky and twisty. Riding it is sort of like the old joke about the roller coaster; I was scared the whole time, but loved it. It is still early in the season so I am still getting my legs under me and my nerve up. I probably took things too slow which probably made it harder to navigate.

Swinging up past the high school and into the Payne Estate is a nice climb. Not too steep or technical. The only real issue is that I don't know the trail and spent a lot of time looking for the signs.

The ride down Forest St. is pretty boring. Lock the front forks and shift into a nice cruising gear....

Once back in the woods, I headed around the water tower hill and out to rock meadow. I made sure to take a bunch of the side trails on the way down.

The loop around rock meadow is always a nice gentle ride. The only hard part was having to keep pulling up my mask. It is still cool enough that my glasses fog up when I keep it on.

Once across the bridge and back into the woods I went the opposite way back to the parkway as I took on the way in. Again I looked for as many side trails as I could. It was a good time.

The other side of the parkway is a familiar ride for me although going backwards does change it up.

I forgot how challenging the ride up from Our Lady's is when going up hill. It was made even more difficult because there were a lot of hikers out on that section of trail. Momentum is your friend...

The Greenway is a great resource and I am lucky to have such easy access to it.

Maybe next time I'll go the right way round.

Monday, March 22, 2021

On the Trails at Last

 Ah the glories of early, probably short lived, Spring weather!! I took advantage of the sun and warmth to get the Mt. Bike out of the garage and hit the trails.

I've been hitting the indoor trainer pretty consistently, so I assumed I'd be in good shape for a real ride. Oh was I wrong.

Strange how riding on a stationary bike, spinning at a reasonably consistent cadence with a predictably smooth resistance curve does not map to riding on rutty, rock strewn, muddy paths on changing terrain. I forgot how much work, and how much fun, it is to control the bike and make rapid adjustments for hills or rough patches.

Yes, there are $1000 "smart" trainers that can simulate more dynamic riding conditions, but I doubt they can do justice to actual riding.

Anyway, I don't have $1000 dollars to spend trying to turn my basement into a virtual reality theater. I'm much happier to keep my basement a basement, so that I am always motivated to get outside.

I am sore and the ride was shorter than planned, but it was glorious to be outside again.


Like just about everybody, it feels like I have been locked in my house for the last year. (It is not true - I spent plenty of time outside.)

I have, however, avoided shopping of any kind for nearly a year. The last time I was inside a store was probably September and I was totally freaked out the entire time despite the fact that there were less than 10 people in the place. It didn't help that it was not my choice to be in the store - we had gone apple picking and Kenzie wandered into the store...
This means that poor H has been doing all of the shopping - she even picked up my new M1 MacBook Air for me because I was too scared to go into the Apple Store. I won't even pick up take out if the place does not offer curb-side pick-up. I even made K go into Chipotle by herself to pick up her take out order....
In some respects (so I like to tell myself) this is just smart. The CDC says to avoid crowded indoor spaces and that is what I am doing.
It, however, is a little pathologic in my case. I still have issues eating take out food....
Two weeks ago, I tired to get a little adventurous and pick up Starbucks. Just a quick in and out after ordering on the mobile app. I was thwarted in my efforts by Starbucks new Curbside Pick-Up service.
This weekend, I finally broke down and went into a store.
My glasses have been broken for weeks. One of the arms is barely hanging on and the frames desperately need replacing.
I tried to call the shop where I got the frames to see if I could drop them off for a repair or just get a new pair ordered. The repair would leave me blind for two weeks and my prescription is too old to use for ordering new glasses, and the frames I have are discontinued...
I was going to have to go and get an eye exam and pick out new frames.
K just got new glasses at the MyEyeDoctor in Belmont and she and H gave it high marks. The said they both felt very comfortable and that they were following all of the safety protocols. So, I reluctantly made an appointment.
It was a very strange feeling. I have been to doctor's offices during COVID, but my doctor has at most two patients in the office at a time. This place has three optometrists seeing patients plus a full retail section. In total I saw maybe 10 people in the building (all double masked) and almost as many air purifiers, but it was still very weird.
I did adjust. The workers were all very professional and kept appropriate distance. The spaces were not crowded and did I mention the masks and the air purifiers.
I was able to make it through the appointment and pick out new glasses without a panic attack or a delayed freak out which is a minor miracle. I actually felt pretty good about the whole experience.
It was so freeing that I volunteered to make a run to the local vitamin shop to pick up stuff. This is not a busy place and is also full of masked sales people, a plethora of air purifiers, and a small number of customers. Still it was progress.
My comfort zone was pushed a little on the way home, when I stopped at our favorite food truck to order take out. Fortunately I was the only customer in line and they offered contactless payment via my watch.
Who knows, maybe by summer I will be able to venture out to a grocery store.....
For now I'll take the small victories and hope that I make it through the next 10 days without a delayed freak out session....