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.