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.

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