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.