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.