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.