Friday, October 29, 2021

Autum Gales

 I love Greg Paquin's annual Autumn Gales event despite the fact that I usually only attend one of the three days. The coaching is always excellent and the conditions are always a little challenging.

Unfortunately COVID kept the UK coaches that usually attend in the UK, but Greg has plenty of local, or at least US-based, coaching talent available and as expected my one day was full of adventure and learning. I heard the Saturday and Sunday sessions were even more fun. One of these years, I will apply for a multiway hall pass from the family....

After the morning briefing, my choice of groups was either to off with Greg and do rough water rescue practice or to go off with some new coaches and work on reading conditions and other open water comfort skills. Greg suggested that working with new coaches was always a good idea, so I went off with them.

The day looked iffy for any really big conditions in the areas we were headed. There was plenty of wind and plenty of current around; it just all happened to be going the same way. That did make it a perfect day for practicing reading conditions. We talked about current direction and wind direction and how they interact with each other to create waves. We talked about how they interact with our kayaks and which would most likely impact our ability to navigate.

There was a wave break off the nearby point that was caused by some submerged rocks. We paddled over to check out the action. The waves were close to shore and mostly pushing into a rocky area. There was one wave that was rideable...if you could catch it.

The wave was extremely localized and had to caught at just the right spot to get a good, safe ride. The problem was that the gap between waves was not insignificant and there were a lot of factors pushing a kayak out of position. A few people managed to catch nice rides, but I was not one of them. I would set up in what I thought was a good position, but by the time the wave came I was out of the slot. The wind and current was pushing off shore making it hard to hold in the sweet spot.

After a frustrating stay at the wave, we grabbed some lunch at a protected bit of sand. The spot was nice because it offered a bit of a wind break to keep us warm. It was also positioned nicely so that the landing was nice and smooth. The wave action was minimal.

During lunch we talked a little about wave periods because the plan for after lunch was to head around the point and try to practice landing in dumping surf. Figuring out wave periods is a skill that escapes me - it could be that I just suck at counting. I didn't feel too bad because there seemed to be a lot of variability in the periods being offered up... But the general consensus was that the period was long enough to make a surf landing in dumping waves within safe margins.

After lunch the wind and tides had changed so that a nice surf break set up running mostly parallel to the beach. The waves were not huge, but they were well formed and predictable; perfect for some fun. Because they were running along the shore and not into the shore, you could catch some long runs. It was a great way to kill 30 minutes before heading around the point to practice smashing into the sand...

On the northern side of Napatree, the waves were going into shore and dumpy. We had a brief chat about how to land in dumpy surf; use the back of a wave, get out quickly, don't get stuck between your kayak and the beach.

The landing part was easy. The waves were well spaced out and not too big. I caught I nice ride most of the way in, backed off just in time, and let the back of the following wave drop me gently on the sand.

The launching part was less easy. I've never really been great at surf launching... My turtle motion is not fast enough, I tend to start too far up the beach, or too close to the surf. I almost always get turned around at least once and today was no different. I did get off the beach in one piece, and that is what counts....

After surf landings we headed over to a nun to see what the current and wind were doing. Looking at the nun made things look surprisingly dynamic. You could definitely see the current moving against the sides and see how things were pushing us around.

The coaches had us do an exercise where we paddled up to the nun and then turn around it. It was a little unclear which way were supposed to circle the nun, so I did it a couple of ways in each direction. It was also a little unclear what the point of the exercise was - not that I didn't enjoy playing dodge the nun in traffic. The Aries is made for just that sort of thing. It spins around big metal obstacles with glee; a little sweep stroke here, a bow rudder there, and a butt scootch will get the Aries to do a 360 just about every time.

The point of the exercise was to see how a kayak's handling is effected by wind and current and which one was the biggest factor in this situation. Because I can be clueless and paddle a magic spinning kayak, I didn't notice any big effect from either the wind or the current. Fortunately others did and the coaches got to explain what was going on and strategies for handling it. The biggest factor was the wind and typically what happens when paddling and turning into the wind is that your bow gets pinned in the water and the stern gets pushed around. The trick is to work the back of the kayak to unstick it and get it to move around. I took the tip and put it in my back pocket for when I am trying to go straight.....

Then we paddled back over to the sea wall where we practiced some towing in moving water. My partner feigned being unable to stay upright, so my option was a contact tow across current and fighting wind: not the easiest choice. I managed to get back behind the wall and into calmer waters with some work. There was a lot of correcting going on and it wasn't fast. For the second round, I got to be towed but now it was a race. My partner used a short tow which was an ideal choice until we got tangled up in another groups long tow... Towing in a crowd is never a great idea.

After the towing we played around for a bit longer doing nothing in particular. I tried some rolling and working the currents coming around the breakwater.

The paddle back was a good chance to take the tip about working the stern to practice. The wind was at enough of an angle that the Aries, which never really goes straight, was getting weather cocked something fierce. I tried using the skeg to straighten her out, but never could get the right adjustment and gave up. What did end up doing the trick was throwing a little sweep into the end of a few paddle strokes. The extra push on the back of the stroke was just enough to correct for the wind.

Unlike my last few Gales, this one lacked epic (borderline unsafe) conditions. But it did offer plenty of opportunity to work skills in challenging conditions with great coaches.

Maybe next year, I'll put in for a weekend pass and attend more than one day....

Saturday, October 09, 2021

The Big Swell

 On Sunday I asked for clearance to paddle today. There were no paddles scheduled, but was confident that someone would post something. With a busy family, pre-clearance is always a good thing. Time that is not scheduled gets eaten.

When Thursday rolled around and no paddles had appeared on the message board I started to get worried. I was not ready to coordinate a paddle or convinced that anyone would drive north to played around in Boston Harbor.

Fortunately someone jumped in and proposed a crazy reef paddle out of Stonington. More experienced and level heads intervened and the venue was changed to the Bay Campus. We would still get a chance for big swells and wind without the tide race and exposure.

From the put in things seemed pretty tame. There was some wind and a little swell. It was the perfect weather for trying out my new Peak UK paddle jacket.

Our plan was to cross over to Jamestown paddle towards Beaver Tail, cross over to find a lunch spot, and paddle back along the bluffs. This plan meant paddling into the wind and swell on the way out, but getting a nice ride on the way home. It also offered some flexibility in terms of where we crossed back to the mainland.

The crossing over to Jamestown was bumpier than usual, but not too rough. We all could have used a little warming up before heading straight out, but we were impatient. This ultimately cost us a paddler. One of the group through their back out making the crossing and needed to be towed back to Bay Campus.

Two paddlers kindly volunteered to do the towing and catch back up with the rest of the group. The pairing was both needed to do the tow - one to stabilize the injured paddler and one to do the towing - and so that they could safely set out again after making sure the injured paddler was safely on shore, packed up, and capable of getting home.

The rest of us headed down Jamestown taking our time and playing in the rocks. We were in the lee of the island so the wind was not much of a factor and the swell was just enough to make things fun. Practicing boat control in tight spots is always a good time.

It is also a good time to do some rescue practice. I was waiting for my turn on a feature where you slipped between a couple of rocks and the shore when the paddler working their way through got stuck. They put up a good fight, but just couldn’t stay upright.

Before starting into do a rescue, you should have a plan… I just started moving around the outside of the feature hoping the paddler would push their kayak out of the hole for me to grab and then swim out. That didn’t happen... Next thing I know I’m in the entrance to the feature with one hand on my paddle and the other hand holding an upside down kayak with its pilot hanging on to it. 

I could not do a one handed scull and tow us out.. then I remembered that I had a cowtail attached to my PFD!!

Once I latched the clip onto the other kayak, we were out of the rocks and into a position where someone could safely put the paddler back into the boat. In short order everyone was back in their kayaks and we were off.

As we worked our way towards Beavertail the swells picked up significantly. Once we got to the point the wind was also making itself felt.

Crossing over to Whale Rock was going to be a fun ride!

Before we started the crossing, we were told to stay together as much as possible and not get carried away catching the swells.... It is like they were reading my mind.

Before I could stop myself, I was out in front of the pod flying surfing the following seas. The swell was nice and uniform, so the Aries just glided over the water.

It didn't take too long for me to realize that I was out of order, so I laid down some rudder and let the pod catch up. Once back with the pod, I was careful to watch my speed and my bearing.

Once we got to Whale Rock we turned back up the Bay to find a lunch spot that was out of the wind and with at least some sand.

After lunch, we head back into the wind and paddled across Bonnet Harbor before tucking in behind the big rock for a quick break.

Once we were along the bluffs, I took the opportunity to practice boat handling in the rocks. There were definitely a few times where I was working the paddle too far away from the hull for maximum efficiency. I was sticking the blade way out hoping to get a big pull and instead just got my body out of position without the strength needed to strong arm the kayak. What I really needed was finest and to keep the blade close to hull with good body position. Fortunately, the Aries will forgive a little bad technique and still turn it just takes more energy and a little bit of panic.

Before long we were safely back at Bay Campus where all seemed like a pleasant fall afternoon.

Today was a perfect paddle. It nice mixture of conditions to keep things interesting, but not scary.