Sunday, May 29, 2022

Paddling a Very Small Kayak Very Safely

After my mishap with the pumpkin, I wasn’t sure when I’d get to paddle again. The good Dr. Carl wasn’t giving any timelines other than that I would need to borrow a kayak if I wanted to paddle this weekend. Apparently repeated smashing into rocks by big waves is not healthy for the bow of a kayak...

But one of my buddies is going for his BCU instructor certification and was doing a tide race clinic at the mouth of the Narrow River. The fun/danger ratio was decidedly in my favor. I might end up swimming, but I was unlikely to bash into any rocks.

All I needed was a kayak and my very understanding wife to give me a third paddling weekend in as many weeks…

Getting my hands on a kayak was not too hard; getting a kayak that was not built for tiny people was nigh impossible. One person offered to let me use there slightly abused Nordkap LV and another offered to let me use a Scorpio LV. H also said if she let me go kayaking I could use her Capella 160 which is also made for wee people.

Against her better judgment, H decided it was better to let me paddle than to suffer the perils of not letting me burn off steam. She did make me promise to stay away from rocks and not scratch her kayak.

I promised to try to stay out of trouble… I really didn’t think that there would be many opportunities to smash a kayak playing in a tide race.

Once I got in the Capella I knew it would an interesting day. Not only is the Capella built for someone about 50lbs light than me, it has a completely different hull design than the Aries. While the Capella can be maneuverable, its is primarily made for touring. The Aries on the other hand can be a touring kayak, but is is made for playing (It is basically a white water kayak for the ocean.)

Getting down the river to the race was a good chance to get comfortable in the Capella. It was a little tippier than the Aries, the edges were in a different place, and the edges were definitely needed for quick turning. That said, it paddle very nicely.

Once we got out to the race, we stopped at the beach to see how things were shaping up and to see what people wanted to do. The race wasn’t too big and the surf was pretty small, but there were conditions. The trickiest part of the location was the sandbar that constricted the front of the race. There was only a few feet between the rocks and where the sand bar made the waves get ugly.

We divided up into pairs based on interest and skill levels before heading out into the race. We paddled out past the head and tucked into the eddy behind it. From there we paddled back around the head and into the race trying to find the eddy on the other side of the head.

To minimize my chanced of hitting anything, I tried to take the the turn wide and got caught up in the slop caused by the sand bar. It was ugly, a little scary, and very educational. I got very familiar with the balance points on the Capella and using edges for turning. It really does like to go straight.

On the way into the race, I got a new perspective on long boat surfing. The Capella's sharp bow and v-shaped hull makes it easier to keep straight on the wave because the bow stays pinned in the trough. The trade off is a less speed and getting the bow trapped. It was interesting watching the bow under the water as I surfed down the wave and tried to maneuver into the eddy.

Our group spent time transiting the race interface and maneuvering in the race. We explored the fastest ways to travel forward and backwards in the race while keeping control of our kayaks. We explored what works best for turns in current. For me it was a whole new world because of the different kayak. Even in current, the Aries is easy to maneuver. The ample rocker and the planing bow make carving turns easy even when you don’t choose the most efficient stroke (The trade off is that any stray wave can grab the stern and spin the kayak around just as easy.) The Cappella’s pointy nose and defined keel makes turning a much more intentional affair. You need to edge properly and get the strokes correct to get where you want to go (The trade off is that staying on a straight course is easy.)

My partner and I then decided to head out of the race and around the point. We completely mistimed things. As soon as we poked our bows from behind the point a huge set of swells roared toward the beach. I was the second kayak, but was initially sticking pretty close. When the first swell rose up and my partner’s kayak started going vertical, I back paddled and leaned backward to get some distance between us. Then I immediately leaned into the wave as it hit me and pushed through. Unlike the Aries which would just float over the crest of the wave, the Capella punched through.

Both my partner and I lost a little ground, but kept moving forward into the next set of waves which were even bigger. Once again, I needed to bleed off a little speed to keep  safe distance and by the time I got ready to punch through the wave I was getting back surfed into the sandbar. I stayed up right on the first wave, but the one behind it did me in. The water was too shallow and confused to roll, so I popped out and dragged the kayak to the beach.

Once back in the kayak, I did make it around the point. The swells had weakened a little so my second attempt was much easier. Getting back to the beach side of the point, however was less easy. Another big set rolled through and I got to experience the fun of panic surfing the Capella while trying to keep it away from anything that could scratch it….

After the point fiasco, I stayed in the race and worked on boat handling. It was not exciting, but it was challenging and informative.

During lunch, we all talked about different things that we learned which was nice.

After lunch we decided to head around the point and try to find some place to surf. As I had promised, I stay well out to sea and didn’t do any rock play while we hunted the elusive surf.

The one spot that offered decent surf for people to play with was over a big rock and the waves pushed straight into a shallow rock garden. There were some little side waves that I thought were safe to try, but for the most part I just worked on boat handling in the cove and relaxed.

Most of the other paddlers in the group got some impressive looking rides. They worked hard for them though since you had to be in just the right spot to catch them and that spot was not the safest place to be…

Once everyone had their fill of surfing, we headed back to the put in.

By the time we got back to the mouth of the Narrow River, the race was pretty much out of steam. That meant that the river was also out of water so we had to carefully pick our way back up the channel. I only got muckbound once… Mud generally doesn’t scratch, so I was still keeping my promise not to damage my wife’s kayak.

Back at the put in we did another quick debrief and packed up.

While I enjoyed paddling my wife’s Capella, I do hope that my Aries is back on the water soon. The Capella 161 is just a wee bit small for someone my size which makes paddling it in conditions a wee bit less fun. Also while it is good to be reminded how a “real” sea kayak handles, I really enjoy managing the Aries. It is a little unruly, but that is where the fun happens.

Sunday, May 22, 2022

The Day the Luck Ran Out

Somehow, I managed to convince my most excellent wife to let me escape two weekends in a row!! How lucky am I to have a great wife and the chance to paddle on a great day?

I was surprised that I got a paddle day considering that her dance recital soaked up one of the days - her class did a kick-ass dance to a classic boy band song that put the kids to shame:)

The plan was to paddle out of Ft. Wetherill and play on the coast heading down to Beavertail. Conditions were excellent: clear skies, gentle breeze, some swell, but not too much, and low tide to expose more features.

We headed south towards Mackerel Cove and took every opportunity to play in the rocks.

There were slots to navigate and just enough swell to make things interesting. It was perfect conditions for pushing the Aries and I just to edge of the zone. I had to pay attention and paddle with intention, but didn't have to worry too much about getting smashed or smashing someone else.

Once we crossed Mackerel Cove and were more exposed to the open ocean the swell got bigger and pushier, but still well within play limits. There were a few spots were the adrenaline got pumped up to 11, but nothing serious.

It was a fun morning.

We popped into Hull Cove for lunch and enjoyed the sun and good conversation.

The swells had picked up some power while we ate. They weren’t rolling up the against the rocks; they were crashing against the rocks.

The swell upgrade didn’t deter some of us from getting in close. If anything the bigger swells made paddling in close more fun until it stopped being fun.

I was following Tim G along the shore and there started to be more white water than green water. The swells were starting to get pushier and it was time to move out.

Tim turned out over a good size wave. As soon as he was clear I edged over and started a sweep turn out to sea.

As I initiated the turn a deep trough formed next to the rock and a gigantic swell picked up my bow. Then it picked up the rest of the kayak, carried over one rock, and slammed it into the rock shore. The bow was pinned in a crevice so any attempt to swing out before the next swell slammed into me was not going to work. I hoped that maybe it would be a nice gentle swell that would lift the bow up enough to free it. No luck. I was upside down in the rocks.

Fortunately, the water was deep and I remembered to stay close to the deck. I pulled the deck and popped out while making sure to keep the kayak between me and the bigger wall of rocks and to keep my hands ready to protect my head.

The cavalry was already in place by the time my head popped out of the water. They had me push the kayak out of the rocks and towed it clear of the break. Once the kayak was clear, I swam out to a waiting kayak that pulled me the rest of the way out of the danger zone. Because of the rocks and swell and such, the rescue took some time, but it was done as quick as possible. The rescue team did an excellent job staying calm and radiating that calm to me.

Once I was back in the kayak, it was time to assess the damage. 

Other than being a little rattled, I was fine. Luckily, I managed to avoid any contact with the rocks. I was properly dressed for the water and was back in the kayak within a few minutes.

The pumpkin was a different story. There were a few patches where the gel coat was missing and a few visible cracks.  It was hard to tell if it was taking on water, but it seemed to be floating normally. The cockpit was staying dry which was good.

In assessing the incident and what could have been done better, one thing was clear: I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Once the wave came in, there was not much I could do to escape. It picked up the bow and pushed it into the shore with more force than I could counteract. Once the poop hit the fan, things went about as smoothly as one could expect. Once on the wave I presented the hull to the shore to take most of the impact. I did my best to keep balanced so when I was dropped, I might have a shot at getting out. Once I knew I was going over, I tucked tight to avoid hitting my head and made sure to come up so that I was not between the kayak and the rocks. The rescuers set up quickly and did all the right things to get me and the pumpkin safe.

Someone suggested that we high tail it back to the put in just in case I had some shadow injury or the damage to the pumpkin was worse than it looked. I rejected that idea because I was fine and the pumpkin was floating just fine. If the situation changed, we could adjust as needed. There was no reason to ruin everyone else’s fun.

I continued to play in the rocks along the way back to the put in, but was more cautious. The swells also got smaller as we moved further up the bay. Despite the incident I was still feeling in the groove and the pumpkin was doing fine.

The last set of rocks humbled me. I set up to run a slot through them and just mistimed things. The swell came in behind me fast and hot. Before I knew what was what I was turned sideways in a hole that was too narrow for even the pumpkin to turn. I got jammed up in the rocks and had to come out of the kayak again…

It was another quick rescue, but once I got back in the pumpkin I could tell she had water in the bow.

We were just about back to the put so it was not a big deal. I just stayed away from any more rocks.

Back at the beach people were doing rolling practice and I could not resist participating. I needed a win after the incidents. My roll did not disappoint.

Once back on the beach, it was time to do a full kayak damage assessment. The front hatch was full of water and you could see daylight in more than one place. There was also a big spot on the side of the cockpit that was missing gel coat and was letting the daylight through. The spot on the cockpit wasn’t as worrying as the bow because the cockpit didn’t seem to be taking on water.

One of the paddlers who lives near to Dr. Carl offered to take my kayak to see about if the pumpkin could be repaired. (Dr. Carl assures me that it can be repaired despite looking like it got shot off the roof of a car at 60mph.)

Despite the incidents, this was one of my favorite paddles of the year. The weather was great and the rock play was exhilarating. I also felt like I was in the zone for most of the day. Even the incidents were more fun than scary. I felt like both were just bad timing and I did the best I could with hand I was dealt.

The only thing stood between the paddle and perfection was the knowledge that I’d be missing the pumpkin for some time.

It truly is better to be upside down in my kayak than almost anywhere else.

Saturday, May 14, 2022

Batting 750

 When you have a pre-teen, you need breaks. A nice paddle out of the Westport river on a pleasant day is a perfect way to wind down and get some perspective.

Hopefully it is also a good way to burn some adrenaline surfing and dodging rocks.

Oh and this time I made sure I had my helmet…

We paddled out of the river and made sure we crossed the mouth in a tight pod.

The current formed a small race at the mouth, so we all took a warm up run. Then we rounded the nubble and headed south in search of rock formations.

Our first stop was a set of rocks with a nice big slot to run through. Everyone took a few good rides through the slot both with and against the current. On one run I was trying to be cute and instead of taking the straight shot was going to go through against the current and bang a sharp turn through a little side slot. I moved into position slowly and while I was scoping things out a not very big swell washed through with just enough force and at just the right angle to push me backwards and off balance. Next thing I know I’m upside down in the cold water feeling like a fool. Fortunately, it was an easy roll back up.

I did make the cute run a few times after that. You gotta love an Aries in the rocks.

We then moved onto a different rock formation for some more playing. The swells were just enough to make things fun without being dangerous.

Before lunch we headed to the point to surf the break. It was setting up fairly nicely along the outside edge so one could stay clear of the rocks and catch some rides.

The bigger wave were breaking further out and more to the inside. Taking a ride on one of them meant paying attention and peeling off before the rocks.

I caught a few small rides along the edge before deciding to head out into the bigger stuff.

One of the things I struggle with is timing waves. I often either get out in front of them and miss the break or I don’t get up enough speed and the pass under me. Some times they also just trap my stern and breach me - or as the cool kids say “I get windowshaded”.

I waited for a bit and caught what I thought would be a good wave. I paddled hard to get on it and started to have a good ride. I was focusing on using forward strokes to steer without dropping speed. At some point I must have gotten to far in front of the wave as it was breaking. My stern got pinned and spun around. I tried to correct with forward strokes and then a really hard prying rudder with no luck. I managed to get a good brace as I side surfed; until the wave sputtered out… I mistimed easing off the brace and wound up hanging upside down in the water. Not a problem… Set up, sweep out, hip snap, paddle out of the zone, and go look for more waves…

We all got some sweet rides. I caught a few nice waves. I spent some time missing nice waves due to bad timing or lack of giddy up. Just as we were getting ready to break for lunch, I caught a nice wave, rode it in a ways and once again got windowshaded. This time, however, I was pretty close to the rocks and didn’t have much water under me. I tired to roll and got smacked down.

I pulled the plug and did my best to make sure the kayak was between me and the rocks and that I had hold on my paddle and the kayak. Tim and Brenda swooped in, pulled me and the kayak out of the, and plopped me back in the kayak.

Not content to break for lunch on a failure, I caught one more small ride on one of the edge waves before heading to the beach.

At lunch I talk to Tim G about how to up my surf game. He pointed out that one of the tricks was to keep the wave from grabbing your stern. Once the wave has the stern, the wave is in control. This is particularly true with a kayak like and Aries that has a planning bow for surfing. The bow just glides around as the wave pushes the stern sideways. So, one thing to do is to keep forward in the cockpit to help keep the stern up. The other trick is to keep the peak of the wave just behind the cockpit and not any further back.

I focused on trying using this knowledge on the point after lunch. I spent some time on the edge trying to catch smaller waves and getting small rides. It was a bit frustrating because they were hard to time, but it was a good learning zone.

Then I headed out to the bigger surf and caught a few big rides. There were a few times where my stern started to get turned and I was able to correct with a good rudder - less often with a good sweep or draw. It was tricky using a rudder without leaning back. The trick really is timing. Maybe you are too far in front of the wave and leaning back burns enough speed to put you back in position. Sometimes burning speed sends the wave under you and you fall off the back. Sometimes a forward stroke will keep you on the wave. Other times, it will pull you forward just enough to keep the stern trapped or pull you right off the front of the wave.

It was great until it wasn’t. I caught a wave and after a short ride I was breached and upside down. Set up, sweep out, hip snap, and see a big wave waiting to push me right into the rocks…. Paddle very fast to clear the zone, and go looking for one more wave… (no I do not know when it is time to quit)

After a few more runs, we made our way back home. The paddle up the river was a nice cool down to end an exciting day.