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.

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