Saturday, September 16, 2006

Who’s laughing at whom in Monomoy?

I’ve been wanting to do the Monomoy paddle for a few years. Last year I think it got canceled due to weather. This year I made the 120 miles commute from my house and I wasn’t disappointed.

We launched on a beautiful day as the air cleared of the morning mist. (Actually it was fog but I’m doing the writing so I’ll call it what I want.) The put in was some random seeming location near Chatham light. MAB and I were entertained by the directions Mike provided. They were detailed and we made no wrong turns.

Before we left we were all reminded of the guidelines regarding observing marine mammals. We had only paddled out a few miles and the sightings began. Before we knew it seals were popping up all around us observing us! As a group, we basically stopped paddling and just drifted. These seals weren’t the Sea Dogs (Harbor Seals) that we see in Newport mid-winter. They were much larger Gray Seals whose scientific name translates to "hook nosed pig of the sea". Clearly they hadn’t read the Marine Mammals Act because they were much closer than 100 yards and making some of us a bit nervous! They would typically pop up behind us and we’d hear their snorting breath. It was very satisfying to know that they were as interested in seeing us as we were them.

After about 20 minutes of seal observation we continued to paddle in the protection of South Beach towards Monomoy Island. There was very little agreement between the charts, the satellite photos, and what we were observing in front of us. The sands here are constantly shifting. At one point I was pushing my kayak along with my hands on the sand and the sand was liquid in nature. I assume something about the size and smoothness of the sand allows it to almost flow like water.

As we approached the break in the dunes out to the ocean we discussed whether to have lunch in the protected zone or pass through and have lunch on the ocean side. The relatively flat paddle so far had many of us wanting for a little excitement. We could see a small surf as we rounded the corner and thought lunch on the ocean would be fun. But as we continued it was obvious that what we were observing was the third break. There were two more bars with progressively larger waves breaking on the second and growling on the third. The outgoing flow kept us moving and gave us little time to select the best path through the surf zone. There were also various skill levels paddling so the more experienced kept an eye on the others as we passed. At one point I watched a paddler being lifted diagonally up a wave that was starting to become top heavy. I expected a capsize and headed in that direction unable to see the paddler on the other side of the wave which was easily standing up to about 4 feet in that area. About 10 seconds later I could see the top blade of her paddle and I knew she was still going. Great job. As most of the group gathered on the far side of the bar we realized that a few paddlers were missing. It became clear that Joe was helping a capsized paddler and Mike was standing by to help as needed. A few minutes passed and it became clear that Joe was not going to get him back in the boat in the surf. Some quick coaching was given and we all headed back in. The less experienced were directed towards the beach. A few went to the north side which was probably the safer side. The rest went south which was the livelier side with the surf breaking square onto the beach. Two of us headed to help Joe.

When we arrived Joe had given up on getting the paddler in the boat and had determined it was time to get him to the beach. He asked me to put him on my bow and paddle him in. It was a rescue I had never practiced. Joe was tiring and had been recovering from a bum shoulder so I wanted to help but I knew the gentleman I was with in a sit-on-top was more comfortable in the surf than I was. (It was his surf boat.) And his bow looked a heck of a lot more buoyant than my Ellesmere’s. I hesitated and tried to communicate that to Joe. Joe was determined to use me simply because he knew my abilities. He quickly changed plans and put the paddler on his own bow and had me recover the paddle and hook on to the wayward boat.

Knowing that the boat was far less important than a person, I took my time to wait for Joe to clear the area and the surf to settle a bit before hooking up to the boat. I didn’t want to surf into them and once a wave catches you there’s not much you can do but ride it. Then I had no idea what to do with the paddle. I tossed it in the cockpit but was uncertain as to whether it would stay there. I hooked to the deck line and began paddling toward shore. The load from the boat in tow varied if it was pulling on the back of a wave or surfing down the face. Just as I was preparing to ride a wave into the beach I felt the load release on my tow rope. I thought that my tow belt had just rotated around my waist. But as I looked behind me the boat was free. Mike was watching and thought I had set it free deliberately so it wouldn’t surf itself into me. Actually, the deck line had snapped. I hooked up again to the bow toggle and continued my mission. As I gathered up the boat on the beach I could see that everyone had made it safely to shore or was paddling inside the break. With time to let my focus wander, I could see three seals frolicking in the breaking waves watching the rescue and us fumbling land mammals trying to play in their element! I felt sure they were laughing at us all.

Safe and sound on the beach we all enjoyed lunch and the warm sun. We were entertained by some motor boaters who had filled their motor’s water pump with the Chatham sands and seemed clueless as to what to do with the boat and the motor. Some of us helped them drag their boat against the current into calmer waters. As lunch ended a few of went back out to try our hands in the surf. The surf had died down considerably from before lunch. Presumably related to the level and the flow of the tide.

The paddle back was relaxing. The tide had receded and there was a lot more sand to be seen (and avoided). As we passed through the “seal zone” we were visited by fewer seals but one in particular was far braver and more inquisitive than all the others. He would pop up very close to the boat and hang out at the surface for an extended amount of time.

At the launch I tried a roll but it was not to be this day. Linda rescued me (she does that a lot). We loaded our boats on the cars and headed off to dinner. But the adventure was not over yet. As we pulled into the parking lot at the restaurant one of us had a blown out radiator hose. A successful search for an open auto parts store on a Saturday evening was performed at the dinner table with the miracle of the cell phone. Another rewarding day on the water. 9/16/06

Friday, September 01, 2006

Boston Harbor Islands, Part 2 (AKA Gilligan's Island)

This time the plans were for a Friday night camp out on Lovells Island in Boston Harbor. But any plans included frequent checks on Hurricane Ernesto. All week I checked the forecast. Each morning the forecast for Saturday was reasonable (10-20). Each evening it was an aggressive15-20, gusts to 30. So the plans were we'd go out Friday and adjust our plans based on the "real time" forecast. Mary Ann B., Marianne M., Joe A., Carole C., and Paul B. headed out with our boats fully loaded with food, tents, sleeping bags, dry clothes, and more food. Our intention was to beat the first island ferry to Lovell and get the prime camping spot. As we approached the landing the ferry was arriving so Carole paddled her kayak half way up the beach, jumped out, ran down the landing and got to the ranger before anyone got off the ferry. It was a funny to watch her determination but it was a wasted effort because no one was on the boat!So we arranged to meet the ranger at the end of the island and jumped in our boats to rightfully claim our prime camping spot. (We might just have well been named Brewster!) The site had a great view of Boston... and the Deer Island Waste Treatment Plant (we had forgotten about that part). It was ours for the taking but one last check of the weather indicated that we probably should change our location to an inner harbor island (Bumpkin). The paddle to Lovells in a 10 knot breeze with opposing tide was already exciting enough with our loaded kayaks. The 20 knot beam sea predicted for Saturday morning in the unfamiliar Boston harbor environment was more that we felt comfortable with.We snacked on Lovell and waited for Carleen, Ray, Allison, and Bill L. to join us for a day paddle. The campers, with their boats still loaded, headed out with the day trippers towards Green Island. From there the day crew and Joe headed to The Graves light house. The rest of us went over to Outer Brewster. We made a feeble attempt to rock garden with our loaded boats but the weight made them far too slow to be comfortable. And a collision between a fully laden kayak and a rock was sure to do damage. We jumped out on the south side of the Island, tied our boats up so they wouldn't get away, and explored the rocky shoreline. We waited for a considerable time for the day trippers to return from Graves but only Joe returned! What happened to the rest of them? Apparently a camera was left on Green and the day crew returned to fetch it. Separated again, the campers and the day crew headed to meet at Boston Light. There we crossed the channel together, passed through the Gut, and bid them fair well. We arrived on Bumpkin and found a nice open spot on the water where we could drag our kayaks up onto the grass and fit our tents. The four "plastic" kayaks huddled together and "Woodie" slept near Joe. Apparently Joe had done this before and Woodie acted like a bureau beside his tent. The rest of us spread or so carefully packed equipment randomly around the camp site.Like any camping adventure, it didn't really mater where we were as long as we had a fire to play with. Shared food, pleasant conversation, and marshmallow cooking competition kept us amused.We woke up to a 15 knot breeze. Far more tame than predicted but it's steadiness was to make paddling a chore. Carole prepared eggs and home fries. We took a walk around the island and took a suite of the same photos with three different cameras. We lazily re-packed our boats in anticipation of meeting Eric and the crew from his Hingham paddle. The boat packing seemed easier Saturday morning. I think it was because the Hingham crew ate all our leftovers! We paddled Saturday with Eric and the Ricka paddle. We lunched together then separated as we headed back to our cars parked on Windmill point. We arrived mid afternoon, tired, but truly relaxed from our two day adventure and the dozen or so friends we had the opportunity to paddle with. And finally, unlike last time, the aprez-kayak restaurant choice was a success!

Photos courtesy of Joe A. 9/1/06
is a link to Eric's discusion of the trip from the Day Trippers perspective.