Sunday, October 22, 2006

Paddling on my home turf

It was another paddle where the weather was to play a part. A front was moving through Friday evening and the forecast was for 15-20/gusts to 30. And this was a Carleen paddle. There are rumors of days gone by when a Carleen paddle was sure to …. Now I’ve paddled with Carleen many times and can’t verify the rumor but this is her turf too. Anyway, I was picturing myself slogging my way to Little Compton against a small gale. But it was also her pot luck dinner. And I already made a pie. I had to go.

The brave paddlers all gathered at the Rt 88 boat launch in Westport. Things were blowing around as we untied our boats. Normally I’d wait till the last minute to get into my drysuit but today I wanted to wear it as a wind breaker. Carleen arrived shortly afterward and announced that it was small craft warnings and that we would be staying in the river. Pheew, it might be a miserable paddle but I wasn’t going to be blown to Bermuda! But inside I wanted to go to the mouth of the river. I always go to the mouth and take a peak out at ½ mile rock. I’ve repeated that 100s of times in my motor boat and dozens in my kayak. It was like tradition. It was agreed we’d paddle to the back side of East beach and take a peak at the ocean there.

Twelve of us headed out. I had an auspicious start. My paddle, although attached to my boat, blew out of my reach. (Linda saved me.) Then I was blown into the dock and had my stern got wedged. Then Bob pointed out that I had launched without my PFD on. (I had my tow belt strapped on. I guess that felt like a vest to me!) Then, putting my vest on in the boat left my water pack tube hopelessly tangled behind me. (Linda again.)

The paddle down wind to East beach was easy. Walking over to the ocean we saw relatively calm seas. But we were in the lee of Gooseberry and could see the water a little lively further out. Then we paddled along the east shore or the river and meandered through the marshes to Ship Rock for lunch. This is another one of my favorite places. I spent many afternoons here in my youth. In the lee of the rock and with the sun it was quite comfortable here. On top of the rock was another story. And although Bill and Lisa looked quite comfortable climbing up to eat lunch, many crevasses were left unexplored as neoprene boots were simply not made for climbing. Mike and Joe spread out tarps and parachutes to sit on. Rich climbed up for a view. Carole, Kevin, and the others stayed low.

After lunch we headed into the open part of the harbor. The wind was really making itself felt here. As we approached the harbor entrance it was decided that we wouldn’t chance fighting the wind AND current coming back into the river. However, I think just to appease me, Joe and I rounded The Knuble just to take a peak! We returned in the eddy that forms along the big rock. Half the group then made a ferry crossing back towards the launch. I think that the tide started to slow in the time it took us to wait for Mike to finish his exploring because as the second contingent made the crossing the ferry angle was small.

Back at the boat ramp Kathleen decided to entertain us by WALKING her boat around the dock in water that was notably over her head. Finally she tried to put her boat on her roof with the bow facing backwards. It was sooo wrong. Mike would have nothing to do with it and managed to coax her into switching it around before she left the parking lot. Who knows what would have happened. I’m sure the earth’s magnetic field would have reversed or something!

We then headed off to Carleen’s. Eric, Heather, Tim, Christy, Jerry, Ray, Alison, and even Carl Ladd met us there. We all shared some wonderfully delicious food and laughter. Any attempt at seriousness was quickly quelled. Funniest of all was three quarters of us trying to boil water in Carole’s new Kelly Kettle. It’s a pot with a water jacket and a hollow center which acts as the burning chamber to heat water fast. Fast, that is, once you get a fire going. Eric, Lisa, Paul, and Mike all made attempts on their bellies to get a fire going. Once a fire was established boiling water percolating out of the hole put the fire back out. Somehow, Tim managed to get a couple of cups of tea out of the endeavor.

It was another wonderful paddle. The wind never reached the forecast levels (or at least it calmed down ahead of schedule). I think I drove home more tired from laughing than paddling. Photos courtesy of Mike K. 10/22/06

Friday, October 20, 2006

Bay Campus to Bonnet Shores

Half of the fun of paddling is the company you keep! My long commute makes it difficult to judge my arrival time. When I got to the Bay Campus at 9:20 no one was there. Was I at the right place? Had we moved to a winter start time of 11? The weather was nice so I jumped on the trampoline of a beached hobie cat and laid in the sun to wait. Along came Tony (great I was in the right place). Then Tim (it was his paddle) excusing himself for not being at the launch site hours earlier. Before long Bob, Rich, Carole, Eric and Heather had arrived and eight, the perfect size in my opinion, were ready to launch. Where were “the others”? It was a perfect day.

Our goal was to explore the west shore and Bonnet Cove which we usually ignore in the summer. We poked along the rocks, all eight of us looking for that sense of adventure seeing just how small or shallow or rough a spot we were comfortable putting our 17 foot boats. Tony had his sit on top up in the air on the rocks. He just hopped out and put it back in the water. I lodged mine on a bed of barnacles. (Less gel coat makes boat lighter.) The water was so clear. One of the advantages of late season paddling.

Bonnet shores was virtually deserted. Two people, two dogs was all there was. The waves were very small but that didn’t stop us from trying to surf. Unfortunately we were missing some of the surfing wanabees (you know who you are). It was a perfect opportunity to catch your first wave. Just enough push to say you surfed a wave. Nothing scary and nice sand when you ran up on the beach. Tim and Eric chose to do their surfing backwards. Tim was proficient. Eric has so little buoyancy in the back of his Q-boat that he managed to bury his stern and roll over a few times. Then he had it working for a few rides until he backed his boat up over Bob’s and into his lap. It was quite entertaining.

We lunched a bit further south. The considerate paddlers brought AND SHARED their tea. (Thank you.) The best we could do for cookies was very hard ginger snaps. Funny thing is, that cookie brought back childhood memories in about half of us.

After lunch there was some call for Whale Rock. (Only because it’s there.) But the group poked around a bit and headed back. The wind was from the west so it really wasn’t pushing us as we would have liked. At the Bay Campus there was a infectious break out of kayak rolling. Tim, wet from rolling, volonteered to swim so I could get the feel for paddling with someone hanging off my bow. This was a rescue that I was uncomfortable performing in the surf a few weeks earlier. It was a bit de-stabilizing. I would still like to try it in a gentle surf some day so I know what to expect. I also tried to paddle with Tim hanging off my stern. The result was similar. Paddling in both cases is very slow. Finally we put Tim on my back deck. I can’t imagine how we’d ever get someone large up there in the surf but, the boat moved much faster without the drag of a body in the water.

The day ended with coffee at a local coffee shop and then dinner and a nice visit with my daughter. A very relaxing way to spend a Sunday. 10/15/06

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Isles of Shoals, an open water adventure.

I’ve paddled for about six years but had never done a long open water crossing. I’d had a number of excuses in the past, some good, some bad, but things seemed to be lining up to do this one. My number one concern is the weather. I’ve been on the water long enough to know how quickly the weather can whip things up and how mistakes and problems compound when something happens on the open water. But I have confidence in my abilities and even more respect for the abilities and the judgment of my friends so what the heck, Game On.

I had Carole to cajole me. This could be another installment of the Gilligan’s Island adventures. The plan was to camp at Salisbury beach and JoeS,MikeK,BillL,PeterH,PaulB,CaroleC and CarleenM gathered more or less at the same time, set up tents, and went out for dinner. This was followed by a little walk to the beach and some pleasant conversation but NO FIRE! What were we thinking? You call this camping? As always with good friends, we persevered.

Sleeping in a tent on a clear night in October has its plusses and its minuses. For me it was more minus as I just had a terrible time sleeping. Too hot in the mummy bag. Too cold on the outside. Too hard on the pad. (And maybe a little apprehension about the next days paddle.) I didn’t wake up (assuming I slept) well rested.

CC and MK tended to the morning cooking. I tried to find the right balance of caffeine intake to keep me awake but not require me to answer natures call while paddling 5 miles off the coast.

We arrived at the boat launch to a $10 dollar parking fee so scouts were sent North and South in search of an alternate launch point. This delay, plus copious debate over wetsuit vs. dry suit and an uncooperative photo shoot had us passing through the Rye Harbor break wall almost 50 minutes late. EricJ, HeatherC, RickT, and JohnS brought the total to 11.

The winds were light and there was a 2-3 foot swell on the way out. Ideal conditions, calm and easy to deal with but the swell kept reminding you of the power of the ocean. The paddle was to be about 7 miles launch to lunch. 2 hours of paddling to view the light house on White I., then a quick stop on Star I., followed by lunch on Smuttynose I.

RT kept himself cool with repeated rolls in open water. JS, who had been pulling his customary lure for most of the way out, hooked into a nice Stripped Bass as we were rounding Star. Unfortunately the legal sized fish was returned to the sea in a flubbed handoff of the landed fish over to CM’s boat.

By this time the lack of sleep and overheating in my wetsuit had me longing for a 1 hour nap to regain my strength. But there was eating and exploring and joking around to be done. I of course tried to do all those things.

As we were ready to head off around Appledore I. for our return trip, Carleen provided me with a handful of chocolate coated coffee beans as a caffeine infusion. How did she know I was going to need her to bring them? See what I mean about having confidence in my friends!

The forecast played out exactly as predicted and the paddle back was livened just a bit by a gentle south breeze of 6kts. Just enough to mask the swell which made itself apparent again as we were approaching the break wall. The debate on the return trip was centered around “where’s home?” From six miles out it is very hard to recognize distinct features. But Joe got us back on a track that GPS verifies was more or less a straight line. (Did I mention confidence in my friends?) Somehow, with 24 square miles of ocean to wander around in at least two of us managed to run over lobster pot buoys. (Yes, I was one of those people, and only after teasing the other!)

All and all the trip was great and a lot like I expected. The long return paddle really tries your patience with out the clear goal of an Island that does get bigger as you approach it. (Albeit, always looking closer than it really is.) Being miles from shore heightens your concerns about safety and just how important it is to keep an eye on the weather and avoiding things like rock gardening and breakers. And when you return home it feels really good to say you did it and be able to share your story. Photos courtesy of Mike K. 10/8/06