Sunday, December 30, 2007

Narragansett Bay Campus to Beavertail to Whale Rock to Bonnet Shores to…

Between working on my house, hiking in the snow, and shoveling snow everything in my body hurts. Add staying up late two nights in a row and I was less than excited about paddling. But the weather looked good and my home project is in limbo while I wait for materials to show up, so what the hell!

Traveling to RI for kayaking from central Mass is quite a commitment. It’s typically about a 75 mile commute. My usual ritual is get up at 6, eat a good breakfast, pack my stuff, make my lunch, leave the house at 8, and arrive at around 9:30 for the 10 o’clock paddle. In winter I like to put the boat on in the evening before. Even on a day like today when it is forecast to be low forties it is usually only about 20 degrees when I walk out in the morning. On this particular morning it was quarter of seven when I got up and the boat was not loaded. Fortunately I’ve got my boat and equipment fairly organized so when suitably motivated I can gather everything up very quickly. I was on the road just a little past 8 and I was the first to arrive at the bay campus.

Matt showed up, ironically planning on paddling solo because he did not know a paddle was planned. Ken and Cat followed and finally Joe showed up at the last minute. We all geared up for the cold water. Cat and I were probably a little over dressed expecting a bit more wind and a little less sun than we had. We discussed plans to make a loop of the lower west passage and agreed to do it clockwise so that we’d be protected by the Narragansett shoreline if the wind should pick up. We would be fighting the tide but the neap tide was not very strong.

We decided to make a more or less direct crossing from the bay campus to beavertail. The crew was full of capable paddlers and the conditions were fine so we had no fear of lingering in the middle of the channel. (We saw only two other boats in the distance the whole day.) In the open water we could see that a powerful swell was in evidence. It was not high but with its long wavelength it was pre-disposed to build over the bars. On the Jamestown shore the boys showed great discretion in avoiding too much play in the rocks. At Beavertail we could see some waves steepening up over the shallow water. We chose to stay out of this and head towards Whale Rock. From there we turned due north. We were headed to lunch just inside the cove where Bonnet Shores is. But it would get a little exciting at the corner when we were all caught by a set of 3 waves that tried to surf us into the rocks. It was my first chance to see how the new Impex Force 4 would respond to a steep growler. It stayed upright as did everyone else’s boat but provided for a little excitement to spur on the lunchtime conversation.

After lunch we were headed to Bonnet Shores beach for a little surfing. Everyone except me donned their helmets. I was in a new boat in winter. I thought it was best that I avoided all the rock gardening that the crew was doing along the west shore.

We explored the beach from west to east. The waves were a bit larger on the west side. We were all a bit tentative about getting wet. Somewhere east of center the waves seemed about right and everyone started taking rides. They were a perfect 2-3 feet and the surfers would just disappear from view as they rode in. I was a bit tentative with my new boat. I simply didn’t know how this long, low rocker boat would handle the surf. The larger waves were arriving in sets of 3 (as we experienced just before lunch). For my first few rides I avoided this set and played in the smaller waves in between. As I became comfortable with the boat I started surfing the third of 3 so that if I was to get messed up I would not have 2 more big ones to pummel me. I was building up body heat and the spray of heading back out through the breakers actually felt good. The boat surfed pretty well so I decided to try and back surf it on a smaller wave. It did this well also but bracing when back surfing is a confusing proposition and I ended up upside down in shallow water. I tried to set my paddle up for a roll but had difficulty getting it into position. Possibly I was pinched by the sandy bottom. I chose to bail out.

We all had a few more rides then headed around the point and back to the bay campus. As expected there were some pretty impressive walls of water coming over the bar inside the point. We discussed some of the adventures we’ve all had at this point on numerous previous paddles.

The route back always seems long. It is only a mile and a half but we are usually fighting the current there and it’s anti-climactic as the swells die out in this section of the bay. This section gave me plenty of time to think about the fact that I hadn’t rolled this boat yet. I was rationalizing that I hadn’t foamed it out yet but I’ve jumped in a lot of other people’s boats and rolled so that was no excuse. The water was cold but I had to try it. I managed a reasonable roll and called it a day. The cold water was delayed from reaching my head by my neoprene hood but as it soaked in I knew it was enough.

Post paddle was a simple coffee and bagel at dunky’s. We wished each other happy new years as we left from our last paddle of 2007. Knowing a first paddle of 2008 was not going to be too far away!

12/30 Air and water 42. Winds light. 10.5 miles round trip.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Why we don’t put our boats away

It’s days like today the remind me why we don’t put our boats away for the season. Temperatures were in the upper 30s, the sun was occluded by high thin clouds, the wind was light, the water was in the low 40s, and the seas were calm. Cat, EJ, and I met at the town beach on West Island in Fairhaven. We joked about not needing our helmets as we loaded the boats and gazed out over the mirror like Buzzards Bay. On a summer day this would have been a disappointment. But in December, with only three paddlers, this was heaven. Like an omen, we were visited by a seal before we even got the boats wet.

The plan was to paddle around the island but I suggested we head over to Ram Island. Ram Island is a small island off the end of Mattapoisett Neck. I’ve paddled West Island at least a half dozen times but never in that direction.

We had a couple of seals popping up around us within the first mile. As we approached the aquaculture pen there were at least 6 seals popping up all around. We did some paddling backwards but they seemed to figure that out quickly and still popped up behind our backs.

I landed on Ram Island and put a few scratches in my new boat. We then headed to the beach on Mattapoisett Neck for lunch. From the beach we could see seals ½ mile away on Seal Island. (Clearly, we know how it got named.) For lunch we had our sandwiches, soup, tea, Christmas goodies, and H’s excellent corn bread.

After lunch we headed back to West Island passing ¼ mile north of Seal Island. In the water beyond the island I could see one or two feisty seals leaping through the air, their whole bodies airborne for half a second. A couple of seals greeted us as we passed the Island but as we moved further away even more showed up. At one point I counted 12 on the surface. At times they were close enough that I could hear them breathing.

When we reached West Island we were in the midst of a large flock of Eiders. Mixed in was a Buffel Head couple. As we approached Whale Rock we spotted a seal out of the water so detoured well around the rock so as not to disturb him. Near the put-in we saw a seal 3 feet out of the water on a steep sided rock. Clearly she had gotten up there when the tide was higher and the water had dropped out from under her. We were closer than we wanted to be to her because we didn’t notice her until the last moment. Fortunately she wasn’t disturbed by our presence.

Back at the launch EJ was determined to do a couple of rolls. I watched closely to be sure he came back up. In the distance another seal was watching us from its rock. (Look closely in the photo for the smiley shape!)

Without the seals it would have been an uneventful but relaxing day. With the seals it was an exciting and memorable paddle. Either way I was happy to have not put my boat away for the season.

12/26 9.5 miles round trip.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

The Winter Solstice Paddle

Each year on the Winter Solstice RICKA has a paddle on the Slocum River in South Dartmouth. I’ve paddled this river a number of times. I maintain it is the prettiest river in Massachusetts. But for some reason I’ve never done this paddle in winter.

Seven showed up for the paddle. TM, CM, JS, PH, KF, CR, and PB. We were all suited up in our dry suits as we shoved off into the bottom third of the tide. The sun was shining brightly and the winds were light. The first ½ mile was very pleasant but we quickly ran into ice. TM and PH led the way, carving through with their plastic boats. At first the ice was merely a nuisance because it was soft, as you typically expect in salt water. But as we went further it became more than a ½ inch thick and difficult to break through with the paddle. This went on for a half mile or so. I tried to be last in line through the ice. Not because I didn’t want to work. But because I didn’t want to scratch my new boat on its maiden voyage.

There were plenty of ducks to be seen and a couple of hawks floating over the nearby woodlands. The paddling was easy until we reached Potomska Point and had to navigate the sand bar protecting (or confounding?) the river. The channel passes to the east and although that side is the side I prefer the group was determined to take a shortcut and head towards Barneys Joy Point. We found a way through that only required a gentle rub on the bottom of the boats.

We stopped for lunch at a pocket in the dunes just past the rocky section of shoreline. This location afforded us some protection from the wind which had picked up with the coming of the clouds. CM brought some special beverage and we toasted to the winter solstice. From now on the days will be getting longer. I can’t wait for spring! As we ate lunch CR was the only one to admit that her feet were cold. But I felt the same. Mine weren’t painfully cold but they were uncomfortable.

Without the sun it wasn’t comfortably warm feeling. We finished up lunch and headed back out again. As I backed my boat into the 6-12 inch surf it was just large enough to dump a few gallons of water into my cockpit. Great, just what I needed for my cold feet.

It took a surprisingly long time for TM and CM to get off the beach. I never did figure out why. Meanwhile KF played around the rocks trying to get as much excitement as he could. CR and I were not quite as determined but she did get caught by an unexpected wave that instantly turned her towards shore and surfed her towards a rock. She avoided it with ease but I felt a little bad that I didn’t warn her it was coming.

Our short stay on the beach for lunch didn’t give the tide a long time to change and put some more water in the river. As we approached “Deep Water Point” we all had to try various methods of getting over the sand bar. This included pulling with the paddle and getting out of the boat and walking. I chose to push off the bottom with my hands which kept me in my boat but certainly made my hands cold quickly.

Once over the bar it was smooth paddling back to the launch. The icy section had opened up and no more ice breaking was required.

Back at the launch KF joined in and admitted his feet were ice cold too. We all did what we could to get our boats loaded up and get warm. For some reason there was no post paddle meal. We all wished each other a happy holiday and went our separate ways.

So it was a very uneventful paddle in contrast with some of the more recent outings. But anytime you are out on the water with friends in December it’s a great day.

12/22 Air and water upper 30’s, Wind SE at 10. 12.5 miles round trip.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Not quite how I wanted it to end

I had a goal this year of paddling during every month of the year. I did achieve my goal. In some ways it was an adventure better than I ever expected. In others ways, the ending was a bit sad.

It was my love, me, my boat, and my friends traipsing month to month and state to state enjoying new adventures, learning about ourselves and each other, creating stories to tell and never forget. Fairhaven, Mattapoisett, Oregon, Maine, Gloucester, Stonington CT, Alaska, Lake Champlain, Isle-au-Haut, Stone Bridge, Casco Bay, Sakonnet, Newport, and Jamestown. There is about 12,000 miles of travel here for about 500 miles of paddling.

There were plenty of mistakes made in the year. Most of the time we were upright but there were rolls not fulfilled, places not explored for want of destination, conversations not had, guidance not given or taken, and perspectives not viewed. There were plenty of high points, successful rescues, tricky passages made, one on one time, small intimate groups, and oh those special conversations. At times we were a well oiled machine. Other times we were a fragmented group bickering over what way to go.

All in all it was a wonderful year. By far the most fun I’ve had in years. The bumps and scrapes the boat and I have accumulated only add character. I’m not sure I could have made it better by trying to do more. And I’m certain it would not have been as much fun if I would have played it safer.

But my December paddle was marred with ill feeling. We met at Fort Wetherill. The weather was wonderful and the company was good, but I was not whole. A sickness had snuck up on me and although I headed out and returned under my own power my equilibrium was edgy. We had to stop early for lunch in Mackerel Cove. I thought I might be OK and tried to push on towards Beavertail. But I didn’t have it in me and I had to turn back. The last leg back felt long and hard for me but my friends were there to keep an eye on me. Back on land I could just sit there in a daze a bit. I recovered to get my stuff packed but the ride home was almost as bad as the paddle.

It was really not the finish I had hoped for.

12/8/2007 Air 41, Water 39, winds West at 10-15

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Self Assessment and Paddle Ratings

The Sea Kayak leaders at RICKA have set up a paddle rating system that is a guide to the expected difficulty level of a paddle. It’s on a 1 to 5 scale and is intended to help a potential paddler judge whether they have the abilities needed to participate.

When we post a paddle, be it a sanctioned RICKA paddle or a winter show and go, we are counting on the individuals to self determine whether they have the skills to participate. Please be realistic.

Self determine is sometimes a problem. Some paddlers over estimate their skills, or under estimate the conditions, or are more risk tolerant.

I used the following hints as I started paddling with RICKA:

Start with a 2. Repeat until you know you are comfortable.

Proceed to a 3 but… know the location. Our rating system doesn’t distinguish between “bay” paddles and “ocean” paddles but really there is a progression of 2, “3 in the bay”, “3 with ocean exposure”, 4, and 5 (which is usually RSVP only). Proceed to a 3 “in the bay”.

Also, check the weather. If you’ve been doing level 2’s make sure the weather is ideal the first few times you do a 3.

Practice with the group. At level 3 paddles there are frequently impromptu practice sessions at lunch or after the paddle. If you want to do a rescue, or be rescued, or try and learn a new skill this is the time. It is hard to imagine you can’t find a skilled paddler to support you with some practice at any RICKA paddle. We love that. During practice, TIP OVER. Tip over accidentally while practicing, a lot. When you tip over on a paddle it’s not going to be an expected thing and it’s highly likely to be in “the last place you want to be upside down”. If the only way you’ve been over is holding your breath and counting 123 you’re not prepared for it to really happen.

If you’re paddling strong and practicing with the group the following will invariably happen; skilled members of the group will encourage you to come to higher level paddles. It is no one’s job to rate paddlers but if your skills are up to the challenge people will be encouraging you to “join us on the level 3 next week” or asking “Will you be coming to the level 4 on Sunday?”

Proceed to” level 3 in the ocean” but again, check the weather. Make sure the weather is ideal the first few times you advance a level.

Grow your skills in the summer. Winter is not the time for less experienced paddlers to be learning new skills. Nor is a time to be advancing to higher level paddles.

Be considerate of the group. In summer the groups are larger and paddles more frequent. And warm water makes immersion in most locations a much more benign experience. A mistake here in the name of growth is often a growth opportunity for everyone.

In winter you need to be sure. You need to feel that you can help your peers if they get in trouble and that you can help your peers by being skilled at executing your own rescue efficiently with their assistance. Things quickly degrade when a problem occurs. Be cautious in winter.

And finally, know your peers. There is a wide level of skills and propensities throughout the group. On a show and go, who’s organizing the paddle is often as strong an indicator as what the paddle is rated.

Comments, as always, welcomed and encouraged.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

3, 2, but not 1

I’m pretty sure that I paddled once per month in 2006 but this year I’ve been documenting it as part of my blogs. This November things had conspired against me and I had not yet paddled. (Well, actually I did demo a boat at Charles River Canoe and Kayak a few weeks ago but I didn’t want to count that.) Thanksgiving weekend was the last weekend in November and I had four chances to get on the water. Thursday would have been nice with 65 degree temperatures but it was windy and I had places to be. I tried to set something up Friday but there were no takers. Sunday was going to be difficult because I was picking LB up at the airport as she returned from Mexico at 12:30 in the morning. That left Saturday as a must paddle day. I talked about a road trip to Monomoy but we all settled on Third beach in Middletown. I’ve never paddled from 3rd beach around to the Mansions of Newport and that was my plan.

When I arrived, TM, a new person, was waiting. This made me a bit nervous because I did not know his abilities. He did have a dry suit and a neoprene hat. He was dressed for the water and the winds were very gentle. I didn’t think we could get in too much trouble. CR, BH, CC, CM, and EJ showed up shortly after.

I was a bit cold getting the boat ready. I could not keep my hands un-gloved for too long without them chilling out. When I opened a hatch there was ice inside that I had to scoop out with my bare hands. I had bought a new neo-hat that I wanted to wear but I opted for my full hood instead.

Once fully dressed and in my boat I was quite comfortable. I was trying my new snapdragon pogies that have stiff cuffs and are very easy to slip your hands in and out of. My opinion after a day of using them is that they are all right. No more pulling pogies over my dry suit with my teeth!

CC was excited that the female/male ratio was close to 50% (3 to 4). We had some great conversations as we rounded Satchuest Point. I was looking for recommendations as to where to spend my Christmas break and there was no shortage of suggestions as to where I should fly off to. We headed to the far end of second beach and decided to land because TM was nursing a stiff back. This, combined with his need to get to work at 3pm was going to squelch any possibilities of reaching 1st beach and the mansions.

Before we stopped on the beach CM and BH did their best to surf on 9 inch waves. (OK they may have been a foot.) Our beach spot was a perfect place to sit for lunch with a 10 foot tall rock to block the wind and capture the warmth of the sun.

After lunch we headed out along the rocky shoreline on the west side of 2nd beach so that I could gaze over at the cliff walk. Then we turned east and headed back to Satchuest. There was some discussion about heading out to Cormorant Rocks which are about 1 ½ miles from the point. Unfortunately we would have had to split the group to do this so we chose to head back together.

Back at the point we were treated to sightings of Harlequin Ducks. CR had mentioned that we might see them here and of course she was right. CM and I noticed that there was an occasional line crossing our path. It turned out to be a huge tangle of poly-twine that BH and CR rescued.

Back at the launch CM and TM (no relation!) packed up their boats and headed off to other commitments. I waited for EJ to arrive and we both tested our rolling skills in the cold water. Mine was successful but even the small amount of time in the cold water with full hood on was enough to give me a hint of dis-orientation as the cold water slipped down my ear canals. EJ started to attempt an off side roll but missed and switched to on side and popped right up. One roll each was all we needed. The sun that had kept us warm all afternoon was fading behind high thin clouds and the heat we had built up while paddling was quickly fading. We headed to shore.

For post paddle festivities we searched out a spot to eat in Newport. We caravanned around downtown following BH until we settled on “Yesterdays”. Our meal was simple but tasty. From there we winnowed down to four and walked along the cobblestone streets like tourists. We stopped in to Starbucks so EJ could caffeine up a bit more. Then, down to three, CC, BH and I watched an “unresolved” movie that I won’t be renting on DVD.

But as a whole it was a wonderful relaxing winter paddle that was good for the soul. A perfect day for my only November outing!

11/24/2007 Air Temperature 38, water temp 49, winds light NW

Sunday, October 28, 2007


Sunday’s paddle from the bay campus was planned to be a level 2 to Rome Point. When we arrived the air temperature was in the low fifties and it was blowing 15+ on the shore. It was clearly a bit stronger on the open water. T suggested we could have a pleasant paddle at a nearby pond and have the added benefit of cleaning our gear in fresh water. The group votes were “don’t care” and “the bay” so the bay was chosen. JS, JS, and L were planning to head across on a 3-4 fishing paddle. They were a bit more organized and pushed off at 10. We were on the water at 10:30.

PB,TM,HCJ,DV,LB,EJ,CC,RB,BH were all paddling (CM was not!) We headed out into open water and then realized we should probably hug the shore for as long as we could to stay out of the wind. TM and EJ were out front. I hugged the shore closely to feel the waves a bit. The paddling was easy and everything was warm except for my hands which were chilled by the wet-wind-chill. C offered her gloves; RB was trying his new pogies which he found too warm.

As we rounded Casey Point the winds started to make their presence known. The slight NE direction of the shore line had been protecting us from the north wind more than we realized. About this time we noticed the JSs coming across the bay without L. Apparently he had decided the wind on that side of the bay was too much and headed back to the launch. In what will turn out to be a bit ironic we questioned the judgment of letting L go back alone.

We approached the Jamestown Bridge and regrouped by the beach near the old structure to prepare for the final assault into the wind towards Rome Point. As we passed under the bridge it acted like a wind tunnel and focused an incredible blast into our faces that was difficult to overcome. From there all we could muster as a group was ½ mile of paddling to Greene Point. BH and I both attempted a few up-wind runs to investigate the down wind surfing opportunities. The down wind runs we fast but I at least couldn’t sustain any continuous wave riding. We laughed about how we would need only about 17 minutes for the return paddle. In a strange occurrence JS tipped over just from lack of attentiveness (playing with fishing stuff I assume). His strong roll got him back up quickly to make it a non-event.

We stopped for lunch in an area that was not as protected from the wind as we would have liked. T had his usual spare sandwich which I really wanted but JS beat me to it. I ate H and C’s cookies instead. The conversation was enjoyable as always. RB wore CC’s “special jacket” to keep warm.

After lunch it appeared that the wind had died significantly. B and I expressed a bit of disappointment in this given our desire to ride one long wave back to the bay campus. We shouted over to T “to the lighthouse?” and with an assenting nod we were headed out towards the Plum Beach Lighthouse which sits in the middle of the west passage in the shadow of the bridge. My boat was happy on a more northerly reach directly to the lighthouse. T took a path closer to the bridge abutments. I was treated to a paddle through a huge assemblage of seagulls fighting with the blue fish over some surface bait. As I continued I could see T on my beam and was beginning to feel the wind lift my paddle a bit as it crossed my boat. The seas were a bit taller out there but nothing I couldn’t handle. I knew that some of the group was beginning to fall back a bit but I was focused on slipping behind the lighthouse into an eddy and then come about and watch them approach.

It was about ¾ of a mile from the beach to the lighthouse. Somewhere about ½ mile I should have recognized the changing conditions and waited to regroup with the others. What had happened was that the wind had not died down at all. It had just backed to the west a bit and the beach that we ate at was shadowing wind in a way it had not done before lunch.

In the last ¼ mile the conditions worsened quickly. They became sloppy enough that I could no longer glance over my shoulder to see what was happening behind me. All I could do was check that T was still on my beam. By the lighthouse it was utter chaos. The current and the wind and the lighthouse had things stirred up to a frenzy. I slipped behind the structure but was met with waves approaching from both sides instead of calm. I knew at this time that the whole group didn’t want to be there. I think T could see this so he headed down wind under the bridge. I took that as a clue and headed towards him. Just as I passed under the bridge B started shouting “Boat Over” and looking back from where I had come. I had no idea anyone else was out there with me. As I looked back I couldn’t see anything because the bridge abutment blocked my view. When I finally drifted past the bridge I could see the boat over and B and I headed over. T accessed that B&I could start the rescue and instead headed to a power boat and asked them to stand buy if we needed help.

B and I reached the swimmer about the same time. He had the composure to have kept contact with the boat and his paddle but was clearly fatigued from the ordeal already. B was closest to the overturned boat and I came alongside him. I had realized the previous day from practicing rescues in the standing waves by Stone Bridge in Tiverton how dis-concerting it was to do the initial lift of the boat to do a T-rescue in these conditions. B was showing this hesitancy. From my position I could reach over using B’s boat for stability and lift it easily so we got the boat up and emptied.

The next struggle was getting a tired swimmer back in the boat who was also worried about being a paddler again in the same conditions that had caused the boat to go over the first time. We were stable in this position and the water was not too cold so we tried to get him to relax a little and gain some strength to lift himself up onto the boats.

About this time my paddle that I had tucked under my deck line swung out into the “outrigger position” out of my reach. I began to focus on getting a grip on my own paddle and lost track or the two other paddles I was supposed to be holding on to. Fortunately E arrived about this time and retrieved these paddles.

We got the swimmer up on our decks and began to get his legs in the boat. B was doing the rescue in a bow-to bow position because that was the quickest way to approach the over turned boat as we approached it. Unfortunately that also meant it was hard to hold the boat as the tired swimmer tried to slip his legs into the cockpit. The boats separated and the cockpit re-filled with water as the swimmer hung precariously between his boat and B’s boat. We managed to get the boats back together and the swimmer in but then had to do a lot of pumping to get the boat emptied. T had showed up by this time so I used his pump to help empty the boat. We did not attach the spray skirt at this time. We were lucky that the boat was floating high enough and stable enough with us both holding it that this oversight was not critical.

It was clear that the swimmer was going to need some support while he regained his balance. E hooked up the rescued boat and B together and began to tow them both. I did not have my tow belt on because this was a level 2 paddle. E started the tow but it was clear that a double tow would be needed. I rafted up with B to get his belt as opposed to opening my day hatch and chancing filling that with water. I hooked to E and we both pulled in the direction of the Kingston shoreline. As we neared the shore we discontinued the tow and met with the others who had headed towards shore earlier to avoid any additional boats over. We paddled back to the Bay Campus together and began the de-brief of what had gone wrong (and right).

I was a big part of the wrong department in a number of ways. But I think the simplest way we could have avoided this would have been to paddle as a group. T, B, and I headed out towards the lighthouse without gaining consent of the whole group. Half the group didn’t know where we were going. Had we stayed together as a group we would probably have headed towards the lighthouse as we did BUT we would have certainly decided to turn towards the Bay campus sooner.

I headed out to the light and although I was in visual contact with T we were not in verbal contact. I’m sure he would have slowed me up as the conditions worsened had he been able to communicate with me.

As I neared the lighthouse I chose to go through the worse conditions to seek the protection (which actually didn’t exist) behind the lighthouse. I should not have put myself in these conditions where I could no longer look back at the rest of the group but could only focus on keeping myself up.

B and I chose to allow the rescue to proceed bow to bow. It was probably a good decision to continue this way once it started but if we were more attentive to getting this set up right we could probably have avoided the boat filling up with water again.

I didn’t have my tow belt on.

I lost track of the paddles.

The good things were the support of T and E, they let us work the rescue but provided support to the little mistakes. And Bob was extremely attentive to the whole situation.

I think given the fact that we had power boat support readily available sending the remaining paddlers to shore was a good decision. (Had the situation been different I think they should have stayed together and held a position down wind of us, paddling into the wind and keeping visual contact, rafted together if conditions and wind drift allowed.)

This was supposed to be a level 2 paddle. We as a group struggle with keeping a paddle at that level. Sometimes it works out where the advanced paddlers play closer to the rocks and the more timid paddlers stay in the more predictable conditions. Other times the conditions are hard to hide from. In this case we let ourselves get into conditions we didn’t have to. It never would have happened had we stayed as a close knit group and provided opportunity to everyone to weight in on there comfort with the conditions.

Comments and thoughts of course welcome and encouraged ...

Winds North 20 G25+, water 60, air 56

Saturday, October 27, 2007

1000 Feet of Fun

Last week I saw this posting on the message board:

“Early morning play at Old Stone Bridge Sat.(10/26)
Some of us are planning to play in the 3.5knt ebb current at Old Stone Bridge. We are going to meet at 9am and launching by 9:30.
Max flow is at 10:15.
We'll likely be off the water by noon.
The idea is to push skills, so be prepared to do rescues.”

Some of the replies were:

“OK - I'll get up early.”
“Espresso and adrenalin - a good combination.
I hope there are less people fishing this week.”

And the results were:

“This was an amazing paddle.
Thanks to Eric and Tim for organizing this.
Thanks to Paul for saving my life.”
“Yes, it was lots of fun, wasn't it? I think the real value in something like that is being able to hang out and spend extended time in conditions that you would just try to get past on a regular trip. The adrenaline ebbs away and you can relax and really observe the interactions between yourself, the boat and the water, find ways to work with the forces of the current, waves and wind instead of just (trying to) muscle your way through. And you can push yourself more, too, knowing everyone's just itching to get in some rough-water rescue practice!

I think everyone who wants to paddle this winter should spend some time at Old Stone Bridge. Paul was able to use his experience in the rescue situation the very next day, and when Tony and I ran into current going around Jamestown on Monday, my comfort and confidence levels were much greater because of the few hours I spent on Saturday.

It would be great to have some more women come next time!”

So how can I compete with that???

We never got further than 1000 feet from the launch point and we were done in less than 2 hours. But we had more fun, excitement, and opportunity to test our skills than we do in almost any other situation.

We started with some loosen up paddling right in front of the beach. Some just paddled about, others rolled, and others sculled. (I tried to scull and ended up rolling!) Then we headed into the melee. The tide was a 5.6 foot tide in an area that is exciting with the normal 3.8 foot tide. The restriction of the old stone bridge’s jetties accelerated the water locally and set up standing waves. This day, unlike two weeks earlier, the wind was opposing the flow and the waves were standing up constantly. The location of the waves shifted around especially in front of areas where there was upwelling water. They varied from about 18 inches to 3 feet right by the “Evil Can”.

A few paddlers went over, this was expected and encouraged as this was a time to practice and test your skills. The conditions were extreme enough that E went over trying to get to a rescue and we had two paddlers in the water at once.

I took the opportunity to paddle through the waves at various angles and hold position in some of the worst water. But I was especially entertained by some of the great surfing I could do. The waves and my hull were well suited to each other and I accelerated off numerous waves and had a couple of long fast rides. Four times by the evil can I found myself bracing in panic to stay upright.

One area I chose to avoid was the whirlpools. There were areas where about a five foot circle would form into a whirlpool. The middle 18 inches would suck down about 15 inches deep! T and E both poked their boats into these and managed to survive.

Not every one who paddles with us should join in on something like the stone bridge paddle. But what everyone should do is participate in the post paddle practices that often happen in the last 15 minutes before we quit. (Or T’s Wed evening practice sessions.) This is the time to gain confidence in bracing, rescues, and less frequently used strokes. It’s these skills that keep us out of trouble when the conditions get dicey.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Freeport Maine

I was looking to do at least one more kayak camping adventure before the temperatures got cold. CC requested “not too far away” and EJ requested “not too close”. BH was predictably up for anything. We decided that Boston Harbor could be done any time so Casco Maine seemed about right.

Locating a place to park overnight is a bit of an issue. A couple of boat yards would allow it. But they were up the Royal River a few miles and seemed less than ideal. The 10 foot tides had me concerned about both lack of water and strong currents. EJ knew of a place on Harpswell Neck but that was an additional ½ hour of driving that we could do in our boats instead. I chose Winslow Park in Freeport but I couldn’t get confirmation that we’d be able to park there. Our destination was Bangs Island, about six miles straight line from the put in.

EJ and I carpooled up and left about 45 minutes ahead of BH and CC. Our plan was to scope out the launch and let them know where to go once we had settled on the spot. When we arrived at the launch it looked perfect. We made a call to the local Police department to confirm that parking was OK. In season it would be OK and there would be a fee. Off season, no one seemed to care.

We un-racked our boats and began the boat packing process. Fitting tents and bags and pans in our day tripping kayaks is an organizational feat. EJ’s back hatch and deck are so low it can hold little more than water. (And it has a habit of filling up all by itself.) We were mostly packed before the RI contingent arrived so we left them to guard our boats while we ran into town to pick up sandwiches for lunch. When we returned they were almost packed so we ate our sandwiches and headed out to sea.

EJ navigated with the chart. I confirmed with the GPS. We paddled out in relatively calm conditions with a warm sun and a gentle headwind. The temperatures were in the upper fifties so most of us were in dry suits and perfectly comfortable. I choose the farmer john route and was comfortable also but it just doesn’t breath as well as Gore-Tex. We were treated to views of about a dozen islands spread out with about a mile between them. Most were lightly or totally un-inhabited. A couple were clearly vacation spots serviced by ferry. Within a couple of hours we arrived at Bangs Island. I suggested we do a circumnavigation to see what it was like. There was one small site on the south side which would not have fit our 4 tents. The middle site was large enough but was a bit damp due to a heavy rain the preceding day. We settled on the north site which had just enough room for us all. We drew straws to decide where the snoring campers would locate and who would get the flattest spot. We had our tents up comfortably before dark and began to snack and prepare for dinner.

EJ and BH got a fire going while CC and I worked on spaghetti with sausage and meat balls. Cooking meat with out burning it on a camp stove is a chore. I basically had to hold the pan a comfortable distance from the flame the entire time.

After dinner it was stories and marshmallows by the fire. I saw about a half dozen shooting stars. The others saw one but it was a good one. Moving much slower than the usual streaks.

During the night the wind shifted and freshened a bit. This was the second strike of weather not equal to forecast. (Our head wind on the way over was supposed to be a tailwind.) I woke up about 15 minutes before sunrise and was treated to a cloud bank that was glowing red from the sun’s illumination from below the horizon. I watched it rise and then “un-rise” as it passed above the clouds. A small island about a ½ mile away had a few dozen seals on it. I saw numerous heads popping up and watched one pair frolic on the surface for a short time. (The others only saw one!)

We relaxed over an oatmeal and fresh fruit breakfast that BH assembled. The wind died down and it was comfortable. Slowly we gained a sense of purpose and we planned a route back that would allow us to explore 6 more islands that we hadn’t passed the day before.

Just about the time we had our boats loaded (CC was done first) the wind picked up again. This time straight out of the NW which was exactly the path we wanted to take. Strike three for the weather. We headed to the lee side of Whaleboat Island. This was an Island EJ had camped on before. CC and BH got out and did some exploration. Meanwhile the sky was becoming mostly cloudy and the winds were stiffening to 20 with higher gusts. We decided to head into the wind a little before stopping for a lunch break. This half mile crossing was enough to know that we needed to dress a bit warmer and that we were going to have our work cut out for us. We were slogging into a 2 foot chop and taking a lot of spray.

After lunch we had 4 more miles to go. We basically made four 1 mile crossings each to the lee of an Island so that we could rest without being blown back ½ the distance. It was an exciting paddle that was never unsafe but certainly not relaxing. I was ready to be done by the last leg and beached my boat as soon as I reached the put in. EJ performed a nice onside roll of his heavily loaded boat and then followed it up with a perfectly smooth offside roll. The water was in the upper 50s so a couple of rolls were plenty.

We re-racked out boats and headed into Freeport for dinner. We settled on a Turkish restaurant and had a relaxing meal and some more great conversation. The weekend was everything I had hoped for. Casco Bay was prettier than I expected and the un-expected wind made it fun.

10/13, 10/14, water and air 58, wind Sat 10-15 , Sunday 15-20, gusts to 25.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Current Practice ... x2

On Saturday Tim planned an adventure in the currents by the old stone bridge in Tiverton. TM, RR, BH, EJ, RB, and Brian D showed up. We met for a 10AM launch but chose to have coffee first and let the outgoing tide build a little.

Unfortunately the wind was blowing fairly strong in the same direction as the current. It would take a boat or some other random activity to get some of the standing waves building. When a boat would pass we'd dash in like seagulls behind a dragger and play in the turbulence. The most exciting spot was right near the "big evil can" that would oscillate back and forth and occasionally get sucked down deep.

After about an hour of play we paddled around Gould Island to loosen up a bit. Our intention was to head back to shore for lunch but as we neared the beach I noticed it was whipped up pretty good so EJ, BH, RB and I returned for a little more. This really was the best current of the day and for about 15 minutes we frolicked in the 18 inch standing waves. This included watching Bob be chased by the evil can!

On Sunday CM had a paddle planned out of Westport. The group split into a level 2 and a level 3. The smarter 2 paddle went up river with the current. The 3s went out to the mouth fighting the current al the way.

At the mouth we all played in the current by the end of Horseneck Beach. CH and others went out around Gooseberry, TM, BH, EJ and I stayed in the mouth for some more current play. We ultimately headed out to the beach in front of the Charlton Estate for lunch and waited for the tide to turn.

After lunch we headed back in and found just what we had been looking for. The river was dumping its current at an unbelievable rate and the SE breeze was just enough to get it all stirred up.

We were treated to 2 foot standing waves in a 400 x 100 yard area. We passed back and forth through this slop multiple times. Each time one or two of us would watch (and rest) and the rest would mix it up. Our boats were at times buried to the spray skirt in the wave in front of us while the following wave pushed us in. The spacing between these standing waves was less than 15 feet. My first pass through bordered on scary, my second was an adrenaline rush that had me trembling with excitement. The third time through was less exciting and it was time for a rest to calm down. We made a few more passes before deciding we had pushed our fates far enough. It was one of the most exciting times I’ve had on the water.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Stonington Maine

This spring I joined the Maine Island Trail Association ($40) and received their Stewardship Handbook and Guidebook. I’ve been fantasizing about kayaking and camping along the coast of Maine. I had spent a number of nights perusing the book while simultaneously planning my Alaska trip. Before I left for AK I offered to loan the book to Bob in hope that he’d plan a trip. My plan worked and he and Carole did the homework to set us up for a paddle out of Stonington.

Stonington is about a 6 hour ride from Worcester. Bob arraigned camping at Old Quarry Camp ground. From there we could explore the dozens of islands between Deer Isle and Isle au Haut. When we arrived Sunday evening we were a bit disappointed because “overflow camping” turned out to mean we could stick our tents in any number of spots along the camp road that were just big enough for a tent. CC, BH, and RB set up near a parking lot where a fire ring and picnic table were situated. E&H’s site was occupied by a “lingerer” so they too set up near the parking lot for the first night. (They would not arrive until after midnight so we also wanted it to be obvious where they were to drop their palatial tent.) Lisa and I set up in a tight gravelly spot between the quarry pond and the camp store. Fortunately we would spend very little time in camp and most of our time on the water.

In an interesting twist of desire, L,P,E,&H were content to car camp and eat fancy meals instead of packing all our boats and lugging stuff out to the islands. (We had done plenty of that in AK.) B,C, and R were more adamant that island camping was in the cards. As a compromise it was agreed that we’d explore potential camp sites the first day and return to the most desirable site (if we found one) the next.

For breakfast Monday morning Lisa and I cooked pancakes and bacon on the Coleman stove. We all carried our boats to the launch and set out in exploration of the islands. We were quickly greeted by a small pod of porpoises (well actually we saw them from a few hundred yards away.) C was nominated leader and map reader. H seemed determined to follow along also. We meandered around a number of islands C&B stopped at one to look for a camp site while Rick picked muscles from his boat. We stopped for lunch on a long sand spit off an island that was occupied by a couple with a friendly black lab. He stayed with us looking for food handouts the whole time (Bob obliged him often.)

After lunch we crossed Merchant Row to Harbor Island. There we found three nice camp sites that would comfortably fit our 5 tents. It was agreed, assuming the weather was good, that we would return with tents the next day. We paddled back on a different route through the islands and explored another potential camp site. For dinner Rick cooked the mussels he gathered as well as a delicious shrimp dish.

On Tuesday morning Carole cooked eggs and home fried potatoes. We packed our boats, this time with tents and fresh water, and headed back to our island camp site. Although we got off to a late start we arrived to a vacated island and had our choice of sites. Choosing the right site was a balance between picking a prime location visually and avoiding being near the snorers of the group. Although L and I were interested in the meadow on the west side of the island we offered it to E&H. Instead we set up as close to the rocky shoreline prominence on the south east side as we could. C,B, and R spread out in various other spots with similar great views. Shortly after we got our tents set up a family group of about 8 showed up. They set up their tent city in the meadow around E&H. Boy did L & I luck out!

After setting up camp we headed over to Isle au Haut. C was expecting a little town but all we found was a general store. We descended on the store in search of ice cream. But six dripping wet kayakers was more than the store keepers could take (they were stocking shelves with their recent delivery). They kicked us out and locked the door behind us, asking us to return in 15 minutes when they were finished (and presumably we had dried off!) We never returned. My sunglasses were a casualty of the short landing. Lost somewhere in the melee of getting out and into the kayak.

For dinner back on the island H&E created a Mexican dish on the ultra light camp stoves. This was much more difficult than cooking on the Coleman stove. The temperature was dropping and the breeze was blowing over the meadow. We were all bundled up in as many layers as we had. After dinner we headed to the lee side of the island and lit a fire by the shore. We shared our fire with a couple from Brookline NY who had set up near Rick. We all settled into our warm sleeping bags relatively early. In various late night extra-tent excursions L, C, and B all mistook the anchor light of a near by sailboat as a celestial curiosity!

Wed morning Bob cooked an oatmeal dish with various fruits to liven it up. We talked about what the plan might be but really we all just sat in the sun on the rocks like little lizards absorbing the heat. I gathered more mussels for a pre-lunch snack. Then we all shared very soft cheese and other snacks for lunch.

About mid-afternoon Eric had a plan to paddle back along the eastern side of the islands. This route offered us some beautiful views toward Acadia over open water. One of us was a bit under the weather so the rest of us took opportunities to practice our towing skills in a non-critical situation. We found that the double-I-tow was the easiest. The V-tow seemed to have a lot of drag from the tow ropes being pulled sideways through the water (although it was reasonable when the tow-ers were close together).

For Wednesday evening’s meal we went to a restaurant in Stonington. Thursday morning we all fended for ourselves with breakfast, packed our stuff, and headed off in our own directions.

The coast of Maine is a beautiful place to paddle. Our pod of 7 kayakers was great from a safety point of view and it made for plenty of laughs and interesting conversation. But it was a little bit difficult to find sites that could accommodate such a large group. The camp sites are primitive and you have to carry EVERYTHING out. We were fortunate to have beautiful albeit cool weather. Rainy days would make it far less enjoyable.

Water temperature mid-50s, air 60-80 days, 48-55 nights, winds light, seas <1 foot.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Lake Champlain

Lake Champlain has been on my list of places to kayak for a few years now. I was excited about paddling on this fresh water lake that is over seventy miles long and as much as 15 miles wide. Lisa and I headed up on a Friday evening and arrived at a hotel a little after dark just south of Burlington VT. We were planning on paddling the next day from St Albans to the “Cottonwood” site on Knights Island. The 185 acre island has only seven sites on it, all spread out on the shore.

We paddled the 6 miles from Kill Kare Point by Woods Island to our little private site on the Northern most point of the island. The winds were light and the boat traffic was light relative to what I would expect on Narragansett Bay for the same weekend. It was a very pleasant crossing

Upon arrival we set our tent up facing west on the pea-gravel beach. We could swim and sunbath “very casualy dressed” with the warm fresh water and the pleasant air temperatures. We were so relaxed we were thinking about staying a second night on the island. We walked a half mile of shoreline to the Ranger’s Station to try and pay for our site and inquire about it’s availiability for an additional night but there was no one to be found. We walked back by a trail down the center of the island. Our pace was quick as there was a preponderance of mosquitoes given the significant wetland acreage on the island.

We swam some more and cooked a lovely dinner on the camp stove. The sunset was beautiful and the stars were plentiful. I was awake to see a large and bright shooting star. It was part of the Perseid Meteor showers.

The next morning we woke to a stiff breeze. Our site was on the lee side of the island so it didn’t look like much. We made coffee and cooked breakfast (boiling water twice because some uninvited guests had slipped into the first pan of water). We hiked a 1.5 mile loop to the other side of the island and saw that the exposed side was experiencing a short wavelength 2 foot chop (and some more wonderful views from the thirty foot high cliffs).

We loaded the boats and paddled in the protection of the island as long as we could. We stopped and paid the ranger and talked with him and his family for a while. We decided to make the 5 mile crossing directly to Burton Island so that we’d take on the seas more directly with our bows. The loaded boats have the advantage of mass that keeps them from being knocked off coarse by the wind and the waves. I was extra careful to load them with the weight low to keep them uber-stable. We had chosen to head out early to avoid the seas building any more but as it turns out we would have been better off waiting as the breeze subsided a bit as the day went on.

We landed on Burton Island and relaxed and ate lunch. We were entertained by dozens of small frogs hopping around on the shore. One more mile of paddling got us back to the launch point in the mid afternoon.

The section of the lake we visited is a beautiful place to paddle. (It’s the only section we explored.) If you can get reservations through the Vermont state campground system to one of the islands (Knight or Woods) you’ll be delighted. Membership in the Lake Champlain Trails Association ($35) will get you information about a number of other first come first serve sites. We did not visit any of these but I’d be leary of these on a summer week-end.

Air 80, water 75. Sat winds light. Sunday winds 15+

Monday, July 09, 2007

Glacier Bay Day 5

Let the rains begin… today was the day we were to be picked up by the day boat and head up the west arm of the bay. Lisa and I loaded up the perforated double we had acquired in the safety trade. It did not pack as well as our two singles and it was as wide as the row boat I had in my teen years. E and H were a step more organized than us and were ready to go before us. We headed to the pickup point and saw a plethora of campers settled in an area that was off limits for camping. The rangers definitely don’t want to encourage bears to expect food in an area where people will frequent. All had their excuses but frankly I think they were all inconsiderate. We were greeted by a too friendly fellow who confided to us that he had left his girlfriend 30 miles up bay because they couldn’t agree on where to paddle to. He claimed he was sacrificing the trip to save the relationship. (I think both were cut short.)

The day boat is a 100-ish foot catamaran that pulls directly up to the beach to pick up and drop off boats. Upon boarding I was overwhelmed by tourists who thought we were mountain men and women for camping “in the wild”. They wanted to hear of our stories and adventures. I didn’t want to tell my story. I just wanted to be back where I came from in the peace and quite of the bay. I retreated to the cold and rainy back deck of the boat where only an occasional guest would wander. I missed the bay already. Fortunately I knew I was better off leaving while it was still a good experience. It would rain for this and the next two days straight. We were leaving on a high point.

The tour boat afforded us some great views of a half dozen glaciers. The boat stopped in front of one that was calving. We could hear the ice cracking and watch it dropping into the sea. We also saw a seal or two, a family of three bears, and an orca. I was slowly settling into public life.

When the boat landed back at the ranger station we had to rush about and empty our camp fuel, return the boats, return the ‘thankfully un-used’ bear spray, pack our stuff, pick up E&H’s stored bag from the lodge, return the bear canisters, and close out our float plan. We had less than an hour and a half before our flight left. Fortunately we made the flight. It was delayed by the weather.

The trip was simply delightful in its entirety. We all suffered a little anxiety about being alone in the wild (in a way three of us had never been before). Lisa’s expertise made it very comfortable and the company of E&H and their agreeable and relaxed demeanors made it very fun. It was definitely a trip I’ll never forget. It just has me yearning for more. After all, I still haven’t paddled with whales!

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Glacier Bay Day 4

Although the forecast was for strong southerly winds and rain we woke up to sunny skies and a light north wind. All this concern to beat the weather and it turned out to be a beautiful day all day with temperatures at times in the seventies!

We had no paddling planned but exploring in the east arm was an option. But the boats were just not that comfortable and we decided to just hang out and play on the island. Lisa and I had our hearts set on catching a fish. We had seen Salmon jumping on the east side of the island so that was our destination. Travel to that side of the island required disturbing the already quite disturbed Oyster Catchers. It would also sometimes incite a dive bomb attack by the terns. We knew that the Oyster Catchers were nesting on the beach and tried to give them their space. We did get a chance to see their eggs when they were off nest. They blended amazingly well with the rocks and were arraigned in no obvious “nest” structure. They were just laid on the beach above the tide line. I can make no excuse for the terns.

Lisa and I both have little interest in fishing but a huge interest in eating fresh fish. We made two forays to that side of the island during the day. The first time Lisa did have a fish almost landed. We did see fish jumping each time we went over there but getting a bite proved difficult. In a last desperate attempt before committing to turkey fettuccini for dinner Lisa tried a few casts right by our tent. (She had wanted to fish there but Eric and I insisted that the other side was better. It was the only side we saw fish jumping.) On her second cast she had a fish hooked. I went into coaching mode. Keep the line tight, just drag him to the shore… (she would have done just fine). Before the fish had a chance to know it was out of the water Lisa was ready to release it. I would have nothing to do with it. Besides, it was hooked in a funny way. Convinced that we were keeping the fish the focus turned to a humane death. She was suggesting dropping a rock on its head! Two indirect hits on a crazed flipping fish convinced me that we were far more likely to get hurt than the fish was. I quickly beheaded it and cleaned it in the water to avoid attracting bears. Our dinner would be Pink Salmon!

We also spent time on the island exploring the woods and the geology of the shoreline rocks. At one point Lisa stopped for a little nap on the shoreline and within 10 minutes the water had risen to the point where her boots began to fill (funny thing about 20 foot tides).

Lisa and I were also approached by a couple in a double kayak with a little problem. It seems as if the guide service had dropped them off in a boat with a hole in it. They had fixed it with Duct Tape but it seemed a little foolish to head out on a 6 day paddle with a patched boat. Eric and I used our hand held marine radios to try to hail a nearby boat. Our radios would not reach all the way back to the ranger station but we assumed we would be able to communicate with a boat or cruise ship that we could see on the other side of the bay. We finally talked to a chartered 50 foot sailboat that relayed a message back to the ranger station. We had offered to let the couple trade their double for a couple of our singles. We only had about a mile and a half to paddle to the point where we would be picked up and were comfortable we’d be able to make it with the patched boat.

It was a very relaxing lay over day on the island. We appreciated not having to tear down and re-setup camp for one night. It all worked out quite nicely.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Glacier Bay Day 3

The first half of our trip was within the protection of the Beardslee Islands. The second half was to be up the east side of the bay along the Beartrack Mountains. This section was exposed to the most open section of the bay. It also was a section with limited shoreline camping because a significant portion was closed due to high bear activity. This gave us few fall back opportunities is something was to go wrong. Our plan on paper was to paddle about 10 miles to Sturgess Island on day 3 and then 6 more to Garforth Island on Day 4. But with a forecast was bad for day 4. I was wondering if the right thing to do was head back along a different route within the safety of the Beardslee Islands. Back home, on a day with 20 knot winds and rain predicted I’d tend to stay home. Here, in Glacier Bay, miles from help, in uncomfortable and fully loaded kayaks, why would it suddenly be a good idea? Lisa and I discussed it a bit in our tent and then opened it up to Eric and Heather. It was decided that we’d go for an epic day and try to go all the way to Garforth.

With full agreement we all suited up in our Drysuits for what would include two 5 mile open water crossings. While making the first crossing we were fighting a light headwind (the forecast was for a push). But a little liveliness in the water and sweeping views in every direction as we paddled in the open water was exhilarating. We stopped for a snack at Leland Island which looked to us as if we were in the middle of Glacier Bay. We had distant views of Mt Fairwether at over 15,000 feet. We were also in a zone where the glaciers were approximately 150 years earlier. Our next crossing brought us to Puffin Island which was where we would begin to paddle against the shore and search for a much needed re-supply of water.

Our long paddle didn’t allow us to explore this shoreline as much as we would have liked to. It was a shore with mile high peaks and in spots dropped from about 2000 feet of elevation to 500 feet of depth over less than a mile. Some of the streams would disappear into the coarse rubble within the last few hundred feet of the shore. I finally located a stream where I could just step out of my boat and fill the dromedary bags.

We were now in clear sight of our destination but it was still almost 4 miles away. We paddled on with the long twilight beginning to start. I was starving and tired so I quickly jumped out of the boat and began to search for a place to camp.
I was excited to find zero sign on bear but the first spot was not ideal. Lisa and Eric continued to search around the island for a good spot. There was a boat camping on the north end (this island is often used as a staging point for the guide boat drop off spot which was less a mile away). We settled on a beautiful spot on the west side of the island that had almost 360 degree views.

It was still clear and comfortably light outside when we retired to our tents at 12:30 (We never used a flashlight during the whole trip). We had completed our “epic day” and were prepared to hole up for a windy rainy fourth day.

Air Low 60s, clear, light North wind, 16.2 miles

Friday, July 06, 2007

Glacier Bay Day 2

We launched our boats about 1.5 hours before low tide. The day started overcast and warmed and cleared up as it went along. We headed to the west of Eider Island and skirted west of the outer Beardslees. This brought us over deep water where I thought there might be potential of seeing a whale. It was pretty and relaxing but uneventful. We did see one tent but no other boats. We stopped on a rocky beach for lunch. I perused the horizon with binoculars for a whale but only saw seals and sea otters. After lunch we tucked between a couple of islands and continued our journey up the middle of the Beardslees into a stiffening breeze. Here it felt more protected and visually the islands all looked like interesting places to explore but the wildlife spotting was limited. We were in no rush so we rafted up frequently to trade stories and snacks and debate whether the map was indicating that we could pass between the last two islands or whether a portage would be required. We avoided making the wrong call by going around the islands instead.

We only had ten miles under our boats for the day but we were surprisingly tired. The wide boats loaded down were deceivingly slow. We were at the top of the Beardslees at the entrance to Beartrack Cove. A squall was looming ominously to our west. It was time to find a campsite. I jumped out and was pleased by the first spot I found. It was a small knoll surrounded by beach on the front and marsh around back. I returned to the boat and discussed it with Lisa but her feeling (from a distance) was it was too wet. The second spot I checked was loaded with bear scat. The third spot was ideal from a tent point of view but was fairly close to the second spot and looked too “bear-y” to me. Lisa and I returned to the first site and with the two of us looking the debate about wetness was dismissed as we found multiple piles of both bear and moose scat. We headed further back towards where we had come from and finally settled in on our fourth choice. We had passed it initially in favor of sites with deeper water access but otherwise it was a beautiful sight! A lightly treed point facing straight up the heart of Glacier Bay.

Our camp site quickly became magical as the wind died down and the squall passed us slowly in the distance playing hide and seek with the sun. The marine mammals started to play right in front of us. Throughout the evening Sea Otters, Seals, and Sea Lions passed just off shore. In the quiet air we could hear the otters cracking shells on their bellies. Lisa spotted a baby on top of mom. The Sea lions rolled over each other like unruly teenagers wrestling.

We set up our tents (a little further apart than the first night) and began to cook dinner well down on the shore. Just as we were getting started a double showed up on shore with two slightly freaked out young men we had seen back at the ranger station. They said that they had seen 6 bear and 2 moose as they paddled up through the Beardslees along the mainland. Everywhere they had stopped had too much bear sign. And in fact we had a bear walking along the shore right now only some 500 yards to our south. I ran up to alert E&H to make sure they had their food packed away properly and have them join us on the beach for safety in numbers. I wanted to go see the bear but didn’t want to abandon cooking duty so we continued to cook. Given that we had not found any favorable sites for at least another half mile we invited them to camp near us.

Just as we were finishing up dinner our neighbors stopped by and told us there was a big bull moose just behind out tents. The four of us went off to explore and saw the huge animal a few hundred yards away and slowly approaching. He disappeared from view too close and for too long so we all retreated back to the beach.

Lisa and I walked the shore and I could hear what sounded like an elephant in the distance. I asked Lisa what it was and she said it was a whale she had heard before (or a whale with a similar atypical breathing sound). We searched for it until Lisa finally spotted its tail. It was not just diving but flipping its tail repeatedly at the surface.

What had been up until now just a nice paddle in a beautiful place had turned nothing short of breathtaking as the sun set and the animals continued to frolic out in front of our tents.

Each day at 8:45am and 5:45pm the Ranger station reads the weather forecast for the bay. The forecast for our forth day of paddling was rain and winds 20 knots from the south. Hmmm… I needed to sleep on that. Sleep that is until I woke to the sound of wolves howling and barking in the distance.

Air temp Low 60s, Winds light-10 North, water 45, 10.2 miles

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Glacier Bay Day 1

It was nearly 6pm before we were on the water. It was raining lightly. E&H had donned their dry suits. Lisa and I were in our Helle Hansens. We passed our only kayak of this day by the dock. A double clearly rented for the afternoon by a camper. We were greeted by our first seal almost instantly. We were later than we had hoped and were already fighting the tide. Glacier Bay has tides of 15 to 25 feet so they can be a significant factor. Within a half hour the going was already slow against the tide. We were all uncomfortable with the fit in the boat. The loose foot pegs of a ruddered boat were unfamiliar. The wide boat altered our strokes (as did the load).

Suddenly I noticed a large “brown” bear on the shore. I pointed to him to alert the others. Lisa rafted up with her binoculars and we debated whether this was a brown “Black Bear” or a “Brown Bear” aka a Grizzly. The most notable feature is the hump on the back of the brown bear but when feeding with their heads down the distinction is not as clear. It was all very cute and comfortable until it looked up at me as I was focused on it with the binoculars. Sure I was fine in this kayak but the face gave me chills when I realized I was going to be camping with this beast in just a few hours.

Because of our late start, the tides, the rain, and the fact that this was all new to three of us we decided to look for camp fairly quickly. We found a small island with a limited amount of bear trail and only one large pile of bear poop. It was small enough that we were fairly certain that there was no bear on it at least at that moment.

We all set up our tents without fighting although they were pretty close so no one was far from the bear spray. The procedure is to set the tents away from a bear trail. Store the boats empty in one location, the food in a different location, and cook in a third location. 100 yards is the recommended separation. Add to this the fact that a 20 foot tide puts the low tide line an awful long way from the high water line and you have a recipe for a lot of walking.

The misty air gave us limited visibility. Light rain made it less than “perfectly comfortable”. At this point we were happy to be on our way and the quietness and isolation we found a mere 4 miles from our launch point was the excitement.

We cooked our first meal and watched as the receding tide connected our little island to the much larger neighbor. So this is how the bear gets over. Shit! Fortunately Lisa explained that the nesting pair of Oyster Catchers on the beach would be our security system. If a bear walked over they’d go nuts protecting the nest. True I’m sure but Oyster Catchers are just nuts in general and made a racket at random times causing me to think a bear might be approaching when none was in sight. (I know this because I got up once just to check … well I had another reason also.)

The next day was less misty and we could see mountains to the east and a plethora of islands to the northwest. We could see salmon jumping, porpoises, and more seals. We ate breakfast, broke camp, and patiently waited the turn of the tide to get our second days paddle under way. Four happy campers were beginning to relax, Alaska style.

Air Temp 60, water temp 45, winds light, 4.3 miles

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Glacier Bay Day 0

Lisa and I were planning a kayak adventure in Glacier Bay Alaska. We decided July would be the best time, after Eric and Heather’s wedding. We knew that they were planning their honeymoon in AK so we invited them to join us. I was not surprised to find them interested but was surprised that they would agree to participate in a 5 day un-guided adventure. There is significant planning and preparation to be done for a trip like this and they were already planning a wedding and buying a new house.

We located 17-foot singles from Glacier Bay Sea Kayaks. We could take these from the ranger station in Gustavus. We planned to paddle 30 miles up through the Beardslee’s into the east arm of the bay. There we would be picked up by the day tour boat and continue into the west arm. The plan would maximize our wildlife exposure on our kayak journey. The up close (and much colder) glacier viewing would be had from the heated tour boat. This doesn’t sound like a lot of miles but we wanted to go slow and take in the sights. The trip was about wild nature not exercise on the water.

Collectively, there were almost a dozen trips to REI/EMS involved in the preparation. Half that many to the grocery store. But we were well equipped and ate well!

Alaska air had a direct flight from Boston to Seattle and then a jump to Juneau. We chose a small plane for the hop to Gusatvus for schedule reasons. We also hoped the views would be great from the little plane but as it turns out we traveled over in the rain.

We arrived at the ranger station for our back country camping orientation and then our kayak orientation. This left fueling our camp stoves and the bear spray. Two items that can’t make the flight over in a plane. The fueling went well but the lodge and the hardware store in town were out of bear spray. Now if you can’t fly the spray over you can’t fly it back either. Where was all the bear spray left behind by the campers? Do bears like Cajun? No one knew. But Lisa managed to talk (someone) into letting her borrow theirs. It could have been an empty canister but it was peace of mind. (Yes Heather, it was full. I shook it.)

Combined we loaded two large wheelbarrows with equipment to pack into the boats. The boats were so large that they packed easily. Each boat held two bear resistant food canisters (did I mention we ate well?). Although L&I took a lot of grief for having three times as many bags as E&H, when the boats got packed theirs were just as full as ours.

And so the adventure began…

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Weather or Not

Saturday’s bike ride was cut short by misty air that turned to soup. It then rained all day without even the excitement of thunder. The forecast for Sunday was not looking darling either. And the two suggested paddles, a level 2 in the bay and a Barking Crab excursion were just not all that appealing. I left a message with Eric that sounded more like Eeyore than my usual “we’re going come hell or high water” self. I begged to put the decision off till the morning and to seek an alternate launch point.

We rarely explore the North Shore of Massachusetts and usually stay away in summer when the parking becomes even more tenuous. Lisa wanted to visit Gloucester so I was predisposed to head in that general direction. The morning phone call to E&H had P&L leading them by an hour or so and finding a good launch point. The fall back would be Plum Island Sound.

Our first stop was the Gloucester High School boat ramp. It looked promising with the tide running gently in the right direction at the proposed launch time. And those seniors in caps and gowns? How bad could that be?

Lisa and I headed into town for some exploring and some breakfast. Most of that time was spent dealing with an amnesiac waitress. When we returned to the high school it had been descended upon by siblings, parents, and grand parents. Parking was … well… typical north shore. We slipped the 4-runner into a trailer spot knowing that we could share the slot with E&H. It’s always a bit scary to guess whether the kayak racks will be considered a trailer. Fortunately the ramp police officer, who was guarding the lengthy parking spots from the graduates with determination, looked fondly on us.

We paddled out along the SW shoreline. The shore was rockier than the usual south shore marshes. There were large houses and even castles and castle envy houses. As we moved along the shore the swell was increasing and Eric and I poked tentatively around the rocks. Lisa and Heather, who thought they were keeping themselves safe, found themselves pushing through some rogue growlers over the bar behind Norman’s Woe Rock.

We made the 1.5 mile crossing to Eastern Point Lighthouse. The long wavelength swells made it a bit exciting as they stood up over bars and against currents. Not to the point of loosing visibility of the horizon but tall enough to take notice. We landed on a beach that I assume we would be kicked off of in July. We relaxed in the sun (or the shade of a boat) and kept an eye on the kayaks as the rising tide attempted to liberate them. It was a “4 pull up” break as H did it twice, I did it once and I think E did also.

The final leg on the NE shore was along the gentrified houses from an earlier prosperous time in this seaport. (It is still a commercial fishing port and we noticed more commercial traffic than we ever see down south.)

OK, so now’s the point when I work a roll into this story. E was using his new handmade Greenland paddle that H had gotten him as a wedding gift. He tested it out with a successful roll near the put in. Let’s hope he will roll so successfully with the ups and downs of marriage!

It was a great relaxing low key paddle filled with plenty of good conversation. And the weather turned out perfectly with sun and light winds. Next came the search for the perfect seafood restaurant. We asked some locals and they recommended we leave town! They pointed to Essex Seafood so that’s where we went. Although we were a bit critical of the batter it was one of the better post paddle stops we’ve made.

6/10’2007 Air, low 70’s, water upper 50’s, winds light

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Narrow River

It was raining in spots on my ride from Northborough to North Kingston. At the launch the wind was stiff, blowing straight down the Narrow River. But this was all part of the plan. I’d prefer to ride my bike on the nicer days and kayak on the lesser days. Especially in spring when dressing for the water can leave you overheated in the air. This day had me back in my fleece one piece suit, AKA my PJs.

The paddle was a level 2 and I was thrilled to see Mary show up with Bill. There is no better way for the less experienced paddlers to get a feel for how comfortable they are in the sea kayak world. At some point you might find your paddling skill limit but it would be irresponsible to find it on a level 3 if you didn’t first try a level 2. In the case of Mary it’s great to see her stretch herself from flat-water to the 2. She did just fine!

I was looking forward to this paddle partly to get out on the water, partly to give my elbow an easy workout, and partly to paddle with Tim, who I haven’t paddled with since November.

We headed up river into the wind at a slow comfortable pace consistent with a level 2 paddle. Tim tried to herd the group to the more protected shore as much as he could to minimize the wind exposure. And he stopped frequently and paused for a few minutes even when we were all grouped up. This gave those who might have taken an extra minute or so to catch up their own minute of rest time. This gave me the opportunity to slip in a roll or two. I’m trying to put myself at ease to roll more spontaneously. Not just at lunch or at the end of the paddle.

The Narrow River gets prettier the further you go up river. The houses get less dense and the water widens into decent size ponds. At the head of the river, in the lee of the trees, it was quite warm and comfortable. We stopped for lunch out of the wind and frankly I was convinced that a sea breeze might be fighting the North wind and my prediction of a head wind in both directions might come true. But when back on the open water after lunch the North wind was still there and as strong as ever. In fact many of us were holding up our paddles to the wind and almost keeping pace with those who were paddling.

I was impressed that Bill was aware that I was lagging behind and checked a few times to see that I was OK. These are very positive attributes in a paddle partner. I was also impressed by a number of paddlers who were working on skills on the little breaks we were taking. I think Tim has a way of bringing that out in people.

All the practicing during the paddle left us with little desire to practice back at the launch. Instead we focused on packing up the boats and where to get coffee.

5/6 Air 52, water 50, NE20 G25

Monday, April 23, 2007

Knubble Bay, Maine

In my kayaking plans for the year I was planning a spring time Lake Champlain paddle and a fall Maine Island paddle. But when I saw that the Knubble Bay AMC club was holding a spring paddle I couldn’t resist. I signed up instantly and it didn’t take much coaxing to get Bob, MA and Carole to join me. We carpooled up together Friday afternoon to the lodge just south of Bath Maine. We arrived just in time to meet Gail, Dave, Dave and Steve and head back into town for dinner. The conversation over dinner was very comfortable as we traded stories about kayaking, our professions and hobbies. As we left the restaurant our group leader asked us “where did you park” even though we had followed him and parked right beside him. Was this a sign of things to come? (It wasn’t.)

The first day we caravanned to the put in at the top of the New Meadows River. We were joined by Leah, Cathy, Barbara and another Dave. The tide was just about dead low and the mud and rockweed were everywhere. We paddled down stream and then up into Back Cove for lunch. We ate on the shore which MA dubbed the “muddy butt spot”. The group shared food and jokes and took pictures. After lunch we poked north into a narrow cove lined with steep rock walls and tall trees. It had the prettiest views of the day. With so many new people to paddle with there were no shortage of stories. I was yak yak yakking about the Maine Island Trail Association with Steve when there was a Puffin sighting. I missed it. A seal was spotted somewhere along the way also. I missed it. I did see the pair of Bald Eagles in a tree however. And the Osprey were everywhere. On the way back I managed to slip in a few rolls and then a few more at the launch. I just had to do that in the cold Maine waters! Dave had done a few before lunch without a hood on. Ouch!

Back at the lodge the feasting began. Wine and cheese and crackers and snacks. Then pork and carrots and potatoes and peach cobbler and carrot cake. The RICKA crew, sans me, helped with the dishes. I yak yak yakked about where we might paddle on a future kayak camping adventure. (Stonington, Deer Island, and the dozens upon dozens of small islands off the coast was the recommendation.) Then, the RICKA 4 went for a walk in the dark to help the huge quantities of food we ate digest. When we returned Carole and I engaged Mary, Dave, and Gail in a little speed scrabble game. I do not recommend you play scrabble with a woman with a PhD in English. (Unless, as Steve said, you are honored to loose to her!)

Day two was scheduled to be a half day paddle directly from the lodge. We paddled out of Knubble bay by Goose Rock Passage and across the Sheepscott River to Barters Island. Here we explored some nature trails and some beautiful views from the observation benches. We crossed back with the group and then the four RICKA members headed out the Little Sheepscott River towards the Ocean.
We successfully navigated a small tidal rip at the end of the river and were treated to “5 Islands”. The quintessential Maine fishing village. It was absolutely beautiful. We ate lunch on a rock, careful to pull our boats up high, away from the grip of the rising 12 foot tide.

Back in our boats we continued south to the start of Reid State Park. Here the on-shore breeze was just beginning to liven up the seas that had been smoothed by a couple of days of light north winds. On the way back we saw a seal and explored a huge crevasse that although only about 3 feet wide was deep enough to fit all four of our boats end to end and rose straight from the high water line for another 30 feet.

Another tidal rip in Knubble Bay entertained us with its dancing water and a small whirlpool that MA and Bob avoided. And we returned with the second 15 mile day under our hulls.

The ride home included a nearly mandatory stop at the LLBean store. A wonderful dinner at “The Muddy Rudder” finished the adventure.

The lodge and the associated Beal Island Camp both provide a launching point for miles of protected water paddling plus access to a number of reasonable distance open water paddles. Plus, if you play the tides and winds right there are a number of places with some interesting tidal rips. Some with names like “Hells Gate” which I think is a little more self explanatory than Goose Rock.

4/21-4/22 Light winds, 74 degrees and 60 degrees, water temperature 40 degrees.