Saturday, February 24, 2007

Winter Season Paddle Planning

Paddling is paddling. Throw the boat on the car and go paddling. It sounds so easy. And it is that easy. But there are a lot of little things that make this more complex than you might first think. Winter, adds to the complexity.

I seem to be satisfied if I paddle once a week. I like to have an hour or so of excitement. I think I grow when I get at least a small shot of adrenaline in the process. I like to spend a little time improving and perfecting my skills. And I like to spend time with my friends learning and supporting each other while doing something we love. The great thing is I usually get all those things on any given day!

In the summer there is a great pool of interested paddlers and a trip can be posted way ahead of time knowing that the odds of getting “weathered out” are slim. In the winter you are unwilling to commit to a paddle until you know the weather because the mixture of sun/clouds/wind/swell/temperature/rain can really change the paddle. In the summer there are multiple paddles offered of various difficulties on most weekends. So you can pick and choose. If you choose the 3 over the 4 then you’re satisfied with the “3-level” adventure. In the winter it’s a “this might be my only chance to paddle for 4 weeks” situation. And the level of the paddle can be greatly affected by who shows up.

I’m trying to set the stage here for how to plan a winter paddle. A number of us have had some lively discussion about this. We generally agree that there are three basic approaches.

1) Post it on the web page and see who comes.
2) Post it RSVP and screen who comes
3) Plan via e-mail inviting those who’s JUDGEMENT you trust.

The negatives of these approaches.

1a) someone unprepared for the conditions shows up and endangers themselves and possibly the group
1b) someone with limited skills shows up and the paddle must be tempered to their capabilities in the name of safety.
1c) “The leader” might need to decide on the beach to exclude someone from paddling because they are ill-prepared for the paddle

2) “The leader” still has to exclude people or alter the paddle plans based on who wants to join the group but at least it can be done before everyone show up on the beach.

3) Very capable people get left out because they didn’t make the email list etc…

In the context of RICKA, a paddling club, I personally think the “post with RSVP” for winter paddles is the sweet spot. It is the most inclusive approach, allows the paddle group to maintain their expected level of difficulty, and the group’s appropriate level off skill and judgment should equate to safety. Or course we should not forget “You are ultimately responsible for your own safety. You alone should make the decision to paddle.”

Now I’ll jump into my own context. I want to be inclusive, I tend to be aware of the groups capabilities, and I do have an eye towards safety (all positive check marks). But the negatives are, I live a long way from the ocean, I have limited opportunities to paddle, I want to challenge myself with each paddle, AND I don’t have the personality to confront someone and tell them they can’t join the group. These things will drive me towards pulling the group to “my” capabilities and what “I” consider an adventure. These are not strong leadership qualities. These qualities draw me towards option 3, planning a paddle where I know who is being invited and we all have a fairly cohesive goal for the level of challenge and adventure.

So that’s my winter paddle planning dilemma. I tend towards getting the ball rolling with invitation only, knowing I should be more inclusive, hoping a more assertive leader might step up and be willing to provide the RSVP screening.

Comments on this post are strongly encouraged…
Winter 2006/2007

Friday, February 23, 2007

Buzzards Bay in February

I like to say that I paddle all year long but to be honest with myself that means at least once in every month. Last year I paddled in late January and early March but I’m just not certain that I paddled in February. The weather was forecast to be mid 40’s on a Wednesday and I had a comp-time day in the bank from working the Monday holiday. There was nothing that was going to stop me from taking the day off and paddling.

CR and I met at Ned’s Point in Mattapoisett on a day with the clouds clearing, the tide rising, and a steady breeze from the north. From Mattapoisett you can go west towards Fairhaven but I had paddled off west Island in January. So we chose to go east towards Marion which was also slightly into the wind which would make the return paddle a little easier (and warmer if that happened to be an issue).

The combination of tide and wind was liberating slabs of ice from the shoreline and floating them out to sea. We were very quickly paddling amongst this ice. Of course (with apologies to my Alaskan friend) I was describing this as paddling amongst icebergs. It was an excitement we thankfully don’t get in summer!

As we rounded Angelica point we could see Bird Island lighthouse in the distance. We were both dressed comfortably warm for the conditions so we just paddled generally in that direction. I think the good conversation and the thrill of being out on a nice Feb day made us a bit oblivious that the land was drifting away from us on our left. We ended up making a 2+ mile beeline crossing to the lighthouse. The conditions were fine and not at all challenging but in hindsight we probably should have stayed a bit closer to shore in the name of safety given the cold water. (Did I mention ice floating around?)

At the lighthouse we made an assessment that we wouldn’t be disturbing any nesting birds so we landed on the beach. Pulling the boats up was easy over the 15 feet of slush along the shore. We ate our lunch and sipped on warm green and ginseng tea soaking up the sun and in my case at least warming my feet. Neoprene boots over my dry suit booties and one pair of hiking socks is not enough to keep your feet warm when they are sitting on 3/16ths of an inch of fiberglass and 38 degree water.

On the paddle back we headed toward Converse Point to stay closer to land. We stopped a few times to hear what we think were matting pairs of Eiders. I was determined to see a seal so attempted to turn every dark lobster pot into a “Bouy”seal.

I usually don’t like returning on the same course as I went out on but I was so mesmerized by Bird Island light on the way out that the shore was unfamiliar to me on the return. As we passed back over Angelica point the tide had receded enough that I could scrape over with the round bottom hull of my Ellesmere but CR couldn’t get the V of her Sirius over. In the next cove I finally spotted my seal. He was a lone Harbor Seal and not particularly curious.

With the put-in in view and our boats back amongst the drifting ice I started discussing the photo opportunity of doing a roll amongst the ice. CR looked at me as if I had two heads although the more appropriate conclusion would have been that I had less than a full scull. A little bit of sense and a lot of doubt about my roll success percentage kept me pointing upright. As it turns out we were still a mile away and I would have been awful cold had I popped out of my boat.

Back at the launch I went for my usual test swim. I had been wearing a full neoprene hood all day long. (I have funny tan lines on my face to prove it.) My body was sufficiently comfortable in the water but my bare hands which had been so comfortable all day in poggies were numb within 15 seconds in the water. Again a reminder to me that you can’t be too cautious in cold water. The day had been comfortable, in every way as enjoyable as a July paddle if not more so because of the lack of power boats and activity. But we were paddling with the ever present danger that if something went wrong the cold water would quickly become a major contributor to the difficulty of recovery. 11.2 miles Feb 21, 2007

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Practice makes … better

It could be six years ago when I took my first rolling class. It was at the YMCA in Worcester. They taught a screw roll and in two sessions I was capable of rolling. But at the time I was still paddling a Perception Carolina and rolling it was nearly impossible at my skill level. The following year I bought a Necky Elaho. With that boat I took a basic sea kayaking class at The Kayak Center. During wet exit practice at that class I attempted to roll expecting to have to wet exit but instead rolled up successfully… twice. A third roll that day made me think I knew what I was doing and it had just been the kayak. But subsequent attempts were largely failures. Lack of confidence led to lack of attempts which resulted in any sense of skill passing me by. Years went by, no rolling.

Last year I took the RICKA rolling clinic. I told my coach that I had rolled before I wanted to start from scratch and figure out what I was missing. The clinic was teaching the sweep roll. With Bill Luther’s guidance I was quickly rolling again. I headed off into the deep end to try and build muscle memory. I left feeling good about my future. A properly executed sweep roll is absolutely effortless from a strength point of view. The body just unfolds into the upright position. CC when she’s on can demonstrate it as a thing of beauty. Slow and graceful. On the second day of the clinic I headed directly towards the deep end and rolled some more. I wasn’t 100% and did wet exit a few times. But 40% of them were smooth, and 80% of them got me up. I was on my way.

But I had rolled before and lost it. I was determined not to let that happen again. So last year, once the water warmed up enough so that I wouldn’t freeze, I committed to rolling every time I paddled. It might have been only one roll, sometimes more. Sometimes at lunch, more often at the end. Again, the results weren’t perfect. They were sometimes frustrating. But with each day I got more and more confident. When I couldn’t paddle I’d watch “The Kayak Roll” by Performance Video. Each time drilling into memory the things I need to think about… setup, sweep, and hip flick. Body forward and to the side on the setup, reaching wide with the paddle during the sweep and following the blade with my eyes to keep my head down.

Then came surfing. I bought a whitewater boat for surfing and on my first day out I got thrashed. I managed to roll once (or maybe the same wave that dumped me over was kind enough to flip me back up when it sensed my flailing arms). So I committed even more to practice. Over the next two weeks I spent about 5 evenings on my local lake. Sunny days, rainy days, no matter. I’d stop on the way home from work, toss the boat in, do 8-10 rolls, paddle for 20 minutes, and do 6-8 more rolls. Some of those days were very frustrating. I found it easier to roll my sea kayak than the WW boat. Colder weather and boredom sort of stopped these practices but the repeated drills did re-build confidence. I know that rolling in the surf will still be a challenge but I was now more comfortable that I could roll in that WW boat.

All fall and into winter I kept up my “at least one roll per paddle” practice. Sometimes self motivated, sometimes motivated by the attempts of my peers (thanks Bill R).

At this winters rolling clinic I practiced in the deep end. The first day I worked only on the sweep roll on my good side. Muscle memory. The second day I tried a few C to C rolls and made a few attempts to sweep roll on my off side. I succeeded at both but they were not natural. On the third day I was sweep rolling on both sides and C to C rolling on both sides. Feeling almost as good on the off side as good side. Yes, I know I’ll be a frustrated yard sale when I attempt it again on the bay this spring but I’ll know in the back of my mind that it can be done and it will just be a matter of time before I get it again.

I’ve been thinking about what happened in the pool and I realized that I spent MORE THAN 9 HOURS practicing over the three days. Practice makes better. Success builds confidence. Confidence in turn leads to success. I improved in the pool because I spent a lot of time in the pool.

I hope someday I’ll have forgotten what it was like to struggle with a roll. Right now I know that practice and repetition to build confidence and muscle memory are the things that I need.
1/21, 1/28, 2/18/07