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.