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