Saturday, November 15, 2008

Storm Warnings

Plan to paddle with Gale Warnings Forecast? How do these things happen?

Dateline Sunday. I notice the waxing moon and start to think about hiking Wachusett Mountain under the full moon.

Dateline Monday. I check the tide chart to see when the full moon is and happen to notice that the tide range is almost six feet as opposed to the normal range of closer to 4 feet.

Dateline Tuesday. I send out an email to some of the paddlers suggesting a paddle on Saturday at Stone Bridge. Bob responds, “OMG! I was thinking THE VERY SAME THING! Psychic or WHAT!! This is SOOO COOL!!”

Dateline Wednesday. Tim investigates and informs me that the current will be just shy of 3.5 knots at 9:50 AM. I check Saturday’s weather forecast and see south winds 20-30 predicted. Decide to play wait and see.

Dateline Thursday. No real change in the forecast. I check with some paddlers to see if I have a large enough group of reliable paddlers to give it a go.

Now I start to think about the conditions. I’ve been at Stone Bridge and the Westport River in strong current conditions. When the standing waves get going tall and tight it’s a full concentration situation. If someone goes over it’s difficult get the boat turned around quickly to get to them. I’ve also been out in the bay in 20+ conditions. Some paddlers were unable to make progress into the wind. And again, turning the boat around quickly is difficult. In addition, boat to boat communication is especially difficult in the wind and even worse with the wind whipping through a helmet.

Now I start to think about paddling with both of these conditions combined. I can picture a paddler in the water. The boat is blowing north with the wind. The paddle is drifting south with the tide. A second paddler goes over trying to turn the boat to execute a rescue. In my mind, the situation on the water could get crazy.

Dateline Friday. I get an email from Carole asking “Would I be correct in assuming that the Saturday paddle is cancelled? Or are all of my friends crazy?” The answer is crazy. Bob, Joe, Tony, Eric, and I are definite. Tim and Gerry are question marks.


I decide to post on the message board as a level 5 based on the wind. It looks to me like this could be an exciting day.

Back home I load up my equipment and the boat.

Dateline Saturday. I wake up early and check the forecast. It hasn’t changed. It’s calm here in Northborough but that’s not unusual. I check the observations for Newport and the winds are still light. But this is not unusual either. This weather pattern is a strong front and it’s not uncommon for it to build quickly. I check some of the buoy reports and south and west of RI there are gusty winds already. It is on its way.

I pack my lunch and some cloths and head south.

As I pull into the beach parking lot I see a flat calm Sakonnett River. The tide is already running strong but it is flattening the water’s surface even more. I’m beginning to get disappointed. We paddled Stone Bridge earlier this year without wind and it never got very lively. I listen to the weather radio. The radio says winds by 10AM, strong by noon.

Joe drives up and begins to give my lip about the “level 5” conditions. Bob follows. Cat stops by on her way to work. Eric and Tony show up and Tim stops by without his boat. We talk a little bit about moving to Sakonnett point but the forecast is for Gale conditions in the afternoon. It seems foolish but it is fairly calm right now.

Finally, I suggest that we put our boats in and do a little warm up paddle over to Nannaquaket and around Gould Island. “Let’s give the wind a little time to build” I suggest. Joe heads right towards the Evil Can. Bob and Tony follow. I look over to Eric and suggest we should probably join them.

The currents are very strong. Joe is backing his boat over the eddy lines. Tony is exploring the area. Bob is bumping his boat against the evil can. I let my boat drift to the far end of the current effects. There is at least a little chop there. The five of us continue to wander around looking for trouble for about an hour. I start to notice a fog forming and make a mental note that the launch is at 60 degrees magnetic. Suddenly Eric and I find ourselves in a dense fog. We are only about 300 yds from stone bridge. We can barely make out the can. We can’t see the bridge. We start to paddle in that direction but our progress seems painfully slow without any reference markers. As we approach the bridge we find the other 3 and also find that the fog is lifting almost as fast as it arrived.

Eric and I are clearly in a funk. I’m disappointed in the conditions. I expected mayhem and it’s really quite tame. I’m not sure why Eric is off. The other three… they are continuing to look for mischief. And the wind is picking up a bit.

Eric and I are sitting in an eddy. I look over and see Bob and Joe bobbing around in a deep chop. The waves we have been looking for have appeared. Tim walks out on the jetty just in time to see us all dodging, holding and surfing 3 foot standing waves. There are waves coming from many directions right near the evil can. Closer to the line that is where stone bridge once stood they are more steady and parallel. We all make multiple loops through the unpredictable section and into the standing waves. We end each pass by surfing with our nose buried in the wave straight through to the calm water just past the standing waves. Joe tells me I’ve redeemed myself. Bob just has an ear to ear grin on.

We loop through for about 15 to 20 minutes until the conditions flatten out again. We are all getting tired and head to the beach for lunch. Tony has already loaded up his boat. Eric is done.

Dateline Conclusion.

The five of us broke out snacks, tea, and sandwiches and talked about the conditions and the fun that we ultimately had. It was disappointing that it took such a long time to develop. It was great that the wind never reached the levels that were predicted because I think they would have been overwhelming. But they could have come a little sooner to get things stirred up. They were calm at 9; under 10 when we started. They rose to 17, gusts to 25 about the time we got off the water. It wasn’t until 5pm that they built to 25/ G30.

It was a funny paddle. Had we not expected “medieval” conditions we would have been thrilled by what we ended up with. But with such high expectations it was a bit of a letdown. But, like most paddles, I’m glad I went and I had a great time.

11/15 Air 65, water 55, winds S 10-15.

Saturday, November 01, 2008


We don’t frequent Buzzards Bay. There is the Cuttyhunk paddle. The Westport and Slocum Rivers are staples. But we rarely use the other put ins. I’m a fan of West Island in the off season. And I’ve paddled out of Mattapoisett a few times. When Cat talked about Padanaram I was excited to give it a try. She mentioned rock gardening and surfing. I was a bit incredulous. Buzzards Bay is always lively in the summer with the sea breeze but it is very protected from ocean swells and is generally tame without the wind.

Six of us showed up. I was there first followed by Tom, Cat, Bob, Carole, and Rick. The sun was out and it was pushing 60 degrees so I wore as little as I could under my drysuit. I jumped in to purge my suit and cool off. The water, in the mid 50s, felt cool but I was fine. We headed out of the harbor with a tail wind. We poked around “Barekneed Rocks” a bit and continued south towards Round Hill.

Cat had said we were headed to the Dumplings. Bob and I headed directly for them but the other four hugged the coast. We kept an eye on them and debated whether we were being bad group paddlers. I plead the fifth with regards to our decision but I will say we were excited when they made the left turn towards us.

There was a small swell from the south in opposition to the wind waves from the north. This made the water around the rocks a little lively. There was also a funnel about 100 yards wide between some large rocks kind of like around Sakonett Point. On this day the excitement was low but it was clear that there was plenty to like here on a summer afternoon when the south west breeze kicks in.

We all played around a bit. Tom switched from a stick to a euro paddle. Then he promptly went upside down. But he quickly rolled up. Pretty impressive considering the fact that Bill Luther taught him to roll just 9 months ago. I needed to get out of the boat so I pulled up on the one square yard of sand exposed near the rock at this tide level. The rock was a great place to get some photos of the crew from an overhead point of view. (We’re all pretty sick of seeing views of the bow of my boat!)

We headed west past Round Hill Point to the town beach. The small surf was dumping right on the beach so there were no surfing opportunities. Carole found a nice sunny spot to sit and eat lunch.

After lunch we headed back towards the Dumplings. Rick entertained us with a questionable approach to a surf launch. He stayed right side up on his second try! During lunch the wind veered from NW to NE and the tide had dropped. This changed things a little around the rocks but there was still nothing too scary.
As we headed back the wind freshened so we headed up wind into the bay with hopes of surfing back. The surfing never really materialized (despite the best efforts of Bob and I) but I always enjoy paddling into a wind chop. I hung a little up wind of the crew. Partly because my boat liked it that way. Partly because of that “man against nature” thing I feel when in open water.

In the last few hundred yards of paddling Bob and I discussed our desire not to roll our boats. Bob pointed out that it was Neo-Hood season from now on. Then, Cat rolled her boat and asked who was next. I still had my helmet and sunglasses on so I rolled just like that. I think Tom rolled also.

Now I was wet and the sun was behind the clouds. It was cold. I unloaded some of my boat and got out of my drysuit and into dry cloths before finishing up. For the post paddle, Cat invited us to her house for coffee. It was a wonderful way to end the day.

11/1/2008 Air Temperature upper 50’s, water temp mid-50s, wind NW-NE 10-15

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Westport Ripper

Tim made a second try at catching an outgoing tide. This time it was to be at the mouth of the Westport River. We met at 10 AM at some secret little put in that saved us about 1000 yards off our usual paddle. Tim, Paul, Jon, Rich, Eric, Cat and her Russian friend. It was a comfortable day. But there was a breeze from the north, a mid October date, and a plan to get wet. We all donned wet suits or dry suits (except for Eric in shorts and a dry top!)

We paddled out to the mouth and found a moving tide but no waves. We rounded the knubble to play around our favorite rocks but there was little swell. Jon saw some birds working and offered to catch me a fish. He had one hooked before I knew it. Unfortunately it was a small (but delicious looking) stripper.

So we headed to Horseneck hoping that the waves we could see on the beach might be surfable. We tried but they were marginal at best. Eric and I we lagging about 200 yards to the west and talking when suddenly we heard a loud bang. Looking over we could see Jon, Cat and Rich in close proximity. But really, there was no surf to speak of. As we lazily approached we heard Tim saying “We’re all going to beach over there where the break is smaller”. Then Cat was saying “It’s filling up with water”. She loosened her spray skirt, which seemed silly to me until I saw the CD sized hole in her boat.

It didn’t take us long to figure out that Jon had surfed into her. It was difficult not to start teasing Jon. This was his second spearing in less than 12 months. But I also knew he would feel like a heel. And then we realized that Cat’s thigh was right where the hole was. She had to have taken a pretty good hit.

Before I go on I need to mention that if you find yourself surfing towards someone the best thing to do is tip yourself over. You’ll lose most of your momentum instantly. These sea kayaks are long and heavy. Maneuvering them out of trouble is nearly impossible.

Once on the beach we could see the extent of damage to Cat’s boat. Besides for the hole there was an 18 inch split in one direction and a 4 inch mix of fractures in the other. The damage showed one of the negatives of the Trylon or Carbonite material. It is a very tough material. But once exceeded, unlike fiberglass, there is no weave to contain the damage.

Most of us ate lunch, Jon headed out to get ice, but Cat was determined to field repair her boat. She whipped out her Gorilla Tape and quick curing epoxy and deftly contained any further propagation of the cracks while sealing the hole from both sides. I have no doubt that the boat could have easily made the return trip. But there was also a welt forming on Cat’s thigh. The men decided that it was sure to be tender and bracing with the thighs in the boat might be painful. Cat was not quick to relent but that 1000 yards we saved by moving the put in meant that the cars were less than ½ mile away by land. Jon brought his car as close as he could to the beach and the rest of us helped carry the boat and gear to it.

With the excitement past we headed back out for the return trip. The wind had moved a bit to the east and with the lower tide there was some breaking going on over the sand bar. We played there for a few minutes but no organized waves were forming. I’ve been trying to develop a combat roll so I tried to roll but was unsuccessful. Eric quickly rescued me and we paddled on.

We started passing the mouth of the river against the beach side. But I was closest to the Knubble and could see some rip happening. I started heading in that direction without agreement from the group. This was bad form but Eric didn’t hesitate to join me. Sure enough the river was hopping. We all made a few passes. With each pass the excitement went down a bit but the anticipation that my luck would run out increased. Where I focused on the excitement of surfing and burying my bow in the waves, Tim practiced moving his boat at all different angles to the current. There was a lot of variation in the standing waves. Visually, sometimes it looked like it was flattening out but it never seemed to disappoint.

After about a half hour of that we headed back. At the put in Eric and I did a few rolls. Although not combat rolls I tried to make them as smooth as possible.

There was one other thing that happened this day. The Russian guy was also an ultra-marathoner. After lunch he headed out paddling solo from Horseneck beach, around Sakonnet Point, up to OSA in Bristol. Why do I mention this? Because at 5pm as we were sitting at Coastal Coffee Roasters in Tiverton by Stone Bridge we saw him paddle by!!!! Rich tried to flag him down but of course he didn’t see. We were happy to see he was safe and probably had enough time to make it to Bristol.

10/15 Westport, air 65-70. Water 63, Winds NE <10

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Deerfield, take two

It was almost two months ago that I took the RICKA white water class. I got the email from Erik saying they were heading out to the Deerfield again. I was genuinely interested, but as usual, I was unwilling to commit until the last minute. I was thinking about other plans for the long weekend. As it turns out in this case I had to travel to CT and back to be with a friend on Friday night. When I returned home about 11:30 my level of commitment was “I’ll decide when I wake up!”

When I woke up I checked my email for any updates about when and where we would meet. Then I checked the WW web page and saw a Friday night post that said the gathering would be at 10AM. Great, I had plenty of time. I strapped on the racks and the boat and loaded the truck. The ride out Route 2 was beautiful. The leaves were near their peak. Right in that period between where the swamp maples have lost all their leaves and the terrestrial trees have turned.

As I neared the Zoar Gap picnic area I started following a red truck with a RICKA sticker on it. I knew I wouldn’t be too late! In fact we were the first to arrive. I did not know the three in the truck but I threw my boat in with their’s while they rode up and dropped them at the put in. Meanwhile, the rest of the crew arrived at the meeting spot. We consolidated a few more boats and headed up. But my new friends in the red truck had not returned yet so we were on the lookout for them. Fortunately, they arrived just as we were getting ready to leave. We didn’t have to flag them down as we passed.

We arrived at the put in and began to ready the boats. Someone decided that it would be a good idea to seal launch from 30 feet up the hill, through the trees, down to the water. He ricocheted off some trees and didn’t quite make the water but he did not hurt himself. 9 points for luck, 0 points for good judgment.
On the water we quickly found ourselves in some decent sized standing waves. They were a little larger than I was ready for this early in the day. I hadn’t found my rhythm in the boat yet. There were a large number of boaters lined up in the eddy ready to play. I took my turn in the waves but played it fairly cautiously. As I realized I was not yet comfortable I decided to surf on some of the smaller waves a little further down stream. It seemed like a great idea but as someone dropped off the taller standing waves they backed down onto me. This caused him to go over. He attempted a few rolls and I let myself drift down with him hoping he might grab my bow. When he finally did roll up I apologized for being in his way. He seemed to take it OK.

Before I knew it I was over too. I’m not sure exactly why but it was early. No big deal. I attempted a roll but no luck (really no skill).
We continued to play and surf. I practiced some ferry crossings and peel offs. I remembered Mike’s words about how smile shaped waves were good. Frowns were bad. So when I approached a grimace I wasn’t sure what to expect. Sure enough it was sucking me up pretty good. I tried to peel off it but the eddy line sucked on the back of my boat and over I went. Elaine confirmed that she found it a bit of keeper also so I didn’t feel too bad. Again no roll. I repeated this same error at another rock. I was beginning to get frustrated with the upside down part but was otherwise having fun.

We stopped for lunch and I took the opportunity to warm up in the sun. My wet suit / dry top combination was warm when dry and cool when wet and out of the sun. Just about perfect.

After lunch I went over in the same spot I had gone over 2 months ago. And just like I did two months ago I rolled up there! I felt relieved. More surfing and playing and I found myself over again. A young woman in an open boat helped rescue me this time. Then I saw a nice mound of water and thought it would be great to go through that. Why did I not realize it was a big rock? Over again… This time I became separated from my paddle. I was getting embarrassed as now I needed a rescue AND someone to retrieve my paddle. I decided I’d stay in the boat the rest of the afternoon.

At the gap we set up on the hillside to watch Erik, Brendon, and Eric run the river right side. All three easily stayed upright.

We packed up our stuff and gathered for dinner at Applebee’s. It was a nice way to wind down and we were all starved.

On the ride home I got to thinking about why I spent so much time upside down. I was a bit more aggressive about where I was putting myself but I think it was more that I was just too casual. Where last time I was highly alert and cautious this time I’d turn for things mid stream and plow right to the front of the wave. I was having fun so I was not concerned about being upside down. That is, until the number of upside down opportunities added up!

10/11 Air upper 60s, water comfortable!

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Sometimes too many words...

It was a warm weekend in October with 20 miles of paddling. Tail winds both ways. Little more needs to be said.




Our Little Jewel

From Whence we came...

Who Dunit?


Slow Speed

3x the gas mileage

October 4,5 Casco Bay Maine, Winslow Park to Jewel Island

Saturday, September 20, 2008

"Patio" Stone Bridge

Tim picked a weekend when we could catch the outgoing tide at Stone Bridge. The tide was scheduled to run strong in the early afternoon. We wasted time by lazily paddling to the top of Common Fence Point and back to the bridge for lunch. Carole entertained by wearing (and sharing) her lunch. Heather laughed when at lunch I described it as “a stupid paddle, but fun!”

After lunch we headed out to the evil can. The water was moving but there was no wind. It was basically flat. Joe encouraged us to back our boats down on an eddy line for excitement. It did result in a few capsizes. Even a passing cruise ship couldn’t stir things up.

So how does one recover? Coastal coffee roasters of course!
Just another great day on the water.

How many times has this boat been upside down?

9/20 Stone Bridge Tiverton

Monday, September 08, 2008

Hull Sharing

Every Monday morning Ellen and I sit down at break in the cafeteria and share our kayak adventures. Mine usually involve time on the water. Her’s often involves “I was too busy”. But despite this, it was Ellen who actually got me started in kayaking. That might have been 8 years ago.

There are others at the table also. They are also wondering what this kayaking thing is all about. My dirt bike riding friend Chris thinks it must be boring and involve no skill. My rec-boat paddling friend Darik can’t imagine why I’d want such a long boat (and wear a life vest). But most of the others think it looks like fun and would like to try it.

So when we decided to have our summer work outing at Dave’s house in Hull on the water, Ellen, Darik, Dan and I decided to bring our boats. We had seven total. An Explorer, Ellesemere, Elaho, Carribou, Sole, Swifty and Loon. About half of the group of 30 spent some time in the boats and no one found themselves upside down. I explained the differences between the boats (engineers are an inquisitive bunch). Most could appreciate the long boats over the short ones on the water. It felt great to share our sport with our friends.

As the day wound down Ellen, Dan and I headed out for a paddle around some of the inner Boston Harbor Islands. We invited Scott along. He has spent a lot of time in canoes with his boy scout troop and looked very comfortable in the Elaho. We paddled by Bumkin Island and headed across the two mile crossing to Pedocks near the Hull Gut. I would have liked to go a bit farther through the gut but it was getting late and I knew Scott would tire from too much “arm paddling”. So we rested a bit and explored the island before heading back.

Dan’s arm was bothering him on the way out so I encouraged him to lead the pace paddling back. The vitamin-i he took on the island obviously kicked in because he paced us pretty good on the return trip. As expected, Scott started to fade in the last mile. Dan and I surfed every ripple or wake we could find. Ellen returned with Scott just a few minutes behind and just as the sun was beginning to set.

It really was a wonderful day on the water. I don’t usually paddle so late in the day. Things looked very nice in the fading light.

Worlds End to Pedocks Island Hull, Sept 8 Winds Light, Water upper 60s, air low 70s

Tropical Storm Hanna

Tim had a paddle scheduled out of Sakonnet point on Sunday morning. But tropical storm Hanna was forecast off shore Saturday night with the winds lingering into the day Sunday. In my mind this paddle was not going to happen. And if it did, it was going to be well beyond my comfort zone. Sakonnet can be a challenge in much tamer weather.

On Sunday morning I read Tim’s email about moving to the bay campus. He emphatically stated:
“This will be a level 5 paddle. Full safety and rescue kit required. Must be able to stay with group, follow direction and lend assistance as required. Expect large swells and strong wind gusts. No "cowboys" needed.”

Paddling from bay campus allows you to sneak up on the swells slowly. If at any point it feels too much you can retreat. This of course assumes that the conditions are getting better not worse. And it also assumes you didn’t wander into the trouble spots at any of the many points.

Unfortunately I was in RI without a boat. The best I could do was meet them at the launch site as they returned from their adventure. This would allow me to hang with them at Java Madness. This is of course the highlight of any paddle!

When I arrived at bay campus I recognized Joe, Eric, John, Bob, Rich, and Tim’s cars. I didn’t notice the cars of Tim, Rich, and Nick who made the total 9. They were still out so I wandered over to Bonnet Shores to watch the swells rolling into that cove. It was quite beautiful as the bent in an arch across the whole cove and dumped their energy on the beach. Wave power is proportional to their wave length and the square of their height. I would estimate these swells had 10 to 20 times the power that we typically encounter.

Back at the launch the paddlers had returned and were practicing various rolls and rescues off the beach. As they pulled ashore they told stories of conditions being more reasonable than they expected. They also described a very sensible level of risk taking. They stayed well clear of the problem areas such as Beavertail Point.

At Java Madness Carole showed up with her daughter and her daughter’s partner. She too wanted to hear the storied of the day’s adventure. (And how did she know we would be there?)

I must say it really was almost as if I paddled. Except for the salty feeling and all the rinsing of boats and equipment.
Now what am I going to do with those 4 boats I have in my garage?

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Deerfield Whitewater Kayaking

About 3 years ago I bought a whitewater kayak with intent of surfing it. I selected a Necky Rip because of its length and shape and because Pete B. and Bill L. seem to breath a lot of excitement into their Necky Jives (a sister boat which is a slightly smaller). It turns out I’ve only surfed it once. A day where I really took quite a trashing! The truth is I have not surfed it again mostly because I have a three hour round trip commute for about an hour of surfing. I have used it a lot for rolling practice, both in a local lake and in the pool. It’s been worth the investment to me.

I noticed that the whitewater group was offering an intermediate white water clinic on the Deerfield River. My usual style is to not commit a weekend too far ahead of time. True to form I was late to sign up but fortunately there was still room. Mike Rock and Bill Luther were the instructors. I didn’t know much about Mike but I had met him on the 4th of July. Bill had been instrumental in solidifying my roll at a winter pool session.

I’ve avoided the whitewater mostly out of a fear that I’d put myself in conditions beyond my ability. It’s not hard for me to imagine saying “I can run that” instead of portaging around. With this in mind I was as interested in cross training as I was in whitewater exposure. We often put our sea kayaks in conditions where I feel some white water experience could be valuable.

There were ten students at the clinic. We were to meet in the Zoar picnic area at 8 AM. I considered camping out in the area Friday night but it is only about an hour and a half from my house (and the weather was forecast to rain) so I chose to leave in the morning. As I got on the road I realized I forgot Bill’s directions to where the picnic area was. I drove too far on Route 2 and my 30 minute cushion quickly diminished to zero. I stumbled across the spot just ahead of time. Fortunately I wasn’t late nor the latest.

We started out by driving to a spot just below the dam on Fife Brook. There Mike wanted to see a wet exit by anyone he was not familiar with. I tried to appeal to Bill’s experience but he wouldn’t go for it. Not wanting to waste a good inversion I chose to set up for a roll or two. I figured I’d rather get in a few warm up rolls before bailing. And if I blew a roll the bailout would just happen! I did roll and then I wet exited. The water was cool and the air was still cool but I was comfortable in my farmer john wetsuit.

Meanwhile Mike was eying suspiciously the $500 sea kayak paddle I was holding. He was very concerned about me trashing it. I was very concerned about using my ww paddle with its straight shaft. It was fine in the deep pool where we were warming up. I took his advice and used the much stronger ww paddle on the river. It was fine largely because the paddling is much less rhythmic in ww. The strokes are much more powerful and in shorter bursts.

Practice in the pool below the dam was not all that valuable to me but it did allow me to loosen up and get the feel for my boat. I played around getting the feel of current under the hull. I also skulled a bit and demonstrated my sculling roll which would clearly be useless in WW but has proven valuable when I’m out of position in the sea kayak. (As if being upside down is not out of position enough!)
After lunch we launched from the Zoar picnic area. We practiced ferry crossings. I found it difficult to get used to leaning away from the current. Then we practiced peeling out and grabbing an eddy. This was fun and valuable. I guess I just pictured bombing down the river. As it turns out playing in one spot was most of the fun. Anyway, peeling out is a little disconcerting as the current grabs your boat. Grabbing an eddy requires paddling aggressively. More aggressive than you’d expect.

Once I got the hang of those skills it became clear to me that grabbing a wave was fun. Some of the waves are rock related and you grab them in the same way as finding an eddy. Some of the other waves are in more open space and you need to either paddle aggressively into them or back down on them. I imagine that you could turn in the midst of them but that clearly was not a skill I had.
When I look at some of the photos of me surfing it’s a little disappointing how small the waves look. But I can tell you they were fun. I could lean forward and bury the nose of the kayak and get water to run up the bow and over my spray skirt.

Erik was performing the sweep duties for Mike and Bill in his open boat (aka canoe). The paddling quickly digressed into him and me surfing every little wave we could find. Sometimes I felt like I was hogging the good ones!
About half way through the afternoon I caught the back of my boat in the current. This was a destabilizing thing for me because my response was a low brace leaning aft which only worsened the problem. The result was I was upside down. For whatever reason I was fairly calm and I set up for my roll. Up I came. Honestly I don’t remember whether it was first try or second try. But I was up with my first real combat roll! Just to keep my head from swelling too much I’ll disclose that I went over again later in the day and on Sunday. Both times I blew my roll. So it goes…

After a day of paddling the majority of us met at a local campground. We all brought a pot luck item and we ended up with a wonderful meal. Yes we all contributed but Jay was clearly the key player. He did all the grilling, had all the proper equipment, and managed to get the camp fire going all at the same time.

On Sunday we (-2 people) repeated the section from the Zoar picnic area and then (-6) paddled the Fife Brook section above Zoar gap. I felt much more comfortable in my boat and had a great time. I thought I would be more tired. At the end of the day Elaine and I pulled ashore while Mike, Bill, Erik, and Brendon ran the gap. Mike and Bill made it look easy. Erik and Brendon made it look exciting!

It was a great weekend. It would not have been possible without Mike and Bill volunteering. And it would not have been as fun without everyone who came along.

Also see Eriks blog at
Deerfield River, Aug 16/17

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Saguenay, Quebec

I’ve wanted to kayak with whales for a long time. My recent trips to Oregon and Alaska provided views of Grays, a Humpback, and an Orca but none up close or from a kayak. The other disappointment in both these trips was the use of someone else’s kayak. The rented and borrowed kayaks were never the comfortable sleek units we paddle around home. I was determined to paddle with whales someplace I could drive with my own Boat.

I’m not sure how I discovered the St Lawrence River and the Saguenay Fiord. Wayne S. from ConnYak has made the trip a few times and was a great help with the planning. The map of sightings at put me over the top. It promised almost certain sightings of Minkes and Belugas with the possibility of Fins, Humpbacks, and Blues.

I started to generate interest in others in late January. In April we gathered at Lisa’s to decide on who was coming, set a target date, and agree on a rough itinerary. The group was eight strong, the time was the third week in July, and the itinerary was car camping. (My desire for primitive camping is for not when there would be 6 tents and 8 clowning and laughing adults involved.)

I selected “Paradis Marin,” a campground in Les Bergeronnes Quebec, about 600 miles from Providence. We would spend 8+ days; 6 camping and two somewhere along the way. In early July we met again to finalize plans and split into teams; Paul and Lisa, Bob and Carole, Rick and MA, and Eric and Heather. Each team agreed to plan one dinner and one breakfast. We figured we’d eat out a couple of times to fill in the unplanned spots.

When the departure date arrived we packed tents, coolers, food, kayaks, bikes and hiking gear and headed out on the road. Lisa and I left Friday morning, visiting St Johnsbury, hiking Mt Pisgah, and walking the town of Newport in VT. We had a late dinner and stayed in a hotel in Drummondville Quebec. On Saturday we explored Quebec City and Baie-St-Paul. All 8 of us met and stayed in St-Joseph-De-La-Rive.

On Sunday morning, E,H,P and L headed out early for the campground. The four of us had left New England on Friday. B,C,MA, and R had come up all the way from RI on Saturday and took the opportunity to have a more relaxed start. We wanted to get to Paradis Marin early because they don’t take reservations.

The road from QC to St-Joseph-De-La-Rive got better with every mile. The continuation to Les Bergeronnes was beautiful. We arrived at the campground and proceeded to try and explain in English to the French speaking owners that we were looking for six nights for eight people. At first they sent us off to “find a good site” which is the usual approach. Then before we could leave they set us up right by the boat ramp, close to the café and washroom, and all close together. There were prettier sites on the property but none more convenient. As Carole says:
“I was very happy with the campground. It was more like a small community than a campground. Although none of us spoke French , we quickly got in the groove and figured out what the signs meant, and only a few times said "Bonjour!" for goodbye, instead of "Au Revoir!" At whale sightings (the camp was directly on the water where whales could come quite close), word would soon get out and campers would gather quickly on the rocks or, if they were ready, jump into their kayaks. "Balein!" is a word we always understood. “

The 4 of us set up our tents and a screened gazebo. We were just about settled when the next 4 arrived so I went out for a bike ride. I had heard that there was a bike path and thought from my translation of French that it was paved. It was a great dirt path but with my road bike I was relegated to route 138. You don’t want to ride on a two lane road with no breakdown lanes when trailer trucks are passing in both directions at 60 miles per hour. Besides for my fear of death it was a great ride into Les Escoumins!

When I returned we started our first meal. While cooking we could see Belugas and Minkes swimming just off shore. When dinner was finished the 4 boys could stand it no more and we raced into our kayaks and headed out for a quick paddle. I donned my drysuit with just a thin polypro layer underneath. As soon as I got on the water the temperature dropped noticeably. As we paddled away from shore, less than a mile, it was clear that I was under dressed for the cold. But we had seen a Minke from shore and headed for that general area. On the water, in the calm conditions, we could hear the Minke before we saw it. It popped up a dozen times in an area about a 1⁄2 mile diameter. At one point it was very close to Rick. We avoided chasing this whale, reminding ourselves of the marine mammal protection rules. Besides, the whales were everywhere. There would be plenty more we thought.

On Monday we woke up in a fog. It was early in the week so we decided to pass on the paddling and do some exploring. We walked the bike path about a mile to Cape Bon Desire. It is a provincial park celebrating a light house and the whales. We sat in the cold wind on the rocks for an hour or so and saw a Fin Whale. This was confirmed in fine English by the ranger and tallied on their wall where the keep track of sightings.

As the morning wore on the fog wore off. I was feeling that “too baked” feeling of being in the sun too long without a hat or sun tan lotion. So when the others went off to explore Tadousac I stayed back at the campground and rested in the tent. What I missed was a wonderful sighting of a Minke mom and her calf. They described the calf rolling over and showing its pink belly!

On Tuesday we were more determined to get back on the water.
There was a fairly stiff breeze from the east but nothing too strong. We decided to paddle east into the wind and then come back with the wind at our backs. We saw no whales (the big kind) but did see a few flashes of Harbor Porpouse. When we did turn back the waves were a bit pushy and fun to surf. I hung back with Eric and watched as Rick surfed over Carole’s boat and flipped. I swooped in to rescue the white boat that looked a lot like a Beluga! With Eric’s help we had Rick in the boat quickly. It took quite some time for Carole to get her boat turned around and position herself as additional support. This made me feel like the cautious paddling I was doing from the sweep position had been worthwhile.

By this point in the trip it was clear that Heather was the whale spotter in the group. She had the patience (and the best binoculars). She would sit on the rocks and wait, soaking in the relaxation she could draw from the sea. Then, without fail, she’d spot the marine mammal.

On Wed. the wind was more reasonable so we paddled West and then East in search of whales. Again we saw none from the boat despite our frequent sightings of Minkes in the morning and Belugas in the evening. All right from the rocks at the campground. With regard to not seeing whales, MA said:
“I was anxious throughout the trip as we were on the water wondering what would it be like if a whale surfaced right next to us, Would I freak and freeze, lose it and go over, or best scenario actually go over and roll the boat out of shear panic not to be floating outside my boat with something larger than life. Occasionally I would say to myself, "okay whales surface around Paul or the others, they can handle it and I really do not need to be up and personal with you". Then we got to the fiord, where I realized that as I floating above the water enjoying all that was the best of unfretted nature that below me there were babies and moms and families of the magnificent species just enjoying the same peace. They came here to relax and not be bothered as they created the next generation. Babies were probably looking up saying "Hey what are those huge dark spot that move across the water every so often. Can I go play with these little tiny things that seem to just float across the water. They keep waving at a rhythmic pace from one side to the next." For me it was just awesome to think that we were there sharing their time and space and water.”

In the afternoon I tried again to get out on the road bike while the others took their off road bikes on the bike path. My ride was much safer on a long looping back road but I still had to survive 3 miles of the high speed truckers on Route 138.

Each morning I’d get up and make coffee and head down to the rocks in search of whales. Most mornings I was not disappointed. One morning I saw a seal right in our cove. He had caught a large fish and had it in its mouth. It was about 10 lbs and still flipping. I never actually saw the seal swallow the fish but I’m sure it was satiated for at least a little while!

Thursday started out rainy. Seven of us headed into Les Escoumins for breakfast. The majority of the wait staff were not strong English speakers. (All of us were not even novice French speakers.) But we managed to order some wonderful breakfast dishes. From here we visited a terrible museum on Quebec natural history. Next we ventured to Bay-Saint-Marguerite. This area was supposed to be an area where belugas and their calves were gathered in large numbers. As it turns out we didn’t see any but we did have a nice hike. Finally we descended on Tadousac again. From the rocks in town we saw mother Belugas with their small grey calves right by their tails.

Two of the nights we had entertainment in the café. As Rick said:
“I loved the wonderful scene at the "after hours", open air cafe, where dozens of French-speaking Quebecers sung along with the English-language jazz standards and show tunes that were being performed on an old-timey guitar and upright bass by a wonderful husband and wife duo who came from Montreal to stay at the campground each summer, along with the husky-voiced, professional songstress who was also staying at the campground and who had only met the instrumentalists earlier that day.”

On Friday we loaded up our kayaks and paddled in the Saguenay Fiord. We launched from L’Anse-de-Roche. We headed south into the wind towards the Flueve-St-Laurent. It was beautiful paddling with steep cliffs and hills surrounding the 1 mile wide fiord. We think we heard a Peregrine Falcon (they nest in the area) but saw none of the expected Belugas. We stopped for lunch and headed a few more miles south before crossing over to the west side of the fiord and heading back towards the put in.

On the way back we stopped on a gravel beach to “adjust ourselves”. Just about the time we were all out of our boats someone spotted Belugas. (It had to be Heather!) We all jumped into our boats and headed out “in their general direction”. This was a difficult test of conscious because we all wanted a close whale encounter and we hadn’t seen a whale from the boat since the first paddle. But Belugas as an endangered species have a 400 meter avoidance distance. For a few moments I saw as many as 5 in the water at once. Bob was the closest but it was still a good distance away. I expected that we were about to see the procession of one Beluga every half mile as we would typically see from the rocks at the camp site every evening. As it turns out this small group was all we saw. Unfortunately we were not well situated for the viewing.

After seeing the whales we all spread out a bit in search for more. What we found was a large freighter heading out to sea. I’ll let Rick describe it:
"On the return trip up the Saguenay fjord, we noticed what appeared to be a tanker far in the distance, nearly camouflaged by the rocky fjord behind it. But before too long, it was clear that the giant tanker was heading our way, directly up the center of the river. M wisely suggested that we all head over to the right-hand shore, and in no time, she and C were hugging the coast. B and I, however, remained much closer to the middle of the river, presumably to get a closer look at the tanker (and its wake?) as it passed by. Meanwhile, E, H and P had chosen to avoid the tanker by heading to its left, and by the time M, C, B and I had regrouped, they were nowhere to be seen. M and C were hesitant (i.e., refused!) to continue homeward without first knowing precisely where E, H and P were. Of course, given the glare created by the low-lying sun, we were simply unable to locate them on the far shore. With some prodding by B, M and C reluctantly agreed to resume paddling in the fast-moving following seas towards our destination. M appeared to be at some risk of "losing it" as fatigue and uneasiness with the squirrely waters set it, but she kept it together valiantly. We all were heartened when we saw E, H and P's paddles flashing far up ahead, and before long we back at the launch unloading our boats, as the sunset began to irradiate the sky."

So while they were concerned, we were care free. What we had was a great tail wind and some nice 1 to 2 foot waves to surf on. The three of us had a great time working up a sweat catching rides that were sometimes 15 or 20 seconds long.

After the long paddle we headed into Tadousac for dinner. It was our last hurrah in Saguenay. We would be breaking camp the following morning.

Saturday was a beautiful morning. We concocted a breakfast out of whatever food we had left in the coolers. Then we slowly packed our tents and bikes. Meanwhile, the weekend had brought more day kayakers to the launch and various people we ogling our flotilla of kayaks. Mine and Eric’s seemed to draw the most attention. Probably because they represent two of the extremes in kayak design (Qajariaq and Force4). Someone was interested enough in the Q-boat that Eric let him take it for a test paddle.

When nearly everything was packed away we all (minus MA and H) headed out for one last paddle. (Or in Lisa’s case, a first AND last paddle.) The six of us plus a gentleman we just met paddled out into the wind towards Cape Bon Desire. Conditions were lively but comfortable. We saw no whales. After a short hour, Lisa and I headed in to go easy on her shoulder. When she beached her boat I headed out to do a little surfing right in front of the camp. I made 3 or 4 passes and was about to quit when suddenly I heard “Heather the whale hunter” shouting to me. She was pointing in the general direction that we typically see our morning Minke.

I headed to the zone a couple of hundred yards off the rocks. I waited and paddled in place. I was getting ready to quit when suddenly I saw the Minke 200 yards away heading straight towards me. It was an orientation I had not yet seen and was actually a little surprised by how thin it looked at that angle. It submerged and popped up again about a 75 yards closer. This time it had turned a little towards shore. On its third blow it was 200 feet away and I had a spectacular view. I was nearly levitating. It’s forth blow was less than 75 feet from me. This time it arched its back and went down for its dive. I was thrilled. I headed out to tell the others who were meandering back along the shore. What a spectacular finish to the trip! (Incidentally, this pattern of four breaths was very predictable with the Minkes.)

MA left early to head straight back to Mass. R,C,B,E and H headed to Quebec City. L and I headed further south. We expected to stay somewhere in Canada but found no vacancy in Sherbrook. Fireworks and a celebration meant no hotels in Magogg. Newport VT was full. We ended up pulling into St Johnsbury at midnight to get the last available room.

Sunday we meandered down through Vermont. The GPS emboldened us and we actually spent about 25% of the time on dirt roads! It was a relaxing way to travel the miles back.

I think the vacation was a great success. We were told that there were actually fewer whales than usual because the Capelin were spawning longer than usual further east and that’s where the whales were. And the weather for paddling could have been better. But I don’t think anyone was disappointed. I’d do it again in a heartbeat!

Saguenay Fiord 7/25 Air 75 Water Low 60s?
Flueve-St-Laurent 7/20,22,23,26 Air 60+/- Water low 50s

Winds/Fog were a factor in paddle planning. They were Highly Variable Day to Day and Place to Place.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Connubial Prudence

It was one year ago almost to the day since E&H were celebrating their wedding with friends and family in Bristol. A year later we were back in Bristol for a little less formal gathering we were calling the anniversary paddle.

MB, BH, CC, PB, RB, and TM all joined E&H for the paddle. We met at OSA and were planning to paddle to Prudence, portage over, and come back around via Patience. There was fog and thunderstorms in the forecast so we were being cautious and were willing to do whatever paddle seemed safe. We were predictably slow getting on the water as we all visited Cat and checked out her store.

The paddle out of Bristol Harbor is always longer than expected. At one point we were lined up side by side almost as if we were an organized group. And we were all thrilled to finally pass Popasquash Point and head over to Prudence. As usual the eight of us alternated pair and triples as we paddled along and caught up on the stories and trials and excitements in each others lives.

When we landed on Prudence it was feeling hot. We explored the marsh that we were planning to portage over and decided, partly because of the low tide, to skip the carry and paddle up the east side of the island. It was already nearing lunch time so we were searching for a good place to land and eat.

We found a reasonable spot to pull ashore and the usual lunch ritual began. Tim shared his PB&J with Eric, Heather shared her home baked cookies, and various other partially melted and crushed foods were passed around.

As the lunch break was proceeding we noticed we were being approached by three strange kayakers. As they neared we realized it was RB, MR, and MK. MK was sporting a web cam mounted on his helmet. We discussed throwing rocks at them to thwart off the attack but instead decided they might have good food and let them join us. They had left out of Goddard Park and were on a mission a little more challenging than ours.

The wind had picked up a bit as we left Prudence and headed east towards Bristol. The beam sea paddling was comfortable but the southerly leg into the wind was a bit of a slog. Rounding the point, we all enjoyed a little down wind surfing. We each caught at least a few rides, Bob of course leading the way.

As we neared the launch we were joined by RS who was practicing a bit and waiting for us. LB met us on the beach, sidelined with her sore shoulder. We were as slow to get off the water as we were to get on. A number of rolls, some sculling, and a few rescues kept us cool and smiling.

After the paddle we met at the Bee Hive Café on Franklin Street in Bristol. The coffee was good, the pastry was delicious, and there were nice indoor and outdoor places to sit. It was great way to help E&H celebrate their first anniversary.

12 miles total

Saturday, April 19, 2008

The Season’s warming up

It had been a few weeks since my last paddle. I was itching to get out in the boat and the weather was perfect. In fact it was too perfect. The air was warm enough that it is difficult to dress for the water.

The plan was the Jamestown dock on Saturday morning. I was itching to go somewhere different but the Jewish holiday had a few of us on a tight time schedule. As conciliation we hoped that the outgoing tide and the full moon would combine to spice things up at the dumplings. Seven of us arrived ready to paddle. It was a crew comprised largely of very experienced boaters.

There was very little wind as we were dressing and packing our boats. We were all feeling pretty hot. I wore a very light layer under my drysuit. I knew I would cool off quickly if I spent any significant time in the water but the conditions were benign and I had confidence in my partners. Plus the air was warm enough that I’d warm back up once out of the water. This is in contrast to a typical winter paddle where once you cool off it’s very difficult to warm up, especially your extremities.

Once on the water I did some sculling to get my body in the water. It cooled me down quickly. Surprisingly quickly I might add. As we started paddling a breeze did pick up. It was just enough breeze over the cold water to balance the heat I was generating internally. On the water, I was very comfortable.
Bob and I headed to the East side of the dumplings to look for some fun. The current was running but not too strong and without an opposing wind it was fairly tame. Carleen, Carole, Tony, Rich, and Becca all went along the shore.
Carleen was suggesting Beavertail. Others wanted to head towards Brenton point so as to head up wind and not have to fight it heading back. We agreed on BP and made a long diagonal crossing in that direction. This is a crossing we would do as a perpendicular beeline in summer to avoid boat traffic. This day we were largely on our own.

We paddled along the shore and did some easy rock gardening. Carleen was suggesting helmets but no-one was biting. When we got to the jetty there was some wave action coming over the shallows. Bob and I headed across and we were greeted by waves approaching simultaneously at 90 degree angles. Tony, with helmet started surfing them. We all followed suit and put ours on also. Bob and Carleen were paired up. The rest of us were more timid and discussing if we really wanted to go over. Becca was concerned that she was out of practice. I knew that I was dressed a little too light to deliberately put myself in the water.

The next thing I knew I could see Bob retrieving Carleen’s kayak. We were not at all alarmed. It was not very rough. B and C would be fine. But things weren’t proceeding as quickly as expected so we wandered over in that general direction. It was then we saw that C was separated from her boat. But Tony had her hanging off the back of his big double kayak so we weren’t too concerned. It would be no time before T had her back to her boat. But again things were taking longer than expected. T couldn’t pull her along nearly as fast as I expected.

So I headed over and met up with them about the same time as they were all meeting up. Tony dropped off C, B started the rescue, and I pulled up along B’s boat for extra support. We were away from the surf so it all seemed like no big deal.
But about this time I was realizing things were not all going as easy as I expected. C was very tired from being towed along by T’s boat. She was struggling to lift herself onto the boat. I was recalling a rescue last fall where the swimmer was very tired just from holding on to his boat. Somewhere in this process C became separated from one of her boots and Tony recovered it.

Once C had some of her body on the boat she was struggling to get her feet up at the surface and continue the slide on. We were starting to think about the sling. I had mine right in my vest pocket but I was thinking to myself “Do I really remember how Tim showed me to use this thing? Do I really want to add the rope to this situation to get tangled in?” Besides, give C a minute to rest and she’ll just pop herself in. Then once C was on her boat her vest became caught on the combing on her cockpit. We finally got her all the way on but now her vest was caught in the hole that is her cockpit. Slowly, we got her unstuck from the cockpit and she could slide into the seat. It was all very strange.

We all decided to head over to the beach and get Carleen re-connected with her boot and give her a rest. At the beach it became clear that she had about a gallon of water in each leg of her drysuit. The neoprene neck seal of the Tropos drysuit had let in a significant amount of water while Tony was towing her through the water. It was only a day later that Carole and Bob realized that during the rescue Carleen had brought her body over the cockpit of her boat instead of over the back decks of her and Bob’s kayaks. That explained the very strange tangle of vest and combing but it didn’t even occur to us on the water.

What a lesson this was. Bob, Paul and Tony with Carleen in the water in relatively tame conditions is a rescue you would expect to go quickly and easily. But it didn’t. I know personally I was so lulled into the belief that it would go easy that never got involved with the intensity I should have. It makes me think about the way the kids used to practice soccer when I was coaching. I’d try to get them to practice with the intensity as if it was a game day but they never really took it too seriously. It’s exactly what I did in this situation. And in hindsight it is very obvious to us what went wrong but at the time we weren’t seeing it.

There was nothing dangerous about this situation. But it reinforces how important practice is. These things need to go smoothly when the conditions are difficult. They have to be mindless and flawless in benign conditions if this is going to happen. I often let others do the rescue in practice sessions thinking I’m all set and I want others to learn. Maybe I should do some more of them? And I for one want to practice more in difficult (but safe) conditions.

So back to the paddle…. we ate lunch on the beach and then headed out to Brenton Point. With the tight schedule and Carleen already wet on the inside of her drysuit we just went out to have a look and then headed back. At the beach Carole, Becca and I worked on our rolls. In the process Carole realized her latex neck seal was too worn and was letting water in also. Another thing to fix!

4/19/2008 Air upper 60s, water 50s, wind light

Monday, March 31, 2008

Kings Beach, Newport

It had been 8 weeks since my last paddle. I was getting a bit restless to get out in the boat. For a winter paddle I usually contact some of the regulars by email first to be sure there will be at least a few paddlers on the water that I trust. This is a safety measure. I want to be sure that there are people with me who are aware enough to use appropriate risk avoidance. I also want to know that there will be others who can perform a quick and efficient rescue should things go awry. Then, with a quorum established, I post on the web page hoping that additional capable paddlers will join in.

This week I had my heart set on the Kings Beach launch and a paddle along the Newport coast by the mansions and the cliff walk. It’s an area I had never paddled before and one with some stretches where beaching is not possible because of the rocky shoreline. As a winter paddle this is something I would only suggest in favorable weather conditions. Favorable in this case was a North wind and temperatures in the mid 40’s.

A total of 8 paddlers showed up. All skilled and ready for this trip. What we weren’t ready for was the cold temperatures. At 9 AM the temperature was still below freezing and the wind was a steady 10-15. It felt frigid. The locals like Tony can show up pre-dressed in their dry suits. I have a 90 minute drive. I need to dress in the parking lot. (I can just picture myself putting gas in the truck and buying doughnuts in my gortex “space suit”.) The dressing up process was cold but once I was zipped into my suit I was quite comfortable.

During my time off the water I had taken the opportunity to augment the foam in my boat. I trimmed out my thigh braces and added significant hip padding. I was looking forward to feeling how the new boat would respond with this customizing. The hip padding is tighter than it was in my older boat. It actually applies a gentle pressure as opposed to just filling in the gap. The result was wonderful. I took three paddle strokes and did a little hip flick to see how it felt. My hip flick almost tipped me over because every degree of torso bend translated into boat motion. No slop or delay in the boat’s response. The process of foaming your boat seems a little daunting at first. The expensive foam doesn’t really fit right out of the box. It seems like you’ll never get it shaped to fit right. In fact, it’s not all that hard. I’ve typically used the layer approach to foaming in. I’ll use a ½ inch sheet and let it follow the outer contour of the boat. I then add additional ½ inch layers in more localized areas. This is followed by sanding away and shaping with coarse sandpaper. It’s very easy and the resulting boat feel is well worth the effort.

When we were all on the water we headed east. It was clear from the start that the conditions we ideal from a safe easy paddle point of view but were going to be a bit too tame for this group of paddlers with rock gardening and surfing thoughts in their heads. But it was nice to be on the water and we took our time and poked in and out of the rocks and explored. Joe commented that it was really quite scenic. A perspective he usually doesn’t notice because he is busy watching the waves and flow around the plethora rocks that dot this section of shoreline. Half the group tried to catch a wave on a small reef by the end of the cliff walk. But the swell was virtually non-existent and one attempt each was sufficient. A bit latter at Ruggles beach we all had a go at surfing. There was one spot with surfable stuff. The more confident among us surfed between rocks. The rest surfed with rocks to just one side allowing at least the possibility of directing our boats to the right and away from danger. After a few passes here we decided it was time for lunch. We were headed for the corner of First Beach but selected a little rocky cove below the cliff walk. Here we were well protected from the wind and were well lit by the sun. It was warm and quite comfortable.

I had my usual PB&J and the deserts were passed around and shared. Some new stories were told and some old ribbing was continued! We were in no rush to go anywhere.

After lunch we headed back. We took a few more rides at Ruggles. We found a different rock to poke around about the half way point. We paused here to discuss some coaching approaches. (Three of the paddlers were coaches and one is aspiring to be!) It was here that Bob had his best opportunity to go over when a rogue wave caught him off guard and surfed him towards the rock. He handled it with ease but it did add some excitement. While sitting at this spot I saw a good sized seal in the distance. It was the only seal sighting of the day.

Back at the launch Gerry, Eric and I took the opportunity to slip in a roll. My execution was fine but I forgot to close my day hatch which I had opened to put my sun glasses in. It filled with water. Gerry looked smooth. Eric was successful but did struggle a bit. On his second roll he popped up awkwardly without his hood on. The cold water on his head made him a bit grumpy. (Actually I assume he was more grumpy about his first aborted roll attempt.) But true to form he tried one more time and came up comfortably.

While we were rolling about, Mark and Steve headed back out in the direction of Brenton Point. This entire length of coast was new to these Connecticut people so they wanted to explore a bit more before calling it a day.

The total distance was only 9.5 miles. The wind was 10-15 from the north shifting to the south just about the time we got off the water. Air temperatures rose from 32 to about 42. Water temperature was just above 40. 3/30/08

Sunday, February 10, 2008

RICKA pool sessions

Rolling. I’ve been paddling for almost 8 years now and I’ve never “needed” to roll. Yes, it would have been nice to roll in the surf. And yes, I have needed to be rescued when I could have otherwise rolled but at no time has my “lack of roll” put me in danger.

So why am I talking about it again? Because I just finished my third RICKA pool practice session. Why do I do it? It’s fun. But that’s not the only reason. It’s probably the most tangible measure of competency level for kayakers. Hardly the most important one but clearly the most recognized. So there is an element of pride in there. And some showing off. I must admit I like to casually mention to the boys at work on Monday that I rolled a few times in 38 degree water.

Practically however, it’s a bomb-proof roll that matters. Rolling in the pool or when setting up ahead of time is fun and games. Rolling when the water conditions put you upside down is the real goal. In 2007 I wanted to master rolling in the surf. I didn’t achieve that goal partly because I didn’t have many opportunities to paddle in the surf. But I did roll on almost every paddle I did. It served to build my confidence. A confidence that is needed to think through and then execute the series of motions that are required to get yourself right side up. For some natural athletes it’s mindless. For most of us it’s a practiced skill.

I did have a little lapse in skill this summer. My roll was 90% for most of the year but for about 3 weeks it dropped to more like 50%. It was frustrating and the frustration just made the roll worse. But the months of reliable rolling leading up to the lapse did give me the confidence that I’d get through it and I did. I also set up and executed some rolls in current and chop. I learned there that getting back up doesn’t mean you’re done. If the water is nasty enough to put you over it’s not going to be any friendlier when you pop back up from a roll but are still not well balanced. It doesn’t wait for you to finish celebrating before knocking you about again.

Four weeks ago the pool sessions started. I popped my boat in the water, paddled around a little, tipped over, and blew my roll. I was disgusted. I hopped back in and rolled many more times. I got my offside roll back and never came out of the boat again that day. 12 months earlier I would have been thrilled by that performance but I was disappointed due to my high expectations. While driving to the pool the second week the radio was playing great music (George Thorogood). It put me in a great mood and my rolling was spot-on. I even rolled Tim’s Explorer HV both on and off side despite the fact that I was totally loose in it and couldn’t even touch the foot pegs. I skipped the third week to paddle outside. The forth week was going great until I jumped in Kevin’s Ellesmere. I own an Ellesmere so my anticipation was high that it would be like getting back together with an old friend. But it was uncomfortable and I blew 2 of three rolls. Why? Who knows. I had rolled about six different boats this year. Many that I wasn’t well fit to. I quit trying with Elly and, with confidence, returned to rolling the white water boat. I left a happy paddler.

Such is rolling. It’s why I practice a lot. It’s why kayakers are impressed when they see others do it with ease.

Thanks to RICKA for letting us "almost competent" rollers play in the pool. And thanks to the coaching staff for foregoing their own rolling fun to help the next generation learn the skill. Your dedication is what put many of us in the deep end!

January and February 2008. Air temperature 75, water temperature 75 in the pool. Air and water sub 40 degrees outside.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

February on the water

RICKA rolling pool sessions only occur 4 times a year. Sunny, 45 degree, weekend days in February occur even less frequently. So faced with a decision between those two options I hesitated but the decision wasn’t hard.

Carole, Bob, and I met at the Narragansett town beach just after 10AM. The temperature was already 40 and there was a gentle swell of less than 2 feet rolling onto the beach. I had arrived early and had time to watch and see that there was an occasional larger wave, in fact they seemed to come in pairs. It was not a major concern to me but I didn’t want to dump in the surf right off the start.

We loaded up our boats and dragged them to the water. Bob jumped in first and paddled in and out of the small surf. Carole was still finalizing the loading of her boat so I waited for the two large waves to pass and headed out through the gentle surf. Bob went back in towards Carole and the two of them paddled out while I watched. Just as they passed the break zone they met the next set of two larger waves. They were steep but still rolling and they easily passed over them. 20 seconds later however and they both would have started the day off with a least a face full of cold water.

We headed north by the rocks that guard the entrance to the Narrow River. We paddled along Boston Neck towards Bonnet Shores. There were a couple of locations where the swells stood tall over the bottom features and Bob was attracted but Carole and I held our distance and he seemed to get the point that we didn’t really want to go in and get him. It was warm with a gentle breeze at our back. And it wasn’t long before we were approaching the beach at Bonnet. Bob surfed a few waves and Carole and I headed to the east end for an easy dry landing.

We set up for lunch against a concrete sea wall which protected us from the wind and faced us directly into the warmth of the sun. We shared tea and snacks and ate our sandwiches. Adults, small children, and various sized dogs were frolicking on the beach. We weren’t stripping out of our dry suits but it was awful nice for February.

After lunch we discussed whether we would paddle further or just head back. I kind of wanted to touch the rocks at Bonnet point but for some reason we just headed back towards Narragansett. While we had stopped for lunch the wind had picked up a bit. It wasn’t strong but it was enough to slow us down and start up a random chop. As we passed the corner where the shore starts to bend westward it was a strange mix of swells, chop, and reflections which confused the waters. It almost felt as if the tide was moving against the waves but I knew in fact the tide was coming in. For me it was just enough to make it a bit exciting and get me thinking that this was February and no time to be doing something stupid. This slop continued until we reached the area near the outlet of the Narrow River.

At the river we passed inside the rocks and paddled just outside the surf rolling in on the beach. From the back sides they looked a little bigger than I had remembered at 10 AM. But as we had discussed, if we dumped while returning to the beach we were close to the cars to warm back up. Plus, the further up the beach we went the smaller the waves were.

As we approached the cars I was dealing with a strong urge to stand by a tree. While Bob stopped to talk with a WW boat surfer I just hopped on a wave and headed towards shore. My new Impex Force 4 seems to hold a nice straight line in the surf. In fact it tends to accelerate and stay ahead of the wave with the bow sinking just shy of the point of burying. This is in contrast to my Ellsmere which had a habit of burying the nose and inviting the back end to come around. But I should qualify this with a disclaimer that I’ve only been in relatively small (less than 3 foot) surf with the new boat.

I relieved my need, donned my helmet, removed my sunglasses, traded pogies for gloves, and headed back out into the surf. On my way back out I plowed through three or four waves that broke strongly onto my chest. I set up and rode another nice wave back into shore. For reasons I don’t fully comprehend I tripped the boat as I was turning to head back out. Over I went and I started to think about rolling. As the words swirled about in my head I started dragging my head and back along the sand. I started to set up my paddle but it was all too shallow and I fell out of my seat. (I still need to foam the boat.) The water was cold. As it slid down the ear canals underneath my neoprene hat I got a hint of that coldness disorientation. It wasn’t bad but it was clear to me that my neoprene hat (over the ears with a strap) was not nearly the same level of protection as my neo hood.
Carole and Bob seemed like they were done so despite the fact that I had only ridden one wave I decided maybe I should be done too. I decided to walk out and test the effectiveness of the insulation layers I had under my dry suit. I was comfortable in the water and floated about for a bit. Then, after a conversation with B&C I figured I’d try it without my hat on. I dove into a wave and experienced instant ice cream head ache. Not a killer one but enough that I didn’t want to stay in the water.

This whole neoprene hat thing is a conundrum. I would have over heated had I paddled all day with a hood on. On the other hand I would have really wanted it on had I gone over for some reason out in front of Bonnet.
It was great to load the boats in the warm parking lot with bare hands and light jackets on. Normally an immersion by the put in would have me scrambling for a warm car and dry cloths. Pretty nice for February!

After the paddle we went to chez C’s where we were treated to strong coffee and Panini. It was just a wonderfully relaxing day to be on the water.

Narragansett Town Beach to Bonnet Shores. 8.2 miles round trip, sunny, air 44, water 39, winds SW at 10.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Three Amigos

For me, winter paddling is all about the weather. I have no desire to head out in sub freezing temperatures but a 40 degree day is more than enough to get my attention. So when Joe suggested a Boston Harbor paddle as an option for Saturday I checked the forecast and my schedule (in that order) and got excited. I contacted Eric to find out if he had a preferred day. Boston is “sort of” in our neck of the woods so I didn’t want to do it if he couldn’t. It was his preferred day. Then Joe posted that he was feeling a little bit under the weather and maybe Sunday would be a better day. I asked Eric if he’d be OK if it was just the two of us. We agreed that would be fine, we’d just stay inside of Hull. But I also said to him that if we were going I suspected Joe would feel well enough. He didn’t disappoint me.

Initially the forecast for Sunday was actually a little warmer. But my weather mantra is “don’t pass up a good day for want of a better day later”. Too many times I’ve said let’s wait for the better day only to have the forecast degrade. Again, the weathermen didn’t disappoint me.

So Paul, Joe and Eric showed up at Hull Gut. We had posted and did not know if anyone else would arrive. I didn’t expect any of the RI crew because they feel they need to have their passports to cross their little state border. But I thought that maybe some of the north shore paddlers that sometimes join us in the summer would show up. It turned out it was just us three. The conditions we perfect for a relaxing paddle so 3 was fine.

I suggested that our course include circumnavigating Pedocks Island but Joe insisted it was boring. So we all agreed to head towards the outer islands with Green Island as our destination. We headed out with the tide and a light wind pushing us. We managed just under 5 miles in the first hour and were at Green well before we were hungry for lunch. The Graves loomed off in the distance but we couldn’t land on graves comfortably and it was winter so somehow we managed to show good judgment and head south towards Outer Brewster Island instead. With a little instigation from me, Joe started the process of sneaking through a skinny passage in the rocks. I chose the second passage and rubbed my bow a bit. Joe took a different line and awkwardly scuffed his beam. Eric learned from our mistakes and made the passage perfectly! We found no good landing spot on this island, nor Middle Brewster, so we headed towards Boston Light.

We had not seen any seals around Green Island. We did see rocks that looked like perfect sunning spots. We assumed that maybe there were none to be found. But we were surprised when a friendly group of about 6 checked us out as we passed between Outer and Middle Brewster. We paused to observe them and discussed how we probably scare them because we look like 17 foot sharks from below. However, in the water and at their distance they seem comfortable.

We pulled up on the shore of Boston light for lunch. I located a comfortable rock facing SW towards the sun. As we started to eat our lunches the sun slipped behind a high cloud haze and the wind died. The lack of sun, the cold rock under our butts, and the cooling down of our bodies from stopping paddling combined to chill us all a bit. It’s heeding little clues like this that keeps us cautious and not doing things like paddling out to The Graves. Had one of gone over out there it would be two hours back to the put in.

The three amigos talked about our jobs while eating lunch. Had it been warmer I could have sat on that rock for hours. It was profound how different work is for the three of us. Yet each of us finds satisfaction in what we do. (And each of us enjoy immensely being out on the water in early January.)

Back on the water the wind picked up a bit. It was always gentle but without the sun it had a cold feel. We headed directly back to Windmill Point. As we passed through The Gut the tide was just finishing its ebb. Eric felt compelled to continue his discipline of doing at least one practice roll. This day it was just one roll but he did it.

We packed up our stuff, changed into dry cloths, and sought out the nearest coffee/pastry shoppe. I think we earned a little snack.

1/5/2008 10.5 miles round trip. Air 40, water mid 30s, winds gentle WSW.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

2008 Paddles

The Paddles of 2008

1/5/2008 Boston Harbor Outer Islands
1/12 Oaklawn Beach to Patience Island
1/13, 1/20, 2/10 Ricka Rolling Practice
2/3 Narragansett Town Beach to Bonnet
3/30 Kings Beach to 1st Beach Newport
4/19 Jamestown/Brenton Point
5/11 Oaklawn Beach to Patience Island
5/25 Quonny Pond Practice
6/29 OSA to Prudence
7/4 RICKA picnic paddle
7/12 Westport Paddle
7/20,22,23,25,26 St Laurent / Saguenay Quebec
8/16,17 Deerfield River WW Class
9/8 Hull, World's End to Pedocks Island
9/13 Sakonnet Point Training
9/20 Stone Bridge, Tiverton
10/4-10/5 Freeport-Jewel Island Maine
10/11 Deerfield River Round 2
10/15 Westport River Rip
10/18 Lake Chauncy Roll & Rinse
10/26 Charles River/ Barking Crab
11/1 Padanaram to the Dumplings
11/15 Stone Bridge/windy paddle
11/29 Bay Campus

32 Days