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