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