Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Surf's Up

First and foremost I’d like to congratulate Tim on receiving his BCU 4 STAR SEA KAYAK LEADER award. I mention that because I was able to paddle with him on his final assessment. If you are not familiar with what that means I think I can say simply that Tim has demonstrated to the BCU coaches that he is everything that we RICKA paddlers know he is. A highly skilled paddler and a strong and competent leader.

Now on to the paddle… Eric J, John G and I joined Tim as his “subjects” while John Carmody, a BCU 5 level coach evaluated his performance. Of course we were happy to help by being Tim’s guinea pigs but we selfishly hoped to pick up a few pointers from John in the process.

The winds forecast for the day were relatively light but there was a good swell running from a windy night. Off shore wave heights were running around 6 feet. My experience is that this usually translates into something interesting out past Bonnet Shores.

We all met at the usual time at the Bay Campus. After introducing us to John C, Tim shared his plan which was basically a paddle to the Narrow River and back. And with that we were off. We paddled as a pod until we reached the rocky shore that is the beginning of Bonnet. At that point Eric took the lead and Tim held back. The swells were already showing some power so Eric held a comfortable distance off the shore. As we approached Bonnet Point Tim jumped in front and made an assessment of whether we could tuck behind the big rock there. You could see the waves rolling through on both sides of the rock so we decided to stay out. The water depth jumps quickly from about 35 feet to about 10 feet in this area. The result was plenty of 6-8 foot waves rolling through. This is actually a fairly predictable area.

Around the next point the waves were all 6-8 foot, but they had plenty of time between them. While predictable in time they were a bit less predictable in space. There is a lot of wave refracting going on in this area as the shore line and the bottom contours bend around. We all had a chance to get caught on a "big one". John hesitated on his and didn’t paddle as aggressively as I would have liked to see but he made it over fine. My chance seemed to be all of 10 feet with the top foot or so folding over. I was fine going up. But the adrenaline kicked in as I popped over the top blinded with a face full of saltwater. There I waited for the bow to pitch back down out of the air into the much more supportive water. Thankfully I landed with a smile.

We stayed outside of the breaking waves as we approached the rocks off the Narrow River. We grouped up there and discussed what to do. Tim, with his local knowledge, was considering bringing us in. I was OK with going in but was a bit apprehensive about coming back out.

At this point Tim and John talked a bit. John Carmody suggested that we stay away from the rocks and explore the possibility of landing directly on the beach. We paddled a bit further along the beach looking for something smaller. I was less than excited about landing in the 6 foot dumping waves. We gathered together and John offered a teaching momment talking about the conditions. We mutually decided the safe thing to do was head back to a protected landing spot to the west of Bonnet.

Eric and I led the way back by heading out towards Whale Rock staying well away from trouble. It was great fun when we turned north and finally had these 6 footers pushing us along. Without incedent, we all landed for lunch.

After lunch we headed to Bonnet Beach for some surfing. I did a little rock gardening along the way. At one point I was setting up to pass through some rocks when John C started calling out “wave”. It was only a 3+ footer but I was in close to the rocks. With the advanced warning I had time to prepare and easily passed over it.

Tim led us to a safe landing on Bonnet beach and we discussed the plan. John C helped us with some pointers. I had watched John come in to shore and saw him doing a lot of intense stern ruddering as he rode the wave. My boat surfs well and I often end up out in front of the wave. So when he told me apply some “brake” with my stern rudder to keep the boat high on the wave I knew exactly what he meant. His point (to all of us) was to keep the stern of the boat up over the top of the wave so that it would be easier to turn the boat. My first try was positive. In my second try I slowed too much and buried the bow. It’s all about finding the right balance. John’s other points… lean more subtly with your butt instead of your knees, watch where you are on the wave, don’t watch the bow. He had other points for Tim, Eric and John.

We left the beach before we were all too tired. We again stayed outside of the rocks at Bonnet point and turned north towards the Bay Campus, pushed by some nice swells. Back at the launch there was no rolling and rescues. We were all tired and ready to call it a day.

I guess John Carmody liked what he saw. What I saw was once again Tim led us in some challenging conditions, kept us safe, allowed us to push ourselves a little, and still allowed us to have fun. That’s what I want to see out of a BCU-4 leader!

9/29/2010, Bay Campus to Narragansett Beach, 12.5 miles, light SW winds, Air 70, water 62.