Saturday, November 06, 2010

Westport River on an outgoing tide

“I love it when a plan comes together”. The week was rolling along and I had no firm plans for Saturday. Then a received this email Friday morning:
“ … I'm picking up my brand new boat Sat. morning at Osprey. ( Limey, the Green Hornet ). With the new moon and tidal ebb and large swells ( 6 ft. ), I'm guessing that there will be good play conditions at the mouth of the Westport river. … (Jon)”


Bob checked the tide timing… he was in. Rick was expecting 7-10 foot seas… he was in. Add Jon and I and we had a nice group of 4 with similar capabilities. Rick and I both expressed some concern about the conditions. I know Jon is reasonably cautious. And Bob? Despite his well earned reputation, he does show good judgment when suitably encouraged to use it.

The Mini goes kayaking

So Saturday morning came and off we went into conditions we knew would be exciting but we had no idea exactly what to expect. It was cold, the air and water were around 50, the sky was grey, and there was a light breeze from the North. On the way out I asked who had a radio. Jon and I both had radios in our day hatches. I also mentioned that the 4 of us were all not known for staying in a tight group. We all acknowledged this and agreed we needed to look out for each other.

The tide was running fast and we reached the mouth averaging about 6 MPH while paddling at an easy pace. When we approached the open part of the harbor we could see that waves were occasionally rolling over the bar within the harbor. The rip at the group of rocks off the end of Cherry and Webb beach was almost as strong as what we expect to see along the Knubble. And the waves? They were breaking about a ¼ mile off the beach, for as far as the eye could see.

Nasty on the outside

We decided (at least in my mind) that it would be a good idea to paddle out of the harbor and see what it was like before we were dragged out of the harbor upside down if we were to go over in the rip. We went out between ½ mile rock and the Knubble. Although 20 years ago this was the marked channel, the channel is now marked to the east of the rock. But we did not want to be on the east side of the rock. It was breaking everywhere to that side. Our path was covered with very steep 4 footers. We went out through them and could see they were growling all around. One in particular had us all paddling hard to get over it.

Once through the worse of it we were in a fairly comfortable spot. We could have paddled to the west a bit without too much trouble but we were all a bit uncomfortable out there. It was just the 4 of us. It’s November, there were no fishermen stupid enough to be out there with us. I suggested that before we went anywhere it would be a good idea to go back in and be sure we would be comfortable paddling with the waves behind us. We turned around and went in. I think we were fortunate to get through without a big set of swells to upset us. It was exciting but not overwhelming. Once back inside we headed for the rip along the Knubble. It was seriously interesting in there; lots of messy three footers standing up at random locations. Near the rock of “Eric loses his glasses” fame there was a steady three foot mayhem and the eddy was nonexistent. We were all barely able to make headway through here regardless of how far from the shore we paddled. In fact it was better to be in the area where it was sloppier because you could surf forward. However, the chances of being upside down in there were much greater. We had spent about 15 minutes outside the harbor and it took us about another 15 minutes to get through the rip and onto the beach behind the Knubble. Our average speed through the rip was less than ½ mph! There were times where I was wondering if I'd be able to paddle through.

Nasty on the inside

We all hopped out on the beach. We had only been paddling for 45 minutes and we were feeling a bit defeated. It was an interesting situation. We were all “statistically” capable of handling the conditions but we all knew that when the narrow side of the statistics caught up with us it was not going to be pretty. The outgoing tide was going to push us to the east in front of Horseneck Beach where we knew we didn’t want to be. The North wind was going to push us off shore so ultimately we would end up on the sandbar off Horseneck. There was a real possibility of getting stuck on the bar and not be able to get to shore nor outside the bar.

With appropriate caution we headed back to the rocks off Cherry and Webb beach. There was enough excitement over there. And, closer to the beach, getting to the beach as a fall back was much more realistic. I started off with a wonderfully long fast ride on a perfect swell eliciting some envy from my peers. (That would change.) After about a half hour we were all growing tired. We were still paddling against a stiff current the whole time. Rick and Jon were paddling together in the rip near the rocks. They headed toward the beach for a break and lunch. Bob and I were playing a little further out where there was more swell. We too would head to the beach but suddenly I was over. I don’t remember the exact situation but ultimately my bow dug in, my stern came around, and despite my brain saying lay on the wave I couldn’t bend my body over to that side. I attempted a roll then predictably was bailing out.

Even nasty where it's usually flat

Now I’m in the water. Shit. Rick and Jon are standing on the beach. Shit. Bob is close. Great. My helmet is floating beside me. Shit. When we left the beach Bob offered to help carry my boat and I just popped it on my head without snapping it. Shit. I’m well dressed for the water and I have my neoprene hood on and am really pretty comfortable. Great. I’m trying to grab my helmet while holding the boat and paddle. We are all drifting together so I do momentarily let go of one at a time and gather them all. Great. Bob is making his way towards me. Great. I’m calm-ish but I really want to execute a quick and efficient rescue. I was in a safe place when I went over but I’m drifting out at 3mph. I tried to flip my own boat without success. (why I thought this was a good idea is beyond me.) Bob seems a little too relaxed about all this and executes a nearly perfect rescue if only a little too slow from my perspective. (Actually Bob’s deliberate approach was appropriate. If he was to have gone over too it would have been a whole new situation. ) I’m back in the boat with a little more water than I’d like but I’m in quick enough that we are still in relatively flat water. To the right there are the beach breakers that I can avoid. To the left is the messiness that I can avoid. Behind me are the bar breakers that I desperately want to avoid. I can see that there is a calm path to the beach so I choose to paddle with the water in the boat. Bob paddles just behind me. Had I gone over again there was a real possibility that he could have executed an Eskimo rescue. That would have been fun!

Jon's new boat

We gathered up on the beach and ate lunch. I was a bit cool but not so much so that I didn’t think I would be OK when I got back in the boat. After lunch we headed back over to the rip by the Knubble. We “thought” things had calmed down a bit but it was still flowing strong and the setup was the same except that the eddy had reformed behind Eric’s rock. We messed about here for about an hour, alternating sides as a few boats passed in and out. The paddle back to the launch that took 15 minutes with the tide took 45 minutes against the flow.

Fun for the boys

The new boat is stable

It was a great day on the water. We did take some risks by paddling where we were but I felt like we did a good job of respecting the conditions. The fact that I did go over and things did not break down does indicate that we were not way out of bounds. In hindsight, I’m sure Rick and Jon wished they were on the water when I went over. In hindsight Bob and I should have headed to the beach with them. I could see Rick and Jon watching what was going on. I did not specifically ask but I imagine they were ready to get in their boats. As I sit here this morning it’s easy to say that Rick could have jumped in the boat to be a support boat and Jon could have pulled out his radio and watched what was going on from shore ready to summon support if needed. But my comments are only from the “in hindsight what is the safest thing we could have done” perspective. If any poor judgment was to be assigned it would point directly at me.

11/5/2010, water 52 air 49, wind N-10, strong outgoing tides, 4+ foot swell, 6.9 miles