Saturday, July 21, 2012

Georgian Bay, Ontario, Canada

I’ve wanted to do a fresh water paddle trip for at least 5 years.  I’d love to see Lake Superior and probably will someday but I was looking for something I could conveniently(ish) drive to with my own boat.  I had spent a little bit of time on the shore of Lake Erie back when my son had a water ski tournament in Pennsylvania.  I was intrigued by “real 2+ waves” in fresh water.  But I wasn’t enamored with Lake Erie itself.  It seemed to have a rather monotonous shore line.   Both Erie and Lake Ontario give me the impression of industrial areas.  I’m sure there are some beautiful areas but it isn’t what those lakes are known for.  I have done a little exploring on Lake Champlain but this lake is too small to call an inland ocean.

The closest interesting I could find was Georgian Bay.  Some internet exploration and a book by Kas Stone had me convinced that a 12 hour ride to the lake would be worth it.  Fortunately, Keri had a conference in Toronto so we decided to combine her work with some pleasure. 

It was clear from my reading that the further north we went would result in a more remote feeling.  But it could also easily add another three hours to the commute.  We settled on an area just north of Parry Sound (birthplace of Bobby Orr!).  The broad area is known as the 30,000 islands region.  The specific area we sought out is bounded by the mainland and the Mink and McCoy Islands that lie about 4 miles off shore.  We had as a backup plan the Massasauga Provincial Park.  It is a water access only area that is much more protected.  Our plan was to go there if the weather was looking iffy wind wise.   

The expected air temperatures were 80 during the day and 60 at night.  The water temperature was a balmy 70 degrees.  The combined data from buoys and Parry Sound indicated the winds typically build onshore to about 10+ knots in the afternoon.  It seemed very manageable.   What was unknown was what it would be like.  How easy would it be to find camp sites?  What distances should we realistically plan for?

The weather forecast was looking favorable over the full four day, three night paddle we had planned.  We launched out of Dillon Cove Marina about 10:45 AM.  We were initially in an area with summer houses but they were not cheek to jowl as they are around here.  And many were on small islands accessible only by boat.  It was a Wednesday so there was not a huge amount of pleasure boat traffic.  Within the first half hour we met another couple that was returning from a week in a cabin that they paddled out to.  We gathered a little reconnaissance of the typical weather patterns and got their thoughts on the prettiest spots. 

Our destination for the first evening was somewhere in the Hertzberg Island area.  We stopped for lunch on Twin Sisters Island(s).  Then we wandered in the cove near Osawa Island.  This was the first time we could really appreciate the beauty of the area.  There still were a few cabins on this island but there were little coves and passages to get lost in.  We stopped for a break on Kneller Island before we headed out into the wind and open water to the west. 

Back in our boats, we passed through a narrow passage to open water.  Within about 50 yards I noticed a black bear walking the shore towards where we were just napping.  Keri had the camera so I started pointing aggressively to get her attention and get her to take some pictures. We watched the bear for about 3 or 4 minutes while it popped in and out of cover while it was exploring the shore.  This brought on a volley of “did you know there were going to be bears?” from Keri.  (I knew there might be but I’m not too concerned about black bears and I really didn’t expect to see one.)  A reasonable compromise of “we’re not camping on an island that we KNOW there are bears on” was reached. 

We landed on Little Elm Tree Island.  It wasn’t the best Island to camp on but we were tired and ready to stop.  The tent was “pitched” on a gentle “pitch”.  The gentle pitch felt like a hill as our slippery down sleeping bags slid down on the sleeping pads.  And pitching a tent here meant piling some rocks on the tabs where tent pegs usually go.

We planned on having chicken the first night and steak the second.  But the warm weather had melted all the ice and left the food warmer than we were comfortable with.  We disposed of the chicken and ate the steak with onions, potatoes, and mushrooms.  We were in bed before sundown (9 pm).

The forecast on the marine radio (that I could only hear if I held the radio above my head) involved high wind warnings building throughout the day and subsiding by noon the following day.  This left me a little concerned about being stuck out on the McCoy Islands if the front lagged.  Given that we had never been there and any exploring we did would be interesting we decided to circum navigate Hertzberg Island instead.  We passed through Frederic Inlet.  This was another area with some tasteful cottages.  Cottages interesting enough that Keri paddled up onto a rock while looking at a house instead of looking where she was going.  (She claimed it wasn’t there earlier).  Back on the inside, we started looking for our next night’s camp.  We stopped and decreed McCormick Island acceptable but kept poking around looking for something better.  I was avoiding Hertzberg Island itself because I was sure it was big enough to be home to a few more bears. 

We ended up settling on McCormick.  We chose a site that would protect us from the predicted NE and East winds.  This made both cooking (heat actually reaches the pan) and sleeping (less tent flapping) more relaxing.  We swam a bit and explored this somewhat larger island.  The nice thing about swimming was you came out clean!  Not salty and sticky.  For dinner, the Pasta Primavera we planned for the last night moved up a day.

The site was perfect protection from the wind and we woke to a steady but dying wind just as it was forecast.  Our destination was south of the put in somewhere along Franklin Island.  This route brought us back by some cottages.  These were by far the most posh ones we had seen so far.  But Franklin Island, like Hertzberg, is crown land and there are large stretches of open space.  We found what I am convinced is one of the nicest camping spots on the bay.  We overlooked many of the bald granite islands that characterize the area as well as the Mink Islands well off shore. 

I was prepared to deal with mosquitoes on this trip but it turned out flies were really the problem.  We paddled out to one of the off shore “rocks” to get away from them.  While standing on the rock I was thinking about this blog and how I would comment on the conditions.  The size (100 miles by 50 miles) of Georgian Bay means that waves can build to a good size, but they don’t linger.  Within about 20 minutes of these thoughts the winds went from calm (hence the fly problem) to about 15 knots out of the NW quickly building a decent chop.  Although this is very manageable to most of the experienced sea kayakers it could definitely have taken a novice explorer by surprise.  And fighting this wind would certainly make a trip to the Minks an arduous journey.

For dinner, the chicken chilly we planned on eating the first night turned into vegetarian chili on the last night.  One thing of note on this island was the spiders.  Their webs were tenacious and strong like spectra rope.  And they were spanning any available branches.  At one point we counted nearly 20 on one 6 foot tall tree/bush.  By morning their webs had strained out dozens of midges. 

Interestingly, when we woke up we could hear a dull buzz.  I thought it might be a generator running on some distant island.  Or maybe it was a swarm of bees somewhere on the island.  Finally Keri noticed that there was a swarm of mosquitoes about 20 feet above our heads spanning 100’s of feet.  Fortunately, they really seemed to have no interest in us.

We packed up early because it was a Saturday.  We wanted to get off the water before it got busy with weekend boat traffic.  We also wanted to get on the road for our long commute back.

Georgian Bay is a 12-14 hour ride.  When I compare the experience to other places I’ve been it ranks pretty high.  It was beautiful.  Swimming and bathing in fresh water is a joy.  It is certainly worth doing it once and I’d go again in a minute if the opportunity presented itself.  The only things it lacked were the ocean swells and the ability to gather seafood that you get on the New England coast. 

July 18, 19, 20, and 21. Paddled  8.5, 8.5, 8.5, and 3.5 miles.  Water temperatures were in the low to mid 70s.  Winds generally 10-15 in the afternoon through evening.

Saturday, July 07, 2012

Boston Harbor

Commitments and distance from the water often keep Eric and me from leading paddles.  To compensate we both try to be helpful paddlers during the paddles we do participate in.  (Although I’ll admit I can be a bit mischievous about the places I try to fit my boat when around the rocks.) 
We both volunteered to lead a paddle in Boston Harbor.  It’s a location a bit closer to our houses and it’s also an opportunity to explore waters other than Narragansett Bay for a change.
The plan was to lead a level 3 out of Windmill Point in Hull.  This launch point has its advantages.  You can go outside to Boston Harbor or you can stay in Hingham Harbor if the weather is a bit iffy.  Its disadvantage is that there are strong currents in Hull Gut and it is a focal point for boat traffic.  The day we chose and the start time we selected meant that we’d launch near slack water and we’d return with the current at our backs.  (Navionics software on my Iphone was very handy for the planning.)     

There were 11 paddlers.  Scott and Sue were friends of Linda I had never met.  Mary, who I see about once a year showed up.  Carleen, Peter, Tim-2, Jon, Bob, Eric and I.  It was calm, warm, and overcast.  We were on the water just a few minutes after 9AM and we already had some current to deal with.  But it was very manageable because the water was just starting to flow in.  We made the crossing to Georges Island as a nice tight group and then made our way along the spit to Boston Light. 

We landed at the light and spent about a half hour exploring the island.  The coast guard auxiliary members gave us a quick history lesson but they wouldn’t let us climb to the top of the light because a tour boat was arriving soon.  The quick visit made for a nice break and helped set the relaxed ethos that was prevalent throughout the day.

Back in the boats, we headed to Shag Rocks to play a little bit.  There was very little swell so the danger level was low.  We just poked in and out of some of the passages.   All the same, one paddler spent some time on top of a rock and another spent a few seconds upside down before completing an effective combat roll. 
From Shag rocks we made our way to Outer Brewster Island.  It was raining very lightly but no one seemed too concerned.  There was a little excitement as the occasional larger swell rolled over the exposed end of the Island.  We looked at the Graves light house but the consensus was it didn’t justify an extra 3 miles of paddling.   So instead we headed over to Green Island for Lunch.

We landed at exactly 12:00!  Once again we were amazed how quickly a 10 foot tide comes in.  Peter and Scott seemed to be continuously pulling the boats up to keep them from floating away.
We started our return journey by Little Calf, Calf, and Great Brewster Islands.  From there we decided to pass by the south end of Lovell and land on Georges Island to explore Fort Warren.

There were plenty of tourists on the island.  They had arrived on the frequent Boston Harbor Ferries.  But there was plenty of space and interesting architecture that was nearly 200 years old.  We walked about for another half hour. 
Back on the water we had one final channel crossing back to Windmill Point.  Again, we gathered up in a tight grouping and crossed together as a unit. 

It was a totally laid back and relaxing day.  The group dynamics were simply amazing.  We did our crossing together in an organized fashion yet we drifted apart a comfortable distance at appropriate times so we could each explore in our own ways.  It was quite unlike a typical RICKA paddle!  I think there were a number of factors.  I was typically in the lead and was paddling at a relaxed rate.  Eric acted as the sweep.  There was no wind to cause paddlers directional difficulties or to augment the “strong paddler into the wind” syndrome.  And the lack of familiarity with the surroundings and the exact destination also helped us to gather together before passing from Island to Island.   
I’d guess I paddle Boston Harbor about once a year on average.  I’ve experienced it when we’ve turned around because the waves were too large as well as days like this one where it was a mill pond.  And each time I’ve thoroughly enjoyed myself.  … then again I always say that about paddling.

7/7/2012  Water 65, wind calm, air upper 70s. 12 miles (est.)  

Sunday, June 10, 2012

The other Bay Campus

The other Bay Campus: Great Bay, New Hampshire

Keri and I were looking for a relaxing paddle where we wouldn't feel the need to get all dressed up in wet suits or dry suits.  We've been talking about Great Bay for a long time and the time was finally right.  We launched from Adams Point (Durham, NH) at the University of New Hampshire's Jackson Estuarine Lab.  We also drove by Chapman's Landing in Stratham NH, the opposite end of the bay.  Both sites looked like you'd never be shut out due to crowds or parking issues.  We launched and returned at about 2 hours from low tide.  I can imagine at dead low there could be some mucking required but we had no trouble. 

The area was very pretty with a surprising amount of "green" and surprisingly few ostentatious McMansions.  It is protected water... sort of.  You can do a two mile crossing if you'd like and we experienced the 3 mile fetch in 20 mph winds.  But what Great Bay is really perfect for is poking around little coves and marshes.  The water was already pretty warm.  There are significant shallows in the bay and I'm sure it would make a great warm water practice spot in the summer. 

And then there are the currents.  Great Bay empties through the Piscataqua River to the sea.  It also has 7+ foot tides.  Where we paddled is the broad open Great Bay.  We could see a tidal rip right of Adams Point but we didn't put ourselves in it.  There are definitely opportunities for excitement at the Piscataqua end.  We are saving that for another day when the water is warmer.

6/9/2010 Air temperatures low 70's, winds West 10-20,

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Blown back, Blown Roll, Blown in

It was just an ordinary paddle.  Fort Wetherill, the forecast sunny, temps in the mid 60s, light winds freshening from the south west in the afternoon, waves 1 foot.

At this time of the year I hope for cooler days (like last week’s paddle from Gooseberry) because it is hard to dress for both the water and the air.  This week I chose my dry suit with just a thin layer of poly-pro under it.  I jumped in the water (55 degrees) before getting in the boat.  It was clear that I’d be OK but cold if I had to swim.  But with a bright sun I knew I’d be able to warm back up.

We (CC, RB, BH, TG, TM, JS, CM, PB, Cam) headed out into still air and very calm water.  In the open water there was the beginnings of a light breeze which make it very comfortable and the 1 foot seas were perfect for a little rock gardening along the Jamestown shore.  We all started without our helmets but quickly realized they would be prudent.  Of course the addition of a helmet only makes us more bold in the rocks that we take on.  Bob and I predictably ended up temporarily grounded but things were generally pretty calm. 

There is one little rock passage at the end of Southwest Point just before you make the turn into Mackerel Cove.  It appears as if it is well protected behind a large rock but there are guard rocks and the granite behind the rock slopes up gradually so the wash wants to run you up.  Rick and Jon seemed to be thinking about it.  Tim, the last to engage in the rock gardening, went in.  He washed up the rock a bit but maintained composure and remained in the sweet spot.  Then he attempted to cross the shallow necked down rock passage and got hung up.  The water washed out from under him and it looked like he was sitting at about a 45 degree angle pointing up.  The return of water is always a mixed blessing.  It came back in and floated him but he ended up upside down.  Somehow, I think a paddle on the rock roll, he righted himself.  With a little re-organization and a bit of a thrashing he made his way back out.  The body was fine but a think the adrenalin level was a bit high. 

We slipped into the first cove and regained our composure.  It was a bit too early for lunch in Mackerel Cove so we continued on towards Beavertail Point.  I was not as warm as I would have liked so I added my neoprene hat under my helmet.  By the time we got to Short Point, the first point as you start to head towards Beavertail, it was clear that the wind was picking up.  A command decision was made to have lunch in Hull Cove.  There were some tempting waves along this shore but they would have washed you into the rocks if you couldn’t get off them.  No one pushed their luck.  I caught a nice one by the sandy section that people were landing on.  Unfortunately it pushed me right towards the landing party.  I managed to keep from wiping them out and headed back for just one more ride. 

 Lunch was a relaxing affair and we were all comfortable in the bright sun.  After lunch we continued on to Beavertail.  The wind was now approaching 15 from the south west.  We knew we’d have an easy downwind ride home.  Back in the open water it was a bit of a slog.  We got strung out a bit.  At one point we stopped to gather up.  I checked the GPS, the wind was pushing us back at about 100 feet per minute. 

We got to within striking distance of Beavertail coast guard station and turned around.  Down wind was fun and without seeing the cresting waves we all allowed ourselves to get a little closer to the shore.  At one point a wave grabbed my stern and rotated me about 60 degrees instantly.  I started thinking about how quickly the wind was pushing us and began to prepare my tow rope in case something happened.  It was lively enough that I couldn’t manage to swing it around my waist to grab the carabineer.  I abandoned that plan so I wouldn’t be the one going over.      

There was some great down wind surfing across the mouth of Mackerel Cove.  The shore along Jamestown was exciting.  There was calopitis and waves were peaking up momentarily all over the place.  The wind was strong enough that turning back away from the shore was a challenge.  I never felt unsteady but my waist got quite a workout as the boat twisted and jerked about under me.

By this point we could even surf into the Fort Wetherill Cove!  Once in the cove Rick, Cam, Jon and I did a little rolling.  Others did well.  I blew my first.  Managed my second.  Then blew a third.  Once on shore I realized just how tired I was.  And also how windy it was.  The Newport weather station listed it as 17 gusting to 25.  The Buzzards Bay buoy had a steady 30! 

Sunday, January 01, 2012

Paddles of 2012

Paddles of 2012:

May 5, Gooseberry Neck - Knuble - Angela wreck
May 12, Fort Wetherill to Beavertail Point
May 26, Rescue Training at Bay Campus
June 9, Great Bay NH
June 30, West Island
July 7, Boston Harbor Outer Islands
July 18,19,20,21 Georgian Bay, Ontario Canada
August 24,25 Hermit Island Maine
October 14, Stone Bridge
December 2, Gloucester MA

Sadly, only 14 days of paddling  (but some really nice ones!)