Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Red Hook

"You're in a bad spot," came back the voice on the radio.

I was leading a couple of clients on a trip from Pier 40, home of the local shop I work at. We were coming back from Red Hook, Valentino Park, a small patch of beach directly across from the lower tip of Governors Island.

We were near a green buoy off the northwest edge of Governors Island, directly across from the Battery in Manhattan, keeping in place while we waited for this vessel (The J, I'll call her - anonymity so as to prevent an feuds). We were in a great spot. From our vantage we could make all the Statue of Liberty ferries, traffic coming out and in to the North (Hudson) river, round the bend from the East River, and the Staten Island ferry, which had just left Whitehall bound for its namesake destination. We could see everything and were ready to make the crossing - once the J moved out of our way.

"We'll be on the move once you clear us," I said over the radio. She had plenty of room, and we waved at her passengers as she passed, then surfed in her wake. She was basically a floating gin palace, taking afternoon partiers - a wedding party, by the looks - around the harbor.

Red Hook is a part of Brooklyn along the shore, immediately north of Bay Ridge. There are several new pocket parks along the waterfront. As economic development came to the neighborhood, the city put in these little parks. Valentino Park is a small one, perhaps sixty yards wide and bisected by a narrow pier for onlookers. Directly across the harbor is the Statue of Liberty, and views south generally afford the Verranzano Bridge. The towers of lower Manhattan, Wall Street, beckon to the north, just beyond Governors Island.

This was my first trip out here. I've only been deep in the harbor a few times. What happened was, wr had a couple of regulars hoping to just "go somewhere", and based on the timing I worked out some possibilities. Red Hook was a medium level - about 3 miles each way, crossing the high-traffic zone of New York's Battery, down along Governors Island, and then a short jot over. It was about the right challenge level for the clients, and also myself.

We paddled out with considerable ebb current in our favor.

Passing Pier 26.

Out across the harbor.


Along the way we overtook a group of four paddlers, basically from the other kayaking shop in Manhattan. There were two guides and two clients - one of whom was kinda slow, mostly due to poor form.

We kept together for the crossings. I coached their straggler a bit before handing him over to their guides. My clients were doing OK but I wanted to coach them on their strokes and talk through some chop we were going to pass through. The water along Governors Island gets rather shallow at low tide.

Approaching the south end of Governors Island.

Passing he day marker.

The beach we landed at hd a small public kayaking program in operation - mums and dads and their kids in sit-on-top boats. We landed in small swells of about a foot, then pulled our boats up the the side, to keep the beach clear. Then we had snacks.

One bit of advisory, overlooked by many paddlers. EAT! You're burning calories. Especially people who get cranky when they don't eat. You'll need the energy not just for the physical energy but the emotional and good decision-making energy.  You won't always have the cowgirl there to offer her spare Clif Bars, fruit, and other sundries.

Passing Governors, One World Trade in Distance.

We rested nearly an hour, in which time we found a local Key Lime Pie shop, a motorcycle shop, and the loo (a porta-potty). Now, I've been to the Florida Keys many times and that is my benchmark for Key Lime Pie. I will have to return to this place to check them out.

Snapshot on the return, near Governors Island.

The paddle back was remarkably easy - we had quite a lot of current with us, especially once clear of the Battery. Remember that "bad spot"? We did just fine. Once the J cleared, we paddled steadily towards the western edge of Battery, took a short break in South Cove, and then out into the current, easily past the ferry terminal at World Trade, and back home to Pier 40.

All in all it was a bonnie trip. What started as a hot day quickly cooled with winds from the south at 7-10 mph, against current giving us some playful wind-against current waves. The crossings at Battery tested my local knowledge of traffic - really, there are about three well-defined flight paths, and once you spot all the players you just have to keep track of them.

Some clouds rolled in and the wind subsided on the way back, so we did not have following seas as strong as expected - welcomed by my clients, though I was hoping to give them some top tips.

All three of us had had long days at work the whole week. This was a welcome respite from the vigors of "day jobs"!

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Rolling v. Not Having to Roll

A friend, fellow paddler, and L4 instructor dropped me a note recently. He's away on a trip using a borrowed boat, a Valley Aqunaut, which is the normal-sized version of my own Argonaut - the Argonaut is essentially the HV Aquanaut.

"Rolling this boat is no fun at all. Every time I have trouble capsizing I think of you."

This is because one fine day we were out practicing rolls and he coached me to get in a setup position and lean over till I went in.

I did not go in. I couldn't. The boat edged, sure, but would not capsize.

This come from someone who's a very good roller - forward, backwarrds, greenland or euro blade, hand rolls - he's very good.

As I've learned to roll, I've had to learn to really throw my weight over the side, and often carve my way into the water using my blade - rolling the boat in, more or less, before I can practice rolling up.

It's nice to know I've learned to roll a boat that's a bit of a challenge to rolled.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Maine Challenges

One of the reasons I wanted to return to Maine was the array of challenging conditions in close proximity to each other. From the camp were easy paddles to a nice tiderace, multiple eddies to work with, and islands and channels for navigation. Add in some cartopping and there was rock-hopping, surfing, and choppy conditions. We did a little of each, a couple every day.

For example, when practicing some trip leading, we found some nice little arrangements of rocks to paddle over. The trip leader had to scope it out the path, then give simple instruction and shepherd us through. This we an elbow-shaped loop behind a rock. We each went through, twice, and on the last go, the paddler capsized (on purpose, for practice). The trip leader had to rescue him.

Another scenario had us landing in surf. Not "surf landing", but landing in surf. This was novel to the Cowgirl. The idea was to approach the beach in a controlled manner, rather than riding a wave to be deposited on the beach. Well,the surf reflexes of yours truly meant that she kept paddling forward in the trough to catch a wave. In so doing, her boat broached on the wave, yawing about sixty degrees, and she capsized in about a foot of water.

What was meant to happen, and which was eventually attempted, was to paddle backwards in the "big suck" of water rushing back from the beach. This gave the boat momentum into the next wave approached from behind, making it more stable, and then paddling forward to get closer to the beach. In this manner, a successful landing was obtained.

We also did a fair amount of cliff surfing - as water rushes past cliffs, a little wave can push along but not into a cliff. That was a neat way to paddle - catch a wave but don't hit that wall!

The local tiderace was something we didn't get to until the very last morning, and it was an early one at that. To get the tides right, we had to be on the water and 0500! It was worthwhile though. There's a spot, called Lower Hell Gate, where the river kinda makes a little jog to the side, with a long slope narrowing down to a point at the water. There's an eddy to shelter in and a prime viewing spot for an instructor to do some land-based coaching.

Marc Parsons, at Lower Hell Gate.

Last year, I capsized here once. I wanted a rematch. While the tide was a bit higher and I didn't try side-surfing, I did managed to keep in the stream and practice moving from side to side, saw my bow drive into the standing wave, and then back out with the current. It felt great. I then crossed the river and practiced moving sideways in an out of eddies.

The area of Knubble Bay, the Kennebec and Sheepscot rivers near Bath, are great an varied placed to practice sea kayaking. I fully intend to return.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Maine Navigation

A fair amount of time was spent on practical navigation and trip planning. Toward these ends we engaged a number of activities.

One was simply landmark navigating the waterways near the camp. Along with the Kennebec, there are several smaller rivers and tributaries streaming through the rocks to the sea, resulting in numerous islands and bay and headlands, and requiring various day markers and buoys. So, with a chart, we ought to have been able to easily find our way around on a simple trip.

With a chart. This cowgirl's problem was that she lost her chart case on a previous training event, and and the "water resistant" charts she had printed may as well have been on newsprint. They were shredded under the bungies within minutes of contact with the water, and completely unusable after the fourth re-folding.

Luckily one of the coaches loaned her a chart - which was promptly washed away in surf.

In any event, on a separate exercise, we learned to use our compasses, taking bearings, putting "red in the shed', determining our position from various bearings, and so on. Having read up on this skills it was exciting to practice them, finally, in an environment that offered up the full range: markers, buoys, landmarks, magnetic variation.

We had an indoor lesson as well. Now, no longer learning how to determine where we were, we'd learn to determine where we wanted to go. Here's a chart, here's a topo map, here's an ordnance survey, oh and here are some photocopies of a pilot book. Now, plot a course around Anglesey, or something. We all managed to, but I have to say course plotting by committee is vexing.

From it all, I obtained a more robust understanding of how to use a compass. Plotting courses I felt familiar with, but the work in the field was something I haven't had to contend with to date.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Maine Camp

There were sixteen of us, three instructors and thirteen students, all of varying levels but generally 3 Star / L4 paddlers. About half the camp was from the midwest, paddling on the Great Lakes, with the rest from several eastern locales: Boston, New Hampshire, New York.

The camp itself was an AMC (Appalachian Mountain Club) camp situated on Knubble Bay, near Georgetown, Maine, just a twenty minute drive from Bath. We were near Reid State Park, and also the hamlet of Five Islands, and the Kennebec river. The great thing about this area is that many different coastal features are in easy reach of each other: significant tidal ranges, tideraces, overfalls, strong currents with correspondingly strong eddies, islands, beaches, rock gardens, and navigation markers.

We were all there for sea leadership training. Solid paddling skills were required, but the course was more about planning and leading trips. Towards that end, we took turns every morning reporting on the weather, diagramming Highs and Lows and Fronts, as well as the weather itself. We also spent a good half day on charting a course based on charts and pilot guides, and a few hours of practical navigation using compasses, charts, and markers.

The real fun was in the environment though. There was so much variety! And we took turns with each coach, so we were exposed to different teaching and leading styles.

I developed a reputation as the camp coffee maker. There was a large percolating stovepot, about 16 inches tall, with a metal basket and pipe. I tend to be an early riser and when camping, even earlier, generally awake with the sunrise. So, the first morning, I took a stab at making coffee, eyeballing the amount of water and adding about as much coffee as I could remember from when I used a drip brewer. At home I'm all French Press so I really wasn't sure what the right amount was.

It was a hit. Everyone complimented the brewer, and me once they knew, and that was it. I became the camp coffee maker. This involved taking the giant pot out to the pump well every morning and working the handle a few times, then adding the basket and grind, and then turning on the heat. When I looked up how to make coffee in a percolator (on howtobrewcoffee.com), it summarized the process as having three requirements: water, heat, and no respect for coffee. Well, two out of three ain't bad.

We spent five days in the camp, arriving Tuesday evening and departing Sunday. What followed was a series of adventures, a blur in retrospect, and hence I'm grouping more by topic than chronology. It was great. It was grand. It was Maine. Kayaking in Maine.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Bon Voyage

A post on a Facebook group for Hudson River paddlers caught my attention: a woman, Margo Pellegrino, set out from Newark for Chicago. After a layover at Pier 66 in Manhattan, she'd be heading north, and: would anyone care to join her?

Kayak Cowgirl here, free time on hand, paddling out of the Inwood Canoe Club.

I left around 0730; Margo had launched from Pier 66 about an hour earlier, against what was some pretty fierce ebb tide. To her immense credit she'd gotten nearly to Mitsuwa, the Japanese supermarket in Fort Lee, by the time I met up with here just north of the ferryboat Binghamton.

Along the way I stopped to say howdy to the crew of the USCG Ridley, a cutter that appeared to be tending a buoy. I didn't have my radio with me so I paddled close and hollered, but was waved off by someone in the conning booth. I suppose they don't like unknown vessels pulling up to close, but the crew seemed friendly enough.

It was a good thing Margo came up the NJ side of the river, because guess what? Fleet Week, the annual gathering of military vessels in NYC, started up, meaning there was a 500 yard security zone in midtown. If she'd stayed in NYC she would have had to go to the middle of the river, where the current is strongest, to avoid the zone.

Checking In.

We paddled for a bit - hard, against the current, though it was weakening. We waited for a tug pulling two barges to pass and then crossed the river, ferrying a bit, then continued north along the Manhattan side. Shortly after passing under the GWB, the current eased up, and we ran into a fellow paddler from the Inwood Canoe Club, Mac Levine, resident paddleboarder out for her morning routine.

We stopped at the Inwood Canoe Club so Margo could take a short break and view the grounds. We got out at the club's new dock - built by club members over the past month or so,  and only floated into service two days earlier - and took a look around. Margo's paddling an outrigger canoe, and the club's heritage includes canoe and kayak racing. We talked a little shop, but just a little.

Margo is heading to Chicago, heading up the Hudson, planning to paddle via the Erie Canal to the Great Lakes and on over to the windy city. Previous expeditions include Miami to Maine and Seattle to San Diego. You can follow Margot on Twitter @slowpaddler and you can read about this project in particular here.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Cut Your Own Drysuit

A few months ago I paddled with some friends at the Inwood Canoe Club who'd bought some new drysuits. Inexpensive drysuits, at that. The quality seems good but there was one caveat - they had to cut their own gaskets.


The suits basically come with standard rubber wrist and neck gaskets. However, they are completely sealed. It's hard to make out in this photo, but trust me friends there is no hole there. They had to cut the hole themselves.

The first step was to take a little nip - not big enough for head and neck, just enough to get a proper hole started.

After that they tried a technique seen on more customary neck gasket trimming: Poking a CD stack case evenly to stretch it out, and then running the sharpest blade availabled around it in one cut. Ideally this would have been an X-acto knife (or, "Blade of Exact Zero", if you will), but in this case the scissors were adequate.

They haven't gone on a "swim test" but the gaskets were certainly tight - my friends reported some additional trimming later on when they got home. These are unisex with limited sizing - not the sexiest suits we've seen, though they do make a big deal about having a flap to cover the front relief zipper, aka the pee-hole.

These drysuits are made and sold by Mythic Gear, http://www.mythicdrysuits.com/ . Check out their website for more information.

For myself, I'll stick with my Gore-tex drysuit, going on its fourth year with only one gasket replacement (which was my fault - my right hand got a little impatient once). There are other low-cost alternatives out there, including trilaminate materials, plastic zippers, and and open feet.

Before making any drysuit or cold-water paddling purchase, it's very important to have a solid understanding of cold water paddling, and knowledge of what a drysuit does and does not do.

That said, these semi-DYI suits are another option to consider.