Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Rolling Practice

I took a shot at rolling practice this evening - solo.

What happened was, I went down to work at the Pier 40 ranch, but there was nothing scheduled, so I took the time to paddle north against max current a bit, and then practice in the embayment.

I spent a lot of time practicing my sculling for support and high brace, working myself up to try a roll. The first time in I always have to work up the will, but once I'm dunked, I'm like a little fish. So, after some procrastination, I set up, and went in.

I swung and I missed. I set up again and dove the paddle. I tried again and - what was this? The back blade seemed caught on something. It wasn't happening. I popped out and went into a paddle float self-rescue.


I pumped water a bit, missing paddle buddy. The nice thing about having someone to practice these things with is that they can perform a bow rescue, or worst case, pull the boat out and dump the water. I did the next best thing: I went to a dock, got out and dumped water, and then got back in.

Back to basics.

One really great learning trick one of my coaches gave me was to start with an extremely high brace. Instead of a 360 roll, basically I go into the water with the paddle already in position; after hitting the water. I just pull myself up. I tried some non-extreme braces first, and then went in.

I got up, and went back in. I got up, and went back in. By now my paddle was so far out of position that all I could do was return to the standard, lean-forward position, and try an actual roll.

I came up. I came up. I had flubbed what I tried to do, and actually made it up. While these were very simple conditions, that is exactly what rolling is meant for: recovering when something goes awry.

I noticed two women who had been watching for a bit, so I paddled over to say hello. Turned out it was Johna, of Wind Against Current fame, and a friend of hers. "I saw you setting up and thought you would try that," she said. She congratulated me on my setup and execution, and we chatted a but more before they left, and I paddled around a bit.

I considered going in, but I wanted to try a proper roll. I did some more bracing, and then set up for a roll, and came up. Thrilled, wet, I looked towards the sky; it had been overcast all evening. The Floating the Apple people came into the embayment, in their might white-hulled gigs.

I did one more roll, and called it a day, thrilled that I'd been able to rolle consecutively, and on demand, even though I totally flubbed my first attempt.

Sunday, June 23, 2013


About five years ago, a couple of experienced paddlers took me and another woman along on a circumnavigation of Manhattan. She and I were both relatively new, reliable but inexperienced paddlers. We'd been across the Hudson, and up and down it, but not much else. It was a novel experience, and one that really set in my mind how much I love about this sport: a sense of physical achievement, an adventure, an novel horizons. I've done other long trips since, but until now, no circumnavigations.

Circs (as I will call them, to lighten the load on my typing fingers) are sometimes scoffed about; familiarity breeds contempt. If you've never done it, it's an achievement; if you've done it more than a couple of times, it can seem kind of boring, and kind of pointless, unless you punch it up with variety: clockwise, instead of the easier counter-clockwise; at night; in winter; different stopping points.

I wanted a straightforward circumnavigation, partly to prepare for new members of one of my clubs. I spent a couple of weeks planning it, and eventually had four takers, plust myself, all experienced paddlers. We set out, and I finally got to see parts of the river I had not seen in a while.

Note: it took me nearly a week to finish this up. We completed the circ on June16.

The key to any circumnavigation is Hell Gate. This is the point where the East River flows in from Long Island Sound through a narrow channel (Hell Gate), hits Manhattan, and splits, flowing north into the Harlem and south into the lower East River. At flood tide, the opposite is true: water flows up the East River, and south on the Harlem, back though Hell Gate. The current at Hell Gate switches very quickly, and is very strong even at its weakest, and so it behooves those who would cross it to do so at slack.

Another concern is timing the rounding of Battery. This is the lower point of Manhattan, which also has quite a bit of ferry traffic. As the tide comes in from the harbor, it starts up the East River before the Hudson, meaning it's possible on a counter-clockwise circ to ride current down to Battery, loop around it, and catch current heading north.

Finally, for this particular club, starting in Inwood - the far north of Manhattan - that meant we had o paddle about twelve miles just to get to Battery. An delays would throw off the schedule.

Altogether, I worked out that we would want to leave Inwood at max ebb, which was about 0900. We'd move past Battery around 1130-1200, take a short break in DUMBO, then paddle up for a longer break at Hallet's Cove, waiting for Hell Gate to chill out before crossing and heading home along the Harlem.

The only change we made was that we cut short or layover at Hallet's by an hour, partly because people were rested and partly because we were worried about the weather. It was overcast all day, and by 1500, the wind was blowing more steadily.

A barge in the Hudson.

The Manhattan skyline, from about 96th street.


We flew down the Hudson. There was a steady breeze from the south that made it feel like work, but at a stop it was clear we were still moving south at a good clip. When the wind picked up, we got some nice waves to play in.

We took a short layover at Pier 96 to get our group together - some of our group were real greyhounds, and too far out ahead. It's a good thing too - as we crossed ferry terminals, we came to a spot in midtown where four ferries were converging on us at once. We threaded that needle, and made it on down, past familiar sights: Pier 66, Chelsea Piers, Pier 57, and finally, Pier 40, where we worked out our Battery plan.

Crossing Battery was very straightforward. We took a peek around Pier A to see where the Statue Cruises were. After a minute or so it was clear they were still disembarking people, and so would be a while. Traffic was clear on our right. The Staten Island ferry had just departed, and Governor's Island ferry, while in transit, was clearly going to have landed on Manhattan by the time we got to it. We were able to clear each of these major terminals in one straight shot.

As we came around Battery, the next big thing was crossing over to the DUMBO area (Down Under Manhattan Bridge Overpass). As we paddled past a heliport, there was quite a lot wave activity, big, gentle, swells, that started to carry us towards shore - which was not good since that meant piers. We made it out of the chop, and then up to South Street Seaport, where we waited a bit for traffic to clear before crossing.

Crossing was a bit more work than I had expected. The current was flooding north strongly, and so it became a ferry crossing. Also, the river bends a bit, so we had to ferry more, to ensure we hit the far shore before the river turned. We stopped under the Manhattan Bridge, where a couple of people got out to use facilities, and we decided the details of our next stage.

World Trade, Woolworth Building, Brooklyn Bridge.

We paddled up the East River for a bit, passed by barges and pleasure boats periodically, but otherwise unmolested. We passed the Dominio Sugar sign, a couple of ferry terminals, then Long Island City, and the Pepsi Cola sign, before heading alongside Roosevelt Island towards Hallet's Cove, by Hell Gate.

There, we had a lengthy layover. While we watched the LIC Boathouse program run off the beach there, we took in a sculpture garden and had lunch. One of our team called his girlfriend and made a run at the nearby Costco.

Chandelier in Tree, Socrates Sculpture Garden.

The view from Hallet's Cove.

Our merry band: DN, AB, Cowgirl, AA, IB.

After rest and replenishment, we were a little restless and so crossed Hellgate sooner than planned. This was OK; the current was still flooding north into the upper East River, but not extremely so. We made a ferry crossing, landing at Mill Rock before paddling north a bit against the current in the Harlem.

Once there, we progressed steadily into familiar territory.

The Washington, Hamilton, and High Bridges in the distance.

We took a short break at Sharp boathouse, before heading on around the bend and out into Hudson. Once there, we were greeted by significant wind blowing against a slack-ish current. This was fun, but presented a little work on the way back. If I have to deal with wind, head-on is not a bad way to go.

Kayak Cowgirl, after a trip.

By the end, we all felt good, as if we could go for more, but knew our journey had come to an end. We washed boats, talked about the trip, talked about other trips, and relaxed. Afterwards, I finished off the day with a big medium rare burger and friends and pints at Le Cheile, a neighborhood pub.

It was a good trip, very fast, with a strong group of paddlers. I'd like to try it with less experienced paddlers, if only to see what is challenging. Hopefully we'll have some takers by the end of the summer. A minimal skill level is required, but mostly pre-emptively. It's preparation.

This was the first circumnavigation that I planned and led. I was happy with the results and feel like I've met another milestone in my kayaking career.

Monday, June 17, 2013

A Weekend of Paddling

I managed to get quite a bit of paddling in this weekend.

On Friday, I got early release from work and headed up to the boathouse, where I took the Argonaut out to the wastewater treatment plant in Yonkers. For a short break, I tried this maneuver:

On Saturday, I helped take a couple of clients out of Pier 40 down and around Liberty and Ellis Islands. it was a little interesting because there were a bunch of cigarette boats tooling about for a race further up the river. In the afternoon, we worked with a client who is going for his BCU 2-star later this summer. Mostly drills, and then a paddle up to Pier 66 and back.

On Sunday, I led a circumnavigation of Manhattan with a small group. I did the planning and organizing, and on the water whipped the group together. We had an easy rounding of the battery, and a lot of current up the East River, and then we agreed on an early crossing of Hell Gate.

Each of these deserves its own writeup, but where's the time to write when you can paddle every day?

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Drysuit in June

I wore my drysuit today. It was a little overkill, but at times I am glad I had it and not a wetsuit or simple drytop. As I write this, it's June, which - why the heck would I wear a drysuit in June?


AP, my friend from work, is a whitewater guy. While I'm a sea kayak girl, we get on and geek out over boats and maneuvers and equipment. AP is a member of a club that has a lot of activities, whitewater among them, and he invited me along on a beginner course near Jim Thorpe, PA.

A few words about Jim Thorpe: Every Okie, such as the cowgirl, knows two superstars from Oklahoma, Jim Thorpe and Will Rogers. Thorpe was an all-around athlete who went to school near the Lehigh Valley. The town changed is name in an effort to become a Jim Thorpe tourist destination. That's how Jim Thorpe, an Okie, got his name on a Pennsylvania river town.

These were Class 1 rapids - relatively easy, benign. When I first saw the waters, I thought, easy, no problem. I could plow right through them in the Argonaut. Then I realized I would be in much shorter, flatter boats.

We started with a stay-and-play - we  passed under a railroad bridge, and tried surfing back in current. I practiced my roll, but when I needed it I flubbed it. I swam twice, making it to a small island where I dumped water and looked back.

The main trouble I was having was that my instincts are wrong. In sea kayaking, you edge away from the direction you want to turn. In whitewater, you edge towards the turn - and more importantly, always edge away from the current. After some practice though, I got the hang of it and was able to ferry across current.

After that, we went on a float (I don't know what else to call it - we drove someplace, put in, and went with the current). That was actually nice - and terrifying. The current does not stop. You will have to decide, very quickly, how to manage obstacles, find the path, find the eddy, and turn out.

So, I did that. At first, I plowed through everything. I barreled past the leader. I just went straight through, as if I were in some harbor chop. Eventually, I was told: don't.

Glide. One difference between the two sports is that in sea kayaking, the paddler powers through obstacles, or maneuvers the boat to ease them. In whitewater, the river is the power. The paddler is just maneuvering to take advantage of that power.

We went through several rapid. One in particular was very dramatic - a churn of water against a wall on the left, with relative calm on the right. At another spot, we had a sharp turn in the river, requiring us to turn sharply and take shelter in an eddy. I had no trouble, but it was a blind corner, meaning I made that turn not knowing exactly where I would land.

Our canoeist was amazing to watch, and the more experienced whitewater paddlers were pretty amazing as well, rolling in current, which I did not try. I did practice my roll, but I need to do more of that before I'm confident doing that in conditions.

All in all, it was a pleasant outing, and a real departure from my regular work. I learned a few things that would come in handy in sea kayaking, as well as new things unique to whitewater.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Night Crossing

"Swipe to the last screen, open the Outdoors folder, and then look for Weather." I was giving instructions on how to pull up specific apps on my iPhone, to the man whose car I was driving. "That one indicates wind."

"Six to eight miles per hour," he said.

"OK, back out of that and look for the Tides app."

"Uh . .this is set to Edgewater, right? Max ebb, about 1132 PM."

Well that made sense. We had crossed just about twelve hours earlier a max ebb, with the tide flowing down the Hudson and full force.

-- -- -- --

How did we get to this state of affairs? Four of us have made a recent acquaintance of a kayaking coach, and with half of us having taken a course with him, we organized a rolling session at Lake Sebago. the water would be cleaner, stiller, and the atmosphere as bucolic, as our regular home in Inwood. The plan was that two of us would paddle across to meet the coach and load our boats and his boa on his car, and the other two would drive straight from the clubhouse.

We were all running a bit late, but it worked out, and we were in the water at the lake by 1500. We did a lot of this:

Sometimes it worked, sometimes not. Rolling takes practice. Anyway, while the rolling was fun and all, and we had a great time, that isn't the point of this story. As with any kayaking trip, the return is as important as the outbound trip.

That is why, as I changed lanes to skip the George Washington Bridge, I was talking our instructor through my apps. "Cool. A girl with video games and kayak info on her phone."

-- -- -- --

He had lost his glasses on a roll; I had lost a tail light. My friend had no lights, but I had bow lights and glow sticks. We passed through a poorly secured gate at the top of the cliffs and proceeded down to the marina almost directly across from Spuyten Duyvil. The water was fairly smooth, with a gentle breeze from he south and strong current from the north. All we'd have to do really was paddle straight out, letting the current carry us down to our destination.

We untied out boats and carried them down to the water. While it was late at night, there was enough cloud cover that the city's ambient light reflected well, we could see far, and there was no traffic. We sorted our gear, got in our boats, and paddled out, saying goodbye, for now, to our instructor, who very clearly said if we did not feel safe then we could drive across the bridge. We felt safe. We had lights, simple conditions, and no traffic.

We got about a third of the way out and the wind picked up. Waves get a little deeper there, and we had some footers hitting our hulls. My boat started to weathercock a little bit, but some simple sweep strokes kept me in the right direction. A light pattering of rain and the spray of the ways lightened things up.

Then the wind began to pick up, and we started getting sheets of rain. the waves doubled in size, mostly hitting us broadside. Winds pushes water, and when it pushes directly against current the effects are dramatic. Since we were crossing the river laterally, that meant we were getting a constant broadside of waves, some washing over our deck.

Now, that's OK. That's why we wear sprayskirts.It helps keep water out. Waves are manageable; they are moving hills, and simply edging into them helps take them broadside. it's like falling up a hill that is moving under you. Sea kayakers love waves. That's what ou boats are built for. We enjoyed it.

The rain, however, killed our visibility. We were no longer on a calm surface with plenty of visibility. The George Washington Bridge was like a fuzzy Van Gogh; on the shore we could only make out floodlights at a local restaurant and a construction site near our club.

The wind picked up, and frankly I started to worry. For one, it was really cocking my boat, and two, it was making the waves even more problematic. I've been in conditions like these, but not in the open river, at night, without all my gear. The water wasn't cold enough to kill me off the bat, but a prolonged exposure would be problematic.

We were getting blown apart. My boat was angling into the wind and waves, but my friend was continuing mor laterally. "Stay with me! In case we have to raft up.! If it gets much worse we should raft up!" We did, lining up next to each other for less than a minute, just enough time to assess and make a plan.

We were closer to Manhattan by then, but it was clear we were going to overshoot our destination. As battered as we were from the southerly winds, the current from the north had carried us about half a mile south. We continued towards shore, knowing that we'd eventually cross the eddy line and paddle up a bit, against some current, but not a huge amount, and not with a constant barrage of waves that were shoulder height.

We made it. Against the gray, granite waves, into the rain and fog, we bounced over and over until we were a couple hundred yards south of our boathouse. We paddled up, and our friends were there to greet us. They had been worried. We have texted fifteen minutes earlier.

"We thought you were a motorboat," said one. Literally, not figuratively. Paddling together, with our lights, and moving with the current, she thought we were a small, foolish boat, and not two foolish kayakers.

Now, to be fair to everyone involved, conditions changed rapidly. Even checking the various forecasts, including doppler radar, it didn't look like things would get that bad. I've been in worse; I've paddled in high wind, waves, strong current, I've paddled at night, I've paddled under duress. It's rare, though, that all of that happens at once.

It is coincidental that we had been practicing rolling; ideally that would have given us confidence. However, practicing (and whiffing at times) on a placid freshwater lake is not the same as trying to roll in the middle of 2.7 knot current and 15 mph winds. A bow rescue would have been difficult, and any other rescue would have been time-consuming. We would have been alright, but lost a lot of time.

So, lessons learned? Don't trust the weather. Always be prepared. Always have lights! Chem lights are cheap and good to have when your broke-ass friends want to paddle at night, or you lose your lights.