Monday, September 30, 2013

BCU Assessment

"You are not wearing a drysuit," said a paddling acquaintance. I ran into her and a couple of other paddlers I know on Governors Island. I was in a small group being assessed for a British Canoe Union Three Star Paddling award.

"You know," I said, "I agree it's ridiculous." The water temperature was in the mid-sixties and the air temperature in the low seventies, with very little wind. "But I know I'm going to get wet a lot today, and I figured I may as well go with the most protection rather than get cold in the middle of things."

Part of the assessment involves rolling, and capsizing to be rescued in various ways. All in I think I went in the water five times later in the afternoon, and I was really glad I was wearing my drysuit. Although, it did present some other challenges.


The day started around 1000. I'd gotten in early and finished assembling my kit and putting it in the boat I was going to use - an Impex Montauk for all you boat geeks. There was only one other candidate, AD in his carbon kevlar Necky Chatham 16. Our assessor and his assistant, in a Necky Eliza* and a Tiderace Xplore-S, rounded out our crew of 4.

"Expect no feedback from us," said the assessor. "If you seem me scowling it doesn't mean you failed. I won't be smiling and giving your thumbs up if you do well. All that takes place at the end."

We went over some other details, such as what to do in case of real emergency or a dramatic change in conditions, then went over our charts to get an idea of where we'd be going. The enter span of New York City harbor was in play: from the Battery past Governor's Island, and on down to the Verranzano Bridge. That was our assessment venue.

* I may be misremembering the model - not an Elaho, and probably not an Eliza, but a discontinued El-something.


We set out towards Governors Island with a strong ebb current. The assessor had advised us to "play like dolphins" demonstrating various strokes as we paddled down the river: braces, edging, rudders, and so on. Then, once past the ferry terminal at Battery Park City, he had us move as close as we were comfortable against the sea wall. I got within a few feet, enough that my paddle didn't scrape the wall, but could have if I extended my arm.

The thing about sea walls is, they reflect waves. The thing about the waters near Battery is, there is enough traffic that there are plenty of waves. The thing about an ebb current is, the water level is low enough that waves tend to be bigger as they come in from deeper water.

I used some edging and bow ruddering to keep my distance, as well as a hanging draw. Speaking of which, the most common hypothetical I've encountered for the purpose of a hanging draw is, "there's a log in your path that you need to move around without turning." Sure enough, there was a small piece of wood, log-shaped, just slightly wider than my kayaking, that I sideslipped around using my hanging draw.

Next we proceeded out across the harbor, waiting for the Staten Island Ferry to cross our path first, along with some other small craft. The western edge of Governors Island is shallow, and so we crossed over some small standing waves before negotiating some chop as the ebb ramped up into the shallows. Here, we did backwards figure eights between the assessor and his assistant. We also took time for some at-sea bearing and navigation work: identify buoys, find our position on a map, take a bearing on various landmarks, and so on. I should point out that one of the buoys we looked at was not on our chart.

Then, we paddled around the southern point of Governors Island and up the eastern edge of it, to a small embayment at one of the piers there. This was where we'd do the hard part.


The BCU is big on precision. The "Body, Boat, Blade" mantra breaks all strokes down into the proper position and utilization of each. Here, we'd do increasingly tight turns around three pilings: figure eights, backwards figure eights, not losing momentum, turning as tightly around each as we could be.

I'd been practicing this, especially the reverse part. My backwards stern rudder with edging is beautiful in my opinion. There are smaller but more closely-positioned pilings near my home club, and I'd practiced forwards as well as backwards, but apparently not enough. My big note at the end was to improve my edging (even though the water was at my coaming level) and maintaining forward momentum using a forward stroke on the outside of the turn.

After that, we paddled up to the kayak dock at Governors Island, in a little bay just below the white octagonal blower tower for the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel. That's where we saw our friends, who were out paddling for fun, and the LIC Community Boathouse program wrapping up their trip.

On land, we had lunch, and then went through our kits. For this assessment we're expected to bring complete day trip kit: first aid, boat repair, spare clothes, food and drink, extra food and drink, safety and signaling equipment, and so on. We both needed to improve our boat repair kits, but everything else was fine. The assessor had me actually unfurl and climb into one of my mylar emergency bivvies. Then he demonstrated an impressed piece of kit he carries - a large plastic storm shelter than can be used as a soft stretcher, and which folds up into a small bag the size of a soccer ball.

It was a beautiful day, sunny, not too breezy, but cool enough to not be terribly hot. After going over some more navigation and safety exercises, we set out again, promised that, "the worst is yet to come".


As we came out, we found ourselves having to wait for a NY Waterway boat to leave the main terminal on Governors Island, the Staten Island Ferry to leave Manhattan, the Governors Island Ferry to leave Manhattan, and a commercial yacht to pass us by. We crossed the wake of the latter just about 15-20 yards astern, and then headed towards Battery.

The assessor called out to me. "[Assistant] has a blister. Tow him." Clearly a faux scenario, but one to abide. I hooked in my line and started paddling. Yet, I was still next to his boat. My rope was not unraveling smoothly from my belt. I switched ends and pushed away, then paddling hard, and it started to unfurl. That took some doing, and meanwhile we were east of the Statue Cruise ferry terminal and west of the Staten Island ferry terminal.

Next, he directed the other candidate to hook into me, for a tandem or I-tow. We made steady progress.

"How's [assistant] doing? Anyone think to check on him?" Oh yeah. I thought. "How you feel?"

Next we were directed to paddle into a little nook between Pier A and Manhattan proper. There were a couple of challenges here. First, it's narrow, not much more than the length of a sea kayak, and there are pilings to one side and a sea wall to the other. Water rushes in and out and gets choppy. Second, there were a bunch of fisherman hanging lines of it, very upset that we were anywhere near their lines. This was problematic for the other candidate, an out-of-towner, unaccustomed to random strangers yelling and cursing at him, during a stressful situation, while receiving countervailing orders from the assessor.

"Go in!"

We paddled in, three boats attached by ropes in surging seas through a narrow impasse, until instructed to disconnect and idle in the back of the nook, which was actually rather calm. We stuffed our ropes, caught our breath, and went back out.

now, with the current coming in but still on the low side, we were getting small hills of water from the harbor, bouncing off the sea walls, and sometimes exacerbated by boat wake. Now things were getting exciting!

Addressing me, the assessor said, "swim".

"What?" I heard him, I just wanted to make sure I understood him."

"Swim. Capsize and come out of the boat."

I did so and stayed with the boat and my paddle while the other candidate rescued me.

Next, he had me capsize in order to be rescued eskimo-style: not exiting the boat. I capsized, banged loudly, and held my breath. Where was this guy? I swept my arms back and forth. I felt a bump - good - now where was the boat?

Suddenly, I felt it, and grabbed what was the port bow of his boat. I lifted myself up, and we went on our way.

Now, at this point the exact order of events gets a little blurry, but I know I went in the water a few more times, as did the other candidate. We both had to do paddle presentation and boat-based eskimo rescues, as well as T-rescues where we came out of the boat. My biggest moment of panic came when I  glided in for a near-perfect paddle-shaft rescue, and the other candidate grabbed my bow first. "NoNoNoNo!" I was panicking only because I thought I'd take a hit on the assessment if I didn't adapt quickly enough, but instead, the assessor reminded him that this was meant to be a paddle shaft rescue, and I tried it again, successfully.

One bit of comedy involved my drysuit. Drysuits are waterproof bags. The first time I tried to roll, I went in part of the way, upside-down but with my right higher than my left. Air trapped in my drysuit had formed a little bubble that kept me from going all the way in. This happened again on one of our rescues, and the assessor had me exit the boat, stand vertical, and open the collar for air to escape. Now, I had bilged air earlier, before we left, but had captured air somewhere along the way.

So - rolling in chop, rescues in chop, lots of time in the chop - I was glad I had opted for the drysuit. I get cold easily to begin with, and despite the sunny day, I was feeling cool inside. Not so much that I felt hypothermic, but enough to know that with anything less, a steady breeze would have brought me to a halt.

After that, we finished up by moving to calmer water and demonstrating our moving abeam and sculling strokes: static draws, sculling draws, and sculling for support (down to elbows on the water). With that, we were nearly back at Pier 40's embayment. We paddled in, landed on the dock, and carried our boats up.


This was a hard day. I enjoyed every minute of it, the more so once I stopped caring about passing and just enjoyed what was, at the least, a nice trip with a lot of skills practice in conditions that are unusual for me. One reasons I started worked at Pier 40 this year was to make sure I got steadier exposure to rougher and more varied conditions. New York City: if you can paddle there, you can paddle anywhere.

I was pretty pumped for a good hour coming off the water. I didn't feel tired although I cognitively knew, and I am sure the assessor knew, that I was tired, as was the other candidate. We did a lot of work through the whole day, and were ready for it to be over.

I don't know how the other candidate did. I've seen different behavior in different assessments, sometimes people share, sometimes not. Neither of us asked each other how we did, but we talked about the day, and kept chatting when he gave me a ride back home.

In the feedback afterwards, the assessor started off, "Do you want to good news first, or the bad news?"

"Bad news," I said.

"Bad news is you owe me forty bucks for the paperwork fees. Congratulations, you passed."

I was ecstatic inside. This has been my big goal for a couple of years now, and one I've worked all summer for. Paddling more frequently, paddling in winter to maintain my skills, learning to roll, learning to coach, practicing with various coaches - it all led to this point. Getting my BCU 3 Star award was the last paddling goal I laid out for myself this summer.

I was mentally prepared to fail. This assessor is known as "tough but fair", and as we went through the assessment I kept running into things I though I could have done better. I tell my own students it's about the skills and not the award, and that is what I came around to - I felt comfortable in these conditions, I felt like I got most of the skills right, and that I can handle myself, with others, at sea.

I celebrated that night with a new variation of my typical post-paddling achievement reward: a medium rare burger with fries, a beer (Guinness!) and, for the first time, Scotch. With this assessor, and several of my coaches, the UK in general and Scotland and particular are held in high regard. I like Bourbon, and can drink whiskey, but Scotch has never appealed to me.

That is, until now.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Night Circumnavigation

I was invited by one of the coaches at the shop to come along on a nighttime circumnavigation of Manhattan. "Bring all your kit," he said. "All my kit will be off-limits". He further hinted that there would be some testing of trip management abilities.

Little did I know. "Welcome to Leadership Hell," he said when I walked up. Oh boy.

The first thing I had to do was fill out a bunch of trip planning data: high water and low water at various points around the city, the lunar cycle, water and air temps, and a plan - when we would hit certain places. I already knew the trickiest one would be Hell Gate - we'd want to get there in the narrow window when the tide changed and was at its weakest. Here, I made my first mistake.

"This is clockwise," said our lead. "Not counter-clockwise."

Most circumnavigations are counterclockwise. Basically, they are easier to figure out. Circumnavigations are fairly simple but must account for a lot of complex current dynamics. I worked out a decent counter-clockwise circumnavigation  earlier this summer. Here I was, being asked on a moment's notice to work out a clockwise one.

So, I did.

The basic plan was this: We'd leave between 1900 and 1930, paddle up with the current pretty quickly, stopping at Pier 96 and 125th st for rest before moving up to Spuyten Duyvil. Then we'd paddle along the Harlem, take a short break at Peter Sharp Boathouse, and then go through Hell Gate exactly when it was at its most hospitable, and then cruise down the East River with tons of current, rounding Battery, and then fighting a bit of current back to our starting point at Pier 40 - Houston, for the non-nautical.

Next, our lead had me and another coach introduce the trip. We were the trip leaders. We met our paddlers - all hand-picked by the lead for their ability, but mostly new to us. Some local kayaking starts but most I was meeting for the first time:

JJ, of a certain well-known paddling blog.
HKM, an acquaintance of hers.
D, a whitewater guy who works in the shop.
TJ, with whom I've paddled with before.
W, and M, one an ACA 4 Instructor and the other his assist.
J, a club member.
V, who also works in the shop and who I've also paddled with a couple of times.

My assist was JN and the lead was WP. All in, eleven people, one of the largest groups I've managed and the one of the largest group of experienced paddlers I've paddled with. Not only was I being tested, there was an audience of experienced people in front of me. Kayaking Kognoscenti, as it were.

I went around the room and asked everyone to introduce themselves and tell briefly about their paddling experience. I asked about medical issues, questions, concerns, and went over the basic plan. After that, we finished kitting out boats, and launched, a little late around 1940.


We paddled up as the sun was setting; it was dark by the time we go to Pier 96. I was trip leader for this first leg. The usual shenanigans took place.


Basically, the lead went around and got people to be alternately: the slow paddler, the fast paddler, the disappearing paddler. I later he had some more elaborate tests in mind, including a mass capsize at Pier 66. I was already doing a constant count of people, and stayed in the rear letting my assist leader. How many times did I count? Two, three four five, there are three more, there's nine, ten, and I'm eleven. When I came up short, I counted again, the looked around if I was missing anyone.

For the slow paddler, I coached better paddling technique. For the fast paddlers, I asked them to dial it back, usually complementing their ability. Within this scenario, that generally worked.

HKM attempted a roll, flubbed it, recovered with an extended paddle roll. . . .I thought he was my first "capsize victim" but no. At one point, we had to stop together to wait for a couple of water taxis coming out of a terminal. Later, after assessing the course of one vessel, I was entranced by a large barge passing on the opposite side of the river, and lost track of one of my paddlers. I delegated responsibility while I chased him down.

We overshot Pier 96 and so didn't stop. Once about that, we didn't have any traffic to speak of, other than a large party boat well north of us and cruising north. People wanted to take a break, so I settled on the small dock at 125th street - near the Fairway in Harlem.

While there, we took water, some snack, and I had a final question - TJ is hyperthermic, what do you do? At first I heard that as hypothermic, but no, hyper-thermic, overheating - what's the easy solution? Fluids, cold water, maybe a bow dip to cool off.

Approaching 125th Street.

Passing Riverbank State Park.

We continued on - I was no longer "trip leader" and was now simply assist. Thank goodness. In the next leg, we paddled with lights off.

Now, this is unusual, and strictly speaking breaks regulations, however:

 1. it was a full moon. There was a lot of ambient light.
 2. we were next to Manhattan, there was a lot of ambient light.
 3. we stayed out of shipping channels.

As we moved forward, we crossed under the George Washington Bridge, aglow in light. Now we were in familiar territory, near the Inwood Canoe Club, my home turf. We paddled on, in the night, past the Palisades.

Passing below the George Washington Bridge.

As we approached Spuyten Duyvil, I recognized a familiar problem - we were far enough out in the channel that we risked overshooting the Duyvil. I volunteered to lead us in, and headed towards the shore. "Follow me!"

Trouble is, folks didn't. Instead, they aimed at the railroad bridge. I was aiming about 50 yards south of it. As I looked behind me, I saw this long loop of kayaks extending northwards.

I called out; I blew my whistle for attention; I even held my paddle up in the "on me" signal position. A couple of folks moved; eventually everyone caught up, though some had to paddle back south a bit. I took a minute to explain my brief plan, one I've had to convey to novice paddlers a few times in the summer.

Basically, the Harlem and Hudson rivers connect perpendicular to each other, so going from one to the other means you're usually changing from current in one direction to current perpendicular. I advised everyone to paddle forward in line with the Harlem, and to keep to the right as they passed under the bridge, since the Hudson would be pushing them north a bit. Behind the railroad bridge is a small bay that is great for collecting people.

No problem. Everyone went in, I went last, and after a quick count we continued on our merry way.

Passing Under Broadway Bridge; Bronx shopping center on left.

I like the upper part of the Harlem. There's a lot of parkland on the Manhattan side, and it's narrow with high walls, and the Metro North railroad running along the Bronx side. In addition to Peter Sharp Boathouse, there's also the trio of High Bridge, Hamilton Bridge, and Washington Bridge, and a little further down, a view of Yankee Stadium.

We stopped at Peter Sharp for about half an hour, taking a bathroom break and time for serious snacking. We talked boats, and experiences. For a bunch of strangers we all got on well through our mutual interest in sea kayaking.

Departing Peter Sharp.

As we left, our lead announced that the leadership training portion was over, that "everyone is who they are", no longer playing trip roles. He was now the trip leader. Also, we were free to put lights back on now or later, but required after Hell Gate.

Ah, Hell Gate, a tricky bit of water that I have come to respect. At its easiest, on a circumnavigation it requires a bit of ferrying to cross. Last spring, I got a small group in a bit of a jam wherein we had to cross it at its near-strongest - ferrying across, missing, and then powering through about 200 feet of strong current to get to a spot of quiet west of Mill Rock. What would it be like at night?

Before we got there, we had another challenge: we were behind schedule, and the current in the Harlem turned against us, getting progressively more difficult from High Bridge down to Hell Gate. It's at this point that we started to have one genuine - not a training exercise - fatigued paddler, I'll refer to as FP.

We did some coaching on his stroke, and when I worked with him he seemed alert and mindful, just tired. Our hope was that once below Hell Gate, when we'd have a lot of current with us, he'd be able to coast a bit and recuperate enough for the trip round Battery.

The group wanted another bathroom break at Hell Gate, so we dropped into a little nook at Mill Rock. Mill Rock is a small, rock-pile island shaped like the letter Y. We were in the top 'valley' of the Y. It took a bit of effort to negotiate the contrary currents. As the upper East River hits Mill Rock and Manhattan, all kinds of currents are created, resulting in strong eddy lines, boils, and vortices.

I actually climbed out of my boat. I pulled up next to a large, slippery rock, found some footing, and managed to clamber out to find a place to pee. So, yeah, I can say this: I've peed on a rock above Hell Gate in the light of a full autumn moon.

We didn't stop for long. Exiting our little nook was a little tricky. By now a strong current was passing laterally above Mill Rock. The result was that as soon as we poked out, our boats were immediately cocked to the left. Our lead advised us on it, and we had no issues, but it was pretty disturbing to watch, and exhilarating to experience.

After that, there were a few minutes negotiated the contrary currents. I was in the middle, so I could see from the boats ahead of me what to expect, and eventually made out some of the eddy lines. Once we were below the northern tip of Roosevelt Island, things were OK. We had fast current, but it was much more consistent. We were passing the United Nations by 0215.

Most of us were, anyway. FP was far behind, and getting farther. One of the more experienced paddlers was with him, and our lead joined him. Eventually, we fell into one large group up ahead, and three of them behind, with a fourth in between. As we cruised down the East River, we delighted in the current but were concerned about FP.

Right about the time we started to turn towards an inlet at the Brooklyn Bridge, the other assist came in with a message, to hold up at Pier 17, otherwise known as the South Street Seaport. The stragglers were in the channel, catching tons of current, and caught up in short order. We landed at a small beach and got out.

FP was ending his trip there. He was utterly fatigued, and ready to give up. I'm guessing it was hard; there's a certain pride all paddlers have, but especially good paddlers, about quitting. There's no shame in it, but no one wants to do it. We agreed to tow his boat around Battery, while our lead's wife picked him up in a car and took him back to the shop.

We took a short break for water and snacks, then proceeded on or way.

By now the water was smooth, with little wind as we approached the Staten Island Ferry terminal.

There it was, the Staten Island Ferry. As I tell clients, "it's big, it's large, it's well lit."You don't want to get in front of it but it's easy to miss. Of course, the question was, had it just docked, or ready to leave?

We took a couple of minutes to sort it out, then decided it wasn't leaving.

Suddenly, our radios crackled to life. "Staten Island Ferry to kayakers, any of you got a radio?"

JJ and I fumbled for ours; she beat me to it. "Yeah, we're on."

"You guys mind holding up, we're about to depart."

"Sure," she said into the radio. "HEY GUYS! HOLD UP! STOP!".

We stopped, the back-paddled a little to keep from drifting forward. The orange behemoth moved forward, to our left, curving out towards Staten Island. Once it was clear, we kept moving, and saw men fishing off the Battery. Oddly, the tents for the Statue of Liberty ferries were lit up, though the boats were nowhere to be seen, presumably in their overnight homes at Liberty Marine near Liberty State Park. Americans - we like our liberty.

As we rounded Battery we slowed down, fighting the current in this last leg - though not as bad as it might have been, since we were behind schedule. We kept close to shore, popping out only to go around the ferry terminal at Battery Park City. After that, the blowers of the Holland Tunnel were in sight, signaling home, the lower edge of Pier 40's bay. We pulled in one by one, and I got out first, to assist others, including untying FP's towed boat.


Overall this was a good trip. Paddling at night was novel, as was paddling clockwise around Manhattan. It was a sizable group, and the first time I've ever managed (even if it was under supervision) a group of experienced paddlers this size. Newbies are one thing - they'll usually do what you tell them, but require extra supervision and instruction. Experienced paddlers can take light instruction, but need a little more guidance on when to tighten up. It was a good experience for me all around.

As near as we could tell, FP was hypoglycemic - low blood sugar. He's a skilled paddler, and did OK with extra caffeine and food, but would fade after a short boost. He was OK, waiting for us at the shop to put his boat away, and grateful for it all.

Some of the paddlers I only knew tangentially before were complimenting how I did, with of course some friendly advise on how I could have done better. I really appreciated our lead's feedback as well as JJ, TJ, and the ACA instructor. He even helped me on my cross-bow rudder.

With all of that, we unpacked out boats, washed them, and put them away, then piled all our gear in to take home (ultimately I left my clothes there on accident, thinking they were in my sea bag. I had a large sea bag as well as a nylon stuff sack). So much gear is involved in serious expeditions. You can get by without it, but when you need it, you'll miss it if it isn't there.

So, great trip, and a great opportunity. I'm sure I'll do it again some time, but for now, I'm still kind of astonished I did. When I woke up the next day, it felt like a dream - but I have photographs, and witnesses, and therefore, it was real.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Instructing on the Hudson

I had another opportunity to instruct this weekend, this time at my "home" club, the Inwood Canoe Club. Located just below Dyckman street on the Hudson River, Inwood is the oldest continuously operating paddling club in NYC -as far as I know.

This year there has been a lot of interest among new members in getting training and certifications. Several took a class last week at Lake Sebago, and wanted to practice this week before next week's formal assessment. So, I took my notes and put together a day-long cram session, based more or less on the Coastal Kayaking (Level 2) curriculum put forth by the American Canoe Association.

Overall, it went pretty well. I had about five or six students at a time. A couple could only make the morning, replaced by others who could only make the afternoon. Those were there all day certainly got a workout!

In the morning we focused on strokes and maneuvers: forward stroke, sweep stroke, turning in place and turning on the move, stern rudders. We paddled up to a little place I like to practice near Spuyten Duyvil. It's relatively sheltered from current and other conditions, and worked well in the morning. Then we paddled back to the boathouse for lunch, rest, and some land-based discussions on signals, protection, and safety.

In the afternoon, the current picked up in the opposite direction. We spent some time on edging and braces. One long-time paddling was astonished by edging. "It changes my life," he said, going on to say, "I never thought a long boat could turn like this." Of course, he promptly capsized while turning a little too sharply without a brace, but he still loved the new (to him) concept.

My little protected area was not as protected against flood current as ebb, so while we did a little work there, I decided to move us across the river. We still drifted a bit with the tidal current, but not nearly as badly, and we managed to practice some rescues and towing. Contact tows in particular proved to be a hit, since few people have proper tow ropes when they need them.

After that, we paddled back across the water, got out, and washed up. Everyone was pretty well tuckered, but mostly happy with the results. For those going on their assessments next week, I hope it helps. For everyone, every day on the water is a day to improve skills.

For me - I learn from all my students, because everyone learns in a different way. Additionally, I got experience managing a group, and changing conditions. Not all my plans worked out, but I am more or less happy with how things did work out, and I have better ideas on how to manage things next time.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Fire Island Class

Well buckaroos, I wound up teaching a class out on Fire Island for the Appalachian Mountain Club. The AMC is an extensive organization - the New York/New Jersey chapter alone has 8000 members - that does all kinds of outdoorsy things. The group that runs their cabin out on Fire Island, near Bay Shore, had a notion to offer an introductory kayaking class, and their original instructors had to cancel at the last minute.

A mutual friend connected me with the organizers, and after some back and forth I agreed to go out Friday night, meet the students over dinner, teach Saturday, and lead a couple of short trips Sunday. In return I got free room and board - on Fire Island, not a bad deal.

My students, after a day of paddling.

The students were all novice kayakers. Some had a little experience on lakes, or in one case the East River (which is impressive), but no a lot of time. I started with the basics: torso rotation, turning in place, forward stroke, and so on, and by midday most of them were able to paddle around our little embayment in a proper figure-eight path.

In the afternoon, a few opted out to go do other activities - shop in town, relax on the beach, even sailing. It's hard to compete with sailing - the wind does all the work. However, for those who stayed, we went over bracing and rescues, and then a small number went out to circumnavigate East Fire Island with me.

Throughout the weekend our biggest challenge was a steady westerly wind that kept blowing us across the little bay we had. We'd practice, reset, practice, reset, and so on. I took everyone a little farther out to do the Raft Routine - a couple of tricks I learned from another coach to demonstrate rafting up, and the stability that comes in a rafted group.

Kayak Cowgirl giving instruction, probably "torso rotation".

I was fortunate to have a really good assistant, a member with some BCU and whitewater experience. Part of the time, I was also assisted by someone who knows the waters well. They were both great to work with, and to have available for helping shepherd the group.

Our trips were short. The wind pushed against us, so we only got about a mile each way. However, we were near proper traffic routes, and crossed in front of a marina, and so talked about how to read buoys and negotiate with traffic.

I got positive feedback overall, and that was all the sweeter for it being a group of complete strangers. If I were to do it again, with a little more noticed, I might organize it differently, but overall, this was a great chance to practice group management.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Robbin's Reef

Robbin's Reef is a lighthouse near the southern end of the NYC upper harbor, north of Staten Island and next to New Jersey. Friday night (in August, I'm posting this late), I paddled with some friends out to it after work.

We left at 6 or so, and set out with a fair amount of current taking us down. We crossed the Hudson, headed south past Morris Canal, through some chop by Liberty, and onwards. At one point in our crossing there was some monster wake - 4 or 5 feet at least - to glide over; that was fun.

Once below Liberty, the water actually chills out a bit, and we simply paddled south-ish across Jersey Flats. The sun was going down, and I managed to capture this shot - I took many but only a few came out right:

That's T, of T, V, and I as a team.

We paddled back, against some current, and as the sun set we stopped to put on lights. We paddled past Liberty at night, with a brilliant view of lower Manhattan, all lit up along with Liberty. My shots of these were terrible.

As we paddled back, in the dark, we managed the usual conditions - in the dark. At one point I noticed a wall of blank approaching us. "Guys," I said, "Wave coming broadside." Sure enough, we went up and down as the darkness passed us.

I've only been out that way once before, and far too east to have noticed Robbin's Reef. Its last keeper was a woman, and her name was given to a local Aids to Navigation vessel that services in the NYC area. It's a fascinating little stop in an otherwise-crowded harbor, and I hope to see it again.

The Trip You Don't Take

I'm living in an alternate reality right now, imagining what would have happened if my and a couple of friends had pressed on with a camping trip we had been planning for weeks out to Sandy Hook.

What happened was, bad weather was predicted all week, and when it came down to it, lots of little thunderstorms were popping up west of the region, predicted to dot the back half of the weekend with rain, gusts, and electricity. The first two are OK, but the last is not acceptable. Besides, who wants to camp in the rain?

So there we were, at the dock, 0830 in the morning, and we decided to try a day trip instead.

We took off across the Hudson and headed south. We made good time, considering it was slack tide. We were at Hoboken in just about half an hour, when we decided to check the weather.

In its lovely monotone, the weather station told us - I paraphrase here - "severe weather watch in Middlesex, Passaic, and Morris Counties . . .Westchester and Dutchess counties . . .storms moving 15 to 20 miles per hour". We later heard from friends above the GWB that there was quite a downpour, and lightning in the distance. Looking up town, you could almost see a blanket of water enveloping the area north of 125th street, on both sides of the river. Yet, to the south, a ball of light was forming in the same humidity, sunlight relayed through tiny water particles.

We decided to turn back even earlier than we planned. We stopped at Pier 40, then paddled against the current back towards Pier 96. Along the way we caught some awesome tugboat wake, easily 3-4 feet, twice because there were two of them. They were on their way to the annual tugboat race (derby? It's more than a race.), which became an issue for us once we got to about Pier 84. The police, coast guard, and coast guard auxiliary gave us conflicting advice on how to go around it. Ultimately we ended up paddling up the middle of the channel, partly escorted by two very likely bored auxiliary crews.

We got back around noon, played a bit, then unpacked and washed. We compared notes with friends. Apparently there had been lightning further uptown, and some rain, ad more was expected all up and down the harbor area.

"Now begins the second guessing," said one of my friends.

"Now? I've been second guessing for the past hour," I said. "We better get some really terrible weather tomorrow to justify this."

And so, in some alternate reality, we did paddle to Sandy Hook, or South Beach at least, and we did camp, and see the sites, and admire the ocean. But here, in what I know as real life, I went to a friend's birthday party instead, came home and cleaned up, rested. The trip you don't take can be as exhausting as the one that you do take.