Tuesday, September 6, 2016

A Taste of Sea

I'd wanted to paddle and camp this past Labor Day weekend, Sept 3-5 for those of you non-US readers. In fact I wanted to paddle and camp all the major surf holidays, and get groups together to pad out my leadership log, but I missed the last one and then spent most of July and August teaching. So, I arrived at the end of summer not sure what I'd do this weekend.

Fortunately, in addition to Mr Cowgirl, I was able to cajole three members of my local paddling club into coming up to Westport, Massachutesess to do some coastal kayaking. There's a local paddling shop there on the Westport River, great camping at Westport Camping Grounds, and easy access to a variety of coastal features. 

While I will assert that New York City offers a variety of sea kayaking opportunities, certain things are hard to find good examples of, namely surf, and committed shorelines exposed to open sea. For those of you following along at home, take a look at NOAA chart 13228 and you'll see what I mean.

There's some nice tidal eddies about a mile up the river mouth, below the Route 88 bridge. There's exposed coast at Horseneck Beach, with a too-convenient spit of land called Gooseberry Neck that has 1) free parking and 2) a proper ramp and therefore the expectation that mariners will land there. There's Sakonnet point, which we didn't get to, and then farther east there's the beginning of Buzzards Bay. 

On top of that, another club member has family in the area, and in exchange for giving her a ride up (and back) we got to overnight in a proper coastal cottage and put in on a privately owned beach. Bliss, buckaroos. Pure kayaking bliss.

I packed up the buggy and we set out on the road.

Stopping for Dinner on the Highway.

Sunrise Hospitality.

Following the drive up Friday, we cleaned up, met the folks, and laid out our sleeping bags on the air mattress and sofabed provided by our hosts. Only half our group, myself and G, were present, but with out fellow club member and her s.o., we put together a tidy group and set out for an area called "Dumpling Rocks", near Round Hill Point, and then to an area of rocks, and then on to a Christmas Buoy - red and green, marking the intersection of two channels.

Launching from the Beach. G, A, and L.

Paddling Out.

It's Christmas in Heaven!

On the way out, we took the opportunity to try some very light rock-hopping near Dumpling Rock. We were light on helmets, and the environment was new to some, so we played it safe - going around the big rock and taking a deeper channel. There was a more narrow constriction that had some interesting current flow, but most of the group was not ready for that.

One word: Millenials.

The ride back was fairly pleasant. Our big concern for the weekend was tropical storm Hermine (later, "post-tropical" storm Hermine). Traveling up the eastern US seaboard from the Caribbean, Hermine promised storm surge and high winds and rain, but ultimately steered ENE and petered out several hundred miles offshore. We got high winds over the weekend, and nothing more.

At the time however, that was not a certainty. In the afternoon, we met up our other friends at the campsite and checked in, and after setting up camp drove out to Gooseberry Neck, a small spit jutting directly out from Horseneck Beach. There's free parking, easy access to the water, and just like that you're at sea. No rivers, no coves, just the ocean.

As we launched, a larger group of paddlers came in. They were part of a Rhode Island club and had gone out to Elevator Rock, a spot where surf can place a skilled paddler on a rock, and then take them right back down. I've only heard of it recently, and with the impending weather had already ruled it out.

Instead, we paddled out from the east side of the spit and then south, taking a trip around it. We expected the easterly winds to become stronger and produce more challenging water, and the water we had was challenge enough for this group. For some this was their first time in the ocean proper, and just getting acclimated was enough. We practiced some brace strokes and how to manage paddling in the wind, then set off on our journey.

Around the southern tip we spotted some clever rocks to play near. We also discussed some navigation, using nearby buoys to triangulate our location against the southern tip of the spit. In the rocks, we found a long shallow shelf that created some dramatic looking waves, but they were just a long, wide area that lost energy quickly. We practiced paddling in place to hold position.

Coming back along the western side of the spit, the water was calm and the air was more quiet. With the sun setting to our, it was a relaxing end to the day. I landed first, followed by the other two women in our group. The men lingered. Why?

Kayak Cowgirl's trusty steed.

Turns out they were being followed by seals. Seals! Three of them. As they approached only one seal followed them in, and we could spot him from our landing spot.

Men, chased by seals.

Driving out, we passed over the road with sea to our left an to our right. The water to the east was clearly darker and more agitated, while the water to the west was calm and relaxing.

Sunday was predicted to be very windy, initially 20mph but proving just to the mid-teens. We decided to stay sheltered from the sea, up the Westport river about a mile from its mouth. It turns out there is cheap ($5 per car) parking there, with a giant rock in the middle of a narrow river offering a fun place to stay  .  .  .and play

Getting ready to roll out.

Off we went, playing around the rock and then heading downstream to the mouth of the river. The wind proved constant, blowing us downstream, and reminding us we'd have a bit of a battle on the way back.

We passed through an extensive marina before the river widened and we came to Horseneck Point. From there we could make out a giant boulder called "The Knubble" marking the far entrance to the river - and beautiful surf rolling in. The group was taken in. "Surf!". Only, almost no one had done it before, so we landed briefly to go over surfing, and landing in surf, and setting the boundaries.

Everyone had a good time. I caught the fewest waves, but mostly because I was keeping an eye on everyone. The wind was coming abeam and so we kept getting pushed across the river. After a few runs, and with the surf depleted as the tide lowered, we set out back the way we came - and this was the start of the hardest part of the day.

The current had only started to ebb an hour earlier, but was already quite strong. Couple with the wind, we had a long slog back. In hindsight, and to some of us at the time, we actually made expected progress: a little over one nautical mile in thirty-five minutes, fighting about a knot or knot and change of current, with a F4 headwind. Good on my group for making the distance. Once we'd returned, we took a long lunch and rested, before going out for a couple more hours.

We didn't go anywhere for that last bit. Instead, we played in the rock eddy some more, this time with more eddies to work with, as the lowered tide had revealed more rocks to ferry between. We also tried a rescue in the eddy area, and I demonstrated some swimmer recovery methods.

At the end, we packed up and dried off, then walked in to the local establishment for sizable meals and beer followed by dessert.

While I'd hoped to paddle a bit Monday, by then even the sheltered area of the campsite was demonstrating stiff breezes, and the coastal wind prediction was to be 20 mph and more. The group had gotten a taste of the sea, and were plenty well buffed and chuffed from the day before, and one of the drivers had to leave to make it to work in NYC that afternoon, so - we called it a weekend. 

Packed and sorted, I dropped off one boat we had borrowed from our local friends, visited the local paddling shop (Osprey Sea Kayak Adventures, check them out sometime), and then we were off for the four-hour drive back home.

This was a great trip and I hope to do it again sometime, with some more people and certainly more time at sea. With summer nominally over, it's on to the next part of the season. More to come, for sure.

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