Saturday, October 22, 2016

Rendezvous 2016

I loaded everything up the night before with a friend who was attending. The "Mid Coast Sea Kayak Rendezvous" in Maine, hosted by Messrs John Carmody and Todd Wright, and others, nearly two dozen coaches in all, in the Georgetown/Sheepscot River vicinity of Maine.

I've been up there a couple of times before. The first time, on account of my friends at Wind Against Current, Johna Tilson and Vladimir Brezina. A second time, for my Four Star training, and again last summer to get some experience and a rematch against the boilers at Lower Hell Gate. The area is rife with traditional sea kayaking features: sea, rocks, surf, strong weather, surging seas. It's a brilliant area for honing skills, and the Rendezvous - a symposium - was going to be a great way to work on all my dance moves.

I have to say, being a child of the "hooked on phonics" generation, I always sound it out as "Ren-Dez-vous".

I was getting over a bad cold from the weekend before, throwing extra bottles of water and an extra face-rag in the passenger seat of my Saab. I had the Gemini SP loaded up on the rack, strapped down and tied off on the front and back. It's about a 6 hour drive from New York City to Maine, interstates to highways to county roads to smaller paves roads, to rough drives and eventually, rutted grooves in dirty lined with gravel and tree roots, to my campsite at Sagadahoc Bay. Here, I'd pitch a tent on the opposite side of the bay from the main event, a bay that became a mud flat at low tide, on a weekend with a Full Moon and the correspondingly high tides.

The event was three days of paddling with various coaches: Saturday, Sunday, Monday. Eveyone who arrived was given a color bandana indicating which group they were assigned to: teal, green, pink, dark blue, and so on. My group was dark blue. The idea was, we'd come together in these groups of half a dozen or so paddlers, and each day we'd have two marquee coaches and possibly an assistant coach, and we also have a local coach or expert who would stick with us for all three days. So, our all-weekend guy was a Rhode Island paddler named Tim, and we had different experts with us the other days.

The weather, by the way, was brilliant, sunny and not terrible winds the whole time. My only complaint was Friday night, which dropped below freezing. I'd brought extra layers and still woke up cold in the middle of the night. Fortunately, remaining nights were progressively warmer.

Day 1
Day 1 were paired up with Ron G and Christopher Lockyear of Committed2theCore & Bay of Fundy Sea Kayak Symposium. About 2/3 of our group were candidates for a leadership award, so we were given ample opportunity to practice leadership skills. The first was launching off a rather dumpy beach in Reid State Park, and I have to say the paddler tasked with that seemed a little oblivious to the nicer stretch of surf about a hundred feet further down from where we'd set our boats. He got two out but after three unsuccessful attempts to launch yours truly into some four foot walls of incoming water, I organized a coup and the rest of us launched in the less dumpy part of the beach.

This must be the right place.

Once underway, we set out on a little journey, south from Todds Point to, eventually, an island called Pond Island. It's a small rock of an island, with a lighthouse on top, and sort of the middling point between the very end of Sagadahoc Bay and the Kennebec river. We played over rocks and some surf, and after lunch on the island, enjoyed a nice tiderace that formed to its north on the ebb.

Landing at Pond Island.

The lighthouse at Pond Island.

A lookabout.

Solar power for the win.

Like ants, crawled from the sea.

A gorge. Hard to make out in this photo.

The tiderace was great. It was amazing, and I've never been in anything like it. Sure, I've been in current, and bouncy water, but never anything so big and moving and consistent as this. It was tremendous - and it wore me out. I kept thinking we'd move on but we didn't, and towards the end I had to drop back in the eddy to rest and get some water. I was still not even 90% on account of my cold.

Eventually, we did make it back to Reid, and sure enough the beach was less dumpy. I even pointed out why. At a lower tide, we could see how the beach ramped up rather sharply when the water level was up, but as we landed, as charted, it was flat quite a ways out.

That night, we had a pizza party, and I met up with BB of Canada, JC of NH, and met some new folks. A lot of paddlers at the Rendezvous were from Canada and Rhode Island - places I want to do more paddling in.

Day 2
On the second day our pod was paired up with two very experienced coaches, Sylvain Bedard and Nigel Foster.

Nigel Foster. For those who don't know the name (or who get him confused with Nigel Dennis), he's one of the O.G.s of the sport. He was paddling and teaching paddling literally before I was born, and has made a number of expeditions, including a circumnavigation of Iceland and 675+ miles from Baffin Island to Labrador. You can read more about him on Wikipedia, or his various websites (just look up "Nigel Foster Kayak").

His presence was a surprise to other coaches, who'd only been given notice that a pseudonym was attending as a last-minute "motivational speaker". This was like going to a local music festival and finding out that Keith Richards was playing. And then, you get to go on stage to play with him.

Nigel and Sylvain led us on a very short journey that gave us ample opportunity to play with a variety of features. The unifying theme was using the environment to maneuver the boats, in particular choosing to come in on the back of a wave or on top of one, and using current to turn our boats.

After launching off a different beach in Reid State Park (at Griffiths Head), we paddled a short distance out to a large rock island. I should mention that along the way, we saw a recurring breaking wave in the middle of the water, and I paddled out to investigate, seeing that it was a very shallow rock ledge, right before the water level dropped on the trough of an incoming wave, and shortly I was bracing and surfing in on the power of the ocean. Oh my God, it was awesome.

At the island, we found a little cranny where water would surge through, after having lost much of its force hitting the island. If we paddled through on the front of an incoming wave, we'd have less steering control, and not very much depth to go over the rocks in the channel. If we waited and came in on top or on the back of a wave, we had more depth. So that was the game: timing.

To the island !

Setting up overwatch.

Lining up.

Paddling through.

Shortly after that, we worked our way up a bit of coast and landed on a rock beach below a picnic area, and after lunch went 'round the corner to where a pond was dropping a very forceful amount of water into the sea. This whitewater feature gave us very, very strong eddy lines to play against, and we practiced ferrying across, peelouts and eddy turns, and even just turning our boats in place on the eddy line. I'm happy to say it felt like cheating on that last using the Gemini SP; it was so short I could sit literally on top of the eddy line and had perfect control.

Moving right along.

Lunch !

Amongst our group was an amputee. Dave never shied away from helping to carry boats or move kit, and was a very capable paddler as well; he later passed his Four Star. He was great to paddle with.

Dave (left).

In the back, our Kenobi.

While we lunched, we also saw some features and islands emerge as the water level dropped.

A feature emerges.

The riverlet.

After that, we went out a ways and paddled in wind. It had picked up a bit, and against the current a bit gave us something fun to play in. We practiced maneuvering our boats on waves, and two more things new to me: changing our hand placement for "gearing" our strokes, wider for stronger and powerful and more narrow for a touring stroke, and dropping a blade in the water to act as a sort of skeg, or a slow-motion pry, to help turn in wind.

Sylvain and I had paddled to the forward edge of the group, and while watching each other work, we caught sight of a visitor: a seal who poked his head out to spy on these strange creatures bobbing on the waves. He ducked before I could grab my camera.

That night, we had a slightly more formal dinner, with excellent lasagna and salad. Two students from SUNY Plattsburgh's Expeditionary Studies program presented on a journey that'd made, taking a month to circumnavigate the Scottish highlands, a journey of about 540 miles. You can see video from their expedition at Zander's YouTube channel.

Day 3
On the third day we were paired up with Josh Hall, of South Carolina. He's an Instructor Trainer in the ACA scheme (possibly, I may have misheard, an IT Educator). By the third day everyone was feeling a little tuckered, and with long drives home for many, it was a short day, with a one-way paddle from the Five Islands area up to the Knubble Bay area, then back.

This was a fairly relaxed journey, with time to play in various features. By this point I'd built some confidence in paddling up and over diagonally-set rocks, going in on the peak and paddling out as the water receded. Though, at one point, I'm pretty sure I left some red plastic on a rock !

A sunny day.

Setting a fit of the spraydeck. 

We paddled up the eastern side of Macmahon Island and entered Goosneck Passage as the water ebbed. This gave us a bit of current to play in and practice ferrying against, and we attained our way to a small rocky island in the middle for lunch.

Landing at Gooseneck Island.

We headed down the western side of Macmahon. One curious feature we noticed was that, while the water was ebbing, we were going against the current as we headed south - but then part of the way through, we had current with us. As near as I could figure, the passage was like two bowls next to each other, with the northern half ebbing north into Gooseneck, and the southern half ebbing south into the Sheepscot.

Shore along Robin Hood.

Close to a house.

Around the passage.

With the completion of this voyage, the Rendezvous came to an end. I made several new friends and saw a few old ones, and met some amazing coaches and picked up some top tips from them. More than anything else I got practice in an environment and features that I rarely get to, and that was tremendous.

While New York City has strong tidal currents and a certain cachet amongst paddlers, it's short on traditional sea kayaking features such as surf and rocks. After all, it is a natural harbor. So I go further afield to get those experiences.

The Rendezvous was a great experience and I highly recommend it as a go-to event. I hope to attend next year - but regardless I expect this won't be the last time I paddle in this part of Maine !

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