Thursday, September 28, 2017

The Tides at Sandy Hook

"Both your boats make a neat sound," said Mister Cowgirl. "Like a wssshhhhh".

He was talk about about me and Bob, me in my Tiderace Pace 18, Bob in is Rockpool Taran. Both fall into the category of Fast Sea Kayak, though I guarantee you Bob was the faster of us. I'm still getting the hang of maximizing the Pace.

We were camping the weekend at Sandy Hook, organized by mutual friend MM. we were a diverse group over the weekend. MM and I arrived Friday night and set up camp, along with two women on the beginner side. RK and Bob showed up the next morning, but skipped out on Sunday.

Basically, on Saturday I paddled out with the boys to play in the tidal race around the tip of the hook, while MM stayed with the beginners. On Sunday, MM and the mister joined me to the same location, but earlier in the tidal cycle and not as long. We all wanted to get home in time to clean up and put away.

Along the way, we spotted a couple of ships - the Perry was at a US Navy resupply pier.

The USN Robert Perry, a resupply ship.

The Weeks BE Lindholm, a dredging ship.
The tidal conditions around Sandy Hook are quite interesting. Basically, on the ebb, water is moving southeast from the New York harbor, but laterally past the hook from Raritan and Sandy Hook bays. near the channel markers on the northeast corner of the hook, the convergence of currents forms a lumpy wave train falling back against the current as it ebbs to the east. The result is a washing machine that you can either plow through with the current, or power through against the current.

Before those conditions set up, we ventured around the hook and tried surfing in on what little swell we could find, but it was remarkably tame. The RK and the mister did some surfing in forwards, backwards, and bongo onto the beach and then sliding back out, until the tide dropped enough that the surf became dangerous. On the last run, Mister Cowgirl took several attempts at getting back out into surf, getting chewed up and spat back onto the beach before finally succeeding in breaking through.

When we returned to the tiderace, we took a few passes through it. Holy Hannah, did I bring a knife to a gunfight.

Normally, for rough water play I paddle my Gemini SP. Short, rockered, and double-chined, the Gemini revels in lumpy and confused seas. The Pace, while stable and capable, likes to go straight and fast. It's maneuverable, but really prefers organized water - waves from one direction, currents from one direction, and a driver who can keep on course between the two. That was not what was on offer here.

Instead, as I entered the end of the wave train, paddling against current, I found waves impaling themselves on the bow, crashing over both after quarters, swallowing and regurgitating the boat as I plowed forwards. I dug in and paddled harder, not just forward but keeping my hips loose and a brace handy. Eventually I got near the end and slid towards the eddy line, where I made a U-turn to come back around.

Coming back through, I found myself moving faster, this time with the current, but still crashing into confused water piling up against me from multiple directions. This wasn't a clean tiderace, with a train of wide waves falling back against the current. It was supremely messy, waves piling up at multiple angles to the flow. It was mad, it was brilliant.

yet, from outside the train, it wasn't terrifying. A wide boil near the buoys at the end, or on the opposite side of the wave train, it was clearly interesting water, but limited in its area of effect. Once in it, I felt surrounded by confused seas, but I had choices - to draw out at the sides, or let myself flush out.

We took several passes through the race, and after the last one, boy was I tuckered. By that time I was more exhausted than scared, more effort paddling against current than staying upright. We landed for lunch, chatting with a man and his dog who'd been admiring us from the beach. After that, we launched and paddled back, encountering the rest of our group and paddling casually back through Sandy Hook Bay.

Here's a video I put together.

Sunday was a short day, with a smaller group. RK opted to spend time on the beach with his non-paddling significant other; Bob had gone home the night before, and the beginners had packed up camp early as well. That left just MM and the mister and myself, and none of us wanted to be out late dealing with end--of-weekend traffic.After packing up camp and kitting boats, we only spent about three hours on the water.

They were totally worth the effort.

First of all, after paddling out of Sandy Hook Bay and to the north of the hook, we saw dolphins. Not just one or two, or five, but two distinct groups of at least eight each. Maybe more.

The motorized boats near us started maneuvering to better see them, and we saw their fins splash splash then disappear, then reappear somewhere else entirely and splash splash before dropping underwater again.

I saw two break off from the main pod and swim towards me. And, best of all, one blew his spout right next to me, while I was conveniently in the middle of turning my camera back on.

Second, we found the tiderace at an earlier state in its cycle, still interesting but not quite as frothy. It was more surfable, and we took turns riding in towards shore, breaking off before getting near fishing lines and the beach.

We paddled on back around the hook, riding little waves. The Pace in particular was brilliant at picking up these little rollers, and I was coasting most of the way with just a bit of sprinting. I was able to better practice staying on a wave, speeding up and slowing down to match the wave's speed.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

No Strangers Here

A variety of new acquaintances was the theme of our Labor Day journey. I brought along two friends from my paddling club, but most of the paddles we were with that day were new to us. "No strangers here, only friends who've not yet met", goes an adage posted in many fine pubs.

The trip was put together by my friend JK, one-half of the dynamic duo over at Two Geeks Three Knots. She's working towards her British Canoeing Sea Leader award, which requires a logbook of trips led or assisted in varying conditions. She had along a couple of friends, some paddlers from her local club, as well as the three of us - myself, KW, and GH.

Together we loaded three boats on the Saab "paddle wagon" and drove up to Mamaroneck, NY.

The overall trip plan was to paddle from Horseshoe Harbor in Larchmont to Great Captain Island, which is part of Greenwich, Connecticut. That distance was about eight nautical miles each way, which in  itself wasn't a concern. However, the prospect of Force 4 - 5 winds in the afternoon, coupled with expected end-of-holiday traffic and boat logistics for our team, meant that our group opted to put in at Mamaroneck, literally next door to another paddling friend (AD) who might have joined, but backed out having gotten home late the night before.

The three of us unloaded the car, kitted out the boats, and soon enough we were on the water.

KW in a Current Designs Sirocco.

GH in the other Current Designs Sirocco.

I brought along my Tiderace Pace 18. Since I repaired the rudder, and since we'd be on a longer journey in more open conditions, I wanted to get back in it and re-familiarize myself with its performance and handling.

We paddled out of Mamaroneck Harbor to look for our friends.

Cormorants Drying on a Rock.

Off in the distance, we saw a group of kayakers approaching from the southwest. About half a dozen, and as they approached I was certain I saw AB's distinctive bright yellow blades. We paddled over and discovered . . .they weren't the pod we were looking for.

It turned out that there were another group of friends who had put in earlier in Mamaroneck, on their way back from their own wee journey. We knew some people in common and will get back in touch that way. The sea provides many thing, including new paddle partners!

After that encounter, we played around a rock for a bit until we sighted another pod in the distance. Catching up with them, we found our group! JK and company, making their way to Parsonage Point, where we waited to hear from AD and made introductions.

There were A and L, a couple transitioning from recreation kayaks to sea kayaks; A, in a fancy wooden racing-style kayak that was painted black and red; B, a familiar face in her brilliant Valley Avocet LV, and AW, a member of JK's club.

The day was warm and sunny, with clear skies. Once we determined AD wasn't going to make it, we rounded the point and made our way towards Rye Playland, a seaside amusement park in Rye, New York.

A brief sip and then we're away.

Modern Kayaking. 'Gram it!

We took a brief spot on the beach at Rye Playland. We were able to talk over and use proper restrooms, which was a pleasant surprise for those of us expecting more of a field stop.

A and his fancy wooden racing kayak.

At this point both A and AW took their leave and returned to Larchmont. Those of us remaining saddled up and rounded the next headland to begin the last leg of our journey.

Our next major concern was harbor traffic. Greenwich has a lot of recreational boating, and with it being the last major holiday weekend of the summer, we kept our eyes open for volume of boats as well as poor piloting. For this here New Yorker, the idea of "boat traffic" meaning recreational vessels and not commercial vessels was an unusually concept. Not unheard-of, but still not what initially came to mind.

Great Captain Island has a working lighthouse on it, as well as a salt marsh in the middle. It's essentially a city park for the town of Greenwich, and a regular destination of the Two Geeks.

An egret stalking for lunch.

Great Captain Lighthouse.

The Two Geeks are actually friends with the keeper. Until a few years ago, the family lived there year-round, but after Sandy they've taken to wintering on the mainland. When they made the move, their daughter spent an entire year being sick near-constantly, until her immune system caught up with all the other kids.

As it happened, B's husband and son had sailed up in their sailboat, and anchored in the lee of the island. Her son and his friend swam ashore for lunch, but an attempt to ferry her husband in on the back deck of her boat resulted in a capsize and shuttling back from a fellow mariner.

After lunching on Great Captain and resting up, we set out again, passing the sailboat along the way and saying hi to our friends.

Sidling up to the Beagle.

At this point, "the slog" began. Truthfully it wasn't terrible, but it was a journey into a F4 headwind the grew to F5 by the end. We took quartering sees most of the way along, and with the tide level running out, found new rocks and squirrely patches of water. The wind was offshore, which on the one hand made it stronger, but on the other hand blew us towards shore. Seas were 2-3 feet, and the wind just made everything feel slower and more challenging than it actually was. I could look to shore and tick off the landmarks and know we were making good time, but the wind, man . . .that blew.

The Pace did alright. On our outbound leg I was pretty speedy in relatively flat water, and as wind-driven waves appeared I got some good downwind surfing in. On the way back, however, that sleek performance racer took a lot of effort to keep true. I'd weathercock a bit, and the plumb bow would bite into the water and make turning a chore, even with edging. The rudder wasn't much help either, since the back of the boat was lifted out of the water as often as not. It was all manageable, but it took a lot of management.

Paddling along the coast.

As we rounded one headland and then another, we came back into Mamaroneck, and with a final push against the wind, came around into the harbor.

And then it was quiet, quiet except for the rumble of a cigarette boat riding in, followed by a couple of small pleasure boats, all presumably seeking refuge or ending the holiday just as we were. We paddled to our beach and hopped out, making our goodbyes.

JK and B would continue on back to Larchmont. I shuttled one of A&L back to get their car, and they took out in Mamaroneck with us. We were so sheltered form the wind in the harbor that you wouldn't have know it was F5 SW on the sound. In short order we were dry and laughing and talking about other trips, and it was 80 F and sunny. We were truly in a different world than the sea.

After all that, we drove back to our boathouse and unloaded. I did have a minor mishap on the way - one of my bowlines slipped free from its hook. The hook is gone but the line remained, necessitating a roadside stop to untangle it. Otherwise, the ride back was uneventful.

We had our usual adventure moving boats back to our boathouse. With the local restaurant in full effect, we parked at the head of the bike path leading to our boathouse, and made our way past incredulous drunks and SO LOUD MUSIC before dropping everything on the deck for a quick rinse.

Overall, this was a good trip. The distance (the short leg, from Mamaroneck) was great for a day trip, the destination had its own charms beyond the paddling, and even the stiff winds on the return provided interesting seas and an opportunity for some of the newer paddlers to build confidence in conditions.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Pace 18 Rudder Repair

A few months ago I bought a used Tiderace Pace 18, model year 2012. It's a brilliant boat - though long, it edges well, and I hardly ever need the rudder, but it's been nice to have when I do need it.

Unfortunately, while the boat and mechanicals are in overall great shape, after a couple months of use, I found myself unable to retract the rudder from the cockpit. This had been working just fine, and is normally done by pulling on a rope with a toggle on it.

A jam cleat holds the rope in place when the rudder is up, and gravity takes care of deploying it when I need it down. To bring it up, I just pull the rope, and the SmartTrack rudder system comes right up. Everything was fine, until it wasn't.

It took a couple of examinations to determine the problem, and ultimately it's easier to show before I try to explain.

This is what a good rudder assembly is supposed to look like. Note the arched piece at the top.

Good Rudder.

This is what mine looked like. In fact, you can't see from this angle, but it looked more like two offset half-arches. In this photo, you can make out a white fracture line where the plastic was already starting to bend.

Bad Rudder.

Before we get into the assembly/disassembly process though, there was a minor detour in getting the right part. Essentially, you can't buy just that little arched piece. You don't have to buy an entire ne rudder kit (nearly $200), but you do have to by the control sub-assembly.

When I first ordered it, I said it was a Tiderace Pace with a SmartTrack rudder system. My friendly regional kayak parts supplier  (Tom) sent me a replacement - and only after taking it apart did I notice that the Pace uses a "compact" sub-assembly, and by default I'd gotten the "original". 

They're kind enough to print it right on the tin, so to speak.

Compact vs. Original

I thought I might make it work, but even the mounting bracket is a different size - off just enough that you can't mix and match.

Thankfully, Tom was able to find the correct part and send it to me. We managed to overlap each other's efforts to - at one point I wrote SmartTrack asking about the right part, and had some correspondence that went something like this (I'm paraphrasing).

Kayak Cowgirl: Hey there, I'm looking for the correct rudder assembly a 2012 Tiderace Pace 18. I asked my friendly region kayak parts guy to help me out, but thought I'd ask around as well.

SmartTrack: Oh yeah, Tom contacted us already and we shipped it to him. 

Sure enough, the right part arrived a day or two later, not to mention an earlier email from Tom.

I'd been dreading taking this apart, because the mechanical complexity of rudders kinda scares me. However, replacing the part pretty easy. First, since I'd taken it apart previously, when I had the wrong part, I already knew what to do. Second, even that first time, since the control cables and pedals were fine, all I really had to do was detach the control cables from the sub-assembly, and change the foil from one to the other.

The cables are kept on with a simple pin and cotter pin arrangement. The pin goes through the wings of the sub-assembly and a round attach point on the cable, and the cotter pin holds it in place.

Controls Assembled.

To take them apart, you have to carefully (very carefully, if you're working over a plank-decked floor directly over water) take the cotter pin off like a key ring, then pull the pin loose.

Once you do that, removing the sub-assembly is as easy as pulling out the long vertical pin, which you can make out in the first pictures.

I also had to move the foil - my only replacement part was the sub-assembly that the rudder foil sits in. That was pretty easy. Another, larger cotter pin holds in place an adjustment knob that fastens on the opposite side, sandwiching the arm of the sub-assembly.

It's pretty neat. It turns out the spring is adjustable. With the adjustment knob on, you can tighten the coiled spring pictured below, to add a little pop to your deployment.

Ultimately, the hardest part of this whole process was threading the deployment cord through the new part. You can see above that the end of the cord gets tucked in a hole, tied off in a wee knot. To thread it, I had to undo the knot, and that took some pliers and an f-tonne of patience. I have a marlinspike knife, but doubt even that could have gotten in to such a tiny knot.

Annnnnnd . .. that was that. Once I threaded the deployment cord, I tied a new knot and threaded it into the foil. The blad was mounted, the sub-assembly was mounted, I put back the control pins, and tested a couple of deploy/retracts from the cockpit. Perfect. Like butter.

I can't want to paddle the Pace again. I've been favoring the Gemini, which is better for teaching, but I've got some journeys planned that will definitely be Pace-perfect.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Baretto Point August 2017

It was another week of watching the weather: would it hold? Would we have our window?

Predictions of one system after another came and went. Eventually, Saturday looked like a day of officially a chance of thunderstorms, but unlikely. My confidence was bolstered by my fellow kayak blogger at Wind Against Current telling me about a trip she was considering.

The day would be muggy and overcast, but we were a go! I took four other members of my local paddling club, mascot "Turtles" out to Baretto Point, in the Bronx.

If you don't know the area, basically our club is located on the Hudson river in Inwood, the northernmost part of Manhattan, New York City. we would go down the Harlem river, cut through a narrow creek separating Randalls Island from the Bronx, and paddle a couple of miles past the Brother islands to land at a small beach.

My Companions - fellow Turtles KW, IC, VT, and GH - all picked their boats, kitted out, and after a short briefing, we were on our way.

We paddled against a little current on the Hudson, finally getting some assistance once in the Harlem.

Paddling the old "Spuyten Duyvil Creek".

VT reflecting a perfect pose in an Avocet.

Proceeding towards High Bridge.

By now, the Harlem is pretty familiar. Please, read the rest of my blog to see how much. It's a narrow canal about seven miles long, with a lot of bridges. Most of the bridges passed under on a circumnavigation of Manhattan are on the Harlem river.

On our way down, we saw a small boat crossing the river back and forth. As we approached, we feared the worst - but it turned out to be a surveyor ship! Just taking measurements.

Proceeding down the Harlem.

After arriving at the Bronx Kill, we encountered our first set of challenges. Seems I was a little aggressive on timing the tides for this trip, so se soon ran aground in mud. I hopped out of my boat and was able to drag my fellow turtles to deeper channels, but in short order we encountered a more robust obstacle.

About a third of the way into the kill is a narrowing of the passage that forms some nice moving water features at certain tidal cycles. Now, though, it was too low to paddle - and too rocky to drag. We all got out and lifted boats over rocks.

Our second portage.

Very low water.

That wasn't so terrible, but I began to worry about the end of the kill. The first time I came out here, we'd come to a drop where the creek dried up. Sure enough, we had one more portage ahead of us. At the small pedestrian bridge connecting the Bronx to Randalls Island, we hopped out and had to carry the boats the farthest distance yet - about twenty yards to water we sort of walk-paddled over.

KW saw a small crab scurry away. We'd disturbed his little spot!
Our third portage.

A familiar portage.

Well, that chore done, we gathered up at the end of the kill and faced our next challenge - crossing water between us and North Brother Island. There was no traffic, nothing on radio or visually, so crossing was straightforward - we attained with current, then ferried over towards the old power plant.

Onward past North Brother Island.

North Brother Island.

The old ferry terminal.

Passing a marker.

We proceeded clockwise with the current, until we were in a good spot to cross to Baretto Point. Our goal was just to the east of a barge that held a swimming pool, and we aimed for the barge - apparently named "The Floating Pool Lady".

The Floating Pool Lady

We got a lot of friendly waves from the lifeguards and swimmers, until we tried to land. Suddenly the lifeguards were yelling at us, saying there was diesel on the rocks, it was slippery, we couldn't land there.

That's new. And weird. But, not implausible. Fortunately, I'd spied another little beach-like feature a little further down - a pebble beach below the high tide line. At the low tide we were at, we had a decent-sized spot for lunch.

Narrow Beach.

I knew the tide would be coming in while we were lunching, so I had everyone move their boats up to the highest point short of climbing rocks. It was a good thing, too. In the photo above, we'd been there about half an hour - an when we landed we'd had another eight feet or so of shoreline.

The wreck.

There were lots of interesting things on this beach - including half of this car, missing its drivetrain. I had to wonder, where was the other half? All the big pieces must have been pulled before it became a beach relic.

We also had a good view of the Manhattan skyline, an the bridges and islands between us and our home island. We watched as thicker clouds rolled in from the south - a portent of the humidity we'd feel on the way back. It got breezy enough that a couple of Turtles put on jackets.

Watch the clouds roll by . . .

Time for group photos!


Turtles and K.C.

As the tide rose and we approached our return launch time, we got in our boats and hit the water. The current was a bit against us, but not for long. We paddled hard past the southern end of North Brother island, where I checked on a familiar landmark: a TV an chair on the water's edge.

A familiar sight.

We came back towards the Bronx Kill.

Back into the Bronx Kill.

We saw something in the water that we hadn't seen earlier. It wasn't moving with the current, so something held it in place. It was near our former surveyor-friend's work area . . .but also near some construction. Perhaps it was some detritus that came loose and caught something beneath.

Not moving .  .  .not her earlier.

Sharing the waterways.

There was little traffic the entire day, but not entirely devoid of traffic. The Manhattan II, and a Circle Line boat near the end, were the only commercial vessels we encountered. Several pleasureboats, and from our lunch spot we saw a barge. Otherwise. . . not much.

Passing Yankee Stadium.

We didn't hear any ball-playing.

We made our way back up the Harlem.

Rounding back up the Harlem.

We were friendly to the passers-by.

VT had an evening date, and we realized she'd be set behind schedule if she went all the way back to the boathouse. Fortunately, she lives at 218th street, so we dropped her off at the Columbia dock in the Harlem, and I towed her boat the remaining mile or two home.

The Henry Hudson Bridge.

We saw some boys jumping off the cliffs in the Bronx into the river. This is a time-honored tradition, somewhat famous from early Leonardo Dicaprio film, "The Basketball Diaries", as well as a documentary here and  NY Times article there. This was the first time I saw it live, though.

Keep in mind, these kids have to cross railroad tracks and then climb this cliff. It's not for the faint of heart! We heard taunting from across the river.

Boys dare-jumping.

So much culture. . .

So apparently, there's a vessel called "Naval War College", and whoever was piloting it that day referred to the Spuyten Duyvin bridge as "railroad swing bridge".

The Spuyten Duyvil Station.

Onwards towards the Palisades, we passed the Spuyten Duyvil bridge and felt a welcome wind on the Hudson. Most of the Harlem had been muggy and stuffy; the breeze freshened us up.

Approaching the Palisades.

In short order, we arrived back at our boathouse. We unpacked, cleaned up, and made our goodbyes. Of course we'll nearly all be back the next day to volunteer with our club's public program! But all the same, it was a good trip, at just under 18 nm roundtrip. Good on my fellow paddlers - all women - for making it out that day.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Mixing it Up

A friend of mine passed along a good deal on a whitewater boat recently, including matching spraydeck and a one-piece paddle, slightly feathered. I had to drive a bit out of my way to pick it up, and suffered a biblical deluge of rain on the way home, but I did get the boat, a Liquid Logic Remix 59.

I've only done white water paddling a couple of times. The first, a few years ago, when I was first starting to paddle a bit more seriously and learned a friend at work was into kayaking - but only whitewater. He invited me along to do a stretch of the Lehigh near Jim Thorpe, with a class he was assisting with, and it was eye-opening.

Moderately Terrifying is the way I would have put it at the time. I paddled like a sea kayaking - charging through and over waves, trying hard to resist the instinct the edge to the outside of turns, rather than to edge downstream. In whitewater, always edge downstream.

A couple of years ago I started dating a paddler, one who does whitewater, and in short order learned we had mutual friends, including two women who paddle whitewater canoe. So, once again in a borrowed boat, I paddled part of the upper Delaware river, this time with a few more years overall paddling experience, including some time in big, dynamic water.

The very weekend I bought the Remix, my friend LB was taking another group down that same stretch of water on the Delaware. As white water goes, it's pretty easy, with a couple of interesting pieces, but mostly just a steady flow of water to practice boat control in. We drove up past Port Jervis and lower the boats to the water's edge, and in short order, we were off.

Ready on Deck.

Most of the Delaware looks like this here.

LB paddling her canoe.

But parts of it get a little perky.

Fellow instructor C paddling his canoe.

As we proceeded, we stopped and played around various rocks and wave trains. There is a spot that has a drop with a funnel next to it, and we practiced eddy work there.

Further down, there's the "Mongaup Wave", where the Mongaup river roars in almost perpendicular to the Delaware, and rather steeply, with a tall cliffside opposite. Where the waters converge is a long and strong wave train, with narrow eddies along the side. We played there for a bit. The Remix surfed well against the waves, but it was hard to attain against them.

We did have one mishap, easily recovered. One of the newer paddlers lost her balance against a rock and fell in, but was easily recovered in the next eddy. While that was going on, LB and I took turns surfing a small wave a little ways down.


At the end, we were supposed to rendezvous with a group that had done the Mongaup run, but there was some confusion about where to meet. They're suppose to come here, each group thought, at their respective take-outs. Eventually two emissaries from the other group arrived, right as we were about to head to them.

The Remix is a fun boat to paddle. I even took a roll in it at the end - not as graceful in a sea kayak, but do-able. I need to practice more. It's super-stable and very snug. The spraydeck is a bit tight, but hopefully it will stretch out a bit the more I use it.