Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Rockaway Point

Wow. It's been weeks since I posted last, though I know I've paddled since. I was so taken aback that I went through my calendar, weekend by weekend. It did this that weekend and that on this other weekend, and sure enough, except for a short trip out to enjoy my new boat (the Pace 18), I really haven't gotten out. I took a class in early May, and that was nice, but for weeks afterwards, weather kept me off.

Well, I made up for it this past weekend.

For Memorial Day weekend, I reserved camping at Bennet Field. This is my third time camping out here. In fact, I was here last year as well. Just like last year, the nearby Sebago Canoe Club held their season opener, including some interclub racing that I participated in (3rd, 2nd, and 3rd place BTW, in 100m, 400m, 800m sprints).

Also just like last year, on the Sunday after, DR and I set out for some surfing - only this time on schedule, and to great reward.

We set off from the old sea plan ramp, paddling south as military helicopters took off and set out for Manhattan. It was Fleet Week, after all.

Hangar B.

Helicopter taking off.

Helicopter flying away.

Our paddle out was mostly uneventful. We had more and more current as we went along, and while the day was partly cloudy, visibility was good. We avoided some pleasureboats, mostly setting out to go fishing, as we went under the Marine Parkway-Gil Hodges Bridge. We crossed south to the Rockaway side, then continued westward past varied beaches, mooring yards, and piers.

DR taking in the view.

Looking North.

Passing R10.

Our basic plan was to paddle out to the end of Rockaway Peninsula. We'd gotten some tips from the Commodore of the Sebago Canoe Club. West of the shipping channel was a very shallow area the broke incoming swell and, in some parts, formed a little island at low tide. We would come to call that place "Bird Island", because when we got out there, it was little more than a bald beach in the middle of the water, with various gulls on it.

To find it, we'd looked at a chart and seen it was just southwest from a range formed by the G7 and R6 buoys. So, we'd paddle out to those buoys, then cross the channel. The current would be ebbing, growing in strength at that, so to avoid getting taken out to see, we kept in from the channel.

However, as we paddled along we saw R10 (pictured above), then R8, and then . . .the end of the line. No more buoys, just the day marker mounted on the end of the jetty, the very southernmost tip of Rockaway Point.

Hmmm. Well, there were some big waves coming in, so yours truly paddled out to see what they were like. In hindsight this was probably unwise. The waves were tall and short-period, too short to surf properly. I ended up cruising in towards the rocks of the jetty, which was part of my plan: paddle the weaker current back up. The tidal current was ebbing, which meant that in the even of something going awry, I'd be carried out to sea, and more importantly, into the swell that wasn't already being broken by the jetty.

Also a larger sport-fishing boat came over and positioned itself at the end of the jetty. Fishermen love to get where fast current is whipping fish by like on a conveyor belt.

In any event, I completed my survey without misadventure, and came to the conclusion that we'd be better off finding our originally planned surf zone.

We landed for lunch on a pocket beach and orientated ourselves on the chart. We could see our quarry. It just wasn't near any of the buoys we'd planned for.

Here is a snip of the chart downloaded from NOAA May 31, 2017. The red X is approximately where I noodled in the big water, and the blue box is our approximate Area of Operation for the remainder of our surfing. Squint and you'll see that the last red buoy is R8, not R6, as indicated on my Maptech chart.

Rockaway Point

We landed at a beach not far north from the jetty, so our closest referents were the day marker on the jetty and G5. Based on landmarks to the north, we fixed out position and checked it once we launched, by paddling up to R8.

Location and theory confirmed, we set out to enjoy the surf.

Approaching "Bird Island".

As you can see, there is no island charted, but it does get quite shallow, and there is a spot that comes above the surface at low tide. It's bigger than the chart would have you believe, and forms a broad eddy, particularly on the western side. We found it very easy to surf in, ride the eddy up the western side, come around, and then paddle with current down the eastern side.

For that matter, in the surf zone, the current was weak enough that it was easy enough to turn around and paddle back into the surf, then ride it in.

For the birds.

Coney Island in the distance.

We surfed, and surfed, and surfed and surfed. Farther out there were bigger waves, closer in, smaller waves. We had set out near the end of the peak ebb, so the waters calmed as the afternoon wore on.

One phenomenon that we both experienced, no matter what we did to edge or trim, was that we'd get continually cocked to the right while riding a way. In some spots, there were clearly two wave systems intersecting, and one would take you off the other. At one point, it seemed like I was getting weathercocked, as the wind picked up. We tried trimming forward, backwards, edging left and right. Mostly we were just able to manage coming off the wave early and circling back to try again.

As the water got more shallow, I began to feel its effects. Even on the smaller waves, I found my boat starting to plow into the sand. We started experiencing breaking waves - not huge pounders, they were still 1-2 feet, but breaking nonetheless. It was one of these that finally put me off balance into a capsize - in about two feet of water.

I tried my roll, a couple of times at least. I even stopped to try figuring out if I was coming up on the correct side of the wave - pretty sure I was. But, by the third attempt. I realized I was reaching over the top and not getting the support I needed, and my shoulder was dragging on the sand, so I exited, and there I was, standing on a sand bank in the surf off Rockaway Point.

A couple of thoughts went through my head, while I held on to my boat, keeping it downstream of me. First was, I know in whitewater we're not supposed to stand up - but while the waves were relentless, they weren't worse than any shore surf I've stood in. Second was, should I self-rescue? But in my estimated I thought it was a good opportunity to try an assisted rescue in bouncy water.

DR didn't think so. He was worried about bumping into me - and in hindsight, that wasn't an unrealistic concern. He also comes from a whitewater background, where the better play is usually to let the casualty wash out down stream - although in these conditions, neither of us was sure if "downstream" meant the bird island or the lower harbor.

Instead, what I did was swim my boat out of the surf zone, and form there we did a conventional assisted rescue.

Problem solved, we surfed another forty minutes or so, basically running out the clock until the tide was a bit further past slack. We'd ride the flood in to Jamaica Bay - the opposite of our ride out.

Taking a break on bird island.

Cruise ships and more, in the distant Ambrose Channel.

Far in the distance, we could see ships coming in and heading out along the Ambrose Channel. We could even make out West Bank light and Romer light, two of the lighthouses that mark the treacherous shoals of the lower harbor.

Our route back was more than a bit of work. The predicted F3-F4 winds were on the higher end of that scale, primarily headwinds as we paddled towards the bridge and under, and then as crosswinds while we paddled north. Fortunately the tidal currents improved in our favor, so as we might have been paddling slower, the currents made up for it.

The wind also chilled us a bit. We'd felt a bit overdressed in various layers of neoprene earlier in the morning, but were glad to have multiple layers now, as well as paddling jackets. Once we landed, DR got to break in my fancy Kokatat storm cag; he reports it was very warm and kept him comfortable while we packed up kit and boats. I was wearing my Reed Chillcheater dry cag, and once onshore had some rain paints on to keep the wind off.

Overall it was quite a fun day. I've been meaning to check out this surf spot for a while, and I learned a lot very quickly. I think in the future I'd time it differently, and it's certainly not an environment for beginners, or even improvers who do not have surf experienced. Like most of NYC, there is a bit of traffic to manage. It's also a bit of a schlep to get to. All that being said, it is a fun place to play, and I hope to go back.

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