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.