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.