Sunday, December 31, 2017

Winter Mitsuwa

I recently paddled with some members of my club to Mitsuwa market, in Edgewater, NJ. It's a popular mid-range destination for our club, about four nautical miles each way. Timing with the tidal currents makes it a pretty easy trip. The trick was, this was in winter, December, a day after a significant snowfall.

I've mentioned it before, paddling there solo a couple of years ago.

Clearing the deck.

With temperatures in the 30s F, water about 50 F, everyone was wearing drysuits. At least one member was wearing one for the first time in actual conditions, and a couple others were relatively new to drysuit and cold water paddling. The wind prediction was on the high side - broaching F4 from the west - but turned out to be milder, and more from the south.

Shuffling to and fro.

Mister Cowgirl readies his steed.

We also had sunshine on most of the journey, so after layering up to meet the predicted wind chill, several of us found ourselves warm, in some cases overheating.

While we'd had several inches of snowfall the day before - incidentally, something I drove in briefly, making the rounds of various holiday parties - some was still on our deck, but mostly it had melted. We had "movie snow" decorating the cliffs and trees, but otherwise the water was indistinguishable from any other day of paddling.

Finally ready?

We did spot snow falling off the George Washington Bridge, as it was plowed off, way up high. We could see it streaming in heaps to the water below. That was kinda neat.

Five of us set out. Along the way, we met up with AA, another club member who'd been supporting a swimmer out for a photo shoot. That is, someone swimming in the water, without anyof our fancy thermal protection, near the Little Red Lighthouse, for about half an hour, just for the sake of some photographs. We were amazed. AA came over and said hello, but opted not to join us - he'd worked late the night before, and went back to get some shuteye.

We proceeded, and I found my first navigational challenge. This trip is easy enough to handrail, but one of my favorite marks is no longer in place: the Ferryboat Binghamton, a historic ferry later turned floating restaurant, abandoned years ago and long since demolished by hurricanes Irene and Sandy. Last summer, plans were finally executed to remove the old lady from her mooring, so I took a few minutes to figure out where we needed to go - past that wharf, or farther and around that long pipeline pier? It was the pipeline pier.

Our landing at the beach.

Happy Holidays!

We landed and secured our boats, then went into the market. I had a hot pork and noodle soup.

Nom !

After about an hour, it was time to return. We took in a good view of Manhattan across the way.

From parking lot to Manhattan.

It was a great trip. If you want to see the on-water portions, check out my video with a lil' holiday music set to it.

Happy holidays to all !

A Race with Improvers

I taught a fun class near the end of September, taking students down to a little tiderace that forms under the George Washington Bridge, right here in Manhattan.

I called this an an improvers class, as everyone had some experience sea kayaking, but wanted to develop their skills a bit. The tiderace was just a bonus feature to practice against.

First, we practiced near Dyckman street, in the last bits of ebb tide, working out the fiddly bits.

A wee bit of practice.

Then, we headed south, towards to bridge.

Sally forth!

On the way.

I've mentioned the GWB tiderace before. In a post from last year, I described it a bit of a trip Kayak Dov and I took.

At the start of the flood cycle near the bridge, a wider body of water starts flowing past Jeffrey Hook, where the Little Red Lighthouse sits. Furthermore, if you look on a chart, it's clear that the hydography has a steep, banked curved in the long bay south of the bridge. The effect is that a large volume of water gets squeezed and accelerated at the hook, and the surface water piles up and back over itself. As these waves form, they appear to fall, bizaarely, back towards to flood current. As the effect builds you can actually surf upstream, and if some sizable wake arrives from, say, a passing barge, you can ride some dumpy waves in excess of 1m in height. It can be quite exciting.

For these students, it was a safe, low-consequence environment to gain confidence in somewhat rough water. What I like about the area for instruction purposes is two fold. First, there's a sizable eddy just north of the hook, making for a safe spot to retreat to or observe from, as well as a "ski lift" effect to make multiple runs practicing peelouts. Additionally, since it's a flood current, in the worst case, swimmers and boats and kit will all float back towards where we started.

Getting a taste.

Perfecting a stance.

We did have one rescue. Towards the end of the session, we did get a bit of wake that vaulted the wave heights to 1-2 feet from behind us. I shouted a heads up to my students, reminding them to keep momentum and either ride the wave or let it pass under. One was indecisive, and capsized. I was able to recover him, and called the rest over to the eddy. As a group we decided to end the tiderace portion of the session and practice rescues, with the current carrying us back to our starting position.

Taking a pumpout.

Enjoying the scenery.

Observing others.

I really enjoyed this session, and was happy to have a sizable group for instruction. It's an area I am constantly learning more about, and having a group of students with different goals and abilities pushed me to develop my coaching ability - focusing on one or two things at a time for each participant.

At the end of the day, we were treated to a weather system moving in, some potential precipitation crowding out our sunny day.

Farewell to the Bridge.

I hope to do this again next year - maybe more than once.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Rendezvous 2017

I was very happy to attend the Midcoast Sea Kayak Rendezvous in Georgetown, ME, this year. Hosted by John Carmody, the Rendezvous brings together top coaches from all over the sea kayaking world, with dozens of attendees sorted into groups who rotate through sets of coaches each day. I've been to the area several times, and this was only my second visit to the Rendezvous, and I had a blast. For bonus fun, Mister Cowgirl came along, and got to fine-tune some of his sea skills.

Coaches I worked with: Nigel Robinson, Jerry Polinsky, Russel Farrow, Steve Maynard, Caroline Zeiss, Andrea Knepper, Kevin Beckwith, John Ozard.

In my pod were some familiar faces, mostly chaps who completed or were working towards their Four Stars: Bruce, David, Mike, and some new faces.

I stayed with some friends in a house up the road from the campground, shared it with some friends and new faces. Definitely doing that again!

The biggest challenge was the overall weather. It was too nice! Sunny, winds F2-F3, long period swell. For paddlers looking to challenge themselves in conditions, it was a bit too easy!

I didn't take many photos, and none from being on the water. I'm trying to keep my deck clear and streamline my kit, so cameras take a low priority.

First of all, there was the road trip.

The Saab is loaded.

Now, it's actually loaded.

COLREGS-Compliant: Red on Right is Wrong.

Bundled up for an early start.

We picked up Jean, of Two Geeks Three Knots. her boat was coming on another friend's car, but that friend was delayed enough that she'd be getting in late.

There's a lobster hiding in the back!

Arrived and Registered in Sagadahoc Bay!
We'd gotten a late start on reserving camping at the campgrounds, which were full. Fortunately, the daughter of one of the owners had a house nearby, and was willing to rent it out. It was a little complex, with some people arriving later and staying later, thanks to Bea for getting it all sorted - we stay in a house, with heat, and hot showers.

One of our housemates was a T, a lanky fellow from the UK by way of Montreal. Turns out a New Yorker had sized him for a greenland paddle, and I was the paddle mule.

Like Christmas in Maine.

The maker's mark.

A long paddle.

At one point I had that thing on the subway, and had to lean it at about a 70 degree tilt just to clear the ceiling. I gave up and ended up taking a cab. T brought genuine Canadian Maple Syrup and popcorn as a thank-you, though! Werf it.

The next day, we sorted into our groups, by color. Mister Cowgirl was in the Purple Group.

A bit of surf with Nigel Robinson, Jerry Polinsky, and Russel Farrow. We set out from Sagadahoc Bay warming up, estimating distance and time to paddle it, and then paddling west towards Popham Beach, where the Kennebec River meets the sea.

At the mouth of the river are a couple of large rock islands, and a bend in the river the results in a pretty stiff tiderace. We ferried over to one of the rocks and then spent some time in a wee tiderace, current carrying us NW. Eventually, we backed off of that, ferried over to a large green buoy, and then surveyed the surf along Popham.

It was  . . .interesting, and a challenging read. For one thing, the inbound current was flowing north-ish, almost parallel to the beach, but the ocean swell was coming in from the SE. On a chart, it was clear that there was a long, low sandbank, and as the swell hit that, it would turn and roll in at a complementary angle to the primary surf. Additionally, the transition to that long low back was abrupt.

The result was somewhat messy but organized. Waves would form and break pretty far out, then hurtle in towards the beach. Waves came from two different directions, converging like a pair of scissors at one spot on the beach. The current would move us sideways as we waited, and a bit while surfing in, left to right as we faced the beach.

So - eight ball in the corner pocket time. And I gotta say, I nailed it, starting my line to the left, surfing in, backing off, then catching a complementary wave from the ride, landing on a nice, chill patch of sandy beach.

Later on, as we rode in the waves, there was one surprising bit of swell that picked me up and ran me in. I braced for what seemed like forever, then tried coming off too soon and capsized. I whiffed on my roll but found I was shallow enough to quickly pole up and paddle back out.

Later, when we relaunched from the beach for lunch, I felt a *POP* and my backband gave way. I paddled out past the surf zone - our given exercise was to stay and paddle in the surf zone - and saw that an 1"x 1" panel of plastic had sheared out of my seat bucket, including the part where the bolt goes in. While I managed to fix this with zip ties, this issue haunted me the rest of the weekend.

Popped clean out.

Bolt and washer, still in place. 

After our surf session, we paddled back to camp, arriving with enough water left to paddle in. Sagadahoc Bay gets awfully muddy on a lower tide level.

Our second day paired us up with Steve Maynard and Caroline Zeiss. Early on, rumors were buzzing and turned out to be true. We were paddling out to Seguin Island!

Seguin Island is about four nautical miles south of our campground, a large set of rocky cliffs with but a single sheltered area to land. There's a lighthouse on the top, and a small, defunct boathouse near the landing. It's a proper journey, with a lengthy open crossing, as well as some ledges along the way to play with and navigate against.

Challenge #1: Waiting for the tide to come in.

We paddled out, playing a game of, basically, leap frog, to keep in position and warm up a bit. As we approached Seguin, we veered right in order to circumnavigate it counter-clockwise, playing aginst some features along the way. However, rather than staying and playing, we just played and kept moving, on and on around the island, then back a ways, then back on our original course, eventually rounding the final bend to land in the sheltered nook below the light.

Behind the defunct lighthouse was a long, long, long wooden track leading up to the lighthouse. After lunch, I walked up the entire length, noting the wobbly and loose boards before realizing, at the top, the the track was closed, and we were supposed to be walking up a path just below it. By this point, it was almost time to leave, so I took a couple of pictures, turned around, and left.
A long climb up.

Seguin Light.

A bell.

No kidding.

Very clear water!

The journey back was pleasant and uneventful. As we approached Sagadahoc Bay, we realized the tide was dropping, and if we lingered too long we'd be caught out in the mud. We managed to get off in time, and debriefed in a little gazebo overlooking the bay - whereafter we spotted the other groups coming in, and we started to wonder who would make it in before the tide ran out.

Sure enough, a few didn't quite make it.

Low tide.

The third day was our short day, as everyone would want to be off in time to clean up, pack up, and start long drives home. We were paired with Andrea Knepper, Kevin Beckwith, and John Ozard. I've met Andrea before, and paddled with John, but Kevin was a new acquaintance.

The tidal situation was such that there wasn't much to play with. High tide was in the early afternoon, which meant that at most we'd catch the back half of the flood cycle and be off shortly after. The weather was similarly benign - there weren't big Low pressure systems kicking up shorter period waves offshore. We were challenged to find something close and interesting.

We set out from Reid State Park, and basically played around some rocky features - first, Griffith's Head, then up along the coast. I practiced paddling as close to the shoreline as I could, and sure enough a large swell, about my height came along broadside. I braced into it but capsized; I think what must have happened was, as I was alongside a sloping rock, and as the wave hit me it also lifted and dissipated, so I lost my support.

I ended up in a position to roll up on my weaker side, but I though for a moment and thought 1) that's my weaker side, but also 2) I'd be swinging into rocks and, I think, coming up against the next waves. Thus, I swung around and rolled up on my strong side, positioned to brace into the next oncoming wave, which wasn't necessary.

More than one person later remarked that my practice roll looked pretty good. Was it intentional? "Well, the recovery was intentional, that's for sure," I said.

Somewhere in all of this, that pesky backband gave way again. The zip ties that I'd used to secure the band to the pillar had broken use, and Kevin had us try a repair at sea. now, in hindsight, we futzed around with it longer than necessary, but ultimately it took one coach supporting my boat while I sat on my back deck to get better access to the operating theater - it's hard to work on something immediately next to your waist.

Assorted Musings
Always, always, always look up your own tidal and weather conditions.

I am adding zip ties to my small repair kit. I've been so focused on patching holds and snapped paddles that it never occurred to me to need fasteners.Maybe some paracord too.

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.