Thursday, May 25, 2017

Lunch On Steves Island


We paddled straight-out from Stonington, toward the familiar, wind-stunted shape of Steves Island, and it felt strange to me, realizing how long it had been since I’d launched from Colwell Ramp and followed this route that had once been my after-work getaway out to the islands. Despite the forecast of increasing winds, the air felt clear and warm; it finally felt like spring, and the activity at the ramp  - guys launching floating docks and then a seining dory – added to the feeling of a new season upon us. We crossed the Thorofare, aiming toward Steves Island with Isle au Haut lurking in the background.

Owens had come down from Colby College, where she would graduate in only a few days and then head-off to lead a month-long trip along the north shore of Lake Superior. It was good to have a guest who wanted to make the most of her time in our backyard.

We were in the habit of remarking that it looked nice out there, but we had this or that to do instead of paddling. There’s always a ‘this or that,’ and since this might be Owens’ last paddle on salt water for awhile, we had a good excuse to get out there.

The previous day she and I had paddled from Greenlaw Cove, where Rebecca and I had spent the last seven months house-sitting, and taken a loop around the east end of Eggemoggin Reach. Today though, we’d been drawn back out to the Stonington archipelago.

Moments after we passed Green Island, the wind picked-up, warm and sudden. We’d been thinking we might look for some splashy spots farther out, but the wind was now in our faces, and as we approached Steves it looked so inviting that we just had to land. It seemed we might not find a better spot for lunch, sheltered from the southwest winds on  a sunny ledge in the lee of a granite outcrop.

Of course we had to circumnavigate the island on foot first – a ten-minute meandering walk.

There is something about Steves Island that makes it seem more idyllic than other islands. It is only two miles from Stonington, tucked-in among a sheltering neighborhood of larger islands, but it's just far enough to feel apart from things in town. Maybe part of the allure is its tiny size, the way it doesn’t let you forget you’re on an island. Or it could be its pocket beaches, composed of crumbled and bleached shells, nestled between smooth granite ledges that soak up the sunlight and invite you to linger and just take it in. And of course the four MITA campsites are all sublime. When we lived in downtown Stonington we could see Steves from our apartment, its sloping shape almost iconic against the familiar hilly background of Isle au Haut. On the water, the island seemed to draw me toward it like a tractor beam.

Back when we lived in town, I was the island adopter for the Maine Island Trail Association, and I usually brought a garbage bag to pick-up whatever bits and pieces I might find. But I realized that most visitors to Steves felt about it like I do, and they took care of it as if it were their own, which is in a sense true of this state-owned gem. It was reassuring to me, looking-out from our home in town, to have this magical place always out there waiting, and at times I fantasized about what it would be like to spend a summer camping on one island after another, all for the price of a MITA membership – a fantasy that provided the seeds of the trip we’ll be taking this summer.

After lunch we meandered back to town: George Head, Sand and Crotch Islands, the Thorofare. Having ‘lived away’ (in Deer Isle) for a bit, I thought the village looked particularly nice: the colorful houses descending the hillside around the harbor, the fleet of lobster boats, now mostly returned for the day, the trees leafing-out in myriad shades of green. And it is entirely possible that I enjoyed returning to the mild hustle and bustle of Stonington (it seems that way when you've been out in the quiet islands) more than when I lived there.

MITA's annual clean-up on June 17th has enough volunteers (you can get on a waiting list) but there's still room to sign up for our Wreck & Round Island clean-up through Island Heritage Trust and MITA on June 18th. As we have for a few years, Rebecca and I and perhaps others will guide this free trip (including kayaks and gear, courtesy of Old Quarry Ocean Adventures).

Want to read more about Steves Island? Check-out this article I wrote for AMC Outdoors Magazine about paddling with a family to an island on the Maine Island Trail - in this case, Steves Island. You can also click on the Steves Island tag below, and it should bring-up a few blog posts. It's tough to imagine that I haven't already written at least one "Lunch on Steves" post.

Thanks to Rebecca Daugherty for most of these photos

Friday, May 19, 2017

Sunday Morning on Hells Half Acre

There’s usually a few moments in a trip that I could focus on – some episode or revelation that just seems to stick-out and perhaps act as a shorthand for the whole experience, and when I’m leading others on overnight trips, that moment often seems to be the space of quiet time in the morning before everyone else gets up. That’s what grabs me from last weekend: Sunday morning on Hells Half Acre, the sky turning light and wind in the treetops beginning to build, but the rain yet to begin.

We made a point of waking fairly early so that we might beat the predicted wind and rain and get back across the Thorofare and Webb Cove to Old Quarry. The group, a college leadership class I was coaching through Pinniped Kayak, had been concerned about the dire forecast, but fortunately they still appreciated the value of spending the night out on the island. I would have been disappointed to miss this- this view out my open tent flap: the sparse forest defining itself in the dim morning light, the wind shadow in the cove and beyond it the seas beginning to build out by Bold and Grog Islands. From the comfort of my sleeping bag I could even see our destination at Old Quarry.

With the poles for my MSR tent sent back for repairs, I was using our old Moss Starlet, a sweet little tent from the early 1980s – one of the first to use the open netting design for the roof so that one might lie-out and look at the stars. Of course, I rarely do this, since I’m usually camping at times when I need whatever heat that the thin rainfly might retain, not to mention protection from dew and rain. Still in my sleeping bag, I got the stove in the vestibule going and made myself some coffee, which I sipped while reading a novel, and after a bit, I began to hear noises from the other tent platform, and my day began in earnest. But that was a good interlude- perhaps good enough to make it worth whatever trouble we needed to go to in order to wake-up in such a place. And Hells Half Acre is so easy – less than two miles from the launch at Old Quarry.

There were other moments as well. We saw two other distant parties of kayakers. One was Joseph Mullins (above) whose blog I’ve been following with a sort-of concerned curiosity after he was rescued by the Coast Guard off of Baileys Mistake on the first day of a trip down the east coast. 

The other was another, larger college group that passed Little Camp Island while we ate lunch there and continued without pause, nearly single-file and strung-out over some distance, as they went straight across a wider stretch of the Thorofare. Both of these sightings prompted useful discussions among the future sea kayak leaders in the group.

I dropped the group off at Old Quarry and had a cup of tea with Finn, who is running things there this summer. For the most part, Rebecca and I won’t be working there this year, since instead we’ll be spending a couple of months paddling the Maine coast. I’ll elaborate more on that in another post. Some people tell us we should have a website for it… essentially a marketing scheme, but I think a few updates on this blog ought to be sufficient. We’re just going on a paddling trip, for fun, for two months.

I had a five-mile paddle home to Greenlaw Cove. The previous day I’d paddled out Stinson Neck and portaged over the Sunshine Causeway. On my return trip on Sunday though, the wind and rain picked-up considerably from the east, and I was really happy that I had a rising tide to take me up through Hatch Cove and up through Inner and Southeast Harbors into Long Cove (offshore from the house where we spent the end of last summer) where I again carried-over to Greenlaw Cove: all amazingly sheltered paddling for an otherwise rough day. I even managed to paddle past my dream house (above).

The cool rain felt good on my face, especially knowing I would have the luxury of a warm home from which to watch the storm build through the afternoon.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Whitewater for Sea Kayakers: The Union River

When we’re teaching or guiding people in sea kayaks (or to people wanting to rent kayaks) and we inquire about their experience in such boats, we sometimes get a response along the lines of a shoulder shrug and the claim that ‘I’ve done whitewater,’ as if their having once spent some time in a short boat bobbing down a creek trumps anything one might do in a sea kayak. It seems a common attitude, and it would be understandable if the only thing one saw of sea kayakers were the more prevalent species (perhaps best that I don’t describe that at the moment – that could be a whole other post) (And my guess is that if you're reading this, you are not among that species).

But the response could mean anything from ‘I pointed it downstream and somehow lived,’ or ‘I’ve learned rescues, refined skills, spent LOTS of time on the water and expect that some of that might apply to sea kayaking as well.’ Usually the former is probably closer to the truth, akin to a skier who manages to get to the bottom of a black diamond run and figures he (sorry- it’s usually a ‘he’) is now an expert. Kind of like hitting your first roll, once upon a time, in a sea kayak.

Well, the shoe is on my other foot now; I’m a sea kayaker wondering how my abilities might transfer to whitewater kayaking. And I know that if I told that to most whitewater instructors I’d probably get a fairly obvious eye-roll. I’ve gone whitewater kayaking a few times now, under close supervision of more competent paddlers, and I’ve loved it. And I would say that having good boat handling skills does transfer, especially if you’ve spent some time in tidal currents or surfing, and you’ve rolled enough in those conditions that you tend to come-up rather than swim. (Maybe swimming isn’t a big deal, but it does seem like a bit of a bother, especially when the water is COOLD) (note the extra 'O' - I'm trying to learn the vowel-enhanced lingo).

I did a little whitewater canoeing when I was in high school, mostly on what I would consider guided trips, and then Rebecca and I paddled on our own on some rivers out west (The Colorado, the Rio Grande) on excursions that could only be counted as mishaps in which we were lucky things didn’t get worse. Ah, but you really want to be able to get to those places, deep in the canyons, far into the wilderness, and the rivers are the way to get there. We’re lucky, actually, that those mishaps didn’t turn us off on paddlesports. Those experiences may have actually encouraged us to approach sea kayaking as we have: cautiously, seeking guidance and coaching, building confidence slowly. 

So our approach to whitewater is similar. We’ve wanted instruction, but you know that a beginner class might try our patience. We’ve waited for the opportunity to take a whitewater class aimed at sea kayakers, and in a few weeks we’ll do just that. Nate has been good about getting us out in those short, funny boats as pictured in these shots from a recent run on the Union River in Ellsworth. 

That run is perhaps a bit easier than the Sou, and it allowed us to spend a lot of time just trying to surf the waves, getting more of a feel for how these boats handle. And maybe we’re Nate’s guinea pigs a bit as well, since he’ll be assisting Todd Wright in the upcoming Whitewater for Sea Kayakers class. The class will be June 5-7, and is based in Burlington, Vermont. There may still be spaces left. I’ll admit, hearing the roar of that running water still gets my stomach a little fluttery, but maybe that’s not a bad thing. 

Monday, March 20, 2017

Spring Break on Little Tybee Island

Last week I guided a group from The University of Vermont’s Outing Club on their spring break trip to Georgia. The phrase ‘spring break’ conjures all kinds of images, but I would guess that very few involve chilly rain, freezing temperatures, winds so strong you can’t paddle against them, or pooping into plastic bags. Georgia in the spring can be hit or miss. The previous week was much warmer – warm enough that I packed my summer sleeping bag. I even brought a spring-break-worthy Aloha shirt.

Of course, students in the outing club probably want to have a more rugged experience than those headed to the predictable spring break mayhem further south, which is a good thing, since our trip was no picnic. One might even say some parts began to feel like a bit of an ordeal, especially if one had visions of drunken beach volleyball, or whatever it is they do down at Daytona. But maybe it’s possible that we get a bit more out of some of these more trying experiences. 

We arrived at Skidaway State Park in Georgia late on Saturday night after two long days of driving (three days for me, since I’d started by driving from Maine to Burlington). Sunday was a day to buy food, check-in at Savannah Canoe & Kayak for some local knowledge from Matt & Ben, and then a couple of hours on the Skidaway River, where we worked on basic skills and got our first capsize out of the way. Fortunately, the group was well-equipped with drysuits and good attitudes.

We launched in the rain from Tybee Island on Monday and, not wanting to lug camping gear too far through the low-tide mud, hung-out on a massive sandbar for awhile as the tide rose. This sandbar is, as far as I can tell, the ‘triangle’ that has put Tybee on the map for so many paddlers. Some seem to refer to it as if its name came from some sort of Bermuda Triangle-type demonic influence on the sea state, but seen from above, this pile of sand at the mouth of Tybee Creek is, yes- triangular. For sure though, outgoing currents merge with ocean swells, and I can imagine the shifting sands create all kinds of waves when covered with water and the western wind isn’t knocking-down wave height. 
On Monday at low tide, waves hit the ocean side while the western lee side was calm- a nice spot for a walk.

After our break there, we continued south a short distance to Myrtle Island and found a campsite in a palm grove at the head of a beach littered with the skeletal remains of uprooted live oaks. We anticipated a high, post- full moon high tide that evening, so we tied-up the boats and I watched, a bit nervously, as the tide rose. At its height, the tallest waves sent a surge through the campsite, floating our tied-up kayaks. I waited for it to begin receding before I pitched my tent in the rain.

During the night though, the storm moved out to sea and we had this idyllic beach to ourselves. This was perhaps the most leisurely, spring break-like morning of the trip. We hadn’t decided if we would base camp there or go on to another site, so for the time being, we all just enjoyed the sun and the shelter from the western wind, which hissed through the treetops, but left us mostly untouched. 

Perhaps we were lulled into a sense of ease, so when we launched in the early afternoon for a short, five-mile paddle to Beach Hammock, we were less mentally prepared for what should have been a simple paddle, but turned very challenging when that northwest wind turned out to be right out of the west, right in our face. The first challenge was keeping the group close enough to the beach and not getting blown-out to sea. Less experienced paddlers seldom have a sense of how much easier it is to find even just a little windbreak close to shore, and they tend to not notice how much they’re getting pushed, so I was continually trying to get us pointed-in toward shore, and at times, we moved toward it glacially, almost 
--> unnoticeably .

As a rule of thumb, average paddlers probably paddle anywhere between 2-4 knots, probably on the low side of that if they don’t have much experience, and especially so as the group size increases. And, as a rule of thumb, every ten knots of wind in your face, slows you down one knot. If you add to that the psychological factor of realizing that you’re on a treadmill, making little forward progress, it becomes obvious why many of us decide to just take a day off when the winds pick-up. When we arrived in camp later on, I checked the nearest buoy, and the wind registered at 24 knots, gusting to 30. Probably the really prudent thing would have been to just return to the campsite we’d left, but we proceeded, intent on our destination, still hoping that the following day we would head-up the Bull River and circumnavigate Little Tybee Island. (Little Tybee is considerably larger than Tybee Island and encompasses several hammocks or islands, all connected at low tide by marsh and sandbars). 

Of course, the longer we took, the more the tide went-out, and by the time we neared Beach Hammock, we ended-up dragging kayaks through vast shallows where we couldn’t sink our blades deeply enough to propel ourselves forward. Add to that a long carry as the sun set to get our boats above the high tide line, and we were all ready for a quick dinner and sleep.

The wind howled through the night and the next day looked no better. We decided to head back to Myrtle Island, but not wanting to merely retrace our route, we decided to explore the marsh. It’s worth pointing-out that the charts are at best vague about the latest configuration of sand and marsh, and it can be difficult to know where you might get through. We had all day though, so we just followed twisting tidal creeks, trusting that we might either find a way out to open ocean or inland to Tybee Creek.

Long story short: we didn’t do either of those. We paddled about five miles into the marsh, until well after high tide, and then worried that we might run out of water and decided to head back out, which brought us almost back to Beach Hammock, where we’d started the day, after about ten nautical miles of paddling. We saw lots of dolphins up there though, and people seemed happy about that. 

They weren’t happy though, as we neared the mouth of this creek and the twisting channels leading through piled sandbanks appeared to dead-end, as if the water had all drained-out, leaving us landlocked. At that point, we’d put-off lunch, wanting to savor getting out to the open ocean, and we were all a bit drained. One of the student leaders got out of his kayak and took a look at what would have been maybe a quarter-mile carry over the dunes. But there was still current flowing out toward Wassaw Sound, so I followed it and soon arrived at open water. From there it was only about five more miles to the campsite on Myrtle Island, where we later arrived at a familiar campsite with plenty of daylight. 

They were a resilient group though, and by dinner seemed to have recharged, perhaps even buoyed by having come through another difficult day together. I told them we’d paddled fifteen nautical miles – an impressive day, especially for new paddlers – and this may have charged them-up even more, to realize that they were overcoming circumstances that would have been difficult for anyone.

As I understood the goals of this trip, they lay somewhere between kicking-back on a beach for spring break and having the sort of adventures that outing clubs seek. I think we did both. For the students, I think these were some long paddling days, and I felt a bit bad about it, feeling the need to explain that sea kayaking isn’t always so difficult. But I don’t think they just wanted to sit on the beach all day either. 

For me, the most ordeal-like aspect of it is being attuned to what the students are going through. Sure, I was tired, but I have to admit that there’s something I really love about long, difficult days, and you can’t really dig for that hidden inner strength if you don’t push things a bit sometimes. You know you’ll get through it, and you know that at the end of the day, that cup of tea in camp is going to be that much more satisfying.

Friday, March 10, 2017

The Sou

Rebecca and I were playing pickleball in Stonington when we got a text from Nate. Did we want to go for a whitewater run on Wednesday with him and Chris? Of course we did. Never mind that I needed to pack to leave Thursday morning to go guide a trip in Georgia. These opportunities don't come every day; you say yes to them.

After a foggy drive, we met in Hampden at the take-out for a run on Souadabscook Stream. The parking area was a sheet of ice, so we parked along the roadside and shuttled up to the put-in in Nate's truck. Fortunately for us, Nate and Chris have an extra boat or two and were happy to outfit and coach us. Of course a lot of the gear - like everything we wore - is the same we would use for sea kayaking. And of course, a lot of the skills overlap as well, especially if you spend some time in tidal currents.

Despite the snowy banks and the sculptural ice formations atop rocks or hanging from flooded trees, the air temps crept up into the high forties, and we were plenty warm. This was my second time in a whitewater boat, and the second time on the Sou (rhymes with 'cow') but Rebecca's first such excursion.

Whitewater can offer a nice counterpoint to sea kayaking. It takes you inland to places we don't get to in sea kayaks, at times when boating on the ocean might be less practical. And although the emphasis seems to be more upon thrill-seeking than journeying, we enjoyed the less-bumpy stretches as well. You just drift downstream and enjoy the ride.

But then there's the bumps, and they're a lot of fun.

I'd like to think I'll be plunging into whitewater boating as I did sea kayaking, but it's not likely, at least anytime soon. I feel lucky when these opportunities come my way, and we would undoubtedly do it more if we invested in our own gear and began taking classes and getting coaching as we did for sea kayaking. But maybe it's knowing what it took to improve my sea kayaking skills that makes me hesitant to spread myself too thin. Maybe it's yet another reason to figure-out how to spend less time working and more time having fun.

As on last year's run down the same stream, I chose to not run Grand Falls at the end. Chris did though.

If you're a sea kayaker and you'd like to give whitewater a try, Nate will be teaming-up with Todd Wright in Vermont for a class meant just for you this June!

I've got a short article in the new issue of Adventure Kayak Magazine about paddling in some of my favorite neighborhoods. Chris (above) appeared in a profile as well. It isn't online yet, so if you don't already subscribe, you might just have to run out and buy it!

I also discovered that Paddling Magazine published a favorable review of AMC's Best Sea Kayaking in New England last summer:

Friday, February 10, 2017

Between Storms: A Few Winter Paddling Tips

A storm had come through the previous night, battering the windows with sleet, covering the ground with a layer of slushy snow, and another storm – a bigger one – was on its way. But for a few hours anyway, the air temperature would rise above freezing, and this happened to coincide with high tide: a perfect opportunity for a quick paddle. I got into my gear as quickly as I could and headed-out.

It has been awhile since I’ve written much about the measures I take before I feel adequately prepared to paddle on a day with both air and water temperatures in the mid-thirties, but it’s certainly worth mentioning every once in awhile that I don’t take the risks lightly, and I wouldn’t want to encourage anyone else to either. But it seems that some do. Two weeks ago, the Coast Guard rescued a man who had capsized his kayak off of Kittery. Somehow, when we read such accounts it is unsurprising that he wasn’t wearing a lifejacket and that his cold, wet clothing was cut from him before he could be treated for hypothermia and shock. Of course he was lucky just to survive.

It’s the sort of story that makes the news and gets the general public thinking that kayakers aren’t too clever. I won’t make any assumptions beyond the bare facts in the Coast Guard’s report, but any time I hear about a mishap like this I have this vague fear that among the paddler’s gear they’ll find a soggy copy of my guidebook (with the entire Introduction completely unread, of course). I have also been concerned that someone might have read my blog, said ‘that looks like fun’ and gone-off to try it themselves.

Part of the reason I shy away from writing about gear or how to acquire skills is that I feel strongly that this is something best learned first-hand, in person, rather than reading about it or from videos. Sure, I can tell you what gear I use, but I’d hate to give the impression that it’s all you need. And if you take a class or get coached by a knowledgeable instructor, you’ll learn about these things.

I think I worried more about the example I set in the earlier years of this blog, before Facebook became saturated with photographs or videos of paddlers taking what might appear to be baffling risks, often with no context at all to give the viewer some idea whether this were something they should try at home or not, or what the paddler did to be safe – or not. At least I try to put things in context. But I’ve also tended more toward trying to convey the experience, rather than the ‘how-to’ aspect of kayaking. And again, the Introduction to my guidebook covers quite a bit, and I’m not fond of repeating myself. Really, I recommend it.

But at the risk of repeating myself, here are a few points about the paddling I do in the winter in Maine. Really, these are all things to consider no matter the season, but in the winter, my attentiveness to risk management is greatly elevated, and I pay particular attention to the following concerns: timing my trip, relaxing my ambitions, choosing less consequential locations, and of course, before all of those considerations, I need the skills and gear.

1) I choose my days carefully. For this reason, I avoid putting some random Saturday on the calendar and inviting friends for a trip that we’ll take that day, regardless of the conditions. I constantly watch the weather, looking for windows of opportunity. Everyone has their own standards, but in the winter, I’m looking for minimal wind and air temperatures around freezing or above. Bonus if the sun is shining – it keeps you warmer. It helps that my winter schedule is fairly loose, but I think it’s a bad idea to get your heart set on a particular day and being tempted to stick with it, even when you know you shouldn’t.

2) My ambitions tend to be scaled-back quite a bit from what I do in warmer weather. Usually, I’m happy just to get out for a short paddle – maybe one or two hours. My hands and feet don’t have much chance to get cold. I tend to get chilled when I get out for a break, so it helps to just avoid breaks and keep paddling. You can certainly go for longer days, but you need to be vigilant about throwing-on extra layers, bringing warm drinks, etc. I don’t often drive very far to go paddling in the winter. (In fact, when it’s cold I pretty much only drive to the pool).

3) Most of my winter excursions tend to be in more sheltered areas that I’m very familiar with. Again, we’re fortunate to be in a good spot here on Greenlaw Cove, but when winds pick-up, it can be very sheltered here.

Beyond those are the more usual concerns about skills and gear, in that order, which apply to the rest of the year, but become more consequential as the air and water turn colder. These are simple facts; it’s fairly straightforward. If you tip over in 37-degree water (as it is here now) and you fail to roll and can’t get back into your boat quickly, things may go downhill for you very quickly, even if you’re wearing all that fancy gear we put so much faith into. And that’s assuming that the cold water hasn’t triggered a gasp reflex (it’s really better to avoid capsizing). You need to be absolutely confident in your rescue skills and in those of anyone with whom you paddle.

Much could be written about gear, but I’ll just list what I wore Wednesday as an example. The drysuit is the crucial element, and I adjust the layers underneath depending upon the weather. Underneath I wore wool socks, wool baselayer (top & bottom), thin synthetic pants and 2 more upper body layers (1 wool, 1 fleece). I wear various neoprene gloves, mittens and pogies, but yesterday I was fine with a pair of NRS Rogues. Since last winter I’ve been wearing thick, 6.5 mm diving boots made by Xcel, and my feet have always been warm. On my head I wore a neoprene beanie made by Hyperflex. These beanies have become a favorite piece of year-round kit, and I’ll write a bit more about some that I’ve tried in another post.

One of my big questions before I launch is how many layers I’ll need on top. Yesterday, with 3 layers plus the drysuit (and lifejacket) I was hot within five minutes. But the air temps stayed in the low to mid-thirties and the wind picked-up into the teens, and I was glad to have the extra layer. My gloves were a little damp and my fingertips may have been mildly numb by the time I returned. If I’d been concerned I could have added pogies, or switched to a heavier glove or mitt. Of course I also carried with me all my usual back-up gear, radio & cell phone, storm cag, etc.

But part of the reason I shy-away from getting too gear-focused is that it’s easy to start regarding your gear like a suit of armor that will protect you no matter what. People put on a helmet and seem to forget that it won’t prevent you from breaking an arm or getting your face impaled by a broken paddle shaft. And even in a drysuit, that water is freakin’ cold. Which leads me back to skill. Whether or not you get out on the ocean this time of year, it’s a good time to hone your skills in the warm water of a swimming pool.

Oh, and the whole paddling alone issue. I’m confident in my abilities in the situations I get myself into. But as a human I’m prone to error and I have come to the realization, mid-paddle, that I could be getting into a situation that I can’t get out of. That’s a bad feeling, and I really recommend that you avoid it. And, not to put too fine a point on it, but my skills are well above average and I practice frequently – a good combat roll in chaotic surf and tidal currents that I’ve been able to test many times, and I seldom swim. But everybody swims sometime, and failing to think about what will happen when you do could be fatal hubris. Cold air and water only decrease the odds of a happy outcome.

Again, there’s a section in my guidebook about solo paddling and group dynamics. If there’s some doubt in your mind about your abilities should anything go wrong, either don’t launch or change your plans. In addition, don’t subscribe to the ‘safety in numbers’ myth. That’s a whole other can of worms. If you’re relying on someone else, make sure they know it and they’re worthy of your trust. Two moderately-skilled paddlers vaguely relying on each other are less safe than a skilled paddler relying on no one but himself, but with a realistic sense of limits.

Rant over: back to ‘the experience of paddling’. Right. Well, it was a nice paddle, not much to say about it really. An hour and a half: along Shore Acres Preserve and around Campbell Island. Some ice floes, which are cool to paddle among. It makes you feel like Nanook or some Arctic explorer as you weave among the ice. A bit of wind in the face for the return stretch. It just felt good to get out. And then the real storm came.

But then again, you could just wait for the ocean to freeze, strap-on some snowshoes and walk over the ice at low tide.

It's worth pointing-out that some of these photos were taken from shore, on days when I wasn't even considering getting on the water (or the ice, as the case may be). And thanks to Rebecca for the shots she took of me from the porch, when she was recuperating.