Friday, June 12, 2009

Naskeag to Swans

As the crow flies, Naskeag Point is about seven miles from Stonington, and not much more if you paddle there. A few days ago though, Rebecca and I strapped the kayaks on the car and drove there, which took us the better part of an hour. We were meeting Peter (see Bartlett Island) and a few other friends we hadn’t yet paddled with. Nate had chosen instead to work on his sailboat. It was a good day for scraping paint on a sailboat: bright and sunny, temps in the high 60’s, not too much wind. If I had a sailboat to work on, or a lawn to mow, that’s what I would have done, but since I don’t, there was little to do but go kayaking.

We met Peter, Barbara, Kim, Karen and Jim, making us a flotilla of seven. Like any blind date, you find yourself checking the others out: what sort of boat they’re paddling, what they’re wearing, in short, do they look like they know what they’re doing? This time, the answer was very obviously yes. We’d met Barbara at a pool session, where she’d been practicing Greenland rolls, which she also teaches. Karen is the proprietor of Castine Sea Kayak Adventures, while Kim was once a guide and instructor at Sea Kayak Georgia. Jim is the owner of Rose Bicycle in Orono, and trains for riding 300 miles in a single day.

Having become accustomed to the simplicity of solo paddling, I have done very little kayaking in a group. If I were to learn anything from the day, it might be something about the dynamics of group paddling. Should a leader be appointed? No one seemed to want the job, so we would govern ourselves loosely; we were all captains of our own boats.

Karen established who had what safety gear- we all seemed to have phones, VHFs and some emergency supplies. This enabled us to split up if anyone wanted to go faster or farther than the rest. It was a day off for all of us though, and we took a liesurely paddle across Jericho Bay, chatting as a mild tailwind pushed us toward Opechee Island.

How do you paddle in such a group? We usually kept a fairly tight formation, since we seemed to have a lot to talk about. I occasionally looked around to see that we were all accounted for, only to see that the others were doing the same.

After a long lunch break on a small, ledgy island, we wound our way among a group of small islands off of Swans Island. Our only uncertain moments came when we all seemed drawn toward different islands, but eventually we ended-up moving in the same general direction.

At the mouth of Casco Passage, where the swell from the west hit relatively shallow water, we enjoyed a wavy, turbulent crossing, which was perhaps the highlight of my day. As we returned to Naskeag point, we all seemed to have a bit of energy still, so we went around Harbor Island and reluctantly called it a day.

Did I learn anything about group paddling? I was certainly inspired by other paddlers, whether by graceful Greenland technique, elegant handling in waves or the ability to non-lead a group of leaders.

Postscript: it turns out that we did have a leader; I just didn't know it. I guess that's a skill in itself.