Saturday, October 20, 2012
How Do You Work These Things?
Last weekend Todd Wright came to Old Quarry with some students from St. Michaels College in Vermont, where he's the Director of the Wilderness Program. On Saturday I joined them for a paddle out to Gooseberry Island. The students had varying levels of experience. Kyle had been to tide races in Scotland, but for Molly, it was her first time in a sea kayak. Like the others, she learned quickly.
On Sunday, in a downpour with strong winds predicted, we went around Whitmore Neck. I wouldn't otherwise have been paddling that day, but as often happens, I was glad to be out there. And the Whitmore Neck route worked well for a day with sketchy weather: a bumpy start followed by stretches of calm water- even a little current.
Monday though, looked even windier; it seemed like a good day to check-out Bagaduce Falls. Without much fetch, the wind has little effect on the conditions there, but it's a fairly contained environment for everyone to hone their skills. Nate and Rebecca joined us.
We often share the Bagaduce launch with shellfish harvesters there to tend their oyster growing operations. In exchange for a few parking spots, we provide them with entertainment. We arrived a little before the ebb went slack- about four hours after low tide in Castine- and the current reversed direction. Just before the new moon, the tide range spanned about twelve feet that day, so we could expect some strong currents. But we launched into slow-moving water and traversed the eddy lines again and again as the speed increased and standing waves began to form.
We played around a bit. Most of us got some practice capsizing... which also gave us some rescue practice. Every now and then people (often kayakers reluctant to learn rescue skills) ask me if I've ever capsized. It's true that, while tooling about on flat water, I'm not too likely to tip over (though I've certainly done it). You get the sense that for some paddlers though, the edge of their boat is a scary place, beyond which lies disaster. The moment a wave- or just a shift in weight- dips that edge further into the water, they are no longer comfortable in their boat. Therefore, they don't learn to turn by edging. They remain stiff, balancing firmly in the middle of their cockpit, perhaps relying on a mechanical rudder to turn their boat. This is why we teach edging and bracing to beginners.
But it's also why getting into a place like the Bagaduce is great practice. If you capsize enough, it's far less intimidating, and it becomes easier to learn. It saves time if you can roll, but on just her third day of paddling, Molly seemed to lose the fear that keeps plenty of far more experienced paddlers from advancing their skills and having more fun.
Soon it turned juicy enough that we moved downstream, giving the students a chance to get a feel for the current in more forgiving conditions. Without the adrenaline rush that often accompanies paddling in the current, I suddenly felt tired. I reached for the Clif Bar in my life jacket pocket and found the pocket open, the Clif Bar gone. Oh well, soon enough we took a break on shore and had some more substantial food. Just enough to get back out there before the current subsided. Then, in the roiling current just below the bridge, I noticed something colorful surface beside me. I reached out and found the errant Clif Bar. It had been recirculating for an hour or two but still tasted as good as it ever would. We played a bit more. Todd caught a wave and stayed on it for a good long time, weaving back and forth over its surface before finally dropping off its back.
Then, as the current died-down before the flood switched to the ebb, Todd challenged us to try something different- anything: eyes closed, backwards... standing-up. Once again, we explored our usual boundaries, capsized often, and had a blast.
The ebb picked-up quickly. Nate and I stuck around for a bit more fun as the wave train built below the bridge, but by then I didn't have much energy for it. I watched the waves for more Clif Bars, and when none materialized, decided to call it a day.
Thanks to Rebecca for many of these photographs.