Thursday, November 17, 2016

Super Moon at Sullivan

When you hear that the next full moon will be a “super moon,” – the closest that the moon will come to the earth in many years, you might think “okay, so what do I do with that information?”

Well, for one thing, there’s just something stunning and gorgeous when the moon looks a teeny bit bigger than usual and you see it coming-up. The evening before the full moon I had a ‘holy-cow’ moment when I looked up from the kitchen table and saw the moon rising over the cove. I grabbed a camera and went outside. For most people, that’s it – it’s something to see, especially when the moon rises and there’s some foreground to give you a sense of scale- in this case, the mud flats of Greenlaw Cove, with less water than usual. Certainly, it would have been cool to be out paddling, and I saw some nice photos on the Internet of people around the world doing just that.

Instead, we went-out for a mid-day paddle in Greenlaw Cove, where we’re living this winter, and forayed along the shore into nooks that would ordinarily be unreachable. Later-on when the moon rose, much of the cove was emptied-out, and it would have been a long walk (or a car-top elsewhere) to float our kayaks.

But, aside from the visual treat, the nearness of the moon and its amped-up gravitational pull also translates to an increased tidal range. The range over the past couple of days – meaning the difference between tide height at low tide and tide height at high tide, has been 15 to 16 feet. Spring tides in this area (the tides that occur twice a month, during the new and full moons) tend to average closer to 13 feet.
Higher tide range is evidenced several ways. There’s more water coming-in and going out. At high tide you could paddle in places that are seldom under water, and at low tide you could walk in places that are rarely dry. In addition, that plus-size water volume still needs to pass in and out during the same time period, which means stronger currents.
If you want to experience those stronger currents, go to a place where the moving water is already constricted by topography and depth, like Sullivan Falls. Even without spring tides, a nine-foot range there produces lively water with plenty of surf-able waves. So the morning after the super moon, we went to Sullivan Falls for the flood.

We launched close to mid-tide. The tide had already reached the usual high-water mark, but with three hours before high tide, one could only imagine how the features would all change. Nate immediately slipped down onto some nice waves and rode them a bit before dropping farther down to our more usual play spot. I followed and had my first capsize that I’d had for awhile; indeed, the current shot-through with unforgiving speed- it took only a minor misstep to get flipped around, with little chance for recovery. The water felt cold and fast, but I was only under for a few seconds before rolling-up and discovering myself still facing into the current, only a wave or two back, still surfing. Rebecca went through a similar baptism. And there were more to follow.

We played there for a bit, but the waves seemed to just get messier, so we progressed to another spot. We’ve paddled a lot at Sullivan Falls, including a few days with tides near this range, and we’ve learned that big water volume doesn’t necessarily produce the best conditions for surfing. That’s mostly what we’re doing there: trying to get on waves, facing the current, so we can essentially stay in the same spot, surfing on these standing waves.

But the great thing about Sullivan is how it’s always changing. Variables abound. As the current increases, so does the depth. Waves go away in one spot and evolve in another. Some waves are tall and steep, others are low and gentle. Some develop grabby holes in front of them, and others long, even troughs that allow you to ‘typewriter’ across the crest.

This time, our highlight probably came when we found a set of waves off a point where we’ve never been able to surf before. They were small, but powerful, clean waves and gave us some nice rides- enough time on them that we could focus on our technique and try to improve.

When that spot started to dwindle, we ferried back across the river and made our way up-current before ferrying back again, regaining the spot near the launch where we’d begun the morning- nearly unrecognizable beneath a few more feet of water. This time the attraction was a long, diagonal seam where the water came over a ledge and curled back upon itself. If you get sideways on this wave, and keep your weight strongly on the down-current edge, you can side-surf it, something we’d discovered there a few years ago, but rarely had the opportunity to repeat.

And soon enough that wave also began to disappear. Maybe that’s also part of Sullivan’s attraction, especially with such big currents and rapidly changing features – the ephemeral quality. You can’t step into the same river twice. When you catch a wave, there’s no guarantee it will be there the next time you go looking for it. The super moon’s lure of a huge tidal range draws us there, as much out of morbid curiosity as the desire merely to experience the place in one of its more extreme incarnations. But it’s really just a few hours of playing in the waves.

We didn’t stick around for the ebb. Three intense hours at Sullivan is taxing, and we had a pretty good idea of what to expect after the tide change. There would be some great waves to start with, but they would develop into massive, but very rough and trashy water with a particularly grabby and dangerous hole (that can usually be avoided). The paddling becomes more a matter of self-defense than merely trying to grab a wave. The morning had been good enough.

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