Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Drop Everything!

For those whose passions (like boating, sailing, surfing...) are so dependent on the dynamic qualities of the natural world, a good day often requires that we be just as dynamic and fluid with our plans and lives.

The phone service and internet were out of commission yesterday for some reason, so I was unable to do my usual weather check (always on the lookout for conditions which would create relatively exciting paddling).  I resigned myself to another day of progress, building a structure on our property--fulfilling, but nothing like a good day on the water.  Working.  Thirsty.  Get a drink in the cabin.  Check for dial tone while I'm at it.  It 's working!  Check internet--it's working!  Check email--one from Ted Emery;  "short notice, but it looks like it's blowing.  I've got the day off--want to go boating?"  Check weather--W 40 at Race Rocks, W 27 at intermediate buoy--hhmmmm looks promising.  Phone call, formulate a plan, throw my gear together, re-check for essentials, catch ferry, it's going to be a good day.

 After a short drive, we arrive at our put-in and carry boats down a slippery shoreline.  We're psyched to see ample wind and fairly large waves exploding against the exposed aspects of the numerous rocks and small islands in the area, and get on the water smiling.  An enjoyable paddle to our favorite tidal race gets us there at slack, and we let the current build as we play on some rare features created by the uncommon wave energy that's present.  We weren't sure how the zone would shape up, because max flood today was on the lesser side (3.0 knots), but theorized that the waves would be higher, slower, and lumbering.
Ted digging in.  It's just getting good
This turned out to be pretty much the case, and created a great exercise in positioning;  too far in the front, and the waves weren't quite fast or steep enough to surf.  Too far in the back and the seas were breaking quite heavily with an alarming sound--enough to implode a spray deck or hatch (though unlikely).  The wind and the lesser current speed were creating a balanced force on our boats and if we did nothing, we'd pretty much stay in the same position within the race.  I was appreciating another opportunity to paddle the P&H Delphin in conditions it was designed for.  The maneuverability of the design is a real asset when you're getting thrown around by the sea, it likes foam-pile assisted turns on the wave, and the relatively increased stability allows me to relax some of the stabilizing micro-muscles in the core, reserving more energy for catching waves and making moves.

Matt at the top of a diagonal run in the front section

As the wind strengthened and the zone continued to get more intense, we took a break in the eddy to talk risk assessment.  This was not a safe situation for anyone without a solid roll and ability to self-rescue.  The what-if plan for a capsize-and-swim scenario changed along with the conditions: A group of 3 would be more ideal for any incident--especially one involving injury, towing and support.  We were 2 people in a high energy zone, if someone were to swim, their cockpit would be flooded making the boat extremely heavy and dangerous.  High likelihood of injury (for both rescuer and swimmer) to try to perform an assisted rescue--teeth and bones are precious!, and the boat would most likely be ripped from the swimmer's grasp or (if they held on too tightly) they could dislocate shoulder or damage hands/arms as they were pulled into more violent breaking waves.

Matt in deep (right of center).  Starting to get rowdy and fun.
If a swim occurred, a re-entry and roll would be the optimal self-rescue.  If that failed, and unless a lucky opportunity presented itself, the swimmer would try to keep paddle (for visibility and to aid their progress towards shore) and make for shore or eddy, the paddler would stay with swimmer, offering encouragement and a back deck tow when possible towards shore.  Once the swimmer was safe on land, we would assess the possibility of retrieving the boat, communicating with each other via VHF (on our persons) and/or paddle signals.  If this seemed too risky, or the boat was not visible, we would broadcast a securite on 16 advising all mariners that a kayak of a certain description had been lost in certain region (lat. long.), when it had been lost, and (most importantly) that the person belonging to that kayak was safe-- that there was no person in the water.

We continued to be played with and tossed around by the sea until we felt that we should "quit while we were ahead" and while we still had energy reserves.  We took a longer and more arduous route back to our take-out, paddling against the current (now at max) around two small headlands of an outer island which, though not as epic as the main feature, was also beautiful and exciting.

Ted.  It wasn't boring going around some of the points on the way back either!

We were definitely tired after quite a workout of a day, but very happy.  A pint of Manney's followed by the sunset were icing on the cake.  I reflected on how lucky I am to be able to have the space in my life to be flexible seizing an opportunity at short notice, as well as to have people who are friends and good boaters to enjoy these places with.