|Ready to launch!|
Yesterday, the outlook was for westerlies to blow up to 30 knots. We both doubted that it would get that strong, but knew it would blow hard enough to create some significant wind waves to interact with some of the the strongest currents for the season.
As I boarded the ferry for San Juan Island, I noted how all of the boats anchored had shifted their angle to point to the southwest--a good sign. I could also see some clearing skies and cumulous clouds indicative of a cold front passing through our area--another good sign. As the ferry made its way south to more open water, whitecaps began to appear, and I smiled thinking of the conditions we would likely meet today.
Now, we launch off of San Juan island and begin an easy ferry glide to the west, surfing small wind waves, and checking transits as the angle of the current changes. Fifteen minutes earlier, we could see Shawna and Leon of BodyBoatBlade working with some students as the current continues to build. It was them that first introduced me to paddling in water like this and I smile thinking back to their encouragement and feedback which was instrumental in my development as a paddler. But alas, we've got further to go, so we continue our crossing for another few miles to reach our destination.
Once we've crossed, it's sort of a "park-and-play" situation. Ryan and I feel confident we'll be able to return to our landing, so we stash much of our gear on the beach under a tarp weighted with rocks. Having a boat which is relatively unladen makes things easier on our bodies for initiating quick changes of direction, and a little less dangerous in the event of a collision. What we do carry, though, are essential safety items: Tow belts, VHF radios, storm cag, accessible water and snacks, first aid kit, and inflated float-bags in bow and stern compartments of our kayaks.
|Ryan drops in. The waves are almost twice as big as they look, because you can't see the troughs!|
Our biggest assets for avoiding a serious incident are our skills, and our awareness of the risks we are taking by being here. Since performing a rescue in today's conditions is downright dangerous, a reliable roll on both sides is mandatory; because it would be very difficult to maintain contact with a boat if one of us swims, we're dressed to endure a long period in the water.
|Ryan pivots on the crest and catches the next wave.|
Risk Assessment: Conditions are getting big, and there are two of us. Greatest hazards are 1) collision with each other and, 2) Shoulder injury when getting dropped off the steep waves.
To mitigate #1, We give each other ample room, knowing that the "radius of influence" we can be moved by the breaking water, and the speeds generated by catching these waves require lots of space. We constantly monitor each other's position, predicting the trajectory of our boats, and are ready to initiate a lot of edge, some powerful reverse strokes, or a capsize should we need to slow down or change direction. We also try to stay in different zones of the overfalls, separated by a tongue of faster moving water. Of course, we're wearing helmets, our boats carry inflated float-bags in the hatches (in the event of a lost hatch cover or hole from collision), and we wear whitewater PFD's which offer better spinal and rib protection against impact. Most of all, we avoid catching waves if there is any chance of collision.
|Thanks P&H! Surfing the Airies|
For #2, We pay very close attention to keeping elbows in, tucking low when being hit by heavy sections of the breaking wave, and transferring from a low brace to a protected high brace as soon as the active elbow begins to rise towards the shoulder. Sometimes I shift my grip a bit to reduce the shaft length (lever arm) on the active blade side of my paddle, which just reduces the forces on my body as I get tossed by a wave--a nice advantage to a straight shaft. We also are mindful of tucking forward if we get pitchpoled to protect the head and spine--the back deck is not the place to be when getting thrown around. We've warmed up on the paddle over, and try to use the forces of the water to our advantage, rather than muscle against it.
|Ryan's head gives scale|
Additionally, we take frequent breaks in an eddy to rest, snack (blood sugar) and hydrate. This ensures that we are in our best form when the inevitable capsize and roll (or rolls!) occur. Should one of usbecome injured or swim, we need to have the reserves to help with a rescue, a contact tow, or to move a swimmer, without their boat, to safety .
We have a blast watching each other in this aerated water. I get a great pop-out, and Ryan styles a brilliant recovery from a sudden backsurf/drop off a huge peak.
I'm ultra-present in this incredible moment and zone, loving by body's ability to do what it knows how to do, while the more technical side of my brain breaks it down into pieces: I'm moving fast diagonally to my right, looking at the wave forming, projecting myself into the exact position that will put the forward half of my boat into the foam pile. OK, now I'm there, and my body instantly makes the choice between edging and low bracing into the wave trimmed forward, or rotating and looking down-wave, planting my down-wave blade, with only a slight edge towards the trough, and trimming aft to free my bow to be pushed by broken water. My body chooses the latter, and makes subtle adjustments to edge, trim, and blade pressure to rocket down the wave face, while I scan my field of vision for the whereabouts of Ryan.
|Plunging into the trough|
We wisely reserve ample energy to get back against the wind and enjoy the chaos of an impressive convergent zone which is creating 4-foot "witches hats"--the tops getting blown off by the strong wind.
We land feeling completely alive, well-worked, yet beaming from the energy of all that moving water; we high-five on the beach, fortunate to have been able to participate in another of nature's rare offerings.