September 2017

Last Multi-Day Trip this Summer

    We paddled back to Stonington Town Landing last weekend in 10 - 15 mph winds just in time to miss the late afternoon downpour and the gusts which reached 30 mph later in the day.  Closely monitoring the weather during the morning, we somehow, by luck or by judgment, managed to enjoy another perfect day on the water.  While an easy paddle with sunny skies and flat water would have been our choice, the conditions as they were mean't that we had a rollercoaster of a ride getting back from Steves (sic) Island without mishap.  It was a LOT of fun.  
    We'd camped overnight on Buckle Island which has become our go to island for two-day trips.  Wind on the first day had picked up in the afternoon which mean't that rather than circling McGlathery Island we settled in and enjoyed the island serenity - it seemed even more peaceful than usual since lobster boats were in port due to the Labor Day holiday.  We saw groups of terns scurrying along a beach and also guillemots - smallish black and white birds of the puffin family - diving almost in sequence.  Gulls circled as they feasted on shellfish - clams and mussels - first cracking them open by dropping them from a height on the rocky shelves at waters edge. In the early morning we saw cormorants which go through a complicated routine of shedding water from their wings and body after diving - apparently they can dive 100's feet and do so by first soaking their feathers in water to reduce their buoyancy.  After surfacing from a dive, they spend several minutes  flapping their wings then find an exposed rock where they spread their wings wide to dry in the sun.  There they hang out in groups looking like huge vampire bats.  We also saw a kingfisher and a few ospreys diving for small fish which they catch below the surface.  We could hear bald eagles calling across the water on Spruce Island and caught a glimpse of one where they perch high up on fir trees. Eagles are far more common now and it's not unusual to see them up close from the kayak. A lone harbor seal observed us while we were drinking coffee first thing - we must have looked to be an uninteresting bunch, after a glance of just few seconds the seal dove and didn't resurface near our beach.
    We decamped and paddled away reluctantly from our two tent sites - one in the woods, one at the waters edge - not only because skies had now become grey, but more simply because we were sad to leave our island haven.

Tide and Tidal Current

    As I've written in previous newsletters, wind and fog are two of the environmental factors which we consider when planning a sea kayaking trip.  Tidal current and tide times are also factors to think about and both impact our decisions about where to go and when.
    Tide - the vertical movement of water due to the gravitational effect of the moon and sun -  affects our planning and we are always aware of whether we're paddling on an incoming or outgoing tide.  The rate of rise or fall of water is not linear but follows a sigmoidal curve - in the first hour after turn of tide, typically, water rises or falls a foot or less; during the third and fourth hours it rises or falls at three feet an hour or more. Three vertical feet may not seem a lot but in those two hours between low and high tide, for example, 10 or 20 yards of beach may be covered with water, enough to carry kayaks out to sea if they are not secured after being left on a beach.  On the other hand, on an outgoing tide, we can safely leave kayaks at the waters edge while we explore an island.
     Tidal current is horizontal movement of water resulting from tides and in this part of coast is significant in the hours right between low and high tide and is often the reason why boaters are 'swept out to sea' when not cognizant of tide times. Tidal currents, like the tide, increase when the moon is full or new (Spring currents), and decrease when the moon is at first or third quarter phases (neap currents).  Current is affected by geography - by the rising of the sea bed closer to shore and by the 'bottleneck' effect of bays, harbors and headlands - and also by the flow of water from large rivers. 
     It's useful to take both wind direction and tidal current into account when planning a route.  Wind and current together can create complex water movements which are difficult to predict and can make paddling tricky especially when wind is blowing against the direction of the current.  For example, around the islands near Brooklin, water moves in and out of Eggemoggin Reach with the tide and creates significant tidal current.  We often see whitecaps building in the early afternoon when winds are 12 mph or more and if we know that we're at maximum current speed between low and high tide, we'll always head back to the mainland to avoid 'bumpy' water. 'Reading' the water becomes another tool in the sea kayakers toolkit for having fun on the water.  

Book of the Month:  "Sea Kayak Rescue" by Robert Schumann & Jan Shriner

     Sub-titled "The Definitive Guide to Modern Reentry and Recovery Techniques", this Falcon edition published in 2001 covers all you need to know about safe paddling to prevent capsize and describes rescue techniques for recovery in the event of capsize.  Every experienced sea kayaker should know how to do deep water rescue - I do this twice, perhaps three times in a summer and I am probably typical of sea kayaking guides.  The most valuable information is knowing how not to get into trouble.  This starts with using the right gear, and is illustrated perfectly in a figure in the Guide, shown here.

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In the photo, the paddler in front is wearing a wet suit, paddling jacket and PFD, and she has a paddle float, bilge pump, boat with adequate flotation, spray skirt, spare paddle and other safety gear (compass and marine chart, VHF radio, spare clothes, medical kit, repair kit, flares and strobe light).  The paddler in the back is wearing cotton, is in a 'wreck' boat and carrying no safety gear, and is a poster child for hypothermia.  A picture speaks a thousand words.

A highly recommended book for your kayaking bookshelf.