Monday, July 23, 2012

River Paddling - Herons Here

Okay, I am not talking about rapids and white water paddling. That is an altogether different subject, one I know nothing about.

But even the generally more stately flow of the Allegheny and Ohio Rivers needs to be reckoned with when planning a paddling route on flowing water.

As a newbie, I expected the up-river paddle to be invariably more arduous then the down-river run. Well, I've paddled this venue often enough to learn that this ain't necessarily so.

My flat-water paddling experience had already taught me the importance of wind direction. As a long-time sailor this was a no-brainer! When it comes to smooth-flow river paddling a building breeze may quickly have an overriding effect. When the wind blows down river, the ride will be all the faster. When the wind blows against the current, watch out! 

There is an easy way to find out which is stronger. Simply launch into the river and then don't paddle but instead see which way you drift. Strong winds against the river current will make for steeper, choppier waves and may actually allow you to surf upstream. When you don't paddle you will actually drift upstream.  That's fine going upstream but expect rough going paddling down stream.

From my house, I can be on the Ohio near the Point downtown Pittsburgh in 15-20 minutes. Without question for me this is the quickest access to paddling water.

She will have her own Shearwater Sport next season - promise!
I would love to have ready access to ocean swells and bigger water but in absence of that I definitely prefer the exploration of pastoral settings, backwaters, gunk-holes, swampy boggs and undulating, rural rivers to urban paddling.

YET, Pittsburgh paddling is very attractive all the same. Besides, while the abundance of power boaters don't replicated ocean swells,  they do provide a certain quota of choppy conditions. Near downtown, big powerboat wakes bounce off the walls and ricochet in ways that can be quite exciting on a sea kayak.

When one of those monstrous river chariots roars by from behind, I try to position my boat so that I can surf the wake. In on-coming situations I try to bisect the wake and then catch and surf the ricochet to propel me on.

Surfing in an 18 foot knife (as it were) is definitely an acquired taste and involves nimble paddling, some bracing as well as heeling the hull one way or the other in order to stay on track. Without question, there is an addictive aspect to this exercise. Though I have not yet had the pleasure of big surf, I imaging big water paddling to be like that - only a lot more so!

Anyway! On Saturday I set out for a nice afternoon river paddle accompanied by an ominous forecast and threatening clouds. I figured, worst case scenario: I get wet. Big deal! That might be a welcome relief from the high humidity.

So here I was merrily paddling along going upstream on the Allegheny when I hear the swoosh of paddles coming up from behind me. Gosh, I was not expecting someone to be catching up with me... not on those little recreational yellow mellows, anyway.

So as I turned my head I immediately recognized what it was... it was a S&G Night Heron, energetically paddled by its builder, Jim Noel.

Imagine that: two Night Herons on the Allegheny, skimming the waters side by side!

What a delight!. As we paddled we talked shop and enjoyed the sight of these two elegant birds rustling their feathers.

Jim had build his Stitch and Glue version of the Night Heron in the traditional method, staining various segments of the plywood in contrasting colors thereby providing an artistic high-light to his boat.  Obviously, the boat was built for serious battle, reinforced with Kevlar bow and stern runners and a graphite bottom.

Frankly, I was having trouble keeping up with Jim. Clearly he had been working on his stroke and stamina quite a bit already. Actually, he was preparing for upcoming week's Presque Isle paddle event which involves an all day paddle of 20+ miles around the peninsula.

Yea, I'd say that I have my work cut out for me if I want to go paddle together with Jim for any distance.  I have no doubt that it'll be worth the effort.

Jim Noel's S&G Night Heron

My birding report: Herons are here in Western PA.