Saturday, November 22, 2014

Paddling Here and There - 2014

So, in early spring I dusted off my Night Heron  on a sunny day to "break the ice" at Moraine State Park. In fact, the aforementioned ice had just receded from the main part of the lake and the exposed water was in the low 40's.

With my dry suit and plenty of layers underneath I felt adequately protected and even ventured a few rolls to get an idea what Greenlanders and the Inuit might experience.

Brrrrr! Though my body was comfortably warm, my face and head got shockingly chilled despite that nice Kokatat cap. This is where my new tuilik will be great because it provides total head protection enabling you to wear additional layers around the head.

Ahh! The crisp air in the nascent promise of spring as migrant cormorants rest up in leafless trees on their annual trip up north ...and an entire season of paddling and sailing to look forward to ...a fine feeling, indeed.

Many kayaks to try out at the OkoumeFest
In May I attended once again the CLC sponsored OkoumeFest. This was my fourth fest. I love visiting Annapolis and coming to the Chesapeake - anywhere - anytime - anyhow. I have chartered sailboats and  - way back when - brought my own SJ21 for a memorable solo-cruise.

The fact that CLC is based in Annapolis makes the OkoumeFest an opportunity to see what's new in the small boat building world and hook up with friends plus do some paddling on the Chesapeake and its tributaries - a "no-brainer".

My friend Dan Thaler and I had coordinated our travel plans and met up to paddle the Severn River into Annapolis Harbor and out into the Bay.  It was a beautiful yet boisterous afternoon with 15-20 knots of wind. In the previous year those conditions might have intimidate me. Not so this time. Progress noted!

The next morning I headed to one of the finest tributaries of the Chesapeake, the Mattaponi Creek. I had read about this one in a wonderful publication called "Sea Kayaking - Maryland's Chesapeake Bay"

Launching on the Patuxent River (accessed from the Patuxent River Park) on an outgoing tide I first paddled across the river and explored near-by House Creek.

Then I headed a bit downriver and entered the Mattaponi Creek for a couple of hours. Sights and sounds, plants, birds and streams all blended into this magnificent melange of natural splendor. Jaw-dropping!

I'll be back there again. The charm of this tributary will invariably show its many facets throughout the seasons.

Dan Thaler paddling in a nice chop with Bay Bridge afar

In June I headed up to Pymatuning (a sizeable lake straddling the Ohio / Pennsylvania border) to join the Outcast Paddlers for their annual safety weekend.

It was my second time attending this event and I was looking forward to practicing rolls, cowboy reentry and most importantly the heel-hook reentry. I had just seen this youTube video during the winter and was convinced by its elegant efficiency. Yes, it was easy. An effective way to re-enter the cockpit!

Outcastpaddlers checking out safety gear

The circumnavigation of Presque Isle (in Lake Erie) has become another annual event for this wonderful group of sea kayakers. The June weather could not have been more perfect. The group did another circumnavigation but I was unable to attend. It is a great work-out and certainly, Presque Isle presents an exquisite setting for outdoor fun.

Though I aim to expand my paddling venues, for practical purposes Moraine State Park and The Three Rivers of Pittsburgh are my home turf... and I don't seem to tire of paddling either venue.

Early Morning Outing at Moraine State Park
Tucking into a little nook on Lake Arthur

Needless to say, it is a special treat when Iris comes along for an outing in her Shearwater Sport which along with the Night Heron make a lovely pair of  'yaks.

Shearwater Sport and Night Heron at Watts Bay: ready to go for an outing

As I have been practicing my lay-back rolls throughout the season I have noticed a marked improvement. My confidence level has gone up and I am now comfortable to do it just about anywhere. Progress noted!

For readers who did not read the previous blog entry: I finally finished by Petrel build in late August. Since then I have paddled the Night Heron only once... not because I like it any less... but the Petrel fits me like a glove and the type of paddling it requires  is what I've been aiming for.

The Night Heron is a straight shooter - fast, slick, elegant and awesome. It slices through the water like a sword. The Petrel has more rocker and a noticeably fuller bow entry and stern exit - so it dances on the waves with superb agility. Probably not as fast on flat water but it'll surf in big waves with ease. With its lower back cockpit and lower deck, it rolls like a dream.

Finally, toward the end of this season I was able to check off a must-do event: Paddling with Tom Nickels of RiverWind Kayak in breaking surf. In early November, this event took place on Tybee Island (near Savannah, GA) which at 700 miles distance was not exactly convenient - but I was determined.

As I was hoping and expecting: Tom challenged me - that's for sure! The strong currents of the outgoing tide created conditions entirely new to me. Having a three to four  foot wall of seething froth coming at you sideways was most certainly a new experience. Luckily, Day 1 offered somewhat milder conditions in which I learned how to surf. Day 2 was quite a bit more boisterous and I am glad for it. Toward the end of the day Tom taught a couple of (new to me) paddle strokes which will upgrade my quiver of strokes.

First efforts at surfing
My boat building guru and friend Joey Schott (also an ACA L3 instructor) and new friend Chris Naff (ACA L4 instructor) were both at the Tybee Island event and they, together with Tom Nickels, provided the kind of paddling environment where it felt safe to stick out my nose to challenging conditions...

Joey providing assistance as I climbed back into the cockpit
...and risk a spill or two.

(Note to anyone interested in and new to this type of paddling: Bring a helmet to protect your noggin)

A big Thank You to them... and progress noted!

Winter seems to have arrived in Western PA prematurely. Next week we are expecting highs in the upper 20's. That's about 25 degrees below average.

Just glad we are not in Buffalo where 5-8 feet of snow have brought life to a still-stand. I am still hoping for a rebounding of the temps before Winter arrives officially.

My tuilik and Petrel were standing ready for action!

Then on Nov 23 a window of opportunity opened. Once I got to Moraine State Park I knew it would be a wonderful outing.  The water temperature had already dropped to 35 F and there was ice all around the edges but the air temp was a balmy 50's - quite a change from the previous week of  10's and 20's.

Once I got on the lake I found that in some areas protected from the wind there were larger patches of ice floats which started to come together.

It was a magnificent outing highlighted by 6 Trumpeter Swans flying close overhead and two Bald Eagles perched in the magnificent oak tree on the North Shore.

Coots, Buffle Heads, Red Heads, Ruddy Ducks, and Horned Grebes as well as some Hooded Mergansers supplied a busy backdrop to a sublime scene.

A clear sign that the season is coming to the end is when the water is getting crunchy...

...and with this realization I happily packed up my paddle gear
and declared 2014 kayaking a success.