Thursday, February 26, 2009

Lollipop Land

Aimee and I went for a short paddle from the North side of Harbor Island to the Lollipop (as it's known to locals) this afternoon. Winds were light and tide was low. We launched from the closed down gas station, which was pretty nice. We saw the usual avian suspects like ring-billed gulls, white ibis, great egret, great blue heron, tri-colored heron, belted kingfisher, brown pelican, cormorant, hooded mergansers, yellowlegs, etc. There was a opossum eating shellfish in the marsh adjacent to the lollipop. At first I thought it was a glossy ibis because I couldn't think of any other bird that would be that size, black, and digging around in marsh mud. It's funny how it's hard for your brain to process things that it doesn't expect and that you perceive to be out of place. I'm used to seeing birds out there, but not rodents (even though I know that opossum and raccoons live on spoil and marsh islands), so it took a second to realize that it wasn't a bird. He was surprisingly unconcerned about us and let us study him for a couple of minutes from about 20 yards until he lumbered slowly back into the grass.
We weren't out long, but it was good to paddle. The last time I paddled was over two weeks ago (see previous post). I'm going to start doing some long (15-20 mile) solo paddles to prepare for some stuff I want to do this spring and summer. I have a top secret paddle planned for mid-March, so stay tuned to find out what that's about. Details of the trip will be posted when it's done.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Sea Buoy

I spent the day on the water today and I'm stoked on it. Based on today's forecast of warm weather, light wind, and small seas my paddling buddy Mike (the Geezer) proposed a trip out Masonboro Inlet. I jumped on it because I want to get out into the ocean more. The wind was a little more than predicted, but all in all it was a great day to get out there. At 11 we met at Trail's End (great launch). The group consisted of myself, Mike, and local veteran paddler Ryan Taro (I'm so lucky to be able to paddle with people whose experience and skill level far exceeds my own). We floated the tide out the ICW to Masonboro Channel into and out the inlet to the sea buoy. It still blows my fricking mind being in the ocean. Even with the Frying Pan Shoals buoy registering only 1', there was still fairly large swell at the mouth of the inlet and out toward the buoy. There was just enough wind to give it some texture and keep things interesting (WSW becoming SW consistent 10-ish, gusting toward 20). We needed to kill some time so that we could ride the tide back in, so we paddled toward Crystal Pier and then down the beach to the jetty. Once we had the jetty between us and the wind the sea surface calmed down a lot and almost turned glassy. It was so cool to slip down the south end just beyond where the tiny waves were breaking. I've spent hours and hours down there on a surfboard, but today was the first time I've been out in a yak. There were tons of folks on the beach enjoying the nice day (one girl went into the 48 degree F water in just a bikini, and a little one at that). I paddled to the jetty and then followed it out, did a loop around the sea buoy again and then headed back into the inlet. We took a lunch break on the spoil island across from Masonboro, where I found a smallish lightning whelk and a live sand dollar that was providing safe haven for a couple of tiny crabs (blues?). We attempted to take a more interesting return trip through the marsh, exploring two possible passages, neither successful, where I found a banded tulip and saw a few tricolored heron. After finding too little water up either creek, we exercised our final remaining option and took the same route home that we had paddled out earlier. The wind shifted pretty solid S, so we fought it the whole way back (though we had the tide with us). At the end of about 5 hours on the water and over 13 miles (estimated on Google Earth, an invaluable post-trip tool), I'm spent, but happy. I pushed myself today, tended my confidence garden, built my strength, enjoyed some great weather, and saw some nature. Now all I have to do for the rest of the evening is sip rum and coke and eat what I'm sure will be a delicious dinner prepared by my beautiful gal Aimee (beef & mushrooms over pasta). I can't wait to get out there again, especially when the water warms up. I think this summer I'm going to be on the ocean a lot. Here's a photo or two:

Crystal Pier, looking N

Ryan, heading back toward the jetty

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Harmony Bilge Pump

Check out Harmony's low profile bilge pump design:

I just got mine in the mail from Austin Canoe & Kayak. I've always been annoyed by the discharge port sticking out and snagging on deck rigging, so hopefully this will work well and minimize that (very minor) problem.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Hidden Creek Masonboro

Paddled the Masonboro end of Hidden Creek with Aimee today, and it turned into something of an adventure. The Geezer also led one of his Cape Fear Paddler's Association trips (Alligator Creek) today, but Aimee hadn't paddled in a couple of weeks so we opted for a more private excursion. Wind was fairly stiff out of the S when we started, but we made our way into the marsh where I knew we'd be a little more protected from it. I hadn't really planned on going all the way through (tide was already falling), but there seemed to be plenty of water so we pushed through to the ICW. It was fun to find my way, as I've only been through there once before, and that was almost a year ago. Once we got to the ICW we chose to go back through the marsh toward Masonboro rather than a boring ICW trip back to Shinn's. I made a lucky first guess at which creek to take and we were crossing the channel to lunch on the island in no time.

During our 30 minute lunch break the wind picked up. It had been 10-15 with higher gusts, but I think by the return trip it was sustained 20 mph., which has a weather station posted about 50 yards from where we launched and maybe 2 miles from our lunch stop, has the max gust at 32 mph. All was fine while we were south of the inlet, because current and wind were both with us. The inlet was interesting, as it usually is with all that water converging and going different directions, but we crossed without any real problems. Bank's Channel, on the other hand, was pretty intense due to opposing the opposing current and strong wind. I'd say it was the biggest chop I've seen in that channel, with 2' and 3' waves and plenty of whitecaps. Aimee was outside her comfort zone and pretty frustrated (luckily, with the wind and herself and not with me), but she did really well and we both pulled up onto the beach dry and warm.

Post-trip ruminations: I've gotten to where I feel pretty comfortable in shitty conditions like that. Particularly because we were only 50' from land and houses and people and help if we needed it. But I've also got to remember that I've a longer, faster boat, a lighter paddle, a skirt and paddling jacket, and who knows how many hours of being out on the water. I can't project my comfort level onto Aimee, who did really well despite her frustration. Still, I've got to view these sorts of experiences as growing pains. If we only paddled in warm, calm conditions we wouldn't get to go out much and we wouldn't be very good kayakers. As paddlers, as people entering the great outdoors, as (dare I say it) watermen, we must be able to deal with changing conditions. A calm day can turn into a bloody nightmare, and we must be able to handle that or we will reap the consequences when, not if, we are caught out there in poor circumstances. Today was a learning experience, but learning and experiencing are why we're out there. Sometimes it'll be easy and beautiful, but sometimes it's going to be hard. We just have to remember that it being hard doesn't make it any less beautiful.