Sunday, November 05, 2006

Broad Channel & Little Egg Marsh

Great day for paddling today. Jamaica Bay had hardly a riffle. The brants are around, it must really be fall. These geese, who look a bit like miniature Canada geese, only darker & maybe a bit stockier, always seem like the most specifically seasonal of our local waterfowl - all through the summer, all through the winter, you won't see so much as a brant's pinfeather, but then in the spring and the fall, there they are. The rule of thumb for paddling around wild birds is if you make them fly, you've gone too close - that's tricky when you're talking about flocks the size of the ones the brants live in.

I'd originally thought I'd go out solo today, and if I had, my plan was to go out of the Paerdegat Basin, hang a right & head along the shoreline until I felt like turning around. Heck with navigation. As it turned out, the couple who took me up to the lake for those 2 great rolling sessions were going out again today. Yesterday I gardened with her, she's one of the co-chairs of the gardening committee, and today it turned out that he thought a longer paddle sounded like a good idea, so we went together. This was great - he knows his way around the Bay & knows a number of different routes of different lengths. For today, he suggested an 8-mile trip to Broad Channel. He had a waterproof chart along & I borrowed that - that was great because it let me start to get a little better sense of where we were. I've always gone out as a guest before in Jamaica Bay before, not really paying the closest attention to landmarks; now that there's a good chance I'll be doing some solo paddling out there, I need to learn my way around a little better!

Jamaica Bay actually seems like it might afford a little more navigation practice than Manhattan did, especially at low water, and ESPECIALLY on a full moon! There's a channel that goes more or less around the perimeter of the bay (although it's blocked by a JFK runway. The center of the bay is filled with islands, marshes, bars, hassocks, and marshes, with narrow, sometimes unmarked, channels snaking between them. A paddler in Jamaica Bay may not have much to worry about in the way of currents, but if a person were to set out as the water is ebbing from the bay, and cuts through the middle of the bay, they may find that the route they took out might not be available for the trip back. The distances involved aren't terrible, but if the tides aren't taken into consideration, a trip could be quite a bit longer than expected! Knowing where the channels are would make life more convenient. Today, with the water extra low, even areas that my experienced paddling companion said were fine almost always had plenty of water in them for a kayak barely had enough water in them for us to paddle. Funny thing was that I'd picked my Euroblade as my "weapon of choice" today - well, the Euro turns out to be a better paddle for extremely shallow conditions - the Greenland stroke, starting as it does with a canted entry that sends the blade diving deeply, doesn't seem to work as well when diving's impossible. S. ended up doing quite a bit of seal-walking - pulling his boat along with his hands. His GPS said he was doing 2 knots that way, which was a bit faster than he was managing with the GP.

Personally I came THAT close to just getting out of my boat & walking, pulling it behind me. I'm not kidding!

Knowledge of the bay is also important because it IS possible for fogbanks to roll in. Fog doesn't seem to make it up to Manhattan that often, and even on days when I did go out for a paddle, you're seldom far enough from shore that you'd lose track of where you are. Jamaica Bay is a different story - I could see the bridge across the Paerdegat Basin from a long way away, once S. pointed it out, but if I'm out there when a good fog rolls in, I'll want to have a compass and a chart along, and know for sure exactly where I was on that chart when the fog rolled in. Now it's not like you're going to paddle out to sea & never be heard from again, but there are stories about trips being much longer than planned when fog resulted in some turned-aound wandering in circles.

Anyways, with these unmarked channels, I think this could make for some fun low-water practice of "flying by instrument" - trying to work out speeds & headings in advance, and then seeing if following that course keeps me in the channel or lands me in the shallows. Beginner level stuff, yeah, but something I didn't do much in the Hudson, where I was more using dead reckoning & known landmarks (and NY harbor has such great landmarks).

Another cool thing today that was also a good lesson to keep in mind was something we observed when we stopped for a quick bite at Little Egg Marsh - the tide was coming in, and it was coming in so fast - and the slope of the beach was so gradual - that you could see the water moving up the beach. It was going at least a foot a minute. Moral of this story for a person who may want to do some solo paddling - careful where you leave your boat, and for how long, especially if your going to be out of eyeshot. I was just getting my gear back on & my boat sort of got up and started wandering away - not fast, though, and heading up the beach with the water, so I finished what I was doing & then retrieved it - it really was interesting watching how fast the beach was shrinking, though.

Good good weekend out on the bay.

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