Sunday, July 29, 2007

Sebago Double-Header - Full Moon & Full Paddlers Sat - Fish Fever-Wait Out the Storm Sun

Home tonight with some self-appointed Things to Do (of which at least the laundry will actually get done) but had such an interesting weekend at the club...thought I'd blog first. 'Specially seeing as between the busy week at work & this really yucky little cold I came down with on Tuesday, I was just kind of getting home & crashing. Can't quite say I'm all better, but most of the way.

Certainly well enough to head out to Sebago for a One-Day-From-Full-Moon Paddle. Full moon is actually tonight & those of us who are not so lucky as to be retired would've had to make a pretty tame night of it. As it was, it was proposed that we go on Saturday so that it could be made into a SHINDIG - members were even invited to camp to encourage the enjoyment. Woo-hoo! I packed up my tent - wasn't planning on going nuts on the booze (a couple of post-paddle beers is about my speed) but that just sounded like fun. And I wanted to paddle on Sunday, too, so that would work great.

The plan was - begin gathering at the club around...oh, late afternoon. Fire up the grills. Dine magnificently. I'm not quite exaggerating there, either - as I've mentioned before, one of the members is a professional chef (he brought the most amazing cheeses - Stilton & a feta - and that was just the pre-show)...and that was just, and then there are a lot more of us who do actually know our way around a kitchen, and on top of that the "Sebago Diggers" - the gardeners (and I think I may be at the point where I count myself among that crowd, although I credit the success of my garden - knock wood) to dumb luck & good mentoring - you guys know who you are!!!) - are actually producing a lot of, uh, produce, meaning an OUTSTANDING selection of salads. So we all stuffed ourselves, then set out a bit before sunset. 18 paddlers. Well 19 if you count the youngster who was there with his dad in a beautiful hand-made Rob Roy canoe! It was a hazy night, as you can see -

But considering that the forecast had been talking "cloudy, chance of thunderstorms" all week, hazy was FINE. Took a while but eventually the moon did appear - almost peach-colored from the haze - howling and glee ensued - and then we paddled back to the club, where the non-paddlers had lit the tiki torches, and ate some more. I'd thought that the after-paddle part was mostly going to be the salad & cheese coming back out, joined by desserts & beer & wine - but it turned out that the Chef had been holding a surprise in reserve - suddenly he's carving this pork that he'd smoked all day over charcoal & hickory, with a spicy tomatillo sauce & crusty baguettes...y'know, I thought I was going to miss the fun food-centered destinations we could paddle to on the Hudson, but...pfft. Can't beat what we had last night.

Waddled off to my tent about 12:30 - slept like a log, undisturbed by the real-life version of West Side Story I'm told was going on in the Paerdegat Athletic Club parking lot from about 3 to 5 am. I did hear a bit at one point but I thought it was just rowdy kids - apparently it got to sounding tense later. Guess that "good fences make good neighbors" thing is true. We've got good fences. However I don't think I'll be camping there alone anytime soon. Not that I would've done that anyways, this just confirms that.

Got up this morning, saw Prof. M and Chalu off - then starting considering what to do with myself. At one point, before I got the cold, I was itching for Breezy Point trip - have had a lot of really lovely weekends on flatwater - that's nice but I'm craving some bumpywater.

But between the cold & the iffy weather forecast, I'd decided to let that go until another weekend. Breezy from the club is something I want to be feeling 100% on for. Right now I'm sitting around 95%.

Still wanted to go out. Weather forecast sounded like an innocuous morning, with chances of thunderstorms in the afternoon But the sky was looking ominous to the north, and there were intermittent far-off grumbles of thunder.

No hurry. Better to watch for a while.

Hung out lying flat on my tummy on the ramp to the dock schmoozing with the officer of the day (that was the only place there was a breeze - it was nice there, on the club grounds, it was so stifling you could break a sweat standing stock-still) and watching the fiddler crabs that live along the banks of the Paerdegat crawling around, eating mud & occasionally arm-wrestling for crab supremacy. I find this weirdly fascinating...

I was torn. Really wanted to paddle. I'd left my boat out the night before planning to paddle. There's always the option to stay close to home. The rumbling all seemed to be staying well to the north of Jamaica Bay. But I was going to be paddling solo and when I'm paddling solo, I'm, like, ten times more conservative.

But then Andy and the Basil Guy showed up. I'm going to call the Basil Guy the Basil Guy because he's another gardener. Unlike me, trying to keep 16 different kinds of plants from going all Darwinian on each other, he's got a nice tidy square plot devoted entirely to basil and peppers. Gorgeous basil. I love basil but had always wondered who was growing that much - well, it turns out he makes lots of pesto! I hadn't met him before today, but he turns out to be a friend of Andy's....

and check out the bow of his kayak!

and better yet - he did this before the Sopranos existed!

Now there's a REAL urban paddler for you.

We all hemmed & hawed & listened to the distant thunder & the NOAA forecasts on my VHF for a while longer & then decided OK, let's go, but staying near shore & ready to skedaddle to shore or home if things started looking yuck.

Well - that would've been a very good call if we'd just stuck to it. Only we didn't.

See this bird?

That's a tern (btw that boat that tern is perched on has appeared on this blog in the not-too-distant past - more on that some other day, hopeful after I get back to the stunt plane story...). Kayak fishermen like terns, especially in large, excited (you can tell by the way they're hollering), dive-bombing flocks - 'cause that means they are going after a school of little fish, and schools of little fish draw BIGGER fish...

like this one!

Andy's one of our fisherfolk, and he always carries a rod. We'd just gotten to Mill Basin when we noticed a noisy swirl of terns. A second later there was a big splash that meant a fish worth catching. Andy paddled over, cast, and a second later this bluefish took the bait. Now, we'd been talking about how good fresh-caught fish is, and we'd been thinking maybe if Andy caught something we might take it back to to club & grill it...but since we'd just started paddling we decided to put this one back.

BTW - look what the bluefish did to Andy's lure! Apparently they like to bite the tails off little fish before they finish them. Andy also said that they like to bite surfers' toes off. Yeowch. At least getting bitten by a shark has a certain cachet. Losing a toe to a bluefish just doesn't have the same ring, does it?

Problem was, that one fish sort of set off some fish fever that clouded our judgement a bit. We paddled along the shore a while longer - but then got cocky & decided to head over to Canarsie Pol (Pol, btw, is short for Polder, which is the Dutch term for "man made island" - Chalu got curious). Andy knows some good spots there. We all wanted to see Andy catch another fish.

Well, we get over there no problem. Lots of gulls heading the same way. Andy's hoping they're going to fish. We stopped on the Pol for a quick bite to eat. We're looking around for excited terns but it seems that all of the birds have sort of landed...

Birds ain't so birdbrained it seems. Suddenly we're starting to see some flashes. And the sky is getting really really dark to the northeast.

More flashes. I switch on the VHF. "Arnie" - I think the NOAA robot voice sounds like Arnold Schwarzenneger - is just finishing a special announcement..."winds gusting to 35 knots and locally heavy rain - boaters should seek safe harbor".

A little more listening & we've got confirmation that the picture we're looking at is pretty much what we'd been afraid of - a stretched-out line of thunderstorms passing worrisomely close. The Paerdegat is almost a mile away over open water. We're not chancing that. Canarsie Pol is going to have to be our safe harbor. So we hunker down...

and it rains and rains and the wind shifts around & gets cool & at first that feels good but eventually enough is enough & I break out the space blanket that I've carried in my first-aid kit for years for the first time ever - I had so much stuff to tote for the camping & potluck I'd decided that I'd just use that if I got stuck sitting out a thunderstorm, instead of carrying a jacket, too - good thing about that was it turns out to be big enough for two, Basil Guy was getting a little cool too. Nobody was wandering into hypothermia-land, but why even chance it when you've got the solution in your day-hatch?

Although there was much speculation about whether the blanket would attract lightning, and how much we looked like potatoes wrapped up ready to bake, and how we had not thought to bring any sour cream & chives.

Did the job though. Eventually the line passed by without ever really getting into the bay - the seagulls started taking off again, the wind lightened, the clouds lightened, the VHF reports got less ominous, and as we launched, a plane roared over our heads taking off from JFK - and Andy said "They've reopened the airport - good sign!"

He was right. We hadn't heard one plane take off the whole time we were hunkering. Realizing that, that jet roar was nice to hear.

We got back to the Paerdegat fine - put the boats away - and then finished the day with a couple of slices of what is said to be - by some - and I think I may agree! - to be the BEST PIZZA in BROOKLYN!

YUM! I'd been hearing about DiFara's a lot, it's kind of famous, and although I am not a pizza connoiseur, I can say that the owner makes pizza like he's making art. And it was wonderful. I think that I should go back sometime when I haven't just had an adventure - just to make sure, y'know?

p.s. - look how happy the garden looks! Great soaking!

p.p.s. - did I mention I've got a kabocha squash growing?

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