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I've more than fulfilled my volunteer hours for the club this year. There's all kinds of work to be done if a boating club is going to be of service to its members and the community - there's running trips and instruction, keeping the grounds tidy (and this year that included keeping the grounds intact as the neighboring athletic facility tried a land grab, grrrr), maintenance and acquisition of gear, going after grants, loads of paperwork, and all kinds of other stuff, and as far as I know the only service that Sebago pays for is our porta-john service (some things you just really DO want to leave to the pros). The rest of the work is done by the membership, and to help spread the load a bit, one of the minimum requirements for membership is that each member do a very reasonable 15 hours of volunteer work (which you can officially knock out by turning out for 2 of the all-club work days that we have at the beginning and end of the season). You can pay a work fee if you can't manage even that, but most of us do the hours. I'm nowhere NEAR as over the top on my hours as some of the club's more dedicated volunteers get to be, but I'd put in my 15 once TQ and I ran the Trip Leader Training Workshop.
However, I had some vague recollection, going back to an early-spring meeting I think, of promising our Sea Kayak Committee Chairman (who is not named Jeremiah and is not a bullfrog but who does always have some mighty fine wine - plus he's just a heck of a good guy and does tons at the club) that I would lead 2 trips this year - and I had been meaning to do it. So when Tony the Sea Kayak Chair sent out an email to the Sebago trip leaders asking for someone to run the traditional Labor Day paddle, and I realized that TQ was working and I had no particular plans myself, I stepped up. Maybe not right away but soon enough - early in the week last week.
Where to go? Marsh paddles are always pleasant and popular, but Eldridge (East Coast tide and pilot book) said that low water was just after noon, so that wasn't gonna work. Lunch at Nick's Lobster Dock would've been fun except for one minor problem - Nick's took out their dock to make room for more outdoor seating years ago and it's now completely inaccessible by water. Bummer! The Wharf out on the Rockaway Peninsula is a pretty ambitious trip and I wanted the Labor Day paddle to be accessible for a wider group of paddlers. The trip I ended up announcing was a "Paddle to Planes" - a trip to visit the Historic Aircraft Restoration Project at Floyd Bennett Field. Old planes would be interesting, I thought, but then I checked their hours and oops, scratch that, they're closed Mondays and the nice folks at the Ryan Center confirmed that they weren't doing anything special for Labor Day.
At that point I had 3 people signed up. I confused the heck out of people by offering to switch the paddle to Sunday if all 3 of them were really excited about the planes (plus Sunday was looking like a better paddling day) but none of them were and one actually couldn't have come on Sunday, plus the traditional Labor Day Paddle is traditionally on Labor Day. So we stuck with that.
Thought about Ruffle Bar, beachcombing would've been good, but the first person who'd signed up was a self-proclaimed beginner, so I decided to make it more beginner-friendly and go to Mill Basin to look at the great big houses and the funny little fishing fleet remnant, lunch break on the way home. Keep it simple, stupid, right? Besides, the weather forecast wasn't looking too good and this trip hugged the shoreline, and without any specific set destination, turning back to the club if the weather blew up would be much easier.
Worked out great! I still had some serious hemming and hawing and biting of nails to do when I woke up at 8 in the morning, looked at NOAA's radar and saw a GIANT RED BLOB sitting off to our west, though. I watched the loop for a while. Hmm, maybe it's going to slide just to our north? Maybe? Text forecast said that the worst wouldn't hit until after 2 (we were launching at 11 so that was OK), and after looking at several other weather sites, and listening to the VHF, and then going back and watching the GIANT RED BLOB loop a few dozen more times, I decided that I might as well trust NOAA's interpretation. I'd just sent out a confirmation that we would try to paddle despite the iffy whether when an email from my friend John, who is a weather geek as well as the Control Geek (I've picked his "Weather" category for that link - he's a stormchaser and has some spectacular photos over there) popped up. I had a little teeny bit of a heart attack, thinking he was emailing me to say "NOOOO! Don't do it, you're making a terrible mistake", but no, he was just emailing to say he wasn't going to make it. Phew. I mentioned the little teeny ha ha heart attack and he kindly read between the lines ("John, have I made a stupid call?") and gave me his informed take - he'd been looking at the same system and his take, with more access to online forecasting systems than me, was that the big red blob was really in the process of raining itself out over NJ and that everything else was unsettled with cells popping up in an unpredictable way - basically not a cancellation situation, though. Cool beans.
I still said "Probably" without a split-second's hesitation when my friend Beth, who gave me a ride to the club, asked me "So do you think this is going to be a complete disaster?", but I was mostly kidding. Mostly.
Fortunately I would say that 90% of the stress of running this particular trip happened before we even got in the boats! I made sure to outline the plan for the day, including the weather risks and what I wanted people to do if the weather did fall apart on us - and then we launched, 23 paddlers in 22 boats, and had an absolutely fine paddle to Mill Basin and back.
We gawked at the gigantic homes, admired the tiny working fleet (crabbing boats and a tiny tug), and took our lunch break just outside Mill Basin on the way back. The word that springs to my mind to describe the weather is "sulky" - not sultry, sulky. It was horribly humid, the air was heavy, it was gray and cloudy and in fact part of why I decided to have lunch back out in the basin instead of in Mill Basin, closer to halfway where I'd originally planned to stop, was because there was just enough of a breeze out in the bay to make the humidity bearable. It was much pleasanter out there than in the hot and stuffy basin (and that's where we saw the little crabs - there were also clams squirting, I see seagulls dropping clams on rocks and docks all the time but I'd never actually seen where they were living - now I've seen at least one).
The other reason I wanted to have lunch in the bay was because there'd been discussion of rolling the double that we'd brought on the trip, and I just don't trust the water quality in a basin full of marinas! Better to be out on the bay. The double is the club's newest acquisition, a Point 65 Double Shot. See what we can buy with the money we get by only paying for the porta-john? Hee hee. Anyways, Sylvia, one of the paddlers in the double, is a good roller and she'd been joking about rolling it; I've rolled a double before and said we should try it. In the end it ended up being me and Sebago commodore emeritus Phil (the guy red and white below, he's now moved up to Westchester and paddles with Yonkers, I was tickled that he came down for this 'cause he used to always be the guy who ran the Labor Day paddle!).
This was right at the end of our lunch break, around 2:00, everyone was standing on shore watching as we got ourselves out into deep water when all of the sudden - BBBBBBRRRRRRRRMMMM. Distant but thunder, no question. And right at 2, just when NOAA said things could deteriorate. For a split second I was going to say to Phil, let's skip this, we need to go - then I realized we were out there and set up and goodness, how long does it take to roll a kayak? Seconds! So, we went over, and came up with ease (to our surprise and delight, we honestly had no idea if this was going to work or not!). Here's a video from new member Josh (thanks Josh):
We all jumped in our boats and boogied on back towards the Paerdegat, spurred on by intermittent but continuing distant rumbles.
It started to rain just as we were approaching the dock - perfect timing! We washed down the boats and got washed down by the rain
and then went into the clubhouse and shared some food (I chipped in a cuke and a tomato, guess where I got those) and talked story until the rain let up. Never actually saw lightning, that all ended up passing to the north - I was just as happy with that. Lightning's fun to watch when you're on land and sheltered. Out on the water, nicer not to see it!
Ended up being an excellent Labor Day paddle. Total mileage - 6.9. Not even all that short!
One more to go...where shall I take my next one, I wonder?