Sunday, March 15, 2015

First Paddle since the Bioluminescent Bay!

I'm thrilled to announce that today I went paddling! It's been WAY too long. This was my first paddle since January 22nd, the night the Kinja gang had such a spectacular night on that wonderful bioluminescent bay in Vieques. Earlier today I was actually thinking that my last paddle had been the Frostbite Regatta at the club on New Year's Day: I guess I didn't think of Vieques because it was such an utterly unusual paddle, but yes, it should count! However, that still makes it awfully close to two months since I've paddled, and I can't remember the last time I went that long without paddling; it may have been when they closed NY Harbor to recreational boaters for some time after September 11th, 2001. This winter I ended up being kept off the water by a nasty double-whammy -- there was a cold, one that I came down with a week after returning from the Caribbean that just stayed and stayed and stayed, going through various stages (eventually when it went into a sinus infection stage I went to the company health center, and the physician's assistant who saw me there said I had the most popular bug of the season - everybody had it and nobody could get rid of it in anything like a reasonable amount of time, so at least I had company), and then there was THE COLD - our very long and nasty cold snap that froze the entire Hudson and a lot of the waterways around NYC. 

It was weirdly convenient to have them going on at the same time -- the Paerdegat ended up being frozen solid (click here if you missed my frozen basin pix), so if I hadn't been sick there would've been some major paddle jonesing going on, and the basin being frozen while I was sick kept me from being too bummed about being sick ("oh well, at least I'm not missing any paddling") -- but enough is enough, I'm finally feeling better, it's warming up, and I'm SO ready to start getting back out there again.  Last week's gentle urban hike was a perfect way to get moving again, I was a bit shocked to find I was sore the next day when ordinarily a four-mile walk wouldn't phase me but at the same time that just means I need to do more.

Today's paddle was supposed to be the club's annual Jones Beach sealwatching trip. That usually happens earlier in the year, January or February, but the bad weather had delayed it. However, there were reports of lots of seals still being around, and early in the week, with the forecast showing weekend temperatures in the 40's, Steve H. (the Paddling Chef) decided it was time. I was thrilled to see that; usually the seal paddle is five or six miles, with lots of pauses when we find the seals (or they find us, they're very curious animals and it's never entirely clear who's watching who). As long as they have the proper gear (drysuits and hoods this time of year), paddlers don't have to be that experienced to paddle the sheltered marshes where the seals like to haul out and bask, so we don't even tend to be moving that fast. 
Perfect level for someone who spent so much of February holed up with an economy-sized bottle of Nyquil and a humidifier! And then after the paddle, of course, there's the traditional stop at Bigelow's, a fantastic fried-seafood place in Rockville Center.

This is always one of my favorite winter paddles, and I was so excited about it! It was a very long week at work but every now and then I would think "yeah, but I'm going paddling on Sunday" and that kept me going.

I guess I hadn't been watching the forecast though. Or maybe it just deteriorated very abruptly. Whichever it was, last night TQ and I checked the forecast and...oof. Sunday's weather was looking very EMPHATIC. Still pleasant temperature-wise (amazing how good low 40's feels after a streak in the 20's and worse), still chance of showers (that's OK, this time of year we're wearing waterproof onesies anyways), but the wind? Gadzooks. Something like 18 to 24, gusting to 38. We checked email to see if the paddle had been cancelled. Nope, some discussion, but Steve said we'd just paddle straight into the wind going out to make it easy coming back. We checked again this morning. Same forecast mostly, down by a little bit, but still up there in the "Is this really a good idea?" category.

Under normal circumstances, I might have entertained serious thoughts of bailing. But I'd been looking forward to it all week, I'd packed up all of my winter gear and schlepped it over to TQ's the night before (he'd made oxtail for dinner, delicious!), and dagnabbit, if Steve H. was crazy enough to not call of the paddle entirely, I was crazy enough to try joining him.

Ended up being a fine day. The folks that showed up were just the sort of people you would want to go paddling with when there's a small craft advisory on for your first paddle after a miserably inactive month (solid, level-headed, good-natured and with strong skills). The wind was definitely intimidating; it was actually flipping TQ's boat over (his is very light, but still!) when we'd first put our boats down on the grass at the Marina West Town Boat Launch at Point Lookout, where we launched, and the water outside of the marina was filled with whitecaps. We were all game, though, so we set out. We did exactly as Steve H. had suggested, setting out into the wind so that getting back would be easy. Two of the group dropped out almost immediately. The rest of us decided we were comfortable enough to keep going, but we did it in chunks - first, "Let's just get to that island" (Middle Island). Then, "Let's just paddle along the island" (it was just high enough that it offered a little shelter). The sun came out and shone very beautifully at one moment, and although I'd said that I didn't think I would take any pictures once we'd left the marina, I gave it a try - got in trouble doing that though because I got turned sideways to the wind and then was having a terrible time turning back into it; eventually I just paddled over to the island, which has little tussocks around it, stuck my bow against a tussock, let the wind turn me back in the right direction and then was a lot more careful about watching my angle to the wind while taking pictures.

Steve H. decided to go back partway down Middle Island, as he realized that one of the folks who'd gone back early had stuff in his car; he told the rest of us we could go on. I suggested the little red house that was a little farther west on the same island as the next destination. We got there fine, I was still feeling good, at some point we'd figured out that the water was two feet deep, which made the situation feel much less fraught (if worse comes to worse, just stand up and wade, right?) and we decided that the next destination was the next island to the west (Cinder Island).

That took us out of the shelter of Middle Island and boy, there were a few moments as I was clawing my way into the wind that I wasn't sure I was going to make it there - I was barely making headway, I thought about picking up my cadence but couldn't seem to muster the energy to do that (plus the wind was really grabbing at my paddle). I gritted my teeth and kept slogging and eventually I got to the little cut in the island that the rest of the gang had gotten to and admitted I'd had enough - going home was going to be a lot faster, but downwind paddling does require energy too, so I wanted to head back before I was completely wiped out. I especially knew I was worn out when I saw a handsome pair of ducks very close by on shore, and puzzled and puzzled and puzzled over why they weren't flying away, and only realized that they were decoys after I saw the third decoy that TQ and Mark were playing with. Tired!

Trip back was swift but I was glad I'd called for the turnaround when I did - there were some lovely little waves heading our way now and it felt so so so good when I caught a nice ride on one of those and could just stop paddling for a few seconds - but of course you have to work to catch those guys. I had enough gas to get back to the marina without any trouble, but I'm not sure how much I had left when we got there.

Oh. Seals? Countless. As in, we saw nothing to count, so we were countless. There may have been seals around, laughing at us, even, but it just wasn't a good day to look for them - stop concentrating on your boat, your paddle, and where you're trying to go, and you'd probably find yourself swimming (or wading, as the case probably would have been).

Measuring out the trip tonight, I think we did a little under two and a half miles - but somehow this time it felt like we earned our Bigelow's!

Photos from the day - click the first one for a slideshow view. 


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