Monday, May 14, 2018

One Paddle, Two week later, much better, trying to find a WHALE!

NOT MY PICTURE! Photo taken by Captain Frank of the American Princess, that's a whale RIGHT OFF RIIS LANDING!!! 

2nd trip report (pix at the end of the post)- As mentioned, the paddle on April 8th (trip report on last post) was way too short when I was craving a long one, and the meeting that brought us off the water too soon was just the first one in a string of 3. The next weekend's meeting was actually one that ordinarily I would have wanted to attend, a gathering of some of the club's more experienced paddlers plus a couple of board members to discuss clarifying certification requirements for the independent use of club boats. Getting more members "safety certified" is something I've been very interested in; I just remember it as being so great and so freeing to get to that point where instead of waiting for other people to take you out, you can start planning your own trips, and my thought is that it would make for a better and livelier club if more members are shooting for that instead of just being stuck waiting for the club's volunteer trip leaders to organize things.

So ordinarily, a meeting to discuss just that was a meeting I would've liked to attend. But work was still crazy and the 3-mile teaser on the 8th may've just made me want to get out even more. TQ had been there for my post-paddle pre-meeting meltdown so he did have an idea of how stressed out I was getting over having all of these meetings right when I was literally crying for a nice long paddle, and he offered to go to the meeting while I paddled and fill me in afterwards. This was a very tempting offer. He and I have very similar views of the desirability of getting people to graduate to being able to paddle on their own, and he was a professional kayak guy for years and knows about as much as anybody I know about getting people onto the water safely. I was still thinking it might be good for me to be there, though; he would make the same points I would just fine, but I think the two of us back each other up really well, I was a professional for less time than he was but I did have that experience that I could share if others were looking for confirmation beyond his say-so.

But then on April 13th, still on the fence about the meeting, I checked Facebook at work (as I do entirely too often), and there on my wall I found a video post from Gotham Whale that was absolutely jaw-dropping to me! It was a whale - that's what Gotham Whale is all about, of course, check out their website if you haven't heard of them. It wasn't the most spectacular whale video you've ever seen, the whale wasn't indulging in any of the (literally) splashy acrobatics for which humpbacks are famous, just quietly swimming around, surfacing for breath every now and then - but it was jaw-dropping for me, and for anybody else who paddles Jamaica Bay, because it was swimming around RIGHT OFF OF RIIS LANDING, where the American Princess is docked. Riis Landing is on the bay side of the Rockaway Peninsula, just outside of the Marine Park Bridge. The whale was right there in the Jamaica Bay inlet! If you're on Facebook, watch it here! Photo above was taken during the same sighting.

Well. Meeting, shmeeting, that knocked me right off the fence. Since I've gotten so enthusiastic about the Gotham Whale/American Princess whalewatching cruises (full details there if you'd like to go, unsolicited plug/link), people frequently ask me if I think we could paddle out to see the whales. I always say no, it's really better to go on the American Princess if you really want to see whales - the NY Bight, where most of the sightings happen, is a big place, and the AP is a big, fast boat that can and does cover a whole lot of territory during one of their whalewatching trips. Highly unlikely that a paddler going out from Jamaica Bay at 3 kts (average cruising speed of a trained kayaker) is going to find a whale. It's possible that they could be super, super lucky and have a whale find them, but from our location, at least, I don't think a whalewatching paddle is a very practical thing.

With that video, though, I decided that for all that, I was still going to give it a try. Maybe the whale would still be hanging around in the inlet. And what I really wanted was a good long paddle - so this was perfect, I would go out to where the whale had been, that would be the kind of good long paddle I'd been craving, so that would be a fine thing, and if I saw the whale, well, holy cow that would be the whipped cream, cherries, rainbow sprinkles and hot fudge sauce (and I mean a really good rich yummy truly fudgy hot fudge sauce, not a little drizzle of Hershey's syrup that somebody stuck in the microwave for a few seconds) on top. Win-win.

And that was just the right attitude to take out there. Because no, I did not find the whale, it had apparently moved back out into more open water somewhere. But it was just the paddle I'd been daydreaming about during the busy days at work. Beautiful weather. Light winds - got down to pretty close to mirror-calm at one point as I was paddling out. Lots of birds - cormorants, oystercatchers, brants, ducks, and a couple of loons, and one of the loons was in that dashing black-and-white checkerboard breeding plumage that they put on for their summers at the lake instead of the soft grays they wear for wintering in coastal environments. I'd never seen one in summer plumage before so that was pretty cool - maybe not as cool as seeing the whale would've been but still a lovely first. Sorry no picture, I just looked for a bit and then just when I started fumbling for my camera, the bird dove.

I made it out to the Breezy Point "Light" - really an old WWII fire control station where observations and calculations were made to direct the guns in the batteries at the forts that protected NY harbor. Today it makes a good Thing To Paddle To - I tend to be something of a landmark-driven paddler, I like to paddle to things or around things. It would've been tempting to keep going but I'd kind of whooshed out there, the currents weren't really right for what I doing, the ebb had not been going for too long when I launched; it was most helpful going out but would be against me going back. Currents in Jamaica Bay proper are pretty light but strong enough in the inlet that I knew it was going to be a bit of a slog going back, so I made the tower the turnaround point of the trip and headed back for the club.

Paddling back to the club against the ebb, the tops of the old metal bulkhead along Floyd Bennett Field started reminding me of highly stylized Greek theatrical masks, so I stopped for a bit to take some pictures of those for a "Found Art" Facebook page I'm on where people share photos of things that aren't meant to be art but look like they are anyways. One nice thing about a solo paddle is that you can stop and futz around with something like that if you want to, which I frequently do.

Also paused here and there to pick plastic bags out of the bay. Malama honua!

And the final nice thing about this paddle was that I went back to the club because I was ready to, not because I had a certain time. Oh, ok, I was ready to go back because a blister, but that was OK. Otherwise I would've gone to see the ospreys - but this was 13 good miles and I was very, very happy with the day.

And the meeting went just fine without me.

Here are a dozen photos from the trip, and a bonus forsythia picture - we were still in the early spring flowering at the club and the forsytha was so festive, I couldn't resist it. Click on any photo for a slideshow view. 


Haralee Sleepwear said...

Great pictures and yes that does look like art on the wall! I would be scared shitless if on the water in a kayak seeing a whale!

bonnie said...

The only thing I would've been scared of if I had seen a whale would be telling my clubmates that I went and found a whale without inviting them along!

Diane Tolley said...

I can't think of anything that would be as lovely! Blue skies. Spring all around me. Something I love to do before me.
I may be able to come close with a lovely ride across the prairie on a perfect spring day when the meadowlarks are singing and the sun is baking the scent out of the sage and I'm on my favourite horse.

Renee Stambaugh said...

I would really like to try make it sound so easy....but...and it sounds like you had a wonderful day....the heck with meetings...

bonnie said...

Diane, that's funny, I was for some reason thinking this morning about how the closest thing away from open water would be going out riding over open country. Your version sounds fantastic! I actually love riding but don't get very many chances to do it living in NYC. Kayaking is pretty good though.

Renee - if you move to the beach you should totally give it a try - you could start with a guided tour on some quiet water if you go back to the Outer Banks sometime, I just looked up "Outer Banks kayak tours" and there are a number of places offering tours, including beginner tours. Whitewater kayaking is mostly for the young and crazy but sea kayaking is a sport that people can do for their entire lives. I do highly recommend lessons, on a quiet day, pretty much anyone could get into a kayak and get it from point a to point b and back, but it's much more satisfying if you take a little time and money and start out by learning good paddling techniques and boating safety skills.

Here in NYC, it's just the most wonderful way to get away from the hubbub - I'm happiest here when I'm getting out on the water regularly. I didn't start kayaking until I was in my 30's and it's something I hope to be doing for years to come.

LauraEhlers said...

So glad you got your paddle in!!! I know just what you feeling with that need for water!
I can’t believe there is a whale in NYC!! What an amazing world!