Thursday, January 20, 2011

Seals, Snow, and Bigelow's - 01/15/2011 Jones Beach

They made us sweat this time, they did.

Once or twice every year for the last couple of years, Tony and Walter (aka "Pinky and the Brain", aaka "Co-Chairs of the Sebago Cruising Committee") have organized midwinter sealwatching paddles at Jones Beach.

It's one of my favorite winter trips. In the summertime, Jones Beach may be a pure people's playground, but in the wintertime, the maze of marshy islands inside the inlet becomes almost as popular a playground for our phocine friends.

The first time I joined the Cruising Committee on this trip in 2009, I actually didn't believe it. Tony and Walter were billing the trip as a sealwatching paddle - but in the NY Harbor and Jamaica Bay area, a seal sighting was a special treat. I took the name as a bit of optimism on our trip leaders' part and made elaborate mental preparations to not be too dissappointed if we didn't see any. Wildlife can't be expected to appear on cue, it shaped up to be a great group of people (of course Sebago trips all tend to have that happen), it looked like a lovely area to paddle, there'd surely be some lovely ducks and geese to see and hey, it was supposed to snow, I love paddling in the snow, so even if the seals didn't appear on cue, hey, it would be a fantastic day.

The first seal appeared off the fishing docks before we'd even launched, and once we were on the water, they were everywhere.

They were following us.

They were watching us.

At one point we stopped paddling and just gawked because we were completely surrounded by a circle of seals. At another point, a seal popped up right in our midst - missed the shot by that much, the biggest ripple marks where the seal had been a split-second earlier.

Second year, it wasn't quite as easy to see them. There was a brisk breeze blowing, and it's a lot harder to spot those little round heads when it's choppy. We didn't see them quite as quickly, and a couple of guys who were landing just as we were launching said that they hadn't seen any, so once again, I began to tell myself the whole beautiful spot/lovely ducks/nice people/seals would be the sprinkles on the sundae story...

Of course, they were out there again, and then for the sundae-sprinkles on top of the sundae-sprinkles on the sundae, I jokingly asked ace birder Mary to find us a snowy owl, and guess what - she did! Incredible.

There was a 3rd trip that I missed. I think that was the one where the term "hundreds" came into use. The crew that did that one came back with a story of not seeing many seals and thinking it was going to be a so-so sealwatching day - until they rounded a bend back in the marshes and found themselves smack dab in front of a beach where a huge herd of seals was hauled out.

Unfortunately this resulted in an instant departure of every seal there - seals can get hypothermia too, and their sunbathing time is key to their health; they are very skittish while hauled out so the idea is NOT to suddenly appear right on top of them - in this case the humans and seals were equally surprised, there was nothing to be done but apparently the exodus was quite spectacular.

By my records, then, last Saturday was the 4th Annual-Plus Sebago Jones Beach Seal Paddle.

It was a cold and snowy, slightly blowy day,

but we had a very nice turnout, including a few paddlers with a little less winter experience who were nevertheless drawn by the prospect of seals, and even a very nice prospective member who'd found out about the club, came to the Frostbite potluck to meet people and decided she was interested in joining us for this trip.

L to R - Almost a group shot by Mary Ann (thanks Mary Ann!): Commodore Tony, Susan, Dotty, Walter, Mary Ann, TQ and me - missing: Martha; hiding behind Susan (bummer): Danica (I hope I spelled that right!)

Jones Beach is actually a great introductory winter trip. It's very protected and quiet inside the inlet, you're never really too far from land, and since it's all about watching the seals, there's no particular distance that has to be done for the trip to be a raging success.

They'd all heard so much about this trip, and we launched with confident promises of wonders to come...

But as I said at the beginning of this post -- the seals let us sweat this time.

I don't know if they heard that we were taking them for granted and wanted to teach us a lesson, or maybe they were down at the inlet having lunch, but we paddled for a VERY long time without seeing any.

And once again I found myself working through the litany of ways in which a seal-free seal paddle would be OK - this time, with others joining in.

Mary Ann, God bless her, started to point out the birds. A loon, a longtailed duck, how lovely!

Someone else commented on how beautiful the marsh islands were and what a nice place this was to paddle as we paddled on past the second seal-free inlet.

And once again it was a really great group. Sebago paddles are like that. Oh, did I say that already? Well, it bears repeating. They just are.

And then, finally, just at the other end of the inlet, the first one was spotted. We stopped, we drifted, we gawked, we paddled backwards, and those little round heads kept popping up here and there. It was still nothing like the density we sometimes see there (I actually didn't end up taking any pictures on the water because I didn't see any opportunities for shots that were going to be any better than pictures I'd taken on other paddles with seals, plus I was a little more in trip-leader mode than I had been in the past, which makes me lay off the camera a bit) but all in all, it was another good Jones Beach seal paddle. I don't think the first-timers were quite as blown away as I was on my first trip, but I think everybody was happy.

And then -- how do you make happy paddlers even happier?

Oh. My. Gosh. BIGELOW'S!

Doing wonderfully, deliciously unhealthy things to seafood in Rockville Center since 1939. Faaaaaabulous!Walter introduced this to the Seal Paddle last year. I begged to go back this year.

Guess what, I didn't have to beg too hard!

I once again chose the Ipswich belly clams with a cold Harpoon IPA for there...

and a quart of the best New England clam chowder I've ever had anywhere (except maybe TQ's homemade) to go. And Danica got a slice of key lime pie and a bunch of forks, and if you have been reading this blog for a while, you know how grateful I was for that - I was way too full of clams to have a whole dessert to myself but a couple of bites of creamy key lime yumminess to top of the meal? Wonderful.
Oh, gosh, and that reminds me, there's a sailing committee scheduling meeting on Saturday. I wonder if I could hunt down a Steve's Key Lime Pie somewhere in Manhattan tomorrow?

BTW - interested in going to see the seals at Jones Beach for yourself? You don't need a kayak or a drysuit, just warm clothing, some good walking shoes, and maybe a thermos of something hot (ok, and a car would probably help). The Theodore Roosevelt Nature Center offers guided seal walks all winter. Click here for schedule and details.


Joe said...

I've got a seal for you.

JP said...

I feel hungry! I might even break the no frost-biting rule if the rewards were as good as that looks.

Baydog said...

Leave it to me to comment about the food. You had me at Ipswich bellies! But who else do you know that serves fried smelts? And who would waste a trip there and order a hamburger. I think they should take it off of the menu!

bonnie said...

Baydog, I can think of one good reason to keep burgers on the menu -

Imagine the poor Rockville parent whose offspring has suddenly decided that seafood is icky!

bonnie said...

BTW, that particular reason for keeping at least one offering of cow on the menu was brought to mind because I've been reading my friend Di's descriptions of her daughter's extremely selective eating habits. Seems like kids go through these phases. I actually still vaguely remember my first encounter with Chinese food. This was in Hawaii, so it was GOOD Chinese food, but being a rather young child and therefore conservative, I just didn't trust the entire concept of Chinese cuisine. None of that furren stuff for me, please, how about a nice safe homey McDonald's cheeseburger? My folks, being sensible people, got me a cheeseburger (there was a Golden Arches nearby so it wasn't a big hassle).

I don't remember if I actually ended up eating it or not, but I changed my mind about that-there furren cui-ZEEN the minute the first appetizers hit the table.

bonnie said...

ps - Baydog, I knew you were going to like this one! :D

O Docker said...

Be careful what you wish for.

The pinnipeds around here are a lot more sociable.

Baydog said...

Having sometimes-picky kids, I fully understand. But I'm sure they would love the clams!

Tillerman said...

Love that picture of the clams and beer. Takes me back to summer days at Evelyn's.

Baydog said...

In Belmar?

Tillerman said...

No, Tiverton. Our local clam shack.

Painless Mama said...

Yep - still occasionally picky, but will always put away the dumplings, just like a good Kayakgirl Junior should!

Carol Anne said...

Pat and I never allowed Gerald to get picky -- if he didn't want to eat what we were eating, he didn't eat. Funny thing is, he never really went through a picky stage, ever, and he has since taken to not only eating but also cooking all sorts of intriguing foods. Recently, he has especially become an expert on Vietnamese cuisine.

Some years ago, my cousin, his wife and their two boys (then age 9 and 5) came to visit us at Five O'Clock Somewhere. I even tried to get the boys interested in helping in the kitchen -- I was preparing chicken Kiev, so there were a lot of fun things to do such as pounding the chicken breasts with a mallet and using a rolling pin to smash crackers into crumbs. But they thought that whole idea was boring, especially the older one, opting instead to go to the living room and switch the television from the news that I was listening to, to an episode of Spongebob Squarepants that they had seen so often that they could recite all of the dialog in unison with the characters on the screen.

Then when we sat down to eat, the boys didn't want to eat what was served, so their mother went into the kitchen to fix what they wanted -- grilled cheese for one, a hot dog for the other. I was astonished that she caved in to their demands and that she would allow them to be so blatantly impolite to their hosts.

This is a roundabout way of saying that I agree with Baydog that a restaurant that specializes in fantastic seafood should not sully its menu with hamburgers just to cater to spoiled kids whose parents don't see the value of exposing them to the adventures of good food.

Baydog said...

Tillerman: I jumped the gun. I immediately googled and found your clam shack. I'm torn about which place, Evelyn's or Bigelow's, I will visit first. Both are a must.

Anonymous said...

very cool . . . cold. and i know bigelows!

clairesgarden said...

I find myself increasingly wanting to comment like this on your blog posts.....

jealous!! jealous!! jealous!!

but I am most appreciative of your lovely photographs and paddling stories and am convincing myself that contenting myself with paddling memories is enough.....

Don said...

Marine mammals are one thing I miss on the lake, though a swimming moose can be pretty impressive. Did see an eagle yesterday.

mmmmmm fried clams.

Pandabonium said...

As averse to the cold as I am, that outing looks like a great time. Fried clams as a reward would definitely make it worth the effort. Nothing like a good a time out on the water followed by good food.

bonnie said...

Carol Anne, I have to admit that my comment may just prove why it's good that I'm not a parent!

I think that balk at Chinese food was my one picky-eater moment and I have to say that I still think that my folks were wise to just let me have the cheeseburger option. I think there may have been another family involved, and I also suspect that my parents may have known that once the food started coming out, my resistance would go away.

I don't think I ever would have gotten away with what your friend's children got away with. Crazy.

Don said...

Check out stats for restaurants that fail, then tell an owner that he shouldn't worry about losing tables of five for lack of some generic kid chow.

Interesting podcast on America's Test Kitchen Radio on economics of restaurants:

bonnie said...

Oh, for heaven's sakes!!!

I was just pulling a stupid reason out of the air based on a story I'd been reading on a friend's facebook page.

It was just a THEORY. I don't really think that the entire reason that Bigelow's has a cheeseburger on their menu is because they have capitulated to picky toddlers. I don't think the picky-kid market could possibly drive a menu all by themselves, but there have to be some takers or they wouldn't have it and I was simply throwing out an idea of one - ONE - situation where that might work for somebody.

Obviously the REAL reason that there's a burger on the menu is because THE OWNERS WANT IT THERE. They're not pushing it on people, and I didn't see anybody actually eating one there, but if they want to have one leetle non-fish item on their menu, don't they have the right to do that?.

bonnie said...

Sorry. Too much snow. Crabby!

bonnie said...

And now I'm complaining to a guy from Vermont about having too much snow. Aloha oy vey...

Doreen Murgatroyd said...

You have some lovely photos there. And your description is encouraging - making people want to share the experience.

Paddling in the cold weather brings up some of its own treats, though it does look really cold!

Thanks you the post.