A Short Trip with a Yankee Cruiser [43]

By Peter Sanders

As a native of the North Eastern part of the US, reading NSW Sea Kayaker provides an opportunity to learn different techniques (and humour) from another skilled group of kayakers.

Some values and experiences are the same, others due to locale are quite different. Yes, there are crazy people here that paddle in the snow and ice, but would think twice about it if there were sharks, nasty jellyfish, crocs or any other vicious or deadly creatures in the water!

If I can digress for a moment – there are many Clubs in the New York City metropolitan and surrounding areas. I am a member of several, but none have the depth, standards or opportunities offered by the NSWSKC. This particular trip described below is offered as an intermediate tour from Atlantic Kayak Tours. I have always thought it better to paddle with known, educated paddlers when a demanding trip is expected than with a Club where the experience levels are unknown. Please understand I am not a snob – just concerned with my own safety.

For most Clubs in the US, plastic sea kayaks are the majority: Perception, Necky, and Sealution boats are popular. Fibreglass denotes a larger wallet or years of experience (you’d be surprised how many people are the former rather than the latter).

Wooden kayaks are a rarity, most are owned by the occasional paddler (with an even bigger wallet than fibreglass), but not necessarily by the experienced kayaker. Please keep in mind this is an observation not an opinion or fact. I apologise for the backtracking and will continue.

Paddling the Connecticut shore of the Long Island Sound is beautiful and demanding. Bluff Point is a state park and coastal reserve. Launchings are restricted to small craft.

Our trip goal was to cross the channel to West Harbour of Fisher’s Island – there is a Race to be concerned with, it can travel about 5 to 6 knots and the waters can get difficult.

Paddlers were screened for this Bluff Point day trip – I’ve known many of the people for years. Most paddle the Romany 16, there is one Romany 18, two Valley Anus Acuta’s, one Necky (but he has a Romany on order) and one P&H Sirius (myself). None of us have rudders, we use either skegs or nothing at all. We have found that in rescues, one can lose a finger on rudder cables.

Unfortunately, the morning weather report had increasing winds forecasted from 15 to 20 knots gusting to 25 or so from the northwest. The plan was to paddle to the south east from the Connecticut shore to Fisher’s Island and return after lunch. The trip itself was fine, about 5 or so miles out, have lunch and return by late afternoon. However, with the wind and the Race, a group meeting was held and the trip changed to exploring the coast, surfing and rolling for the day.

The coast of Connecticut is lined with beaches with little vegetation, marshes with green trees or rock gardens with huge boulders. When the land is not a state preserve, the coast is lined with huge mansions and numerous marinas – the Connecticut and Massachusetts areas have been sailing and whaling towns since the 1600’s.

When crossing coves and no longer protected by the shore, the full force of the wind forced some bracing, but more hard paddling into the wind than anything – I must admit the group may have been correct in cancelling the Fisher’s Island crossing. After 3 hours we decided it was time for lunch.

Surf landing is always a big thrill. Berating the capsizing victims while saving them is normal. I was given some assistance with my landing with the kind instruction, “Brace you idiot!” when a rogue wave hit. My landing was met with a compliment or two…

After lunch, our return trip with the wind was faster then expected. This allowed for some game playing – surfing in, bracing and then paddling out without landing. When this grew tiring we continued for a bit until a new game, ‘Killer Kayak’, was created.

The object being to get directly behind a friend, paddle hard there-by bringing the bow of your kayak up onto your friend’s stern. If successful, the kayak on the bottom is forced sideways and capsizes.

Escape is achieved by side slip, draw on the move, or a severe low brace turn. My personal preference is to roll over, count to 10, and roll up followed by a reverse sweep. This provides excellent position for visual and verbal comments at my protagonist.

All done with fun in mind – any one not wishing to play stays out. This may go on until someone capsizes or we just grow tired.

Towards the end of the day, when the water was at its warmest, we practiced different rolls – the instructional part of our trip, where each of us learns from the other. We spent a half hour or so before landing.