As of April 24, AM had not paddled yet this season. The winds were up at 15 knots from the south, the water was a touch over 50F, the air just over 60F, and the time was 6pm. With a little lubrication, AM squeezed into the skin-on-frame, dressed her skirt – with a little assistance – and made a bee-line through the sheltered waters toward the picket of fishing rods guarding the mouth of Long Dock. I slid straight-legged into the Black Pearl, dressed the tuilik, and charged after AM. We navigated the fishing lines and nosed into the waves – three feet trough-to-crest – toward Denning's Point.
This marked a first-of-the-season for me, too. I was paddling without gloves and a wetsuit. My protective gear consisted of neoprene Keen boots, a Brooks tuilik, a nose-plug, and my kayak. Per usual, the safety equipment was abundant: bilge pump, VHF radio, whistle, inflatable paddle float, hypothermia kit, Greenland paddle, and storm Greenland paddle.
AM has paddled sit-on-tops, but nothing like a traditional Greenland kayak until we met. Greenland kayaks are significantly more "tippy" than nearly all their descendents. I told AM that simply sliding your paddle into the water and letting it rest there would provide a lot of stability, which she successfully demonstrated. I asked if she was engaging her knees in the process, which she promptly did, and felt much more controlled. I asked her to loosen her grip, which is a great challenge for a beginner in "big" conditions.
Fifteen knots creates intimidating rolling white-caps. Paddling into it is a challenge for may paddlers. Some people use a skeg or rudder. My boats don't have that luxury. I had AM lean forward and away from the direction she wanted to go in order to do a skidding turn. We discussed the "canted blade" approach to the Greenland paddle, and I warned her to keep her wrists in a neutral position and try to make the boat go forward by sliding the paddle into the water and twisting her torso to keep her shoulders parallel to the paddle. That is a tough thing to communicate when you are out in it! After a quarter mile, we altered our heading in toward land to take shelter from the wind. We made good time during that run, but had to come around back into the wind to get to the tip of Denning's, which took nearly an hour.
Denning's Point was well populated with people fishing for striped bass, which are mostly through their annual migration from the ocean to their spawning beds up the Hudson. We muscled into the wind to come nealy parallel with the giant mulberry tree on the southern tip, then rafted up and let the wind blow us back north. Suddenly, one of the paddles, which we had dutifully placed between our boats, was floating slower than we were. It appeared to be floating away from toward the south, though in reality, we were floating away from it. AM took the paddle we managed to rescue, and I took off under hands power to recover the flight risk. Turning the kayak into a high wind with only my hands was a great exercise, and resulted in apprehension of the skinny stick.
The fun was just getting started! The reward for paddling into the wind is a quick trip home (unless the winds change, oy). I had been eyeballing the waves the entire way south, ready to apply some of the skills Greg & Paula had shown me. We both stepped up our game and surfed some gnar. White water bubbled under our boats. Noses pearled. We skidded downhill. I applied an aggressive cross bow draw skidding turn on a wave that tried to broach me and spun quickly (for a long boat) back onto the face. AM, at this point feeling fatigued, pumped her arms, but kept a good pace and looked strong in the waves.
AM hauled her boat up on shore and ate some homemade chili I had brought. I did some wind sprints, then dragged my boat up to the car. By this point, my pinky and ring fingers were numb with the cold. I crammed all the gear into the car as fast as I could and high-tailed it for home, where food and dog waited.Share on Twitter Share on Facebook