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Not-as-cold Weather Paddle: Wed March 6, 10am Riverhead Beach

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This was a fun and relatively action-packed species of Wednesday Lunch Paddle. The cast consisted of myself, Deborah ( Deb) Walsh, Ricardo Caivano, Barbara Ryan and William Doucet.

Environment: LW 1:35pm, air and dewpoint both 45-50 F, water temp 40 F, swell 2-3 feet @ 8 seconds, wind light/variable becoming E 6 kt, haze followed by dense fog.

Stats: Launched 10:30 am; 4.5 hours; 8.2 nm distance.

(map courtesy Deb)

The trip plan (created by Barb and Deb) had us exiting the right side of the harbor and turning south around Marblehead Neck towards Tinkers Island for lunch, with the expectation of a modest SE tailwind developing in the afternoon. At this time we could see well out into Salem Sound in light haze and the sun was shining. However the forecast was clearly showing dewpoints and temps almost identical, with a strong expectation of fog at some point.

Going around the lighthouse and turning east we reassessed conditions, but the picture was still the same. However as we rounded Eastern Point and turned south, it was clearly more foggy. Bob, Bill and Ricardo were hugging the rocks and progressing more slowly while I accompanied Barb and Deb with occasional detours. Visual contact between these two sub pods was still easy at this point.

The trip changed character when I decided to paddle towards the rock-play pod, maybe 500 feet north of Castle Rock. I went towards a submerged ledge, hoping to get a nice push over it. Instead I got a pretty substantial breaking wave that rose up behind me before I could react by backpaddling, throwing my Volan into a near vertical orientation. My bow smashed hard into exposed ledge, the boat flipped and then I was underwater. I had a difficult time getting my paddle to the surface for some reason and my two roll attempts failed, so I wet exited. I know this area well and I felt the ledge would probably protect me from more immediate breakers, but I didn't like being in that location and I could feel some rocks with my feet.

Ricardo was nearby and I grabbed his stern with one hand and my bow with the other, keeping as much of my body out of the water as I could, as he pulled me and my kayak out away from the rocky shore. Then I stayed with Barb while Ricardo continued to short-tow my boat further away from shore so he could empty it. I got on Barb's back deck so she could give me a ride out to Ricardo. I was back in my boat shortly; despite the low ocean temp I wasn't at all cold from my swim. At no point was there rough water, nor was there wind forcing us towards hazards. I thought the communication and incident management worked well.  My main worry was that my front hull was probably leaking from impact damage. Ricardo looked inside and didn't see anything.

In the meantime Bob and Bill had proceeded ahead slightly, then stopped behind a rock to wait for us. When we didn't show up, they came back. Bill went and generously located my paddle pants which had come off my boat. Bob took a second look inside my hull and this time, did see some water inside. I had a float bag in there (un-inflated as yet) but the water amount didn't seem to require any action at this point, so the hatch went back on and I was ready to continue.

As we proceeded towards Tinkers, Deb noticed occasional larger waves rearing up on the shoals inshore of Tom Moores Rock. While the rest of the group hugged the shore, I led Barb and Deb through the deepest part of the shoals to avoid these near-breakers. The fog was rapidly becoming more dense. As we crossed the shoals, Barb pointed to Tom Moores Rock (a 25-foot-long ledge with a 2-foot-high iron pipe sticking out of it) and asked, "What is that island with the lighthouse?" I mention this only to illustrate the extreme distortions of scale that can occur in very poor visibility when there are no reference points! It really did look like a distant island with a tower, not a tiny ledge.

When we all were past the shoals and regrouped again, I had a sense that the collective comfort with conditions was getting weaker, and we gathered to talk. This was truly the densest North Shore fog I have ever paddled in. Although we could easily have made it to Tinkers, this would have required us to get back to the rocky shore, make our way to a landmark, and then follow a bearing for the short crossing to the island, all in 100-foot visibility and in exposed ocean. Not everyone was up for this, so we made the entirely reasonable decision to turn around, go back across the harbor, and have lunch on Brown's Island. It was around 12:15 at this point.

The next goal was to return outside of Tom Moores Rock, to avoid the shoals entirely. This is the eastwards loop shown on Deb's track. Since we didn't know exactly how far south or north we were (we could hear waves breaking on the Neck, but could not see land), we proceeded north until I sensed the waves beginning to shoal, then doubled back slightly and turned east. At that point I could hear waves breaking on Tom Moores Rock which was reassuring. We kept well south of the rock as we headed out, saw the rock, and finally saw the "1B" can to its east. At this point a chart would have been really useful, but—shame on us—no one had a usable chart. A waterproofed phone was an available and perfectly valid option, but Bob rightly elected to walk us through the process of guessing a reasonable direction to head in, namely northwest. We reached the vicinity of the Neck right around Castle Rock, very recognizable even in the super dense fog.

Finally we headed across the mouth of the harbor to Browns Island with no letup in the poor visibility. A lobster boat motored into the harbor at a fair speed, but with no danger of collision with us. We reached Brown's and sat down to a lunch and a brief recap of events on the water. Even the slight respite in temperature this day was welcome, compared to recent weeks. My front hatch had several inches of water in it, so definitely not a seaworthy kayak any more—out of conservatism, and so I could say I had finally used it at least once, I inflated my float bag. The view from Brown's:


From here it was a 25 minute journey back to Riverhead Beach. Near the fort even I got momentarily disoriented, mistaking one headland for another. Without constant reference to a compass it was truly confusing even in an area of completely familiar features. In the fog, the familiar rocks near Fort Beach at low tide looked like a completely foreign archipelago of tiny islands that we had never seen before.

Thanks to everyone for a truly enjoyable (and for me, expensive) late winter paddle!

Edited by Joseph Berkovitz
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