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Iced Out!

Brian Nystrom

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Perhaps February 29th is a bad day for paddling?

It was a beautiful morning when Michael Brokenshire, Linda Shelburne, Mark Stephens, Eric Johnson and I met at Kingman Marine in Pocasset, only to discover that the harbor was a solid sheet of ice. On to plan B. We scrurried south to Megansett Harbor, which was more exposed and hopefully free of ice. Although nearby Squeteague Harbor was frozen solid and there was sheet ice outside the breakwater where the boat ramp was, the ramp and the inlet were open and there was no ice in the water. Success!

Off we went, paddling south into an incoming tide, a steady 6 knot breeze and a light chop. It felt good to be on the water again after a long absence and we all enjoyed the leisurely cruise down around Nyes Neck to the south end of Old Silver Beach. After hauling out, basking on the beach and chowing down in the best NSPN tradition, we hit the water again and allowed the surf to push us up into Herring Brook, where we warmed up on the flat water, before heading back toward home. There was just enough surf to make playing along the shoreline fun. Soon we were rounding Nyes Neck, riding the tailwind and light chop toward the put-in.

As we approached, something didn't seem right. All we could see was ice from one side of the channel to the other. The buoys and day marker that had been clear when we left were iced in. The 80 yard wide channel was gone! Apparently, rising water had floated stranded ice from the shores and the onshore wind had packed it into the inlet, completely blocking our return route. Hmmm...not good.

While we searched for a way through, I suffered a severe brain cramp that led me to believe that it might be possible to find gaps in the ice and work our way through, so I found what looked like a soft spot and stuck my bow in. It was pretty easy going with the waves at the edge of the pack giving me a bit of a boost for the first ten yards. That was the point of the "This was a REALLY dumb idea!" moment. The steady wind had packed the ice together tightly and there was no way we were going to work our way through it for the 100+ yards to the breakwater. Fortunately, no one else had been brain-dead enough to follow me.

Lesson 1: Long, skinny boats don't turn well in pack ice. There were numerous chunks 6' wide or more and up to a foot thick that made moving between them difficult to impossible. The only way to move and maneuver was over the ice.

Lesson 2: Pack ice is not kind to cedar paddles. Actually the paddle was useless anyway. The only way to move was to pull myself along with my hands.

Lesson 3: Despite the horrible noises coming from the hull, ice scraping on the boat doesn't do any damage.

Lesson 4: Waves are not fun when you're in pack ice. Fortunately, the waves were small enough to provide only a warning, this time.

After ~15 minutes of struggling, I mananged to extricate myself and we headed south along the shore until we found some open shoreline sheltered by a breakwater in Rands Harbor. A kind resident (also a kayaker) allowed us to haul out on his property, after which we walked the mile or so to the boat ramp to retrieve our cars. We must have been quite a sight as we trudged along in our dry suits, based on the expressions of passing motorists.

After packing up and thanking the landowner again (who informed us that what happened in the harbor was a common occurence), we headed off to a sumptuous feast in Falmouth at the best pizza joint on the Cape (yeah, I forgot the name). After gorging ourselves and telling lies, we parted ways. All in all, it was a fun and eventful day.

The big question is: Was getting locked out of the harbor by pack ice an NSPN "first"?

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>Perhaps February 29th is a bad day for paddling?

Not for the Annisquam gang. It was gorgeous.

>The big question is: Was getting locked out of the harbor by

>pack ice an NSPN "first"?

I don't know if it is an NSPN first or not, but ice can create blockages in a number of ways. When paddling near tidal glaciers the ice bergs and "bergy bits" drift out with the ebb tide and back in with the flood tide. So, it is very easy to think you can paddle through the floating bits of ice and then find yourself trapped in an inlet. Wind will also blow ice to shore. In January the entire north shore of Gloucester was ice bound.

While we were on the Annisquam, basically at low tide the whole time, I thought about how different the trip would have been at high tide, with all the ice that was laying on shore floating in the water. The Annisquam is wide enough that the little remaining ice would not have caused us any problems, however.

Liz N.

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In retrospect, had we had the necessary local knowledge, we could have avoided the problem. It also seems prudent to paddle on a falling tide in water that's got ice in it or on the shores. Keeping a close eye on the wind direction would have helped, too. If it had been 30 degrees more to the north, the ice would have been blown past the harbor entrance. I guess it really just boils down to lack of experience in such conditions. This wouldn't have happened to a group of Greenlanders. ;-)

To give you an idea of the amount of ice that was blown in, the area visible in this picture was open water when we left:


We didn't see any floating ice on our way out of the harbor.

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  • 2 weeks later...

The first trip that formed the INSANE was something like that for at least me. We had paddled up the Merrimac on a cooold New Years Day in 98 when the tide turned and with the wind and tide moving it towards the sea, pack ice came flowing down the river at speed, causing the group to scramble to avoid it. Some headed for open water, others for shore east of the Rt. 95 bridge. I on the otherhand headed for the closest eddy. BIG MISTAKE!

I was quickly trapped by the ice and it was getting farther and farther from me to open water the longer I waited. I tried using my paddle as you did only to fail. I then resorted to shuffling ACROSS the TOP of the ice with my gloved hands. Lucky for me I was paddling a boat with a flatter bottom. All the while I was watching the bouy in the river being driven under the ice by the current and ice until it finally disappeared completely. It took what felt like forever to get to open water and freedom.

Lesson learned: Run like hell for the open sea, not the eddy. We all heard it before we could see it coming around the corner. It's a sound that I'll always remember.


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