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Green Harbor to Scituate Light 4-29-04


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The forecast had a Small Craft Advisory with SW winds of 20-25 knots predicted. Mike and I had planned to continue our end-to-end paddle of the South Shore Thursday, continuing from Scituate Harbor south, but decided on a one-way paddle north instead, given the forecast. We dropped my truck at Scituate Light and drove to Green Harbor in Marshfield in Mike's car to start the ten-mile trip. Winds were gusting to 20 knots by 9AM in Scituate Harbor, but the ocean was flat with virtually no swell since the wind was land-based and nothing was building up offshore. We would expect quartering to beam winds as we paddled northwest along the coast, but we planned to stay near the surf zone and use the wind shadow of the land as much as possible to shield us from the winds.

But first we had to get out of Green Harbor's south-facing mouth and up and around Brant Rock before we would get any protection from the wind. It was a quick warmup for the day's paddle slogging out of Green Harbor. Once around Brant Rock, however, we found conditions as expected, though occasionally the wind would swing into the northwest and be right in our faces and it was gusting to 30 knots at times. We periodically found ourselves blown offshore to the point where we were getting much more wind, so we would paddle back in toward the beach and then look over our right shoulders for breaking surf rolling in on us. It was a fine line all day between the edge of the wind shadow and the surf zone.

We made good time up to Fourth Cliff in Scituate and New Inlet at the mouth of the North and South Rivers. Maybe a little too good time, as I had hoped to cross New Inlet near slack at low tide, and we were a little early. New Inlet is a known boating hazard and small boaters drown here almost yearly, even in powerboats. The worst conditions are a strong ebb tide with an on-shore wind and ocean swells, where the wind and swells opposing the current of the out-flowing rivers create huge standing waves and very rough water. Today we were near low tide, hence a diminished out-flow from the rivers, almost no swell, and a strong wind but in the same direction as the current.

Still, the water looked rough. Up at the Sand Spit, the surf was crashing and spraying up wildly, and the southwest winds had enough fetch here to build up some sizeable wind waves coming out of the inlet. Mike sighed, "Oh Boy!" and we started to cross, and immediately hit an area of clapotis right at the tip of Fourth Cliff where shallow water, current, wind waves, ocean swell and refracting waves off the cliff all combined to produce a confused and choppy sea. We were on the agitate cycle in a giant washing machine. The conditions reminded me of what it felt like playing "The Wave" in Woods Hole - the boat heading in five directions at once and legs, hips, torso, arms and shoulders all working continuously trying to control the boat, with forward paddling as an afterthought.

But, whereas the wave in Woods Hole is just a postage stamp-sized area of rough water and one that you can come out of whenever you have had enough, New Inlet is roughly 1000 yards across and we still had another 950 yards to go. If it was all going to be like this, or worse, we needed to reconsider. I muttered, "Boy, this is rough" and we rafted up to re-assess. Mike said, "At this point I think we are committed, or rather should be committed." At the time, I wasn't amused, but count on Mike to find the humor in any situation.

We were in too close to the river mouth and should have started to cross the Inlet from farther out, but the southwest wind and current was pushing us in the right direction - further out and also across the inlet, so we decided to stay rafted until we cleared the roughest water. The clapotis was confined to a relatively small area near the point, and paddling farther out was not too bad - bigger water than we had had all day, but just wind waves coming out of the inlet and a little chop. Initially we were going to steer for Green Can 3, then opted for Red Nun 2 further out. Ultimately, we ended up not far from the bell a half mile offshore, blown out by wind and current as we crossed the inlet.

We landed through small dumping surf on the crescent beach between Third and Second Cliffs for a rest and some lunch. The rest of the trip was sheltered enough to unwind, paddle into some rock gardens, do a little fishing, ponder.

Prior to this trip, I knew New Inlet by reputation, but had never paddled near it. I feared it, and justly so. On a day when it was relatively tame, it tested our skills and gave a glimpse of what it might hold in store for another time. Paddle it with great caution and only at favorable times of the tide, and preferably without wind!

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