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Spied on by seals (Vinalhaven, ME, 5/31/2004)


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After a couple gusty days that saw us opting for other amusements, the Vinalhaven winds died down for an utterly glorious Memorial Day, and Bethany and I slid off a friend's boat ramp into untroubled waters for some relaxed puttering around coves. It was my first time out in my first boat of my own, a nicely worn-in Impex Montauk, and my first non-pool experience with a Greenland paddle, and the water temperature was really a little lower than I was equipped for, so we weren't out in search of any technical challenges, just tranquil sightseeing.

Vinalhaven is gorgeous, old granite-quarry sea-walls alternating with mussel-coated boulder-fields. We swung through Long Cove, under the watchful, circling scrutiny of an osprey guarding a huge nest high in a dead tree. At high tide the narrow entrance to The Basin was only the mildest of hazards, a couple nudging eddies outside and a few rocks we skirted for style points but could probably have simply floated over. The Basin is a seal playground, and before long a couple curious seals wandered over to see what kind of things we were. We failed to interest any of them in jumping up on our decks for a ride, but they did indulge us with a little hide-and-seek game for a while, as they appeared and disappeared at various points around us, at their closest coming within perhaps 25 feet of our boats, from which distance we could easily hear them breathing across the quiet morning water. Elsewhere cormorants and scoters skimmed between the islands, the ubiquitous gulls drifted idly through clear sky, and broad brown kelp leaves waved languidly at the bottoms of our passing hulls. Beautiful.

Gearwise, everything felt pretty good. I'll want to pad my Montauk seat a little before trying anything more adventurous with it, and experiment a bit with back-band tension and footpeg placement, but routine manoeuvering and steering was comfortable and easy. The Greenland paddle feels very natural in forward and reverse strokes, sweeps, stern pries and low-brace turns, which is enough to get around in calm water. I couldn't immediately figure out how to do an effective stern draw, and I need to relearn the sculling draw to take the paddle's increased buoyancy into account. Neither of us were inclined to test out our pool-grade rolling skills in cold ocean water this time out, so we didn't push any limits, but I expect to spend some quality skill-session time flailing around happily and haplessly.


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