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Wood's Hole 7/31/2004 -full moon high tide @ 8:30am

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That's an interesting story Rick tells of his trip to Fishers Island. I heard some L.I. people telling wild stories about that area once but forgotten about it. I'm sure there's more to it that the simple facts as stated. It's admirable that Rick and his group are getting out to those extreme places, that's real sea kayaking !! Sound's like you need to be an expert paddler to even go near it. If nspn paddlers who want that kind of experience, start out with Wood's Hole and the relatively mild 3kt to 4kt currents there, they'd be able to work up to the kind of trip that Rick and his group had, and to bigger and greater challenges in other parts of the world too.

A group of nspn'ers went down to Woods Hole Saturday on the posted trip, and although I wanted it to be mostly newer paddlers who might be in over their head, it turned out to be some of the most capable in the club. Linda, Brain, John L, Scott, Michael B. and me. Only Scott was there for the first time and he agreed with me that the over blown stories made it seem frightening and less inviting. I'm sure that he wouldn't hesitate to go back there anytime now and take anyone with a 75% roll.

You want to be there paddling during the full ebb cycle. Check the current station for Little Devils Foot, I use Chart Nav for that info, it must be available on line too. This past Saturday high tide at Little D Foot was at 8:30 am, so max ebb through the rip was at 12:30pm to 3:00pm., the best time to play. The sun was hot, the water is warm. We were on the water early so went across the shipping channel to the small rips under the bridges in Nonamisset(sp)Island. We came back across the channel to play at Penzance at full 4kt ebb and it was a piece of cake for everyone. The exciting part is seeing the hull of a 70 foot power boat at full throttle off in the distance and telling yourself there's still plenty of time to get across.

For most of the afternoon we played in the rip off Penzance Point, ferrying back a forth and then riding the standing waves and boat wakes where the rip hits the channel. To get the full boat wake and wave effect is sort of like playing on the edge of a highway as some biggest boats make the best wakes when they hit the rip. Nothing at all like the 8 foot waves and 6 kt currents at Fishers that Rick experienced. More like 2 to 3 footers in 3 kt current with big friendly eddies on both sides. This little channel where we play is only about 100 feet wide, and you don't need to get out in the middle of the channel to have fun, look at the chart.

We saw another kayaker cautiously make his way around the western, calm side of the point to have a try in the rip. He drifted up the eddy (not sure he wanted to, but too late for him ) and as soon as he poked the front of his boat into the current he flipped upstream, but we pulled him out easily. He collected himself and paddled home. It was pretty easy to pull him out (although I didn't help, it looked easy) so in the company of other capable paddlers one or two less capable paddlers can be taken as "projects". It's much more convenient to roll than swim but, swimming is an option. Eskimo rescues are also a good option if a paddler is struggling to roll but getting a good breath each attempt. If you know one of your friends does this, just be ready to get them back up to keep them from swimming. It seems also possible to set up a whitewater style throw rope from the beach of Penzance Point.

I don't want to diminish the need for some skills in the robust environment of Woods Hole, but it bothers me to think that there are club members chomping at the bit to go paddler there but fearful of the reputation. The greatest danger there in summer is motor boat traffic, but this makes the needed wakes to make it fun. Its not a good place for more than 5 or 6 in a group as you'll become a parking problem, a hazard to boat traffic and get in each others way when playing in the rips. You can get to Little Devils Foot Island with a paddle across flat harbor water, get out and walk over to the rip between the island and Penzance point and take a look first.

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Sounds like you guys stayed pretty much in the rip between Devil's Foot and Penzance Point. But isn't the real excitement out by the boat channel where the current runs over Middle Ledge? I thought that is where everyone goes to surf the standing waves.

I've only been there once, and can't remember exactly where we were, but I remember that the rip next to Penzance Point was quite tame compared to out in Woods Hole Passage.

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""isn't the real excitement out by the boat channel where the current runs over Middle Ledge?""


I hope you're right. The times I've been there before and last Nov we spent some time on Middle Ledge, it was pretty tame those times and not very unusual for sea kayakers to surf those waves. The condition on Vinyard Sound must play into that.

The very first time I went to Woods Hole was 3 years ago in August with Armand Santos' ACA Class and it was in ebb and we had the most excitemant at the Penzance rip with the strong current, standing waves there and boat wakes. I was actually wondering if my boat would ender there. It has never been as impressive in the times I've been back, not even close. The tide cycle, ebb or flood and the heights at full/new moon, spring or fall etc must play into it.

The unusal thing about Penzance at ebb cycle is its resemblance to a river rapid with a sharp eddy line, strong upstream current where a sea kayaker can experince a whitewater like condition in the ocean as you turn into the current. This is what I wanted to explore. I do know that Penzance at flood is nothing and this may be what you saw the time you went. I wasn't bored, it was a beautiful day with good people.

I guess I'll have to keep going back till I get it right. Why don't you come along next time and we'll look the whole place over.

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What a terrific day! Picture-perfect Cape Cod summer weather, warm water (my first time paddling in other than a drysuit this year!), great fun playing in the currents both under the bridge on Nonamesset and later at Penzance Point.

The rescue of the passing paddler was smooth and quick and looked quite impressive from the beach as he was drifting quickly out into Woods Hole Passage with power boats speeding by. He was very lucky to have had a group of skilled NSPN-ers downstream. While Ken is encouraging folks to paddle down here, it is not for the faint-hearted. Definitely need to have a reliable roll. I went over in a whirlpool and did not come up on my first try...relaxed, settled myself in my cockpit and came up on the next try. Four of us capsized unintentionally and rolled up, one did a picture-perfect set up and roll, and one managed to stay upright the whole day!

It was great fun and great company. Hope to do it again soon. I have some pictures of not-so-good quality that give a taste of the day:


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Yes, it was flooding into Great Harbor when I was at Penzance rip. I imagine Middle Ledge is "best" closer to low tide but while the current is still strong, and an opposing wind can "help" as well.

Well, I appreciate your invitation very much, but at this point I have slim chances of rolling up in those waves, and it sounds like just about everybody in your group on Saturday went over. I'll be down there on the 14th with CRCK to play again, and expect to be paddling in and out of Woods Hole this coming Saturday on a Naushon Island trip, so I will look around and see if I can figure anything else out.



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  • 2 weeks later...

After playing in Woods Hole yesterday with a small group on a CRCK trip, I think I agree with Ken. While it was not one of the wilder days in Woods Hole (virtually no wind or ocean swell) there is always the current and plenty of boat traffic in the afternoon creating steep wakes. So we had conditions that looked comparable to what I saw in Linda's pictures. We played on some standing waves in the morning on the flood tide over Middle Ledge, catching a few short, fun surf rides, but it was actually harder to stay in the rough stuff than get out of it. Nobody went over, but I think any fairly competent intermediate paddler could have pulled off a T rescue in those conditions without much trouble.

We went under the bridge at East Gutter after lunch to play in the swift current and eddies coming under the bridge on the ebb tide. Again, a boat going over here is no big deal as they quickly drift down to slower, shallower water and essentially wash up on the beach. I went over once, trying to pull off a reverse peelout and cartwheel, but rolled up easily. Another boat went over, and I was able to paddle upstream against the current and get him with an Eskimo Bow rescue. Nobody swam.

As with Ken's trip, the biggest stuff we played in was on the outgoing tide between Penzance Point and Devil's Foot Island, where steep boat wakes rolling in from the channel smacked into the outgoing current and standing waves, creating some pretty tall, steep stuff at certain times. I was pearling heavily, with all the boat under water well past the cockpit at times, because the waves were so short and close together. I was trying to catch rides on the biggest and steepest of these, just asking for it, and at one point missed a brace and went over. I really wanted to roll up in that heavy stuff and almost did, coming up probably 160 degrees before getting knocked back down. (Kevin from Charles River later said he would have been pretty impressed if I had pulled it off, given what I was trying to roll up in.) My second attempt stunk and I wet-exited.

Kevin did the T-rescue, but from my perspective as the guy that had to actually get back in the boat in those conditions, it was no big deal. From the time I went over to being back in boat was maybe a minute. I got in position at the stern of my boat before he reached me, the dump out took like two seconds, and I was scrambling back in a few seconds after that. I never really even thought about it being rough or difficult. It was just routine. We had to be quick since we were drifting toward the boat channel, (and somebody said a BIG boat was coming) and I paddled back into the eddy sans sprayskirt, but I wouldn't call the rescue at all difficult and I think, again, a decent intermediate paddler could do it with a "helpful" swimmer. Where things would get dicey is if the swimmer lost contact with either boat or paddle or both. But it really isn't far to the beach at all, and a reasonably competent paddler could carry or tow a swimmer out of there to the beach while a second paddler went after the boat.

So yeah, swimming is an option, even if not preferred, and as long as one is strong enough and nimble enough to get back in their boat quickly. I'd go back down there and paddle Woods Hole with folks who, like me, may not have a reliable combat roll, but have their assisted rescues down pat (from both ends) and are willing to look out for each other. Playing in areas where you are unlikely to drift into the boat channel certainly makes it safer.

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