Drew's Cuttyhunk Trip

Kayak Trips

13-May-1995 and 14-May-1995

We were:

I had recently purchased a set of thigh braces from Necky. I was excited to install them in my Narpa before the trip, so I brought my drill and some tools over to Lisa's to do what looked like an easy installation. I needed to remove and then put back the nut and bolt that hold the seat in place. Unfortunately, the nut is accessible only through a couple of 1-inch or so diameter holes 3 or 4 inches from the nut. While I could imagine taking the nut off, I could not figure out a way to put it back. So I resigned myself to wait for another day and a larger selection of tools.

The next morning, I made it down to Scotty's right on time. After a bit of socializing, we headed for Woods Hole. I was very thankful that Scotty had procured for us temporary passes to a WHOI lot right next to Eel pond. Eel pond is where Dave and I had put in on our first trip to this area.

As we were putting in, I couldn't help but notice that Ruth, Ian, and Nick were significantly better prepared than I. They tended to have compasses, accessible charts, spare paddles, even sleeping bags. Good folks to have along on a trip. Regarding the sleeping bags, I had not verified that we all definetely had sheets at the place we were staying. More later on other things I had not planned. I guess this helps explain why I hate planning; I'm just not good at it.

While we were crossing Woods Hole harbor, Nick spotted a seal. I would guess he was 20 yards away, with his back to us. Nick said something to him, but he appeared not to notice us. However, he soon dove out of our sight. I commented that he probably saw us now that he was underwater. I considered the sighting a good omen.

After crossing Woods Hole harbor, we drifted around a bit in the wind, trying to ascertain the best way through Hadley harbor. Ian pulled alongside and pulled out a chart. I was just about to comment about it getting wet with the wind and spray, when he quickly dunked it in the surf, just to show it was waterproof.

As we threaded our way out to Vineyard Sound, I noticed a wolf-like dog on the bank. He just stood there, front paws on a rock in the water, staring straight at me. I pointed him out to Ian and Ruth, and was surprised at how hard it was for them to see him. I then noticed that he blended in quite well with the scenery behind him. He was sort of spotted, somewhat like I imagine a coyote would look.

Right after that, Ruth pulled over to realign her spare paddle. Its blades were catching the wind, making her quite unstable. She was expressing doubts as to the wisdom of our continuing, what with the small craft advisory in effect, and having just completed a somewhat hairy crossing. She reasoned that things would improve without her spare paddle blades catching the wind, but she was concerned that it could get worse tomorrow. I said I thought that the weather report indicated that it would be clearing up later tonight or tomorrow, with a good-sized high pressure system moving in.

I don't know the names of many birds, but I noticed that there were a lot of cool ones flying around. I think we all liked the Hadley harbor area.

We traveled down the Vineyard side of the Elizabeths, with a tailwind and favorable currents. It was pretty easy paddling, though my boat never likes to stay pointed straight downwind. I was constantly fighting to bring it back in line.

For lunch, Nick and Dave chose a fairly sheltered inlet, and headed toward the beach. Ruth, Ian, and I thought they were crazy to head straight for a large sign. We assumed that it couldn't be a friendly sign, and it would be hard to pretend we hadn't seen it if we were parked right in front of it. To our surprise, the sign said "Picnickers welcome"!

Dave chose a nice grassy spot out of the wind. Food is good.

During the next downwind stretch, I watched Nick and noticed that he was ruddering with his paddle back, kind of like a J-stroke in a canoe. I had been trying to correct by leaning the boat and sweeping. I switched to his tactic, and found it much easier.

We passed Robinsons Hole uneventfully. When Dave and I had been there last, there was a strong current through the hole, and we could see the Gayhead light clearly. Today there was no noticeable current, and the light was invisible through the fog.

I don't remember noticing anything particularly alarming as we approached Quick's Hole. Half way across, I realized I had better pay close attention, and made sure I was close to the others. Three quarters of the way across, I was getting pretty worried. I looked back and noticed Nick smiling widely. I made some comment about it, which just made the grin grow bigger. He was enjoying this, the way I enjoy a chance at a good bump run.

As we neared the rocks on the far shore, things became very unstable. This was probably due to waves reflecting off the shore. I'm not usually one for praying, but I slipped into the foxhole syndrome, and did as much praying as paddling. The waves were very irregular, and you never knew when one would come along next. One of them picked me up such that my bow was buried up to the front hatch. The wave whisked me along like that for 4 or 5 seconds. I just kept my paddle up, out of the water. That was the point at which I was most concerned (and prayed the hardest), because I was sitting there doing nothing, just waiting for impending disaster. I was expecting the worst, because I am NOT good at bracing over the back of waves after broaching in the surf. I have failed most times I have tried it. However, God was with me this time, and I did it successfully, though somewhat shakily.

Soon after that, I heard someone say "Dave's over". I looked, saw it was so, and immediately started trying to turn around to help. Hah! Half a minute later, I had only succeeded in getting half way around. Try as I might, the waves always seemed to have a different idea. For all that effort, all I succeeded in doing was putting myself directly in Ruth's way. Ruth had a VERY determined look on her face. Nick had told her to just keep going up around the point, and NOTHING was getting in her way. After seeing that look, I somehow found a way to move quickly, and backed out of her path.

Dave was up again. About this time, it occurred to me that Nick and Ian were like a couple of sheepdogs, and the rest of us were frightened sheep. They seemed to be everywhere, darting in and out, circling, and herding us along.

Around the bend, we paddled for a while as Nick looked for a place to land. We paddled some more, and Nick continued looking. This went on for a while; there didn't seem to be any spots without big rocks and crashing waves. At least there were some cool cows to look at. They were mostly tan colored and pretty hairy. On first glance, I thought they had funny black ears. Then I thought, duh!, those are horns. As they stared at us, I imagined them thinking we were crazy to be out on the water in this wind. Finally we came to a fairly calm spot. Dave asked me to pump out his back hatch, which tends to take on water. With he, Ruth, and I rafted together, I did so. However, I could not figure out how to reattach his bungies in such a way as to secure the hatch. My brain just refused to visualize it. As I sat there with my brain stuck in idle, Ruth started mentioning that the waves were getting bigger. We had drifted back out into them. Ruth was repeating this, a bit louder each time; Dave was getting flustered trying to explain how the bungies had to go; but my mind STILL would not grasp this simple geometry problem. Finally Dave turned around, with much difficulty, and did it himself. When we got back together, we decided to skip the landing, as Cuttyhunk was now in sight. With Dave's hatch pumped out, there was no longer a pressing need to land.

We rounded the end of Nashawena, and looked over our final crossing. Right off the end of the long Cuttyhunk spit, there was a big, mean set of waves throwing up lots of surf. This did not look good. I wished I either had a chart on my deck, or had studied it more closely before departing, because I didn't have a clue as to where we were supposed to go. Luckily, everyone else did. We were supposed to go right through those waves.

In retrospect, the waves may not have been so bad, but we were tired, battered, and generally not in the right frame of mind for tackling them. Nick made a choice to go down the back of the spit, and then portage over it. Many times after that, we complemented him on a wise decision. We still had to fight a stiff wind to reach shore, but Nick found a very sheltered spot to land. He also picked the narrowest part of the spit, so the portage was very short. I couldn't get over how sore one of my legs was. It must have been very tense in those waves.

What a relief it was to paddle into Cuttyhunk pond! Now that we were safely there, I was really glad we had come. I think I learned a lot, and would not have wanted to miss the excitement.

We didn't see the grey Jeep that the rental people (Leslei and Will) had said would be there. It turns out that they had decided not to go off-island that day, due to the inclement weather. When I called, Leslei sounded a bit surprised that we had made it. They soon came down to get us.

We stashed our kayaks out of the way near the fishing docks, and took what we needed for the night. I had realized much earlier in the day, when people asked me about bedding and food, that I had not planned things out at all. I had just assumed that there would be a nice, cozy restaurant where we could relax with a nice meal and some beers. Right! When we asked Leslei and Will, they said that there were no restaurants open, but that they would stop by the general store on the way up. When we stopped, we saw that we'd missed the store's closing time by at least a half hour (the sign said "open until 4, usually"). Leslei knocked but there was no answer.

So here we were on the island, stuck without dinner. It was clearly my fault for not figuring this out ahead of time. Luckily, things turned out OK. First of all, Leslei and Will sent their daughter over with noodle soups, muffins, butter, and tea.

Next, we went for a walk and stopped by the general store. There was a dog outside, none too happy to have us there. Dave knocked, and thought he heard something. Ruth and Nick had already walked away, preferring not to be party to any disturbance we might cause. Dave knocked again, and finally a woman answered. I was busy getting barked at in a big way, so I didn't notice how unfriendly the woman looked when she first stepped out. However, she agreed to sell us food. We quickly grabbed what we needed: pasta, sauce, bacon, eggs, and coffee. We were happy to get out of there.

The island was very pleasant to walk around. It was also nice to give the legs some exercise, after having been cramped all day. Both the moon (almost full) and the sunset were beautiful. There were rabbits everywhere, and lots of birds. Nick even spotted some deer tracks.

The next day (Mother's day) dawned pleasant and sunny. Dave couldn't get over how different the ocean looked. He felt like we had been transported overnight to a magical, peaceful kingdom. There were little brown jellyfish lounging in the shallow water at the put-in. Dave demonstrated to me how to properly attach his bungies. We set off with the wind blowing slightly against us, a brilliant sun, and just a few wispy strings of cloud.

As we crossed Cuttyhunk harbor to head up the North side of Nashawena, it was funny to pass over the jellyfish hanging out in the water below.

We talked a bit about compasses, and I decided that I really need to get one (after I finally get those thigh braces installed). Ian was talking about a time when he was flying and thought the compass was wrong. He trusted his eyes and memory instead. It turns out that a set of lights, which were always white when he had seen them before during the day, are red at night. Hence he got lost. He elaborated that he was only lost within his "zone of confusion", a radius of about 20 miles in that case. After flying those 20 miles, he was able to figure out what had happened. For some reason, the phrase "zone of confusion" struck a chord with me.

Just west of Quick's Hole, in the lee of Nashawena's North Point, we stopped to pee. We walked up the hill to have a look at the hole, and stood pretty close to some of those wooly cows. This time when one stared at us, I imagined it thought we looked ridiculous standing there with our brightly colored paddling jackets, spray skirts, and funny looking hats. Today, Quicks hole was almost tranquil, with nice friendly little waves. Dave was releived.

As we proceeded, about the only interesting paddling was in amongst the rocks. Ian commented that, with all that ocean around us, we always seemed to pick the very edge to paddle in. One time I was following Nick through rocks, and he did what looked like a whitewater move which turned his boat very quickly. It turned out to be a dufek (spelling?). For the next few miles, I used that to change my direction, rather than my more normal lean and sweep. The dufek is nice because you can use it and then just flick the wrist and proceed into a normal paddle stroke.

Right after coming upon Naushon Island, we found a beautiful beach for lunch. The water over the sand had that turquoise hue that one normally associates with the Caribbean. With the clear water and sky, it almost felt like we could have been there (except for a 20 or 30 degree difference).

Food is good.

Returning to the boat, I noticed a little tide pool. It had a cute little crayfish, several snails, and a ton of those little tiny see-through fish that look like a skeleton with a clear plastic fish-shaped coating. Dave again demonstrated how to attach his bungies.

While paddling up along Naushon, I think as we were nearing the Weepeckets, the vegetation looked like someone had thrown a giant rug down on the island. Nick commented that an awful lot of dirt had been swept under that rug. The edges looked particularly convincing, because the vegetation clung to itself, thereby enabling it to stick out like a well-bound rug over the dirt eroding below. It was sort of cranberry colored.

Just after passing the Weepeckets, I began to get fatigued. I also began to notice how itchy and sweaty my wetsuit/paddling jacket combination was. I was ready for a break. Luckily, Dave and Nick were planning to stop on Bull Island. For some reason, it seemed a bit odd to see horses grazing on Uncatena island. I should have expected it after the cows. I then remembered that we had seen those horses one other day in this area. The last time we were on Bull Island, it was cold and pouring rain. Throughout the morning that day and all the way through lunch, Dave kept assuring us that it would clear up soon. I think he had pointed out the horses with the hopes of cheering us up. Today, just stopping to rest was enough to cheer me up.

Crossing Woods Hole harbor was uneventful; the currents were about as slack as they ever get there. One ferry left, and another came in full of people returning from a weekend on the Vineyard.

Earlier, as we were heading up the coast of Naushon and I was playing with the dufek, Ian and Nick were talking about another version (called the bow rudder I think), in which you cross the paddle over as if setting up for a screw roll. It had all the looks of the type of maneuver that usually sends me over inadvertently, so I wouldn't try it until we were back in Eel pond. Sure enough, it is a great way to set up for a roll. Get up some speed, drop the paddle in that position, and the next thing you know you're half way through a screw roll. Luckily, the other half came just as easily. I did one more roll, in which a little trickle of that cold, cold May seawater ran down my back. That was enough for me. Ian, however, did a bunch of different rolls. He was still a bit bothered by the fact that, at the end of one of our previous paddles, he hadn't been able to roll up. Now, he was determined to prove to himself that, after two full days of paddling, he could roll every which way (including some funny-looking rolls with Nick's little Greenland paddle). Meanwhile, Dave was making calls from the shore with his cellular phone.

I was very happy just then to get out of the sweaty, itchy wetsuit, booties, and paddling jacket. Right now, though, I'd gladly trade the comfort of this dry room and soft chair for a chance to be back on the ocean with a sea breeze in my face and good friends by my side.

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Nick Schade

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