Quisset Harbor to Woods Hole Kayak Tour

Kayak Trips

Sunday, October 3, 1993

Start : Quisset Harbor @ 9:00 AM
Finish : Quisset Harbor @ 2:30 PM
Conditions : Rain, high 50's, 10-20 mph wind from the south moving around to northwest at 10:30 AM. 3 knot current from Buzzards Bay to Vineyard Sound through Woods Hole at 10:30 AM.
Chart : #13229
Crew : Al Lind
Companions :Drew Friery and Lisa Pallacios in a double kayak Nick Schade Ruth Sespaniak

For this trip we worked out one of the most hair-brained schemes for meeting that I have ever come up with. Donna is going to work at the South Shore Hospital in Weymouth for 7:00 AM so she needs the van, which means I need a ride. Drew, Lisa, Nick, Ruth and I are meeting at the hospital at 7:00 AM, where I take my Guillemot wooden double kayak off of my van and put it on Nick's car. Al is meeting us down at Quisset Harbor as he is staying on the Cape in Dennis this week-end.

Despite Drew's reputation for sleeping in, we all meet at the hospital right on time and perform the kayak transfer. I ride down with Ruth having some pleasant conversation mostly about Eric Schade and his new love (they are both sea kayak fanatics, so nothing can go wrong). We arrive at the put in at 8:30 which is precisely when I told my brother we would be there. He shows up not five minutes later, we dress and away we go!

Al is completely inexperienced at sea kayaking, and he does not have the proper clothing, so I have outfitted him in my biking shorts and shirt, a wool sweater, and some cheap (but not bad) boating shoes I picked up earlier in the season. I told him I had nothing extra for his legs, so he brought along cotton (!) sweatpants. He will be O.K. as long as the spray skirt holds and we don't dump, but even if we do, the water temperature down here is in the seventies, so I think he will be fine.

The weather is starting out miserably, but I have kept my eye on the weather channel and they are saying that the rain will clear in the morning and we will have temperatures in the sixties. I tell everyone this as we launch knowing this will cheer them in the miserable conditions. Actually, in the harbor the weather does not seem bad since the water is calm and there is not much wind driving the rain. I think the day will turn out good. We come out of the protection of the harbor, and we are face into a 10 knot wind coming from the south. A northwest wind was predicted so this surprises me a little, but it is not strong enough to be a large factor. The wind is giving us some nice swells of two to four feet or so, which is always fun to head into. I like the roller coaster up and down effect. I find I feel more stable this way than I do when I am surfing with a following swell. Perhaps I feel more in control bucking this size wave then riding it, and I don't seem to mind the bow slamming down into the ocean. Around this time, I start to notice that my kayak feels much less stable then I ever remember it feeling. I am not sure why this is, and I am not an experienced enough kayaker to diagnose the problem, so I just hang on and do the best I can for now.

Meanwhile, Al is really enjoying the front of the kayak slapping up and down in the surf. I am glad to see that he has no fear of the surf, as that would just make my job harder. He is paddling properly so far as I can tell, and he is keeping his paddle in the water, so we are doing just fine. We get out ahead of Ruth and Drew and Lisa with Nick not far behind. At one point I suggest that we wait up for the others to see how everyone is doing. We stop and just let the surf roll us up and down.

We all decide to cross directly to Penzance from Gansett Point at the entrance to Quisset Harbor, instead of following the shore line. I suggested the possibility of following the shore line and Al piped up immediately with "Let's just go there!" This decision the group followed. Al has a singular power of persuasion when he speaks this way.

We cross to Penzance without mishap, again with Al and I and Nick leading the group. Al and I seem to have no problem keeping the double moving along at a good clip. As we are approaching the point, I am noticing more and more instability in my normally very stable kayak. Around this time, Al complains about the quantity of water he is taking into his cockpit. Also, I observe that when a sideswiping wave comes along and we most need to brace for stability, Al waves his arms in the air! This is not a good situation. I yell to Al to brace in the direction we are tipping to avoid going over. He gets the idea but we are not doing very well. Nick is nearby so I describe our dilemma to him. He suggests pumping out the front cockpit. I would take his advice but I would rather pump while beached, so I tell him that we will pull the kayak into shore first. We have perhaps a two hundred yard paddle to shore, and I have never tipped unintentionally, so I am certain of success. I must learn to listen to my friend Nick about kayaking situations. Al is getting better about keeping his paddle in the water, but not good enough as another sideswiping wave takes us over. These waves are not large, but with a front cockpit full of water, and a brother with an oversized upper body sitting in it, it's more than we can handle. Al bails out without a problem. I briefly find my foot caught under the foot peddle for the rudder, but I extract myself before any panic can build. Al is wondering why I am taking so long to come out and is relieved to see my head appear above the water.

Now we are floating in warm water, buoyed by our life vests and holding on to the kayak to keep it from floating away. We are fairly happy here, now that the deed has been done. None of our companions witnessed the moment, as they were all ahead of us at the time. They had caught us up when we were discussing our predicament with Nick. Now they come rushing back to help fellow yakkers in distress.

And help us they do. Drew offers to empty my poor, overturned kayak of seawater and proceeds to do so quite expertly. He moves to the bow and, while sitting in the rear cockpit of his two person rental, pulls the stern out of the water and empties the cockpits. Meanwhile, Nick has moved into position to brace the stricken boat with his paddle, while warning Ruth away so that Al and I don't get crushed against her boat in the heavy surf. Nick is clearly more concerned for us than I am, but then he has been in boating situations like this before, where I have not. I notice that we are drifting slowly but inexorably toward some rocks not far offshore, so it is time to get back in the boat.

Nick steadies the now empty double with his paddle across his boat and my boat, and I clambor in with little difficulty. He instructs Al to pull himself up behind the cockpit, swing his legs in while supporting himself belly down to the kayak, and twist into the cockpit. This Al is able to do like a pro. He is a fast learner, not unlike his brother.

This accomplished, we continue on our way. We are passing the northern point of the Penzance Peninsula, and I am feeling much more stable without that load of water in the front cockpit. Al and I have had a little adventure, and we have overcome our fear of dumping in these conditions. I am looking forward to riding the three knot current from Buzzards Bay to Vineyard Sound that is just up ahead in Woods Hole.

We arrive at the entrance to the hole, and Al is again complaining about taking on water. This time we stop near the green buouy labelled "11", and Al pumps out his cockpit. Now I know to listen to Nick when he makes suggestions of this nature. As Al is bailing out, we are carried in the current toward the large, concrete buouy. It is amazing how fast things can happen out here. I paddle us far enough forward to clear the buouy without mishap. When Al is done bailing, I point out to him the new position of the buouy 50 feet to the west (it started out 50 feet to the east). It's a good thing we are going with the current.

We have paddled a few miles now, and people are starting to tire. I suggest that we pull into Nonamesset Island across from Woods Hole for a short break. I was planning to try the fast current on the mainland side of the pass (the current flows at up to four knots here) but after dumping, I am feeling more conservative. I am wondering if Drew knows that I am directing people out of the fastest current. I guess that he does, and that he doesn't like it. Ah well, there will be more chances to test our mettle.

We stop on the island for our break. Lisa goes off to pee, while Al gets more clothing to keep warm. Ruth offers me her paddling jacket also, which I reluctantly accept. I left my jacket back at the car because the sun is coming out any time now! I say this and people just give me dirty looks. They'll see. Getting off the island proves an interesting experience. The wind has turned around to the NorthWest, so it is battering the waves up against the island. Al and I make an attempt to get in the kayak, and dump again. Lisa and Drew are also having difficulty. Nick comes over and helps Al and I get going, while Drew and Lisa seem to solve their problems alone. Once Al and I are in the cockpits, we pull out to where the surf is not breaking, pump out the cockpits and batten down the spray skirts.

Ruth is expressing concern about the length of the trip around Nonamesset that I have planned in light of the less than excellent conditions and the fact that she and Nick were up north paddling yesterday. I assure her that the trip is not long, and we can cut it shorter if we decide. I am thinking it would be pleasant to paddle to the Weepecket Islands which will add a couple of miles to the trip, but we can cut this diversion out if necessary.

As we round the NorthEast point of Nonamesset Island, my friend the Nobska Point light house comes into view. Nick asks me what the timing of the light is, and I tell him it's six seconds. We time it, and indeed it flashes every six seconds just as the chart says it should. We can also now see across the Sound to Martha's Vineyard despite the rainy conditions. I think Lisa is surprised to find that we are so near Matha's Vineyard. Drew says he is having deja vu from our trip here a month ago, but we can't see our friendly buouy in the middle of the Sound that we picked out here back then. The island we are rounding is just beautiful. There are some small houses on the island, but it is otherwise uninhabited. It looks lush and green as it glistens in the rain. The shore is rocky, and Nick enjoys playing his kayak amongst the rocks.

As we come around the Southwest part of the island, the rain begins to smack us in the face. It is really becoming quite unpleasant. I yell to Al that I warned him he would get wet in the kayak. He yells back that this is really his idea of a good time, who thought of this, anyway? Well, we'll find a protected place for lunch and wait for the storm to blow over. Now it is nearing noon, and everyone thinks I fabricated the fact that clouds are going to clear away. I am surrounded by angry enemies who want to see me humiliated to ease their distress. What is a poor kayaker to do? We come to a bridge over a narrow opening between Nonamesset and a small island unnamed on the chart. The water is really gushing through this openning, against us. Nick makes a couple of attempts at fighting it, but he is either pushed back, or he is playing the current; I can't really tell which. Al and I, being macho Swedes, take it on as hard as we can. At one point we seemed to be sitting still in the current, paddling as hard as we can. I yell "Let's do it!", and do it we do. Nick is cheering us on, and we gain the far side of the pass. Nick follows us, followed by Drew and Lisa. Nick pulls over and gets out of his kayak to assist Ruth. They decide that Ruth can't get up the current herself, and it will be easier for Nick to take her kayak through rather than carry it over. This he does as Ruth clambors over the land. Here we debate stopping for food, but Nick says he wants to find a "Lee shore" for protection from the wind and rain. As we are all standing around shivering, this sounds like a good idea.

We get in and paddle just a few hundred yards to Bull Island in Hadley Harbor, where there is a sign inviting picnickers. I am sure the author of the sign didn't mean for picnicking on a day such as this, but we have no other choice. We pull in and look for the ideal picnic spot.

Up a path we find a place near a large rock that offers what little protection we can find from the wind and rain. The spot is very lovely, and I am sure that we could enjoy being here in pleasant conditions. As it is, we are all wet, shivering, and just a little miserable. However, we have decided to be here today, and none of us will admit that this isn't fun. It is fun, isn't it? When you are kayaking with good friends in miserable conditions on a day that dogs curse and ducks hunt for cover, isn't life as good as it ever gets? Someone told me that once, I'm sure. I'll pass it on.

I march up the path to find a place to pee and discover the joys of managing the human waste activity in a wet suit. I get to strip stark naked in the cold rain just to take a piss. What kind of existence is this? Oh yeah, this is as good as life ever gets. Who told me that? Next time I will jump in the cold water and pee in my wet suit to warm it up. Someone with a lot more sense told me that once too.

We stand and sit shivering, eating our lunches and finding what comfort we can in overhanging branches. Unfortunately, at this point they are waterlogged and drop as much or more cold rain water on our heads as the open ocean did. Now my friends are really on my case about this business of the sun coming out today. Noone believes me. It reaches the point where, when I observe horses across the small harbor on Uncatena Island, Ruth is amazed to find that I am telling the truth. But there they are, prancing up a hill. What an unusual sight in this otherwise uninhabited region. As we look across, Ruth also notes that she may see some clearing in the clouds to the south. Will wonders never cease?

A small humorous note; while I described my experience getting naked to pee, Drew pointed out that he does not have that problem in his wet suit as it has a front zipper. This zipper is mostly covered by the jacket he is wearing over the wet suit, but a portion of the zipper near the crotch is exposed. I look down at his crotch and exclaim, "Wooow!" This send Drew into paroxyxms of giggling. He is unable to swallow his mouthful of Boku. Nick chants "spit it out, spit it out!" This he does and finishes his bout of laughter. Sometimes I really strike people in a humorous way, I guess.

Al is keeping everyone in stitches as well. He just has a mannerism about him that people find very funny. He uses his voice to sound stupid, and uses irony to poke fun at just about anything. I think he is helping us forget about the wet, cold conditions.

Not surprisingly, we decide to head straight back instead of foging on to the Weepeckets. Al is having trouble with his wrist, Ruth is getting tired, and we are all just sort of miserable. When we return to the boats, we find the clouds beginning to thin out a little, and the rain has stopped. Out in Woods Hole again, we find that the current has almost completely subsided. As we follow along the coast of Uncatena Island, Nick notes the "buffalo" that are dancing at the west end of Woods Hole. Waves are coming from the west, and hitting the shallower waters of Woods Hole to get knocked down. We observe a sailboat moving calmly toward the buffalo, to get tossed up and down like a toy as soon as it reaches these waves. We decide to go play in the waves before we head back.

There is a large rock off the coast of Uncatena that marks the transition point from calm water to swells. We all go out into the waves, surf back to the rock, and circle back into the waves a few times before we cross Woods Hole and head toward Quissett Harbor and our cars. Al and I note the point of our dump, and say a little service for the towel that he lost when we went over. We use a standpipe noted on the chart and clearly visible from our position to guide us back to Gansett Point and the entrance to Quissett Harbor. These charts sure do come in handy. When we reach the Harbor, the ocean is really calming down, and the sun is shining brightly. And they were laughing at me! Drew is talking to Lisa about trying to roll their two person kayak. Drew has rolled a one person, but Lisa has never rolled. I don't hold out a lot of hope for this venture. We reach the take out, and Drew realizes that he has no idea how to talk her through the rolling exercise, nor how to roll a two person kayak himself. He abandons the venture, an intelligent decision in my opinion, although I miss the oppurtunity to razz the two of them mercilessly. Now begins the kayak rolling exhibition phase of the trip. This is unexpected, but definitely welcome. It begins with Nick handily rolling his hand built fiberglass sporty model using the screw roll. Drew then takes Nick's boat out and does the same. Ruth has been trying to roll her red kayak (I don't remember the make) but hasn't had a lot of success. She has rolled Nick's kayak before, but never her own. This time she treats us to a well executed and successful screw roll of her kayak. She is very pleased with herself. When the experts are done, Drew suggests that I start learning to roll now. There will never be a better time, with three competent rollers at hand willing to teach. I am reluctant, but excited. So I decide to give it a go. Al and Lisa stand aside and watch the proceedings. Nick, Drew, and Ruth are going to teach me the screw roll. I take Nick's kayak as it is the "rolliest" one of the bunch. We begin with Ruth standing in shallow water and holding my paddle while I try some hip flicks bracing against her. I don't find this very difficult, as Ruth advises me that she doesn't want to feel very much pressure on the paddle. Drew comments that I seem to be getting the idea. I move on to dunking all the way underwater, then pulling myself up, again with Ruth holding the paddle. Accomplishing this, they tell me to roll over on the other side, away from Ruth. Ruth will grab my paddle and I will come up braced against her as I have been, only now I am to go around 360 degrees. If you have never done this, it's difficult to imagine how difficult it is to picture what you are going to see when you are underwater. My teachers advise me to concentrate on Ruth's legs as a point of reference, and jam my paddle up in the air to her waiting hands. After a couple of attempts, always focusing on those legs, I finally get the idea that I am supposed to reach way up (which seems like down) in the air with my paddle to get it out of the water.

We move on to having Ruth move my paddle for me in the way that I will need to move it when I roll. Still concentrating on Ruth's legs, I roll under and thrust my paddle out of the water into Ruth's waiting hands. She gyrates the paddle about in the air and hauls me up out of the water. I start to think that I am catching on.

I decide to try to put it all together, I think against Nick's better judgement. I will be in shallow water, and when I have given up trying, I will stick my paddle up and wait for Ruth to grab it and haul me out. My first attempt, everything is a blur and I don't get very far. Ruth pulls me out handily. Drew advises that I try setting up and trying again if the first attempt fails. This I am able to do, keeping a cool head about me underwater after I grab a breath of air on my previous attempt. When I am through trying, usually after three attempts, Ruth pulls me out and Drew and Nick talk me through what I am doing wrong. After a few of these sessions, Drew is advising me to lean way back on the way up. Somehow, something in my head clicks and I do everything right and come out of the water sitting upright in Nick's fiberglass kayak. I am receiving a round of applause from the onlookers, but I have no idea what I did right. I think noone believes that, but time will tell. I do one more round of three tries after this, failing every time, and decide that I am tired enough and have used enough of my friends' time for this learning session. Now I will go home, reread Derek Hutchinson's rolling book, and try to visualize rolling.

Now that I have tried rolling, and seen what the world looks like underwater in a kayak, the sequence of movements used in rolling makes a lot more sense to me. I feel that something in my technique is lacking, but at least I can visualize how the seemingly crazy sequence of movements might bring me to the surface when I figure it out. Once I figure this out, I will no longer have to go for extended swims like my brother and I did in the double today. This will serve to make kayaking more pleasurable, and safer.

In addition to getting a rolling lesson, I learned a couple of other things from this trip. There is strength in numbers on a trip like this. Having someone to drain my boat, and brace the boat while we got back in made a difficult situation managable. Also, it is important to have a good grounding in basic rescue skills such as using a paddle float, rafting, and emptying a kayak across your bow. Practicing these skills in calm conditions help to make you think more clearly in tougher situations. I don't think we were ever in serious danger, but then I had some very competent people around me. The most important thing I learned today: listen to my friend Nick!

Dave Lind


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