Paddlers: Nelson, Ron, Jordan, Mark, Mike (Finn), Linda, Barbara & Bob, Mike & Helen, Barbara (ww), Ed, Bob V., Joe A., Rich S., Joe L., Chris, Diane
I had recently visited Onset Village and thought the surrounding waters would be a great location for a Turkey trip. It didn't seem overly challenging so I decided to post a relatively short trip on the Wild Turkey forum with an option to extend it based on people's desire and stamina. Sign ups for this trip came slow at first but I posted it well in advance so I wasn't too concerned. One thing I soon learned was that paddling out of Onset on a summer weekend could become a parking nightmare. I talked with a few people who were familiar with the area and got some great feedback from Linda, Mike and Helen and Mark which gave us a few options for parking. Another concern I had was, the route I was considering had us crossing the mouth of the Cape Cod Canal at close to peak current. Not knowing the skill levels of all who would be paddling that day I needed to reconsider the route. So after doing a little more homework, posting numerous parking options and rethinking trip routes we had a plan and thirteen interested paddlers including a couple who might bring friends.
We had another spectacular summer day for paddling considering the fact that it felt like late October when I woke up that Saturday morning. But by 9:30 it was sunny and warm. From all the talk about the parking issues I got ready quicker than usual and actually made it to the meeting spot early for a change. Mike (Finn) was already there and Joe (Talisman) soon followed and we had the boats loaded on Ron's trailer and were soon on our way. The plan was to meet at Riverside Drive in Onset by 9AM and we knew that Jordan and Mark would be meeting there as well. Mike & Helen (Surge On) and Barbara (wildwoman) planned to put in at Shell Point along with Ed who emailed me separately that he'd be joining us. Our directions were slightly off so we took Onset Ave instead of Main Ave and on the way found a nice place to put in that was not too far from the Riverside Dr. location and since there was parking available at that time we opted to stay here rather than chance it somewhere else.
We hadn't finished loading up our boats when two other kayakers showed up Rich (Corky) and Joe. After talking to them I discovered that Joe had read our posted trip and decided to join us along with Joe. I was happy to have them along since they were both familiar with the area where I was not. Soon Diane pulled in followed shortly by Linda who then continued on to Riverside Dr. to meet up with her friends Barbara and Bob and to let Jordan and Mark know that we were here. We also ran into Chris (cgr) who had decided to join us as well. This was really turning into a big group.
With everyone just about ready I hopped in my boat and headed up to where Jordan and the others were putting in and passed Mark, who was already in fish mode, along the way. The seven of us gathered at the Onset Ave Bridge into Broad Cove before heading into Onset Harbor to meet up with Barbara, Mike, Helen and Ed who had also brought his friend Bob along. All paddlers were now present and accounted for and a head count showed that we had a grand total of eighteen. That's a pretty big group to keep track of. We did a quick safety check and finalized our route plan before heading southeast towards Buzzards Bay.
We paddled past Wickets and Onset Islands but after that nothing seemed to easily coincide with what was on the chart. As we reached the tip of Hogs Neck we gathered up for a channel crossing which was far enough from the Cape Cod Canal that the current was hardly noticeable. A two masted schooner came through the channel giving those of us with cameras a great photo op. The crossing went well and provided us with quite a bit of rolling texture from the plentitude of summer boat traffic.
The route plan was to paddle south along the west side of Toby's Island and around the tip to the east side before heading back north to Buttermilk Bay for lunch and a swim. Ed told me that in Phinney's Harbor; if the tide was high enough we could get under the bridge to the East side of Toby's Island. With the tide being two hours past low and paddling under bridges always fairly interesting we decided to give it a try. We continued east past the tip of Mashnee Island, crossed the mouth of Phinney's Harbor and around to the northeast corner of Toby's where we found only two inches of water under the bridge. I'll never hear the end of this I thought to myself as I popped my skirt, jumped out of the boat, pulled it across the 2 inches of water and hopped back in again. Most everyone followed suit with the exception of those who chose to Magilla their way across.
So here we were already at our first destination, we'd only been out about an hour and it's been a pretty uneventful paddle so far, not much to see but a bit of shoreline with a few houses. But everyone seemed to be in good spirits, happy to be on the water and raring to continue on. Rich suggested that we continue on around Wings Neck to Bassetts Island which he said was only about a couple of miles away. I'd been to Bassetts before so I was a little more familiar with that area and since this was part of my original thoughts for this trip it already sounded good to me. So I made my way around to the different groups of spread out paddlers to see how they felt about the new plan (this was a mistake). No one that I asked seemed to have a problem with the new destination so we forged on.
As we rounded Wings Neck I had everyone gather in front of the Wing's Neck light (which I don't believe is a working lighthouse) for a group picture. With the tide drift it was a little hard to get everybody together for the shot but we finally got it done and continued on to Bassetts Island for lunch. There was a fair amount of boat traffic as we entered the harbor but considerably less than the last time I was here. We could see our destination in the distance, a long stretch of white beach dotted with motor boats moored just offshore, just like you'd see at the Scituate Spit or Browns Bank at low tide. As we neared the beach I held back and snapped a few pictures as the last group of paddlers past by. Bassetts Island has an interesting shape that reminds me of a fancy tropical fish and is situated in a way that it partitions off Wing's Neck, Scraggy Neck and the Red Brook Harbor areas. But it's a great place to stop for lunch with lots going on.
After getting all the boats onshore it didn't take me too long to get out of my gear and into the water for a much needed dip. A few others had the same idea. Mike had a thermometer with him and told us the water temp was 74 degrees. It felt more like 68 to me but was extremely refreshing. After our dip we joined the others who were already in various stages of lunch consumption and engaged in the usual small talk about trips and boats and the like. Diane and Mark made good use of their time by test paddling some of the other boats.
After lunch I was informed by one of the paddlers that another paddler was feeling fatigued and was inquiring about our plan for the trip home. He was concerned that our change in route had been quite a bit longer than the original route. He was right... the two miles I was told it was from Toby's to Bassetts was actually a little more than four. He also said he believed she would be ok but asked that we slow the pace down a bit and plan a stop on the way back. I thought I had checked in with everyone in our group but obviously missed a couple and I apologized to him for the mix up. I told him that we'd be heading back the way we came but staying on the West side of Toby's rather than going back under the bridge. He also suggested that I check in with the others to see if anyone else was feeling the same. This turned out to be a good idea since two other paddlers were also a bit fatigued and agreed that a slower pace and a break on the way back would be appreciated.
When everyone was ready we got our boats back in the water and made our way back towards Wings Neck. After about three miles we saw a few private beaches separated by jetties that would make for a good resting spot. I poked my kayak into one of them that was occupied only by a young couple. I asked if they would mind if a few paddlers in our group could take a quick rest and a stretch on the beach. They granted my request without hesitation and about five paddlers took advantage of the opportunity while the rest of us hung off shore and chatted. Barbara (wildwoman) took this opportunity to give Mark's fishing pole a try but with no luck.
With the group now together again there was a little discussion about the best place to cross the channel on the way back but we soon got it figured out and were heading west towards Great Neck and Widows Cove. During our crossing I could definitely see that a few of the paddlers were fatigued but were holding their own. The return crossing was uneventful and we were soon turning into Onset Harbor and past Wicket's Island to our respective launch sites (BTW, Wickets Island is for sale for those of you who are in the market to buy and Island). There was an attempt to meet up on the town green to coordinate a PPR but due to the huge crowds and lack of parking cause by the Portuguese Festival we decided to call it a day and head for home.
Despite some mismanagement we all made it back safe and sound and I believe everyone enjoyed the paddle. I know I did. (Photos & GPS Image below)
Some observations about group paddling
I learned a few things about group paddling on this trip that I feel are important to mention in this report. I am by no means an authority on the subject or on paddling as a whole but in my few years of paddling I've learned a lot and I feel it's important to pass on my observations so that others may hopefully gain from them. Unfortunately (and sometimes fortunately), voicing one's opinions and helpful observations often stirs up a ton of debate on the subject, some of which is helpful and some not. I ask the reader to take from this report and any subsequent discussions; those things you feel will help make you a better paddler and paddling companion.
Things to think about
There's been lots of talk on the forum this year about trip organizers vs. trip leaders and everyone being "responsible for their own safety" on the paddles they attend. With our particular group's design I tend to agree more with the trip organizer model over the trip leader however, it's not always that easy; there are always going to be people looking for guidance. I also feel strongly that any paddler who signs up for a trip should have a good handle on the basic skills needed for the situations they are most likely to encounter in the area they are paddling. Exceptions to this might be a trip that is specifically designated as an easy paddle in protected waters but then again there are still no guarantees when you're on the ocean. By stepping too far out of your limits (and we all have a good idea what our limits are) you can easily put yourself and the group at risk. This can turn a potentially great paddle into a potentially stressful one and if things get out of hand, could shine a negative light on our paddling group. Something none of us wants to see happen.
Knowing how to help someone on the water is just as important as knowing how to be helped. I saw an example of what I'm talking about this year where a capsized paddler didn't really know what the rescuer was trying to do to help him back in his boat. Because of this, the whole process became more difficult and kept the person in the 50+ degree water longer. This is one reason why Jordan stresses the practice sessions so often and even offers his help on different days for those who can't make it on Thursday. Practice in a controlled environment can give you more confidence on the water and help you to be more prepared should a real situation arise. It also helps to make those you're paddling with feel more confident when they are paddling with you.
I'm sure you've noticed that when paddling with a large group you often find that not everybody paddles at the same speed. This is often understandable depending on boat size, style and in some cases the paddler's strength but can sometimes become an uncomfortable situation. The faster paddlers have to slow down to let the others catch up while the slower paddlers feel they need to paddle faster to stay with the group which can result in the paddler becoming fatigued. I believe that in many cases this can be remedied by having a good forward stroke, maintaining your paddlers box and using your core as your engine instead of your arms. I know, I know you've heard all this before but it definitely bears repeating. I've seen two people paddle the exact same type of boat and a boat that is not necessarily know for speed. Both paddled at two totally different speeds throughout the entire paddle. One could easily stay with the group while the other had some difficulty keeping up. I've also seen one paddler in a shorter recreational type boat paddling circles around many of us and never appeared fatigued. These examples are what convinced me that boat speed has more to do with the paddler than with the boat. Having a good paddle stroke and good rhythm will not only help you stay with the group it will also keep you from getting tired as fast (if you even get tired at all). The skills sessions are not only there to help learn bracing, rolling and rescues; it's also a great time to learn how to make better use of your core when paddling and get the basics on improving your forward stroke. After that, the Hingham Paddles (or any paddle for that matter) are great ways to work on perfecting what you've learned. The hard part is staying focused on doing it right until it becomes natural.
Good hydration is also extremely important when you paddle but I've found it is sometimes hard to remember to drink water until it is too late. This will also sap your strength and stamina and can give you a headache. One thing I've been trying to do is drink water on my way to the launch site to get a little reserve going before I start paddling. Always bring a little extra water in case you or a fellow paddler run out.
Lessons learned or reinforced when group paddling
- Eighteen paddlers is probably too large of a paddling group.
- With a group that large it is probably not a wise idea to change the route plan by any large degree. Those who signed up for the paddle intended to paddle the posted route and/or distance.
- Some paddlers may be hesitant to speak their own concerns if they feel it will affect the group or possibly embarrass them.
- If a route change is suggested and considered, all paddlers should be gathered into one group and informed of the suggested change rather than trying to make sure each paddler or group is informed individually.
- And probably the most important lesson learned is that whether your trip has a trip leader or a trip organizer, there will always be people who are looking for guidance. Trip organizers need to be prepared for that.
Lessons learned about posting future trips
- Try to be as specific as possible about the intended trip route and distance.
- Let people know what to expect on a trip (fast pace, possible route changes, leisurely paddle, etc).
- Remind participants what they should have with them (sun screen, water, change of clothes, etc)
- Determine a comfortable size limit for the group and stay as close to that limit as possible.
- Tell interested paddlers to post that they will be joining us and to not just show up at the put in.
- If paddlers want to bring friends they should post on the forum the number of people they are bringing and ensure their friends understand the details outlined for the trip. If the trip size limit has been met, friends might be asked to wait for another paddle.
- At the put in, make sure everyone is clear on the trip plan as it was originally posted. And if any one has any concerns or health issues.
Lessons learned for participating in a group paddle
- Think twice about signing up for a trip if you feel your skill level may not be at a level suitable for the paddle as it was posted. If you are uncertain and know one of the more seasoned paddlers in the group you trust will be honest with you, check in with them to see what they think. You may find you have one or more people willing to keep an eye on you, help you out or even agree to turn back with you if things don't turn out the way you had hoped.
- If you need to take a break or have other concerns let someone know about it as soon as you can.
- Try to be as familiar as possible with the area your paddling. Don't necessarily rely on others to show you the way. I think its good practice to have a chart handy and have a good idea how to read it when in unfamiliar waters.
- Constantly work on improving your skills. You owe it to yourself and those you paddle with.
People look to get different things out of a paddling trip, for some its all about the journey, taking it slow and easy; for others its all about destination and distance; others might be looking for a work out, and some don't really care as long as they're on the water. Everybody's different and these things need to be taken into consideration whether you are organizing or participating on a trip.
If you're a fast paddler and sign up for a trip you know will be slow, be prepared to paddle slower or periodically let others catch up so the group stays together. Make sure to give them a short rest since you've already got your rest while waiting for them.
If you're a slower paddler and know the trip will be fast paced either because its posted that way or that you know the people signed up for the trip are known for keeping a good pace; you might want to wait for another trip or post a similar trip yourself for a group that has the same goals as you do.
I hope this report didn't come across as snobbish or autocratic, it wasn't written with that intention. I had a great time and look forward to paddling with you all again.