Sunday, January 27, 2008

Seeking Enlightenment

We had a good winter paddle today. The weather was cold but not bad, really. We didn't find the icy roads too dangerous for driving. But it was tricky walking on the roads and footpaths. There was a bit of snow before launch about 9:30 am, but at the beach most of the sky was clear and bright. Well, most except for the southern quarter that was full of cumulus piling up in storm clouds.
It was a good day to be paddling in the Middle Harbour and up to the Gorge, instead of out in open water! We were five today: Alison in her Current Designs fibreglass Kestrel, Louise and John in their matched Delta 14.5 in thermoformed plastic, Bernie in his wooden Cape Charles and me in the Necky rotomolded plastic Eliza. A good assortment of boats but all suited to the location, really.
Today there were a few outrigger canoes and voyageur canoes in the Harbour, and as we passed Ocean River's dock we saw their paddling club getting the big dragonboats ready to launch.
We saw no four-legged wildlife today, but I've seen raccoons and deer on the shores of Selkirk Water in the past, and in the water have been seals and otters. (Is this time to brag about the mink that ran up the rocks on Thursday, when I was paddling alone in Cadboro Bay in my Advanced Elements inflatable Dragonfly?) Even without furry animals, we got to enjoy many birds: herons, cormorants, some type of loon, ducks and an eagle.
John found a supermodel blue heron who knew how to work it for the camera and lingered behind the rest of us as we drew near to the Gorge. I bet he'll have pictures to post later. That's why he doesn't have any shots of what happened next.
This is the place with the reversing falls, where legends tell us that young First Nations men seeking enlightenment would dive down, holding a rock, and let the current hold them against the rock in the middle.
Well, it was close to high tide, so the current through the Gorge was moderate. That's moderate by comparison with the waterfall at peak current... but at that time, about 10:50, the current was running out at about three knots. Hard to make any headway against it at all.
Oh, yes, Bernie was trying to go under the bridge. I think his plan was to go under, go to the side and loop around to come back under the bridge. He tried on the left, got caught and carried across to the right, waited in the eddy and tried again on the right.
I was trying to come up on the left as he had done, hanging back, so I had a great view of him sliding a little out of the eddy and getting smoothly rolled upside down.
"Whoa," called Alison, a few yards behind me and well out of the strongest current. "He's gone over. Ah, there he is."
Bernie was out and swimming. No problem, of course. He had his paddle and boat and let the current take him just about ten yards, then pushed his boat towards the dock conveniently located in an eddy to the right of the bridge. As he was swimming confidently, I collected his boat and shepherded it to the dock.
Alison came up as Bernie was demonstrating the fine art of paddling while floating with a PFD (looks like the backstroke, eh?) and offered him a bow to cling to. Good chance to practise, after all. We realized the dock was very high, a difficult scramble for a swimmer, but Bernie managed to climb out, drain his kayak, and get his bearings. Eventually John wandered up and I don't think he managed to get any neat-o shots of Bernie upside down, darn it. What am I going to use for next year's holiday cards?
Next my intrepid paddle partner tried a seal launch, but wasn't optimally placed for it; he flipped again as the eddy is pretty active at that spot. Still no problem.
I'm pleased he managed both wet exits and recovery so easily... if he'd been alone it would have been fine, of course. It was good, though, to see Alison and Louise stationing their boats just a little down current from me, ready to put our practised skills to use, and then hovering near to collect a Scotty first aid kit that was floating away.
Next time, I'm going to spend more time in the currents than I did, but it'll be like I did today -- playing where the eddies shift with the current at a moderate speed (not at 3 knots). It's important to be able to see the change from one direction to the other, to learn how to approach eddy and current at useful angles, and how to be careful crossing the eddyline.
It was time to turn round and paddle back to the Songhees beach where we'd left the vehicles. I was only able to keep pace with Bernie for a short while, as he understandably preferred to set a quick cadence and get warmed up. "Did you find enlightenment?" I asked.
"No," he said. "The sun's gone behind the clouds." It was now a grey, cold day, with a slight breeze. We let Bernie get ahead. He was still mostly dry inside his wetsuit and paddle jacket, as was the microfibre suit he wore under the wetsuit. The microfibre sweater he wore over it was soaked at the waist, but felt mostly dry elsewhere. It's an odd fibre, with a lot going for it, but I am still a merino wool fan.
Once ashore, we met at the Moka House where we were THE crowd, admired by other patrons, and where Marlene and Pebbles had snagged tables for us. Score!

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