Notes From Our Vermont Kayak and Canoe Alternative Owners
Subject: Going with the current!
Had a dandy row on Puget Sound yesterday. Should’ve taken a camera. Launched off Ft. Warden’s beach out by Pt. Wilson, rowed out to the fast current gushing from Admiralty Inlet and swept fast for Port Townsend Bay. A little breeze was with me; that and a strong plus-tide current going my way made me row harder to see how fast we could really go over the bottom. `Wish I’d brought a GPS. We wuz makin’ knots, mon! I’d look down a moment, look up and a trophy house atop the bluff, abeam seconds ago, now receeding fast.
I stopped rowing, let the oars trail, took a drink of lemonade ~ and only slowed a little. I realized if I did that too long observers on the bluff would know it was the current, not the guide boat or the rower making us ~ me & the guide boat ~ go so fast. After that I kept rowing when thirsty.
Approaching the entrance to the bay, a 70’ whale-watch boat roared up sounding like a three-engine freight train climbing a mountain. Bow-wave like a destroyer’s, wake big enough to blot out the shoreline across the Sound, it slowed as it neared, but that wake continued to roll my way.
I turned the guide boat, pulled for all I was worth and surfed the huge wake, stern lifting, mustache peeling white off the hull four feet aft of the stem, but no water came aboard. Between my pulling, the current and wake-surfing, we made serious speed for several moments!
Rowing can get exciting.
I dawdled around out in the bay watching birds, clouds, seals, distant boats, pulling an oar occasionally to keep facing snow-covered mountains. I leaned back on the caned back-rest, ate an energy bar, drank lemonade, then noticed the tide had turned. It was time for it but surprising how fast the reversal happened. From plus-high-water to the ebb running hard seemed like five minutes! By the time I finished the munching, I was being carried smartly back the way I’d come, so I took up the oars and swept us faster yet to began a swift pull for Pt. Wilson.
Around the corner out in the Sound again, the wind was considerably fresher, still out of the north. A wind-against-current chop built fast, a headwind, but the current ruled with lots more effect on our progress than wind & seas. We were again screaming over the bottom ~ except the water was piling up over what I’d guess is an abrupt shoal some 500 yards off the beach. That and the wind made for waves approaching Oh Shit size from dead ahead, of course. The guide boat’s hollow bow sliced into each wave, then its fuller, more buoyant sections took over to lift us skyward. A strong stroke right then shot the boat up & over the crest to levitate a moment before crashing into the trough. Again, again and again we did this bold, noisy, spray-flying curtsy. I felt like a surf man in a dory bashing out from a beach. It was a little thrilling, a little scary. The sea continued to build, a dark grey sky loomed over the Straits of Juan de Fuca. Was this wind building before a rain?
I debated – keep going less than two miles to my put-in or come about and pull for the shelter of Pt. Hudson, tie up and hitch-hike out to the fort for my rig? I judged my speed. The shore a quarter mile off was going by at a good clip – almost as fast as it had gone the other way with the flood. I wasn’t shipping water. Boat & oars were healthy. I seemed ok. It would only be another twelve or fourteen minutes — go for it I decided. Much simpler.
In another couple hundred yards, we were out of the big waves ~ the bottom’s effect on the wind-stirred sea diminished and the wind dropped! I was rowing in a mere one foot chop! A generous wave-period made the boat lazily hobby-horse. We still streaked north and less than a mile later, the wind died completely. I rowed the last half-mile or so to the state park’s sandy ramp on a sheet of glass. The retired proctologist and his trophy wife I imagined watched our sprint south from a mansion on the bluff saw the boat go north just about as fast.
Yup, sounds like a phony show-off alright, but it was enjoyable contrast to so many rows past populations where we’ve gone fast with the flow one way, slow as a dying dog the other against the current. I’ve always thought for lubbers that gave lie to the slippery beauty of a guide boat no matter who is rowing. Oden helped so much yesterday, those folks could be forgiven if the doctor mansplained, “That boat’s got a motor in it. Just a guy rowing can’t make it go like that.”