Friday, August 31, 2007

Drawn by the Lesser Light

A few nights ago my wife and I took our kayaks out on the bay near our home at dusk. Ever since a buddy and I had done it several weeks back and found it quite enjoyable, I had been eager for her to have the experience of paddling her small craft on open water at night. She had already proved herself capable of handling the boat in two to three foot wind-driven swells during the day, so I knew she was ready for the additional challenge of navigating in virtual darkness.

We started by shuttling one of our vehicles over to Long Beach Island and leaving it in the parking lot at the Ship Bottom boat access ramp (you can cut and paste these coordinates into Google Earth or your favorite mapping website to zoom in on this location: 39 39'08.82"N, 74 11'06.14"W). We then drove back across the causeway and put in on the mainland side near a little cove on Bay Avenue in Manahawkin. The wind was blowing out of the NE at about 10mph and there was a moderate chop. We paddled eastward out of the small protected area and a minute later we were out on the open bay, aiming for the long, narrow strip of barrier island ahead of us in the distance. The full moon was just rising and added its magic to the exceptionally beautiful scene we found ourselves in. I whipped out the camera and tried to take a few pictures in the diminishing light, but the churning water was making it impossible to keep the camera steady enough to get a good shot. Only one of the snaps came out good enough to post here.

trying my best to steady the camera

I put the camera back in its protected place and we forged ahead into the gradually increasing turbulence. By the time we were a mile out, the waves had grown to about two and a half feet and it took all our concentration to deal with them. It became too difficult to maintain our course parallel to the causeway which was also the shortest route to the other side, so we aimed the yaks almost directly into the approaching waves. It was much easier to face them head-on than try to maintain our balance with them coming at us from the side. While this made life somewhat more comfortable, it also made the crossing significantly longer. Our communication was impaired since it required yelling in order to be heard over the wind. It was also completely dark now and the moon was still too low to be of much help. The law requires small boats like ours to have a working flashlight on board and use it to warn any approaching vessel of our presence. Fortunately there were no other boats anywhere around so for the time being we didn't have to worry about fishing the flashlights out of our pockets while trying to stay upright... (note to self: from now on, hook the flashlights to the rigging just forward of the cockpits for easy access). Being able to see each other was an occasional problem too. On a previous nighttime paddling trip, I had gotten the idea to bring along a couple of those toy light sticks to make it easier to spot each other's silhouette on the dark horizon whenever we drifted more than 30 feet apart. I picked up a dozen at the local dollar store and remembered to bring two of them them along, but which pocket did I put mine in? Dare I stop paddling and try to dig it out? Nah, too risky. Although the water we were bobbing along in was very warm, I still didn't want to get soaked right now and then have to deal with re-entry in rough water. Even if I could roll the yak and right myself quickly without having to exit the cockpit, I still much preferred to stay dry... (note to self: from now on, activate the lightsticks and lash them on BEFORE paddling in turbulent water). So I kept a close eye on my partner and stayed near enough. By the way, she was doing fine and proving herself up to the task we were immersed in.

It took a lot of energy, and our prescription lenses were getting sprayed each time the bow of our boats crested a wavetop and slapped back down into the valley, but we managed it. Eventually, maybe an hour after we had set out, we got near enough to the main island for the water to quiet down. We cleaned our glasses and tried to figure out exactly where we were by looking for familiar landmarks and guessed that we were somewhere toward the north end of Surf City. Safe and sound now, we took a much deserved rest and downed a bottle of water each. The crossing was fun but intense, and it was now time to enjoy the reward of cruising along in some easy water. We turned south and casually paddled along the western shore of LBI. It was nice to be able to converse again at a normal volume.

It was amazing to us how far away the causeway bridge was from where we were now. We must have been halfway across the bay when we adjusted our course, and at that time we were right next to the huge concrete trestles that support the span. Turning the boats just a few degrees sure made a huge difference in where we ended up.

The moon was high enough in the sky now to provide plenty of illumination. We made some conversation with a few people who were out enjoying a warm summer's eve on their rear decks. It took us about 30 minutes of slow paddling to zigzag our way along the western shoreline of the island and make our way back to the causeway. As we approached the small bridge between Bonnet Island and LBI, we had to fight the tidal currents where all those millions of gallons of water funnel through four times a day. What's that they say... time and tides wait for no man? All that water had an appointment to be in a certain place at a certain time and nothing could stop it from keeping its schedule. But we also had a destination so we knifed our way through it and arrived at the boat ramp a minute or two later, sad that the trip was over. Wait... who says it has to be over? We agreed to extend the fun a bit and paddled back out with the goal of circumnavigating Bonnet Island. It ended up taking a bit longer than we anticipated, but that was fine with us. This added another 30 minutes to our outing and now we were ready to head home. We loaded 'em up and drove off into the night, grateful for the opportunity to have that experience.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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