Pete sent out the plan last Friday before we had a good idea what the weather was going to be: "December 26 - Launch from Stonington Point and paddle out to Latimer Reef and beyond to Fisher's Island to look for seals." When I woke up on Monday it was raining hard, but it was warm at around 40 degrees F. I loaded up my Petrel sea kayak on the car and dressed for paddling, leaving my drysuit off until I got to the put in. The weather varied from thick fog and heavy rain to breaking clouds and sunshine and back again to fog.
I was the first one at the put in, and the fog was thick enough I couldn't see the end of the breakwater protecting the beach. At the edge of visibility a pair of Mergansers dove and surfaced. Pete was the first to arrive. As we looked out at the fog, the visibility opened up so we could first see Latimer Reef Light and then out to Fishers Island. This break in the weather was quickly followed by pelting rain. We hopped into Pete's car to wait for more victims.
Greg and Paula showed up next, followed shortly by Robin. Someone questioned whether this was supposed to be fun or just for bragging rights. I suggested that once we got our drysuits on, the rain wouldn't matter. As we talked Doug rolled in. A few other people drove into the lot and stared as we put on our drysuits and took our boats of our cars. I guess it was not obvious to the onlookers that it was a fine day for paddling.
With the intermittent fog we decided that heading out to sea for a crossing to Fishers would not be the best idea. Looking over towards Napatree Point we saw there might be some nice surfing waves, but that would require a long slog back against an increasing westerly wind. Instead we headed west inside the Stonington breakwater and straight into the 10 knot wind.
At the Northwest end of the breakwater some nice swell was coming and wrapping breakers around the tip. We paddled in to catch some rides. There were occasional 4 foot spilling waves that provided some good surf runs, but we soon decided to keep on moving. The wind was still building; up to maybe 15 knots, but for now the atmosphere was clearing. Because of the wind we chose a destination not too far away: Ender’s Island where there was a nice beach for break. We got a little spread out as each paddler dealt with the wind at his or her own comfortable pace, until the fog rolled in again. Those out in front stopped to let the rest catch up. Someone asked for a compass course and I suggested the keeping the “W” in the cross hairs should bring us right to Ender’s. We continued on a course of 270 for another 10 minutes until the sea wall on the south end of the island came into view.
There are a few rocks on the south end of the island that provided some obstacles to barely miss, then we continued on around the island and back through the bridge in the causeway. The beach just south of the bridge is small, but had enough room for 6 kayaks. Pete passed around a bag of his famous chocolate chip cookies and I offered a bag of chocolate truffles that had been a Christmas gift. Those of us who had sandwiches took the opportunity to eat something a little healthier.
The effort of paddling into the wind had kept us warm, but standing on the beach used up much of that heat. We climbed back in the boats to head back before our feet became useless.
No sooner had we got off the beach than we saw a nice set of waves breaking on a shallow area. We all paddled over to investigate. The sets were sparse, but the waves were small and easy to surf, building and diminishing several times as they progressed across the shoals. We messed around until we had enough of waiting for good sets and then head off downwind back towards Stonington Borough. A seal popped up to see if we were done goofing around in his playground.
The tailwind made progress quick and we were soon back at the breakwater. The swell was still coming in with occasional waves a little larger than earlier. They were spilling easily and provided a few smooth rides before we headed off for the final leg back to the beach.
It was a nice paddle. As suspected, with a drysuit on, the on-again-off-again rain was nothing more than an obscuring texture on my glasses. I find that even what would appear to be an unpleasant day while huddled from the wind on shore, turns out to be a pleasant break once out on the water. In the winter there are different birds: Mergansers, Old Squaw and Grebes show up for the season and the seals come back. While the cold could be a real problem and a risk if you were to go out unprepared, with a drysuit and a good underlayer of fleece it can be quite comfortable. I wear thin neoprene gloves under thick neoprene pogies to keep my hands warm, and integral booties on my drysuit allows nice wool socks for comfortable feet. The winter has only just started, but I suspect I’ll be back on the water a lot more before spring.