Catumb Rocks, December 31, 2005

Carl and I were the only ones to show up. I guess other people looked at the weather and thought better of it. It wasn't particularly cold, but it wasn't exactly warm. They were talking snow, but the clouds were cracked, showing a little blue and the occasional glimpse of the sun. There were a few swells coming in on the beach, but the water was otherwise smooth, with almost no wind. It was a fine day for a paddle.

Carl brought his Chatham 18 and I was in my Petrel. It was a little early to catch the ebb out at the reefs so we headed towards Napatree. Although we saw some swells as we approached, by the time we got there, there was very little happening. There seemed to be some swell breaking on Catumb rocks so we headed out there. Although it was still early for the ebb, inspection of lobster buoys indicated that the current was headed our way.

The current flattened out the water as it accelerated over the shoals at the reefs and every few minutes a larger set would break white over Catumb, exposing the rock briefly. The current was pushing us out as the waves rolled in so we had to keep paddling to maintain position to catch a ride. The swells slid in smoothly and built just at the last moment so it was hard to gauge which front was worth catching. A good wave would seem to appear only to fizzle out as we accelerated to catch the sweet spot.

I set up to the left of the rock with my boat pointing just down current of it. This let me look to the right, watching for incoming swells. As I identified an opportunity I paddled forward, turning up towards the rock as the wave approached. If I timed it right I would catch the sweet spot just as the swell started feeling the ledge around the rock and I would slice off down the wave just to the left of the rock. The lift of the swell would propel me up into the smooth water north of the rock. By continuously steering towards the right I could ride the evolving wave face as the swell refracted around the ledge.

One time I mis-timed my approach and end up just north of the rock without catching the intended ride. This put me right in the breaking zone, just as the next wave rolled in. I was slammed from behind by the spilling wave, my stern lifted up as my bow was pushed downward into the still water in front of the wave. Despite efforts to brace through it, the boat pearled and I flipped. I rolled up while still in the froth of the spilling wave before my face fully realized how cold the water actually was. It think the saline, sinus rinse actually helped clean out the remains of my cold.

The clouds closed up a bit and snow began to fall. Flocks of eider ducks cut above the mercury waves bound to their own destinations unheeding of the rules of man. A seal peered over to see who was trespassing on his play ground. And the waves continued to roll in from beyond the Gulfstream.

We went to investigate the conditions over by buoy #2. The current was building up enough to make a respectable eddy behind the buoy, but for some reason this did not translate to waves over the reef. The ground swell continued to roll in but didn't feel the bottom enough near the buoy to rise up significantly. Carl and I discussed why the high current was not creating the desired condition. I speculated that maybe the unusually high tide meant that there was just too much water over the ledge. The waves are caused by a constriction in the flow and with deep water it just wasn't constricted enough.

We headed back to Napatree, with a swing over to Sugar Reef. There was not much happening at the reef and the swell at Napatree was too intermittent to make hanging around worthwhile so we headed back in.

Back at the take-out a SUV pulled over, lowered a side window and a little girl asked if I was cold. I said I wasn't. Her littler sister announced she had a teddy bear. I agreed that she did.