Saturday, August 28, 2010

Where Has The Summit Gone?

Old Rag, Shenandoah National Park
Over the past several months, it has become apparent that this blog has focused more on shores than summits. After all, I do live on an Island. In less than thirty minutes, without paying any tolls, I can be paddling or sailing on the waters of Jamaica Bay. On the other hand, driving up to the closest summits, the Gunks, and climbing at the Trapps or hiking the trails of the Mohonk Preserve, takes at least two hours and costs over $10 in tolls, one way! The economics seem to dictate that I spend more time on the water than on the rock, and that realization has finally hit me.

In late May and early June, my family vacationed for ten days by car camping at the southern end of Cape Hatteras National Seashore on Ocracoke Island, NC. While on Ocracoke, we enjoyed kayaking in the ocean and sound. We took pleasure in an evening sail. We rode a small ferry across the channel to Portsmouth Island. These were all “shore” activities. The highest natural point I ascended while on vacation was a sand dune between our campsite and the ocean. The highest elevation I gained was the roof top deck at Howard’s Pub.

While I have not kayaked as much as I would have liked this summer, I have kayaked. I have not climbed. I have not hiked or backpacked. I have new, unused, virgin climbing gear in my rucksack. I have a new pair of high quality Merrell Wilderness backpacking/mountaineering boots I have worn only once. On the other hand, my new Werner Camano kayaking paddle, newer than my Merrell boots, no longer looks new. The neck gasket on my Kōkatat TROPOS Swift Entry Drysuit needs replaced before the onset of cold-water paddling. It seems my shore gear is taking a beating while my summit gear is well preserved.

This summer has certainly been a water and shore summer rather than a mountain and summit summer. It started with a two-week vacation at the shore and ended with a month almost exclusively devoted to boating. In early August, I completed the eight-hour course required for a New York State Boating Safety Certificate and for the past three weeks, my wife and I have been taking sailing lessons on the Hudson River. Last Wednesday we completed our course work, passed our written test, and are now US Sailing Basic Keel Boat Certified. I’ll be writing more about these two courses in upcoming posts.

With another paddle or two scheduled before and on Labor Day, and more sailing in our future, it indeed seems that the shore has eclipsed the summit. But a love of and longing for the mountains still courses through my veins and I expect that there are still a few summits in my future.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Portsmouth Island

The southernmost island of the barrier islands that comprise Cape Hatteras National Seashore is Ocracoke Island. Near the southern end of Ocracoke Island is the small village of Ocracoke.

The northernmost island of the barriers islands that make of Cape Lookout National Seashore is Portsmouth Island. Near the northern tip of Portsmouth Island is the ghost village of Portsmouth. The last permanent resident left Portsmouth years ago. The National Park Service now maintains Portsmouth’s remaining buildings and only a few seasonal residents occupy them.
About three miles of water, a channel between the Atlantic Ocean and Pamlico Sound, separate the northern tip of Portsmouth Island from the southern tip of Ocracoke Island. On a clear day, one can look out across the channel from the boat ramp at Ocracoke and see Portsmouth Island.
Though my wife and I have been vacationing on Ocracoke for years, it was not until our most recent vacation that we ventured south across the channel to visit Portsmouth island. A day or two prior to the day we desired to visit Portsmouth Island I phoned Austin Boat Tours to reserve passage for us and our dog. The morning of our trip we gathered with other passengers on the small dock along the edge of Ocracoke’s Silver Lake and near the Community Store. Capt Rudy Austin (photo top left) talked to us about the importance of having water, suntan lotion, and insect repellent. After the talk, we were off, heading for Portsmouth Island. Captain Rudy did not even want to be paid in advance, saying that anyone that would not or did not pay on the return trip would not be returned, being marooned on Portsmouth Island. According to the Captain, every passenger he has ferried to Portsmouth Island has always paid to returned to Ocracoke.
Captain Rudy not only piloted the small flat bottom ferry but also served as a tour guide, offering up a running commentary on local flora and fauna, fish, history, and politics. While crossing the channel we saw several pods of dolphins (photo top right), some swimming close enough to the boat a passenger could almost reach out and touch them. As we approached closer to Portsmouth Island we passed by a smaller Island thick with waterfowl, including gulls and pelicans, including several young chicks (photo second from top right). Thanks to the Captain’s commentary, the natural encounters, and the overall scenic beauty and open water, the trip would have been worth it even if we had never stopped at Portsmouth Island.
We did stop at Portsmouth Island, however, docking at a long wooden pier on the western side (sound side) of the island just long enough for passengers to disembark. As the last one of us climbed off the boat, Captain Rudy pulled away, heading back for Ocracoke, saying he would pick us up on the northern end of the beach in about three hours.
Eventually we found our way into the old and now abandoned village of Portsmouth and, eventually, the mosquitoes and biting flies found us.
While we took our time visiting and photographing the old Methodist Church (photo third from top right), we refrained from visiting very long at any of the other buildings because of the biting insects and briskly walked through town in order to make it the ocean side beach before the mosquitoes sucked us dry and the biting flies euthanized our dog.
After crossing a long dry tidal mud flat, we made our way to one of the widest, cleanest and most deserted beaches I have ever seen (bottom photo right). While standing there, enjoying both the view and the isolation, including the absence of any biting insects, I wondered why we had not come here years ago. We spread out our towels, played in the water, enjoyed our lunch, and looked for shells.
Not to miss our boat ride back to Ocracoke, we finally started walking north along the beach as we headed for the rendezvous sooner than we would have liked to. We had been enjoying our idyllic beach so much that we could have stayed there much longer.
At the northern end of the beach, with the Ocracoke water tower visible in the distance, we waded out to Captain Rudy in the flat-bottomed ferry and headed back toward Ocracoke.
Now that I have been to Portsmouth and know what to expect, I hope that the next time I visit it I will paddle my own kayak there rather than taking a passenger ferry.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Anniversary Sail

My wife and I celebrated our anniversary during our recent vacation on Ocracoke. One of the ways we celebrated was by taking a Sunset Sail aboard the Windfall II (photo bottom right, over starboard, while sailing)

A few years ago, for no special occasion or reason other than sheer enjoyment, we had taken a Sunset Sail aboard the Windfall. A few months before our most recent Ocracoke vacation, and after over twenty-five years of service, however, the Windfall’s owner, Captain Rob Temple (photo top right), decommissioned the Windfall and purchased the Windfall II.

The Windfall II, a 32' Lazy Jack Schooner, does not hold as many people as the Windfall used to but she is still a fine ship, and Rob, assisted by his first mate son Emmet, provided us with a safe and entertaining sail. While Emmitt impressed me as a well mannered and intelligent fifteen year old with ample sailing experience, Rob displays a little more sea salt that comes from his being a middle aged man of the sea. With a little imagination, one might even hear a bit of a buccaneer in Rob’s voice as he occasionally talks about local history and pirate lore, especially when he points out the general vicinity where the Pirate Blackbeard lost his head after a battle with Lieutenant Robert Maynard.

In addition to Captain Rob and his son Emmet, there were six paying passengers on the sail. After we were all on board, the wind allowed Rob and Emmitt to raise the sails and sail us out of dock and the harbor into the open channel between the Atlantic Ocean and Pamlico Sound without the aid of the inboard motor.
After we had been sailing in the channel for a while, Rob asked if any of the six paying passengers would like to take the helm. I jumped at the chance. Standing behind the large wheel and following Rob’s instructions, he and his son continued to work the sheets while I steered the course directed by Rob. He even let me stay at the helm as we passed a North Carolina Department of Highways ferry on our port side. I found the hardest part of steering was being able to see the unlit day markers against the darkening sky. More than once Rob had to point them out to me so that I could stay in the channel.

Not wanting to hog the wheel, I asked if any other passengers wanted to try their hand at the helm. Since there no takers I stayed where I was and steered the ship for probably twenty minutes, and through several tacks, before Rob finally relieved me. I was glad he did relieve me because the sun was just about to set and I would not have been able to take any pictures while I was at the helm and I wanted to take a lot of pictures. Nor would my wife and I have been able to uncork and enjoy the bottle of red wine we had brought along to enjoy as we sailed.
As far as I know, the Windfall II is the only Sailboat docked in Silver Lake (the name of Ocracoke’s small harbor) that offers sailing cruises and that is available for charter. She will not sail if the wind or the water is too heavy. If the wind is light, she always has her motor.

Ocracoke’s sunsets on a summer’s night are some of the most spectacular, and romantic, sunsets I have known. Experiencing those sunsets from the cockpit of the Windfall II while under sail makes Ocracoke’s sunsets even more spectacular and romantic.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Ocracoke Ghost and History Walk

Prior to attending and blogging about the 219th Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) General Assembly, I had been writing about my family’s recent vacation on Ocracoke Island, NC. With a few kayaking posts as a buffer following all my reflections about the General Assembly, I now return to Ocracoke. I wish I could return physically to that Isle rather than just returning to it as a subject matter for blog posts because it is one of my favorite vacation spots.
My wife and I have been enjoying Ocracoke for decades. We have stayed on the island during all the seasons of the year, from a few days to a week, but our most recent trip there was our longest, a twelve-day stay. I find it amazing that even though we have been vacationing on Ocracoke for close to thirty years, we still find new things to do and experience when we go there. Perhaps that is partly why we keep returning.
For instance, this last stay we enjoyed an evening Ghost and History Walk led by the village businessperson and amateur local historian Phillip (Phil) Howard (photo top right). When we arrived outside his shop, The Village Craftsman, for that evening’s Ghost Walk, so many people had shown up for the walk that Phil divided the group in half. While Phil’s daughter led half of the group on a Ghost Walk of one side of the village, Phil led our half of the group on a Ghost Walk of the other side.
Our tour embarked around dusk, adding a liminal element to the setting. Fortunately, the mosquitoes were not in abundance, but if they had been, we had properly armed ourselves with repellent as well as long pants and long sleeves, in spite of the warm weather. While leading us along the winding and dusty back roads, overgrown paths, and quiet paved streets of the village, Phil pointed out various features, such as old historic trees, historic homes, and perhaps more importantly, cemeteries, while telling ghostly stories related to each.

The stories Phil related were not scary in and of themselves. No one jumped out from behind bushes. No one deployed or employed special props. No, this was not an amusement park haunted house sort of experience. Rather, Phil told stories recalling supposedly past hauntings, paranormal activity, and eerie experiences. Most of his stories involved former residents of Ocracoke, now long departed. Some stories called upon local seafaring history, including shipwrecks, deaths at sea, and ghost ships. It seemed that all his stories, well told with little dramatic flair, he based on a kernel of local historical fact. With a little embellishment, and the addition of the listener’s imagination, Phil’s tales suggested there was more to Ocracoke island and the village by the same name than one might expect—ghostly things.

The prevalence of small family cemeteries spread throughout the village, some of them included on the walk and containing the graves of Phil’s ancestors, added an ethereal element to the already liminal setting. I cannot say that I was ever scared during, or after the tour, but I was entertained and educated. Phil is a great storyteller and weaver of local yarns, and I am glad I went on the tour. In fact, I want to go again, either to experience the tour led by his daughter, or to tour the other side of the village.

Though I have not yet read it, Phil recently published a collection of Ghostly tails, Digging Up Uncle Evans: History, Ghost Tales, & Stories From Ocracoke Island, that I look forward to reading. I imagine, however, even though I will be able to hear Phil’s voice as I read those tales, reading them while sitting on the couch at home will not be the same as hearing Phil tell them while meandering down a winding and dusty road at dusk as that road passes by an old cemetery.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Another Youth Paddle . . . Or Two

Volunteers gathered at the Sebago Canoe Club, located along Paerdegat Basin in Brooklyn, NY, were expecting not one, but two groups of youth to paddle last Friday. Once again, I was there to help. The previous scheduled youth paddle never happened because the youth and their adult leaders never showed up. This time was different.

Exactly on time at 10:00 AM, the youth and adult leaders from the 77th Precinct arrived. Sized and outfitted with PFDs and paddles, and briefly instructed by Gerry on how to paddle, they were in the water by 10:45. Eight youth paddled Ocean Kayak Prowler 13’s. One youth and one adult leader paddled Necky Zoar Sport LV’s. These ten boats were accompanied by fourteen volunteers in thirteen boats, better than a one-to-one adult leader to youth and Sebago volunteer to participant ratio! Thirteen volunteers paddled kayaks, with Lisa and Gary in a tandem. Andy paddled a canoe.

As soon as the youth were on the water they dispersed in all directions until we provided a little more paddling instruction and the youth got the hang of it. Eventually, in spite of a strong wind blowing us toward the northern terminus of the basin, we generally paddled together toward the end, then turn ed around and paddle toward the basin’s opening into Jamaica Bay. We made it only as far as just past the commercial docks, however, before the clock forced us to head back to the Sebago Dock.

While we were on the water another group of youth and their adult leaders, from the 88th Precinct, had arrived. Rebecca kept them busy with water quality testing activities until we returned with the 77th precinct. She planned to do the same with the youth of the 77th Precinct while we took the 88th out for a paddle.

Once back at the dock, all the 77th Precinct paddlers and most of the Sebago volunteers climbed out of their kayaks and took a break on terra firma. Gary, Vicki and I, however, remained on the water in our boats while waiting for the next group to enter the water.

As sone as a few of the next group were on the water, one of them accidently rammed a youth in an Ocean Kayak Kea, sending him overboard. Even though he was only 10-15 feet from the dock, I paddled over to rescue him. As I approached, I could see he was a little panicky. Even though I offered him my bow, he grabbed hold of my port deck line and started climbing back my port side toward the cockpit. I was finally able to reassure him enough to calm him down and I talk him back toward the bow. With him holding onto my bow, I paddled him to the dock where Tony helped him climb out of the water and onto the dock. Nina then went with him into the clubhouse and provided some dry clothes. Once recovered, he was back on the water, but this time in a tandem with an adult volunteer.

With the wind even a little brisker than it had been earlier, we repeated the course we had paddled earlier in the morning. The 88th Precinct group included eight youth in kayaks, a youth and a Sebago adult volunteer in a canoe, a youth and an Sebago adult volunteer in a tandem, two Sebago adult volunteers in a tandem, and the rest of the Sebago volunteers in kayaks, twenty-one boats in all.

Paddling back toward the Sebago dock after we had turned around, another youth in another Kea took a spill. Gerry and Chris were closer than anyone else was and appropriately responded. Between the two of them, they were able to help the young man back into his sit-on-top. As I skulled nearby I could tell from the youth’s face that he was not at all scared and even seemed to be enjoying himself from the moment he went over to the time he was back on top.

Because of the heavier wind and time constraints, we still paddle south past the Sebago dock before returning but not all the youth were able to paddle as far south as the earlier group.

I paddled a red Sealutions I had paddled before. Vicki paddled her new previously owned Current Designs Sirocco she has named “Sirensong”. Throughout the paddle, I could occasionally hear her saying “I love my Boat. I love my Boat. I love my Boat.” I think she loves her new used kayak.

After all the youth had cleared their boats from the dock, the adults also started docking and carrying boats and gear up the wash rack to be rinsed with fresh water before being stored. Once all the gear had been stored and the youth headed for home, most of the Sebago volunteers ended the paddle with grilled veggie burgers, kielbasa, Laurie’s homemade pickles, and other tasty treats.

Sea salt dried and adhered to my camera lens early in the trip, rendering most of my photos useless. Thus, there is no picassa album accompanying this post.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

And on Another Blog . . . Lectionary Ruminations

Every Thursday, for the past twenty-six weeks, I have been posting Lectionary Ruminations, on the PRESBYTERIAN BLOGGERS blog.

Lectionary Ruminations is a Socratic reflection on the Lectionary Readings for the following Sunday.

Click on the first hot link to read the post. Click on the second hot link to explore the blog in general.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Remembering Marcy

Today (Friday, August 6) marks the anniversary of the first ascent of New York’s highest mountain, Mt. Marcy. The first documented ascent took place in 1837.

My first (and so far only) ascent of Mt. Marcy was July 22, 1978. My wife and I, college students at the time, were leading a group of high school students on a weeklong backpacking trip through the High Peaks of the Adirondacks. For a warm up, we had already, earlier in the trip, climbed Upper and Lower Wolf Jaw. When we left our campsite the morning of the climb, the weather was comfortably warm. I was wearing shorts and a t-shirt. Once on the summit of Marcy we were in a cool fog and I was wearing a nylon wind parka to keep warm. After climbing down the other side we were once enjoying warm and sunny weather.

I moved to New York State three years ago, and in the past three years I have been surprised that many native New Yorkers do not know where Mt. Marcy is located, and do not know that Mt. Marcy is the highest mountain in the Empire State.

For the record, Mt. Marcy rises 5344 feet above sea level and is located in the High Peaks Region of New York’s Adirondack Mountains.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Cleaning the Rolls

The list of blogs I like, which appears along the right side, has slowly been growing longer and longer. Unfortunately, some of their bloggers have not posted in a long time. Wanting to shorten these lists and bit, I have removed all the blogs that have not seen a post in three months or more, resulting in the removal of four blogs from my lists. One blog, Worship Weblog appears as though it has not been updated in four months when in fact it has been kept up to date. For some reason, even though this particular blog is regularly updated, the update is not appearing on my list.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Paddling to Provide Swimmer Support at the 7th Annual Hudson River Swim

My wife and I have been kayaking for over nine years. The first seven of those years were on sit-on-tops. The last two years have been a mix of paddling sit-on-tops and closed cockpit sea kayaks.

In our nine plus years of paddling, last Saturday was the first time we paddled to provide swimmer support. The occasion was the 7th Annual Hudson River Swim, a one mile swim from Newburg, NY to Beacon NY.

Saturday’s paddle was only the second time we have ever paddled on the Hudson. Our only other previous time on the river was a few years ago, a short paddle around Kingston. My wife paddled, for the first time, a used Current Designs Sirocco. She was test paddling the Sirocco because she was considering buying it. She ended up purchasing it later that day and we brought the boat home with us.

I paddled a Perception Prodigy 12 recreational kayak provided by Mountain Tops Outdoors, a local Beacon, NY Outfitter that provided their rentals free. While I found the Prodigy 12 cockpit a little large and cumbersome, at least my butt stayed dry, which it would not have if I had paddled my own sit-on-top. Mountain Tops also provided PFDs and paddles but I opted to use my own.

We had originally registered on-line to provide swimmer support. The morning of the swim, we reported to the registration table, our preregistered names we checked off, we were given a bottle of water, a Cliff Bar, and loaned a whistle and a foam noodle. A dock master supervised our getting into the water and then about a dozen kayakers paddled from Beacon across the Hudson to Newburgh where we waited for the one mile swim to begin. By the time the swim began, about a hundred kayaks were in the water to provide support.

I was impressed with organization as local police, sheriff, Coast Guard, and Coast Guard Auxiliary we also on hand to provide support. The river was even closed to all other traffic as along as swimmers were in the water.

Around 11:30 AM, about 250 swimmers entered the water (photo top right). I ended up paddling backwards in front of the swimmers on the downstream (southern) side and in front of the pack. I paddled backwards so that I could keep my eye on the half dozen to dozen swimmers near the front of the pack. As we approached Beacon I finally turned around and stayed close to who I believe was the third swimmer to complete the swim. I then backed off from the Beacon Dock and paddled to what I thought to be holes in the swimmer support coverage.

At first swimmers straggled in. Then more and more swimmers started approaching in groups, until about an hour after the swim began, all swimmers were present and accounted for on dry land. Earlier in the day I saw at least one swimmer hanging on an upstream kayak for support and another swimmer being brought in as a passenger on a jet ski.

There were several highlights during the day. The first was listening to Pete Seeger singing near the Newburgh Waterfront while I was sitting in my kayak and waiting for the swim to begin. The second was seeing and paddling in the presence of the The Sloop Woody Guthrie, which I had known nothing about prior to the day, in spite o my being a first year member of the Clearwater Foundation. The third came after the swim was over and I was out of the water. While walking around the Beacon waterfront, as we were enjoying humus, pita bread and watermelon, we encountered Pete Seeger talking to and strumming his banjo for a group of about eight to ten listeners.

The last time we saw and heard Pete perform was at his 90th birthday party in Madison Square Garden.  We were seated way up in the nosebleed section for that event, but last Saturday in Beacon we were standing about three to four feet away.

Photos from the day can be viewed on my Picasa page.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

About the August 2010 Header Photo

Because I have recently been spending more time around water and the beach than in the heights of the mountains, I have had to reached back into my archives for this month’s header photo, all the way back to August 15, 1979. I electronically cropped this month’s header photo from a scanned black and white print. A colleague took the original with my Minolta SRT 101 SLR shooting Tri-X-Pan black and white film, which I developed myself. I also printed the original.

The shot, now a little grainy after scanning, is of me climbing (sans ice ax and crampons) a snowfield on the western slope of Mt. Geike in the Wyoming’s Wind River Range. At the time, I was a student on a National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) Outdoor Educators Course. We were backpacking up and out of Desolation Canyon, heading for Pain in the Ass Pass (11,632 ft) between Mt. Bonneville to the northeast and Raid Peak to the south.

Thirty-one years later, many of the lessons I learned on that NOLS course still inform my outdoor ethic and the way I approach outdoor adventure type activities. Now, however, many more of those activities take place on water rather than on mountains.