Thursday, October 28, 2010

A Howling Full Moon Paddle

"On Jamaica Bay"
Photo taken by Joan during the Full Moon Paddle
Ably led by John W., ten paddlers in nine boats departed from the Sebago dock just after last Saturday’s sunset. The rest of the group included, in addition to myself, Joan, Vicki, Jay, Minh, Frank, Sandy, Dennis, and Paul.

With deck lights and a few headlights, we paddled under the Belt Parkway Bridge and into Jamaica Bay proper. After a short break near buoy 13, our small flotilla crossed the channel to Canarsie Pol.

Once we reched the Pol we paddled around most of the island, paddling counter clockwise and pausing for a break on the southeast side. From that vantage point, it was hard to believe we were in New York City. Few artificial lights were in sight and no jets we overhead. Surrounded by nothing other than water, islands, marshes, quiet and darkness, the glassy smooth surface of Jamaica Bay offered us a special moment.

Once around the Pol the skyline of Manhattan and lights of Brooklyn, especially the floodlights of Canarsie Pier, offered us a more urban setting for our trek. As we paddled across the channel from Canarsie Pol to southern Brooklyn, we were starting to think that we would never see the full moon, thick cloud cover having hidden it all evening. As we were passing near Canarsie Pier, however, Vicki spotted a brightening spot behind us in the clouds.

As we all turned around to look, the 99% full lunar disk appeared through a small hole in the cloud cover. Howls immediately erupted, loud and primal enough to make Allen Ginsberg proud. After a few moments, we could hear similar howls erupting from the pedestrians on Canarsie Pier.

As soon as the moon appeared, it disappeared, only to reappear moments later before disappearing for the rest of our paddle. While it would have been nice to paddle all evening under a full moon, a few moments of a full moon was better than none and enough to satisfy us, especially after the excellent paddling conditions we had already enjoyed.

Eventually we made our way into and up Paerdegat Basin and back to the Sebago Dock, about two hours after originally departing from it. After rinsing and storing gear, and changing out of paddling clothes into street clothes, we enjoyed macaroni and cheese, potato salad, beer, wine and various munchies as we sat around the tables in the clubhouse.

According to my GPS, the total distance paddle was about 5.9 miles.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Passing A Sailing Milestone

Sailing north on Jamaica Bay.
The Skyline of Manhattan can be seen
on th horizon to left (port).
This past weekend my wife, dog and I passed a sailing milestone. While it might be inappropriate to use a terrestrial metaphor like "milestone" to talk about an aquatic event, I wonder what the alternative might be.  A Channel marker? Regardless, when we docked at the end of our most recent sail, we logged as many sails on Jamaica Bay on our own in a C&C 24 as we sailed on the Hudson River in class with an instructor on a J/24.  The occasion seems something worth marking. 

Our US Sailing  Basic Keelboat Course was a six-class course, each class lasting at least three hours. Most of our course, but not all of it, was under sail. Last Saturday we sailed for the sixth time on our own. Over our six sails, we have logged well over eighteen hours under sail. On one sail alone, we logged five hours under sail.

We made a few mistakes over our six sails, always learning from our errors. We are still learning but our learning curve is no longer as steep. With the growing confidence that comes with increased experience, what was once challenging is becoming routine and we are feeling more comfortable on the water under sail.

We have yet to anchor, or sail under the Marine Parkway Bridge and out into the more exposed water of Rockaway Inlet, but someday soon . . .

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Almost Around Great Britain in 90 Minutes

Marcus narrating his circumnavigation of Great Britain
With Skegness, on the East Coast of Great Britain, as his starting and ending point, fellow Sebago Canoe Club member Marcus Demuth  circumnavigated Great Britain in 80 days. At his recent travelogue presentation at the Manhattan Kayak Company, however, he was only able to make it as far as Lindisfarne, or Holy Island, in his 90-minute program.

When I arrived at Pier 66 on Manhattan’s west side overlooking the Hudson, with 30 minutes remaining untill show time, Marcus and a friend or two were assembled in the classroom shared by the Manhattan Kayak Company and Hudson River Community Sailing.  Still setting up a laptop–projector link, the slides and map projected on the screen were all washed out, with hardly any color at all, while on the laptop screen they were in full color. Not good. After trying to adjust the settings to correct the problem the images were not only still washed out but also upside down, and no one was able to correct this. Really not good!

Marcus located a wrench and disconnected the projector from the ceiling, turning the projector over and setting it on a table. Now the images were right side up. Better. But the images were still washed out. Still not good.

Moments before show time, another Sebago Canoe Club member, Control Geek John walks into the classroom, works a little techie magic, and restores full color to the projected images.   Very Good!

Before his presentation, Marcus handed out a fourteen multiple-choice question quiz about Great Britain and kayaking. He promised that the quizzes would be collected, scored, and the three people with the highest scores would receive prizes.

The actual travelogue began with Marcus recounting the initial idea and desire to circumnavigate Great Britain. With photos and narrative, he then took us to the English factory building his boat. Since his boat was not ready for the trip, however, he ended up paddling a different kayak rather than the one he ordered.

With stories of amazingly friendly people, total strangers offering him tea; unknowingly finding himself paddling amidst off shore artillery firing ranges and camping behind a target; and meeting some of the Welsh Lifesaving Service men who decades ago saved his father from drowning, Marcus held the attention of the approximate fifty people in attendance.

This was the third time I have heard Marcus talk about one of his trips. He has a way of artistically blending technical kayaking information with tidbits about the people, culture, and ecology of where he paddles. In addition, his German accent tends to woo listeners in, inviting them to listen more carefully to his sometimes broken English. Never seeming to take himself too seriously, Marcus readily admits the mistakes he has made in planning or execution. Regardless of those errors, however, on this trip , uncharacteristically favorable winds and the longer daylight of more northern latitudes, combined with Marcus’s experience and endurance, resulted in a record setting circumnavigation.

Ninety minutes after he started his presentation, Marcus was able to narrate his circumnavigation only as far as Lindisfarne, or Holy Island. With time running out, he ended his travelogue and promised to talk about the rest of his trip another time.

Before the small crowd left, Marcus announced the winners of the pre-presentation quiz. Fellow Sebago Canoe Club member Dennis had the third highest score, winning a box of English Breakfast Tea. A man two rows of chairs behind me had the second highest score and won a Sigg metal lunch box. (Drum roll please) I ended up having the highest score, missing only three of the fourteen multiple-choice questions, winning a Sigg Thermo Bottle valued at $34.99.

I attribute my winning score to my Liberal Arts Education, nine years of kayaking experience, and having travelled twice to Scotland.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

NOLS New York Area Reunion & Presentation (& Raffle)

Rich collecting name tags
With NOLS, you are always a winner. 
Last week I attended the NOLS  New York Area Reunion & Presentation. New York has the largest concentration of NOLS alums anywhere, so for NOLS, the New York Area Reunion is a big thing.

As we entered the Patagonia store in SoHo, which graciously hosted the event, we made nametags for ourselves. I saw a few familiar faces and a lot of new faces I did not recognize. After mingling with other New York Area Alums as well as the folk from Lander, including Rich, Pip and David, and enjoying hors d’oeuvres, we settled down into folding chairs for Dave Anderson’s presentation about the first ascent of a new route in Argentina’s Piritas Valley.

We Won! We won!
Dave’s presentation was not an overly technical documentation of the climb but much more of a travelogue of the adventure from start to finish. In classic NOLS style, Dave included as much information and personal reflection about trip planning, gear carried, the approach, and the return trip as he did about the actual climb.
Following Dave’s presentation, everyone took off their name tags, folded them in half, and Rich Brame collected them in a NOLS hat. Names we then pulled for various prizes. My wife won a hardback copy of WindRiver Wilderness, a picture book edited by Ronald H. Chilcote. I won a Climber Swiss Army knife modified by NOLS Aum Joel Bukiewicz of Cut Brooklyn.  This was my third or fourth New York Area Reunion but the first time I have won any of the raffle prizes.
The knife I won is especially meaningful to me because, while I had not met Joel until the evening of the reunion, I knew about him and his work through his sister, with whom I have paddled.

Photos from the Reunion cane be viewed on my Picassa page.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Circumnavigating Great Britain by Kayak

Marcus at an earlier MKC presentation

On October 19th, 2010, 7pm – 9pm (presentation will start promptly at 7:30pm) at the Pier 66 boathouse, Manhattan (three blocks north of Chelsea Piers, at the intersection of 26th Street and the Hudson River),  Marcus Demuth will present a program about his recent record setting circumnavigation of Great Britain.
You can read about Marcus’ kayak adventures, paddling tips and more at his website
I have attended two other presentations Marcus has delivered and they were both entertaining and informative.  One of those previous presentations was at this same venue, the Manhattan Kayak Company. 
There is something to be said about hearing such a presentation in a Hudson River Boat House filled with Kayaks.  And the folks at MKC have always been friendly and hospitable whenever I have been there.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

2010 Columbus Day Paddle

Paddling south across Jamaica Bay
There is no better way for a kayaker to observe and celebrate the anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s arrival in the Americas then by exploring a nearby body of water. So yesterday, on the legal Columbus Day holiday, several kayakers from the Sebago Canoe Club  in Brooklyn, NY, paddled across Jamaica Bay and back again.
Seven other paddlers (Vicki, Lynn, Tony, Anthony, Walter, Dottie, and John W.) and I set off from the Sebago Dock around 11:30 AM, headed for Far Rockaway. No Kings or Queens commissioned our journey, nor was there great fanfare as we departed. The sky was blue, however, the water calm, the wind minimal, and the air temperature in the mid 70’s. Columbus himself could not have asked for a better day to be on the water.
As we were paddling out of Paerdegat Basin into Jamaica Bay, we met up with Chris, on his way back from a solo paddle. He decided to join us as we paddled into the Bay and crossed the channel to Canarsie Pol. Crossing the channel, Tony paddled point and John W. paddled sweep. By the time we reached the Pol, however, Lynn was having second thoughts about her ability to complete the paddle, and decided to return to the clubhouse, accompanied by Chris. Meanwhile, Gary and Rochell, paddling in a tandem, joined us.

Beaching on Ruffle Bar
An hour after we started paddling, with one paddler having pulled out and two other paddlers in the tandem having joined us, we beached on Ruffle Bar to stretch our legs, take some group photos, undertake a little below the high tide line exploring, and coordinate our crossing of the next channel.

After leaving Ruffle Bar, Tony ably led across the channel to Far Rockaway and John W. brought up the rear, even though we were tightly grouped for the channel crossing. John W. and I tied up at the dock at the Warf around 1:30 PM while the other six boats, their paddlers not wanting to have to climb up the high dock, decided to paddle to a nearby beach and walk to the restaurant.
At our destination, we discovered no silver or gold, but we did find good food. I enjoyed a fish taco, onion rings, water and a cold Corona with Lime. As we ate outside on the deck, we celebrated not only the good food but also good company and conversation as well as a beautiful view of the Manhattan skyline off in the distance to the north. Another one of our members, Rockaway Vivian, surprised us by walking up to our table. Even though she had not paddled to the restaurant, we let her sit at our table.

Group Shot on Ruffle Bar. Photo by Gary.
As we were preparing to leave, Gary grabbed the check and paid for our lunches with each of us leaving our own tip. An hour and a half after arriving at our destination and after having refueled, we returned to our kayaks and headed back to Sebago.

Rather than stopping on Ruffle Bar during our return trip we simply paused for a floating break, thinking that we might beach on Canarsie Pol later in the return trip. Before we reached the Pol, however, the Weather Alert feature of my VHF radio kicked in, alerting me to a severe storm warning. Even though the sky did not look threatening, we took the warning seriously and decided not to beach on Canarsie Pol but to rather take breaks on the water.

A little over five hours after departing, we arrived back at the dock. We returned with the same number of kayaks we started with, eight, but with nine paddlers rather than eight, and only seven of us having been among the original group. We brought back no spices or precious metals but many precious memories and a zest for life. We claimed no land for distant monarchs but once again claimed our right to paddle and enjoy the largest open expanse in all of New York’s five boroughs.

Enjoying lunch at The Wharf
After washing and stowing gear, we retired to one of the picnic tables on the Club grounds overlooking Pardegat Basin.  with wine, munchies, and frozen cake we celebrated a fine day on the water, as the sun slowly apprached the western horizon. I wish I could have stayed longer to enjoy the company but the bunp and grind or real life responsibiulities beckoned.

The paddle from Sebago to Far Rockaway, which included a beaching on Ruffle Bar, was a 4.8 mile paddle. The return trip, with no beaching, was a 4.7 mile paddle. According to my GPS, in spite of what seemed like a leisurely and laid back but steady paddle, we were at times paddling at a 3-4 mile pace. With little wind to contend with, our pace, in retrospect, makes sense, and also accounts for the fact that both legs took about the same time factoring in the one beaching.

Prepairing for the final channel crossing
This was my second Columbus Day Paddle. Last Year’s paddle was my first. While I was not originally going to be the trip leader for this year’s Columbus Day Paddle, when Phil, the original trip leader had to bow out because of work obligations, I volunteered to lead. While I have assisted on several other Sebago trips, this was the first trip for which I was the designated trip leader. I was glad to have along as Assistant Trip Leaders Tony and John W. and to be leading a trip of experienced and competent kayakers, all of whom, with the exception of Rochelle, I had paddled with before. I was also glad to be paddling one of my favorite club boats, the blue Necky Chatham 17. With hardly any wind and mild tides, however, I never once used its skeg.

During the paddle back, as I in the blue plastic Necky Chatham 17 club boat was paddling next to Anthony in his yellow fiberglass Necky Chatham 17, I asked him if he knew what two Chatham 17s do when they meet. He did not know that the answer was “They neck”.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Double, Double, Toil and Trouble.

Did you hear that "Macbeth" has been updated to reflect current political realities? An early scene features three witches standing around a boiling cauldron and chanting . . .

Double, double, toil and trouble.

Fire burn and caldron bubble.

We may be witches with hardly a care.

But we are not candidates in Delaware.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Stones For Bread: A critique of Contemporary Worship by A. Daniel Frankforter

I rarely read books recommended and loaned to me by friends. I already have too many unread books on my shelves, some of which I will probably never read in my lifetime. The more books I read that I do not own, the longer it will take me to read the books I do own.

Nevertheless, I recently read Stones For Bread: A critique of Contemporary Worship by A. Daniel Frankforter, even though it is not a recent publication, but nearly ten years old. A friend and colleague in ministry loaned me his copy and not only recommended that I read it, he urged me to read it.

The first couple of chapters were slow going. The more I read, however, the more I found the author articulating many of my own thoughts and feelings regarding Contemporary Worship. He said them much better than ever could, however. He also organized his thoughts better than I have been able to organize mine.

In one sense, Stones for Bread is a critique of “Contemporary Worship” in the sense of contemporary being an attempt to upgrade and update, or modernize, if you will, what some often criticize as stale, stodgy, stuck-in-the mud worship. In another sense, however, Stones for Bread offers a thoughtful critique of “Contemporary Worship” in the sense of contemporary being whatever passes for worship in the present day, much of which, in my opinion, is not theologically informed and poorly led.

I wish everyone who worships with the Church I serve as Designated Pastor and every leader of worship in the Presbytery of which I am a member would read and reflect on this book.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

No Wonder we argue about Evolution and Creationism

Various secular and religious publications, both hard print and on line, have reported on the recent Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life US Religious Knowledge Survey. The survey’s findings do not surprise me.
As the survey’s executive summary notes: “Atheists and agnostics, Jews and Mormons are among the highest-scoring groups on a new survey of religious knowledge, outperforming evangelical Protestants, mainline Protestants and Catholics on questions about the core teachings, history and leading figures of major world religions.”
Many of my friends and colleagues who, like me are Ordained Ministers, decry the generally low level of Biblical literacy and  lack of religious and theological knowledge we encounter in the church, even the congregations we ourselves serve as Pastors. At times, I feel like most of what I preach about and teach about goes in one ear and out the other.
Maybe the low level of religious literacy in the US is not an isolated phenomenon. Maybe it is just one more indication of a general lack of general literacy and dumbing down of the American culture. For instance, according to The Condition of Education 2008, a report released by the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), U.S. students score below average in international comparisons of science literacy. 
A few years ago, I was teaching an undergraduate Introduction to Philosophy course. As an example of our tendency to use imprecise language, I used as an example Pink Floyd’s incorrect reference to “The Dark Side of the Moon”. There is no “dark side” but there is a far side, sometimes bathed in light, sometimes shrouded in darkness, but we can never see the far side because it is always facing away from the earth. During the discussion I learned that a few of the students thought that the phases of the moon were caused by the earth’s shadow. They did not understand the basic celestial relationships of the earth, moon and sun. Nor did they understand the difference between a lunar eclipse and the phases of the moon.
My point is, if high school educated Americans do not know the basic scientific principles that affect them every day, how can we expect them to have a basic knowledge of religion? How can we expect to debunk the bad science and theology of creationism when most Americans are both scientifically and religiously illiterate?

Friday, October 1, 2010

About the October 2010 Header Photo

Looking back, I do not know how this scene, featuring Seneca Rocks, WV, has not appeared at the top of my blog before now. Sure, I featured part of Seneca as the March 2010 Header Photo, but that part of Seneca, a formation known as the Gendarme, no longer exists.
I first climbed at Seneca in the fall of 1976 and climbed there rather steadily the next three and half years. I have climbed off and on at Seneca ever since, but not often enough or as often as I would like or would have liked.
Unlike West Virginia’s New River George or New York’s Gunks, Seneca offers a true summit, the south summit. Once a climber attains it, the only way down is to rappel. Comprised of the same rock as the Gunks, whereas the Gunks lie horizontal to its bedding plane, offering long horizontal cracks, Seneca lies perpendicular its bedding plane, offering long vertical cracks, some a hundred feet long.
Because Seneca lies perpendicular to its bedding plane and rises from the surrounding area like a knife blade, it offers two main climbing faces, the eastern face which gets the morning light and the western face, pictured here, which receives the afternoon and evening light. The depression in the center is the Gunsight notch, where the Gendarme used to stand.