Fall Row 2012: Everything I know About Boating, I Learned from Surfing

I experienced a little glassy water as I moved north up the Kitsap Peninsula; but more often than not, I encountered wind and chop.  I’d been aiming to row at least a few more miles that day, but when I came to a sandy, sheltered beach beneath the miniature lighthouse at Point No Point, I had to stop for a break.

After dragging the Terrapin up onto the sand, I tossed B2 into a mesh bag, tied him to the painter, and pitched him astern. Not only was he my companion, but the bocce ball also served as a makeshift anchor.

I wandered the beach, scavenging shells, and marveling at the monstrous rock (a glacial erratic for you rock hounds) strangely poised in the surf.  Fishermen were casting off the point and the tide was starting to shift.  Tide rips, my chart accurately reported, were to be found at Point No Point.  The water was alive with short, quickly-moving wavelets going in several directions at once.  Each bit of the rip moved up and down as if it were vibrating.

I’ve been surfing for more than twenty years and have experienced my share of rough water.  Besides a healthy does of respect, my strategy for a tide rip is to go perpendicular to it, then skirt the outside edge, rather than trying to fight it directly (you won’t win).  I figured that if I could handle them on a surfboard, I could easily face tide rips in a boat.  I hauled B2 back into the Terrapin (he didn’t even thank me) and shoved off. My heart pumped with excitement as I encountered the first of the rip.

At first, everything went smoothly: Terrapin cut through the water, then started sliding slightly to the east.  I rowed a little harder and turned the boat back northwards, slid more to the east, and found myself in line with several pleasure craft motoring around the rip, much further from the shore than I had intended to be.  No matter, I thought; being this far from shore would allow me to round the next point in a straight line, instead of wasting time hugging the meandering shoreline.

This plan worked just fine until I reached said point and headed toward my destination, Foulweather Bluff, which lay a few miles northwest of my current location. Unfortunately, the north wind whipped the sea into bigger waves than I had yet seen.  Again, the surfer in me felt just fine.  Every time you go surfing, you have to paddle through swells and waves to get beyond the breakers.  Recognizing the difference between a rumbler and a wave that is actually going to break is a critical skill that eventually becomes elementary.

I had no fear and rowed with all my might, but as the minutes ticked by, I didn’t seem to be  getting anywhere.  When this happens on a surfboard, you simply turn towards shore and head in.  With a boat, not having a landing place makes it all the more challenging. It was getting toward dusk and I was in unfamiliar waters.  I had to decide how much farther I could go before dark.

Reluctantly, I took out the GPS unit, powered it up, and waited as patiently as I could for it to fix my position.  Waves slapped at the hull and splattered on board as I waited, half- tending the boat, half staring at the screen.  B2 rolled off a dry bag, narrowly missing my foot.

As the unit came to life, I started rowing again, focusing intently at the portion of the screen that told my speed.  It was reading 1.3 miles per hour.  “That can’t be right,” I said to B2, but he just stared blankly at me.   Yet the more I considered it, the more the reading made sense.  It felt that I wasn’t making any progress because I was moving so darn slow.

A few miles short of my destination, I followed my own surfing advice and turned towards shore to find a place to wait out the night.  When I got there, I fired up my cell phone for my daily check-in call with Kate.  A message from Andy Boat popped up.  He was wondering when I would arrive in Port Townsend.  I’m not normally chatty and I only turn on the phone once a day on a trip, but I must have been pretty nervous after the last hour on the water, because, I called him right back and chattered noisily about every detail of the day.  Before he hung up, Andy told me that I should really check out Mats Mats Bay on my way to Port Townsend.

As dinner cooked, I dismissed the idea of extraneous sightseeing. I hadn’t made it as far as I’d hoped, so I’d have to make up some time the next day.  Little did I know how grateful I’d be when I finally did see that tranquil spot.

[Next week:  Skunked in Skunk Bay]

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