Thursday, October 18, 2012

Row, Row, Row, Your Boat - Part 2

Sunday was one of the rare Virginia October days where the temperature went into the high 70’s, the sun was out, and a gentle breeze was blowing. It was the kind of day that if you don’t do something with, you feel guilty for the rest of the week. With the previous week’s bad weather and even worse scheduling on my part, I was past ready to take the kayak out for a paddle around the Occuquan.

Preparing for a paddle is usually pretty quick. Paranoia and an anal attitude makes it a bit longer, especially after my incident this summer where I almost passed out on the water from heat stroke. I transfer my ID and fishing license to a doubly bagged baggie. It is somewhat amusing that I even bother to take these. I don't think that in all the years that I have been fishing I have ever had my ID or license checked by a game officer. On the other hand it would take only one time for that to be a rather expensive mistake. I then put the flies that I will fish with and (now) my bagged camera in my mini tote bag, grab some water and head down to load the boat. 

Loading is by design straightforward. I specifically bought a Perception 9.5 Swifty as it could handle my size and weight, yet fit in the jeep without having to go through the rigmarole of strapping it to the roof. I just fold down the passenger seat, open the back, pop it in, secure the end with a bungee and a pad, hold down the back window with another bungee to keep it from banging, and off I go. Sunday I was a little distracted, so I forgot a couple of key elements of fishing gear - my knife to cut line and my reading glasses so I can see well enough to untangle lines and tie flies on.

As I exited the dock I noticed something was different about the river. The row people had placed flags to mark the center channel. There were a couple of 'coach' boats stationary at the marina entrance, and the river was full of boats. It appears they were have a 'regatta' or day of races. I sat for a while to understand what was going on. At the time, it looked like most of the teams were on their way up river, probably to Fountainhead. The few that were on their way back were more toward the center of the river so as to pass as close as possible to the markers for the shortest distance and time.

I decided that the best strategy was to stay on my side of the river, as there was no way I could obtain the speed necessary to shoot any gaps in the traffic to cross to the other side. Since I fish the shallows anyway, that would put me well away from the race traffic when I reached a likely fishing spot. The wind had picked up, so by staying close to the Prince William side, the bluffs would block me from getting blown into traffic and keep the wind from spoiling my cast.

I paddled to my first fishing spot, unlimbered my pole and prepared to fish. With the first cast, I knew I had a problem. I had tried to extend my tapered leader with some additional leader in an attempt to avoid having to replace a whole tapered leader once I had gone through enough fly changes. Unfortuately, the additional leader combined with a light fly meant that the line would not snap when casting, but kind of fluttered into a landing. Any distance or quality cast was impossible (especially in the stiffening wind). After searching around for my knife and realizing I had forgotten it, I was able to clip off the offending leader neatly enough with my teeth. Unfortunately  at the same time I realized I had forgotten my glasses. I sat there, squinting and trying to tie the fly in the end of the tapered leader for a while, but realizing the futility I gave up, broke the pole back down and stowed it.

I was determined that I still would not waste the day, so I decided to proceed to the turn at Jacobs rock so I could get in some more exercise. Jacobs rock is a dangerous turn in the river where you cannot see around the turn until you are committed to it. The depth of the water is fairly shallow there at the turn, so most fishing boats and rowers do not normally risk running aground by attempting to cut the corner too sharply. That being said, I approached the turn slowly, listening of the yelling and cursing that normally accompany rowing crews, as I could see nothing of the other side of the turn around the river bank. My intention was to go far enough around the turn to see the next bend of the river, then retreat back to marina.

Just as I reached the apex of the turn, I heard the whine of a coxswain's amplified voice and the clank of oars. Reacting quickly I back paddled, burying my aft in the mud of the bank and steadying my position by shoving my paddle into the mud as a makeshift anchor against the rising wind. A heartbeat later, a large crew boat swept into view at full speed, barely missing me, cleaving where I was seconds before. The coxswain avoided looking at me as he knew that a) he shouldn't be that close to the shore, and b) he shouldn't have made that blind turn at full speed. I hung there for a while, a few boat coming uncomfortably close, most safely out in the channel. After a while the traffic thinned out enough that I could make a dash for the relative safety of the wider shallows down stream and made it back to the marina without incident.

I must admit when I had a chance to think about it, I got angry that the race people lacked the foresight to place markers at the turn to force the boats out a ways from the turn so as to avoid the situation that occurred. I don’t' really blame the crews, even though they should have realized that cutting the corner that closely was a dangerous thing to do. I did shoot off a strongly worded e-mail the boat club that operates out of the Sandy Point facility who responded that they would forward my concerns to the race organizers. I would hope to hear back from them. In the back of my head I am thinking that if I don't hear from them, I will mark my calender for next year's race and park myself at that corner and read a book, forcing them all to slow down to go around me. On the other hand I probably should let it go. As the Buddha says:

Holding onto anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else. You are the one that gets burned

Rubbing my belly here boss...

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