The Wrong Boat Adventure.

Well, that’s embarrassing.

I think I’ve mentioned I have more than one kayak, the yellow one (Pungo 120) is a single seater with some internal storage and is considered a general purpose kayak. It doesn’t do well on the ocean or anywhere where there is likely to be waves. But for the North River and Hingham Bay it’s fine.

Light and easy to get into, its my first choice, most days.

Another boat I own is the Tarpon 100, this is a sit-on-top model with no cockpit and is a self bailer. It is heavier, shorter, and slower than the Pungo. Also due to my butt being higher up and resulting in a higher center of gravity it is more unstable.

So, when I need the shorter aspect (-2ft) as when I’m going far up into the marsh, with narrow channels or expect choppy waters with waves likely to come over the bow or sides and dump water into my little yellow friend I take the Tarpon.  If the waves swamp the bow, I get wet and the boat sheds the water automatically.

So on Friday, a very nice day, I loaded the Pungo and headed to the Pembroke launch. But getting there I realized I had miscalculated the tide, it was very low and falling. By the time I expected to be back I would have many feet of mud to cross to get the boat out of the water.  The river tides in Pembroke are expected to be about three hours different from the published highs at the mouth, but sometimes the wind can change that and the tide does not rise to the same height every day, it can vary by many feet.

So in any case, I left and headed for the launch at Driftway in Scituate. Hard sand, gravel and rock at all tide states. Can launch anytime and at low tide the spit is uncovered by water to explore and shoot photos.

Notice the surf?  This is where the North River ends and empties out (or fills again) from Massachusetts Bay. This is not where I was planning to go when I left the house, but as long as I avoided the ocean waves and surf breaking on the sandbar, no problem.

Here near the mouth of the river the tide is close to dead low, very low in fact, lower than it should be today. Notice in the picture of the channel marker, its not floating, its lying on its side. May be associated with the moderate off-shore wind that had been blowing steadily all day. What I should have remembered is that the low water would effect where and when the incoming waves would crest and break.

So paddled to the Spit, out to the mouth while keeping a eye on the breaking waves and the line of surf. I angled for a photo of the coast, northwards towards Scituate Harbor, and from here on there will be no photos since I was about to get WAY to busy to shoot pictures.

Suddenly on the starboard side and slightly behind me (worst possible angle by the way) I heard the sound of cresting waves. What had been flat water a moment ago was now a line of waves, rising up and showing white tops as the wave dragged across the bottom due to the low water.  In the wrong kayak a one foot wave from that direction would have been a problem, this baby was three and rising. I started to paddle…no, wrong I had the camera in my hands. I stashed the camera in its pouch and grabbed the paddle, dragging it in the water on the starboard side to get the nose around and into the wave. No time.

Breaking over me and the boat from the front starboard quarter the wave dumped many gallons of water into the boat, leaving me submerged in water up to the top of my thighs but I kept upright and avoided rolling over. But the now heavy boat was too slow to turn and the next wave in the series completely swamped it. Only the sealed rear compartment still floated out of the waves. So much water was in the boat that the lip of the cockpit was awash making pumping out impossible. Then the next wave hit the only thing still above the water, me. I rolled over and into the sea.

Not the actual event

And then I stood up. Three hundred yards off the beach and the water was only five feet deep. Since I couldn’t pump it out and paddling a flooded kayak is not very efficient I started walking, towing the boat behind. Every minute another wave would hit me from behind, the push from the waves actually moved the boat and me towards the beach faster than I could move it walking in five to six feet of water.  It took a long time, later when I had time to consult my watch I estimated over half a hour to get near the exposed sand bar which is the Spit. Once the water got shallow enough to ground the keel the forward progress came to a halt.

The Pungo is made from “Duralight” a resin that is pliant, strong and very light. The 12′ boat weights thirty nine pounds. Empty on dry land.  In the water and full of seawater it must weigh five or six hundred pounds. In contact with the sand beneath it, I was trying to tow, push or drag all that weight but only moving it when I got an assist from a push and rise from a incoming wave.  It was still to deep to roll it over and each new wave would dump more water every minute than I could pump out in five. Finally a passing wave deposited the boat on top of a sand bar that was high enough to roll the boat on its side enough to allow some of the water inside to pour out. Enough water was finally removed that she was floating again. Another fifteen minutes and the nose of the boat was on dry damp sand. Timing the operation to the incoming waves, I was finally able to roll the boat completely over and get all the water pouring out. Back in Business!

Problem was I was now inside the surf line on the forward or oceanside edge of the sand bar, tide was coming in but it would be five hours before the bar submerged and let me paddle back across to the river. I could drag the boat a fifth of a mile of sand to return to the North River but that wasn’t appealing. So I decided to paddle my way out, through the surf that had got me once today and enter the boat channel two hundred yards south, paralleling the bar. All I had to do was get turned into the waves before they hit me on the lateral line, then turn hard starboard and make as much distance south as I could before I had to turn into the wave again. The paddle-float (explain later in comments if anyone asks) I stuffed under the bungie cords on the bow to keep as much water from entering the boat again over the bow. But if I didn’t get the boat turned in time, one wave coming over the side would swamp me. Again.   It actually worked out O.K., but I paddled like hell.  As I said, no pictures, way too busy.

Safe in the channel

So I hope I didn’t bore anyone. I guess the morale of this story is; as many times as I have been through that patch of water it can still surprise me. And next time bring the red boat.

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About On the North River

Forty years toiled in the Tel-com industry, married for 36 years widowed at sixty-one. Tea Party supporter. Do like to kayak, cook, take photos, bike, watch old movies and read.
This entry was posted in Get launched, Kayaking, Low Tide, Personal, Photos and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to The Wrong Boat Adventure.

  1. Doug says:

    Obviously “No skirt”. How come?
    Great story, wish I was there.
    SF
    D

    • Hey, Southern Boy, I don’t think you would have “wished” to be dumped into 68 degree water. Seventy odd miles (as the crow flies) the Cape is still swarming with sharks chasing the seals, so I guess I could also describe it as (potentially) shark infested waters too. Eeee! ;-} You are correct on observing that I don’t have a skirt, or a water-shedding attachment I wear that seals the interior of the boat from flooding. Two reasons; first that requires special training to use and it use it limits access while afloat to the gear stored aboard, (And I often use more than one camera.) and that’s why I have the other kayak, the one that sheds water. But, good question!

  2. itznu says:

    It doesn’t sound like your kayaking skills or lack of skirt are at fault to me. A small boat with a properly designed hull can easily ride over a 3’wave without getting you wet. Your story is very interesting because it illustrates some of the problems with modern mass produced small boats. You were using a kayak with no skirt like a canoe. Lots of people do that because available canoes are even flatter, boxier, and heavier than plastic kayaks… . I think the shape of your hull is the root of the problem. I am working on a solution.

  3. Welcome, I’m glad you enjoyed the post.
    I think most canoes would have taken on water being hit from the quarter I was that day. With the size of the Pungo and the height of the waves trouble was a given. Fortunately I’m not adverse to getting wet, and that day I didn’t have any of my non-waterproof cameras. As it is, I lose roughly one camera a year to the sea.
    What I didn’t go into with Doug’s comment, is the reason I don’t use a skirt. One reason is having to hang all my gear from my neck or vest, another is the issue of getting rolled in a boat with a kayak skirt. Your sealed in and I’ve never taken the training to see if I have the limberness to right the boat if I find myself upside down. Without the skirt, if rolled I slide out, and if its not possible to get back in and pump out or tow to shore, I would abandon the boat to the sea and save myself.
    Limberness is the problem, at 62 I found while trying yoga that while I have strength and balance, my joints are very stiff. Family genetics, good skin prone to arthritis.

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