December 06, 2019
Sports Column

Few chances remaining for paddlers

What’s with these rainy and snowy days anyway? It’s not just me, I’m sure. Tuesday’s dreary deluge turned out the parent brigade shuttling off their young ones to the school around the corner. That always makes for a traffic jam as buses, minivans, and SUVs scramble for their piece of the road, leaving little ones to dart among the mass of idling iron. Then there’s this one bus that has to park just down the street with its yellow lights flashing, confusing everyone around it into a stupefied block.

Throw in the caffeine-deprived commuters who flock to the store on the corner and you have gridlock no one seems capable of handling.

North of here, the 3 inches of wet slush on the road failed to deter the speed idiots who can’t get it through their muddled gray matter that there’s a speed slower than 90 mph. (Several of them wound up in the ditch.)

At work the computer decided that Tuesday was the day it wouldn’t start because the Night Gremlins had been in running a virus check. The e-mail box was full of enough spam and crud that I was ready to cancel my account and go back to faxes and snail mail (do you think, maybe, the USPS is behind this spam thing?).

And just when I thought my morning had been a winner, a co-worker arrived looking like a drowned rat with a tale about a shredded tire thanks to new curbs in Winterport. A half-hour later another rather wet co-worker floated in asking who might own the white car in the parking lot with its rear window down and back seat afloat. Ms. Flat Tire headed back out into the rain.

I didn’t have a chance to chuckle before my computer crashed – again!

On days like these I tend to stare at my screen saver a lot. The last one was a sea kayaker surfing a wave toward shore. The one before that was a solitary paddler headed into a sunrise. I just put one up of me and my friend, Robert Causey, at sea near West Barred Island. The weather that weekend should have hung around a little longer.

One of these days I’m going to have to give up on the hope of mild weather – but not yet. I know this weekend will be one for the record books, especially Sunday. And you can bet on that because I have to work. If my luck is typical Saturday will be OK, but Sunday…. I can hear my friends now – “you should have been out with us on Sunday!” Bah and humbug!

Last Saturday was an all right day for a hike or other outing. Causey, Karen Francoeur, and I met at Causey’s lakeside palace for an afternoon on Pushaw Lake. (Actually, I’m not going to be able to be facetious much longer about the Bunny Hutch that Causey rents. His landlady, the Lovely Linda, is having the outside shingled and has had new doors and windows installed. I understand some other renovations, like blowing out a wall, have taken place. That surely will change the camp-like character into something more palatial. Indeed, the Lovely Linda has just announced she’ll be moving back into the palace next spring, so I guess we’ll be looking for another retreat.)

Francoeur and I need to descend on our horse doctor friend occasionally to keep him in touch with the real world, the one outside academia’s ivy walls where Causey hides. If not, he’d be lost forever in the deep dusty recesses of his research at the University of Maine trying to unravel the mysteries of healthy equine reproduction. By tearing him away from the mares once in a while, we figure we’re offering a glorious change of scenery.

We paddled up and across the lake to the outlet to check on foliage. The leaves weren’t very vivid, but we were surprised at the high water level. Last year at this time the water level on the stream side of the dam was about three feet down. Last weekend the drop was less than a foot.

After a brief stretch on shore near the dam we headed westward and then down the western shore back to our starting point. Francoeur beat feet back to Orono rather quickly after learning we were going to attempt to bring the swimming float ashore. (Actually she was meeting friends a little later to attend a bluegrass concert at the Community Center.)

That left the doctor and me to lasso the barge and drag it onto shore – or mostly on shore. The rope we had tied around the beast parted when I attempted to pull the float up the shore behind my Cherokee. So there it sits, half in and half out of the water where, it’s my guess, it’ll remain until spring.

Daylight gone and our chore at a standstill, we opted to light a fire and cook some sausages. After ditching his wetsuit, Causey set about rummaging the grounds for twigs and sticks while I pawed around the back of the Jeep to find warm clothes. Man, did it get chilly after the sun set.

A sudden flash of fire told me the good doctor had dispensed with the twigs and kindling approach to fire building, favoring instead the charcoal lighter fluid approach, a.k.a. instant fire! When the wall of fire subsided we toasted the sausage, cracked open a couple of beers, and toasted the demise of fall’s mild temperatures. (Come Wednesday and Thursday as I looked out the window at wet white flakes accentuating the colorful maples across the street from the newsroom, I had second thoughts about our toast.)

While the paddling season may be winding down, it’s time to start planning next spring’s fourth annual Paddle Smart from the Start Safety Symposium. Those involved in organizing the May event will be sitting down this week to begin anew the process. Fresh in all our minds is the tragic news of the recent drowning of two young female paddlers in Massachusetts off Cape Cod.

Paddle Smart’s message is one of safety – that includes choosing the right boats and gear, developing the proper skills, and a big dose of common sense. We’ve stressed the use of personal flotation devices (life jackets) to the point of wearing them throughout the evening seminars. That’s why it’s so disconcerting to hear of two young women who died in an easily preventable event.

At 3 p.m. on Oct. 12, Mary Jagoda, 20, a Brandeis University student from Hunnington, N.Y., and her friend Sarah Aronoff, 19, of, Bethesda, Md., a student at Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa., pushed their 8-foot kayaks off the beach at Harwichport, Mass., and headed off for a paddle on the ocean – one into a fog bank, the other along the shore. Conditions were fairly calm, with 60-degree water and waves of about 2-3 feet.

The next day the Coast Guard spotted the two kayaks capsized and tied together about nine miles from their launch site and a mile south of Monomoy Island, a deserted bird sanctuary. On Wednesday a Coast Guard helicopter spotted Jagoda’s body four miles south of Monomoy Island – she was not wearing a life jacket. Aronoff’s body has not been found. It’s a law, by the way, in Massachusetts that life jackets must be worn between Sept. 15 and May 15.

One of the news stories I read about the tragedy described Monomoy as the “southernmost tailing of the Great Beach that runs practically uninterrupted from Provincetown to Chatham. It is rubbed by the currents of the Atlantic and Nantucket Sound. Besides the ferocious currents that are whipped up when these two large bodies of water collide, there is the confluence of warmer Nantucket Sound water and air cooled by the Atlantic that provide the perfect ingredients for fog.”

I know it’s easy to armchair quarterback, but this doesn’t sound like a good place for experienced paddlers, let alone inexperienced paddlers, and Heaven forbid, in 8-foot kayaks. This tragedy so easily could have been prevented if the young ladies had just said no.

And that’s a big part of the message we try to convey at our Paddle Smart symposium. Please plan to attend next May (date to be announced) and help us spread the message.

Jeff Strout can be reached at 990-8202 or by e-mail at jstrout@bangordailynews.net.


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