Lower Columbia Roundup 2010 with Ginni Callahan

23 08 2010

Ready for wind & waves class!

About the third weekend each August a very special sea kayaking event takes place on Puget Island in Cathlamet, Washington. It’s Ginni Callahan‘s Loco Roundup! LoCo means “Lower Columbia,” and Loco Roundup draws paddlers from all over planet Earth.

Students and instructors gather at the Slow Boat Farm for a five day sea kayaking love fest. The setting, which is the lower Columbia, offers unlimited opportunities for paddling. Novices can explore back sloughs, nature lovers can cross the Columbia and venture through the many islands of the Lewis & Clark National Wildlife Refuge on the Oregon side. Those seeking waves and wind can find it on the open river just west of Skamokawa – where summer afternoon breezes reliably pick up to over 15 knots coming in from the Pacific.

Last minute decision to tote along the step ladder pays dividends!

And the most advanced can head an hour to Ilwaco on the Pacific and test their mettle in the surf and rock gardens.

Home away from home

Everyone camps in a field…it’s a farmer’s field which is mowed for us. A

last minute grab from my garage is the step ladder. Instant kitchen shelves! Friday dawns clear and bright! My task this day is to guide an easy day paddle through the sloughs of Skamokawa-Cathlamet, but since it’s forecast to be mild, I intend to cross the shipping channel to check out the islands beyond.

At seven o’clock I participate in a great way to open up to a new day – it’s Cheri Perry’s yoga session. Stretching and opening one’s chest, lengthening the torso – it’s so key to kayaking!

Once done, round about eight o’clock, breakfast gets going in the kitchen…it’s the place to fuel up for the day’s activities. I chose the catered meal option – no messing around cooking. Boxed lunches were good.

Next to the kitchen is the mess tent and massage tent. Maybe I should have done the massage, I dunno. But it definitely was busy! Yeah, I should have. The complete day is begun with yoga and ended with massage, right?

We feasted on salmon Friday night – yummy!

Then, about 9:00 students and instructors gather to discuss the day’s plan. Charts are handed out. Some head to the sloughs to practice rolling, some to the open river for wind & waves and others all the way to the coast. We’re all excited!

The quality of instruction is the best in the world, this year’s event drew paddlers from Australia, New York, Maine, Brazil, Mexico, and California. This tends to attract serious paddlers: Many working on British Canoe Union (BCU) star awards and a lot who are into the more obscure “Eskimo” styles of paddling. But this has placed the “business end” of LoCo in a quirky spot. Some of the classes were three days long. The high powered classes and focus on Greenland paddling also turns many “Average Joe” paddlers away. Back in July I spent some time with Ginni and Mark Whittaker, and they were frustrated at lack of registration from novice and intermediate paddlers, despite some courses targeted at those people. I believe in what they’re doing and offered to help. I suggested they offer some shorter Euro paddle classes and see what happens. I also put LoCo on my own PaddleNW Meetup site to spread the word.

The good news was that two of these classes got plenty of registrants! Saturday was Euro “Wind and Waves,” and Sunday a “Guided Dynamic Water” paddle. These classes drew students! I believe I helped bring in some revenue. I also quizzed the students and they all agreed that they’d take more classes if there were options for intermediate level Euro classes that were one day length or shorter.

Saturday’s Wind & Waves class turned out perfect. For the purposes of teaching, hair raising conditions are not desirable.

Readying to head for some wind & waves

Ideally, some conditions are what you want – something for the students to figure it out without panicking. You want students to get the idea, to focus on the boat and paddle control and not focused on “staying alive,” so to speak. We got exactly that. We paddled around the sloughs and islands in the Julia Butler Hanson Wildlife Refuge, warming up our muscles and waiting for the wind to build.

Our class was taught by Henry Romer, a seasoned paddler renowned in the Pacific Northwest.

We crossed the shipping channel to a cove I knew would be a good lunch spot. This cove has walls on each side preventing views up and down the river – and the shipping channel is right in front. So, we had three huge ships just show up unannounced! This one was full, so it was riding low in the water.

During lunch, Henry explained how fore/aft weight distribution affects how a kayak behaves in the wind. Too much weight up front, and the boat will pivot on the bow end and weather cock. Too much weight in the stern, and it’ll lee cock. Ideally weight should be just a bit more up front so it can be completely balanced by the skeg.

The afternoon wind built during lunch so that we got some 2-foot waves and whitecaps, with the occasional 3-footer. This was perfect for our lesson! Our cove was a great teaching spot, too. We assembled at one end and then tried out what we learned by one by one putting our boats out into the waves and wind. We’d do circles with Henry watching. What he showed us is that when paddling upwind and you want to go downwind, use quarter stern sweeps to nudge the bow off the wind. Then, the wind helps push the bow downwind. When you think about it, that makes total sense! Then, once you run downwind and want to turn into the wind, use quarter bow sweeps. That will bring the bow around, and put the stern into the wind, so the wind can assist in pushing the stern around.

These simple techniques help a lot! The rest of the lesson, we paddled in the waves with the wind at our backs to Skamokawa. Henry also encouraged us to play with our edges, experiment and see what happens when going down the front of the waves. I sprinted a lot, trying to catch as many waves as I could.

I can’t wait to practice in wind and waves again!

Lower Columbia River Water Trail: Lark Island Day 1

20 07 2010

We took a couple of days to explore the lower Columbia. We saw eagles dog fighting with ospreys, a sea lion, many fishermen and ships, Caspian terns, and best of all more fireworks!

I strongly believe this is one of the top places near Portland, Oregon to paddle. Yet, it’s very under appreciated!

This weekend I scheduled a Lower Columbia River Water Trail kayak camping trip for my Paddle NW Meetup group. The idea was to leave Cathlamet, paddle out to Lark Island, set up camp, and then spend the afternoon playing around in the frequently challenging conditions in and around Skamokawa, WA, on the Columbia River. Then the following day play around the islands on the Oregon side, paddle west with the outgoing side, and then take out at Skamokawa.

Paddlers were myself, Monte, Jessie, Francis, and Heather. A great group! Everyone experienced with primitive camping.

We met down at Skamakowa Paddle Center and I filed a float plan with Ginnie Callahan. Tanned, healthy looking and fresh from her southern experiences in Baja Mexico and Tasmania, she took down our float plan. She took great interest in Paddle NW, as she is having some challenges putting together Meetups for her Lower Columbia Kayak Roundup, August 19-22. I gave her my business card and said I’d promote it on the Meetup site.

We met back at Cathlamet’s Elochoman Marina, which was the put-in.

The usual stuffing and cramming of gear into kayaks ensued.

We were all with good spirits! Monte was very accommodating, his Hyundai parked to take anything we needed to keep ashore.

Jessie had the compass on board and I had the charts. We did the pre-launch briefing…oriented ourselves to the charts, and then we were off. We had a marine layer of clouds but it was forecasted to burn off.

Which way?

I didn’t know prior to scheduling this paddle, but today was “Eagle Day” at Cathlamet! Eagle Day brings plenty of wooden boats and then in the evening fireworks! Hee hee.

We took off paddling with the outgoing tide down a slough behind Ryan Island. This conveniently allowed us protected passage and wildlife viewing!

Here is Jessie checking out a wily raccoon. This guy was determined to finger the mud for food – I imagine it was clams or insects hiding in the mud. I love watching raccoons using their fingers. 

One day they will be texting each other!

Soon we emerged into the Columbia River for a crossing of the shipping channel. To our port lay the tip of Puget Island. This is a blind corner, and Ginnie Callahan warned us to hail over VHS before crossing, because ships headed west can emerge there without warning. We needed to gather into a tight group and head across.

After hailing, we ferried across, but the current kept trying to sweep us below our target, and we had to keep correcting our angle to “crab” across the current to make our end target on the other side – which was Lark Island.

Caspian terns were our constant companions

Once over, we beached and checked out the situation. Ginnie had suggested a camping spot, but it was already occupied. Then a friendly fisherman told us his spot would become available once they took off. So we decided to paddle around the island and come back when the fisherman was gone.

The chart said 1-ft of water was available behind the island. So I said give it a go, we’d be able to circumnavigate no problem. But nope. Things have changed since the chart was made! We grounded about 100 yards from the end.

This was the easy part.

Time to use the handles on the boats for their intended purpose!  That would be towing by hand.

Grounding?  No problem. Excellent time to have lunch and fly the kite!

If I could only find my peanut butter. It was stuffed somewhere…but I did not find it until dinner…freaking annoying.

We also witnessed lots of eagles, ospreys, terns, seagulls and some white pelicans. A giant car carrier passed us by.

And we saw some interesting creatures in the mud.

Later this day everything turned out wonderful! Sun, warmth, all the good things. We set up tents, gathered lots of fire wood, shared stories, made munchies, cooked sausages on sticks, and more.

I was dog tired and lay down for a bit!

We enjoyed Heather’s raspberry/lemon squares for dessert and marshmallows over the fire.

Then, the Cathlamet fireworks began, and we were impressed! Lots of original sky art for all! Finally, maybe 10:30 p.m. we bed down for the night!