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A Short but Blustery Spring Paddle on Moses Lake

My paddling partner Pam visited yesterday (April 22, 2009) and we ended up out on the lake for some reason. The day before was sunny and 84F but yesterday was cloudy, windy, and 60F. Goes to show ya what happens if you’re not in time.

Moses Lake can work up a nice froth when it’s blowing from the right direction. My arm of the lake (the locals here call them “horns”) is windy but there is not enough fetch to work up any waves. However when the wind has a southerly component the other “horns” can be exciting. The waves are never life threatening or anything; maybe 1 to 2 foot is all you get but still exciting early in the season.

Pam was paddling my new (to me) Mariner II which is a kevlar/fiberglass kayak in the Mariner form but only 21-1/2 inches wide while 17’11” long. We were somewhat curious as to whether Pam would have a problem in the gusty conditions. She had brought along her Mariner Express which is a maneuverable kayak that is especially fun in tight areas and surfing. Before we left the dock we put the two boats side-by-side just to see how they compared and while their common heritage is obvious (once you get the idea of a Mariner you can’t mistake their hull shapes) the differences were just as obvious. And not just length and beam (the Express is 16′ long and 23-1/2″ wide). The Mariner II is clearly made to go fast with a fine entry and a long exit. The Express has a full buttocks designed to let a wave carry it forward and a fuller bow to keep from perling.

Before I could get myself ready Pam had sprinted away from the dock southbound towards the freeway (I-90) bridge and had reached over 6kts before I even reacted. That Mariner II is one quick boat. The reason I bought the boat, actually, was because she had indicated an interest in paddling the Deception Pass Dash this year (she volunteered at the last one) and one of the fastest boats to do that in is the Mariner II. The M-II is also probably the best to use in terms of stability and paddling too. A good, forgiving, fast-ass kayak but it’s possible that Pam’s diminutive size and strength could be an issue if there is a snootful of wind. Hence this paddle today.

I caught up and passed her before we got to the I-90 bridge and took a peek at the water on the other side. That side has a lot more fetch and I could feel swells from the whitecaps coming through the gap under the bridge. On the other side I could see whitecaps and some streaking. Fresh water doesn’t streak the same way salt water does. For one thing there is a lot less foaming so the streaks are much more subtle. But, like on the ocean, when you see the beginnings of streaking then you know that the wind is in the mid 20’s.

Our destination was the inside lagoon of the Grass Island. My regular workout paddle is a 20 minute run from the lake house dock through the Grass Island lagoon and then back… just under 2nm. But it had been a long winter and only a few weeks ago the approaches to the Grass Island were frozen solid and the lagoon itself was high and dry due to the lowering of the water elevation of Moses Lake every winter. But by now the water was in the mid-50s (we were in drysuits) and the lagoon was six inches deep. The heading from the bridge put the wind about 25-degrees on our starboard bow. This would be a good test to see how the M-II handled. The Express, even without a sliding seat, was delightfully neutral as long as I kept paddling. And I wanted to keep paddling as every now and then there would be a larger wave than usual which would not quite make me want to throw out a brace but still made me want to keep a paddle in the water. Once a wave washed over the entire kayak from bow to stern. I could see Pam behind me tacking left and right and trying out the Mariner II’s handling.

The lagoon at the Grass Island has numerous entrances but the one I use is the northwest entrance as there is a nice lee in a small bight just at the entrance. Of course the lagoon, being pretty much surrounded by island, is generally calm and peaceful even though the wind still howls across. I waited there for Pam to catch up and when she did she told me that she could see my bow moving up and down a lot in the waves but missed the one that washed over me. She reported some flexing of the M-II and that it seemed to want to lee-cock (the bow move downwind). This is an undesirable trait as I’d rather have the bow want to move into the wind rather than off the wind but the best would be neutral.

The waters of the lagoon were awash in huge carp swimming and finning along with giant swirls. More than a few times the bottoms of our kayaks were bumped by 30 inch carp in what we were pretty sure was an orgy of mating. However they do this a lot and, unless the lives of carp are more sexy than most, I wasn’t sure it was all mating. Often there will be groups of 4 or 5 of these huge fish hanging together. Maybe they’re playing the carp equivalent of bridge. I hear they are good eating and I might have to try one. God knows there are enough of them in Moses Lake.

The shores of the lagoon were populated by several species of duck and a huge colony of Canadian Geese which were all taking turns sitting on nests and waiting for the blessed event. It won’t be long before there will be a lot of little ducklings and goslings paddling around the Grass Island. Usually there is at least one Great Blue Heron but this time none were to be seen. We paddled up to the relatively large western entrance to the lagoon and were immediately hit with wind but it seemed to us that the waves had diminished. Sure enough, as we rounded the island into the main part of the lake the whitecaps had reduced in numbers and the waves had gone way down. We surfed back to the I-90 bridge in company together and I’m pretty sure that the Exress had the better series of rides. But Pam said that she was surfing nicely quite a few times.

Back under the freeway bridge we stopped to see if Pam could roll the Mariner II and, sure enough, her first roll was picture perfect. She should have stopped there. Her next roll turned into a rescue drill and so we moved in that direction. Once Pam gets going at rescues she is unstoppable and we did a whole series in the Mariner II and then she moved to her own Express and did a roll and a series of rescues including a paddlefloat re-entry and roll which went like clockwork.

With 2nm under our keels it wasn’t much of a paddle as far as distance went but it was plenty exciting for an early season paddle. My GPS (a new Garmin Colorado) had only 6nm on the trip meter so I knew I was not in normal paddling shape.

The upshot of the paddle was that we are pretty sure Pam can handle the Mariner II in wind and up to 18″ waves. If the next Deceoption Pass Dash is held on a day with very little wind she would probably do best in that boat.

All in all a fun day. Pam is probably the best paddling partner I could ask for since she challenges me on both technique and daring as well as making me think a lot more about safety than I otherwise would. I was sorry to see her pack her Express up and hit the road back to Puget Sound.

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