Everyone (Beth, Tim, Sid, Dave and myself) arrived on time for this NE5STAR paddle, necessary if you want to be able to play on the max ebb. While moving boats and gear down, an older gentleman stopped his car to tell us that the tide ran heavy through here and to be careful. After assuring him that we would, we stowed gear and suited up. The NOAA forecast was significant: 15-25kt from the north decreasing to 10-20kt from the northeast with seas 7-10 feet. In planning the trip, it was clear that leaving the harbor might not be an option. With Nubble lIght about 5nm north and Braveboat Harbor to the south, neither was a palatable destination given the conditions. The northerly route meant paddling into the predicted winds with a dumping surf that made beach landings in an emergency best avoided.
The southerly route was more exposed with a rocky coast and the thought of navigating Braveboat Harbor in big swell not particularly desirable. So, it was decided at the briefing that we would poke our heads out, verify our predictions, and then plan accordingly.
The trip out was flat, calm and had a current running about 1 knot. Two of the group had scouted the beach next to Fort Point from the road before launch and reported that there was big, messy surf. As we approached Stage Neck, we could hear the thunderous crash of it, leading all to believe that the forecast was on target.
We arrived at Stage Neck, which provided a good vantage point to see what was going on. RN8 was leaning heavily out to sea as the current continued to increase towards its maximum flow. We rode the ebb to Rocks Nose and hit the eddy behind it. From there we could see the standing waves, running 2-4ft in the river and offering an enticing place to play. We decided to play there for awhile, surfing up the river and then letting the ebb bring us back.
After a bit of play, we decided to follow the southern coastline to play in the rocks leading to Western Point. Conditions were such that rock play ceased as we approached the rocks across from RN6 since the amount of whitewater would have made for a bad day for anyone unfortunate enough to be caught in it. Instead, we wanted to see just how big conditions were outside the harbor, so we headed east, stopping at the range bordered by RN4 and GC3, as conditions were escalating significantly with each paddle stroke.
We caught some good waves back and continued playing on the standing waves in the river until lunch. After a quick lunch in the lee on Stage Neck, the group consensus was to go back out towards GC3 to check the conditions, as they looked as if they had come down a bit. We headed out to Fort Point and south of RN6, continuing to the same point where we had previously turned around. At the turn around point, Sid turned around and began heading back in, but Beth hadn't, prompting Tim to make sure that turning around was understood. By this time, I was turned around watching Sid and waiting for the others when Dave paddled past me in the opposite direction. It was not long after that when I hear him shout "oh shit!" The glimpse looking over my left shoulder, of a torrent of whitewater, was enough to push me into sprint mode. Unfortunately, it was too late. Dave, caught in the rush, was surfed into me, crossing on top of my deck (near the compass) as we were surfed forward in the form of at, until such time that he broached completely, and we both capsized.
After the wave let me go, I rolled up to find that Dave was out of his boat with Tim coming in for the rescue. I directed Beth to get back into the harbor and join Sid, so as to avoid further complications while I stood by in case help with the rescue was needed. Keeping an eye on Beth and Sid, as well as the rescue and incoming waves, was challenging, to say the least. A few more big waves came in, thankfully not breaking on us as things were sorted out. Once Dave was back in his boat, we surfed out of there, experiencing some unexpectedly larger swells further upstream. After catching up with Beth and Sid, we all started comparing notes and discovered as a group that the wave, which Dave estimated to be 8-9ft, had knocked all four of us over. Tim and Beth first, hidden from view behind the wave, and then Dave and myself. I knew Dave had gone over; Beth hadn't realized that Tim and I had gone over, Tim didn't know Beth and I had gone over...what a wave! When we briefed Sid as to what happened, he couldn't believe that he had missed the whole thing. Incident to resolution happened so quickly that he had no idea that any of us went over.
As we paddled back to the put-in, Tim made a comment that his boat seemed low in the water. Once ashore, he discovered a hole near the fore bulkhead that had penetrated into the hatch, allowing water in. He thinks that the paddle shaft must have been driven into the boat as he has no knowledge of hitting another boat or rock. None of us had a better idea.
Overall, a great paddle in 5-star conditions with a fun group, lessons learned and experience acquired.