Quality over Quantity: The Spicy Waters of Manchester-by-the-Sea, 10.4.2015

NOAA was forecasting winds out of the northeast at 15 -20 knots with gusts to 25 and seas 8 -10 feet.    For those who do not kayak often, or even for those that do but prefer calmer waters, the decision to go out in such conditions may seem a bit on the wrong side of normal.  The three of us even joked at the put in about going to a bar instead, but deep down we all wanted to test the water.  So it was three of us who left the beach in Manchester Harbor and headed out towards the maelstrom.

On approach to the Ram Islands with House I in the background.

Since we were about one hour past low tide. we paddled up to the low-lying rocks outside the harbor to take a look at the conditions.  The rocks outside of the harbor typically provide some level 2 to level 3 entertainment even on the calmest of days.  They would not disappoint us today as there was no doubt we would be in level 5+ conditions.  As we closed in on the larger conditions, every one of us seemed to float at the boundary of our protection, contemplating whether or not to paddle out.  Then, with a "What the hell, let's go!" attitude, we dug our blades in, diving bow first into the spicy waters.

Waves breaking on the Ram Islands
This particular area, bordered by House Island to the south and the Ram Islands to the north, is shallow with the water depth quickly dropping by half, standing up the waves as they come into the area.  The picture below shows us departing to go on the outside of House I, with the waving breaking over the Ram Island ledge.

Going up! Phil above me, not far away
The waves grew significantly to between 8 to 10 feet as we made our may headlong into them.  The outside of House Island was chaotic, with waves refracting / reflecting off the island, the wind dropping as we fell into the wave troughs and water crashing with a thunderous statement on the rocks of House.   We ducked behind House for protection from wind and waves to figure out a plan.  A short, exploratory jaunt east along the coast became the goal for the moment with the clear qualifier that we would reexamine our decision should conditions be worse than expected.  So,  again we headed through the shallow area with huge waves barreling through and breaking to our right and left.  We paddled for about 15 minutes beyond the break and realized that fighting the wind and current in an effort to move down the coast didn't make a hell of a lot of sense.  The decision was made to land at Lobster Cove for a break, a snack and a reassessment of our plan.

View from Lobster Cove, note the breaker in the distance.

Video from Lobster Cove.

After a bit of time ashore, we launched once more back out into the bump with the decision made to head back to the put in.  We encountered the same size waves with the rising tide, and I ventured over to the tip of Gales Point to see if we could sneak through, quickly returning when it was obvious we could not due to  the amount of rock that remained exposed.  After rejoining the group, we decided  to make our way into the harbor.  We couldn't retrace the original route exactly as the seas had changed and what had once been a protected entrance was now a roiling exit. Instead, we made for the gap between the last two portions of the Ram Islands.  With Phil to my right and Lorrie to my left, I noticed a sudden, distinct and unexpected increase in forward momentum.  Coupling this with a 5-foot chasm forming right below me (with Lorrie potentially in harm's way),  was  indication enough that I was in a location I did not want to be in.   We quickly  paddled to our left and away from the breakers.  We then ventured around the last of the Ram Islands and decided to take a look at the swell from the protection of the islands.  The very rough video provides only a glimpse of the conditions as apparently I couldn't decide what to shoot!  After a bit of time watching the water, we moseyed back to the put in, content with our time on the water.
Actual Route