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Wind didn't get me, it was the waves

Oct 22, 2014
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BV's wind speed thread reminded me of a time last August when wind and waves conspired. Though at the time, I thought the wind was 20mph (32kph) or more, when I got home I looked up observations from a nearby weather station and found it only got up to 17 (27). Since wind observations are generally given as maximum sustained speed, I guess with gusts it could have been 20 or more.

A Night on the Marsh: Lower Hoopers Island

Here's a map (from bing.com)
LowerHooper-from-Bing.jpeg - From Bing, a map of Lower Hoopers

When is it too windy to paddle? I pondered the question while standing on a seawall overlooking the Chesapeake at Hoopersville, Md. The wind was coming straight off the water from the SW, and in that direction, I could not see the western side of the Bay, so there was miles and miles of fetch. Yet the waves looked a manageable 1-2 feet. I hadd brought a canoe and a kayak and decided this was decidedly not canoeing weather. Then I discovered I did not have a kayak spray skirt with me (mandatory in my book), so I decided to try it in the canoe.

The Hooper Islands lie in a NW-SE chain that parts the Honga River from the Chesapeake Bay. There are three islands. The northernmost is Upper Hoopers. Lower Hoopers is the southernmost and Middle is in between. My friends had received a landowners permission to camp on Lower Hoopers and were already out there when I went down to join them. My plan was pretty simple. Launch in Hoopersville, paddle about four miles to the southern tip of Lower Hoopers, where we would set up camp before fishing and crabbing the area in and around Lower Hoopers.

The launch at Hoopersville is on the eastern side of Middle Hoopers Island, meaning I would be putting in on the lee side of the island. My destination was a beach on the windward side of Lower Hoopers Island about four miles away, with only the last mile on the windward side. I was not sure I would be able to negotiate the wind. If I could not make it, my fallback plans included returning to Hoopersville or spending the night in my canoe, pulled (or washed) up onto a marsh.

I made it 3.3 miles. After paddling through the Thorofare against wind and tide, I had a difficult time in Thorofare Cove. The water there is only a foot or less deep, so it was one of those situations where the wind is blowing you backwards and you can not get enough paddle in the water to propel yourself forward. I actually stood up and poled out of the Cove. Standup propulsion is usually a loosing deal in strong wind, but I found it effective on this day. It helped a lot that I had loaded all my gear in one end of the boat. Standing in center, the unevenly loaded boat weathercocked and kept itself pointed into the wind, which was exactly where I needed to go.

On the west end of Thorofare Cove, there is a sandbar over which the water was perhaps a foot deep. The two foot waves rolling in from the Bay hit the sandbar, rearing up and breaking as they came into the Cove. The bottom here was rotten, meaning it seemed like hard sand but when I pushed hard to get through a wave, the pole would suddenly hit a void and sink. I sat down and grabbed a paddle. Now my heavily laden bow began to work against me. Rather than floating up and over the wave, the bow stayed low and the top of the wave was rolling into the boat. There was a limit to how much water I could take on and bailing was not an option because my hands were very busy with the paddle. Stopping to bail seemed like an invitation for disaster. It was all I could do to keep going. I tried turning a bit and leaning the boat to block the waves, like we do in whitewater, but in whitewater, we usually only need to get through a few waves at a time. Here, the waves just kept on coming. I ceased making forward progress, and I was still taking water over the gunwales. I needed to get through those breaking waves and the increasing amount of water sloshing around in the boat was not making it any easier.

It seemed like I was paddling against a current. At the time, all I knew was I needed to make it around a point on my left, I was paddling for all I was worth, and as my paddle banged off the bottom, my progress was excruciatingly slow. Bear in mind that I was in shallow water, the water temperature was about 80 and I was within a few hundred feet of a low, marshy island, so, I was sure I was not going to die, but, I was in a surf zone and my paddling situation was deteriorating. Arms aching, I finally came abreast of the point I was trying to round and turned east. I was almost, but not, around the point, and as soon as I turned east the wind pushed me back into the breakers. I pointed myself back into the wind, again paddling with all I had and a substantial boatload of water. Desperate, I finally turned towards shore and tried to surf into the beach. The canoe had become difficult to handle and though it never capsized I ended up in the water, which was less than waist deep. The boat had broached on a wave and tipped enough to throw me out. I got ahold of the boat and got it and myself to the beach.

On the beach, I emptied the boat and considered my options. I was only a half mile away from the beach where I would meet my friends and camp. The water is very shallow along the island, so I decided to walk the boat around. Towing the boat as I walked in waist-deep water did not work well. The boat was pitching wildly on the waves and by the time I made it several hundred feet to the far end of the little beach, the boat had a few inches of water in it, so I took it ashore and emptied it again. I peeked around east and wondered how many times I would have to empty the boat to cover the remaining half mile, and whether I had the energy to do it. Dragging a loaded, flooded, 16-foot canoe out of the water and emptying it is exhausting, I am a geezer and there is a limit to my energy. It had taken me 3 hours to cover the 3.3 miles I had paddled, and it was also growing late. I still had an hour more of daylight. I surveyed the little beach I was on and decided to just accept what nature had handed me.

Studying the tidal debris on the beach, I concluded there was not enough beach to camp on, but I found a little raised and semi level spot just behind the east end of the beach. I threw a blue plastic tarp on top of the saltmeadow cordgrass and low shrubs and set up my tent on top of it. For a makeshift campsite, it was comfortable, and I hope the vegetation will recover.

There was intermittently 0 - 2 bars cell coverage in my tent. I sent text messages to two of my friends a half mile away to let them know what had become of me. They never got them. I actually had a phone conversation with my wife, which surprised me, given the spottiness of the cell coverage and the noise level (tent flapping near surf pounding). I thought high tide was around midnight and kept an eye on the water which came within ten linear feet and 8-10 vertical inches of my tent. I slept more soundly once the tide began to recede.

Writing this made me look at data from weather station KMDFISHI2, located near my launching point. The winds when I departed around 4pm were around 10mph. 2 hours later, it was 17mph, with stronger gusts. I thought I could paddle a canoe through such winds. But the combination of wind and dumping waves wore me out. I was paddling a 16-foot Appalachain, not known as a swift solo boat, but still

Around 2 a.m., the tent flapping died down, and by dawn the wind was down to 5-10 mph, still from the SW. At dawn, I packed my camp and paddled a half mile east to find Dave, Marla, Ralph and Jay gathered around breakfast. Ralph cooked an egg for me and it was one of the best eggs ever. Over breakfast, the gang let me know they had already decided to cut short the trip due to the forecast for building winds and severe thunderstorms. They got no argument from me. We paddled back in 10-12 mph winds in time to be at Old Saltys for a noon-time lunch. At no time during my trip was I ever in danger of more than discomfort and the whole experience was fun, but after surviving my *desperate* paddling experience, friends seemed more dear and everything tasted better!
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Illustrating when ocean or estuary canoeing wind plays games with waves. And the tide and the depth come to the party too. With a wind and outgoing tide waves flatten.. Two things against you. Add shallow bottom and canoe sink ( a known phenom) and ever changing tidal currents.

Its time to give up and have a beer.

Kinda why Everglades canoeing is the toughest paddling I have ever done.

Great story , Chip!
I have run into similar conditions many times all over S FL. Wind, waves and tide can definitely create some formidable conditions and quick too. Not fun in paddle craft. Appears you fared well and maybe came out a little wiser now too. :)
Good reading and I can imagine how frustrating the wind and waves must have been. One question about crabbing from a totally landlocked paddler... fishing I can understand but catching a crab here means rowing and catching the blade in the water on the return stroke. How do you catch crabs, from what I've been able to read, they're very good eating.
Thanks for the tale, Chip. I've been buffeted by waves as well and with the wind it is no fun. Glad you all made the smart decision to go home. It is good for me to read, preparing for a trip where I could get some substantial winds and waves...although no tides.
Chip, well told. The inclusion of the map helped understand the route challenges you faced.

Thorofare Cut and Cove look much like the funnel shaped bay I mentioned in another thread that stopped my forward progress; some water depth in the Thorofare, shallows fanning out into the cove and a funnel shape ideally oriented to capture SW winds. A trifecta of obstacles and opposition, and if a paddling route had taken you in the opposite direction it would have been a free ride across the shallow cove and through the Thorofare.

After paddling through the Thorofare against wind and tide, I had a difficult time in Thorofare Cove. The water there is only a foot or less deep, so it was one of those situations where the wind is blowing you backwards and you can not get enough paddle in the water to propel yourself forward. I actually stood up and poled out of the Cove.

Here, the waves just kept on coming. I ceased making forward progress, and I was still taking water over the gunwales. I needed to get through those breaking waves and the increasing amount of water sloshing around in the boat was not making it any easier.

There is some oceanographic physics going on in wind energy transfer to waves in shallow water. The waves are restricted in height by the depth of the water, and develop both a steeper face and a far greater frequency. There is no letting up when waves are whap-whap-whap smacking the bow a split second apart and there is not enough water to get a good paddle stroke.

whether I had the energy to do it.
I am a geezer and there is a limit to my energy. It had taken me 3 hours to cover the 3.3 miles I had paddled

No matter how old that kind of non-stop battle takes it out of you. When you are paddling with everything you have for the reward of inches both physical and mental energy being to wane.

Robin, you are right about Old Salty's. While not that old (1980), the seafood is fresh and well prepared. It's on Upper Hoopers Island. Fortunate that it's a good place, because I don't think there is any place else for a long distance.

FT, crabs are tasty. If you can get bigger ones, a half-dozen is a meal, but takes an hour to eat. Picking crabs is a minor art form. Catching them can be fun, and YC's link shows how to do it. I'd seen a lot of nice crabs in the guts inside Lower Hoopers island on prior sea kayak trips and was eager to explore them while standing in the canoe--so much easier to see the crabs in the water, and it's not real practical to crab from a sea kayak. The crabs scurry away upon approach, but if you toss a bait to where they disappeared, they come out and grab on. Once they get their claws on the bait, they are no longer afraid and hang on as you pull them close enough to net.

Mike, yes there were some oceanographic physics. It's funny how little decisions make all the difference. For example, I could have gone around the north side of the island instead of through the Thorofare. Or, most importantly, I could have avoided the area that swamped me. I attempted to pass through a little straight of shallow water between Lower Hoopers and a tiny island at the south end of the cove. Even in the aerial view, you can see that straight is shallow for a long stretch. If I just went a bit west and passed around the outside of that little island, I think I could have avoided the long area of breaking waves that swamped me. But, at water level view, it all looked the same, until it was too late.

On the Bay, and elsewhere, I suppose, tide and current do not necessarily coincide, especially when wind is involved. I think it felt like I was stuck due to oceanographic physics. I like that explanation. I plan to use it a lot!
Newton's laws are incredibly important to paddlers.


The first explains why when the tide turns the current actually goes counter for a little while. It takes time to stop that mass of water. ( and for that reason I read tide current tables.. The only time i am interested in the actual tide is perhaps at a launch that is a mudhole at low.)

The second why your laden canoe takes a while to start and why it takes time to stop as opposed to unladen boat

The third why when you stepped in your canoe it scooted out from under your foot before the other foot could be brought inside!

I learned first hand this stuff and lots more about the ocean by kayaking in it. Oceanography is fascinating.. The tidal rips change by the second.. The bathymetry is always changing and so do tidal rapids.

And yah I get it wrong still sometimes.

Yep I have done that whirlygig paddle flailing while folk on shore remark later how I was actually going backward sign....