Election Day Paddle - Sandy Hook, New Jersey
November 4, 2003

By Bruce Taterka

Low water at the Battery: 10:57 a.m
Low water at Sandy Hook: 10:34 a.m

The weather reports and marine forecast called for a beautiful November day: 68 degrees, 5-knot breeze from the east, 1-foot seas. As we loaded the boats on the car at 7 am we were eager to paddle. After all, days like this donít come along too often in November. But, as Juergen would say later, ďitís good the weather report was wrong, otherwise we never would have come.Ē

Low tide was at 10:57 am, making conditions just right to launch from Area C on the ocean side at 11, paddle north with the tide, round the tip and paddle back down the bay side to Area C by 2 or 3 pm. The trip was only about 11 miles and we all had good boats: Juergen Englerth was paddling a VCP Avocet, David Leshan was paddling a NDK Romany, and I was paddling a VCP Anas Acuta.

The sky was overcast as we drove down the Parkway, giving us the first hint that our day might not go according to plan. The temperature was stuck in the mid-50s and brown leaves were falling from the trees, scattering in the wind.

A strong breeze blew from the ocean as we scouted the beach for a launching spot. I was wearing shorts and flip-flops in anticipation of temperatures in the upper 60s, but the air was cool and sky still overcast. Fisherman in wool sweaters and heavy boots looked at us suspiciously. The bay side was relatively calm but the ocean had whitecaps and swells that looked bigger than 1 foot. Surf broke against the beach. According to the Star Ledger the water temperature was 60 degrees Ė warmer than the air Ė and from the looks of the wind and the waves we knew we were going to get wet. David and Juergen squeezed into dry tops while I put on my wetsuit and spray jacket. We found a good launching spot just north of the rocks and pushed into the surf at 11 am.
We paddled north at right angles to the wind and waves, keeping about 100 yards offshore. The swells were big Ė we lost site of each other even when we were only a few yards apart. An occasional breaker would wash over us, making it necessary to brace into the foam to stay upright. David thrived in the difficult conditions, paddling far ahead in his Romany. He later attributed his energy and speed to the 1-hour massage he received the day before, but I remain suspicious. If thatís true Iíll be sure to get massaged regularly when I reach his advanced age. As for Juergen, he had just run the NY Marathon two days before so I didnít expect him keep up, but I couldnít figure out why I was falling far behind. Was it the hard-chine drag of the Anas? Was it my soft Greenland paddle? Did a weekend of leaf-raking sap my strength? Or was David just a 65-year-old Superman? As I mulled these questions over I suddenly remembered that I was paddling in a rough November ocean broadside to the wind and waves, but my realization came too late. The Anas and I were leaning far to shore, side-surfing on a breaking swell, and the next thing I knew I was upside down in the ocean. Luckily my rolling practice paid off and I quickly righted the boat, the cold water bringing my attention back to where it belonged.
The seas got steadily heavier as we paddled north. By the time we reached the tip of the Hook the wind seemed to be blowing at least 20 knots and every wave was topped by a whitecap. Approaching the channel we turned west Ė directly downwind with the waves at our back. The Anas took off like it had an engine, surfing the big swells with extra power from the wind. I leaned and braced and tried to keep my bow in front of me but I breached, once again finding myself upside down in the cold Atlantic Ocean. I rolled up and kept surfing, riding the waves all the way into the bay.
On the bayside, the water was calmer but the wind howled in our faces and it started to rain. The next two hours were pure labor, hunkering down and paddling hard into the cold, wet wind. By the time we reached Area C my arms were aching, my thighs were burning, and my face was crusted with salt. The wind was so strong that it took two of us to carry each boat over the road to the parking lot, otherwise we would have been blown back into the bay. Juergen and David had to hold our boats onto the roofrack to keep them from blowing away while I fought to tie them down, the straps whipping in the wind.

Delaware & Hudson Canoe & Kayak Home