Sunday, February 4, 2007

Dauphin Island 4 FEB 07

No lifeguard on duty

As promised, I paddled Dauphin Island today. Northerly winds made for excellent visibility under a high overcast cloud layer. Temps were in the 50s, but I rapidly worked up a sweat paddling around the island, running into rips and longshore currents that slowed me down occasionally. It's easy to shrug off these currents from a kayak, but they are responsible for the majority of swimmer fatalities on the beach. It's not a good idea at all to swim Dauphin Island. If you do, read the water carefully.

A practiced eye can tell where the worst tide-rips are; in calm water, the eddies and rips will appear as turbulent, choppy areas in sharp contrast to the flat water around them. The best example I saw today was the narrow angle of water between Dauphin and Sand islands, around the D.I. pier. The chop and the sharp changes in current direction and speed over 200 yards (at times, traveling in one direction, the current headed me off, was on my tail, or to one side or the other, changing within seconds)made for an interesting approach to the beach where I had lunch. This is very unforgiving water. Cold, too, this time of year (around 60F. Fatal hypothermia ensues in a couple of hours without a wetsuit).

Well, that taps out my safety preachiness for the day. Here's the usual rundown: 8.1 miles, 2.5 hours total time in the water with an extended lunch break in the middle, at the D.I. public beach:

1: Gulls:I have seen more birds in the last two days than in the last two months. Spring is certainly right around the corner.

2,3: Lunch break: I hit the beach and set up shop. Part of the kit I always carry with me on kayak trips, hikes, any time I leave the house really, is a 5'X8' lightweight silicone nylon tarp. Compact, water-repellent, and light (6oz.) I pack it up in a small Ziploc with 4 aluminum tent pegs and some small lengths of line. Using the halves of my paddle as uprights, I can run up a lean-to shelter in seconds.

4,5: Erosion. Beachfront property. Some disassembly required:

These pictures were taken at low tide, yet the water was still lapping at the base of this house's pilings, continuing to eat away at the rotten pine. This goes to show you what a tenuous foothold property owners have on Dauphin Island. I can't believe people still cough up money to build and rebuild here.

Not pictured is a large condo development going up near the public beach where I lunched. It'll make a great artificial reef in 50 years when successive hurricane seasons turn this island into a massive shoal.

6-9: Fort Gaines:
Part of the Civil War-era defenses of Mobile Bay, this old battery is still hanging in there thanks to continuous reinforcement of the shoreline with rubble. The glacis (earthwork around the fort as high as the tops of the walls, shallow-sloped to deflect roundshot) has eroded away except for a small sliver in the northeast corner. This fort is across the street from the launch point I use when the only calm water available for setting off is behind the breakwater.

What a weekend! I covered over 20 miles and spent almost 1/3 of the daylight over the last two days on the water. My shoulders, arms, and back feel great. Two months ago this level of exertion would have turned my upper body to jell-o for a day or two afterward, yet I'm ready to head back out now. I just have to work through a day of classes before I can hit the water again. I might even start taking study materials with me; I'll sling up my poncho shelter and hit the books for a while somewhere out in the boonies.

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