Saturday, March 26, 2011

Tony and Big Al

Tony Mullins likes long paddles.  A year or two back I made several long ones, based on some photos that Jeffrey Dickrell of Unalaska, AK had sent me.  The photo above shows Tony with a regular length Aleut paddle in his left hand and a nine footer that he calls Big Al in his right hand.
I took the photo right after a paddle that Tony and I had done on a windy day.  Water in SF bay is choppy and unsteady in high winds and a long paddle acts partly as a balancing pole and partly as a source of extra leverage for better control in the high winds.
But Tony has his own story to tell of how Big Al, the nine foot paddle helped him get through some rough swim escort duty the previous Friday.  Various organizations put on various swimming events in San Francisco bay throughout the year. The events usually end up at aquatic park which features a sandy beach and a sheltering pier that protects the beach from boat traffic. Tony's story in italics:

Friday, March 18th, two other paddlers and I volunteered as kayak escorts for a San Francisco Bay swim from the Golden Gate Bridge to Aquatic Park, a distance of about 2-1/2 miles. On that Friday morning there was very unstable weather that included high winds, heavy rain, a water spout off of Ocean Beach and a tornado 60 miles to the north.
I was paying close attention to the weather forecasts in the days before the swim & was most concerned about the high wind warnings. So, I decided to replace my “short” 8’4” Greenland paddle with my longer 9’ Aleut “Big-Al” because I wanted to get as much leverage as I could  for the potentially high winds.

The swimmers were originally scheduled to jump into the water  to the west of the bridge but were repositioned to just east of the bridge at about mid-span because of large swells…Almost as soon as they entered the water, the relatively large but even swells turned into troubled waters. Almost immediately my swimmer and I got caught in a  whirlpool which spun my boat in complete circles several times. I was very glad to have Big-Al to help punch me out of the swirl, although with my increasing anxiety I probably could have gotten out using bare hands! From then on all the way down to Aquatic Park, the winds became stronger and at times straight into our faces along with pounding rain as we paddled southward into the beach.

I’ve liked relatively long paddles for the past several years, but I liked Big-Al even more after it got me out of trouble on last Friday's swim escort! 

Tony and swimmers on the beach at Aquatic Park.  Behind them in the distance, Alcatraz. The Golden Gate is off  to their left and out of the picture.

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