Posts Tagged kayak safety
Seen here on a log at my lovely beachside camp near Port Renfrew BC is my water bottle. “Life is Crap” makes me laugh as a touch of outdoorsy snark in the face that no matter where I am with my kayak, it is anything but crappy. That said, today I would like to mention something we take for granted, as the news from Detroit worsens and the memory of not having running water at home for a time still fresh as a mountain stream to my mind.
It is suddenly summer here after a noncommittal beginning and long spring. The heat and humidity of the past week has been a challenge. A morning paddle the other day began with the idea that if I got out on the water early enough I could beat the heat. How wrong I was as it met me clearly as I unloaded the kayak and gear. My only saviour was my Life is Crap buddy who along with two more one litre bottles of water rolled around between my legs as I paddled against the tide for an hour in the heat.
We tend to forget about it. I get lazy with taking in enough water while kayaking. I towed a paddle boarder home to shore once after she ran out of gas on a late summer evening that was too warm not to remember water. She had none! I gave her the last of mine, hooked her up and dragged her across to safety. I am waiting for a new drinking tube kit to attach to the dromedary bag I keep filled with fresh water behind my seat. This removed the issue of cumbersome water bottles and sipping sun-heated liquid from the bottle on the deck and I am more likely to sip on the fly instead of stopping to take in water.
My outdoorsy tip for this week which will be closing in on the 30 celsius out here in the rain belt is the bring more water than you think you will need. Likely, you will want it. Stay hydrated, stay cool. Try not to paddle during the peek heat hours of the day. Dunk your sun hat in the water to cool your head and remember to drink, sipping small amounts every half hour or so and your life will remain heat stroke and crap free.
I have a year! There is no turning back now, the team is coming together. The kayak is kited out, and fitted out, and tweaked to perfection in preparation of something I have been pondering as a kayaking trip for a few years, the Yukon River Quest. All that is left to do is get myself into racing shape. Yikes!
When did this madness begin?
In 2011, I was part of a support crew for a tandem kayaking team entered in that marathon paddle event starting in Whitehorse at the blowing of the paddlewheeler SS Klondike’s horn and ending, for most paddlers a few days later in the historical gold rush township of Dawson City some 715 km later. Our team scratched at the midway rest stop at Carmacks due to injury, but by that point I had the bug. The combined comeraderie among the teams, support crews and race volunteers created a community of like-minded nutters with a common goal, to get that boat and paddler to the finishline before the cut-off time.
By Dawson, the tremedous explosion of paddles and boats that left the riverside at Whitehorse became a trickling of pooped but elated paddlers arriving one at a time to the finishline greeted one and all by the crowds watching on shore and loved ones. How awesome it would feel to land there after kayaking both day and night virtually non-stop and earning a place in that club, the club of nutters willing to endure long hours in the seat, cold, sleep depravation induced halucinations and fatigue just to get to the gold rush after the bars close.To finish is the goal and for now I am not concerning myself about my personal best time, just to have a good time just me and my kayak and many hours to consider all those things left at home.
The consoling thought when I lay awake doubting my sanity at this decision is that while I am fighting the sleepiness and sore muscles at 3am someplace between Whitehorse and that first rest stop 300+ kms away at Carmacks is I won’t have to do the dishes!
Solo by Design
“How can you stand being alone so long?” is the most asked question when friends hear of a trip I have done, or planned to take on alone. I have always been comfortable within my own head and periods of solitude that would intimidate some, I find to be a luxury. The sticker inside one of my boats states clearly a dire warning that you should never paddle alone and for years I didn’t.
Contented in the safety in numbers of a group dynamic that grew within a foursome of similarly outdoorsy friends coming to kayaking from all directions and interests, abilities and agenda. Though we were a drastically diverse gang of paddlers we all had this one passion of wilderness, ocean and the freedom of arriving at some incredible place that no one else had access, and most satisfying under our own power.
It was in that group that I honed my own wilderness living skills through some trial and errors that were never life-threatening but close calls and wet bottoms do get tiring. I became more conservative in my approach to the paddle days and measured it against the enjoyment meter. To have bold intent each day, goals to set, distances to achieve but with a sensible paddling intent became the beat I paddled to. If the day was too windy as would often be the case, well then heat up the Colman stove and brew another cup and watch the waves go by from camp. In a group there is always a negotiation and pressure to move along. Quite often I had an inner voice that wanted to stay and absorb a location more regardless of the conditions, but the group dynamic was a group dynamic and we all had agreement to itinerary. There was always negotiations, some good, some heated around the fire in the evening and I will not sit here today and say that was a bad thing for me. However, these compromises became an additional motivator to reach out on my own more often. I had acquired skills and confidence that years earlier I had not. It was time, and one summer I decided to ignore that sticker and take a step into solo kayaking.
Desolation Sound had always had an appeal even though it was a boater destination unfriendly for the most part to kayakers. The scenery of the coastal mountains leaning over the fiord-like channels around several islands, and the challenges of the Strait of Georgia which could not be ignored. I planned a two-week paddle into the sound to explore with a side trip down the strait, and across to the sandy shores of Savory Island to visit a friend who summers there with her sister selling crafts.
My float plan set, but never in stone I headed out from Cortes Island after a mad dash to miss a ferry or two. I chose Cortes Bay as a launch as there was good parking and a public boat ramp. The bay was sheltered but not from the south as I found out on my return day in a minor gale. The noisy night at the campground had me up and out as soon as the gates were unlocked that morning. Within an hour of taking down my tent it was packed in the kayak’s hatch and I was crossing the strait towards Malaspina Peninsula. The sun was shining, a small morning chop on the water greeted my bow, and the Sound lay ahead. Desolations Sound, what better place to find aloneness and solitude. This was the first time I set my own agenda and I was loving it! On the water when I chose, first stop where I chose and the night’s camping location (if accessible) was my choosing. No negotiations except with Mother Nature to whom I always consult as she can be a bad parent when off her meds. I was lucky that day to avoid the winds that would blow later from inland mountain valleys creating greenish grey frothing water in Homfray Channel where my destination of the Curmes Islets sat in a large notch. The group of women had less fortune with the winds when eventually landing on ‘my’ island no less than half and hour after I set up my camp neatly and lay on a sunny rock out of the breeze with a wooden goblet of red wine. I travel in style!
I enjoyed their company and even took charge of them for a day paddle up the shores and into the hot water lagoon beyond the reach of the boaters. I slipped away the next morning at dawn with a south-going tide to make for Savory, and my search for solitude. Again, I thought I found what I was seeking in the Copeland Island group that hugs close to the peninsula’s shore between the entrance to the Sound and the town of Lund across the water adjacent to Savory Island. I set up camp on the kayaker’s side of an island in the group that boasted a cosy anchorage for boaters on the opposite side. A short hike to the cliffs proved this to be true. Kayaker Bay and Boater Bay with a ridge of rock in between. This meant that I would have the view from camp being free of yachts and sailboats leaving only a westerly vantage point to enjoy another cup of wine with my evening meal and a sunset, but here comes some kayaks.
Though, once more I lost touch with aloneness and solitude I shared a communal meal of fresh prawns and other goodies with a pair of kayakers both like me paddling wooden kayaks they had built themselves. A sunset enjoyed with shared chocolate and wine, but by early morning I was off again while they slept in their tents.
My paddle the next morning to Savory Island was a bouncing and bounding exercise of technical paddling against the flow of wind and tide. It was great fun, and I arrived at the sandy shores of Savory in less than an hour. I came into the shallows and put my hand into the water that was near bathtub temperature. I got up and out and towed my kayak behind me as I waded in the tropics of BC until I arrived at the space of beach near, as close as I could recon to my friend’s instructions and land marks to find her house. A night of indoor life was odd. A fine meal with great conversations and a plan to stay on another day. By morning, with much disappointment on both sides I left due to incoming weather that would shorten my trip by a few days. Alas, it was low tide and it took me some time to shift boat and gear to the water’s edge, which kept going out and away from me. This was both a pain in the backside and a blessing as the north going tide would push me to my last night of camping at what I hoped to be a sheltered camp spot out of the predicted winds. They picked up shortly after my hasty departure from sunny Savory. The sky darkened and the paddle was not difficult with wind and tide at my back. I surfed a few waves along the way to speed up my progress.
At last, after a week of paddling alone I was finally truly alone. My tent set up in a close opening in the woods hidden behind a large fallen tree to look at it from the beach it seemed a cave. My only company was a raccoon who insisted on hanging about in hopes of finding some way of reaching my hanging bag of food.
Camping alone is a trick. The things we do while camping in a group in safety are heightened when alone. The smallest thing can become a bigger mess, or danger. Running a stove, boiling water, using a knife, walking up the beach to find a latrine location. The chance of burning one’s self, cutting one’s self, tripping and injuring one’s self all run in the back of the mind and remind me to slow down. After all, isn’t that why I came? The one thing that was not an issue for me was solitude. Kayaking alone is an opportunity to relax into thoughts that are pushed aside at home by all the at home things. It is a luxury to paddle methodically and just think thoughts, hum a tune or revel in the silence of the natural setting of wilderness paddling.
How can I stand being on my own that long? Those that have to ask have not tried to push themselves into the situation of solitude. To say it is not for everyone is an excuse not to try. We are communal creatures, of this there is no doubt. But if you still need to ask me that question then I ask you to go out and spend a night alone on a shore, with the comfort of a cosy tent and sleeping bag nearby, a sun setting as your evening’s entertainment. No noise, no at home stuff cluttering the mind, no cell phone, no laptop, just you and all of the above and a wooden goblet of red wine. Then ask me again how I could stand doing it more a week or more.
That was then, this is now!
April in the Gulf Islands can often be a very pleasant time of year to explore the shores and islands by kayak. In fact, from about Christmas onwards the conditions are almost always favourable just dress warmly. The bigger winds of the summer months when heating and cooling during the day can whip up a good westerly by mid-day are not always present in the so-called off-season around here. With that in mind and my hamstring not feeling too bad at long last I took to the waters in my backyard, namely the Trincomali Channel that runs almost east-west separating Salt Spring Island with Galiano Island with the smaller Wallace Island in the middle. I like to zip around Wallace to visit the seals and otters, eagles, ravens, kingfishers, and the occasional fluffy mink mixed in with the notorious Wallace Island raccoons. It is a short crossing from Hudson Point north of Fernwood to Wallace and timing the tide means that you inevitably get a good ride at least in one direction and fight it the rest of the way.
I had the tide on my side for the first part. Paddling up the shore of Wallace quickly meeting the space between Jackscrew Island and the Secretary Group, passing the harbour seal colony and enjoying their reaction to my kayak, and my camera. The winds as scheduled were blowing from the northwest but I was in the lovely arms of the sheltered Gulf Islands. It may have been bouncy in the Strait of Georgia, but where I was sitting was pretty with a mere ripple on the water from gusts blowing, pouring through Porlier Pass. The usual. That was then!
I decided to call it a day after about 10km turned and stopped at a beach for a stretch and a snack. The clouds were big and puffy and blowing across the sky. I could see rain on the hills of Vancouver Island and thought, this is a good time to head home. No sooner than I sat back in the cockpit did the winds switch. This is now! The sky immediately filled with grey and far away, down the channel I could see the signs of wind before I ever felt it. I paddled down Wallace for about five minutes before I took the idea of crossing early as a good idea. The winds were now hitting me, the calm water of the channel now not so much happy. Wind waves built and by half way across to my island’s shores I was getting a nice deck wash broadside with two footers breaking and curling. I was fine, I was happy and it was nice to get an opportunity to dust off my rusty kayaking skills. Paddling in rough stuff is not a huge deal for me. I have had to do it before. If this had happened while I was in my tent in camp I would have chosen to spend the day in my tent, however, I was out there and caught with my pants down as the nice north wind switched and spun around to come at me from the east. The north going tides bashed sideways as was I and the crossing, though bumpy was a good time. My not so straight line to a fishing bouy kept me on target and once over to the Salt Spring side I felt home free. Well, then again…
Turning into the wind took a bit of elbow grease and with some sweeps I had my bow pointed into the waves and bounced and bounded at a decent pace but knew I had a long way to go. For ever ten minutes in calm waters this was going to take twenty or more to do that same distance. I could see it building harder ahead. The bigger swells rolled up my deck to my spray skirt. A few face washes here and there and my now grumpy demeanor taking me up the shore. Nearly an hour of this and I saw my end point but knew that I would have to paddle passed it to get pushed back to where I started. Adding more paddling time in a 20 knot headwind on a day that was supposed to be winds diminishing to light, ha! I saw a beach house and knew where I was. I let Mother Nature take me in and went limp. This too I have done before and often rewarded but the ‘no ego’ approach to kayaking. I landed in some nice small but fast waves onto an oyster shelled beach and hauled the boat up.
Sitting on a log, I wonder and pondered the idea of resting and getting back at it. The winds were increasing but I had hoped that I could wait them out. It was a squall, one of unusual proportions but they usually pass. I sat, nibbled snacks, drank water and waited a half hour. It rained on me. Sideways stinging rain. Okay, forget it! I walked across the wood foot bridge connecting the beach front to the backyard of the house and knocked on the door. I would plead my case for temporarily trespassing and go get my car, about a half hour hike up the road. It beat the winds and waves. No one home. I moved my stuff and ran for the car.
The lovely thing about living on an island, is knowing that you can bail out and knock on a door. I have been tempted in the past to bail, this was a first for me, but my motivation that afternoon went to sitting in my kayak battling the elements to wanting to sit on my deck with a cold one instead. I knew that if someone had actually been there and opened the door, upon hearing my story they most likely would have offered me a cup of tea and a ride to my vehicle. Alas, no tea, no ride but a nice walk on a country road. I left a thank you note for the use of the beach and packed up, and found that beer!
Moral of the tale, be prepared! Though I was prepared in gear, kayaking skill sets and the confidence in knowing when to call it a day was not going to be the end of the world, I was not prepared to have my la la paddle day corrupted by Mother Natures ill will. It was a bad head space paddle day. The longer I sat on that log the less likely it was going to be that I hit the waves once more. It was a bad head space day and I leave it at that. Of course, the squall passed as I drove home. The rain abated and the sun returned.
The muscles are no longer sore, and that knot that had developed between my shoulder blades at 10am the morning of my marathon day paddle around Salt Spring Island has been untangled thanks to the care and nursing of my wife Jen. The bubble of happy kayaker slowly drains of air like a birthday balloon hiding behind the sofa a week after the big day. Land life settles in. Worries. How unfair is that? This time last week I was pondering my sanity at taking on a 72 km paddle with only a couple shorter days on the water to prepare in past months.
However unconditioned I may be I was excited at the prospect of viewing my home from the water and in an against-the-clock style. I am in no way an endurance extreme kayaker. I love the slower pace of paddling, the oneness with everything and the bobbing on the breathing of the earth. This time last week I had to excuse myself for a moment of wanting to do more, to accomplish a bigger paddle. To not get out so many times during the day and be truly at home within the bubble of my kayak seat. To make it so that I had all I needed, that land was an option for only extreme needs to get out and stretch between long crossings. Food, water, sports drink dry clothing, first aid kit, GPS, and iPod for distraction during duller periods on the water. It was all within my grasp and land, well I was determined to gain access to that current flow farther out in the channel with no popping in for a pee when the need arose.
Having made the spontaneous decision to the paddle I hit the internet for some advice and stumbled upon a good article written by Carter Johnson, a world-class endurance paddle racer and marathoner who in 2010 set the record time in the Yukon River Quest, a 700+ km marathon paddle event in a whopping time of 42 hours and 49 minutes. The article was on the subject of food (a personal passion) in marathon paddling. I figured this guy might know a thing or two and read it over. Much of it was simple common sense stuff that he broke down into before during and after the paddle. I took it to heart and with a few adjustments for my own comforts I created a program that I hoped would get me out and back again. It did. (I later read that Johnson’s success in the YRQ was partly due to what was found at the bottom of his kayak, several finished Red Bull cans and five hour energy drinks).
What did I learn from Mr. Johnson? First, hydration. I know, we all understand that our bodies are mostly water so it goes to figure that we should put some in during the day to replace what we lost. What I learned was to drink before I needed it. The day before in fact! Several glasses of water on Saturday for my Sunday event. Food of course was upped to a new level and more than I would normally gobble down. Pasta for lunch and double portions for dinner. I felt like a brickyard was forming in my stomach that evening but later the following day I would be grateful for that bloating. Muscles filled, skin and cells well hydrated I went to bed and attempted a fitful sleep.
The morning of the paddle, I had no time for the breakfast of champions and settled for apple juice, half a Vector bar (tastes like cardboard) and at the launch spot a good gulp of Gatorade/water. I had taken his advice again on not dumping too much on my system during the day by chopping up those tasty bars into one inch squares, easy to pop in my gob about every half out to forty-five minutes spreading out the calories all day long. Every fifteen minutes drinking a few sucks on the water tube or a few sips from the bottle leashed to my deck and riding on my spray deck with easy access. This was how I spent the day, watching my speed, watching the water and watching the clock to see when it was time to fuel up again.
The last thing I learned I didn’t take from Johnson’s article, but from my own personal need to well, pee while in motion. This was not going to be the usual Sunday kayaking day when I leisurely paddled the shoreline exploring nature and feeling good about myself. This was a workout day, an against the clock event to challenge myself after a long period of not. To get he best time posted as my personal best I would have to forego the luxury of shorelines and easy access to stepping out of the boat for a quickie by paddling further from shore and grabbing the peak flow of currents in my favour. For the first time in my decade and a half of kayaking I deployed the ‘pee bottle’!
Not knowing the in’s and out’s of this simple device (a reassigned red Nalgene bottle once used to carry red wine, note to self…write Pee Bottle on red Naglene) I gave it a go while riding the tidal currents down Stuart Channel on my early morning first leg headed south. I pulled my spray deck back, adjusted the stack of snack box and water bottles to give me room to move and undid the cap on the bottle. The next couple of minutes were a reminder of how many fishermen die each year due to standing up and urinating over the side of the boat. From the seated kayaker’s position the plumbing just doesn’t want to work. Oh, there was a need and a great desire to fill the bottle I tell ya, but it was a matter of shifting, bum lifting and center of gravity balance before I found optimal flow and maximum efficiency!
With that out-of-the-way, dumped and rinsed and my deck in place I paddled on happily but worried that the time it took to organize my bladder to bottle system would take more than it would had I just stopped ashore for a moment. Alas, there I was out in the middle later that day and again tempted the fates and imminent capsizing. I suppose the last thing in the list of things I learned on a 72 km non-stop paddling day was bladder control.
Mayday, is a term that will be familiar to most as a standard way of declaring an emergency on the water, or air. It comes from the French term venez m’aider meaning ‘come help me.’
In the case of a seemingly benign paddling day a couple of years ago it was our own May Day. Hard to believe that upon launching at Southey Point on Salt Spring Island in gleaming warm sunshine on a Sunday morning that within an hour or so the day would be not so much May as perhaps November or December.
My mission, to take a friend’s girlfriend out kayaking prior to a week-long paddling trip. She was indeed a novice then and needed a tune up and it was believed that I would be more patient than my buddy. Good call. I refused to teach my wife to drive for that same reasoning. And so we set off, her in a borrowed kayak and me in mine. She had been given a Werner carbon fibre paddle that was as slight as a feather, and I with my heavy wooden paddle. After a time we swapped and she could not believe that I would use it. We traded back as we rounded the jetty of crushed shells and giants’ game of driftwood pick up sticks on the then named Kuper Island, (it is now been renamed Penelakut Island belonging to the Penelakut First Nations). The sun burned down on us as we rode the high tide flow through the sandy cut in between Penelakut and Thetis Island into a bay housing a pub. We didn’t stop there but opted instead to land across the bay on a pebble beach for lunch.
My subtle teachings of the ways of the paddle had been sinking in and she had transformed in an hour from a ‘lily-dipper’ barely making any forward motion to an efficient paddler keeping up with my boat stroke for stroke. The lovely May day was then rapidly lost to an incoming dirty cloud filled to the brim with rain. It advanced up the shore of Vancouver Island towards Ladysmith and for a time we assumed we would be missed by Mother Nature. Something happened, we must have attracted attention and the storm cloud drew over our heads dropping bombs of rain and accompanied by gusting chilly winds. The channel erupted into small waves that grew larger, some breaking against the direction of the winds. We got going quickly and my partner was forced into learning the kayaking skills needed to turn her boat into the wind, and in a hurry. It was an awkward maneuver and I had to come to the rescue to manually lower her rudder clinging to the cord holding it down. We spun in the wind an waves for a few wet rotations before with some coaxing managed to get us both pointed in the right direction.
I had not bothered with my Goretex paddle jacket, but thankfully she was better dressed. The winds did die but the rain did not as we inched our wat towards Tent Island and the last crossing back home. I was soaked but kept going and watched over my student. I could see her body language changing to ‘I love kayaking’ into ‘Kayaking is too hard!’. The wind then died as the squall moved northward and only a few drops of rain lingered as the skies again cleared and with it a renewed energy. The water was still tossed and the tide too low to squeeze through in between Penelakut and Tent so we had to continue around. The reward for this extra paddling effort was the Cormorant nests in the cliffy section of the small island, and upon turning towards home a lovely smooth channel sheltered from the remnants of the storm.
Our crossing back to Salt Spring took longer than usual as we were both stopping to snack and talk about the mini-adventure. Her paddling trip in the following week was to Johnstone Strait and into the Broughton Archipelago notoriously windy and cold waters. Without planning it I had given her not only the paddling skills lesson but as well a grounding in what it takes to head-butt a windstorm and deal with advancing wind waves. I had earned my beer, which was my pay for the May day outing.
Moral of the story, always bring extra dry clothing, wear the dang paddling jacket (just in case) and remember to release the rudder clip before leaping into conditions that require the assistance of a rudder, and if there is a pub near-by…stop! Waiting out a storm on an exposed beach or inside a pub with a pint? hmmmm.