Thursday, December 1, 2016


Hello -- yes, It's been a few months. Sorry about that. My how things have changed over that time, but we are still learning...growing into this activity that we have come to love.

Kay now has a new Perception Tribe 11.5 (an 11.5 ft. sit-on-top). And ah, she fits it so well. Turns out that Kay is the natural paddler... she has named her boat The Ladybug

Kay in her new boat on Lake Virginia, Winter Park, FL

Since starting this adventure on the waters of Florida in August we now tally 21 outings. Some as brief as an hour, and some up to four or five. From the Saint Johns River near our home to the Silver River and Silver Springs near Ocala, Lake Jesup (one of the Saint Johns' lakes) to part of the Juniper run in the Ocala National Forest. From being followed to landing by a manatee, who sat off shore and watched us load up, to first gator close encounters on a vegetation dam on the Silver... and get this... we bough a trailer :)

We now own a Malone Xtralite trailer. Makes life sooooo much easier, particularly with Kay's 58 lb. boat. Between the trailer and the roof racks we can haul 4 kayaks with ease.


My 65th birthday is in late March of 2018 -- about 15 months from now, and I am publicly committing to set out from the headwaters of the Saint Johns and paddle at least 280 of her 310 miles to celebrate having made it that far, and to celebrate our river. We'll be developing ways to draw attention to this precious resource AND participate in river cleanup all along the way. I'll be looking for friendly and experienced Florida paddlers to join me for stretches of the trip (already have 5 or 6 folks committed). Kay will paddle portions with me as her back allows. Not certain how we will approach it, though it will probably be is 4-7 day long sections with breaks between. Planning is just starting. I have the support of Jane D. (first woman to kayak the entire length of the Saint Johns), and her husband Jim D. -- a former outfitter owner and guide with 51 years experience on the water (and my primary mentor and source of inspiration). One or both will be joining me for most, or even all, of this bucket list adventure. So this blog will focus on trip planning and preparation going forward. Longer open-water paddles, getting in shape at 64, first attempts at kayak camping, charting, gear requirements... boat requirements, getting folks involved at all levels. Many ideas to sort out and solidify. So stay tuned! Big fun ahead. Suggestions from the already initiated are welcomed!

So I'll end for now with a few photos from our November Silver Springs paddle. Enjoy, and keep the clean water running...

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Transporting The Kayaks -- Safety First!

"Look deep into water and you will understand everything better..."
--Albert Einstein

One of the most boring parts of kayaking, and one of the most terrifying, is the absolute necessity of transporting your kayak from where it is to where you plan to launch. Unless, of course, you live on the water and always put in from your back yard launch... not me.

We are fortunate to live 5 road miles (about 3 as the crow flies) from the Saint Johns River. We are within 6 or seven road miles of a half dozen decent launch sites into the main stem of the lower basin of the Saint Johns or tributaries and residential canals. Our favorite launch is at the deteriorating County Dock -- not often used anymore by motorboats. So getting from here to their is a piece of cake. But now we are interested enough to wander further afield. That means hitting the interstates (I-95 or I-10 or both), or fairly long road trips down Florida's back roads, which I prefer and truly love. Either way the imperative is keeping one or two kayaks securely stowed to a motor vehicle moving down the road at speeds up to 70 miles per hour. The second imperative is to avoid damage to the boats in the process. As novices, this was (and is) my greatest anxiety producer to date, so I expended quite a bit of time on research -- online (reading and looking at YouTube videos) and talking with experts ( highly experienced friends and the owner of the outfitter we use the most). So far it has paid off well. Here's what we have done...

My Hurricane Skimmer on the roof rack.

We started by having a Yakima roof rack system installed on the roof of our Honda Ridgeline. We bought it at Black Creek Outfitters in Jacksonville -- and they had it set up when we arrived, and did the installation for me. We still had the 8 foot starter kayaks when we bought it and they easily fit the rack bars without any pads or shoes or additional stuff like "J" bars. They were also light enough to just lift up to the roof. Then came the Hurricane pictured above -- bigger and heavier (I can lift it down from the roof, but not up). I used the "load from the back" technique, protecting the cab of the truck with a towel (that mostly worked), and added a pair of $3.00 swimming noodles to cushion the bars.
Noodle padding on rear bar.

I bought two pairs of Yakima straps. The folks at Black Creek showed me how to use them and had me participate in the first racking. Then at home I also found a few useful YouTube videos on strapping, and I practiced. This is one of those things that you become more proficient at the more you do it.

Both of my primary mentors (Jim and Joe) admonished me about the ABSOLUTE necessity of at least a bow line. So I bought a pair of Yakima bow/stern lines with the adjustment ratchet. The Ridgeline has a convenient tow hook welded to the frame below the left from fender. a perfect attachment spot for the bow line.

Because my boat is a sit on top, she is mounted upside down (hull up), and still requires no special mounting gear other than the bars and noodles. As you can see in these pictures, I have her mounted stern first, and point of great debate as I found out by polling fellow members of a large paddling group on Facebook. That poll returned a result of 75% preferring bow first mounting. A few noted that the reason is aerodynamics, but the vast majority reported it as a matter of water-faring tradition and not wanting to tempt fate by racking counter to tradition. So yes, I have now taken to mounting my kayak bow first. It stays well balanced, though the bow extends considerably further over the driver's side window. I may yet reconsider...

The last thing that I added was the Yakima "Boat Loader" rack bar insert. The precipitating event for that was purchasing Kay a Perception Tribe 11.5 (that we will pick up near Orlando next week). It weighs in the neighborhood of 53 lbs, so I figured a little assist in loading would be helpful. My friend and mentor Jim D. has one on his van, and recommended it, especially since I'll be loading two boats pretty much myself since Kay has a very problematic back. I'll have to let you know how it works out after we pick up her new boat. I was able to install the bar in less than 15 minutes and I expect that it will prove to be money well spent. Here's what it looks like extended:

Using this bar extension you can lift one end of the kayak onto the extension, then easily raise the other side up and onto the rack, walk the first boat over to the right side, then repeat the process for the second.

Just a final point to mention is that when making significant trips I intend to use BOTH bow and stern lines on both boats for added security and safety. The proof of all of my preparation will be in the pudding of the almost immediate future. Here's to hoping that future posts to this blog will not include horror stories of lost kayaks! Happy paddling!

Monday, September 12, 2016

Weather: A Little Respect, Please....

This is a brief tale of our 10th, and briefest outing yet -- and why it is important to respect the weather. Particularly in Florida. Particularly in the middle of tropical weather season.... We started with the best of intentions, knowing that rain is predicted for the rest of the week, but only a small chance this morning. The skies looked great when we headed for the Saint Johns with a plan to paddle north and explore some of the residential canals and small creeks along the east bank. The water was glassy smooth when we arrived...

Kay waiting for me at our launch point after unloading..

We are out for all of ten minutes when we noticed the cumulus clouds building rapidly in the southeast, though it was difficult to tell what direction they were moving in. Thankfully I have a decent weather radar app on my cell phone (carried around my neck in a waterproof case -- see our earlier post "Beginner's Gear"). I removed the phone from the case and checked the radar app. Several small storms hard popped up and movement was directly toward us. So I redirected us back toward our launch point where it would be possible to make a quick exit if necessary. It was necessary. After the ten minute paddle back, I rechecked radar and the small storms were growing and continuing a path strait toward us...

Deceivingly peaceful skies at our launch point. The trees hid the oncoming storms from view.

I figured we had about ten minutes before the rain started, so we headed in, and none too soon. As soon as we were out of our kayaks the light rain started. I finished loading the boats just seconds before the skies opened up in ernest. We were fortunate that there was no lightening yet -- that hit just as we returned home -- about a 10 minute drive.

The view from our driveway when we got home.

My kayak getting a nice rain bath and since on the roof of our truck. Kay's rides in the bed.

As soon as we got home I removed the bow line from my kayak, racked on the roof, and loosened the straps (did not remove them in the event of strong winds with the storm), flipped Kay's kayak bottom-side-up in the bed of the truck, then let mother nature take care of washing the river from the boats with a powerful Florida deluge that lasted about 40 minutes. Here is the radar shot at that time -- the river is totally obscured by reds and oranges. We really did make the correct decisions, and got out of there just in time...

The moral of the story, especially if you are paddling in Florida during the summer through mid-autumn: Keep your eyes to the sky! Check before you go. Check when you arrive. Check after launch unless you are certain that you have clear paddling that day. Yet another novice's lesson: respect the weather... See you again soon!

Monday, September 5, 2016

Baptizing the "Blue Mind" -- my new Kayak....

"Believe me. my young friend, there is nothing -- absolutely nothing -- half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats."
 -- Kenneth Grahme

Well it certainly didn't take me very long, did it? Frankly, with the exception of Kay, my amazing wife of nearly 41 years, I don't believe that I have fallen in love with anything quite so fast as kayaking. Being on the water -- more like part of the water -- is an amazing experience. So I wanted more of that experience.

My new Hurricane Skimmer 116

Joe Butler at Black Creek Outfitters in Jacksonville made me a deal I couldn't refuse on a new 2016 Hurricane Skimmer 116 sit-on-top kayak. 11 1/2 feet and 42 pounds of sleek Trylon. And quite an adjustment (in a good way) it has been.  (VIDEO AT THE END OF THIS POST)

She has to be roof-racked on the truck (the 8 footers fit in the bed of our Honda Ridgeline), and in the water she initially felt less stable than the small boats. But after giving the "Blue Mind" a good workout this morning on the Saint Johns river I am totally comfortable and utterly pleased with this kayak.

Kay and me setting out off of Mandarin Point of the Saint Johns River...

The boat is fast and tracks true. When we launched at just after 9:00 am on this Labor Day the waters at the County Dock ramp were smooth as silk. We were at low tide with virtually no wind. We ventured out into open water and back in to a residential canal, joined by beautiful Great Egrets and a number of Belted King Fishers. A few mullet jumped nearby. I headed out on a solo stretch and into a second canal, spooking a school of shiners on my way out...

Shiners jumping just ahead (below by paddle blade)

My Routie app says that I average 2.0 mph for the entire morning with a top speed of 3.3 mph. That was with no effort. Blue is so buoyant and light that I estimate I use about half the energy per stroke as I did with the Lifetime Daylight. So I came back around the docks that punctuate the Mandarin peninsula and met Kay for a mid-morning granola bar snack...

A highly choreographed snack bar hand off from Kay to me...

After paddling around and practicing turns (Blue turns on a dime for an 11.5 ft. boat), we headed back in as the tide started doing in and the wind kicked up to about 10mph out of the north. Kay then took Blue out for her first ride in the bigger boat -- I think she liked it. The VIDEO immediately below is about 4 1/2 minute of the hour+ of video I shot with my GoPro mounted to the stern of the Blue Mind, including Kay's outing. Should give you a sense of her speed and stability. What an amazing kayak!

See you soon -- with some information on our experience transporting our kayaks ( yes, thats a piece of Styrofoam junk that I plucked out of the river)... Keep on paddling!

Monday, August 29, 2016

Chasing The Light In The Water....

"That day I entered into a life of indescribable beauty and delight. There I believe I heard the singing wilderness for the first time"
--- Siguard F. Olson

Outing #7 for us was barely short of a miracle - not the fact the our friends Jim and Jane convinced us that we needed to experience it and that the paddle was within our novice capacities to handle, but in the natural wonder that this three hour self-propelled trip on Florida's Banana River (just south of the Kennedy Space Center) became.

This was our first group paddle. 19 of us in total. It was our first estuarine paddle in water that holds about half the salinity of the nearby Atlantic Ocean as the ocean water mixes with the fresh outflow of our rivers. It was our first paddle of more than an hour and a couple of quiet water miles. It was our first paddle after sundown. But most interestingly, it was our first time witnessing the natural phenomenon of bioluminescence....

Our intrepid group of 19, pre-launch - photo: Helga Lamb

Bioluminescence occurs when, under just the correct conditions, microscopic dinoflagellates in the water "glow" an almost neon blue-green when stirred up by a paddle, the hull of a kayak or other water craft, or a fish rocketing through the water. For the scientifically curious reader, here is a brief explanation of dinoflagellates from UCSD: CLICK HERE. For those interested in the experience there are a number of outfitters in the area that offer similar tours -- just use your favorite search engine to locate one.

We put in at Kelly Park East on Merritt Island just at sunset and paddled out into the Banana River in waters a bit choppier that Kay and I are used to. Instead of using our small "starter" kayaks, I rented two bigger ones given the length of the trip and my desire to try out a bigger, more serious boat. Kay had a 10' sit-on-top that suited her perfectly and I had a 12' Perception sit-on-top that served me extremely well. 

Heading into the Banana River at Sunset. Photo by Jane D.

Florida sunsets are a thing to behold, especially at this time of year (summer) when the sinking sun is often framed and softened by incoming or retreating tropical cumulus clouds. Seeing a sunset from the water on my kayak for the first time was miracle number one for the evening. Being in and on the water gives me the feeling of being an integral part of the natural universe, and that amazing sunset was somehow connected to me -- to all of us on the water that day.

As the sun disappeared below the horizon and the light faded we paddled north, and the small lights on our sterns began to become visible. A tiny armada of tiny mariners in the biggest body of water that Kay and I had yet ventured into. Some in our group were expert long-term kayakers with slick, spear-like fast moving boats, others, like us, were beginners. The rest formed a nice bell curve of the possible experience levels between the extremes -- but we were all connected and all watching out for each other. At dusk the little miracles began to make themselves visible as light translucent blue streams and eddies formed around our paddle blades as we stroked the water.

A cellphone photo I shot as the light faded beyond my bow.

As the light faded entirely on a night with a late moonrise, under the light of the stars we all audibly gasped, oohed and ahed, as we used our paddles to paint patterns in water. Miracle number two. The bioluminescence was now a much deeper and brighter blue as the tiny plankton magicians did their thing. A small pod of dolphin passed us heading south just to our west side. Then suddenly in the shallows we were in the midst of schools of hundreds of mullet. The more experienced, faster paddlers among us chased after these speeding, high jumping fish as dozens of the one- to two-feet long fish sped around my boat the left bioluminescent blue trails behind them, making their own abstract art in the water. Miracle number three. 

Then there were the shrieks and laughter and yelps of our group as the jumping fish bounced off of boats, off of paddlers, or in ill-timed leaps of bad luck jumped into our kayaks. I had one leap across my bow. Then felt a punch in my left shoulder as one hit my bare upper arm. A bit later I needed the assistance of one of my fellow paddlers to free a mullet that jumped onto the stern of my kayak and became tangled in the bungies that crisscross the storage well. Yet another first -- a startled fish flopping around in the back of my kayak! The boat I had rented had four scupper holes just in front of my seat. The passage of the kayak over the dinoflagellates made it appear that I had four bright blue LED lights on the floor before me.

The lights of our kayaks reflected on the river -- shot with my iPhone

After paddling several miles north into a preserve restricted to non-motorized craft only we turned back for home. We detoured into the Grand Canal for a few minutes, then back out and under the 528 causeway, leaving our light paintings in our wakes as we went and continued to dodge the leaping mullet. A little over three hours later we landed back at Kelly Park, giddy with the experience that was totally new to many of us. Kay and I both survived the hours and miles extremely well despite bad hips, backs and necks. Along with several friends who were part of our group, our excitement and wonder kept us up until 2:30 a.m. talking about the experience, about the next thing to come, and about how to protect our precious and fragile water resources in a state where our leaders seem not to care. It was amazing. It was a little miracle. I want to do that again. Now.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Beginners Gear....

"It is life, I think, to watch the water. A man can learn so many things"
--- Nicholas Sparks

Last time we talked about our "starter" kayaks, and they have served us well now through 6 outings in the last 3 weeks. We have kept to the quiet water of Saint Johns River tributaries and coves for the most part with a few forays into mild swells in the river of about 6 - 8 inches. Our confidence and skills grow with every outing. Today on Goodby's Creek in Jacksonville, we had our first Manatee encounter. S/he stayed at a distance, but quite obviously followed us the last quarter mile back to the boat ramp. Nature is an amazing thing, and one of the major reasons we find our way to the water as often as we can... but on to today's topic.

Kayaking, particularly for novices, is about more than a boat and a paddle. As with anything else there are rules (the U.S. Coastguard has some requirements), and just plain common sense. RULE #1 is to stay safe! Know what to do if you accidentally get your kayak swamped (we watched numerous videos produced by the American Canoe Association -- ACA that you can find here:   ACA Videos a really excellent resource!) Thankfully I am a safety boy, and my mentors are long term safety advocates who have caused me to always think "SAFETY FIRST"...

MISTAKES: Our first mistake (and I think the only one so far) was to cheap out big time on our first Personal Floatation Devices (PFDs). We bought a couple of those bright orange Mae West style life vests at Walmart for $5.50 each. Cheap, Right? Yep -- and they meet the USCG requirement of having a PFD on board...

But they fit poorly (we just stowed them in the storage well on the back of our kayaks), are incredibly hot to wear in our north Florida 90+ degree heat, and are not designed for paddling. So we quickly upgraded so that we felt comfortable heading into deeper, more open water with high quality paddling PFDs.  I ordered an Onyx PFD via Amazon -- taking a chance that I had sized it correctly (I did), for about 60 bucks. Kay found an Astral "Linda" for women at Black Creek Outfitters, where we had a credit to spend -- it cost about $95. Clearly much more pricey than the simple life vests, but I am not going to skimp on safety gear -- particularly PFDs, that could easily, next to your kayak, be the most important bit of gear that you own.

The other USCG requirement is a whistle that is loud and can be blown if and when you get into trouble. I ordered two good nautical whistles from Amazon for a few dollars each. (Amazon Prime membership is a blessing -- and it's my favorite way to shop -- I hate malls. Free 2-day shipping on everything that qualifies for Prime. That more than pays for my annual Prime membership). The whistles fasten to the zippered pockets in our PFDs as pictured above (those rectangular orange things).

Now that we had the safety issues pretty well covered, we turned to the need to protect stuff from the water (cell phones, car keys, snacks )

HINT: Don't take chocolate coated protein bars with you in the 95 degree heat!

For our cell phones I ordered (yes, Amazon again) two water tight carriers with neck straps (less then $10 for both):

Kay doesn't like wearing her's around her neck, but keeps it sealed in a waist pack. I keep mine on my neck, outside of the PFD. It's is difficult to operate the phone while it's in the bag so it needs to come out for photos, but my trip app ("Route" - $4.99 from the Apple App Store) works great. It maps our routes via GPS, tracks speed and distance and elevation, and "talks" to me (I have it set up to report every ten minutes) about my current distance and average speed. It reports much more at trips end and lets you automatically associate pictures with your trip, make notes, name the route, check your speed at any point on the trip.... good tech.

I knew that I would need a large dry pack because eventually I will be confident enough to take my good camera gear with me. So while it's overkill for now (again ordered from Amazon) it does keep my (non-meltable) protein bars dry and my car keys safe.

The clips at the top make it easy to secure on the seat strap or a bungee cord.

For the sake of our comfort in our small starter yaks with molded plastic seats, I ordered two water repellant stadium seats. These have worked great, but tend to slip around a bit when they get wet on the bottom. Still well worth the $10 or so investment for both.

And the last thing that I can think of right now is to get a simple neck strap for your glasses. It would be a shame to lose a pair of $500 designer sunnies into the deep... I ordered six pair for $7 at Amazon. The only caveat is that if your stems are wide at the ends, these probably won't fit -- but you do want the fit to be snug.

So that's it for today. With a little luck the next installment will be a report of our first night paddle with highly experienced friends on Florida's Space Coast Banana River. We are under the threat of tropical weather, so we shall see how it goes. Hoping for the best! Happy paddling y'all!!!!

Monday, August 15, 2016

Our "Starter" Kayaks...

"There is no life without water"
Albert Szent-Gyorgyi (Discovered Vitamin C -- or is that Sea?)

About a month ago, we went to visit Kay's sister and husband down in metro-Orlando. L started kayaking a few months before we did on the beautiful, quiet-water lakes in the area. She has a small, 8' sit-inside kayak and an 8' sit-on-top. She took us for a spin in the northern chain of lakes, launching into Lake Virginia on the Rollins College campus. I took the sit-on-top as it was my first time ever paddling a kayak (I've had some experience in canoes over the years), and I was concerned about getting in and out of the sit-in boat with my bad hip. Kay, who had been out on the lake during a recent previous trip to visit L stayed on shore while the two of us paddled out.

I admit to feeling just a bit nervous at first, but soon found my water-legs and became quite comfortable, quite quickly (despite the tentative appearance of my first launch -- shown below:

After getting some basic paddle stroke instruction and circling around close to the launch site we set off into the lake, heading east a quarter mile or so into the canal between Lakes Virginia and Maitland (to the north). Through the several hundred yards long canal we passed onto Maitland and paddled offshore of its west shore, staying out of the boating lanes occupied by much bigger and faster craft. Then we headed back through the canal where we were caught by a tour pontoon boat -- so I learned to steer quickly to the side under a bridge while they passed. Then it was back through Virginia to the very short canal into Lake Osceola. In Osceola we encountered a group of about 20 paddle boarders having a lesson from an instructor at Orlando Water Sports. We lead the very friendly and talkative bunch back through the canal and into Lake Virginia, then headed back to the launch site. I had a total blast and felt very much at home on the water in L's small, stable kayak.

L then took Kay out for a brief paddle in Lake Virginia. Kay seems to have taken to it as a naturally as well, but doesn't like to press her luck with her back and neck issues, so kept it pretty short -- 10 or 15 minutes before coming back in.

It only took one time to hook me, and I was determined that we would own our own kayaks when we returned home. Since we were both so comfortable as novices on L's 8' Lifetime Daylite kayak we set out looking for a pair, knowing they are very affordable. We found them online at a major internet retailer for about $350 each, then Linda's husband found the identical boat at a Walmart close to our home for $168! So we reserved 2 of the 3 boats they said they had in stock online. The next morning I had an email from the store cancelling one of them because two of the three had been sold before our order was processed. Wanting two, we went to another nearby Walmart where they had two for the taking at $148!! $20 less than the other store. I called the first store and asked them to cancel the one boat at $168, which they did (and refunded the full purchase price) -- so we loaded the two new kayaks in the bed of our pickup, bungie corded them tightly in and headed home.

Yes, these are low-end, inexpensive kayaks with molded plastic seats (we bought two waterproof stadium cushions to help with that -- they work perfectly), but we are delighted with them for now because 1) if we decided that kayaking wasn't for one or both of us we were out very little money and could certainly sell them for close to full purchase price,  2) they are light weight (32 pounds) and easy to transport in the bed of our truck for short, no-highway jumps to the Saint Johns River, and 3) they  are very stable, easy to get in and out of (even with my bad hip), and they track well enough for us to learn the basics in. So THINK AGAIN when you read in the kayaking books and forums for beginners when they tell you to buy the most boat you can afford -- you don't need to do that, IMO. Better to go cheap, but sturdy (or rent a time or two) than to spend $500 - $1,000 for a starter yak. We will likely upgrade eventually as skills improve, but these two little kayaks have been a blessing for us here at the start of our 60+ on-the-water adventure.... See you soon!!