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!!!!


  1. Having a PFD you're actually comfortable wearing is a major score. Gear is fun, isn't it?!

  2. Yes it is! And thank goodness for Amazon prime :-)

  3. Looks like so much fun and thats coming from a 60-year od something who TWICE almost drowned on the fabulously beautiful Saint John river in NB. At least we don't have alligators swimming in our next of the woods.