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!