This has been my summer for trying new things. Well, honestly, it’s the summer I decided I had to get off my butt and get moving more. Generally I manage to lose some weight over the summer, but as I get older I find that I don’t lose all the lard I pack on in my semi-hibernations over the winter. Clearly, this is not good. I don’t get sticker shock at the price of clothing any more (mostly because I shop at Goodwill so that anything I ruin by gardening or house painting is no great loss), but, boy, clothing sizes sure have gone up, haven’t they? Whew. So this summer I decided to tackle the creeping poundage and have some fun in the process.
As I’ve noted before on this blog, one of my little rituals involves taking my breakfast down to the beach at the nearby state park to enjoy the birdwatching and the sea life. But I’ve never seen Fort Point from the water–until last week when I launched my new kayak.
I should explain that I have thought off-and-on about getting a kayak. I’ve even taken a couple of lessons. The first was with one of the outfitters at Bar Harbor. A group of us met one morning, got a short lecture-demonstration, and then climbed into our sea kayaks and were off. Because I had not come with a paddling partner, I got to go in the guide’s kayak. I loved that first exposure to the sport. The day was sparkling, the paddling was deceptively easy (undoubtedly because the guide was doing 90% of the work), the islands right off Bar Harbor were fun to explore, and we got a bonus lesson on How to Get Our of the Way of the Nova Scotia Ferry (ie., paddle like hell). By the time I came ashore I was hooked on kayaking.
I wasn’t quite ready to buy a kayak and get out on the water by myself yet, though, so I took a one-day introductory course at an outfitter in the midcoast. This lesson was more in-depth, including training in safety procedures. It was a cool, cloudy day, so all of us were issued with wetsuits to put on our the tee shirts and shorts we’d been told to wear. Predictably, they couldn’t find a suit short enough for me. There was room for me and a whole school of mackerel in that thing, but I figured what the heck, it was just for the day, so I could make do. Ditto with the life jacket. I did not realize at the time that there are personal flotation devices that are made with a woman’s anatomy in mind. I got one made for a man, cinched so tightly I was sure there must be some mistake. It wasn’t quite as bad as having a mammogram, but it wasn’t conducive to having fun in a new sport, either.
Then we got onto the teaching pool in front of the store. We were shown paddle strokes, how to use the little water pump to bail out the kayak–great fun: we used them as water pistols, of course, and soaked each other–and then it was on to what to do in the (unlikely, according to the instructor) event of a capsize.
a) Try to roll back up using your hips.
b) If this does not work, release the spray skirt by tugging on the loop at the front, exit the cockpit, surface, right the kayak, empty the water out of it, and wriggle your way back into it.
The teacher made it look so easy.
So did the next young, fit, twenty-something male. (He was a ringer, swear to God.)
Then it was my turn. I don’t want to do this, the sniveling little voice in my head said. Well, better here than out on the ocean when you’re alone, I told myself as my heart began to thud. I took a big breath and tipped the kayak over. So far, so good, I thought, that was easy. I threw my hips like I was trying to make a tidal wave in that pool but could not roll the boat upright. By this time my oversized wetsuit was filling with water, a lot of cold water. Don’t panic, I told myself calmly; go to step b. I grabbed for the spray skirt loop, tugged it in the way we’d been shown, and nothing happened. Nose full of water, I wrestled with the skirt until it came off, then tried to kick my way out of the kayak, but couldn’t because the water flooding into my suit acted as a very effective balloon to wedge me in the cockpit.
By instinct I did the most useful thing I could have done in the circumstance: I freaked out and got mad all at the same time. Somehow I fought my way out of the boat, surfaced coughing and gasping–and realized that all around me my classmates were doing their own practice and nobody including the instructor had been watching out for me at all.
It takes a lot to get my Irish up–no, it does, really, she said–but that did it. I left the kayak floating, let the paddle sink, lumbered to the side of the pool, hauled myself out, shed the wetsuit and the gallon or two of water it had collected, called the instructor some names I don’t think he’d heard before, and loudly advised the onlookers to get their lessons and buy their kayaks in Bar Harbor. I stormed out of the store and drove home in a funk.
Because I had been scared, genuinely scared, and I had so wanted to enjoy kayaking. That experience kept me off the water for two decades. Well, that coupled with the reality-check that there was no way I could lift a kayak to the roof rack on my car by myself, anyway.
A couple of weeks ago, though, I saw a piece on our local evening news about a woman who’s paddling a kayak from Maine to Guatemala to raise money for a school there. And here’s the thing: she’s doing it in an inflatable kayak so she can pack down her boat into its own stuff sack and stay with friends ashore anywhere along the way without having to haul around a traditional kayak.
Inflatable kayaks! Kayaks that are virtually impossible to tip over! Kayaks that I can lift by myself! Who knew?
Well, I do, now. I am the proud owner of a Sea Eagle 330 solo kayak that I’ve named the Cygnet. As you can see, she has an open cockpit–no spray skirt and nothing to get wedged in–and, as I am only intending to paddle in sheltered coves, lakes or ponds, no wetsuit to buy. I found a life jacket that fits and doesn’t chafe.
The very first time I took the kayak out into the cove on the other side of Fort Point, the morning fog was just rising off the water, it was flat calm, and the cormorants were fishing all around me. I paddled slowly along the shore, getting the feel of the kayak, watching the ospreys and kingfishers, and generally relishing all that I had been missing. It was so very beautiful.
Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks?