I am a grandmother paddling alone over 2,500 miles from Maine to Guatemala. Along the way I will be:
- telling the story of the children who live in the Guatemala City garbage dump community
- honoring their entrepreneurial mothers
- talking about the success of the Safe Passage model school and
- raising funds for additional grades for the school.

Friday, September 11, 2015

New kayak for the Caribbean: will it work?

Fog lifting on Cobscook Bay
I love paddling the little inflatable kayak that Innova gave me to use for the Caribbean leg of my expedition.  It's so responsive and maneuverable!  But will it work for the harsh conditions I may encounter in Belize and Guatemala?  Will I be able to carry all my food, water, clothing and camping gear in this Helios II kayak?  To answer these questions, I've been testing it out various places in Maine.After several days of paddling the Helios in Unity Pond, I figured out the perfect seating arrangement, and worked out how to reenter the kayak from the water.  Then it was time for a more challenging paddle.  Chris and I camped for the weekend up at Cobscook Bay, near the border with Canada, in the land of very high tides.  I wanted to test it in strong currents,  and we had reasonably strong winds as well.  While the boat catches the wind much more than my other kayaks, I found I could control it, and even paddle against the wind and current.  So far so good.  When I started out the second day, the fog was so dense I couldn't see the shore unless I hugged the coast.  I was paddling towards the reversing falls, a tricky area to navigate, as I didn't want to get swept out to sea.  In the fog, as your sense of sight becomes less useful, your sense of hearing becomes sharper.  I could hear the reversing falls from quite a distance, and used that sound to avoid the rushing waters.  By not seeing the larger land and seascape, I was more aware of the waters just around my kayak, and enjoyed looking down at low tide to see the hundreds of sea urchins on the bottom.

The little Helios II
The Helios met all of my expectations in terms of performance, but could I really fit all of my gear for camping into it's little twelve and a half foot length?  To test this I went out camping in Muscongus Bay.

It surprised me that it takes less time to get on and off the water in the Hellios, despite the 9 minutes spent pumping it up on shore.    I enjoy pumping it up, as a crowd will gather to see what I'm doing. At Bremen Town Landing, the only people there were two small children, a five year old girl and her three year old brother.  They had to see what it was all about.  As I was pumping it up, they were checking out all of my gear.  The girl knows more about boats than many adults.  She knew what my bilge pump was for.  She knew what my life jacket was for.  "That's what you put under your seat," she said.  "Oh no," I said, "I wear it all the time in my boat."  She explained that her Dad, who is a lobsterman, just takes his life jacket along but doesn't wear it.  When I  explained that I wear mine in case I fall in the water, she started talking about her grandfather.  He was a scallop fisherman.  "But he's dead," she said.  Oh, the open honesty of children...  I made a bland comment about everyone dying some time.  She was having none of it.  "He was too young.  He fell out of his boat, and they never even found his body."  Sobering words.

From Bremen I set off to camp on Crow Island.  I had my heavy tent in the bow of the boat, and while I could paddle against the currents and waves, the bucking of the kayak felt very inefficient.  I decided that I wouldn't take the heavy Hilleberg tent to the Caribbean, and use only my lighter Hennessey hammock.  At the campsite I set up both tent and hammock, and climbed into the hammock to sleep.  I've always had my best nights sleep in my Hennessey hammock, but there are times when I can't use it as there are not appropriate trees to support it.  One more surprise awaited me.  With my recovering neck, I couldn't get comfortable in the hammock, so moved to the tent to sleep.  The Hilleberg Staika tent may be heavy, but it is so well designed that I remain dry when others get damp inside a poorly ventilated tent.  The next day I repacked the kayak, putting the heavy tent on the stern.  Now the kayak handled well in the waves, just bobbing over them.   I decided that I would take the tent to Belize.  How to handle the extra 9.5 pounds in the kayak?  Seems like the easiest way will be to loose the 9.5 pounds that I gained after I stopped kayaking in South Carolina.

As I kayaked back to my car at Bremen, I was laughing to myself.  I've kayaked this area many times.  It was where I first met my kayaking group of women.  We were paddling with a huge group of kayakers.  When they got to Round Pond and laid out their elaborate picnics in the sand, and settled in for a long break (even mentioning napping!), I became restless to get back on the water.  Then I saw two women getting ready to relaunch.  I went to join them.  The trip leader was concerned that we wouldn't be able to find our way back on own.  We just laughed, because we each knew we were good at navigating.  As we paddled back we each admitted that we didn't like big groups and preferred to paddle on our own.  That was the start of the "Tall Booted Women" kayaking group.  We range in age from me at 64 to the youngest who is just a few years older than my children.  

My laughter became greater when I realized I had paddled right past Bremen and was almost at the top of the bay before I realizedI had missed my dock!  Yep, still so good at navigating!  

The final test of the kayak was in the surf.  I went to Popham Beach to practice landing and launching in the surf.  Since I was alone I didn't try the largest waves, but did find the kayak handled well in the smaller surf.  I was happy with my new kayak and felt it was up to the job for the Caribbean.

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