Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Sea Kayaking Is The New Mountaineering

I can't take the credit for this title as I saw it on the banner of a Scottish sea kayaking blog. Nor can I posit many substantial arguments to support the title of this blog post. I can, however, express amazement at some of the journeys people undertake in their sea kayaks, many of which are feats of amazing skill and endurance easily equal to, or possibly even more difficult than, the most rigorous mountaineering expeditions.

What has lately struck me as strange about sea kayaking is how few people make up the core population of sea kayakers in any country, and, how many modifications you end up making to a boat that is arguably one of the most sea worthy boats of the size ever produced. 

 Paddling into Banksia Bay with Mount Bowen towering above
Doug Brown photo 
Doug and I are not radical sea kayakers, we aren't paddling around Australia unsupported (find Jason Beachcroft on Facebook and follow his current trip around Australia), or fighting off crocodiles on remote islands off the north Queensland coast. We have, however, since arriving in Australia in 2012, done some amazing trips in the three states (NSW, Victoria, and Queensland) that we have visited so far. Some of these journeys rank up there with the worlds best. That sounds hyperbolic, but, I have been lucky enough to have paddled in a few different countries of the world and done some pretty awesome trips (the Yasawa Islands of Fiji, the Palau Islands, the Solomon Islands, the west coast of British Columbia), some of which are even mentioned in this book

But, the point of the previous paragraph isn't to impress you with my paddling prowess (laughable) but to indicate that, despite spending a reasonable amount of time paddling in some pretty stunning areas, we rarely meet any other kayakers. In fact, on all our Australian journeys to date (counting some we did in years past) we have met around a dozen other paddlers, including all the friends of paddlers we met later. On actual kayak trips we have met three other paddlers. Three. Barely enough for a swingers party, should you be so inclined.

 Crossing Hinchinbrook Channel in light winds
Doug Brown photo

And then there are all the modifications you need to make to your boat, which, in your naivety, you believed to be fully equipped for long ocean journeys when you first bought it. First you add a sail. Then you discover the sail is actually a bit too big for all the conditions you'll encounter so you make a new sail that can be adjusted to suit wind speed. Now that you have a fully adjustable sail, you discover you need some way to pull it down with one hand so you don't capsize in windy conditions, then you need somewhere to stow the sail on deck when it is furled, then somewhere to stow a paddle while you fiddle with all this. A tow rope needs to be made, and some way to attach it to the boat devised so, again, you can release it with one hand. Then there is the place to store your backup bilge pump, and, of course, a hands free bilge pump (a conundrum we have yet to solve). Even stowing drinking water in a manner that allows it to be accessible no matter what the sea conditions becomes a big deal

By the time you've finished doing all this, your kayak is so full of newly drilled holes that the hands free bilge pump has become a real necessity. Your PFD, so comfortable when you first bought it, is now padded out with knifes, VHF radios, flares, PLB's, and other sundry safety equipment and weighs so much you need a forklift to get it on. Finally, however, you are ready to go paddling, until, that is, you discover some other thing that requires modification.

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