Despite a forecast of winds up to 40 knots and 4 ft waves it turned out to be a nice weekend – overcast but dry, calm, and unseasonably warm. Not everyone wanted it that way though. I got together Sunday with seven guys from the Sea Kayak Skill Building Northwest (SKSB-NW), Warren and Brian Schulz to play in the flood at Deception Pass. Brian had driven up 7 hours from Manzanita just to try out Warren’s baidarkas in preparation for another grand expedition. He specifically wanted to try them out in the wind, but there wasn’t any. I was happy though, not having had any experience in the flood current. I didn’t really want to deal with wind against current phenomena and any other kind of associated ugliness in addition to navigating around an unfamiliar seascape.
I had changed my mind about the trip a few times the day before. The forecast was nasty but the weather out the window looked nothing like the gale that was predicted. Friends told me that it was very windy at the Pass and even Dubside bailed after hearing the forecast. I had asked him earlier if he was interested in driving up with me. He told me that Shawna and Leon from Body Boat Blade had cancelled their Deception Pass class the day before. In addition, his Feathercraft Wisper needed repairs. He had spent all the previous day in Seattle trying to get some plastic to manufacture a new frame. So I had cancelled the trip and then changed my mind.
How many times did I ever make it to a beach or get on the water then cancel my trip because of conditions? Never, I think. I must not be pushing my limits enough.
I showed up at Bowman Bay and the SKSB guys were all there in their Romanys, Explorers, and Poseidons, chatting about their latest trip to Anglesey to get their 5-Star. As they paddled off I stayed and waited for Warren with Brian. Warren finally showed up but I headed out alone, anxious to get going and knowing that he and Brian would quickly catch up with me. The SKSB guys were on the other side of Canoe Pass, a narrow channel which turns sharply around Pass Island. I rode the current in. The water was comfortably flat but it pushed right into a sheer rock cliff. That cliff made me uneasy. I had visions of being sucked into it, capsizing and being dragged upside down along the rocks. Maybe more than wind and waves I worry about colliding with rocks and other kayakers, a concern especially in this narrow channel. It turned out that the water didn't behave like that at all: once I got right up to the cliff it boiled up, stopped me and pushed me away. I would catch the eddy and paddle back to Pass Island, get in line and catch my breath to punch out again.
Someone yelled that a couple other kayaks were coming through the pass when Warren and Brian showed up in the baidarkas. They played around awhile before Warren approached me and said, "Doesn't this remind you of those Mac and PC commercials?" (By the way, my favorite of the ads is the one about making home movies, titled Better Results.)
People can feel very strongly about their choice of computers. Do you consider yourself a Mac or a PC person? Did you switch at some point in your life? Or can you honestly say you enjoy using both? I've always been a Mac user and have had to endure the taunts and oppression of the PC majority for a large part of my life -- you know the type, the guys who talk endlessly about the speed of their CPU and size of their hard drive, but really don't do anything with their computers and don't have a creative bone in their body. The last thing I want is to see the same phenomenon happen in sea kayaking between BCU-style (aka "Modern Sea Kayakers") and Greenland Style traditionalists.
I think Warren's point is, like a Mac, sea kayaking can be more user friendly. So at the risk of stirring up controversy and maybe even offending some people, I'll make a small list of what I personally don't like about the BCU approach.
First thing, is too much kit.
Warren is a kayaking minimalist. I think the only extra gear he carries is a spare paddle. No helmet, no PFD. He says his tuilik provides plenty of extra floatation. Is he crazy? It is certainly quite a contrast with the recommended BCU kit, which to quote the handbook, includes "at close hand and available at short notice the following: map and compass, some form of shelter, basic first aid kit, basic repair kit, hot drink, whistle, towing system, spare food, flares, spare paddles. Elsewhere in the kayak the following should also be carried (for when you are ashore): lunch, both food and drink, comprehensive first aid kit, comprehensive repair kit, torch, dry warm clothing and shoes, money for phone, food or drink." Some might add to that sunglasses, sun block, lip salve, pogies/gloves, and a VHF radio. "The equipment that is carried does not vary too much whether you are intending to go out for a day trip or a multi-day tour." I was amazed when Leon Sommé first showed me all the kit he kept in his Explorer, clothes and food for an unplanned night stay in the wilderness and this amazing stuff called Denso Tape. I admit if I ever got stuck on an island and was dying of hypothermia I'd like to be paddling with someone who carried all that stuff, but I personally don't want to pack like that for every little trip even if I could fit it all in my kayak.
Secondly, those Brit boats are too damn heavy! They have to be because they have to withstand being dropped in the water with so much kit! Having seen them crushed against the rocks, I can tell you that all that fiberglass doesn't make them indestructible. Which would you rather have anyway, an 80 pound fiberglass kayak (including gear) crushing your head against the shore in surf, or a flexible 30 pound fabric-covered skinboat? I'm just guessing at the weight of the fiberglass boat. Funny thing, Sea Kayaking UK doesn't
even publish the weight of their boats on their website. Could it be that they don't want you to know?
When I got tired of waiting for the flood current to die down Sunday so we could start paddling home, I just climbed up onto the rocky shore and portaged across the rocks. I can't say that it was very elegant, stumbling around with a kayak on my head, but with a 29 pound boat, it was possible.
Lastly, not enough emphasis on rolling skills. Did you know that Gordon Brown devotes one paragraph to rolling in his Sea Kayaking chapter in the BCU handbook? A couple guys capsized and missed their rolls Sunday. Not a big deal because they are so efficient at rescues, but there is room for improvement there. In fact, I think traditional paddlers should definitely practice more of those rescues, since they are so much more difficult with a flooded skinboat and an ocean cockpit.