David had hired a Peruvian guide named Juan Carlos to lead us on a trip around the Paracas peninsula. Juan Carlos had worked as a biologist and ranger in the National Park of Paracas for several years and had apparently also kayaked along the south coast before. Juan Carlos doesn’t speak English and I was the only one in our group who doesn't speak Spanish, so unfortunately I wasn’t able to talk to him at all about his previous kayak experiences.
We had anticipated having a total of 5 people in our group but our fifth man cancelled at the last minute. He happened to be one of the Peruvians who had been involved in the ill−fated trip to Islas Ballestas a few years earlier where one kayaker died (see my previous post about our attempt to paddle to Islas Ballestas).
We packed our kayaks and gear the night before in preparation to leave as early as possible the next day. We planned to drive south through the desert in the National Park and launch from a beach south of Paracas called Playa Mendieta, and from there paddle north to Lagunillas, a small fishing port on a protected bay within the National Park. When we reached our put-in at Playa Mendieta I was happy to see that the surf was minimal so getting off the beach would be easy.
Dan launched first. He was wearing shorts and insisted on putting his neoprene booties on after he had gotten in his cockpit so that his feet would stay dry. I learned on our previous trip that he had this obsession with keeping his feet dry. I helped stabilize him while he got inside his boat and tried slipping his booties on. While he was an awkward position with one knee out of the cockpit a wave surged up and pushed us sideways, nearly knocking us over and flooding the cockpit with water and sand. So much for keeping his feet dry! After Dan scrambled out we emptied the cockpit and started over.
After Dan made it out through the small break, we started to help Juan Carlos. David introduced him to his kayak and adjusted his seat and foot peddles. Unfortunately, Juan Carlos arrived just before dinner the night before so he didn’t have a chance to try out any of the gear beforehand. He essentially got a a 5 minute crash course on the Epic 16X and coastal sea kayaking.
David pushed him out as the water surged in. Juan Carlos made it over a small wave but immediately capsized. David ran out and grabbed his kayak. I had my video camera on, but put it away to help empty the flooded kayak and another attempt at launch. Juan Carlos looked a little shaken. In a minute though he was ready to try it again -- a real trouper! He made it through the second time.
“My God,” David said. “Look at him! It’s like he has never been in a kayak before. There is no way he can do this. It’s too dangerous."
I reserved judgment for the moment but got a sinking feeling as I watched Juan Carlos paddle off. He was “arm paddling”, with short, choppy and sometimes hesitant strokes. The kayak veered off in random directions. He was obviously having trouble maintaining direction, even on totally flat water, and probably overcorrecting with the rudder. But all this time he was paddling with a big smile on his face, like he was having the time of his life!
David followed him out. Juan Carlos had just been fired! David was going to send him home with our support crew.
I waited onshore, thinking that if Juan Carlos is coming back I better stay to help bring him in. Some discussion occurred among the three of them on the water. After a few minutes I decided I should go out and find out what our plan was going to be.
In the end we let Juan Carlos come along. Although I agreed that having an inexperienced paddler along put everyone at additional risk, because of the sea conditions that day it turned out not to be a non-issue. The weather was perfect −− calm and overcast. We paddled passed rocks and sea stacks, keeping far from the big breaking waves close to shore and point breaks.
Juan Carlos lagged behind. David stayed close to him. Dan and I moved closer to shore to get a better look at La Catedral, the remains of a huge sea arch. Two years ago an earthquake sent it crashing into the sea along with other large sections of cliffs along the coastline. A tsunami followed. The 3 meter surge destroyed many of the fishing boats and houses in Paracas as well as the historic Paracas Hotel. Incredibly, no one in Paracas died. For a year afterward the ocean was muddy brown.
We ended the day midafternoon after paddling 11 nm in Lagunillas, riding the surge through a narrow slot in the rocks and onto the beach next to the Restaurant La Tia Fela. Our friends had gotten a table outside and were waiting with cold beers. La Tia Fela had no running water or electricity. Somehow they managed to serve busloads of tourists every day. They presented you with a tray of fish fresh off the boats for you to select to have fried or prepared as ceviche (served raw and marinated in lime juice and sliced onion).
[Our GPS track from June 1, 2009: We started at the southeast corner of the Bay of Paracas, headed northwest to the tip of the peninsula, then crossed to the Islas Ballestas, and drifted slightly south on the return path. 22.9 nm]
My friend David has a boathouse full of cool toys: six brand new Epic kayaks, sailboards and kite boarding gear. His house is located on the Bay of Paracas which is sheltered from the ocean swell but is known for having a lot of wind, which typically comes from the south and picks up late in the day. It's not uncommon for the wind to blow up to 25-30 knots, so we planned to be off the water before late afternoon.
We launched at 0730 under an overcast sky, toward the guano islands, the Islas Ballestas. The sea was calm. We didn't have a weather report, a chart, or a even street map. There was no way to get information on swell size and no one had been following the trend in the barometric pressure. There's not much of a tidal range at 13 degrees south so we didn't worry about that either.
What we lacked in the usual essential data we tried to make up for in "local knowledge". After crossing the Bay of Paracas to the northeastern tip of the peninsula, David stopped to talk to some fisherman. We needed to ask for directions because it was so foggy offshore that you couldn't actually see the islands from where we were.
"I told them that we wanted to go to the Islas Ballestas," he said.
"They said we were crazy."
Earlier David had told us a story about a group of three Peruvians who had paddled out the the Islas Ballestas in two kayaks. Two paddlers were in a double sit-on-top and another was in a single decked sea kayak. The person in the single was apparently an experienced kayaker and decided to break away and paddle toward Islas Chincha to the northeast by himself. Conditions deteriorated in the afternoon as they typically do and the two kayakers in the double abandoned their attempt at the Islas Ballestas and returned home safely. But the kayaker in the single was found dead by fishermen the next day, still tethered to his kayak but missing his paddle.
The fishermen pointed us in the approximate direction and said it takes them about 45 minutes to get there in their boat, going about 5 knots. That didn't sound too far.
I just got back on Sunday night after spending a week in Peru with a friend who has a house on the ocean by the Reserva Nacional de Paracas. The park is a desert peninsula where nothing ever grows and where it hasn’t rained for over a hundred years. This place resembles the surface of Mars -- totally lifeless. The shore just south of the peninsula and around the peninsula itself is made up of dramatic cliffs and small pocket beaches. There are numerous sea caves and arches, and islands just offshore. We spent the week touring along the open coast (more on that later).
This video is from the day we spent practicing in the surf zone with a couple 12 foot long Epic GPX kayaks (not the kayaks we took touring). We drove the kayaks across the desert looking for a beach with friendly surf. It came down to a choice between a beach with rocks and one infested with stingrays.
I got a couple good rides in and rolled around a few times. In my last ride I wiped out after I fell from the crest of the wave. While underwater I felt my kayak paddle break in half! I don't know if it hit the sand when I capsized, but it felt like it just fell apart as I was bracing into the wave. I had to roll up using one half of the paddle. Then as soon as I recovered another wave slammed into me. In the end I paddled to shore canoe−style. Check it out- −− it’s all there on the blurry video!
The paddle was a carbon−fiber Epic paddle that belonged to my friend David. Lesson learned: do not use an expensive carbon touring paddle for playing in the surf, unless it belongs to your friend, ;-)
It's only a four and a half mile paddle from the beach by my house to Owen Beach at Point Defiance, where the Puget Sound Sea Kayak Symposium was being held. I landed on the demo beach around noon on Saturday, this time paddling my Shooting Star cedar-strip baidarka (because I like all the attention it gets). Richard Lovering paddled his Greenland skin-on-frame from the Thea Foss and we sat them next to each other on the beach and talked about wooden kayaks with curious passers-by. One big reason I personally like to show up at kayak symposiums is to help represent wooden kayaks and Greenland Style.
Stand-up paddle surfboards had a big presence this year. Lately I've seen more people trying this in the Sound. I couldn't resist trying it. Compared to sitting in a kayak, it presents a bigger challenge to your sense of balance and gives your legs a workout. It must take a lot of practice to be able to use it in rough windy conditions though, not to mention actual surf.
I met Chris Cunningham at the Sea Kayaker Magazine booth. I picked up a free copy of the 25th Anniversary Issue, the one with a picture of a traditional Greenland kayak frame on the cover. Chris said that it was actually a picture of a kayak frame that he had built. I felt a little awkward picking up a copy of the magazine there in front of him, because it obviously means that I don't have a subscription to it! He knows I take sea kayaking seriously too. I wanted a copy of this issue though because Chris had written another article about Freya Hoffmeister for it. I really only have room and the attention span for one magazine subscription in my life, and this year it was to Wooden Boat. Honestly, I hardly even read that anymore. Who reads anything in print these days, seriously?
Sterling Donalson offered a number of his kayaks for demos, both the IceKap and Illusion design. He brought along an interesting device which looked like an adjustable kayak cockpit. I suspect it is for fitting people for custom deck heights for his kayaks.
Although the IceKap has gotten a lot of attention because of Dubside, the Illusion is gaining a reputation for being a fantastic rough water boat. One thing that Sterling discovered recently was that the Illusion handles well with a cockpit full of water. Because the upswept ends and rocker give it a low center of gravity, it remains remarkably stable and easy to maneuver when completely flooded. I recommend you try that with the kayak you own right now. I think paddling with a flooded cockpit really should be an essential test when trying out a new kayak. It simulates a real rescue situation such as following a wet exit or re-enter and roll.
In the video: Richard tries out the Hobie Mirage Drive and a stand-up paddle surfboard, and gives a glowing review of the Sterling Kayaks Illusion.
I'm a little late posting this report. This is the trip I took on Monday, May 25th. I had wanted to try paddling from Anacortes to Friday Harbor for a while. My friends have called this the "ultimate day trip". It can involve challenging conditions in Rosario Strait and south of Lopez Island, and paddling through a large tidal race in Cattle Pass between San Juan and Lopez Islands. Experienced kayakers will spend time playing in Cattle Pass as the current hits its max before continuing on to Friday Harbor to catch the ferry back to Anacortes.
Since fares are only charged going west on the ferries, the return trip is free! That's a great deal considering the fare for a car and driver is over $50! You will need to bring wheels to cart your kayak if you plan to walk on to take the ferry back to Anacortes.
As it turned out, Warren Williamson planned to do the same trip the day before I wanted to, on Sunday. Sunday evening I asked him how conditions were and he wrote:
... there was a little wind out in Rosario, not bad. The waves were just starting when I got to Davis Point [Cattle Pass]. They got big. I surfed and worked out in the waves for over four hours. Mat and Djuna [from Body Boat Blade] were there. We had a blast... I think you'll have the same conditions tomorrow.
Actually, the forecast called for the wind to lighten up to between 10-15 knots in the morning so I expected to have an easy time of it on Monday.
I arrived at the Anacortes ferry terminal a little before 9AM. I was the only kayaker there. "Where is everybody?" I thought. "Don't they know that this is the perfect day to do this trip?" I got a parking spot in the upper parking lot of the terminal right next to the trail that goes down to the beach. It costs $10 to park for 24 hours. If you plan to do this, be prepared to carry or slide your kayak down the steep bank to the water.
It was a lot windier than I expected. I could see whitecaps all over the confluence of Rosario Strait and Bellingham channel. I had second thoughts about continuing but I decided to go ahead and see what conditions were like in the Strait. Just off of Green Point the waves were at least 4 ft. As I continued west across the Strait they got a little smaller but then got bigger again. I was paddling with a strong wind blowing at my beam toward James Island and somewhere in the middle of Rosario Strait I decided that I wasn't having fun anymore, and wondered what was I doing out here alone while everyone else was at home planning their holiday barbeque. Actually, I wasn't completely alone: a sailboat passed by fairly close, double-reefed. I am sure the wind was blowing at least 20 knots!
I almost turned back on this trip. I felt like I wasn't making any progress in the wind and waves. I figured that it could be a very long and tiring journey if conditions were going to be this challenging all across the Strait and especially south of Lopez Island so I decided to head back to Anacortes. The current had carried me far south off of Burrows Island. Since there was no way I could make significant progress against a current that strong I just paddled with the current, hoping to duck in between Burrows and Allan Island for protection. But further south the waves became smaller, so I changed plans again and decided to cross the Strait after all.
I was traveling at 6 knots down the Strait. When I reached Point Colville at the southeastern tip of Lopez Island I slowed to a crawl. I suspect there is a large back eddy all along the south end of Lopez Island between Point Colville and Iceberg Point because I didn't go much faster than 3 knots. I parked in the middle of a kelp forest to eat lunch.
Beyond Iceberg Point my speed picked up as I approached Cattle Pass. Even from over a mile away I could feel it sucking me in. I struggled to bring my kayak close to shore when I realized I was headed straight into the raging whitewater. I found a relatively protected path between Lopez and Deadman Islands and hauled up on Deadman Island to take a closer look at the chaos in the Pass. The flood wouldn't reach its max for another hour and a half. Well, I really didn't care to stick around to see that, and decided I would get out as soon as possible. With help from the current, I was doing 7 knots just north of Cattle Pass toward Friday Harbor.
I paddled into Friday Harbor with just enough time to put my kayak on my NRS C-Tug wheels, take a shower at the marina, and walk right onto the ferry along with a large crowd of tourists returning home for the holiday weekend. Unfortunately I had a bunch of really great on the water pictures from this trip, but can't find them now and I think I erased them all!