River Touring: Sea Kayaking

diamond formation sea kayakingDay One: Thursday started off chilly, close to the freezing mark but with warmer temperatures on the way.  We sat shivering in our stinky, damp borrowed wetsuits in the amphitheater at WT, listening to Greg introduce his co-instructors Steve and Eric and watching a few short videos on ocean kayaking to give us some perspective.  Greg divided us alphabetically amongst the three instructors and we set out for the 20 minute walk to Presqu’ile (PQ) Beach with a bit of a bounce in our step. The sun was starting to warm us up.

Photo: P. Manorome
Photo: P. Manorome

We pulled sea kayaks and paddles off the racks, yellow nylon and black neoprene skirts from their cage, and divvied up orange pumps and yellow paddle floats between the three groups of boats.  Red, orange, yellow, green, and blue kayaks lined up perfectly on the shore.

Our instructor Eric showed us the parts of the kayak, how to adjust the foot pegs, how to check the hatches to ensure their seaworthiness, and which boats were tippier than others.  We each selected a kayak, set it up to suit ourselves, grabbed a skirt and a paddle and hopped in.  Before I could shove off I needed to figure out how to get the skirt on.  It was like getting a very tight-fitting fitted sheet on a mattress: I’d get one side on, try for the next and the side would pop off.  [For the record, the skirt is easier to put it on back to front.] Now protected from water dripping into my cockpit, I looked up.  My group apparently hadn’t struggled as much as I had with their skirts and were grouped up 40 meters offshore.  I looked at my paddle, looked at Eric and asked the seemingly stupid question: which face of the paddle is supposed to be facing me?  He laughed and made me feel better by pointing out that every other person had their paddle facing a different way.  Finally ready to go and join my classmates, I shoved off noting that I had picked one of the tippier boats.  My core was going to get a good workout keeping me upright.

Photo: P. Manorome
Photo: P. Manorome

We spent the morning working on forward strokes, backward strokes, pries and draws.  We then discussed briefly what a good diamond formation looks like for paddling in groups: one leader at or close to the front, a right flank, a left flank, and a sweep at the back.  We practiced by paddling out to the point across the reservoir from PQ beach and then back to shore for lunch.

After lunch, we set ourselves up for T-rescues and self-rescues with paddle floats (think water wings for kayak paddles).  My heart raced when it came time for me to tip my kayak and bail out.  Taking a couple of deep, calming breaths I rolled to my right and dumped myself out of my boat.  I grabbed my paddle so it wouldn’t float away and helped my rescuer by pushing the bow of my boat so that the kayak lined up perpendicular to her.  She grabbed my stern, pulling the kayak up onto hers until water dumped out of the kayak, flipped it over, and maneuvered it so that it was parallel to her boat.  Hugging the front half of my boat tightly, she steadied the boat so that I could haul myself onto the back half of the kayak and inch myself into my cockpit, adjust my skirt, and paddle away.  We had executed a T-rescue.  I resigned myself to dumping out of my boat again, this time inflating a paddle float, inserting one end into it and the other under the bungees on my kayak.  The paddle then acted as a tripod attached to the front half of my kayak.  I once again hauled myself into the back half, inched my way up to the cockpit and then pumped water out of my boat for a good 15 minutes.  Once we proved that we could rescue ourselves, we set out for another paddle.  We ended our day one much in the same way we had started: returning kayaks and paddles to the racks, hanging up wet skirts, and putting away paddle floats and pumps in a blue Rubbermaid bin.

Day Two: After a foggy start worthy of several conversations about horror movies, the day shone brightly on our three groups of kayakers.  This day would be about trip planning and execution.  Eric showed us the current/tide map for the area and gave us possibilities for where we could paddle for the day.  We as a group agreed on our trip route and set off.  I was achy and stiff to start.  It felt like the first few miles of a long run.  After 20 minutes of gliding through the still water, we stopped at Blueberry Island to retrieve a few leaves for our Flora class.   Once we started up again, I felt much more warm in the muscles and the rest of the day was a breeze.  We practiced the strokes and rescues we had learned the day before as we paddled towards Fish Island for lunch.  At times we were far from shore, in the wider parts of the channel.  At other times, we were navigating ourselves between and over rocks in shallow water.

lunch break
Photo: R. Quik

We stopped briefly for lunch, basking in the warm sun and grateful that our dry bags and kayak hatches had done their job.  No one had to eat soggy sandwiches.  We shoved off after 20 minutes and paddled a little further up to Muskrat Rapids, pointed our kayaks into the current just below the rapids and ran it to the first eddy.  We had been out on the water for three hours and only had an hour and a half to get back to PQ Beach.  If we wanted to get back, clean up the boats, and debrief we had to hustle.  Our group rotated through several more versions of the diamond formation, practicing a couple more rescues and tows before arriving back at the beach.

Eric’s debrief included thoughts on getting into sea kayak guiding as employment and he recommended learning how to read the current and tide maps for whatever area we were interested in.  We left PQ Beach sunbaked and pumped for our 10 day sea kayak expedition on Georgian Bay next September.  My goal: outfit my DSLR so that it can survive a wet trip.

Up for discussion: Sea kayaking or whitewater kayaking? Go!

Published by Kate Monahan

Travel happy. Outdoors professional. Writer. Photographer. Educator.

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