Notes on beginning kayaking.

September, 2000

The recent canoe trip I took on the Eleven Point River in Arkansas was the first time I’d been in a canoe in many years and I was surprised to find how quickly I felt at home in the water in that type of boat. The river at that time of year was strictly Class I, but it still took a bit of skill to stay out of the eddies in the runout behind what “rapids” there were on the river. At first I was frustrated but as my boat partner and I quickly refined our paddling skills, I knew I was hooked but that a canoe was not the boat for me: not nimble enough to be much fun and not practical for a solitary boater which I would likely be most of the time. So I decided to look into a kayak.

Having no experience whatever and with the summer rapidly drawing to a close, I narrowed my search to the “sit-on-top” models, which require no Eskimo roll and are pretty much unsinkable. At first I was looking at a very small boat, really a surf play boat, although I am hundreds of miles from the nearest ocean, because it claimed to be good for beginners. Past experience has shown me that I am seldom satisfied for long with an entry level anything, so I looked for a more sophisticated boat that I might grow into a little bit, and decided on a Scrambler by Ocean Kayak. It is an eleven foot long boat that is suitable for the type of paddling I will be doing, namely flat water lakes and slow rivers, possibly up to Class II. Wanting neither the two week wait nor the eighty-five dollar freight charge to have the thing trucked to my house, I decided to drive to Nashville and pick it up in person, along with getting some help from the store personnel on the selection of accessories. The boat is only forty-five pounds and easily straps to the top of any vehicle, with or without racks.

On Labor Day I drove to the Cold Creek Chute boat ramp in Lauderdale County, Tennessee and proceeded to unload my bright blue kayak in front of several carloads of very drunk redneck boys and acted as if I knew exactly what I was doing. The blackflies were biting but I doused myself with DEET and shoved off. I decided to head in the direction of the Mississippi River just to see what it looked like from this new vantage point rather than head up into the calmer waters of the oxbow lake. I had not gotten very far along the chute, still in the no-wake zone, when the boys could no longer resist, and shot past me in their motorboat quite close to me and sprayed me with their wake. I just nodded and smiled-boys will be boys, and my boat is self bailing and the water felt good as it was a very hot day.

All was quiet after that and as kingfishers darted through the air around me and catfish lazily looped in the water beside me, the sun had come out from behind a cloud and dry leaves blew across the black water like a thousand tiny sailboats and I was hooked. As the Big Muddy came into view my pulse quickened, for although I knew my skills were not up to venturing far into it, the possibilities bloomed in my mind as I speculated on how I might get home from New Orleans were I to head out into the channel and float down the Delta. I paused at the mouth of the chute to celebrate and admire the view of Cypress, wind, and water.

Alien shore

Rather than risk actually being swept away downstream, I instead turned north and paddled up, into a stiff headwind but still I was able to make fairly good progress. I know nothing about river navigation but I’m assuming there are eddy currents close to the shore, which is where I stayed. When I turned back to return to the chute I found that no effort was needed to go forward but a fairly good effort was needed to not be drawn out into the main channel! As I regained the chute I stopped once more to again ponder the possibilities and to take another picture.

The miracle of self-timers.

I was pleasantly tired when I returned to my car and wished I could do more exploring, but the sun was sinking and soon it would be time to start another work week. Having new adventures to look forward to will make everything a little easier. And besides, cooler weather is coming and I'll look sharp in a new spray jacket.

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