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Kindness of Strangers
"I have always depended on the kindness of strangers."
- Blanche DuBois in Tennesee Williams' 'A Streetcar Named Desire'.
Driftwood Kayak's 1-day and multi-day trips usually go without a hitch. But, as in life, not always. Sometimes we do all we can to make things work but the unexpected happens and it's then that we look around for some help. Three such recent incidents come to mind. Strangers went out of their way to help out as they often do and saved the day.
1. The Bilge Pump
We found ourselves at the put-in in Stonington with three kayaks loaded and ready for a 3-day kayak - camping trip. After checking all my gear, I found that we 'd brought everything we needed except a bilge-pump. A bilge-pump is an essential piece of equipment in the event of a capsize, and going back to get it would put us a couple of hours behind schedule. Just then, Noel and his family were arriving at the put-in. They had been on a 4-day kayaking trip and were starting to unload their boats ready for the drive back to Washington, DC. When he heard of my predicament, without hesitation, Noel saved the day and handed over his bilge-pump with a smile and a "just mail it when you get back". Thanks Noel!
2. The Destroyed Tire
We'd planned an all-day trip out of Brooklin and had just dropped off the boats on the beach at the water's edge. We were now shuttling back to the house to take kayakers to the put-in. Suddenly - it must have been a nail - a warning light flashed red and I could hear the ominous sound of a rear-wheel puncture - the tire was dead flat. I was on a country road, there were no houses in sight and I had left my phone in my kayak at the beach. I drove a little way, slowly, slowly, and then further, trying not to damage the wheel. I rolled into the driveway of a solitary farmhouse in Sedgwick. John came to the door. Inside, Clarence - in his 90's and wearing a military-style Navy baseball cap, greeted me quietly and told me that when he was much younger, he had fought on the Korean Peninsula. And John was more than happy to let me use their landline to call AAA. Long story short, within the hour I was back at the beach and we were pushing off from shore for a full day on the water. Thanks, John and thanks, Clarence!
3. The Missing Kayakers
The details of the event are below (see 'Safety First'). Two 'missing kayakers' were paddling out of sight in 10 - 15 knot winds in mid-afternoon. I was out looking for them when I chanced upon a small sailing-boat which was moored off McGlathery Island just south of Stonington. Jeremy and his family who were from Portland, ME, were sitting down in the boat to an early dinner. Without missing a beat, Jeremy offered his time and his Zodiac to help find them. We circled McGlathery in winds that were becoming stronger by the minute without any luck. Since it was getting towards late afternoon, we decided to go back to see if the two kayakers were at our starting point at our campsite. We were overjoyed to see that they were. Jeremy, you were simply amazing. Thanks, Jeremy!
This month's Atlantic Coastal Kayaker magazine has a very nice article on storms which appear apparently out of nowhere, storms which may not be in the weather forecast. What to do in the face of unpredicted weather is something we often face here in Maine - with its juxtaposition between warm air currents and relatively warm waters to the south and the colder weather and seas to the north. Maine also has a complex coastal geography, largely the result of the five major rivers which flow south at the coast and these contribute to the sometimes unpredictable weather patterns we see on the coast.
Tamsin Venn, the magazine's publisher and author of this article has compiled opinions from local kayaking 'thought leaders' on what to do in the face of a sudden unexpected storm when you have a sea kayaking trip planned. Do you cancel the trip or proceed with extra caution? Knowing what to do and how to effectively monitor the changing weather requires a combination of technical experience and of 'local knowledge' - that elusive quality that comes with the passage of time. Sharing experiences with other kayakers, with 'the locals' and with kayaking guides are a good way of gaining knowledge about local weather patterns. Being 'prepared for the worst' is a good standby motto. Canceling a trip is always a tough call but making that call can be a lifesaver, or at least a decision that in the end means you're just as eager the next time to gear yourself up for a trip. I'd highly recommend that anyone paddling in unfamiliar waters in Maine get a copy of the article, in the September issue of Atlantic Coastal Kayaker (Vol 25, No. 6, p. 25).
I'm not a proponent of renting kayaks to paddlers vacationing in this part of Maine. It's likely that vacationers are not familiar with the dynamic tides, currents and wind which can cause trouble. Which is why my trips are 'guided' only. I was recently on a 3-day trip with a father-and-son group and one afternoon after we'd made camp on island, they suggested taking the kayaks out for a short paddle while I took it easy on the island. The weather looked good, they were both strong, though not experienced, paddlers, and I said sure. Just minutes after they'd left and as I was watching them from the beach, the wind seemed to pick up and almost before my eyes, white-caps appeared on the water, suggesting 10mph winds or more. Suddenly I felt uneasy and thought I would catch up them 'just in case'. I jumped in my kayak and 10 minutes later with the wind picking up found myself battling close to 15mph winds with no other kayaks in sight. To cut a long story short, after an hour of heavy paddling and of asking various boaters in the area if they had seen other kayaks, I chanced upon a veteran coastguard employee who happened to be sailing with his family. The two of us scoured the area in his Zodiac, finding nothing. We returned to the campsite and found that our two friends had made it back safely. We had been within minutes of making in a 'Missing Persons' call to the Coastguard and were relieved, to say the least, that we did not have to. 'All's well that ends well' was a phrase that came to mind and later the three of us had a lot to say about kayaking safety. Lesson learned - know and plan for unexpected conditions and only venture out on the ocean in conditionsyou can handle. Stay tuned for more details on this in an upcoming Atlantic Coastal Kayaker magazine issue.
Island of the Month:
Freshwater swimming hole at Green Island just south of Stonington.
Access to the island, which is about 48 acres, is on its southeastern side where there's a small cove with a rocky beach where you can land in kayaks. Behind the beach is a path to a small meadow, a loop trail, and the swimming hole which is in an old quarry. You can camp on the island which has some fantastic views of the Camden Hills to the west and of the Merchant Islands to the north.
“We need the tonic of wildness…at the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be indefinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because it is unfathomable”
- Henry David Thoreau, in ‘Walden: or, Life in the Woods’.
“The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever.”
- Jacques Yves Cousteau.
“The winds and the waves are always on the side of the ablest navigators”
- Edward Gibbon.
'"There is no path to kayaking happiness, kayaking happiness is the path."