I have paddled in the Everglades every year since 1998 with Omni Youth Services of Illinois, helping as a volunteer for their wilderness therapy kayak trips. The teens that go have not kayaked before and move very slowly, so we always go to the same few campsites on Florida Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. Checking the weather forecasts on my marine radio, I would often hear the location of the Gulf Stream as part of the broadcast. It is defined, in part, in relation to the Dry Tortugas. Over the years the Tortugas have become a sort of mythical place for me. I know they exist — they are a National Park after all — but they seem far away, exotic and, above all, they are out of reach for a van trip from Illinois with teens.
This year I decided to go two weeks in advance of Omni’s Spring Break trip and explore the parts of the Everglades I never get to see and, hallelujah, go to the Dry Tortugas (here after the “DT”). The plan was to go with my friend Patty, driving my car from Chicago, with Patty driving back alone after leaving me in the Everglades to meet up with Omni.
Our itinerary was a little odd because we could only get ferry reservations for the DT in the middle of our trip. We decided to paddle my familiar territory of Florida Bay and the Gulf of Mexico for three nights (since Patty had never been there) and then go to Key West to catch the DT ferry, spend three nights in DT and then drive back to Flamingo and spend a few nights in Whitewater Bay, where I have never been.
Paddling in The Everglades, Cape Sable
I have always gone through the park entrance to Flamingo. There is another major entry at Everglades City, but I wanted to see more of where I had always gone, so we stuck with Flamingo.
It is about a 24-hour drive from Chicago, depending on routes. I refuse to pay the high cost of the Florida Turnpike tolls, so I drive through Atlanta to Naples to the Tamiami Trail (Route 41 aka Alligator Alley) to just south of Miami and then to Homestead.
Homestead/Florida City is just outside the park. There are large stores and it’s a good place to stock up on food. The marina store by the visitor’s center at Flamingo has a few food items, but it’s not the place to provision a kayak trip. On the way into the park from Homestead is Robert is Here, the fruitstand-without-equal. They make milkshakes with the fruit they sell. They have a zoo. They sell rubber alligators. A mandatory stop.
Once you enter the park, the Flamingo campground and visitor center is about a 45 minute drive. The campground is gigantic but there are walk-in sites, so you can get away from the land yachts if you wish. Solar-heated hot showers make spending at least the first night there a good idea.
There are two types of remote sites in the Everglades: land-based and chickees. A chickee is not connected to poultry in any way. It is a platform on stilts with a roof and a chemical toilet. Some are single, and some are double. The smaller ones are ten feet by ten feet, large enough for three two-man tents. If you use a chickee, be sure your tent is freestanding. Chickees have ladders, so when the tide changes, you can still launch and land. But low tides make loading and unloading a bit tricky. It’s worth bringing a net bag to help with schlepping stuff from boat to platform and back.
The land-based campsites are mostly on shell beaches. Spring is windy, so having a deadman way of anchoring the tent is a good idea.
After recuperating from the drive by staying at Flamingo the first night, we got our permits and headed out. We paddled for almost seven hours (against the tide most of the way) to get to Northwest Cape, the furthest of the Cape Sable beach campsites. There are two places from which to launch for the open water: the marina and the campground. The campground launch is not a formal one and is not accessible at lower tides, so we launched from the marina.
Cape Sable is the southernmost mainland place in the United States. It has three huge beaches: East Cape, Middle Cape and Northwest Cape. I’d been to East and Middle, so Patty and I went to NW Cape. It is a sandy beach, like the others, but a bit more overgrown. The westernmost end has dildo cactuses (look it up, that is its name) and Gumbo Limbo trees, neither of which exist on the other Cape beaches as far as I know. The Gumbo Limbo is a neat-looking tree, having reddish bark that constantly peels. Hence its nickname: the Tourist Tree. (Get it? Turns red and peels)
We saw the usual bird life — pelicans, gulls, terns, cormorants, scissor-tailed flycatchers, roseate spoonbills, white ibis, stork — but nothing unusual. Migration had already started, so we saw huge flocks of shore birds and white pelicans landing on the beach to rest up after crossing the Gulf. Never a dull moment. Dolphins made a few appearances as well.
After spending two nights at NW Cape we paddled to East Cape, spent the night there and then headed back to Flamingo. We showered and hopped in the car to drive to Key West for the DT leg of the trip.
The Dry Tortugas
I could spend a very long time singing the praises of this amazing place. To get there one must take the ferry, take a private boat, or fly on a sea plane. The ferry leaves daily from Key West. Most people stay the day and come back. On our outbound trip, there were three sets of campers. The ferry (I never quite understood why) requires a return booking before you leave Key West and they only allow three nights of camping in the DT. The ferry will take kayaks, but only up to 15 feet long. At least that’s what they tell you.
Patty and I had originally planned to take our Feathercraft folding kayaks for this trip. Patty thought I had two Feathercrafts and she would use one of mine, so she did not bring hers. I do have two Feathercrafts, but one is a double. So we decided to take my Explorer, the Feathercraft single and my old-school whitewater boat, a Perception Sabre. It’s small enough for the ferry (11 feet long) and fast enough I would have no trouble keeping up.
If you rent a ferry-legal kayak from a guy named Mike in Key West, he will drop it off at the ferry and pick it up again whenever you return. He rents 16 foot sit on tops that can be paddled by one or two people. Once we realized how long it was, we left my Feathercraft assembled for the voyage back. The place the ferry puts kayaks in is about 20 feet long, so the 16.5 foot Feathercraft fit easily.
Camping at the DT is weird. You have to stay on the ferry when it docks and listen to a lecture by the ranger. There is no water available, so everyone must bring their own. A gallon per day per person is suggested. The campsites are near one of the two snorkeling beaches. Each site has a picnic table, and some have a little shade. The ferry does not allow any cooking fuel other than self-starting charcoal or Sterno. Nothing else. Each campsite has a grill and a post for hanging food to keep it from the rats.
There are nice composting toilets by the camping area but they cannot sustain heavy use, so they are closed when the ferry is docked. You guessed it — you use the ferry’s toilets until it leaves and then the composters are opened. So, you can go on the ferry and drink all the water you want during the day. You can even buy lunch and alcoholic drinks on it. Wilderness camping with flush toilets and a bar! The ferry also has freshwater rinse showers for apres-snorkeling.
The main island, Garden Key, is mostly taken up by Fort Jefferson. The fort is huge. Building started in 1846. The original plan was for the fort to hold four hundred guns. The parade ground is eight acres. One could spend a couple of days just exploring the fort. It was used as a prison, holding some of the Lincoln conspirators, including the famous Dr. Mudd. Tours are given by ferry staff (who really know the history of the fort) every afternoon.
The other attraction here, if you are not a bird watcher, is snorkeling. Two beaches allow you to find a spot that is not windswept. Corals and fish are in knee-deep water. You don’t even have to use a snorkel. Masks, snorkels and fins are provided free by the ferry as part of your voyage.
Spring in the DT means bird watching. A number of birds exist there that are found nowhere else in the US. My favorites are the Magnificent Frigate Birds. They’re very large, black and fly and soar effortlessly. One end of the DT park, which is called Bush Key, is a nesting area, so it is off limits for people. Flying around Bush Key, when we were there, were frigate birds, brown noddys, and sooty terns, all circling the nesting areas and making a loud racket 24 hours a day. Masked boobies (which nest on one of the smaller keys there), skimmers, terns, gulls, and all the songbirds that migrate through make birding a full-time possibility. There’s even a resident owl that leaves dead rats on the parade ground. Half the campers were bird watchers when we were there. They were fun to talk to and gave us a lot of info about the birds we were seeing.
The day we arrived in the DT we set up our tents, put the Feathercraft together and circumnavigated Garden Key. The Park Service brochure on kayaking says this trip should take a few hours. It took us 50 minutes.
Loggerhead Key is 3 miles away. It has a large lighthouse and beaches and a perfect snorkeling spot on the back side. The trip over goes through shallow water and deep, so paddling in wind can be an adventure. Our first trip over was in high winds, so we had some fun with the waves. We paddled over with Eric and his son Taylor who were on a sit-on-top. They made it with no trouble, although it took three times longer to get back than to get out, due to the winds. Eric knows birds and is a great storyteller. He made it a fun trip.
On Loggerhead, we snorkeled in thigh-deep water. It was amazing to me, who doesn’t like being under water, that the corals and anemones and fish would be right here in such shallow water. I didn’t really need the snorkel.
The next day Patty and I paddled over to Loggerhead alone. The waves were significant, with the wind being a constant 15 knots with lots of bigger gusts. We hunted for some of the shipwrecks that “you can’t miss” but managed to miss them. We saw a few dolphins and had a good workout.
Cooking with Sterno (or charcoal) is really slow, so we had a lot of time to just sit and wait for water to boil. While sitting on the ground before dinner on the second night (it was too windy to sit on the picnic table with the stove) Patty got a real fright. She saw what she thought was a giant spider walking right at her. It turns out it was the biggest hermit crab I had ever seen. They were everywhere that night.
Paddling the Everglades, Whitewater Bay
After returning to the Everglades, we set out for Whitewater Bay, a huge shallow inland tidal area that can be accessed from many different points, including Everglades City, a week’s worth of paddling away. We entered from the marina at Flamingo. This marina has access both to Florida Bay and to the Buttonwood Canal, which goes to Whitewater Bay and beyond. A dam separates the two bodies of water, with the marina on both sides of the dam. Our destination was the North River chickee. It was only 12 miles so we didn’t rush. What we didn’t plan for was my weak navigational skills. We got within a half mile of the chickee and couldn’t find it. I resorted to my GPS but we could not find the chickee in the tangle of mangroves we were in. We gave up and headed for the Watson chickee, four miles away, hoping to find it in the two hours before sunset. After an hour and a half of wandering through dead ends and blind channels, I said “People who are lost go in circles. I’m checking the GPS.” Sure enough, we were four tenths of a mile from the North River chickee. I dug out an old map that had the GPS coordinates of the chickee. They were different from those I had put into my GPS. Not much, but enough. With the new coordinates we found the chickee in about 20 minutes and managed to get the tents up and dinner made before dark.
Oddly, we heard people talking late into the night. We guessed it might be fisherman spending the night on their boat. Next morning, we learned it was six canoes full of Outward Bound participants who paddled up and asked to use the toilet attached to the chickee. They were on a 40 day (!) expedition and were expecting a resupply that morning. They had planks that they put across the rafted canoes to sleep on. No tents in the mosquito and noseeum capital of the US. To offset the lack of a quiet morning, we had a dolphin swim right under us while were talking to them.
From there we went to the Oyster Bay chickee, successfully determining to navigate by compass alone. The Oyster Bay chickee is a double, one platform being ten by ten feet and the other ten by twelve. We knew from the log book when we got our permits that someone else would be there. We took the larger platform and, strangely, the other party never showed up. No Outward Bounders made an appearance, but tons of dolphins did. We had been taking precautions against the ubiquitous Everglades raccoons by hanging our food and using a bear barrel. Thinking we were safe on the chickee, we left everything on the platform. The next morning we saw a nylon bag had been chewed through, the bagel bag inside it was chewed through and a hunk of onion bagel was gone. The villains were little black crabs.
Our next stop was the ground site at Graveyard Creek, right on the Gulf of Mexico. The ranger who gave us our permits, Ann, who I have seen every year for fifteen years, said she had never issued a permit for Graveyard before because the noseeums were so bad there. We had some trouble with them, but I’ve seen worse. We brought a screen tent for cooking and eating in the presence of bugs, so we managed quite well. The nice part of the site was double chemical toilets and a picnic table.
On the paddle over to Graveyard we saw more dolphins, our third loggerhead turtle of the trip and a Ridley’s turtle, which swam right at us until the last second, when it dove under the boats.
We arrived at the site pretty early in the day, so we paddled up Graveyard Creek, looking for the dolphins we had seen swimming upstream. After a while we came back into the Gulf and saw the best dolphin show yet. The tide was changing and the fish from the creek were being pushed into the gulf. The dolphins were waiting. We saw one chase a fish so fast that the dolphin ended up high and dry on the shore and had to flop around to get itself back in the water. Dolphins were swimming in such shallow water that their backs were exposed.
At 2 AM that night, we heard voices. Patty said later she was sure it was the ghosts of Graveyard. Worse! It was the same Outward Bounders we had seen before. They were singing and laughing as they approached. Once again, in the morning, they used the toilets. And apologized for waking us up. They were told no one ever camps at Graveyard.
From Graveyard we paddled to Middle Cape and spent our last night on the Gulf. More dolphins and a nice sunset made a nice finale. In the morning, we noticed a large crocodile trail right past our boats. Crocodiles can process salt water in their bodies and alligators can’t, so you know it’s a croc when you are on salt water. In between, such as on Buttonwood canal, you see both. Alligators look black, crocs look dark green. Alligators are nonchalant about kayaks, crocs are terrified of them.
On our way to Flamingo, we paddled into the Middle Cape Canal, through Lake Ingraham behind East Cape for a change of scenery, came back to the Gulf through the East Cape Canal and then on to the marina. Calling home (finally back to cell reception civilization), I learned that Omni had cancelled their trip. Patty and I decided to stay another couple of days.
Paddling the Everglades, Nine Mile Pond
There are a number of inland paddling spots in the Everglades. On the Flamingo side, West Lake and Nine Mile Pond (named for its distance from the old visitor’s center) are two nice ones. Nine Mile’s paddling trail goes through some mangrove tunnels and is loaded with alligators. We had to shoo a stubborn one out of our path at one point in the mangroves.
The Park Service has a handout that gives a lot of information about what there is to see on the trail. There are numbered poles throughout the trail, so you won’t get lost (I didn’t even get lost!) and you know when to look for the stuff listed in the handout.
We had an awful lot of very shallow water here. It’s a good idea to check with the rangers about water levels before doing this trail because it is not tidal. But I like Nine Mile because it gives a feel for a very different part of the Everglades from the coastal areas. The tunnels are so tight that you often scare up wildlife (birds mostly) just before running into them. And the mangroves provide shelter from the constant winds of Spring.
If you plan to paddle the Everglades, a good reference is The Paddler’s Guide to the Everglades National Park by Johnny Molloy.
Specialfor CASKA members here's a link to an interview with Chris Lockyer, the founder of the Bay of Fundy Sea Kayak Symposium that will make its debut in September this year. Chris kindly answered our questions on video and supplemented it with views that definitely help spice up the location that already makes me kayak-drool. Without further a due, I hope this will get you a taste of what it would be like to paddle the highest tides in the world.
by Stave Landers
A group of ten paddlers from Prairie Coast Paddlers (and CASKA) recently went to Tybee Island, Georgia for a week of paddling in the Atlantic and intercoastal waters. Along with was Christopher Lockyer, a 5-star coach from Halifax, Nova Scotia. Chris was able to fill in on short notice when Geneva Kayak's Ryan Rushton wasn't able to go, as originally planned. I guess he had someone who was supposed to run a snowshoe weekend for him cancel and he had to do that trip instead. Chris proved to be more than capable and fit in with the group quite easily. I'm sure we wouldn't hesitate working with him again.
Bill and Sarah did most of the legwork putting the trip together, arranging for lodging, carpooling, buying the groceries, getting money from everyone, and the countless other things that have to be done putting a trip like this together. Kudos to them for a job well done.
Also along were Dan Leigh, Marian Chase, Nate Strong (from Kalamazoo), Doug Thomas, Harriet Krup, John Gabris, Kristine and myself. Doug and Harriet paddled the week prior to Tybee down in alligator swampland, so they drove up from there. Nate drove with Sarah and they picked Chris up from the airport in Atlanta. Chris caught the only plane out of Nova Scotia that day because of snowstorms. He had similar luck on his return trip, having to stay an extended time in Toronto. Kristine and I drove together, staying in Nashville before and after the trip. We paddled Percy Priest Lake one day, it's sort of a typical reservoir, much like Lake Shelbyville, Carlyle, and Rend here in Illinois. The remainder of the group drove together in Bill's F-150. He also towed most of the boats using a trailer borrowed from Dave Kaknes. Dave and his wife were forced to cancel going because of illness in the family. He was nice enough to let Bill borrow the trailer.
The week at Tybee is pretty much a blur to me. We paddled every day, about equally in the backwater marsh and river areas, and on the ocean. I don't think total mileage for the week was over thirty miles. The longest trek of the trip was just under sixteen when we paddled from Savannah through a series of interconnecting rivers to the south side of Tybee Island, just blocks from the two story rental house where we were staying. On this particular day we worked on navigation, and everyone took turns leading the group....although a couple of us might have been off a ways ahead of the group some of the time. Guilty.
Everyday Chris put together a lesson, or lessons, to work on for the day. This surprised me. I had thought going there that it was going to be totally unstructured. It worked out for the best having a plan for the day and he was quite flexible about what we could work on. We were also encouraged to pick his brains on whatever we chose. He was totally flexible and accommodating. I think his instruction was very valuable and benefitted everyone. Throughout the week we worked on strokes, paddling in surf, navigation, forward paddling with video analysis, surfing, tidal cycles, and a myriad of other things. I think everyone had different things that they took out of the week, and different favorite days. I know that Kris and I differed in the days we each considered the best. My favorite day was Wednesday, Feb. 13, when we had a few hours to play in the surf. We had 4-5 foot waves for a few hours before they died off. There were quite a few surfers out that day as well.
Speaking of that day, I learned a valuable lesson, and I'm not sure many people other than Bill and I know what that was. We had eight of us surfing that morning, which included Chris. Waves, like I said were 4-5, the good ones anyway. The group was fairly spread out along the beach area, to the north of the pier on Christopher's recommendation that we avoid a rip tide area and another area where the ebbing tide would take us out to sea if we ventured too far south. The areas where the best waves were occurring was constantly shifting. Bill and I had paddled a little farther south, towards the pier, in an effort to catch better waves, which we were able to do.
Bill and I were together, waiting to catch a wave, sitting maybe a hundred yards or so offshore. These ocean waves were different than Lake Michigan waves, they were harder to catch for some reason. You had to not just sit and wait for a wave, but had to be paddling in and have some momentum, and then paddle like hell to catch the wave as a good one approached, not just sit there and immediately try to catch a wave. At least that was my experience with Big Red. As Bill and I waited, he took off and caught a good wave and surfed in. I caught the next wave, about 4-5 seconds behind his, and also was able to surf in. Towards the end of his ride Bill capsized, rolled, uprighted himself and began paddling -- opposite to the direction that we normally were breaking off the waves. He told me this afterwards, I was concentrating on my wave, staying upright and wasn't watching what was going on with him. (Hmmmm, maybe this is why he hasn't written a trip report yet, he wanted to see my confession in print).
Just as Bill had uprighted himself, along I came and T-boned his kayak, sliding up on his front deck, at least three-four feet from the front of my kayak, and only two feet from where he sat. I don't know who was more shocked. Judging by the look on his face I'd say Bill was. After some maneuvering we were able to disengage the kayaks and paddle off. Bill's boat has some new scratches on the front deck. Fortunately that was all that it had, it could have been a serious accident if I had speared him. What I should have done, and I know this because it's been taught to me, was to dump immediately when I saw Bill crossing in front of me. I know that if you hit someone coming in it's your fault no matter what. I can't explain why I didn't, it happened too fast, I wasn't keeping an eye out for him, I misjudged our paths...not sure. The most important thing was that I should've waited a longer interval before trying to catch a wave behind him.
The accommodations that we had on Tybee were quite nice. There were five bedrooms, three baths. Breakfasts and dinners, all but one, were cooked at the house. We ate well. Everyone took turns cooking, cleaning, helping out, making coffee, and the like. Harriet, who is a wonderful cook, was the kitchen manager for the week, assigning a cooking schedule and tasks for everyone. No one was hesitant in offering to help. Thursday night we ate at AJ's, which was just up the block from the house.
I think everyone had a really good time. The group got along very well together. I can't wait to do it again! Where are we going next year?
by Dave Olson of The Lake is the Boss
Many of the folks who live, work, and play on the shores of Lake Superior don't realize that there is a bill in the Wisconsin legislature to gut the environmental protections offered by the state's mine permitting process. The bill was substantially written by Goegebic Taconite, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Cline Group, a mega coal mining concern based in Florida. They are the company that strip-mined coal in southern Illinois over the past several years. They want to create a gigantic iron mine between Hurley and Mellen in Northern Wisconsin. Whether you are for or against mining, the watershed always needs to be protected and the legislators need to pay attention to the science. The watershed that would be affected by this proposed iron mine is the Bad River and its tributaries, the largest watershed that flows into Lake Superior, just a few short miles east of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore--home, as we all know, to some of the finest paddling on this planet. The Bad River Watershed Association has been testing and monitoring streams and rivers in the watershed for years and will be in Madison for Canoecopia this year. Last year, due to their hard work and diligence, the BRWA won Lake Superior Magazine's 2012 Achievement Award. Clean water is critical to a number of species, including that staple of Native American diets and spiritual life. The wild rice beds at the mouth of the Bad River are some of the most productive and extensive in the world and are on the reservation of the Bad River band of Lake Superior Chippewa. The Bad River tribe and their extremely articulate chairman, Mike Wiggins, are vehemently opposed to anything that might compromise the water and the rice beds.
Since we don't quite have the advertising budget of GTAC or the Cline Group, it will take help to get the word out. People need to be aware of the mining threat to water quality and also the availability of the Bad River Watershed Association at Canoecopia. If paddlers would help spread the word we can increase exposure exponentially. We would like to encourage people to stop by the booth, take a look at the map, and become aware of the issues involved. At the very minimum a 'like' on Facebook for the BRWA would show support. A membership in the BRWA is dirt cheap--twenty five bucks--a useful amount of cash for a grass roots, volunteer organization. That's less than the cost of a couple of burger baskets and a pint of beer or two at most northern Wisconsin bars. The membership money will be used to sustain water monitoring to base line the resource. The DNR actually quit monitoring that area in the late 70's because it was 'too clean' (!!) and the budget funds needed to be spent on more problematic areas. Kayakers and silent sports folks in general have the reputation of heading to the water or the ski trail with $20 and a pair of underwear and not changing either. I' would encourage paddlers and fans of Gitchee Gumee to help dispel that perception and support the organization and the effort to hold GTAC and the legislature accountable as this process and the mining legislation evolves. This is not about whether or not there should be a mine in northern Wisconsin. It's about making sure that any type of mining activity complies with the environmental and water quality standards now in place. The bills proposed in both the Wisconsin House and Senate would bypass and eliminate many of these safeguards. This issue is not just a Wisconsin issue. Lake Superior has an international border and any deterioration of water quality will affect Ontario as well as Minnesota and Michigan. Anyone who lives, works, or plays on Lake Superior and values its uniqueness has a horse in this race.
This is not a small mine, a pit such as the ones seen up on Michigan's Keweenaw Peninsula or in the Ironwood, MI area. If you superimposed the proposed mine on Chicago it would stretch from Navy Pier to about four miles west of O'Hare Airport. It would be as deep as the Two Prudential Plaza or the AT&T Corporate Center in downtown. That much rock and understory can't be moved without knowing exactly what will happen and how it will affect the watershed.
I keep a tin cup bungeed on the deck of my Explorer when I paddle Gitchee Gumee. If I'm more than a mile offshore on Lake Superior I drink water straight out of the lake. I have since about 1977 and never had a single problem. I remember when Reserve Mining was dumping taconite tailings into the lake up on the north shore in the early 70's and everyone in Duluth had to drink bottled water for a time. Not on my watch, and not on my part of the lake if I can do anything to prevent it. I hope you feel the same and will consider helping with the effort.
A few resources:
Chicago Area Sea Kayakers Association
Event Calendar 2013
In water, any rescue takes a lot more time and energy than an elegant roll.
Both Russ and I capsized and rolled our kayaks on that day and neither one of us are strangers to chaotic surf of the Great Lakes… With the power of breaking waves on full display in front of us and the howling wind we had to get very close to each other just to be able to talk. I was looking at Russ eye-to-eye with no more than 10' separating the boats. Mid-sentence, Russ's kayak was suddenly hoisted straight up out of the water and the next instance I was looking at the white bottom of his Nordkapp, head cocked way up. Another split second and there was no more Russ or his kayak… Haris Subacius—Isle Royale
A reliable roll is one that can be done when not expected. Rough water, or skookumchuck, can psychologically make things difficult. Find ways to practice in all conditions. A roll will help you get more proficient at your bracing skills. Don’t plan to just set up to roll when faced with a possible capsize. Sweep your brace stroke just like you would at the end of your roll.
Warren Williamson rolling at Skookumchuck Narrows; 8/09:It is common, during the initial learning stages to perform several excellent rolls one week, and then lose the ability entirely the following week.
If you have incorporated and reinforced mistakes, a good instructor will be able to catch your mistakes and help you. I will be completing my 3rd class at the Yorkville Recreation Center this Sunday with Haris Subacius who is an instructor for Geneva Kayak Center.
If you start missing your roll, even after you have mastered the roll, look for the following mistakes:
Warren Williamson rarely instructs though he is a mentor to many paddlers. Interesting interview clips with Warren Williamson from above video:
Have you optimized your boat? “No. I haven’t optimized it for anything it’s just a very ‘Plain Jane West Greenland.’”
Any plans to go touring? “You know, I haven’t even camped out one night in a kayak yet.”
This run is about 6 nm. And so 45 mn—is a screaming time for this. “I don’t know. I don’t keep track of anything like that… You know, I’m not a racer. I don’t keep track of all that.”
But you do go out to Skookumchuck and go backwards! “I can do that.”
Warren Another View; 5/4/11: Note Warren’s detailed preflight approach to taking a new kayak out into conditions. During the first five minutes, Warren familiarizes himself with the craft to eliminate surprise and allow him to proceed with confidence.
John Lull, Sea Kayaking, Safety & Rescue: From Mild to Wild, the Essential Guide; 2001.
Derek C. Hutchinson, Expedition Kayaking; A Falcon Guide, 5th Ed.; 2007.
Derek C. Hutchinson, The Complete Book of Sea Kayaking, 5th Ed.; 2003.
“The Kayak Roll” with Kent Ford; Performance Video; 2003.
By popular demand, please find below the outline of ideas discussed in this rolling series:I. The Wisdom of the Bobo Doll:
Good luck and please share your thoughts and experiences.
Also, if you are looking for more writing on the concepts of rolling, pictures and videos, you may want to check out Low Impact Rolling series. Derek offers a rather different perspective on how you get from upside down to on top of things.
Raising your head or stabbing the water with the paddle each betrays lifting at the core of the mental representation of the roll in one's head. Pull boat and body towards each other instead, then slide the body on top with as little elevation as possible, and these maladies will vanish without a trace.
There is a third common suspect when it comes to failed rolls— Top Hand Punch. Top Hand Punch is charged with at least two cardinal violations:
With the approach to rolling advocated in this series, neither safety- nor efficacy-based accusations against punching hold much water.
Safety first! The short of it is that extending your arm and applying pulling or lateral forces on it while in that position will strain the shoulder. The strain becomes more of an issue when the extended arm gets behind the plane of the roller's chest. In this vulnerable position, even weak sideways forces will test the tendons and ligaments that hold the humerus attached to the shallow socket of the shoulder blade. This threat is very real in rolling. If you try to lift the body straight up by pushing off of an extended outboard hand (one closest to active blade) your shoulder will hurt eventually. You may even dislocate it, or worse, tear something this way so don't do it. Chalk it up as yet another reason to migrate the mental model of the roll away from lifting!
Note, however, so far it's the outboard, not the punching hand, that's in danger. What threatens the shoulder on your pulling outboard hand will not affect the inboard hand (farther away from active blade) in the same way. As long as you keep the paddle in front of your chest about as high as the forehead the punching, the inboard hand is safe inside the 'Paddler's Box.' Moreover, punching compresses the humerus into joint socket and the strongest part of the rotator cuff at the back. Minimal lateral forces are present during punching and there is no pulling at all. Just don't try to end of your forward-finishing or layback rolls with the hands way above your head.
That was safety—preventing physical harm to your body. How about efficacy? Will punching make it harder to execute a successful roll? The objections to punching rely on the fact that it will make the blade-to-surface angle less parallel and more perpendicular. One might imagine that the paddle becomes ineffective in this position. And it surely does … if your goal is to lift! The blade angle optimal for pulling the boat and the upper body together is perpendicular to the surface of the water or as far away from parallel as possible. In the end, some upward thrust is needed to bring the body on top of the boat; therefore, the optimal angle for the pulling-style roll is somewhere between parallel and perpendicular. That IS the angle you get when you punch. If you use the paddle blade to pull the boat toward the upper body it is the parallel angle that is totally ineffective. When pulled, the parallel blade merely skips and slides across the surface providing no anchorage for the pulling effort.
So far, it appears that punching is both safe and effective for pull-style rolling. But wait, there's more; you get three for one! Punching also makes our roll more efficient.
When you punch, you engage torso rotation and more muscles to do the work. This happens in rolling much the same way it does with the good ole' forward stroke. If you want your torso to do the bulk of the forward stroke, the paddle shaft has to be kept well away from your chest. Just try to paddle with the shaft touching the sternum and you will immediately know what I mean. Arm extension away from the chest is essential for harnessing the power of the torso! Without it you'll be cruising in the first gear—way too much power and not nearly enough leverage to transfer it into forward movement.
During forward stroke power comes from pulling as well as pushing on the shaft. The ratio between the two is a matter of argument and taste but the fact remains—if you want an efficient stroke, you have to push with the top hand. Rolling is no different. With the paddle shaft close to your chest and with your top hand arrested at the shoulder you all but eliminate the torso twist from the game. That's a lot of power to sacrifice.
The other day I discussed these ideas about rolling with a couple of fellow instructors in the pool. Several of them convinced me to try keeping the inboard hand close to my chest. While doing it, I didn't engage my torso and didn't rotate my body. To my surprise, at the very end of the roll, I quite literally tripped over the active blade hitting the gunwale and went back into the water. When I punch, I get the paddle blade about a foot away from the kayak. That extra wiggle room gives me space to finalize any unfinished rolling business—a safety cushion if you will. With the paddle glued to my chest and pressing against the side of the boat, I felt trapped.
In summary, it seems like it would take a feat of creative self-destruction to endanger the shoulder of the inboard arm during rolling—even when it is fully extended and even if it is pointing straight above your head. According to the British racers, extending the arm to about 120 degrees is the optimal angle to deliver the punching power. At that angle, operating the inboard hand seems quite safe to me.
Second, while arm extension makes for non-parallel blade-to-surface angle, as far as pull-rolling is concerned, such an angle creates a more—not less—effective paddle position. It helps to draw the boat and the body together rather than hinder it. Parallel blade is only good for lifting.
Third, by extending the paddle away from your chest, you encourage and harness the power of the torso rotation for your roll making it more efficient. Combination of punching and pulling is the way to leverage the most power out of this stroke.
Finally, when you punch you end the roll with the blade some distance away from the side of the kayak. This space creates a safety net for cleaning up any sloppiness that may still remain in your rolling technique. Punching is safe, effective, and efficient—what's not to like?