Saturday was a great kayak day. The last time I used my kayak, three things happened that caused me to take a recess for awhile. I chose to paddle north in the bay, a different route for me. This called for paddling through the Mooring Field under Matanzas Pass Bridge, past the “Big M” gambling boat and Moss Marine, and past the Coast Guard Station. My destination was Bowditch Park at the north end of Estero Island. http://www.southwestfloridabeaches.com/bowditchpark.htm At the widest, and deepest portion of the channel, I became caught between two large, identical and very unusual looking vessels that were refueling at Moss Marine. I found out later that these were USCG in conjunction with the NTSA and homeland security, teaching vessel control and water safety techniques to citizens of the Caribbean countries. Yielding to all other boaters, I misunderstood their destination, as one was pulling away from the marina, and the other was approaching to moor. At one moment, I got spooked. The tide was high and strong and I felt very vulnerable. I found out later that it was at that moment when the patch job on the bottom of my kayak cracked. I proceeded to Bowditch, and pulled the kayak out of the water. I removed the plug, turned it over to drain, and was aghast at the amount of water that poured from the hull. I called my daughter to bring the car and the car-top carrier, and drive me and the kayak back home. I went down to the end of the street where I had launched to retrieve my “wheels” - my two-wheel carrier that I padlocked to a palm tree. Well, someone stole my wheels… jerk. The carrier frame was still there, padlocked, but the thief had removed the lynch pins and the wheels. So those were the three things: 1) I got spooked - without a life jacket; 2) the crack; 3) loss of wheels.
My brother repaired the crack with fiberglass, having done a fine looking job. He also went to Northern Tool and bought two new wheels and two new lynch pins, but alas, the carrier was a unique size, and the standard wheels did not fit. I logged on to http://www.coolstuffcheap.com and ordered a whole new carrier (all the time repeating, “jerk”). Weeks went by and many filled with good intentions to test the new carrier and the new patch job. But I had not dealt with number three: I needed a life jacket.
I perused west marine’s website for life jackets. They have come a long way in comfort and design from what I was familiar with. They advertised a new model “for women.” What makes it for women, I wondered, as I always do. Do women have different water safety needs than men? This was “a beautiful lavender color”. Who will spot a lavender life vest in the aqua blue waters?! I got in my car and drove to west marine, and they had the advertised women’s model, and there was seemingly no difference from the men’s - except the color. I was ready to purchase a “men’s” because it was red and yellow (colors life jackets should be!) when my eyes landed on a paddler’s vest. Cool. This was Perfect! I also bought a paddle tether and a couple of new bungees.
I launched at the end of my street, however this time I took the carrier and the wheels with me, and strapped it to the front of the kayak (jerk). I felt really awesome in this nifty vest: It had a pouch on the front where I put my camera, and my lip balm. It had nifty Velcro straps and little rings and things to attach all kinds of gadgets…one being the compass-whistle combination that brother Ken sent. (thanks, bro!). As a matter of fact, I felt as cool as Ken with my new co2 inflatable vest and all the bells and whistles!! I attached the tether to the paddle and fastened it to the loop on the side of the seat and headed out.
I headed south, thinking that I’d stop at the Mound House http://www.moundhouse.org/ to check the patch - job. All was going very well - not much boat traffic, the sky was partly cloudy, and the water was a bit turbid from all the rain we’ve had. As I got close to the mound house, I was feeling as if I’d “just gotten started” and wasn’t ready to land. I decided I could pull out at Coconut Street (the next known location with a ramp/launch) so I continued on. When I got to Coconut street, I figured, what the heck - I’ll pull out at mid-island marina. I paddled on to what once was mid-island marina, but is now Snook Bight Marina http://www.snookbightmarina.com/ Because of the renovation, the ramp no longer exists. So I continued on south, keeping my eyes on the shoreline, looking for a ramp or a beach or somewhere other than mangroves, seawalls or rip rap. Judging by the landmarks, I figured I was in the neighborhood of the 6000 block of Estero, or a good four to five miles from where I put in. I was getting closer to Big Carlos Pass, http://www.ecotrail.com/panorama_bcpass_main.htm and was rather certain that I would not find a beach or a launch along the shore before getting to Lovers’ Key. I decided to turn around.
Well. No wonder all was so effortless and I was just paddling along without acare. As soon as I turned around, I realized I was now heading into the wind and against the current. I leaned forward, and went into high gear paddling. It was at this time I realized that I am a very strong paddler. A friend asked me if I was a strong swimmer, and I answered that I am not. After having answered that way, I reconsidered that I am a strong swimmer, except the breathing part. I can do the side stroke, the breast stroke the back stroke, and can swim very well under water.. But I never got the breathing part down. No doubt I have become a strong paddler. It actually felt good to feel the muscles in my abdomen, thighs, buttocks tighten, to feel my biceps and triceps pushed to the top. Even the muscles in my hands were in high gear. I felt the sweat bead on my face, quickly being dashed away by the wind. I could see the rooftop of the King’s house - a giant gawdy pink structure which sits at the waters’ edge at Coconut Street.
Coconut Street is like many of the streets on Fort Myers Beach - running perpendicular to Estero Boulevard, narrow, and dead-ending at the bay. The difference with Coconut is that the street ends in a very small, old, launch pad. I paddled up and pulled the kayak out. Oh it felt good to stand up!! I pulled out the plug and flipped the kayak over. The problem now was that it was full of gear - carrier and wheels specifically, and I couldn’t see if there was water coming out. I held the end up for awhile, feeling that any amount of water would certainly be drained by now. I looked at the ground under the drain of the kayak, and there was no apparent new flood of water. I was relatively confident that the patch job held. I looked up to see the stern of a power boat on a trailer coming down Coconut. There was a man walking along side. Someone was attempting to launch their boat. It can be done, but it takes skill. The walker was telling the driver to hug the side, etc. (The other challenge, here, is, that to launch, you literally have to back the whole way down the street, as there is no way to turn around.) I hurried to get out of power boat’s way, so I replaced the plug andpulled the kayak back into the water. By now the walker was up to the launch and we greeted. Somehow he felt compelled to give me a push-off. Really, I’m fine… (grrr).
On my return, I paddled in to the Mound House. I pulled the kayak out, and unloaded my gear. I drained the hull, and there was barely a drop of water. HURRAY! Patch job a success!!! I went over to the picnic table, spread out my towel, and downed a full bottle of water. I felt terrific. I felt like I was made of steel. I walked around the property a bit, just to walk. I drank an Ice Tea. It tasted delicious. I checked my BB and it was 4:30. I’d been on the water several hours. I looked into the WSWern sky, and it was a charcoal grey. The smell of rain was in the air, and the wind was picking up. Time to head home.
The last leg, about a mile and a half, was choppy. The seas were kicked up and the wind had increased. Paddling into the wind and against the tide was work, and the bow of the boat dipped and spit with each wave. As I came to the end of Mango Street, I saw several men on the pier. One of them might have been the “jerk”. (There is a condominum complex at the end of the street, with boat slips, picnic area and fishing pier. They post PRIVATE PROPERTY NO TRESPASSING. I’m not sure they can lawfully deny access to the water. I’ve gone on the county plats and they have a conservation land lease from the state - they do not own the land, and I ignore their NO TRESPASSING signs). I paddled close and quickly to the side of the dock , hopped out of the kayak, grabbed the bow rope, and pulled it across the grass, under the chain and on to the public road. There, I strapped the carrier under the boat and walked home.
I had a GREAT DAY on the Water!!!