Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing–absolutely nothing–half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats. (The Wind in the Willows)
A while back, Sharon went off to a women’s camping workshop sponsored by the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism. Part of their training was kayaking on Bull Shoals Reservoir. On her return, she mentioned that she would like to get a kayak. I admit to a weakness for boats, but a kayak! Kayaks are maggot boats. On river trips, kayakers always pack their gear in your canoe. Then they constantly come around bumming cold drinks. In rapids, kayakers get in the way with all their playing and such. No decent canoer would ever be caught dead in a kayak.
We discussed it for a while. Well ok, we discussed for … two and a half years. Then one day I was surfing the internet and saw some video of these guys cruising Puget Sound in sea kayaks. About the same time my son, Shane, announced that he was taking a job down near the Gulf Coast. Well, now things were getting interesting — sea kayaks, Gulf Coast, winter trips south. Sounds like a match made in heaven. So this spring, we found ourselves the proud owners of two touring kayaks. As a result, the spring has been spent messing around with kayaks.
The first thing to learn about kayaks is how to get into the fool things. Getting into a kayak is kind of like pulling on a pair of socks. First, you sit on the top of the kayak. Next, you stick your toes in, then kind of pull the thing up around you. It’s not all that tricky, as long as the kayak is sitting on the showroom floor. Things are little different when you actually get to a lake. The second thing you learn is that a kayak is not all that stable when you are sitting on top with your toes tucked inside. Now you get to learn how to get out of a kayak. It’s really just the opposite of getting in, except it’s all done upside down. Needless to say, lesson three goes quickly. Lesson four reviews entry and introduces the proper exit.
After only a few tries, we mastered entry and exit. We were on to actually paddling. Our first few trips were to Lake Fayetteville. Lake Fayetteville is a nice little lake just five minutes from our house. For neophyte kayakers, the really nice thing about Lake Fayetteville is that there’s a sandy beach from which kayakers can easily launch. A person can actually get into the kayak sitting on dry land and then kind of hand walk down into the lake, thereby avoiding the entry and exit dilemma. The other nice thing about Lake Fayetteville is that the water surface elevation only varies by a few inches. As a result, the littoral zone, that area where land gradually transitions into lake, is well developed. The littoral zone and the mixture of forest, pasture and restored prairie around the lake provide amazing biodiversity, especially the birds. Oh, I forgot to mention lesson five. When looking upward at birds, keep body centered over kayak.
There were a few setbacks, but we gained confidence quickly. In no time, I was anxious to try the boat out on the open water of Beaver Lake. So on a breezy Saturday morning in June, I launched at Beav-O-Rama and headed uplake toward Niells Bluff. In this portion of the lake, the water hits the bluffs right at the base and the bluffs tower overhead. The kayak handled the breeze very well. Upwind was slower than downwind, but not overly hard. Paddling cross wind took a bit of getting used to but also turned out to be a reasonable effort. The next morning Sharon and I headed out together. We paddled along the base of the bluffs. At the end of the bluff was a patch of trumpet creeper and a ruby throated hummingbird who sang like it was in hog heaven. I’m here to tell you that Sunday morning kayak rides have now become the routine around my neck of the woods.
So what are the pluses and minuses of switching from canoe to kayak? Well, on the plus side, the kayak is faster. Of course, faster is relative. We’re talking 2 miles per hour instead of 1 ½, but that’s faster, nonetheless. Kayaking is also much less subject to the winds, and this opens up far more potential days on the lake. On the minus side, at least for now, the kayak is much less stable. I’m hoping that as my confidence builds in the kayak, stability will come. But, in my canoe I frequently layout my journal and camera in the bottom where I can reach them quickly. I fear that would invite disaster in the kayak. Also, the cargo capacity of the canoe is much greater. We can camp in comfort out of our canoe. In the kayaks we would be extreme minimalists at best.
So the kayaks have joined our corral of boats. Our messing around has taken on a new dimension. I have to say, the experience has been well worth it.