Friday, May 25, 2007

Peace in a kayak
May 18, 2007

Being a woman of many enthusiasms, I was bound to stumble upon kayaking sooner or later.
I’d been curious about it for years. How can you grow up on an island without feeling the pull of being out on the water?
Boats had figured more prominently in my life in my younger years - the benefit of growing up in an era when Vancouver Island’s then-thriving logging and fishing industries put real money in people’s pockets.
But except for a canoe or two, it had never been me who’d owned those boats. Eventually there came a time when the only boating I was regularly experiencing was aboard a BC ferry, on a routine journey so familiar to me that it barely felt like being on the water at all.
Kayakers caught my eye throughout the Ferry Years, but I tended to write the sport off as something that would require more skill, knowledge and money than I was prepared to invest.
I guess they just looked so sleek and expert out there in their beautiful boats that I assumed I couldn’t easily become one of them.
Then came a sunny, warm weekend last September, when my partner and I finally acted on our much talked-about plans to rent kayaks for a couple hours. We launched into the Gorge with only the briefest of instructions around how to hold our paddles.
The love affair was on.
September turned out to be an ideal time to fall in love, what with it being the season of the sell-off in the world of rental kayaks. By the next weekend, we were the proud owners of two slightly used kayaks, paddles and life jackets, for less than $1,500 all in.
I’ve kayaked almost every weekend since then. It’s been a transforming experience.
My little plastic kayak is light enough for me to sling easily into the back of my pickup truck, and to lug from the parking lot to whatever small beach I’ve found for my launch.
I assumed initially that I’d put my kayaking on hold when the winter cold set in, but I never did.
It turns out there’s a miraculous invention known as the “pogey” - a big neoprene mitt that fits over your hand and paddle - that keeps your hands toasty no matter the weather. A half-decent waterproof jacket and pants take care of the rest.
As for gentle ocean waters for a beginner to learn on, a Capital Region kayaker couldn’t be more blessed.
The Gorge. Portage Inlet. The Inner Harbour. Esquimalt Harbour. Saanich Inlet. Esquimalt Lagoon. Sooke basin. With basic paddling knowledge and even a rudimentary understanding of tides and weather, there are easily a couple dozen two- or three-hour paddles in our region suitable for a beginner.
I’ve made some bad calls, mind you. One particularly cold December day in Portage Inlet, I got stuck on the wrong side of surface ice blocking my route home, and then trapped in the middle of it. (No rescue necessary - I managed to hack my way through.)
Another time, I found myself paddling feverishly but barely moving while fighting a strong current near Sooke Harbour, after what had already been an exhausting couple of hours in choppy water.
But a tubby little plastic kayak turns out to be quite a stable fellow. Coupled with my healthy fear of the power of the ocean, that has made for very few scary moments.
If ducks are your thing, kayaking in the winter is a bird bonanza. Having limited most of my previous boating to summer months, I’d had no idea of the vast varieties of ducks that winter in our waters.
With summer now approaching, the scene has changed: the ducks largely gone, but ospreys, eagles and hawks now everywhere. Seals and otters are common viewing fare on every trip.
Even if nature isn’t your thing, kayaking has other pleasures. For one, you can’t believe the spectacular, over-the-top waterfront homes going up around our region.
A paddle from Brentwood Bay to Patricia Bay one day this week left me agog at the massive new houses along that route. There’s a kayak-based real estate service just waiting to be discovered, because there’s no more appealing way to view a waterfront mansion than from the water.
On the night of the winter solstice, Dec. 21, my partner and I slipped our kayaks into the Gorge to look at Christmas lights. I could see that short trip developing into an annual event if we could figure out a way to lure more waterfront homeowners into lighting up for the season.
So if you’ve wondered even a little about whether you might like kayaking, make this the year to test your theory. Serenity is a rare commodity in these clamorous times, and for me to have found it so close at hand has been a most wonderful gift.
See you on the water.

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