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Sunday, July 22, 2007

The Renaissance Paddler & His Recliner

The Renaissance Paddler & His Recliner

I am a kayak fisherman. Proud and sometimes a little bit arrogant? canoeist paddle by in their clumsy craft and are amazed at my prowess? controlling a kayak while flipping lures and landing fish. Some would say that I'm a bit of a renaissance man when it comes to this exploit? me? I'm quite modest and just think I'm really cool.

I take my recreational kayak out at least once or twice a month to fish and paddle the rivers here in Virginia. One sunny Saturday in April, my brother and I decided to fish a local river. The weather was warm at nearly 65 degrees Fahrenheit, but the water was still a chilly 40 degrees. For this trip, I decided that I needed to get a bit more paddling time in on my newly purchased whitewater kayak. Heck? I'm so skilled that I'm sure that with a little bit of forethought, I'd be able to fish as well as do a little whitewater paddling practice.

We climbed in our respective kayaks and got ourselves launched. It was great to be out on the river after such a long winter. Yep? time to dust off the paddles and start off the year right! Being that I was in a whitewater kayak and had my spray skirt on, I asked my brother to carry my fishing rod until I was situated on the water and comfortable. He also carried my lunch and other gear since a whitewater kayak does not have a whole lot of storage room. I quickly discovered that my spray skirt actually works quite well as a nice little tray to fix my lures, place a sandwich and drink, and balance a fishing pole or paddle. Heck? I could have brought a little portable TV and watched a program or two.

As we journeyed downriver from the launch site, I fished and mostly kept my paddle balanced on my lap. I really only needed it to navigate to a new spot or make an occasional turn. The river we were on has quite a few slow and deep areas, with a little Class I and II whitewater a few miles downstream from the launch site. Nothing to worry about just yet, but it will make playing in some whitewater something to look forward to.

On one nice slow and deep stretch of water, my stomach started grumbling so I decided to eat some of my provisions. I signaled for my brother to paddle over and pass me a sandwich so I could dine alfresco?me and Mother Nature. Life is good and it's nice to have someone wait on you? even on the river!

Well, I don't know if you have ever paddled a whitewater kayak before, but they do react a bit differently than a recreational kayak. The stern on my whitewater kayak happens to be quite flat and low in the water, allowing the experienced kayaker to do tricks like the "stern squirt." A stern squirt is where the kayaker intentionally immerses the stern into the water by leaning back and catching the current. The current, in turn, catches the stern and forces it down. This action causes the bow to rise up and behold? you have a really neat trick that amazes the spectators.

Did I mention that I brought the whitewater kayak with me so that I could get a bit more practice time on the water? I guess you know what is coming? kind of like when you hear a redneck say to his friend, "Hey Bubba? watch this!"

Whilst dining alfresco; I decided to relax and lean back in my seat. In my recreational kayak, leaning back in the seat is akin to leaning back in an Easyboy recliner. Not so in a whitewater kayak. Whilst leaning back, I initiated an impromptu stern squirt, causing me to lose my sandwich? Grey Poupon and all. It's amazing how things seem dreamlike when you are upside down with a good view of the river bottom with your fishing pole sinking downwards. Of course my paddle decided to float off on its own with no set direction chosen. "Hmmmm? this is not good." I thought, since speaking would have caused me to ingest great quantities of water. I hadn't yet accomplished a "roll" on my own and with my paddle floating away; I decided to take the alternative course of action. Pop the spray skirt and do a flawless wet exit. Did I mention the river was quite cold?

Upon surfacing and reassuring my brother that everything was under control (his eyes were a bit wide), we proceeded to gather up the scattered paddling gear and partially submerged kayak. Fortunately, my brother was able to quickly retrieve my paddle before it disappeared downstream. The water was clear and slow enough that I was able to dive down and retrieve my fishing pole? heck? I was already fully soaked, so why not? I did mention the river was quite cold, didn't I? To make a bad situation worse, I quickly realized Murphy's Law was in full force? I hadn't placed my wallet in my dry bag as I had done on every paddling trip before.

Once we got everything together, we decided to stop along the bank on a nice big rock so I could dry out my gear a bit. It is quite amazing how much water can actually get absorbed in a gentleman's wallet. Thank goodness it was nice and sunny?drying money with little rocks piled on it would have been a strange sight for anyone passing by. After drying out for a little over 30 minutes, we decided to get back on the river and complete our trip.

Needless to say, I did not fish anymore during this trip. I decided to keep both hands on my paddle and to take seriously my remaining time left on the river to reflect on what had happened and to learn a bit more about my kayak's performance. I am certain it had to be a flaw in the kayak?not my actions. I may even have to write the manufacturer with a stern letter stating my disappointment with their product.

Lucky for me, there were no canoeists around, because I'm sure they would have misunderstood what happened?not knowing it was a product flaw. There could be of course no reason for any canoeist to doubt my paddling skills, being the Renaissance Paddler that I am.

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