Monday, February 22, 2021

Ask a Sea Kayaker

Dear Sea Kayaker,

I am torn between the Pelican Mustang 100X kayak and the Old Town Vapor 12XT. Both have great reviews. What would you suggest for all-day use, and the right combination of quickness and stability?

Jack F, Ventura, CA

Dear Jack,

I really don’t know anything about kayaks—I don’t even own one. I only became a sea kayaker by accident, when I let my teenage daughter handle the paddling and she went the wrong way, heading out to open ocean instead of into the Elkhorn Slough. By the time I realized what was happening, the current was carrying us well away from land and I decided to go with it and head for Hawaii. So I can’t tell you much except this three-person rental clearly isn’t designed for tall people. I have to put my legs out straight or I whack my knees with the paddle. If you’re tall, make sure you account for this when you buy your kayak.


Dear Sea Kayaker,

Is celestial navigation still a thing, or have GPS and computerized systems rendered this ancient skill completely obsolete?

Megan G, Boston, MA

Dear Megan,

There are surely some old codgers who still navigate by the stars, but more as a hobby than anything. If I thought I had any ability to steer this boat amidst these large (and ever-growing) waves, I would probably at least try to determine north based on the Big Dipper. But I can’t steer this boat anyway. Whatever I do here in the back, my daughter does the opposite, and there’s no use trying to explain myself. She doesn’t even know the difference between port and starboard. Navigation is pretty much out the window.

I suppose teaching my wife and daughter celestial navigation would be a way to pass the time tonight, and forestall panic … if I actually knew anything about it. But I never listened to my own father’s lectures on the subject, nor did my wife. In fact, one such lesson ended badly. We were camping with my dad in Utah back in the ‘90s, and about three hours into his astronomy lecture, when our eyes were too bleary to even try peering into the telescope eyepiece anymore, my wife heard a scary noise and turned on a flashlight. “Thanks a lot,” my dad chided, “you just ruined astronomy.” (She’d spoiled our night vision, you see.) I’ve never let her live it down. Maybe tonight I’ll give a really short lesson on constellations: “There’s the Devil’s Skateboard over there, you see, and if you follow that line of stars up—there, you see that cluster there? That’s Dracula’s Harelip.”

Dear Sea Kayaker,

If you have a mobile phone, why haven’t you called for help? Are you, like, dense?

Jill M, San Francisco, CA

Dear Jill,

I didn’t want my phone to get wet, so I put it in the zippered pocket of my jacket. Unfortunately, when I started overheating (in my fruitless effort to row back into the harbor, before I gave up) I unzipped the jacket and didn’t notice that both pockets started dragging in the water. Turns out the jacket isn’t the slightest bit waterproof and my phone is totally wet. I’m waiting for it to dry out before I phone for help. I kind of doubt it’ll be usable before I’m out of cell range … oh well.

Dear Sea Kayaker,

Sailing to Hawaii? Really? Can an amateur sailor possibly achieve that?

Ben F, San Diego, CA

Dear Ben,

My wife’s friend and her boyfriend made it all the way from California to Hawaii in a little sailboat and then, after living there for a few months, sailed back. Everything came out pretty well except that they broke up right after their return. But my wife and have been married for over 25 years and toured cross-country on bicycles, so I think we’ve got this. (And our daughter is totally stoked to be having this adventure.)

Dear Sea Kayaker,

I’m pretty worried about you, and surprised you don’t seem to be completely freaking out. Are there any benefits to being adrift at sea?

Lisa H, Charleston, SC

Dear Lisa,

To be honest, given this endless COVID pandemic, this is a great way to escape the stir-crazy self-exile of home while avoiding the giant hordes that have lately descended upon every recreation area in California. We rented this kayak in hopes of seeing some otters and pelicans, but the place was completely choked with other boaters. I wouldn’t be surprised if Tripadvisor rated Elkhorn Slough one of the best places for people-watching on the west coast. So yeah, the ultimate release from my claustrophobia, not to mention from my misanthropy, is a nice silver lining.

Dear Sea Kayaker,

What music do you have in your head as you drift ever further from land?

Robert M, Avila Beach, CA

Dear Robert,

I’ve had David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” in my head for like an hour. I guess it started with that line about “floating in a most peculiar way.” It’s starting to drive me crazy, actually.

Dear Sea Kayaker,

Wait a second here. If you can’t use your phone right now, how are you fielding these questions from your Internet readers? There’s something fishy going on here (no pun intended).

Bruce S, Coos Bay, OR

Dear Bruce,

If you look closely at the address field of your browser, or in network settings if you’re using an app, you’ll notice that instead of “www” it’ll say “wwh,” which is for “World Wide Head.” Connected devices are no longer necessary, as our brains can now pluck TCP packets right out of the air. Don’t feel bad for never noticing this before. The tech giants have rolled this out very quietly, hoping that by the time the naysayers start complaining, the technology will be ubiquitous.

Unfortunately, the Coast Guard isn’t very likely to read my column. They’re pretty distracted with pirates, illegal immigrants, hurricanes, and so forth.

Dear Sea Kayaker,

What about your wife’s phone? Or your daughter’s? Surely one of them managed to keep her phone dry. Forgive me for observing that you’re apparently not very resourceful…

Jill M, San Francisco, CA

Dear Jill,

You again?! Sheesh. Give me a little credit here, the idea did occur to me. My wife’s phone is in the car and my daughter’s is at home. They’re not big cell phone users.

By the way, please don’t write me again. I’m getting creeped out, like you’re a stalker or something. (Though maybe it’s just the sharks circling my little boat ... I guess I’m a bit on edge.)

Dear Sea Kayaker,

Every time I rent a kayak, my butt gets soaking wet and my feet, too. Rowing is really fun, but I can’t stand being soggy for the rest of the day. Do you have any tips for me?

Amanda R, El Cerrito, CA

Dear Amanda,

I’m guessing you’re a teenager. Remember when your parents told you to wear the nice waterproof hiking boots they bought you, that you never wear? Instead of the cute ones you insisted on? And you know those ugly blue one-size-fits-all waterproof pants the kayak rental place offered you, that you declared you wouldn’t be caught dead in? Well, next time, don’t be so stubborn, and make use of these items! My own daughter is surely regretting her choices (though she’d be the last to admit this.)

Dear Sea Kayaker,

My best friend abruptly stopped taking my calls and un-friended me on social media. We’ve been friends for literally decades and I didn’t want to throw that away, so I just kept trying to reach her. Finally her boyfriend answered her phone and said she doesn’t want anything to do with me anymore. I am honoring her wishes, but she (and her boyfriend) are still using my Netflix login. Would it be inappropriate to change the password? That seems passive-aggressive, but then if we’re not even friends anymore, should they really be watching movies when I’m paying for the subscription?

Shari M, Fremont, CA

Dear Shari,

I really think ocean kayaking is for you. Don’t bother taking any classes or anything. Just head out to sea, and leave your phone at home.


A Sea Kayaker is a syndicated journalist whose advice column, “Ask a Sea Kayaker,” appears in over 0 blogs worldwide.

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