Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Kayak Safety Gear or not ?

As one of the owners of Clavey, this story is not easy to tell, but alas...Last winter I had an unusual experience I thought I would share with the rest of you in the hopes that none of you will repeat it.  It was a beautiful winter morning and I decided to head out at about 5:30am to check the surf at one of my favorite breaks in the Point Reyes National Seashore. I loaded my boards and wetsuit in the van and, as an afterthought (because I had a new Necky Chatham 16 Carbon kayak on top of the car anyway) I threw in SOME – but not all – of my kayaking gear. I got to the parking lot and was greeted with a wonderful sunrise but minimal surf. I sat there drinking my coffee and petting the dog and then decided, because of the lack of surf, to take the new kayak out for a spin. I put on my Mysterioso tops and bottoms, a pair of Soft Seat Guide shorts, my PacLite Pullover, a MsFit Tour lifejacket, grabbed my favorite Werner Kalliste paddle and hauled my kayak down to the shore (what am I missing??). I slipped into the kayak, put on my neoprene skirt and headed out into the 2’-3’ shore beak.

Once past the breakers I began paddling the 1.5 miles down to the mouth of my favorite estero just to see how the sandbars were setting up for the winter. The paddle down was calm with a nice tailwind (air temperatures in the 50’s and water temp about 52°). I was paddling with a right-handed feather because that was what the paddle was set at and, while I can paddle comfortably with a left or right feather, my “bomb proof roll” is only good with a left feather. To tell you the truth I did not even notice I was paddling with a right feather. When I got to the estero mouth there were some fun little waves breaking about a quarter mile offshore. I paddle over to the south side to check it out and then headed back to north side where I had seen the waves.

As I began heading back I decided on a whim to see how the Chatham surfed. I caught one wave, had a nice ride and then decided to catch one more. On the next wave I got caught sideways and upon trying to exit the whitewater I rolled the boat. No big deal, I’ve gone over plenty of times. I set up to roll and failed. I tried again and again to no avail. I could not figure out what was wrong and I finally had to exit the boat. Now is where the real fun began.

I surfaced, grabbed boat and paddle, and looked for my safety gear (paddle float and bilge pump) that, I quickly realized, was not there. So there I was with no wetsuit and no paddle float in breaking waves quite a ways from shore. I was surrounded by harbor seals and their pups and could not help but think about the great white sharks that frequent the area this time of year. I tried a number of times to get back in the boat by balancing my body on top and slipping my legs in but the swell kept pushing me over. At this point I was getting a bit chilly and started to imagine my obituary in the local paper “kayak store owner drowns in home waters because he did not have the brains to carry the right gear that he pushes on people very day” I made the decision to get to shore, got on top of the kayak like a surfboard, and paddled like hell towards dry land. It took me about 15 minuets to get to the beach.

Once at the beach I felt quite relieved and surveyed my situation. My Mysterioso had done a pretty good job of keeping me warm for a while but by this point I was COLD. I ran around on the sand or - as people who know me and my crooked chicken legs will tell you more liked hopped around - until I was a bit warmer and got some blood flowing. I then dumped the water out of my boat and got back in for the paddle back to the car. As I paddled back I kept trying to figure out why I could not roll and then (LIGHT BULB!) made the connection between the blade feather and my diving paddle when attempting to roll. I changed the feather on the paddle and, before I paddled into the beach through the waves, made myself do a couple of practice rolls just to make sure I had not forgotten the move.

When I finally got back to the car, changed into dry clothes, and got the heater going full blast I looked at the dog and the still empty parking lot and thought that it could have been a long day for my loyal friend.

I was lucky. I have spent most of my life in and around water and I still had made some very basic, life threatening, mistakes. Perhaps it was the comfort level I had that led me to this lapse in judgment or maybe it was just plain forgetfulness. The good thing is that I know now that I will never paddle again without the right gear. It’s just not worth it.

Lets go over my list  of shame: paddling in remote rough water ALONE, not enough insulation (can we say wetsuit!), unfamiliar gear (wrong paddle feather, new kayak), no paddle float, no bilge pump, no backup clothing stashed in a dry bag, no food, no communication device and I did not tell anyone where I was going – can there be anything ELSE!


Basic Cold Water Kayaking Gear:

Insulation and Drysuit or Wetsuit

Paddle Jacket

Booties and Socks

Spray Skirt

Skull Cap

Paddle Float

Bilge Pump

Dry Clothes

Communication Device

Common Sense

-Tom "safety-first" Meckfessel

Monday, December 1, 2008

Rafting on the Rogue River (with a permit)

How to get your Rogue River permit (including real photos of the Klamath River).

There are few different ways to get on the wild and scenic section of the Rogue River, arguably one of the best multi day float trips in the world.  Assuming you’ve already got the boat and the gear (and if you don’t, you can get it at ), know how to row your boat and can get a permit from the BLM, well then, the number of days you can escape for is your only limiting factor. Of course, if you said no to any of the above, you should probably book your first trip with a commercial outfitter - you don’t need a boat, any experience or common sense and you’ll still have an awesome time.  

As a long standing member of team Clavey, I’ve got my choice of gear from here at HQ.  And to say Clavey has pretty good gear is like saying the President has pretty good security.   So, right around June I decided I’d grab and Avon Expedition and our Clavey Rig and start looking for a launch date on the Rogue for sometime in July.

There are four ways you can get a private boaters permit on the Rogue:  

#1 The Float Space Lottery.  The Rogue River Lottery application period begins December 1, 2008 and continues to January 31, 2009. In order for your application to be entered into the lottery you must follow all rules contained within the Application Letter.  I’ve never gone this particular route but the gist is that when (if) you win so many spots (boaters) they give you a specific launch day.  That’s your launch day.   Hope you and your friends can take the time (that specific time) off.  

#2 You can call for available spaces.  After the lottery process, there are still float spaces available. These available spaces are given away over the phone beginning the first business day in April.  They go pretty quick and they go to people who are a little more clairvoyant in their planning than I am. 

#3 Confirmation deadline.  10 days before their launch date, anyone who already has a permit has to call in and confirm their number of space.  Any spaces confirmed to be unused will go to the first callers the next business day.  This is the way I always think I’m going to get permits and never do.  I call and call and call and call and finally the phone rings and somebody answers and I ask if there might possibly be four little tiny inconspicuous openings on such and such a date and the other end of the phone will be silent for a moment as if they don’t already know the answer and had to look it up in the book.  The answer, of course, is no.  And this leads us to...

 #4 Show up anyway and hope someone who already confirmed they’ll be there was lying.  This is where I’ve had my best luck.  Show up at the BLM office on the Rogue anytime during the day or night and you can grab one of the numbered slips of paper off the little box at the door, write down your name and the number of people with you and drop it in the box and the next morning one of those fine hardworking rangers from the BLM office will call your name, tell you you’ve got a permit for all the people in your group, take your money and send you on your way to the launch.  Or one of those lazy government freeloaders with their cushy jobs and their guaranteed pensions will tell you there are no permits for you (It is of course not their fault, and you can see I don’t blame them).   And it this last example, why I have so many fun photos of the Klamath River.

After weeks of calling with no luck we decided to make the 8 hour drive north with the off chance that we could scrape four permits together at the Ranger’s office in the morning.  My girlfriend promised me she’d be ready to leave the house no later than 5pm.  That put us at 1am, 2am at the outside.  No problem. Get there drop our name in the box, get some sleep and get back to the ranger station in the morning, just in time to hear our name called and our permit issued.  Unfortunately, my girlfriend isn’t always as punctual as one might like and instead,  we managed to roll out of the driveway a little after nine.  

After eight hours of listening to Nicole snore (she does like her beauty sleep), we rolled into the Smullin Visitor Center at the Rand National Historic Site.  My high beams hit a guy getting out of his truck and walking to the box.  It was 4:53 am.   By a matter of under a minute, he and his party of four got the only four permits that would be freed up for Saturday...or Sunday.  

And thus #5.  Run the Klamath River instead.