Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Adventure: Aleksander Doba, the Polish Kayaker Who Crossed the Atlantic (three times!)

I love stories of (some would say) crazy adventurers who take on, and often accomplish, goals so daunting it makes my longest paddles seem like a walk in the park. They harken back to days when famous explorers took on life threatening conditions because they didn't really have any other way to gain fame and fortune. We live in a modern world that has many advantages of comfort and relative safety, but sometimes I wonder if we've lost some of our vital spirit along the way. Fortunately, there are a few individuals who remind us by their epic adventures that the marrow of life is still available for those willing to risk and suffer to get at it.

Aleksander Doba appears to be one such individual. I read a post on Men's Journal from 2014 that recounts Doba's paddle across the Atlantic from Portugal to Florida. This was his second crossing, and he estimates that, due to his drift in currents, he paddled some 7,000 miles - this from a 67 year old man sporting a long, grey beard.

Now, I have no intention of embarking on anything vaguely close to the challenges Doba takes on (for example, he's the first person to paddle the length of the Amazon). However, he does inspire me to push my boundaries, and not to use the passing years as an excuse to grow ever more tentative. It reminds me of a great Anthony Hopkins movie, The Edge , where he tries to build Alec Baldwin's confidence for a looming battle with a predatory grizzly bear by repeating "What one man can do, another can do". Certainly not without preparation and training, but theoretically, yes - what what man can do, another can do.

Take a look at the Men's Journal post here:

Men's Journal - A Record-Breaking Atlantic Crossing by Kayak  

**UPDATE** He has now crossed the Atlantic solo THREE times - now at the age of 70. Read the story here Canoe & Kayak: 70-YEAR-OLD KAYAKER CROSSES ATLANTIC, KEEPS GOING   

Aleksander Doba transatlantic kayak
Aleksander Doba -  Nicola Muirhead/@nicolaanne_photo 

Keep your spirit of adventure alive, and push your boundaries - no matter how close to home they may be.

- TB on the Water



Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Advice: The "Kmart Kayaker" - Why More People Are Dying from Paddle Sports

In my previous posts Safety is a Mindset and 10 Tips for Which Kayak You Should Buy, I mention the dangers of buying a "toy" kayak - by which I mean a cheap, poorly designed model sold at discount retailers. I recently ran across a post on GrindTV  that describes the buyers of these cheap models as "Kmart Kayakers". This term was used by Jim Emmons of the non-profit Water Sports Foundation, and I think it's an apt one. Jim describes a proliferation of discount retailer sold kayaks, and the access they afford to the water by untrained, poorly outfitted, and sometimes naive paddlers. WSF is working with the Coast Guard to address this issue, and I think that's a fantastic effort. Education of new kayakers and paddleboarders is key to saving lives.

“In the industry we call it the ‘Kmart kayaker,'” Emmons told GrindTV. “As kayak manufacturing processes were developed to make them less expensive, kayak brands found mass merchant places to sell them over the years.”

Take some time to read the full Grind TV post here: Why are deaths in paddle sports increasing?

As always, respect the water, and be safe. You will be rewarded 😁  

 - TB on the Water    

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Adventure: Rock Gardening (it has nothing to do with dirt)

I have peripherally been paying attention to a kayaking activity called "rock gardening", which, like most things in the water, is much more advanced on the west coast then it is here in the east. However, I have run across some indications that could change. The general idea of rock gardening, as a kayaking sport, is to paddle on, over, around, between, and through rock formations on the coast or in open water. As you might imagine, this is probably not a good idea for the beginner, and could be highly dangerous if you didn't know what you were doing. That being said, the folks who do know what they're doing sure make it look like fun. 

I have noodled around rock formations a little bit, in a very conservative fashion - mostly because I've been by myself. This sport is something you would want to attempt only with like minded and experienced paddlers. A helmet is a must, and a solid roll will likely be required. My go to video on the subject is a group of rock gardening, and otherwise adventurous California kayakers who call themselves Neptune's Rangers. These folks look like they have a blast - and frankly, they have some serious backbone to play in the environments where they paddle. They also appear to have a ton of specific knowledge and great camaraderie - and (inspirational to me, anyway), they're not kids. Some of the folks on video appear to be well into middle age. I can only hope to maintain their sense of adventure and playfulness as I see the north side of 50.   

Here's a fantastic video of them doing their thing...


As you can see, they make rough water paddling look like it's second nature - they're completely at home in gnarly California coastal conditions. Kudos also to their video editor Roger Smith. He does a great job emphasizing the excitement. You can check out their website for fantastic advice on equipment and technique. 

As for us laggards here in the east, I did at least run across a very nice blog post on a first time rock gardening trip near Buzzards Bay in northern Rhode Island. This was written by Johna Till Johnson who describes her rock gardening adventure with Osprey Sea Kayak.

Here's a link to her full post - Where the Wild Rocks Are: Rock Gardening in Rhode Island   

So, if you're an experienced paddler and have a friend or two with similar inclinations, maybe rock gardening is a kayaking adventure you can try. Just be as safe as you can, do your research, learn some technique, and then, have an adventure. Who knows, maybe I'll see you there 😏.

- TB on the Water    

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Environment: 2 Views of Human Impact on the Water

This post will be a short one. 

Recently, I was at the mouth of the Merrimack River in Newburyport, MA and I ran across two views of human activity that displayed our impact on waterways, and on the environment in general. Washed up on the riverbank (and very close to the open ocean) was trash of all sorts - but mainly bottles (mostly plastic, some glass). These had been lost, or more likely, discarded into the water or left on the beach for a high tide to wash away. As this is the mouth of a substantial river, some of the detritus could have floated downstream from several upstream communities.

Trash on the banks at the mouth of the Merrimack River
Washed up trash at the mouth of the Merrimack River

This trash ran on for 50 yards at least, with clusters of items every few feet. When I saw this, I thought of every instance of thoughtlessness each item represented. I was disgusted. 

Very close nearby, I noticed some sections of the dunes that had been roped off, and within these areas, grasses had been planted as part of a dune restoration effort. These efforts have become common along coastlines, and especially on barrier islands, which Plum Island is. The driving force behind these efforts is often as much about saving property (beach houses in this case) from the ever encroaching ocean and increasingly severe storms, as it is about improving the environment. Nevertheless, it is an example of humans working with nature to recreate natural environments that will benefit many species, including our own.
Grass plantings for dune restoration near the mouth of the Merrimack River, on Plum Island
Dune restoration grass plantings adjacent to the Merrimack River

Now, consider these two images of areas literally feet from each other. Then, think about the different motivations (or lack of motivations) that led to each result. It isn't hard to see which actions led to which conditions.

I'm confident the trash on the riverbank will be cleaned up before beach going season is in full swing in these parts. This particular area is popular with families and fisherman - who surf cast for striped bass. What I have no confidence in, however, is that the trash will be cleaned up by the same people who left it - or that more won't follow.  

Please, don't pollute. Don't make someone else, or something else, suffer the consequences of your actions. It's often easier to tear something down or apart than it is to build it. So, do the hard thing, do the right thing. Be part of the solution, not a source of the problem.

And, for all of you who are doing the right thing - thanks!

- TB on the Water