Getting Started—Puget Sound Challenge Leg #7
Melissa Spangler’s Journal
Puget Sound Challenge Leg 7— Steilacoom to Pont Defiance Park
I showed up for the the 7th leg of the Puget Sound Challenge with two new additions. I brought along a Necky Chatham 17 and a Snapdragon Spray skirt. The order of the 6th and 7th legs were actually reversed, with this leg occurring prior to the official 6th leg.
When I tested the spray skirt, it fit perfectly. Snug, but I was still able to release with one hand. This leg, at 8 nautical miles, was the shortest scheduled paddle thus far in the Puget Sound Challenge. The morning started with a light drizzle, overcast and low cloud coverage. The nice part about paddling in overcast, rainy weather is that I don’t seem to overheat as much as I do on the blue-sky, picture-perfect days. I always appreciate the rainy days, especially since it doesn’t hinder me from being outdoors. These days have more character and intrigue.
The group pace was relaxed and we kept close to shore. One of the kayakers whom I’d met for the first time during this paddle had a fast pace. She was creeping ahead of the group and I took the opportunity to learn more about her while I kept up. I was engrossed in listening to her interesting stories about protecting the waterways. I practiced a low brace as I peeked behind me, toward the group and noticed that we were far ahead of the group. We decided to wait for the others to catch up before moving ahead. I’m not sure if the Chatham was enabling me to increase my speed with its slimmer build than previous Necky models or it was a combination with recently acquired forward paddle stroke techniques assisting me to accelerate the kayak. Whatever the case, I am becoming faster on each leg of the challenge.
This kayak was much more comfortable and supportive of my lower back than the previous Greenland-style model I’d used. I practiced paddle strokes with and without the skeg deployed. I tried some new training techniques and felt really comfortable on this paddle. As we neared the Tacoma Narrows bridge, we noticed what looked like an upwelling initially then appeared to be excessive air bubbles near our path. Some kayakers steered around the area while others paddled directly through the disturbed water. One kayaker suggested that it might be a whale getting ready to surface. As we waited, no whale appeared so we continued north. Moments later, we heard a shriek as a scuba diver surfaced right beside one of the kayakers, startling her. It was certainly unexpected, since no dive boat nor dive flag was visible in the surrounding vicinity. We laughed about the incident and continued on, seeking our next adventure.
A steady rain started to fall and I noticed a magnificent fog gathered around the Tacoma Narrows bridge. I never imagined that I would be kayaking under this immense bridge before riding over it by vehicle. It was an amazing structure that loomed overhead. I could hear the cars above in the distance, whooshing by, creating a unique sound when tires connect with the bridge surface.
A multitude of seals surfaced throughout this leg of the Challenge and watched as our group paddled through their front yard. They always seem curious and kind but cautious. Hundreds of clear and orange jellyfish also populated the waters. Although I hesitated to roll with the quantity of jellyfish nearby, I was in awe by the way they shimmered with their translucence. Along the shoreline I saw the Chambers Bay golf course where the U.S. Amateur Championships will take place this year. It was extremely hilly but lacking any trees. It looked challenging to say the least. We contemplated whether we would have the best seats in the house if we paddled offshore and watched the professionals play in August for the upcoming tournament.
Farther down the shore we passed a unique strip of homes on stilts. These homes just south of Point Defiance Park have no access road and no new development is allowed on this protected section of waterfront property. They were cradled on the edge of a very steep incline and supported by wood piles over the water. I was intrigued by this quaint little waterfront community.
Before I knew it we were rounding the last portion and arrived at Point Defiance Park. We landed at Owens Beach. Marilyn made brownies and shared them with all of us. They were delicious and greatly appreciated after a rainy-day paddle. Before taking our kayaks back, Shawn, David and I practiced a few rolls, carefully avoiding the jellyfish. The water was cold and I was getting soaked quickly. I attempted the butterfly roll again and this time actually fell out of the cockpit. The new spray skirt released without my assistance. I was troubleshooting with the guys, not sure about what was causing this since this was the first occurrence. I may need to adjust the foot pegs prior to my next rolling session to ensure secure placement in the cockpit.
After the practice session we carpooled back to our vehicles. I found my truck had been broken into and my phone, bag with change of clothes, hiking backpack, overnight pack, kayak cart, and many work-related items were missing. We reported the incident then Bob, David and Shawn helped me tape up my open window to prevent any additional rain from soaking the interior. Hank helped by retrieving my kayak from shore and bringing it back so I could load it on the truck. For all of us it was an unfortunate end to the day’s paddling.
Kayak: Necky Chatham 17
Spray skirt: Snapdragon
PFD: Kokatat Orbit
Clothing: Kokatat Women’s SuperNova Paddling Suit with 2-mm neoprene gloves
Footwear: Chota Posi-Lok High Top Zip Bootie
Roofrack: Thule Hullavator
Paddle float, float bags, bilge pump
Notes from Christopher Cunningham, Sea Kayaker editor
There is always some risk to leaving our car untended at a launching site parking lot. You can make your car a less appealing target by parking in an area that is in full view and well lit. Don’t leave anything you can’t afford to lose in your car. You may not need your wallet or purse, iPod, cell phone, etc. while you’re out paddling, but your car is not a locker or a safe deposit box. As kayakers we have an advantage over many other outdoors enthusiasts who don’t have the ability to carry their extra belongings with them. All you need is a good dry bag to carry your things aboard your kayak.
I’ve put up with five break-ins into my cars over the years and I’m glad that none occurred while I was out paddling. I’ve lost a woodworking router, a few handfuls of change that I keep in the ashtray, a bag of Doritos and a checkbook. I left the checkbook in my car at a mountain trailhead. Thieves punched out a window, found my checkbook in a backpack tucked under the seat and immediately went on a two-day spending spree. I reported the loss of the checkbook to my bank so I didn’t lose any of my funds, but for two months I had to file affidavits with stores that had taken forged checks without checking ID. Now all I leave in my car is a spare set of clothes to change into for driving home, a pile of maps, jumper cables and tie-down straps. I leave the glove compartment and the console open to show I have nothing stashed there.
The handful of times some Neanderthal has busted into my car hasn’t amounted to any significant losses in 30 years of leaving my car behind while I enjoy the out-of-doors. It has been a small price to pay for access to the wilderness and the water.