Getting Started: Puget Sound Challenge: Leg #9
Melissa Spangler’s Journal
Puget Sound Challenge: Leg #9, Port Gamble to Kingston
Friday evening after work I gathered my gear and kayak and drove to catch the Seattle ferry to Bainbridge Island. From Bainbridge Island I headed to Kingston where kayak campers had their tents scattered around the local ball field. I set up my tent and walked to the shoreline where many Paddle Kitsap paddlers were congregating after their long paddle. The Puget Sound Challenge group would be paddling this same leg on Saturday morning. I talked with a couple vendors and then I saw Dennis and Ben, members of the Olympic Kayak Club who were acting as safety boats in the two-day Paddle Kitsap tour. Just as the Washington Water Trails Association was packing up their materials, I asked if I could still join. I have been interested in learning more about the WWTA since I started kayaking. One of the reps jotted my info down, collected a membership fee and handed me a start up package which includes a Cascadia Marine Trail Guidebook and other useful information. I walked back to the stage where the drawing for the Olympic Kayak Club kayak giveaway was being announced. Herb was named as the kayak winner. I have paddled with him on numerous Puget Sound Challenge events. After a nice dinner at the Main Street Ale House I walked back to our Tent City at the ball field for the night.
Saturday morning I was already on location for the shuttle to the put-in. I unloaded my kayak and awaited the Puget Sound Challenge group’s arrival. Herb arrived with his new kayak stored on his racks and helped me load my kayak for the drive to Port Gamble. Once we arrived at Port Gamble we had a short gathering to discuss the route and areas of concern along the journey. Before we launched a baby seal came onto shore and started whimpering. Its mother was keeping a close eye from the water. The baby seal was so small compared to its enormous parent. It was just learning its surroundings and didn’t seem to have the cautious nature around people yet. We were just a few yards away from the amazing site and watched in awe, while respecting our proximity to this new life.
We launched beside old pilings alive with underwater sea creatures. Crabs, starfish, barnacles, seaweed and other forms of sea life populated the area. The beginning of Leg 9 started out calm, however as we rounded Foulweather Bluff and entered Skunk Bay, the wind changed and our protected waters were now open to the elements, making the paddle more challenging. I enjoyed the lively water and beautiful shoreline. The sky was overcast with low clouds in the distance, masking the land across Puget Sound. A few seals peeked at us as we paddled through Skunk Bay. David and Shawn pointed out the Nature Conservancy property identifiable by a distinctive triangular shaped hillside. Most kayakers hugged the shoreline throughout the journey. I paddled alongside another kayaker farther away from land and enjoyed the pulsing water. A few waves pushed over my bow as another swell pushed my bow upward creating a slap when it came back down. A freight barge passed creating a significant wake. It was interesting to witness how long it took to actually feel the impact. I watched as this approaching ridge neared our kayaks. I rode the wake with excitement then braced to look behind me to see other kayakers playing in the surf near the jutting shoreline. The crashing waves reminded me of those I played in as a child while vacationing at Nags Head. The whitecaps collected momentum then tumbled forward, releasing their energy upon the shoreline. At the next opportunity created by the wake of a passing vessel, I thought I could practice bracing in the surf by positioning myself closer to shore before the moment passes. Periodically we regrouped to keep kayakers in close range for safety. A light rain drizzled on and off throughout the remainder of the Challenge.
The Necky Looksha Elite was incredibly stable in the churning water and the rudder made keeping on track a breeze. The foot pedals differed from other kayaks I had previously paddled throughout the Puget Sound Challenge. The Smart Track system with toe control allowed me to position my foot firmly without engaging the rudder. The upper portion, controlled by my toes, made it easy to turn by simply pressing my left or right toe forward. At this point I have determined that my preference is a skeg style kayak, such as the Necky Chatham. I prefer the fit of the kayak, the Valley hatches and a skeg rather than a rudder. After spending one week training at the Kayak Academy and then practicing turning maneuvers during weekly skills training sessions, I find that I feel more connected with the kayak when I edge the boat and use turning strokes. The more stable, wider kayaks are more difficult for me to edge due to the wider design and larger cockpit with leg braces that spread beyond my comfortable sitting position. The more time I spend paddling, I realize that I enjoy the design of the Chatham for its ease of turning, responsiveness, fit for my body frame and ease of rolling. I can envision myself learning new rolls, playing in the surf and rock gardening in the Necky Chatham. An important lesson I have learned is that choosing a kayak is a very personal decision. I paddle with many kayakers who love their particular touring model. Fewer kayakers seem to have preferences for the sportier, more playful kayaks. I find myself drawn to this more dynamic style of kayaking although I also want a kayak that I can take on three- to four-day kayak camping trips. I want to continue learning more about paddling in different conditions such as playing in the eddy lines, surfing, and conquering the strong current and large swells. I’ve met kayakers who want a peaceful, long paddle in calm water while others are drawn to more challenging conditions. I am still figuring out where I belong in this diverse group of sea kayakers. For now, each and every experience has been rewarding and educational.
As I approached the 16th mile, I started feeling each stroke within my muscles, but I still had miles to go. This 9th leg was the longest scheduled leg at 18 nautical miles or 21.7 statutory miles. I could tell that the months of kayaking had definitely built my endurance levels. I continued on and looked at the shoreline with amazement at the size of some homes. One looked like they were made of adobe, something one might see in New Mexico. Another home had external shades on each window for complete sun block. Property after property expanded over large parcels with huge homes. Most places seemed vacant with no signs that anyone inhabited the monstrous living spaces.
Around the next bend, I could see the ferry leaving the dock. It appeared as though the timing would be perfect for crossing past the ferry terminal right after it left. I always try to finish strong and started picking up the pace. A few paddlers were ahead, including Shawn in a tandem with his daughter McKenna and David, the OKC organizer. Once we paddled closer I could see that another ferry was arriving and heading toward the dock. I started paddling as fast as I could bear. As I neared the dock, I kept a close eye on the approaching ferry. It was traveling with great speed and I started to hesitate and recalculate the timing. The leading paddlers had just passed the dock and I still had a few hundred yards in order to clear the ferry path. I eyed the ferry terminal where the dock personnel were keeping an eye on the upcoming kayakers, I looked left toward the oncoming ferry and in the split second that I stopped paddling, a group of onlookers on shore started clapping and cheering, yelling “You can make it!” With my small audience rooting for me, I leaned forward and paddled what felt like my fastest speed ever to clear the ferry dock. I kept a close eye on the ferry controllers in case they should wave me to stop, but they didn’t. I dug in and pushed intensely with each stroke. My bow entered the first section of the dock pilings and I could feel the disturbed water jostle my kayak. I pressed on, burning my reserve and made it into the second dock terminal. In my peripheral vision I could see the ferry gaining quickly. My stern was just exiting the second dock pilings when the ferry bow approached the first dock pilings. I made it safely across and let out a big Whoooaaaahoooo! I was charged with excitement yet fatigued from the big effort. I met the leading kayakers and we pulled our kayaks up the boat ramp. The paddlers behind me had to wait for the ferry to dock before they could pass. My energy was completely drained. I used everything I had to endure an extended paddle with a sprint finish.
Looking back, exciting as it was, I would make a different decision regarding the passing of a ferry or any motorized vessel. The window of safety passing the dock was slim and didn’t leave much room for error. If something had happened to my gear, if I had capsized in the disturbed water or anything out of the ordinary had occurred, I would not have had time to make a correction and that would have compromised my safety and the normal operation of the ferry. Yet another lesson learned.
Notes from Christopher Cunningham, Sea Kayaker editor
My earliest memory of kayaking is of being with my dad in a Folbot double sneaking under the ferry ramp while the ferry was loading. We’d wait there for the ferry to leave. When it did, the prop wash under the ramp swirled us around as if we were in a whitewater river. It was quite exciting but not a practice I’d recommend now. Melissa’s race against the inbound ferry came off without a hitch, but she’s correct in looking back on it as a risk not really worth taking.
There is a longstanding tradition of recreational vessels yielding to working vessels. The captain of the ferry Melissa dodged ahead has likely seen countless vessels race across his bow. Five or more short blasts of the ferry’s horn would have been his signal that a vessel is taking a dangerous course and risking a collision. If you hear such a signal and there’s a chance it may be directed at you, take immediate action to avoid getting plowed under or forcing the oncoming vessel to take evasive action. A ferry coming into a dock is preparing to stop, and that’s likely why Melissa didn’t get a warning signal.
Encounters between vessels are all managed by what mariners call the rules of the road. They apply to kayaks no less than they do to any other vessel on the water. There are two very good reasons for knowing the rules and acting in accordance with them: In a collision the kayak is going to fare the least well and violating the rules makes you liable for any resulting damages. If you haven’t already, you should make yourself familiar with the rules. Our on-line article “Rules of the Road” in the February 2009 issue is a great place to start.
Spray skirt: Snapdragon
Accessories: Peaked Deck Bag, Bungy Paddle Leash and Sea Tec Tow Line all from North Water
Camera: GoPro Waterproof Camera
PFD: Kokatat Orbit
Clothing: Kokatat Women’s SuperNova Paddling Suit, 2 mm Neoprene gloves
Footwear: Chota Posi-Lok High Top Zip Bootie
Roofrack: Thule Hullavator
Paddle float, float bags and bilge pump
Waterproof Stuff Bags