Getting Started: Puget Sound Challenge #2
Melissa Spangler’s Journal
Puget Sound Challenge Leg 2 — Jefferson Park to Port Gamble
The weather was perfect for making up the second leg of the Puget Sound Challenge. It was an overcast morning with cool tailwinds to assist with the journey. I adjusted my foot pegs and to prevent leg cramping I made sure not to set them as snug as I did on the previous leg of the Challenge. Next, I inflated my float bags for back-up buoyancy in the bow and stern compartments. I secured my paddle float on the deck, stowed the bilge pump and put a bottle of water on deck, rather than rely on a hydration bladder safely but inaccessibly stashed under the spray skirt, as I had done before. I packed the remainder of my clothing and safety gear into dry stuff bags and placed them in the front and rear compartments.
When it was time to launch, significant water current was present, fortunately flowing in the direction of travel. Once I was off shore my kayak flowed along in the water, propelled forward before I ever paddled. The tailwind was helping to keep a strong paddle speed and although the water was choppy around the islands, it made for a most enjoyable adventure. As I gain confidence I am beginning to enjoy the challenges, uneven swells and uncertainties. I love surfing and the way the kayak feels as it sways in the swells.
The experience from previous kayaking and skills classes were apparent during this excursion. I felt confident and physically comfortable on this particular paddle. Chris assisted with some advice on hand placement on the paddle as well as on torso rotation. Using my abdomen made an incredible difference in the power of my stroke and minimized the discomfort and fatigue in my arms. I was paddling faster and more efficiently than before. My rudder pedals were adjusted just right and that helped reduce leg cramping. Periodically during the challenge, I wiggled my toes and moved my legs to the center of the kayak to stretch my legs. It made quite a difference by keeping circulation in my extremities and helped to make the journey more fun with less discomfort.
There were six of us paddling the make-up leg. With good company, great weather and conditions, the day was near perfect. The route progressed with a tailwind throughout most of the paddle. The currents changed around the islands and points of land, making for a bit of excitement and requiring my full attention. I have found that after the last two legs, I truly enjoy crossings. It is the perfect opportunity to test new skills and fine tune old ones. During our final passage across Hood Canal, speed boats were zipping through the water in our direction. Their wakes were exciting and made me yearn for opportunities to attempt another more challenging paddle. This 14-nautical-mile challenge was the best paddle yet. It was fun, adventurous, challenging and rewarding.
Kayak: Necky Looksha 14
Paddle: Werner Premium Camano
PFD: Kokatat Orbit
Footwear: Chota Posi-Lok High Top Zip Bootie
Roofrack: Thule Hullavator
Notes from Christopher Cunningham, Sea Kayaker editor
Three of us from Sea Kayaker joined Melissa on this leg of the Puget Sound Challenge. The group set a relaxed pace and Melissa was usually in the lead. She and three others in the group had VHF radios and we used them on occasion to call for a rendezvous when the group got spread out. Melissa was having no trouble keeping up. Quite the opposite, she was out front setting the pace, but I noticed she had quite a bit of paddle shaft showing between the blade and her hand. I had her widen her grip. You can get the standard hand placement by placing the paddle on top of your head and moving your hands along the shaft to a point that puts your elbows at right angles. A narrow grip on the paddle is usually indicative of arm paddling, a quick way to wear yourself out. The proper hand spacing on the paddle will encourage torso rotation as a means of applying power. In fact, if you reach out well beyond the standard grip, just as an exercise, you’ll limit the range of motion in your elbows and be forced to use more torso rotation to paddle.
After I had Melissa adjust her grip, I had her focus on torso rotation. Much of her stroke was coming from her shoulders. Her shoulders reached forward to the catch of the stroke, and pulled back as she applied power to the paddle, and her waist was immobile. In her previous and very difficult leg of the Challenge she complained of sore muscles in her upper back and the base of her neck. Those were the muscles she was using most. I had her focus on making the front of her PFD twist back and forth by using less motion in her shoulders and more motion in her waist. The core muscles there could be her “engine” and provide the power, while her shoulders and arms were the drive train, transferring the power to the paddle. After the crossing of Hood Canal, Melissa used that technique to pour on the power and keep up a very brisk pace for the last few miles.