Getting Started: Puget Sound Challenge Leg #4
Melissa Spangler’s Journal
Puget Sound Challenge Leg 4—Manchester State Park to Southworth via Blake Island
If I could have chosen the perfect conditions, today was the day. The weather report and wind conditions were terrific for our paddle. The Necky Looksha 17, at a full 17 feet, was the longest kayak I have paddled. I had a bit of difficulty lifting and unloading this kayak even with my incredible Thule Hullavator. The weight of 65 pounds made it rather difficult to handle solo. I borrowed a set of wheels to ease the transport of the kayak this time. I attached the wheel kit to one end of the kayak so that I could grab the other end and roll the kayak to our launch spot. The only complication was that there were two access points. One had a log across the path and the second path was narrow and rather steep, making the wheels useless. David, another helpful paddler participating in the Puget Sound Challenge, offered to assist me with carrying the kayak the remainder of the way to the launch point.
I tested my spray skirt with this new cockpit and although difficult, I was able to stretch over the coaming. Once it was on it was tough to release, but I could get it off. I had two other larger skirts at home and realized it’s better to try the spray skirts on a new boat at home rather than just before launching. I keep learning all sorts of lessons with each outing.
The launch went smoothly, and Ben took the lead position in a kayak he had equipped with a sail on the front deck for use if the winds were in our favor. I paddled with the front of the pack until we landed on Blake Island on a nice sandy beach. I felt much faster in the longer kayak than in previous models. I also noticed my paddle stroke pace increasing and my strength improving as I used my core to propel forward. Puget Sound went from choppy, animated waters, to rolling current and then smooth and flat when the wind was blocked for a brief moment. The varied conditions made this leg an interesting and challenging adventure.
We stopped for a short while on the northwest end of Blake Island. Once I took the spray skirt off, I couldn’t manage to secure it again before we took off to head around the north tip to the east side of the island, where we pulled into Tillicum Village for a lunch break. The view of downtown Seattle was beautiful from this vantage point. Once we came ashore at Tillicum Village, we were able to check out the sights. This was a lovely area, a place definitely worth revisiting. It felt good to stretch my legs and refuel. Kayaking seems to create an endless hunger pang. While some of us started to rehydrate and eat, David and Shawn practiced rolling and bracing techniques in the protected bay area. I enjoyed the scene and watched attentively, hoping to master a roll soon.
After our break, we launched our kayaks and headed around the south end, circumnavigating Blake Island. Once again, I made multiple attempts to secure the spray skirt and was unable to attach it properly. Most of the kayakers were already launched, so I opted to start paddling and see how it went without it. The water was considerably choppier as we rounded the island although it wasn’t a problem without the spray skirt; it actually enabled a nice breeze to add airflow to my legs and helped cool me down. Once we rounded the west beach at Blake Island, we stopped briefly in the water to assist a paddler rearranging gear, and at that point I made a few more attempts with my spray skirt and finally secured it around the cockpit. Once we paddled away from Blake Island, back toward Manchester Park, the winds picked up perpendicular to our travel direction. Ben raised his sail and captured the wind and that helped him to travel faster. I aimed to finish strong and stepped up my paddle stroke on the last couple miles. Overall it was an amazing paddle. I am feeling more confident with each leg. The extended exposure and experience is making a huge difference in my ability.
Once we landed, Shawn offered me an opportunity to try out his new British-built kayak. I was interested in trying out a sleek model and this one was catching my eye. It was exciting to try this new, narrow kayak which reacted to every single body motion as I paddled forward. It was sleek and smooth, and I recognized immediately that I had to pay attention while turning, as each shift of my hips affected the stability. David and Shawn announced that I could lower the skeg to steady the kayak’s course, but I was enjoying the edginess and proceeded with glee. After a few jaunts across the water, I returned the kayak back to Shawn and thanked him for the adventure and experience.
Kayak: Necky Looksha 17
Paddle: Werner Premium Camano
PFD: Kokatat Orbit
Footwear: Chota Posi-Lok High Top Zip Bootie
Roofrack: Thule Hullavator
2-mm neoprene gloves
Notes from Christopher Cunningham, Sea Kayaker editor
We’ve been working Melissa through a series of kayaks from short to long. With the 17-footer we’ve hit what may be the upper limit of boats that are good match for her. Necky recommends the Looksha 17 as a boat for medium to large paddlers and Melissa, a slender 5’ 5 1/2,” is more in the small to medium range. As her paddling technique improves she’ll be able to take advantage of the higher speed potential of longer kayaks, but she’ll need to find kayaks that are a good match for the power she can produce. An 18-foot kayak may have the potential to go faster than a 17-foot kayak, but only for a paddler with the muscle mass to meet the power requirements of higher speeds.
The kayak Melissa used was made of molded plastic. While plastic kayaks are economical and very durable, almost any rotomolded kayak 17 feet long is going to be on the heavy side. A 65-pound kayak is more than half her body weight. For most people, lifting anything half their weight is a chore. Carrying that kind of load solo over uneven or slippery ground, and lifting it to a roof rack poses a risk of injury. A cart or a partner will ease the burden. Composite kayaks, made of fiberglass or other synthetic fabrics and resin, are lighter and more easily carried solo. The fiberglass version of the kayak Melissa used weighs 54 pounds, and the carbon fiber version weighs 49 pounds. Of course as the weight goes down, the cost goes up.
A tight spray skirt is cause for concern. A tight fit can be great if you’re in rough water or surf, but you have to be able to release the skirt if you need to bail out of the cockpit. You should be able to release the skirt with one hand. Using your non-dominant hand makes a better test. Do it with your eyes closed, because when you need to release the skirt you may not be able to see the grab loop.