Sunday, May 25, 2008

Kayaking on the Big Darby

The Weather-out-the-Window(tm) forecast for today was, if anything, nicer than yesterday's. Having just flown yesterday, and it being nearly a year since starting the kayak build, it seemed appropriate to make my first real trip today. The obvious departure point was the canoe/kayak launch area co-located with our local sled riding hill on the banks of the Big Darby. This offers an easy place to get the boat into the water, and there is another publicly accessible area a few miles down river to come back out. All told, it's about six miles on the water.

Having had the boat in the water once before, the one thing I already knew for sure was that it would float. The rest I had to learn as I went. The first thing I learned was that kayaking in a Blue Heron Boatworks vessel is a horrible way to blend into the scenery. It draws a tremendous amount of attention. In fact, 9 out of 10 bystanders volunteered the comment that it was awesome, beautiful, or pretty. Additionally, 4 out of 5 beer drinking canoers modified the adjective with a preceding F-word, which I think is intended to convey that idea that is somewhat above and beyond awesome. The most original comment came from a guy with his hat on backwards who observed it to be "old school."

I'm used to this kind of attention, of course, because Papa Golf draws a lot of attention as well, but this was different, and not in a subtle way. In what way, you ask? Well, I didn't build Papa. I have to say, despite not being able to have a nice, quiet, introspective paddle down the river, it was really, really nice to hear all of those compliments.The only thing I didn't really like was being asked how much it cost, so I took to deflecting the question by replying that it was home made. Felt a little like bragging, but better than confessing to driving a $1,000 boat down the river. Yuppie.

After about 20 minutes of slowly paddling my way down the river, I was getting a better feel for how to steer and control my direction. Not too much longer after that, I found that I was getting the feel for planning ahead for dealing with cross currents, much like you learn how to position a plane for a cross wind landing. I also found that keeping the nose straight is a lot like landing the taildragger: you watch far downstream (or down the runway) to get an early start on any unwanted drifting of the nose.

The boat rides pretty high in the water, and it only takes a few inches of water to float it. There are, of course, times when the water is fast and shallow and there may be a little scraping over the gravel. I got pretty good at detecting the lee behind a submerged rock and avoiding it, but in the cases where I just couldn't miss one, I also learned the technique of lifting a cheek to raise that side of the hull to minimize the contact with the rock.

It doesn't take much effort at all to keep the boat moving at the pace of the plastic kayaks and the canoes, and with just a little more effort I was able to speed (the term being relative when it comes to man-powered boats) past the larger, noisier groups. For the second half of the trip I pretty much had the entire river to myself.

It became very natural to move the boat where I wanted it to go within the first 45 minutes. Good thing, too, because I came to a spot where the water was channeled between the river bank and a low island, with a branch from a fallen tree hanging over the water at bang-your-head-into-it level. There was a three or four foot gap to get through, but it required a 90 degree right turn in rapidly moving water to get through it. I made it through there with a foot to spare, and then was faced with an immediate 90 degree turn to the left.

Right after the excitement of what passes for rapids (which were quite rapid enough for me, mind you) on the Big Darby, I came around a corner to find a wide open lagoon-like area. And there, standing on the side of the river having a drink, were three deer. I lifted the paddle and let the boat drift closer and closer to them, something they found interesting to watch, but apparently not threatening enough to cause them to leave. I eventually drifted over to a large fallen tree where I was able to snuggle in under the branches. One of them kept an eye on me while the other two had their drink, then they decided they had had enough and walked away.

A little further on, I was drifting slowly along through a canyon of trees of varying shades of green, with the blue sky making a triangle formed by the lines of trees on the sides and the bill of my cap across the top. I saw a couple of dry, white branches coming up through the surface of the water, each extending about 8 to 10 feet out into the sun. Each branch was lined across its entire length with turtles warming themselves in the sun. I assume they were families as for each two large ones, there was a collection of much smaller ones. They too were very interested in my approach, and eventually they all dove off the branches into the water.

Long before I was ready, I reached the end of the trip and my return to "civilization." The access point is off to the corner of a small fishing pond, and catty-corner to Trapper John's Canoe and Kayak rental. About a dozen members of the demographic that I've taken to referring to as Generation Jackass were carrying on as is their wont, and the river was flooded (so to speak) with groups of exuberant renters starting their way down the river. It was a stark contrast to the wonderful hour that I had just enjoyed coming down the river.

I learned one more important thing: it's kind of hard to get out of that boat after 90 minutes. I had just enough cell signal to call home for my ride, and spent another 15 minutes answering questions about the boat. Oh, and was reminded by bystanders again and again about just how effing AWESOME it is.

I don't disagree!


  1. Sounds like a great time! You can get one something like this so that we can see pictures next time.

  2. You're absolutely right, Rick, when you intuit that I didn't have a camera with me for fear of it getting wet. That turned out to be a minimal risk at best, and I lamented not having it with me when the scenery started getting interesting.

    That said, I think I'd rather take a camcorder than a still camera in order to capture the sound as well. For the most part, it was birds and the babbling water. Very relaxing!

    Funny, people complain about airplane noise, but I didn't see or hear a single one. When I did hear a loud engine, it was invariably propelling a motorcycle.

  3. Congrats on your successful kayak project. Perhaps it would be a good time to take a course in kayaking to learn things such as righting an upside down kayak. Of course if you are using a waterproof video cam that might be interesting footage.