Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Lessons learned on the mighty river

Kayak version 1.0 -- prior to the maiden voyage.

I had a feeling something was wrong when the people in the canoe gave me strange looks instead of waving.

I knew for sure things were going south when I got that damp feeling and realized my seat had filled with water.

It was not shaping up to be a good first day with my kayak.

I’m not a woodsy guy by any stretch, but I had a great time on two float trips while at the University of Missouri, and I’ve enjoyed the rare times I’ve been able to get the kids to go canoeing on the nearby Rogue River.

But no one in the family will go canoeing with me after the great tipping incident of 2005. So I figured a single-person kayak would be the best way to enjoy paddling around in the numerous rivers in our area.

I’ve wanted one for a couple years, but knew there was no way even a small boat would fit in our Saturn sedan.

But in February we obtained a more spacious Vue, and when the sales person said an eight-foot two-by-four would fit, I was thinking of something a little wider.

So this year for my birthday I asked for cash to put toward a sweet ride.

I had two requirements: That it is no longer than eight feet so it could easily fit in the car and that it has an open top. That makes it more of a raft than a kayak, but I had fears of tipping and getting stuck. This turned out to be tougher to find than I thought.

But Dunham’s had a bright orange Pelican that fit the bill and was easily in my price range.

I placed the vessel on the floor of the showroom and sat on top. It felt a little small. And then I noticed the tag said it had a 200-pound weight limit. I am somewhat north of that, and asked the salesman if that would be a problem.

“Not at all,” he said. “They put a real conservative number on there just to be safe.”

Sounded good to me! And it fit in the car.

A colder-than-normal April and Sunday softball practices meant my new toy remained in the garage until this past weekend.

I boldly brought it down to the launch on the mighty Grand River and climbed in while the family cropper documented the event.

I wasn’t more than a couple feet into the river when I discovered it was a struggle to keep the kayak from tipping. It seemed to ride kind of low in the water, too.

I headed upriver, thinking it would be easier to float back. The Grand River is where Grand Rapids gets its name, but there’s nothing resembling a rapid. But this was still tough. I wanted to at least make it to a bridge not far from the launch then head back.

And I was closer to the bridge when the guy and a kid in a canoe came floating the other way.

It’s a pretty wide river but the canoe seemed intent at passing within 15 feet of me.

“Hi!” I said to my fellow sea-dogs. The guy said nothing and just stared at me.

“Hi!” I said again, a little louder, thinking he maybe didn’t hear me.

“Uh, hi,” he said, with a funny smirk.

I didn’t know what was up with that, but kept paddling toward the bridge. Then I felt the dampness. My seating area had filled water. I should have worn a swim suit instead of shorts.

I realized there was probably more water than should be in there through normal splashing. I looked a little more closely.

My kayak was bending in half. Water was rushing in over the sides. So that’s what the canoeist was looking at.

AHHHHHH. I swear I could hear Celine Dion singing “My Heart Will Go On” as I spun the thing around and paddled as fast as I could in the other direction.

I made it back to the loading area, completely dejected. And very wet.

Loading it back in the car, an SUV pulled up with a teacher I recognized from a local environmental science school. He had a much larger kayak, and asked if I knew how long it would take to float from downtown Rockford to the river.

I must not have looked too impressive, wet shorts and all, and stammered out an answer.

“What’s it like going out there in a little thing like that? It might be fun in the surf or something,” he said before pulling away.

Clearly, this was not going to work. I feared I just wasted all kinds of money and would have a big, orange reminder of failure in my garage. And everything in my wallet was soaked.

I did save the receipt. Was there even a slim chance that Dunham’s would take back a slightly used, slightly bent kayak?

The manager came right over and said, yes, despite what the salesman said the weight limit is kind of a serious thing.

But there would be no problem with an exchange or return. They were having a sale, and a slightly larger kayak might do the trick.

They had lots of 10-footers that were only $30 more than my previous model, but all were of the closed-top variety. He explained that these models were more stable in the water, and allowed me to climb in and out a couple times to see that I could handle it.

It doesn’t quite fit in the Vue, and it doesn’t quite as easily fit in the garage. But I figured I’d give it a try.

But the next day I had to wrestle to fit the new, larger kayak between the garbage can and the kids’ bikes. I brought it out on the lawn and sat inside to think.

“This is stupid.” I thought. “I should just bring it back right now, get the money back and forget the entire thing.”

But I figured I should give it one more chance, and I didn’t want to wait until the next weekend. It was already around 8 p.m., but I figured I could just make a quick trip into the river and know for sure rather than mope all week.

I put on the swimsuit and water shoes and loaded the kayak in the car. I wasn’t optimistic. In fact, I wasn’t sure I wouldn’t go past the launch spot and head right to Dunham’s.

But I did stop at the river, carried it to the water and slipped in – tags still attached and everything. There were struggles to avoid a fisherman’s line, but once out in the river I found the bigger kayak to be much more stable.

I didn’t worry about tipping once as I headed out toward the bridge. In fact, it was pretty cool.

This time a power boat headed toward me, close to the same spot where I encountered the guy in the canoe. This time the people on board waved and smiled, not that we could talk over the drone of the outboard engine.

This did present a challenge – a wake. I wasn’t sure what to do but headed into the wave. Got a little wet and was a little unstable, but survived. I know for sure I’d have been swimming at that point had I been in kayak version 1.0.

But I made it under the bridge in no time, easily turned around and made it back to the launch – and looked forward to my next adventure on the high seas.

Now, here are a few lessons I learned.

1) Kayak manufacturers are not kidding when they set weight limits.

2) People in canoes are smug bastards. Don’t even wave to them.

3) The Yankee’s streak of division titles is over and the team should conduct a fire sale to unload their elderly stiffs – if anyone will take them!

4) Do not say or even imply bad things about the Jets or Dolphins or you risk pitting cousin against cousin in the comments section.

5) There is no reason to bring your wallet on a kayak. Hide it in the car where it will stay dry.

6) It is impossible to look cool, calm and collected when the entire bottom area of your cargo shorts is soaked.

7) Derek F. Jeter is vastly overrated and a punk.

8) When you enter a sporting goods store with an orange, eight-foot kayak in your arms, you will quickly attract the attention of salespeople who will wave frantically for the manager.


lifl said...

You sure are lucky that the Grand River had no rapids. It would not have been a pretty picture. Good luck with the new kayak. Enjoy!!


Connecticut Sister said...

Hi Dave,

Congratulations on your new kayak!

I didn’t see a personal flotation device in the photo of you, on the water and in your kayak. Maybe the person in the canoe was incredulous by the lack of safety gear you were sporting?

Safety first!

The boys got a kayak for Christmas and I’m having them take a safety class at a local canoe & kayak shop, before they are allowed to use it.

PFD’s are required by law in CT. According to the Michigan Handbook of Boating Laws & Responsibilities:
-Michigan’s PFD law permits a vessel that is less than 16 feet long, or is a canoe or kayak, to choose to have either a wearable PFD (Type I, II, or III) or a throwable PFD (Type IV) for each person onboard.
I think it’s also important to have some form of waterproof ID on your person, especially if you go out alone. No doubt your wallet can stay in the car, though. A cell phone in a ziplock baggie might be a good idea.

Don’t forget to bring a water bottle and to wear sunscreen!

Lisa (Connecticut Sis)

DGIF said...

Dear Mets Guy in Michigan,

Since most of the rivers in Michigan are less than 6' deep I do not think a PFD is a necessary safety device. Often people in Florida actually kayak nude, this causes much screaming as power boaters often do not know if this is some ancient burial right and is about to burst into flames or perhaps the sight of nude kayaking senior citizens makes people crazy. Actually it often acts as a safety device as you can always locate them by the screams. Some rogue put large Shar-pei in a kayak and set it out on the intracosatal and no one was sure senior citizen or large dog? Many screams resulted anyway. Enjoy the kayak, perhaps dog tags (no reference to the Shar-pei intended)would be a good idea, no cameras please.


Anonymous said...

Well Dave,
I would have to say, all in all you were brave (sorry to use that word but it's not capitialized and I don't think Larrrry Jones reads your site, though he should!)not by using the Kayak but by putting that second picture in. I can't even conjure up a visual of how I would look. Oops, just did, i'll be right back, gotta find somthing to pu... there, my stomach feels much better. I think the larger version would be a nicer fit, good workout. I would still get the cockpit and spray deck (thank God for Wikepedia). Believe it or not, that might be safer. About nude kayaking, only with Unicorns and Single Barrel on board!!
Oh, and I better not have seen any aqua (turquoise) on that thing!! Or, I will personally come and scrub it off. Just a note to Mike, my new friend and sort of related family member, I'll be on Long Island this weekend to watch the Mets beat the Yanks (acutally in Massapequa Sat. night) we can meet at any bar you choose. I'll be dressed in my black Mets jersey.
I'm 6'7" 350 lbs, brown hair.
Only kidding, my hair is sort of blackish brown. Hope to see ya!!

TW Granite Bay

Mets Guy in Michigan said...


I was unaware of the PFD rule. I suppose I can stash one on there somewhere -- especially now that I have a bigger one with a storage area!

I do have a dry pouch. Sadly, I didn't bring it along on the first trip - which has been mentioned by several family members in endless mocking.

Dad is correct that most of the rivers near me are less than one foot deep, much less six! The Grand might habe a little bit of depth to it at the point near us. It's rare to see a boat other than a pontoon or shallow fishing boat in it, though.

I promise to remain clothed and petless.

Tim, I'm wearing the green horns of envy about seeing the Yankees! Can you snag me a program? And I'm curious how you grew so much in six weeks since I've seen you!

Anonymous said...

I will definitely buy you a program!! Honest to God, you were my second choice after my Dad, sorry uncle Dave, I just didn’t think it would be as important to you (I would have truly enjoyed the company though). About my size, I’ve been taking a lot of protein and don't forget, swallowing one’s pride can really increase your bulk!!
Gotta love 1.5 ahead of the Braves and Yanks 9.0 games out (since I went to school in Bean Town, the Bosox are my second team). If they play the Mets, however, no contest in loyalty, Mets win without hesitation!! Maybe some Dolphin fans should think about home town loyalty (OK, I'll leave it alone!!)

TW Granite Bay

lifl said...


Glad to here you will be here on LI to watch out Mets thrash the Yankess. Unfortunatley the weather here is awful. they are saying rain the next three days. the beer will have to wait until your next trip. My wife and I will be at Spideman 3 on Saturday night with my ten year old and seven of his buddies. It' his "pseudo" birthday party. Movies, pizza, and cake. If you are looking for a "place" to watch the game and enjoy a cold beer I highly recommed Katie Daly's on Merrick Rd. Great food and a great pint of Guninness. Alot of Mets fans too. We are having my daughters communion party there next Saturday night 5/26 6-10. Stop by if you are still in town. She will be wearing a white communion dress with an "aqua and orange" bouquet. :)

Lets go Mets!!!!!!!!!!

God bless Carlos Delgado!!

Mike on LI

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