March 2018 - KAYAKING & CANOEING
Getting Ready for Paddling Season
By Alan Mapes
The paddling season will soon be upon us – hurray! Ice is still melting and the water temperatures are still dangerously cold, but the hints of spring are in the air. It’s enough to make me take a walk out to the back shed and look over the kayaks. Here are some ideas, thoughts, and tips for your future paddle trips.
Look Over the Gear – I like to pull all my paddling gear together and make sure it’s in good shape. Things have a way of going bad over time without my noticing. Last spring I had a cold surprise when I failed to check over my paddling mukluks, the calf-high boots that allow me to launch a kayak in chilly weather while keeping my feet dry. These trusty old boots turned out to be not so trusty, both of them leaking cold water in at a fast clip. I discovered the problem at an inopportune moment, while conducting kayaking lessons at Mountainman’s Paddlefest in Saratoga Springs.
Here are a few of the items I check – in addition to filling my boots with water to see if they leak:
· Rubber hatch covers will be checked for cracks (Valley brand covers are used on several other brands of kayaks and are especially prone to deterioration). You can stave off the expensive need for replacement covers by giving them a liberal treatment of 303 Aerospace Protectant. It protects from UV rays, but also lets the covers slip on and off the hatch rims so much better.
· Paddle ferules (the joint between the halves of the two-part paddle) can get sand and other crud in them, keeping the lock function from working. I rinse them out with a hose and check for proper locking. Many paddles use simple metal spring clips, which can rust or get weak. These are easily replaced with new ones from your local paddle shop or ordered online.
· Skegs and rudders on kayaks are notorious for breaking, sticking and otherwise making your life miserable. Check the cables and attachments, making sure that everything works when you really need it.
· Footpegs often get sticky and hard to adjust. I love the Werner (formerly Yakima) foot pegs in my kayaks, but the aluminum rail can corrode or just get packed with sand – then the peg may not budge. A good flush with a hose may be the fix and a quick spray with WD-40 may help. Plastic pegs are known to break – I check them for cracks.
· Neoprene spray skirts and fabric clothing items will get a good washing in the bath tub. I should have done this in the fall, but better late than never. Items made with waterproof breathable fabrics like Gore-tex especially need a good washing. They can lose their waterproofness when they get dirty.
· Speaking of washing, the smelliest of all paddle gear are the neoprene items like wetsuits and paddle shoes. A ripe pair of watershoes can make a skunk run away, holding its nose. It’s worth the money to get a special product meant for soaking the smell out of neoprene, like “Sink the Stink Wetsuit Cleaner.” These products really work.
Review the Safety Kit – The small dry bag of safety supplies that I have along on every paddle will get dumped out on the workbench and everything checked over. If there is any hint that the bag is losing its waterproofness, it will be replaced. I find a heavy-duty bag is best for this purpose, since it gets shuffled around in and out of boats all season long.
The first aid kit will have the meds updated and bandage supplies refilled. The headlamp and flashlight will get new batteries. Energy bars will be replaced with fresh ones. The Leatherman tool will be checked for corrosion and the duct tape will be inspected to make sure it’s still sticky.
Find Some New Places to Paddle – Nothing gets me inspired to paddle like investigating some new waters. We are blessed with a wide variety of paddling spots here in eastern New York. Try investigating some new launches at paddling.com. On the home page, click on “Go Paddle” then “Paddling Locations Map.” There you can explore dozens of launching places in our region. I did not find every one of my favorites marked on their map, but most of them were there. The site invites users to add information, comments and photos, even to list new sites. I will do this for a couple of my missing favorites. To use this resource on your phone, download their “Go Paddling” app. It conveniently links you to Google Maps for driving directions to the launch sites.
Here are a few of my top picks for paddling in the Capital Region:
· Albany County – Thompson’s Lake, Lawson’s Lake and Hudson River at Henry Hudson Park
· Saratoga County – Vischer Ferry Nature Preserve at Clute’s Dry Dock and Saratoga Lake at Waterfront Park or Brown’s Beach
· Rensselaer County – Grafton Lakes State Park at Long Pond and Dunham Reservoir
· Greene County – Hudson River at Four Mile Point Road
Loading Boats – I am at the age when my kayaks seem to get heavier with each passing year. I tend to paddle the lightest weight boat, but it’s still a little over 40 pounds. How do you load a kayak on top of the car with the least strain and the most safety for your body? The cheapest solution is to carry a heavy blanket to cover the back of your vehicle. Place the bow of the boat up on the back of the vehicle and lift the stern, sliding the craft up on the roof. Take care, though, the boat can slide sideways and off the car.
The makers of roof racks have a number of solutions for you. With the Thule brand racks that I use, costs range from $100 to $650. I have the Thule Outrigger, a bar that slides in and out of one of the existing rack bars. It lets me lift one end of a kayak and place it on the Outrigger bar, then lift the other end and work the boat over into place. This way, I’m lifting just half the total weight on the boat at a time. Yakima sells a similar item, called a Boatloader Assist Bar.
Cold Water Safety – It will be tempting to take an early spring paddle on the first 75-degree day after the ice goes out. Please remember that the water temperature will likely be in the 30s or 40s – cold enough to kill quickly by cold shock and subsequent drowning. Here is a safety guideline: Under 60 degrees, wear a wetsuit; under 50 degrees, wear a dry suit. Safer yet, be patient and let the waters warm up. And always, always, wear the life jacket! People rarely run into serious trouble when they wear one. Wearing your floatation is required by law in this state from November 1 to May 1 in pleasure vessels under 21 feet in length, and is required all year for youngsters under the age of 12.
Practice in a Pool – Open paddling time is available at the Duanesburg YMCA on Thursday evenings from 7:30-9pm through mid-April. The cost is $15 for non-members and it’s free for YMCA members. Make sure you have a scrupulously clean boat. There is no formal instruction given, but there is almost always an instructor or two on hand to help you with safely skills.
Enjoy the new paddling season, and be safe out there!
Alan Mapes (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a sea kayak instructor and guide, certified by the American Canoe Association and Paddlesports North America. He lives near Delmar and offers kayak instruction through the Capital District Kayakers Meetup Group