Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Along the Shore

It's interesting to compare summer paddling with winter paddling. The biggest difference? To me, it's not the temperature, even though our mild winters are still cool enough that the few shivering people walking along the promenade or beach at Cadboro Bay's Gyro Park are staring at me in a shortie wetsuit with bare feet, tucking my sandals into my little inflatable kayak. The summer temperatures are usually mild, too, though we've had some days already which were hot enough that friends left their dry suits at home and joined me by paddling in light clothes (shorts & shirt suitable for swimming if we tipped over in sheltered water).
So, it's not the temperature or how it changes our gear. The big difference is the number of people! It's almost as if there were some kind of announcement that said "It's summer! You're supposed to go to the beach!" The beach visitors don't stay long... not all of them. Many of them look so winter-pale that this might be the first time in months that they've been outside for longer than the time it takes to walk from door to car or bus. (I will acknowledge here that I look similarly pale; it takes moving a bracelet I wear every day to show that sonufagun, I do have a tan.)
The increased shoreline population affects our kayaking in a couple of ways. The first way is the portage across a crowded beach, or a beach that seems crowded when one is trying not to slap a sunbathing stranger with the stern of my kayak. Dogwalking strangers are usually able to dodge.
The second way is the brief conversation with somebody or other at the water's edge about the kayak, gear, clothes, weather, destinations, or boats in general. If you ever feel lonely for someone to talk with, get a kayak -- because then strangers will feel inclined to stop beside your boat and say all kinds of things until you wave and paddle away for a few minutes of quiet on the water. If the strangers comment on the currents just past the end of the point, it's clear that they have actually been out here in a boat themselves, and so the conversation is more fun. But I can't really complain about kayaks attracting strangers, not when I paddle distinctive boats. All small boats are worthy of attention, but my inflatables inspire covetous comments and my sea kayak is bright pink and locally designed for smaller paddlers, so there!
The third way that the increased shoreline population affects our kayaking is the number of interactions goes way up -- and not just interactions with people, but with other living things! There are migrating birds lounging about in their summer homes, bringing out newly-fledged babies. There are thousands of little fish visible, darting in the shallows under the boat or splashing ahead and making little rings on the water. Mink and otter scrabble along the rocks or swim with their dark heads looking like the floats of bullwhip kelp. It's hard to imagine how many other living things are barely visible, like the sea stars wedging themselves into cracks, or the sea anemones ten feet down and visible only when curtains of seaweed billow aside. If the tide and sunlight are right, it's possible in some places to see red rock crabs stalking sideways across sandy bottoms where a few vent holes show that there's something living in the muck, maybe big geoduck clams or some kind of bristly marine worm.
The two biggest differences this week? That's easy. One day I saw seven humans along the rocky shoreline where nice houses tower over the water. It's a rare day when there's more than one person out in those waterfront properties. What was especially rare was that I don't think any of the seven were hired gardeners; these were actual residents and their guests enjoying these homes and yards.
And the other difference was a new boat. New to me anyway, and it also looked new. It was a Whitehall Spirit rowing scull, their Solo 14 model. It was anchored off Stein Island. The name written on the stern was The Crimson, a terrifically appropriate name, as the scull was brilliantly red. Awesome.

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