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Friday, September 25, 2015

Renegade Kayak Paddle-About: A Sad Farewell


View of the extinct volcano Tafahi, TONGA and driftwood,
from one of the last places I tied my kayak off.
Wayne often cursed my kayak, though he understood it gave me my own much needed independent set of “wheels” to confidently explore when Wayne wasn’t in the mood.  And my kayak, powered by me, always started – unlike the finicky old Johnson outboard motor that came with our dinghy, or the deathenol-plagued Yamaha 2-stroke 5-horse outboard that replaced it.


My kayak saved me a good portion of a hot walk up the hill
to grocery shop in Hiva Oa French Marquesas and was big enough
to handle a sizable drybag backpack and a grocery sack, too.
It’s just that there was no convenient place to stow my kayak aboard, even though I bought a small one.  We opted to block our port side deck, and I regularly pointed out when we were in heavy seas my kayak’s presence greatly reduced the water volume we got through our portside galley window leak (fingers crossed – Wayne just rebedded that window and we’re hoping that ends the leaks). 

Once we anchored anyplace I planned to kayak – which was often -- we trailed my kayak off our stern cleat.  There it was well out of the way, and not disruptively “clanking” against the side of our boat, though it was a it of a hassle taking off and returning to get the kayak painter moved from the portside ladder area cleat, past the safety line stanchions, winch, and ten (yes –ten!) other vertical lines/tubes etc. to tie off to the stern port cleat.   Often, disembarking and unloading, I made a more casual side tie, given it will be moved shortly after to the stern.  Nevermore.


While my kayak always started, I can’t deny appreciating a lift 
when the paddle is very long, or in this case in Fakarava where 
t was counter to 20+ mile an hour winds.
In Niuatoputapu I’d planned to kayak the waterway between that island and the adjacent island Hunganga. Initially, I’d planned to tack the exploration onto a trip into the Customs and Immigrations office in nearby Hinfau.  Hugging the shoreline, the paddle was quite long, and took me much longer than anticipated.  Given my late start, the side trip would’ve entailed my paddling back at dusk, which was not in my plans. 

Then, the weather shifted, with gusts up to 20+ knots.  Paddling against those overly strong head-on winds required for my return dissuaded me. 

Meanwhile, Wayne got busy varnishing (well, cetoling in our case) all our exterior woodwork, starting with the sides the first few days, finishing with the cockpit, the last few days.

Finally it was time to get our boat ready for the passage to our next anchorage, and I decided I was ok skipping the paddle out to explore Hunganga.



Mangroves, like this one off the Rio Chagres, PANAMA, were magical
for kayaking, amid the tapestry of sound
from songbirds and howler monkeys.
“Where’s your kayak?” Wayne asked, as bringing it back aboard is part of our get-ready for passage process.  “It’s not on the back?” I replied.  “No… it was side tied for the cetoling,” Wayne countered.  “Uh oh… noticeable in its absence,” he lamented, ironically on my behalf


I was embarrassed when Kim got stuck with my kayak aboard
her dinghy at Conception, Bahamas.
Then, sadly, we both realized at the same time my much beloved 2-year-old West Marine kayak decided to paddle off permanently without me, surely sometime during the 20+ knot winds.  That casual side cleat tie was never meant to withstand that kind pressure.  I’d forgotten due to the cockpit cetoling which touched the usual stern cleat tie, and didn’t move it back to its usual spot, with my usual secure tie nor secured it adequately on its normally temporary side cleat tie. 

These colors, caught kayaking
in Rum Cay, Bahamas were nearly surreal.
    
Wayne valiantly hotfooted into our dinghy and raced off to the perimeter of Niuatoputapu’s reef, almost but not quite enclosing lagoon where we anchored.  “This is probably a wild goose chase,” he forewarned.  He didn’t see my kayak, but did see there was a nice little opening in the reef, (in)conveniently located directly downwind from our boat.  Behind that?  Nothing downwind but wide open ocean, not really much on the way to anywhere ….

He also checked the pier, on the outside chance one of the few local fishing boaters found it and tied it up there.  No luck there, either.


Waters Island’s crystal clear water in the Bahamas
offered fantastic kayaking; one of my favorite paddles.
If by some miracle you’re traveling Northwest near Niutoputapu bound toward Vava’u and/or New Zealand, and see a green-blue West Marine kayak with a clipped on black back support, a tattered blue life saving (buoyant, 2-handled) seat cushion and a faded blue and yellow life vest in the aft recess, let me know.

“I’m really sorry about your kayak,” Wayne empathized, more than once.  And despite all the times he cursed it, I knew he genuinely meant it. 


These Fakarava atolls were great fun to access and explore by kayak.
While not one for naming my vehicles, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit it feels like I lost a good friend.  I take some consolation in that my beloved kayak was purchased at a fantastic West Marine employee discount price.  And, unlike many cruiser kayaks I see, mine really got used – a lot over its 10,500+ miles of cruising in just two years. 

Maybe it will brighten the life of some local islander or passing cruiser able to snag it in passage, as I’m guessing my sturdy kayak will remain intact, and eventually land somewhere, hopefully inhabited if not found prior.


This little new-to-me red Sekat, is the replacement to my beloved
West Marine kayak, purchased used at a swap meet in
Neiafu, Tonga.  Just as one never forgets their first love,
it’s taking me a bit to warm up to this new-to-me kayak.
At a swap meet in Neiafu, Tonga, our next stop, I found an affordable replacement to my beloved West Marine kayak.  It’s a little new-to-me red Sekat, which claims isn’t much smaller than its predecessor.  Still, just as one never forgets their first love, it’s taking me a bit to warm up to this new-to-me kayak.


So, if you’re in my neck of the woods and possess a nice, small kayak going unused, let’s talk, in case it’s one I can cherish as much as my forever departed West Marine kayak.  Though you never know, by then, I may find as much affection for the Sekat as I did for my West Marine.

Nieafu TONGA anchorage as seen from town.
Location Location
This post was finalized in Port Maurelle, Kingdom of TONGA (S18.42.024 W174.01.801) and was inspired at our first Tonga island stop, Niuatoputapu (meaning 'Very Sacred Coconut') (S15.56.395 W173.46.125).  about 175 miles from Tonga’s Vava’u island group, where we’re currently cruising.

Communication Access
There was no wifi in Niuatoputapu or Port Maurelle, so posts were written awaiting arrival for sporadic wifi access in Neiafu, of the Vava’u islands of Tonga.

Tonga wifi access is slow, so most posts will be set up to post when we’re in Tonga’s more populated areas.  Once we get to New Zealand in November, we expect much better wifi and will catch up on some recent cruising experiences and, eventually, some short video clips.

Cruising Progress by the Numbers

As of our start, December 7th 2014, from Jacksonville FL NAS, USA until our current (September 26, 2015) travels around the Neiafu, Tonga are -- ~9 months, we’ve spent about a third of our time --120 days -- sailing and covered 8,724 nautical miles.  The prior 2 years combined, we sailed 3762 miles.  By the time we arrive in New Zealand in November, less than a year from when we set out, we expect we’ll sail over 10,000 miles this year.  That’s a lot of miles for a boat with a hull speed of 7 knots; we usually sail far slower than that.