top of page

PART 1  - A New Adventure

February 1st - Four Months to Departure

In my previous adventures, the end of the journey has been the most difficult part. When I arrive back where I started, my first thought has been, “Well, I am done. Should I feel a sense of accomplishment or transformation now that the journey is over?” It’s hard to know.  For many days and weeks I had one objective, to finish, and the moment I did, I did not have much to say.

“Time to get ready to go home and back to work.” I thought as I strolled through the aisles of a Home Depot store in San Juan looking for the bubble wrap I’d need to pack up my kayak. 

It was August 2021 and there had been an easing of the pandemic restrictions. We were allowed to take domestic flights, including to Puerto Rico,   and I had spent the past three weeks  paddling my kayak around the island. 

I was not looking forward to being flung back into the “work from home routine” that the post pandemic life had become.  When you have a wife, kids or even a dog, I suppose you have a few more things to focus your attention on than just your work, and some real people to talk to. But when you’re like me, not attached to anyone, the disembodied voices on your Microsoft Teams calls are all you get;  day after day. 

I handled it fine for a year, but I could tell that the isolation had corroded  a portion of my emotional foundation. Will this condition go on for another year? I hoped not. 

 

A few months later, a colleague from work quit abruptly. Before the pandemic we had worked on several engineering projects for the wastewater plants in Miami together. We met at the office nearly every day, swapped ideas and worked through the issues of the job as things invariably came up. These days we mostly talked online via Teams, but still, our familiarity from years of work together was enough for me to feel that at least someone wasn’t too far away. But now it really did feel like it was just me.

 

I’ve noticed that being alone paddling in my kayak doesn't result in me being lonely. I suppose that is because being alone is a predicament of a situation, being lonely is how you interpret it. On the kayak my mind is full. I have to think about the next wave coming up, the wind that is changing, and that rocky headland that’s fast approaching. There isn’t a choice to not have your mind on those things; they are coming for you and have to physically deal with them whether you want to or not, and that fills the mind. 

People at work are kind of like the waves, the wind and the headlands in a way too. They are there, you have to deal with them, and that fills your time and your mind. But when all you got is the work, then you start to ask yourself, “is the work a fountain of emotional fulfillment for me? If the answer isn’t an emphatic yes every time, then you have a problem. It’s called boredom. 

Ironically, I find that it is stressful to be bored. It is like holding all the pressure of a champagne bottle with your thumb. The outward staticness of going through the motions of your work,  hides the enormous mental effort that is needed to not let everything come apart all at once. 

After some months I mustered the will to make a  request to my supervisor. 

 

“Dear Mr. Sharp,

Over the course of the pandemic many of us have, I am sure, begun to feel considerable burnout, both from the isolation and the blending of our personal and professional lives. I had never thought that I would or even could succumb to such hardship, but after a year and a half I must admit that it has begun to wear me down as well. To avoid falling victim to burnout like so many, I would like to ask if the company can allow me to take some unpaid leave in the coming summer for emotional recuperation. I have reviewed my current workload and concluded that after an early June deliverable I will be relatively light on work, and any remaining project responsibilities can be passed on to others. We have sufficient time to prepare the transition. I will have about a month of accumulated vacation time by the summer and was hoping that I could take an additional month off. The tentative dates would be from Monday May 31st returning Monday August 8th. 

Please let me know if this is an arrangement that can be worked out.

Felipe.”

For so many years after the great recession employees have had little to no leverage to make asks of their employers. Somehow, the pandemic inverted that quite suddenly.  

My supervisor called me that same week.

“Hi Felipe, got your email. Yup. I am all for a little work-life balance once in a while. Can’t let people burn out. We can work something out. What adventure are you planning this time around?”

“Another kayaking adventure for sure. Don’t know where yet. I am open to suggestions.”

“How about the Pacific Northwest? Last time I was there I saw a lot of paddlers. Zim, our valve and pipe guy, lives in Tacoma. I know he’s gone paddling in the San Juan Islands.”

“That is an interesting idea. I have a friend who lives in Victoria who is a kayak guide; I’ll see with him what kind of advice he can give me.”

 

Two years before the pandemic lockdown, I had attended a kayaking symposium in Oregon. There I had struck up a conversation with a Canadian who mentioned to me he’d paddled around Vancouver Island by himself the previous summer. “I did it for my sixty-fifth birthday. At sixty-five you are closer to the grave than you are to the cradle. Today can be the day I’ll leave life behind; I had put off doing the journey for too many years already. It’s a wonderful place, challenging and dangerous, but definitely wonderful.” 

 “Really, and how so?”

“Well, the weather can be miserable on the West coast. I waited 5 days before I had a window safe enough to paddle past the Brooks Peninsula, and even then, the swells were over 10 feet. But the scenery is inspiring, and you will hardly find a place more beautiful. It’s a bitter irony for me that I have lived nearly all my life in Vancouver, and only really got to discover it so late in life. I started kayaking at sixty. Some things you learn late in life, and then you must rush to catch up on what you missed.”

February 15th - Three and a half Months to Departure

A strange coincidence happened this week. On Friday night I was scanning through my Facebook feed when I came across a video from Lee Richardson, my friend who lives in Victoria and is a kayak guide and I had mentioned in passing to my supervisor. I first met him in Nova Scotia during a kayaking trip to the Bay of Fundy. The video showed him kayak surfing a long gentle green wave all the way onto a white sand beach. The caption read, “A little break from the winter on the Matanzas Inlet.”

Immediately I knew the place. The Matanzas inlet is in North Florida. I’ve kayaked there several times and even camped on the sand spit that shelters the inlet on New Year’s Eve when I circumnavigated Florida. 

“Hey man! You’re doing a paddle vacation in Florida and didn’t tell me? I’m heartbroken!” I joked.

“Yeah! Landed in Jacksonville yesterday. I’m leading a course with two other guides for a week. Want to join us for the weekend.”

“I’ll get the Rockpool Taran in the car and head over tomorrow morning!” 

For me, having an opportunity to paddle out of South Florida is tough to pass up. The winter weather in Miami is mild, but the ocean here is hardly a place to build up your sea kayaking skills. The waves are barely bigger than ripples. It takes a serious storm to whip up the water enough to get the surfers out.  

I got on the road at 4:00am, drove through the night and dusk, and was parking next to the bridge across the inlet a little after sunrise. The sea was choppy, and the north wind had chilled the air to a hair raising 50oF. 

“Don’t make fun of my shivering; 50oF is really cold when you’re from Miami. It was 78oF when I left home five hours ago before sunrise.” I said to Lee poking fun at myself. “When am I going to be able to try on a dry suit in Florida.” 

I had just purchased a new Kokatat dry suit the week before for the princely sum of $1,300. Normally I would never spend a ransom sum of money for something I will get so little use out of, but I had already been thinking that I would be paddling somewhere cold this summer. Be it up in Vancouver or Nova Scotia, the Canadian waters are cold enough to numb you into hypothermia in less than a minute, and even the dry suit won’t keep you alive for much longer than the time you need to get back inside your boat. I remember a few years ago when I was kayaking in Oregon in the late fall, and I decided to try a few kayak rolls in a dry suit. Although my body stayed dry, my head felt the same kind brain chill you get when you swallow  half a pint of ice-cream.  

The dry suit is an amazing piece of craftsmanship. Its many layers of Gortex fabric have microscopic pores, thousands of times too small for water to pass through but thousands of times larger than what the water vapor from your sweat needs to escape; and so your body stays dry, even if still chilled like meat in the freezer. The openings for the head and hands have  latex gaskets tight enough to choke you and take a little getting used to but their grip is flush to the skin and water has no way to slip through. Most impressive to me are the suit’s zippers; I do not know what kind of craftsmanship goes into making a zipper’s teeth seal together so perfectly that not a drop of water is able to slip through but to me is indistinguishable from magic.  

“Make sure you pull the zipper all the way to the end; you don’t want to feel like the sea is taking a cold piss on you. Also, try not to walk on the booty socks, they’re tough but they do rip if you’re shoddy with them. Also, you’ll need to buy two things to have with you. Zipper wax and silicone spray. The zipper wax is to make sure that sand and salt don’t get in between the zipper teeth, especially if you don’t have a chance to wash the suit with fresh water, and the spray is so the gaskets don’t become brittle over time. If they break, then the suit won’t be watertight.”

I surfed the waves in the inlet with Lee and his students for the next two days, practiced the paddle stern rudder while running down the face of a wave towards the beach, and duck-rolled through the breakers while paddling out from shore. I was feeling confident, I would be able to handle most situations, until Lee gave me an ominous bit of advice.

“These waves are barely bigger than folds on a rug. They can be much bigger in Vancouver. You’ll need to be fit if you decide to head out there…” 

“Well, hopefully if I start on the  east coast of the island, I’ll have enough miles under my boat then that I will be fit enough to handle the swells when they come. Not all of us  exercise for a living,” I jabbed.

March 1st - Three Months to Departure

After getting locked assurances from work that I had the free time I would need for the journey I began to give due consideration about where the next great adventure should be. The more I thought about it, the more Vancouver Island made sense. I traced a path on Google Earth, and the distance came to about a thousand miles. If I average twenty-five miles per day which is about what I did around Florida, that will mean about forty paddle days and leave some 20 rest days, an incredible luxury that would allow me to sit out any tumultuous weather, and maybe perhaps even take a side trip or two.

In addition, I made a contact through Lee with a Canadian paddling company he’d worked with called Skils Sea Kayaking, which was organizing a two-week trip along part of the West coast of Vancouver Island. This year they would be leaving from St Josef Bay on June 26th, and paddle around the Brooks Peninsula.   Given my planned late May start, that would give me enough time to catch up with them along the way. The thought of paddling what may turn out to be the most challenging section of the journey in the safety of a group of more experienced paddlers gave me a sense of comfort. 

“You are welcome to tag along with us. Just be sure to be there when we leave. It’s not always easy to meet up on the water; the weather decides whether that happens.”

I decided there and then that Vancouver Island would be my adventure. 

My next task now was to come up with a way to get my kayak there. I called up my contacts at Crowley Marine who did a great job getting my kayak from Miami to Puerto Rico. “Kayak Guy! Yeah, we remember you! Unfortunately, we don’t ship to the West coast, except to the port of Los Angeles. Maybe instead of Vancouver, you could head down to Mexico. I hear the Baja Peninsula is beautiful, maybe even go as far as Panama! We can pick you up there and send your boat back to Miami no problem! Or wherever else you want to go. Unfortunately, for anywhere else you’re going to need to find a land carrier, and I can’t recommend you one.”

“I’ll keep you guys’ mind then, for the future when I have a year or two to spare.” I joked. 

I began to search for a land carrier. Immediately I ruled out international shipping directly to Victoria in Vancouver Island as the prices were astronomical. For $5,000 one way I would be better off buying a new kayak and giving it away at the end of the journey. The most economical option was to send it somewhere in the Seattle area, and then cross into Canada via the San Juan Islands. That would add some distance, but with two months of time off for the journey, that would not be a problem. 

I contacted UPS and Fedex but both said that my package was much too large for them to take on. I began to feel a bit exasperated. What’s the hassle of a 3-piece kayak worth, if you can’t get it to where you need it at a reasonable price? I decided to appeal to the wisdom of the crowd and posted my conundrum on the Facebook Group Strictly Sea Kayaking. Promptly one of the members mentioned he’d used a company called MoveIt. “When you call, ask for a guy called Joey, and tell him you know me, and that I am sending him business. He’ll know how to handle it. He’s the kayak whisperer if you need to ship a kayak on the cheap.”

“Even if it’s a 3-piece kayak?”

“Yeah, a little out of the ordinary, but he should manage it. Probably even easier ‘cause it’s not so long.”

I called MoveIt the next day, inquired about Joey, and was promptly transferred. Joey was an avid kayaker living  in the Virginia Beach area and owned a Sterling Reflection. “Kayak surfing here is really good on a windy day, the beach is flat, and the waves break gently. No dumping rollers. Yeah, we can ship your kayak to Seattle. We’ll pick it up and send it to whichever address you want.”

“Oh, that is so great to hear! I don’t have a destination address yet. I need to look for that next.”

“Don’t wait too long. Fuel prices are going through the roof with the war in Ukraine on top of all the inflation, and I can’t lock you a price until I have a pickup date and destination, right now to Seattle based on the dimensions you told me, it would be $750.”

“Yes Sir, I will call you again as soon as possible!”

March 15th - Two and a Half Months to Departure

Finding a shipping address in Seattle was more difficult than I thought. Ideally, I would like to ship the kayak to a place next to a boat ramp and save myself a few uber rides like I had to do in Puerto Rico. 

“What’s that?” The drivers would always ask me.

“It’s a kayak; it’s in pieces, trust me we can make it fit. You just need to put every seat down, and I’ll crouch on the side somewhere.”

I turned to Google Earth and scoured the shores of downtown Seattle for a suitable launching site. I thought I had a lucky find when I located the paddleboard shop on the harbor bay across from the Space Needle. I immediately gave the place a call but was disappointed. “Sorry, but this is not a good neighborhood. It’s full of homeless people and we have break-ins all the time. If you can’t put a cable and a lock through your equipment, it will grow legs in the night, and you’ll never see it again.”

I pleaded for the help from the wisdom of the Strictly Sea Kayaking crowd once again, “Folks in the Seattle Area, this summer I’m planning to paddle around Vancouver Island. Would anyone be kind enough to receive and hold on to a 3-piece kayak for about a month? I’m coming up from Florida. Will reward your inconvenience with great tales from the sea, seasoned with some bourbon and rum. If you’re close to a boat ramp that would be fantastic!”

Soon after I had several responses. One of them was the owner of a Kayak shop called Tides and Currents.

 

“Hey Felipe! Yes! I can handle it no problem! Send it over whenever you’re ready! I’m 45 minutes north of Seattle. The boat ramp is a little far, but we can figure that out when you’re here.”

“Sounds good then! Thank you!”

I called up Moveit to set the pickup date. Joey wasn’t kidding about prices going up. After two weeks, the shipping cost was now $950, and he said to get it booked now or it might be more later.

“In these inflationary times, the only thing that is cheap is the thing you didn’t buy a week ago.”

April 2nd - Two Months to Departure

With two months to go before heading to Seattle, there was still an avalanche of things to do. Except for the dry suit, I am nowhere near ready with all the items I  needed for cold weather paddling. Unlike the Puerto Rico circumnavigation, I’ll need a sleeping bag for the cold nights, layers of warm clothing for the day, and something for the rain as well when I am confined to the shore. 

All that takes up a lot of space and space is a premium commodity in a kayak. The sleeping bag is particularly volumous. Even when I stuffed it into a compression sack and crushed it as tightly as I could, it was still bigger than the bag I use for the tent. 

“Where am I going to keep this? It’s too wide to fit through the front hatch.” I shouted out loud trying to ram it in.

After admitting defeat, I was resigned that it would need to go inside the stern hatch, which is where I normally keep the kayak dolly which also takes up a lot of space. Somehow, I delivered a miracle  akin to beating the game of Tetris . Into the stern hatch went the tent poles, the tent bag, two drybags of food, the folded kayak dolly with the wheels and lastly the massive sleeping bag all neatly and tightly tailored together. When I closed the lid, I paused to admire my invisible finished work. Nothing to see from the outside, yet incredibly complex just under the surface, like the circuitry of the latest and greatest smartphone.

At that moment, I got a message from my mother. “Did you know there are bears on Vancouver Island?”

I picked up the phone and called to calm her fears.

“Yes, I know, it will be fine, as long as I don’t keep the food in the tent. In fact, what people do is they hang the food in a bag from a tree limb with a rope, and then the bear won’t get to it.”

“OK, but what if your food is not what the bear is interested in, what if they think you’re the food? The Bears up there aren’t the timid black bears you saw cycling in Colorado, they’re big mean grizzly bears, and they won’t be scared of you. Maybe you should take a gun with you.”

“I’m not taking a gun with me. I don’t even know how to use one, and what do I tell the Mountie Police at the border when I cross into Canada, and he sees I’m packing a 9mm? “It’s for the bears?” That will go over as well as it sounds.”

“What can you take with you then?”

“I’ll buy some bear spray.”

“Does it work?”

“It’s bear spray, it’s in the name.”

“Ok then, take like ten with you.”

“Mom, I’m not going to a bear disco party. Two will do. One for a bear, and one for a mountain lion if I come across one.”

“There are lions there too??? Oh god. Take at least three then.”

Later that day she sent me a YouTube video of a bear grabbing a box of bird seeds that had been hanging from a rope high up on a tree.

“Just so you know…”

April 15th - One and a half Months to Departure

MoveIt came in the morning to pick up the kayak. The day before I had all the gear fitted into the hull and draped the sections in bubble wrap before slipping them into the kayak bags. 

Compared to shipping the kayak to Puerto Rico, the process this time was easy. A midsize truck showed up on time, the driver gave me some paperwork to sign, and dropped down the backloading ramp with a pallet. We placed the three sections on the pallet, and then wrapped everything together.

 

“Please get it there safely,” I said. 

“It won’t be a problem. If we can take that without any wrapping we can take the three cotton balls of a kayak you have there,” he said pointing to a motorcycle inside the truck strapped to a wooden base frame.

The driver pressed a red button, and the loading ramp lifted my 3 kayak bags, after which he then dragged the pallet to the back of the truck, closed the hatch, and drove off, to where I don’t know. My hopes and worries were now wrapped and on their way to Seattle. I tried not to think about it too much. There are things beyond my ability to control. I did everything I could.

The same afternoon I got an unexpected message on my Facebook messenger. “Hey, is the red kayak still for sale?” 

“Yes it is!” I replied.

The message referred to my other kayak which I had put up for sale about a month before.

Several years ago, I purchased my first expedition kayak. A red polyethylene wilderness system Tempest 170. I had arrived home from a rolling class in Key Largo where I trained on the same boat model. The Tempest 170 hull is rounded and narrow and the back deck is very low and comfortable to lean on, both features that made learning to roll more effortless and forgiving than a hard chinned boat. I immediately began searching for a used Tempest near my home. I found one in Melbourne Florida on CraigsList and drove up the next day to see it. The address was a mobile home park, and the person selling it was an elderly man with a diamond white bead, silvery hair and a face wrinkled like a pug that recounted the story of a life spent outdoors, but which did not seem to be headed for a happy ending. Although he looked long on the tooth, he was slim, fit, with a flat stomach.  and a wide frame that gave him an imposing presence as he stood by the door.. He led me into the backyard of his mobile home  where he kept the kayak. On the way through the living room I noticed that the TV was propped up on a pile of old books and magazines. It was tuned on Fox News. His sofa was a futon bed that hadn’t been dusted in years, and the carpet was marked with sticky stains that I assumed were either wine or fruit juice. The air in the room also had a very pungent odor of cigarettes which were the scent of the man’s wife. 

She was holding a lit cigarette and had the look of hillbilly; discolored teeth, mangled hair, and goosed bumped skin.  

“You gonna buy it right?” She said excited after taking a long drag. 

I looked at the old man, he did not seem happy to be selling his kayak, and I speculated it was his wife’s idea.  It’s possible they were short on money and I doubt he would ever purchase another kayak again. I told him I’d pay his asking price and would give him some gas money as well if he drove the kayak to Miami for me. His wife grinned with happiness, but he showed no emotion and simply said he’d do it.

I think that when I  purchased the man’s kayak; I took a little piece of his soul too.  The  life he would no longer get to live.

 

“OK, I’ll be there this afternoon to take a look at it,” came the immediate reply. After a couple hours a white SUV pulled into my driveway. I had the kayak on the dolly with the red sail unfurled. The buyer was a short chubby man wearing a black t-shirt of the grim reaper swinging a scythe and riding a stallion. The caption read, “Too Old to Die Young.” 

“So you’re into Heavy Metal?” I asked, pointing at the shirt.

“Oh this? Nah… It’s a crime drama my wife and I are binge watching on Amazon Prime. Well, my wife is binge watching to be more precise. I watch it here and there. If I get too comfortable, I’ll be like her and never leave the house. So, that’s the red beauty. Is it easy to use the sail?”

“Yes, not too bad on moderate wind, I’d be a little careful with it when it’s blowing hard. . You don’t want to lose control. It’s a welcome reprieve, however, if you have to paddle for 10 hours or more in a day.”

“I don’t have any sailing experience.”

“You soon will then.”

I showed him how to hoist the sail and how to stow it on the deck. He inspected the hatches and ran his palm over the hull and deck to feel if the scratches told any stories. “I’ll take it.”

He paid me in cash, we lifted the boat onto his car roof, and he fastened it with a set of black straps. At that moment I asked him if we could take a few photographs. Although I had not paddled the Tempest ever since I had bought the Taran, I felt a pang of nostalgia at the realization that this would be the last time I’d lay eyes on this kayak that over the years had been so generous to me. 

“You know, this kayak taught me to roll, and took me on my first expedition, a ten-day trip from Miami to Marco Island through the Everglades. It will give you confidence and you’ll make fond memories with it. Take good care of it.”

He drove off with the boat, took the right bend on the street corner, and soon vanished from view. I stood in the middle of the parking lot  for a while as the evening was setting in. A thought then whispered into my head, “You shipped the Taran this morning to Seattle, and now you just sold the Tempest. Technically, you don’t have a kayak anymore. You better hope the shipping company doesn’t mess up.”

May 1st - Twenty Eight Days to Departure

When I paddled around Puerto Rico, I had a few close calls with reefs and submerged rocks. On more than one occasion I was surprised by a wave breaking over a hidden boulder which I managed to avoid only by timing my strokes with the wave crest.  A rock covered with jagged barnacles and oysters is the kayaker’s most terrible enemy and I fear them more than a hungry great white shark. There’s always a chance the shark is just curious.

Because of that, I’ve always carried a fiberglass repair kit with me but somewhat irresponsibly, I have never taken the time to learn how to do a field repair. It’s been buried in the front hatch, providing nothing more than emotional support. But in practice it has been  as useless as a can of fish with no can opener. 

I’ve always been one to think, “it will never happen to me.” My beach landings have almost always been on sandy shorelines, and I’ve had the foresight (or luck most likely) to check that the landings would be in calm bays sheltered from the wind. In the chance that a quick repair is needed, I’ve had some waterproof tape with me that would hopefully get me to somewhere I could then rest a bit and think of what to do. In Vancouver Island, however, relying on hope and optimism just seemed too imprudent and disrespectful of my good fortunes thus far in life.

 

From photographs I’ve seen, many of the landings on the Pacific coast are rocky, exposed, with countless scattered reefs. Out on the ocean, you only need to be unlucky once to be unlucky for the rest of your short life. 

I concluded that learning how to execute a successful fiberglass field repair is a skill I must have. To do that I called up the man I call the Kayak Whisperer, out in Naples. 

“Hi Jay! I’ve decided that the Vancouver Island adventure is a go for this year. You mind giving me a class on fiberglass field repair, I got a feeling I might need it this time.”

“Yes, of course, come on by next weekend.”

I’ve known Jay for four years since I bought the Taran kayak. Meeting him is every kayaker’s most fortunate life encounter. Mine happened because when I purchased my kayak, it came with a small but critical production defect. The stern opening for the rudder deployment cable was placed in a location that made it inoperable. The existing hole had to be patched and closed, and a new one drilled farther back. Looking at a six-thousand-dollar kayak currently about as useful as a pile of driftwood in my living room I was feeling extremely distraught. For 9 months I had anxiously anticipated the delivery watching YouTube videos and reading blogpost reviews about my new kayak. And now that it was here, I couldn’t take it out on its maiden voyage. I posted on the Strictly Sea Kayaking group asking for recommendations on kayak repair shops in South Florida. The recurring responses from as far away as Newfoundland were, “Call Jay Rose!” “Jay is the Master of fiberglass!” and “Oh you are so lucky you live close to Jay; we shipped our kayak to Naples for him to work on it.” 

I called Jay, and after briefly explaining the work, I was driving to Naples with my three-piece kayak crammed inside the Prius. 

When I arrived at Jay’s shop. I was a bit concerned. There was no shop, I had just driven down a potholed street to an old warehouse park on the outskirts of town. “Surely the address must be wrong”, I thought, wondering why there were no kayaks anywhere to be seen. A few minutes after I arrived another car with a kayak on the roof rack pulled into the parking lot, and a man wearing gray wife beaters stepped out. He was not very tall, but he was built with broad toned shoulders and wore a trimmed beard black as coal that seamlessly merged into his short curly hair.

“Hi, I’m Jay. You must be Felipe. Holy Cow! Is the kayak inside the Prius?”

“It’s a little tight, but I can just about drive safely on the highway with this setup. If I can manage without the central rear-view mirror, and don’t mind being a little too close to the steering wheel.”

“Don’t think I’ve ever seen something like that. Well, let’s get it on the work stand.” 

As he said that he unlocked one of the warehouse rollup doors, coiled it up with a clatter, and revealed a garage workshop with several stacked kayaks on a rack. 

“I have five units like this one. It’s been getting crowded, people keep sending me their boats, and I need to rent out more and more space.”

He looked at the stern piece with the opening for the rudder cable on my kayak, and immediately gave the diagnosis.

 

“Yeah, looks like whoever was making this goofed it. You rarely if ever see three-piece kayaks. Fortunately, this is easy, oh and you already have the right die pigment for the gel coat. It will look flawless. You can come and pick it up next week.” 

He wasn’t overstating things like a used car salesman. When I picked up the kayak the following weekend, the defect looked as though it had never existed.

May 7th - Twenty One Days to Departure

I was reading a book about the ancient Greek Myths when I came across the story of Hephaestus (Vulcan if you prefer his Roman name). He was the first-born son of Hera and Zeus, who by some cruel twist of fate, had such an ugly distasteful appearance, that when he was born his mother hurled him down the mountainside of Olympus in disgust. When he landed, he broke his foot and was forever lame and walked with a limp. During his exile he learned from the Cyclopes how to work metal forges and became renowned for his ability to turn metal ores into shields, swords, spears, and armor. 

Yet, had the ancient Greeks ever asked one of their many Oracles what kind of materials man would invent some twenty-five centuries in future, they would surely have included the sculpting with fiberglass, carbon fiber, Kevlar and epoxy glue to Hephaestus suite of industrial talents. The magic of  modern chemistry can take a  fabric,  soak it in a potion and expose it to the sun  transforms it into a hard but lightweight shell of any form imaginable, tough like a metal, and yet light as a breath of air. 

I arrived for my boat repair lesson with Jay early on Saturday. He gave me a full explanation of the types of glass fabrics that are available. Immediately he pointed out that the one that comes in the boat repair kit I purchased, was not the best. 

“You see, the fiberglass they provide has loose ends and is going to fray into thousands of loose strings of glass filaments the moment you cut into it. What you need is a fiberglass roll with the sides weaved together so that it looks like lace ribbon.”

“Before you even start to do anything, I’d say the first thing you have to make sure you do is to be somewhere that you know you can camp. If you can’t, you might as well throw in some layers of the marine tape both on the inside and outside of the crack and get somewhere you can spend a couple of days because you don’t want to do this in the rain. If you do a rushed job, it’s going to come out bad…”

“Ok, so once you are in a calm clean place, you’ll need to clean with acetone the whole area with the crack. You don’t want any dirt or salt water on it. After you’ve done that, you must sand the crack to remove all the gel coat at least one finger’s width around the fracture. That will give the epoxy glue more surface to bind to.” 

For this part of the lesson, he brought out a fiberglass panel which he promptly folded until it fractured down the middle so that the two pieces were only loosely held together. 

I used a rough number 40 sandpaper and scrubbed the cracked area clean of the gel coat until the underlying fiberglass was exposed. 

“Make sure you also scrub off any loose fibers from the panel that way the fiber will lay as flat as possible. Ok, you’re good. Now blow off all the dust, but make sure no one else is in front of you when you do that, you don’t want anyone to breathe glass dust into their lungs.

“The next step is the most crucial. Before you mix the epoxy, you should have to plan how you are going to lay the fiberglass and have the fiber sheets pre-cut. You almost always want to have three overlapping layers and make sure you alternate the direction of the fibers by 90 degrees in each layer to maximize the fabric strength. The top layer should also be the widest to cap over everything below and leave no loose ends.”

“Got it!” I said while taking notes. 

I looked at the longitudinal fracture on the panel and decided to make one long strip for the base layer to go along the length of the fracture, then several smaller roughly square pieces to be laid perpendicular to the first, then followed by a final long strip to cap it all in the third layer. I used a serrated pair of scissors to cut the fiber and immediately noticed that the fibers started fraying at the ends. 

“Don’t worry too much about that, if you start pulling the loose strings, the whole thing starts to unravel like a sweater.”

“Now that you have the sheets premade it’s time to mix the ingredients for the Epoxy.” He pulled two small clear bottles out of the repair kit. They were labeled, Chemical A, and Chemical B. 

“Chemical A is the Resin; this is what is going to bind the glass fibers together with the different layers. Chemical B is the Hardener which will cure the resin into a solid. It’s important to get the correct ratios in the mixture. Too much hardener and the solid will be brittle, too little, and it will not solidify. Two to one of A and B. Use a measuring cup you don’t mind throwing away.”

I mixed the two chemicals being very careful to measure each amount. As I stirred the potion together it soon started to give off heat. “Go slow on the stirring, you don’t want to have bubbles.”

I stirred the mixture for about two minutes. 

“Ok now, get a paintbrush you also don’t mind throwing away. Let the liquid soak up on the brush head, and then apply to the sanded area. Not too much, you don’t want to drench it. Just tap all the areas we’ll be laying the fiberglass until it’s all even.”

After wetting the entire area with glue, I laid the base sheet of fiberglass over the fracture. The white material immediately became translucent. “There you go, you got it. Now, those small white dots in the fiber are bubbles, you must sweep them out with the brush, because they will become points of weakness otherwise.”

We repeated the process for the next two layers, and then placed the panel in the sun to speed up the reaction. After half an hour the crack was no longer visible, and the panel was again one solid sheet. “Well, that’s it! In the kayak itself, you will also want to lay some fiberglass on the inside of the crack as well if the crack goes all the way through, it gets kind of tricky to sand and layer in the fabric if you need to get deep inside the hatch. Much easier to do it in the shop than on a beach. 

“Thank you so much Jay! Hopefully, this is the only time I will ever have to do this.”

“Oh, trust me, it won’t be. Paddle enough miles, and eventually almost everything that can happen happens. It’s one of those things you can never be in control of, only be prepared for when it happens.”

“At least I hope that when it happens there will be phone reception so I can video conference with you to check up on my work. A thumbs up from you will be a huge confidence boost before I get back into the elements.”

“I’ll keep an eye out for any messages from you while you’re out there.”

May 22nd - Seven Days to Departure

It hardly felt like it, but in a week, I would be pushing with my kayak from a boat ramp in Seattle. My mind began to shift from thinking about work and the daily hassles like reviewing contractor submittals and attending meetings to thinking about how the journey would unfold. For the first time the weather forecast in Seattle now included Sunday May 29th my tentative departure date. The prediction was for rain and a maximum temperature of 59oF; it didn’t seem like it would be too windy.

“An easy first day to get in the swing of things.” I thought. 

There were a few items to wrap up for the journey still. I had set aside the week for any last minute things such as activating my monthly GPS plan. When I was packing the kayak and the gear for shipment, I specifically remember having placed the GPS in my living room cabinet so that I did not accidentally ship it with everything else. Or at least I thought I remembered specifically doing that, because when I went to look for it, I couldn’t find it. Exasperated, I took all the clothes out of the drawers, rummaged through the kitchen cabinets, checked the cracks between the sofas, looked under the bed, flipped over the seats in the car, and a thousand other places but found nothing. 

I sent a message to my contact in Seattle who would be receiving the kayak.

 

“Hey David, need a big favor from you, can you look for my GPS unit in the Kayak gear? I don’t know which section it’s in, or which bag, so you’ll have to unpack everything; it will probably take a while to find it.”

“Yes, no problem. I'll be home in a few days, will look for it then and let you know.”

A few days came and went, and I heard nothing from David, and began to worry. I messaged him and got some bad news. “Hey man, I got into an accident, got several cracked ribs.  Can’t lift anything.”

“Oh darn. No worries then. I’ll buy a new unit, and if the old one turns out to be there, I’ll find a way to return it.” Like any normal person, I hate to spend money to fix a mistake, especially a $400 mistake which is how much the GPS unit would cost me, but the peace of mind was priceless.

May 26th - Four Days to Departure

Fate sometimes throws potholes on your life’s road. Last weekend I started feeling a sore throat ache. At first, I thought I had swallowed a rough Doritos chip or some other rough morsel of food. “It will go away soon enough,” I thought.

It didn’t. On Saturday afternoon I felt without energy, so I went to sleep early hoping that it was a result of the rough workweek. “Some ten hours of quality sleep should do the trick.”

Again, it did not. “Oh, darn I hope I’m not coming down with the flu or worse yet, COVID. Not now of all times…” I did a home antigen test on Sunday, and it came back negative. “Another good night's sleep and rest should clear this, I hope.”

On Monday morning I felt a little better and decided to go to work but would take things easy. No lunchtime workouts. Unfortunately, my condition soon  deteriorated again. I felt tired and shortly after the joint aches I’d experienced when I’d taken the COVID vaccine started bothering my ankles, knees and elbows. I decided to head home early, took another COVID antigen test, and sure enough, this time it came back positive.  

“This is a big problem,” I thought. If I’m contagious, I won’t be able to board the flight. I called my doctor and asked if he could prescribe some paxlovid tablets to get me out of the hole as quickly as possible. 

“Sorry, but that is only for the elderly or people who are immunocompromised, which isn’t your case. You’ll have to do what everyone does. Isolate for at least five days or until your symptoms go away, whichever is longer.”

I pleaded with him to make an exception. I said I was going on vacation, I had a flight booked for the following Saturday, and that I needed to be fit to paddle my kayak for hours at a time. All to no avail. “For some things, time and rest are best. You’re young, you’re fit, and you got the three shots, so you should be fine. Drink lots of fluids.”

May 29th - Departure Day 

Covid complicated things for the days before departure. I had rented my house for the two months I’d be traveling, the renter had already checked in, and my plan had been to stay with my mother for the last week. “Well, I suppose you can’t be on the street if you’re sick, so we’ll have to quarantine you in the guest room. You’re not coming out until you test negative, because I’m not risking catching the disease, even though I’ve had my second booster dose already. I’m nearly seventy, and I sure hope one day I’ll be around to see grandkids from you.”

It was fortunate for me to have my mom around for the quarantine. During the start of the pandemic there were horrifying stories of people forcibly kept in their houses and having to ration their food.  For me, the situation could not have been more different. Everyday my mother left a bag with three meals by my room door. I set up my workstation over the drawers and used the nightstand as a makeshift lunch table. Things were a little awkward, but far from uncomfortable. 

The doctor was not wrong about the recovery time. Monday was the worst day, but by Tuesday the joint aches had greatly receded, and my strength came back fairly quickly. Compared to some flus I’ve had in the past, Covid was very mild, but I would not want to know what things may have been like without the vaccine and the booster shots.

 

On Thursday I felt fine, save for some mild coughing, but my antigen tests were still coming positive. I called American Airlines and managed to change my flight from Saturday morning to Sunday night. Apparently, they had overbooked it. Usually there is no mulligan for getting your flight changed if you decide you want to travel on a different date, however, the airlines have been flexible for Covid cases. I suppose no company would want the liability of knowingly letting someone infected spending several hours in a crowded and confined environment. Lucky for me, in a way.

On Saturday night my antigen test finally came in negative. “I am really going! It’s all going to work out.” I thought, feeling relieved.

The next day I finally stepped out of my room. My mother wasn’t home and instead had left me a note on the kitchen table.

 

Dear Son,

I am so happy for you that you are heading out on your trip which you had been planning for so long. It is bittersweet that I can’t be there to give you a big hug and a kiss to see you off. Before you leave, please do a few things to take care of me. 

1.      Throw away all the trash you accumulated in your room directly into the dumpster outside the house. 

2.      Use the Lysol spray to disinfect the door handles, the bed sheets, and anything else you might have touched on your way out.

3.       Keep your room door closed and the window opened to change the air. I won’t be going in there to have the sheets washed for at least the next three days.

I am so sorry to have to treat you like this, but I definitely don’t want to catch Covid. This terrible virus has taken five wonderful days which I could have spent with you, my only son, before having to miss your visits for the next two months. Will think of you every day.  

Watch out for the bears!

Love you!

Mom.

In the past year and a half, the virus and the stories of people dying on ventilators in overcrowded hospitals really impacted my mom. 

“It was the first time I thought death really could be right around the corner.” she said.

 “Living in a community where nearly everyone is in the high risk age group, you hear more often than you’d want that someone you knew caught the bug and died.  For the most part, they were unvaccinated; fools, but there was one person I heard that had both his shots, wasn’t in bad health for his age, and still he died. Stories like that really scare you. I’m in good health, but you just don’t know how you’ll be one of the unlucky ones.

I wished I could have said to mom how thankful and courageous she was to have taken care of me in her house for the week while I had the virus. The kind courage only a mother could come up with.