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Part 1 Jun. 7th - 12 Days to Departure - Sea Kayak Puerto Rico Circumnavigation

Updated: Jan 27

Losing the food belly was the only progression towards the Puerto Rico expedition that I got done in Colorado. Now that I am back in Miami, I am in the middle of the crunch time to get things done before departure, and it feels overwhelming.

Sunday I purchased the last remaining items for the expedition, including the tent. I would have liked a high quality Hilleberg tent that I could use on future journeys, but it seems the pandemic has wreaked their supply chain; their distributors are not fulfilling orders for the next 4 to 6 months, and I ordered mine in March. I settled for a two person MSR tent which Amazon delivered the same day and I practiced setting it up in my living room. It’s a very well ventilated tent and that should be very good for the warm weather.

It was essential to have all the expedition gear on Sunday to lay out everything and confirm what will need to go, and make sure everything fits in the kayak. Fortunately, I need fewer volumous things on a warm weather expedition. Clothing is minimal, there is no dry suit, no wetsuit, and I’ve decided on no sleeping bag. That leaves room for the one thing I need a lot more of: water. On my paddles in the Miami summer, I usually drink a little over 3 liters per day. I will plan on 4 liters per day, and carry a 3-day supply, at least in the beginning; a coworker mentioned to me that the swampy heat in Puerto Rico is not as terrible as the Miami summer because of the constant East trade wind; I hope he is right.

Monday after work was my only chance to do a sea trial with all the gear in the boat. I felt that this was a crucial thing to do before leaving. If anything won’t fit, then now is the time to find out. The kayak becomes a different boat when it's loaded with an extra 40 pounds. I laid out all my things on a picnic table and dragged the kayak to the edge of the water so that the bow was floating before loading. I remember from a previous launch during the Florida journey that the gorilla crawl technique from the sand only works with a packed boat if there is a steep enough downgrade, otherwise it is too heavy to move the boat through the sand.

I divided the gear as best I could so the weight would be about even between the bow and the stern. This is easier said than done for the Taran because the bow space is so large, and the tent poles and dolly can only fit through the oval hatch on the stern. To compensate for that I usually pack the heaviest things like water and food in the day hatch behind the seat. When everything was in I was pleasantly surprised. There was plenty of room left. If I find anything on the way I want to carry, space won’t be a problem. Maybe I should have bought the Taran 16 instead, I thought. I got in the cockpit and pushed off.

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The weather was just about right for an initial sea trial. The wind was blowing at 15mph so I got a good feel for what it would be like to paddle upwind; it wasn’t easy, but it was definitely doable. I will be about half way through the journey before I have any serious headwinds and hopefully stronger.

There was enough chop to make the rolls more challenging than on flat water. I did some twenty rolls on either side with and against the waves to get comfortable with the additional weight. Although I succeeded every time it did not feel natural, the center of gravity is lower and so initiating the roll is much more difficult. I think it will be prudent to take at least one day in San Juan and practice more in bigger surf conditions before taking off.

Next I tried some edging and turning, which obviously were much less responsive. There is more mass to turn, and the mass farther away from the center of gravity. That, however, did help with holding my heading down wind on some small swells, although it takes much more effort to catch them, and when the bow caught some air, the boat sank into the wave like a knife cutting a loaf of bread.

Using the sail was not a problem. I felt that I could hold a heading closer to the wind than with an empty boat. That must be from the boat being an inch or so deeper in the water which helps resist some slippage downwind.

I squeezed as much practice as I could from the afternoon and came back to shore sometime after 9pm in the dead of night. There won’t be another training opportunity until I am in San Juan. Tomorrow the boat and gear have to get delivered to Crawley Marine for shipping. I’ll admit that I don’t quite feel ready. Not having seen what the ocean is like in Puerto Rico, I imagine the worst. Me on the jaws of huge barreling waves being tossed around like toothpicks. Hopefully four weeks is enough for me to choose to sit out the worst days.

Sea Kayak Puerto Rico Circumnavigation


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