Mud season is the time for planning summer kayak expeditions. Is 2019 the year you are going to sea kayak to a wild Maine island? Maybe you’ll even camp overnight before the season is through! Registered Maine Guide Alicia Heyburn has some day trip packing tips for you, and will share suggestions for a kayaking overnight next month.
The Maine Island Trail has over 200 sites for both day or overnight use. Most are first come, first serve, so unroll your nautical chart, download your tide tables, and flip open your MITA guidebook to figure out where you want to go! On April 11, MITA is offering a chart reading and itinerary planning class in Brunswick that can help: register here.
Sea kayaking is not difficult to learn, and even if you don’t own a boat there are some great rental shops that can get you out on the water for an hour, a morning, or a multi-day trip. Consult the MITA member benefits list, which showcases local outfitters where members receive discounts.
To be safe on the water during any trip, short or long, there are some essential pieces of gear that all paddlers need to have. If the fog rolls in or wind picks up, you need to be prepared. (Several decades ago, my husband spent the night tied on to a lobster buoy not far offshore when an afternoon fog engulfed and disoriented him. Nice story now, but not fun at the time.) Here are a few details about the gear I don’t leave home without:
Paddle. It’s pretty obvious, but I know folks who have arrived at the boat ramp without one (have at least one spare in your group too).
Personal Flotation Device (PFD). A well-fitting, US Coast Guard-approved PFD, equipped with a whistle and strobe light, is essential. Well-fitting means that when the straps are all pulled tight the jacket cannot be pulled over your head. Imagine yourself floating in the water and your friend grabs the shoulder straps to haul you back aboard. You don’t want to slide out the bottom of the PFD (this is especially important for little kids)! Keep sunscreen and chapstick handy in your PFD pocket.
Spray skirt. I know you’re thinking, “Do I really need one of those? The seas are calm, the sun is hot, and they make me feel trapped.” Yes, you need one, and not just in your boat, but on your body. Put the skirt on before your PFD, and once in your boat start by rolling the back of your skirt over the cockpit coaming, then work on the rest with two hands up to the front, ensuring that the grab loop is OUTSIDE the cockpit. The seas can change quickly, and the skirt will keep water out of your boat, which means you are warmer and more stable.
Paddle float and bilge pump. These two items go together. The float helps you get back into your boat if you capsize and the pump helps you empty excess water from your cockpit. Take a self-rescue class (again, check the MITA member benefits list, and the Appalachian Mountain Club is offering one on June 15) or watch videos then practice. It’s comforting and satisfying to know you can get back in your boat if you tip over.
Appropriate clothing. The thing to remember is to dress for the temperature of the water, not the air. You may be tempted to bare your winter skin to the first strong rays of sun, but resist! A dry suit is a great investment if you plan to paddle shoulder seasons or northern waters. Neoprene top and bottom and a spray top are good for most summer trips, and a long-sleeved non-cotton shirt and wide brimmed hat are perfect for the hottest days. Exposing your skin to a full day of sun will tire you out as much paddling 20 miles. Do both at once, and you are toast at the end of the day. Polarized sunglasses (on a neck strap) will protect your eyes from light reflecting off the water. Pack a spare set of warm clothing in a dry bag.
Navigation, communication & emergency tools. Bring a nautical chart in a waterproof case or on waterproof paper (a computer printout in a zip-lock bag can work too, but the resolution is often not clear, and the ink smears when wet). A handheld compass fits well in your PFD pocket, and don’t forget effective communication tools for your location such as a cell phone and/or VHF radio in a waterproof case. A foghorn, white light (headlamp or flashlight) for nighttime navigation, and flares are also good ideas.
Water & Snacks. Make sure to bring at least a liter of water with you, and 2-3 liters per day if you are out longer. Attach your bottle to the deck lines of your kayak or affix a hydration system, like a Camelback, to your PFD. You want to be able to easily get a drink, so avoid stowing your water bottle in your cockpit under your spray skirt. Don’t forget snacks and a picnic lunch. Kayaking is not like backpacking, so load up your heaviest and most delicious food, stow it in your hatches and get out to an island for a picnic!
Here is a link to the Maine Association of Sea Kayak Guides and Instructors (MASKGI) suggested packing list so you can start gathering your gear, find a paddling buddy and make sure to tell a friend or family member where you are going and when you plan to return. MASKGI has a lot of great resources on their website for everyone – from beginners to experienced guides. Spend some time checking out all they have to offer!
-Alicia Pulsifer Heyburn
RMG, MITA trustee, co-leader of The Ladies Adventure Club