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Saturday, July 13, 2002

Tony Kramer writes us:

Hey Guys,

I just wanted to tell everyone I enjoyed meeting with the Club on my last trip down to Fairhope. Thank you for the hospitality!

I will be making another trip down for classes in August. I will hope to see you guys when I come back down! My trip to Sand Island Light house was great! Parking at Fort Morgan was not a problem at all. In fact, I was able to park right at the boat launch on the front row next to the beach. There was a big crowd at the Fort to catch the tall ships, but we were able to slip by the crowd and in the water, paddling in no time.

My paddling partner, Shorty, had never done any type of off shore paddling before. So this was a new and exciting experience for her. She normally paddles a Perception, Prism. Not the boat you would want to paddle to the light house in! So Jack West at Middle Bay outfitter put her in a Wilderness Systems, Freedom.

The Freedom is a sit-on-top, but with more of a faster touring hull and better maneuverability. I've been looking at using the Freedom or the Tarpon in my fleet, for those paddlers who just want to do some day touring and get claustrophobic in a sit-in kayak. I must say I was very impressed with how the boat handled the conditions we found on our trip!

Paddling out to the light house we were in one to two foot sea's and the tide was in our favor. Although we were facing a steady 10 to 15 knot wind.
Shorty's paddle stroke was strong, but she has one speed - slow!

The trip out took us about two hours, so at that speed we were really just riding the tide out while paddling to keep our position in the wind.
After skirting the shoreline at Navy Cove and coming to point on Fort Morgan, we headed out to the light house staying well to the east of the shipping channel. The wind was out of the west-southwest, so we had to ferry to the island by keeping our bows pointed west of our destination.

Buy the time we arrived at our halfway point to the channel, the Coast Guard, Eagle was making it's way into the bay and past the light house. It was an awesome site! I had my camera at the ready and HOPEFULLY got some good shots as it past by the light house. I will share them with you guys if they turn out ok.

The boat traffic in the bay was not quite as bad as I thought it would be, provided the festivities. But the shipping traffic was the busiest I have ever seen! While on the paddle out, there were many service boats headed out to the rigs. And while on the island at least three tankers passed through the channel.

One thing I will say if you ever want to paddle to the island and explore the light house: be sure to pull your kayak well up on the rocks or even to the landing at the base of the tower.

It is a treacherous haul up the rocks with a fully loaded kayak slung on your shoulder. But if you leave the kayak on the rocks at the water, you will be in for a shock when the first tanker goes by. It¹s an awesome site to sit and watch the huge tankers slip by the island, but more so when you turn around to see your kayak floating out to sea!
The swell created by the passing ships will wash the best placed kayak away in a heartbeat. I will carry my kayak to the highest point if I have to. Just so I know I will have something to paddle home.
As the afternoon wore on we watched the storms began to move into the bay from the north. I knew we would get afternoon storms and had come to the light house prepared to bivy if the conditions were to warrant a stay.
Looking back to the north, the tall ships had anchored off Fort Morgan. We watched as the lightning flashed across the sky creating a orange glow back drop behind the fleet. It was a wonderful sight!
I began to wonder if we would have to spend the night, but by 8:30 the storms had died off and I knew we could make it back with no problems. Waiting the storm out also put us in better conditions with the tide. Now we could ride the tide in just as we did going out. Yeah right!
Although the tide was in our favor, the wind was not. Waiting the storm out also meant a 180 degree change in wind direction. We were now facing a 20 to 22 knot head wind that kept us paddling in one spot for about an hour. And with a northerly wind on an incoming tide, the surf had kicked up two to three foot seas.
Because of the heavy shipping traffic, I picked a course from the light house that would get us across the channel and out of traffic as quickly as possible. But this also put us on top of Dixey Bar. Dixey Bar is a shallow sand bar due south of the fort and it makes a good path for kayakers because no large boats can cross it. But it can also be a challenge in high wind because the surf hitting the shallows of the bar will create large breakers. It takes some skill and nerve to negotiate the breakers in the dark.
I felt sorry for Shorty. This is the only down fall to paddling a sit-on-top, or any boat that is not designed for high wind and sea conditions. In a blowing wind, the high profile of sit-on-tops make the boat one large sail. Added to that was Shorty's large paddle blade. Her paddle is designed for powerful strokes while paddling a recreational type of kayak. But now, it too was a large sail keeping her in one spot. For a painfully slow hour!
Did I say I felt sorry for Shorty? Not only was her boat and paddle a sail catching every ounce of wind and pushing her back, but also her stroke - One speed. Slow! She got though the bar like a champ! And with no worries! At least she said she wasn't worried. I'll ask her again some time. Needless to say, by the time we made it back to shore it was 11 p.m.!

Before crossing the shipping channel I had turned on my marine radio to listen to boat traffic and alert any ships that might catch us unprotected in the middle of the channel. Shorty wore my strobe and I had my headlamp on as a back up signal to any ships. The radio soon became a buzz of activity as the first ship came up well off starboard. He was out to the south of us when he began to pick something up on radar. "A faint hit," he said. When he caught sight of the strobe and my headlamp, he hit us with his light.
"Where the hell did yall come from?" came a crack over my radio.
"Cuba," I said.
"Damn, you came a long way didn't cha?"

From there on in, even while we were well out of the shipping lane, all ships coming in or out of the bay just had to check us out! Everyone wanted to get a hit on our position. I was thankful that we were being watched out for, but it is very hard to make any headway paddling while talking on the radio.

I can hear those Captains now, as they sit around the bar telling stories of their journeys - and those damn kayak fools paddling from Cuba!

The Sea Kayaker
Tony Kramer