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Recreational Kayaks in the Ocean - Long


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My first kayak was a Walden Naturalist. I still have it and on those now-rare occasions when I paddle it, I remember how I came to be addicted to this sport: it is easy and fun!

I was fortunate to have stumbled upon demo day (then at the Greasy Pole in Gloucester) for New England Small Craft. Before selling me the Walden, Joel quizzed me on where I lived and where I would be paddling. He made me promise not to take it more than 50 yards out and not to paddle in the Merrimack, and emphasized that if I capsized my only option would be to swim to shore. He included a flotation bag in the package with a pfd, spray skirt and paddle. All good stuff.

Not everyone who buys, rents or borrows a rec kayak has the benefit of such good advice. Below I am posting an article about an incident last week in Tampa Bay, and a follow-up article. I caught the story on the local TV news in San Juan, complete with footage of the rescue taken by a news helicopter. Not a place any of us would want to be. Actually, the water temps here, even in August, would probably mean this woman would not have survived.

I'm not posting this so people can bash her about being an idiot. Yes, she did things, out of ignorance, that put her at risk. Lots of people make mistakes. Even me. I can attest that it is a humbling experience.

There have been several recent posts about the use of rec kayaks on club trips. I only lead level 2 trips and welcome rec boats. I do think, however, that people paddling rec boats should have a clear understanding of their limitations and why they are really not suitable for open ocean conditions.

This young woman was paddling a friend's borrowed kayak, her second time paddling. It is not clear whether it had any flotation or whether she was wearing a pfd. I suspect not, given her description of using the orange flotation cushion. Her kayak probably did not have deck lines, which would have made it much easier for her to keep hold of it. She was not wearing a sprayskirt, which meant the waves quickly filled the kayak with water and it capsized. She was a novice, paddling alone.

Most rec boats do not have adequate flotation in both ends or decklines. People often paddle them without sprayskirts. If conditions change, the boats can become swamped and unstable. Rec boats often sit higher in the water than sea kayaks, making them more subject to being blown in the wind. The inability to lean these flat-bottomed boats makes them hard to turn in the wind. They don't have skegs or rudders to assist with steering and tracking. So, when a storm comes up with off-shore winds you can quickly find yourself away from the cozy shore, out the mouth of the secure river, and in the big bad bay, even if you don't make the silly decision to try to out paddle a thunderstorm. (Of course, on club trips you won't be alone!)

Enjoy those rec boats! In proper places and conditions.

Here are the press reports:

Paddler Rescued After 30 Hours In Bay


Published: Jun 5, 2003

TAMPA - Her legs and feet covered with scratches, her face and arms sunburned bright pink, kayaker Jennifer Kelly curled up on a platform attached to a 58-foot-tall concrete navigation marker in Tampa Bay, two miles offshore from St. Petersburg.

Tired and nauseated from lack of food and water, she tried to rest and hoped help was on the way.

“I just held out faith that they would find me,'' she said at Tampa General Hospital on Wednesday, four hours after a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter lifted her to safety.

She described herself as ``very, very sore. Very, very thankful. Very lucky.''

The prayers of Kelly and dozens of her friends and family members were answered Wednesday afternoon when she reached dry land after nearly 30 hours.

She had been at the navigational tower, which ship captains use to guide their vessels into the channel, for hours when two people in a sailboat spotted her waving an orange flotation cushion about 4 p.m.

The boaters called the Coast Guard, who plucked Kelly from the water and took her to Tampa General, where she was treated for dehydration and allowed to return home to Riverview.

“She is a lucky, lucky person,'' said U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Sara Platt.

Kelly's ordeal began about 10 a.m. Tuesday, as the 23-year-old computer programmer took a friend's kayak out onto the Little Manatee River.

A change in the weather pushed her into Tampa Bay and capsized her 11-foot kayak, leaving her to fight for her life.

“She was out there, that's for sure,'' Platt said.

Searchers looked for Kelly from the Gandy Bridge to the Sunshine Skyway, Platt said, because the tides, currents and winds indicated she would head west.

But searchers didn't think she would have drifted as far as she did, said Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Paul Rhynard. Kelly was found nearly six miles west of where she began kayaking, Rhynard said.

Before her release from the hospital, Kelly talked about her ordeal. She had been dog-sitting for a family friend on Janie Street in Ruskin when she decided to take the kayak out. Her first kayak trip had been about two weeks ago and she said she wanted to build the skills to cross the Bay.

“The first time I sat in one, that was it. I was in love,'' she said.

A storm caught her about noon. Paddling ahead of the lightning, she went out farther than she would have liked.

I hoped it would go north and I could paddle back in,'' she said, but soon she was out in the Bay, where high waves and wind caused her to lose direction.

“People get lulled into thinking Tampa Bay is a safe, calm place. That's not always the case,'' Platt said.

Waves and the wakes of vessels filled the kayak with water, and it capsized, Kelly said. She lost her paddle, but she hung onto the small flotation device and locked her feet in the kayak's seat so it wouldn't wash away.

She saw the tower above the choppy waves. It took her about an hour to swim to it.

“I knew to swim for the highest thing that I could see. I had no idea how tall it was until today,'' she said. “The waves seemed to be 10-foot waves. ... That was the one time I felt scared.''

She tied the kayak to the base, shimmied up to the tower's steps, and climbed to a platform. As the hours passed, she waved the orange flotation cushion at passing boats, but no one saw her. She tried to conserve energy and find shelter from the sun, knowing from her mother, Merry Lou Kelly, a medical technician, that that was the best way to avoid dehydration.

Kelly said she was confident that her brother John Kelly II, 21, would do everything he could to find her. He called the Coast Guard to report her missing.

“He is one of my best friends. I just waited and depended on him.''

Eventually, she fell asleep. “I knew if they hadn't found me last night, I would have another long day,'' she said.

An aunt and uncle, Sheila and Jon Fayer of Brooksville, arrived at the hospital and hugged her, stroking her hair and wiping tears.

Kelly said she wants lots of hugs, sushi and a chance to go kayaking again.

“My father is sending me a life jacket that comes with flares. That's the one thing I wish I had last night,'' she said.


TAMPA - After spending the night in Tampa Bay, Jennifer Kelly just wants to say thanks.

On Thursday, Kelly, 23, met Joe and Eileen Eletto of Apollo Beach, who called the Coast Guard on Wednesday from their sailboat after spotting her waving a flotation cushion from a navigational marker off St. Petersburg.

Kelly of Riverview took a friend's kayak on the Little Manatee River in Ruskin on Tuesday but a storm caused her to capsize in the Bay. She swam to the marker and waved at passing boats until the Coast Guard lifted her to safety.

"I was really taken aback by how much concern everyone had for me. It's very humbling," she said.

The Elettos plan to stay in touch with Kelly. "It seems like there's a bond there because of what happened," Joe Eletto said.

Kelly's mother, Merry Lou Kelly of Riverview, learned she was safe Wednesday while aboard a Delta Air Lines flight to Tampa from Maine. "They patched me through on the plane," said her father, John Kelly, 52, of Whitehall, Ill. "We're very relieved she's doing well."

Jennifer said she is still dizzy and tired from dehydration and sunburn, but she is eager to return to the water. "I've got to replace a kayak and buy one, and my mom has to release the chains around me," she said.

Stay Alive Inc. of Marathon in the Florida Keys is sending her a free life vest equipped with waterproof flares, a flag, a whistle and other safety gear, her father said.

“I've seen different people handle stress in different situations, and I thought she did a great job," said company President Dan Williams, a former Marine Patrol officer.

The vest costs $199 and weighs about 3 pounds.

Liz N.

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To clarify; the boat was a 9' Loon, no floatation or deck lines.

I work @ Sweetwater Kayaks (www.sweetwaterkayaks.com) in St Pete. We have a used one in the shop.


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