Winter Paddling In a FastTrack

tree

This is a tree I pass on my way from Little Bay to Setauket Bay

By Cecil C. Hoge, Jr.

I designed the Sea Eagle FastTrack and I think it is the easiest to paddle, easiest to transport, most responsive, most stable, safest inflatable kayak in the world.

But rather than tell you how good it is, perhaps I should tell about how I use it.

I live on the water and I paddle at least 10 months a year. In the winter, my tidal bay tends to ice over for one month or so and if the ice is thicker than a 1/4″, I forego paddling. Simply put, I don’t want to be a ice-breaker.

Aside from the relatively short period when the bay is frozen solid, I go paddling everyday I can and that includes paddling on every winter’s day when the tide is in, when the ice is minimal and when the weather is passable – yes, I do not like to paddle in driving snowstorms or in winds over 25 mph.

People often look at me like I am crazy when I tell them that I paddle in the winter because it is cold. Yes, it is, but I point out that most people dress warmly and go outside during the winter so it is not that impractical to paddle outside. You just have to dress warmly. I value a warm jacket, warm gloves, warm shoes and various layers, but I find that on most days, no matter how cold it is, I am comfortable. This should be understandable from the fact that paddling is a form of exercise and just the act of paddling keeps you warm.

You might ask doesn’t paddling get boring? Yes, it could if you are bored by endlessly changing scenery. The fact is that when you paddle the same conditions are never repeated even if you paddle along the same general course. This is because the tide is always different, going or coming at one level or another, the weather is always different and what you see along a paddle is always different.

Swan

One of the pleasures of paddling in winter are the many different birds you might see along the way.

 

Duck

In the picture above, I am guessing one duck is a Mallard male and the other is his wife. You may have to look carefully to recognize the wife – she is very modest.

The pictures taken for this blog were all taken on January 3, 2011. I did not go out of my way in taking these pictures. In winter my little bay, cleverly called Little Bay, is often filled with swans. Swans pay kayakers little mind (I probably should say kayaker since I am the only one they ever see).  This makes them very easy to photograph. I pass literally hundreds of birds every day I paddle. Here are some more.

Heron

This heron is about to fly the coop. When he does, he will emit an otherworldy squawk to indicate his disaproval of me.

Herons do not like humans. I think they remember when they were giant flying dinosaurs and humans were little snacks to be picked off on a slow day of hunting.

I have a theory about winter paddling and that is that it is very healthy. I think breathing the air when paddling on salt water clears out your lungs and helps ward off colds. It’s just a theory – I cannot promise that it will work for everyone, but it seems to work for me.

If you ask a serious kayaker why they like to paddle they may not be sure just what to answer. Yes, they like the exercise…yes, they like seeing different kinds of birds…yes, they like the fact that something is always different. The sun, the clouds, the tide, the wind, the weather, the time of season, the time of day…every time you go paddling the surrounding elements are different and in flux - this is both soothing and exhilirating.

But I think it is not just the changing scenery that makes paddling interesting, exhilirating and plain fun. There is another word I would like to suggest. It is the horizon that is visible when you are paddling – the sheer open spaces that come into view without the obstructions that are so normal to everyday views. Think of it, when you go out of your front door, there a lot of things immeidately in view…a car, a driveway, a hedge, a road, a telephone pole. But when you are paddling, often you come to places where your view is not obstructed by objects. Literally, the horizon in front of you expands and seems limitless.

Horizon

This may not seem exciting as a description, but I think if feeds an inner calm that most of us seek and long for. Even when you go for a jog, there is not much of a horizon visible. Usually, you are on a road with no great expanse of horizon in view…with houses and telephone poles and mail boxes. This is the great difference with paddling for there is a true horizon and it seems limitless. There is no path, there is no road, there is no set course, you may paddle where you will and along the way you come across unobstructed views. Of course, many will say it is a stupid and crazy idea to paddle in winter when your fingers might get chilled, but I will tell you oh no, your fingers will be as warm toast if your paddling in winter, because your hands are moving and exercising all the time so cold is simply not a factor.

Add to the warmth factor the fact in winter that you generally are out there by yourself – in my case I only see an occasional clamdigger. There are no mighty Mastercrafts charging back and forth with skiers in tow, there are no large yachts or small boats crusing back and forth, the waterways are no longer crowded, they are left empty, pristine, remote and all to yourself. Winter is in fact a nice time to paddle.

 

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8 Responses to Winter Paddling In a FastTrack

  1. Pat Jewell says:

    AHA! You have the same situation I have. No one is around to take a picture of me enjoying my Sea Eagle 370. I am situated in a small apartment near New Orleans with no storage. I keep my Kayak in a bag in the corner. On nice Saturdays I have several launching sites identified to stalk redfish with my flyrod in the bayous and canals. It keeps me fit in many ways, the exercise and the diet of fish while keeping me out of the many fabulous eating establishments here. I am just about confident enough of the stability of my kayak to take my digital camera with me to get some pictures of the environment.

  2. Ron Wagner says:

    Thanks for the story. I have been needing encouragement to brave the elements. It always seems a lot warmer when the sun is shining though. Especially wearing a wet suit. I plan to get a dry suit eventually. It is really beautiful when there is snow out, and you are on a lake or river.

    It is dangerous to fall in the cold water, but that should not be a problem with an inflatable, unless you have a valve failure or puncture. Cold water can kill through cardiac arrhythmia, or can paralyze your muscles, and make it difficult to get out of the water. It might be better to stay close to shore. I have a tendency toward arrhythmias, so have to take that into consideration. A buddy helps with the safety, but some of the magic and adventure of solitude is lost.

  3. Dick Buchmaier says:

    You’re making me wanna go for it. Two years and my love affair with my 360 goes on. As I need to stand in the water, straddle my kayak and drop my butt to seat myself I have not been out on the lake since December. Was wondering about the effect of cold water on the material from which the 360 is made….any danger here? It is cold in the Georgia Mountains with enough snow to remind me of my life back in upstate NY and days of my youth on Long Island. If I find a way to mount my 360 and keep me old feet and legs from frostbite, I might well give winter kayaking “fun” a chance. Thanks!

  4. Brian J. Boland says:

    Here half way up vermont by mid Dec our lake Fairlee is frozen solid cept a 100 yd. stretch before the dam overflow. We run our Kayaks ( Hard shell)Types as ice breaking ships till we can,t break through the ice & are done for the winter .For about $80 a set we bought Neoprenelike 3/16 ” thick chest waders(like immersion suit survival suits) with built in rugged rubber boots .Before this purchase inLate fall & early spring I think We,d die if we fell in .As a test of these waders we dove in Dec 16 just up from the dam in open freezing water and safty harnessed with a crew on lines ready to drag us out. Both in tests with & without life jackets we could not sink& body parts in the waders stayed warm enough for survival.Prior We were affraid the waders would drag us to the bottom(I still think those thin rubbery ones would fill & sink the wearer. These have been great for getting in the lake at the boat ramp to climb into kayaks Keeping very Dry & warm …arms still free to move.

  5. Charlie Mitchell says:

    Hi Folks, I’ve been a sea eagle fan for almost 5 years, each year I take my (modified) Sea Eagle Sail Cat (which I have in Scotland) out on Loch Lomond. My friend and I sail it when the Scottish Open Golf Championship is played in July. We have been on BBC television sailing the loch. Our Sail Cat is easy to transport, launch, and has given us many hours of sailing pleasure.

  6. Ricgard Buchmaier says:

    Thanks Brian for the tip on using waders to keep dry. Oh, the model I have is the 330 not 360….

  7. Beatrice Marx says:

    Thank you for the story and the pictures. I have a Sea Eagle 380 explorer and I live north of Seattle. I love going on Lake Washington and other smaller lakes in the area in the winter. Actually I prefer paddling in the winter rather than in the summer because there are less people on the water and the experience is more peaceful. The water is also usually so smooth at this time of the year. I really feel communion with nature in the winter. I wear a dry suit, neoprene gloves, etc. and I feel cozy.

  8. Kevin D`souza says:

    Hi everyone, I`ve rigged my 370 to be a fishing kayak and no it`s not not the milk crate thing. It took a fair bit of tinkering with some tools, but it works like a charm. I just love heading out at the break of dawn and fishing off the coast all the way out here in Dubai. As you can imagine, cold weather is never much of a problem out here, a pair of swimming shorts and a long sleeved t shirt to avoid sunburn works fine!

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