Shutterbug Pulls Double-Duty On Tampa Bay Rivers

By Tom Schlichter

Bob Luce and his Explorer 300x after a day of collecting trash from a local waterway.

It really doesn’t sound like much of an effort, to hear Bob Luce explain it, but the humble
76-year-old retired IT specialist is quietly making a big difference in his little corner of
the planet. Luce, you see, loves to paddle the freshwater rivers that roll through Tampa
Bay, FL, and he silently cleans up the waterways from his Sea Eagle 300x Explorer while
enjoying the sights and wildlife that abound along its flow.

“I’m not one to challenge whitewater rapids or crazy currents,” says Luce. “For me,
kayaking is a way to relax and get close to nature. I see all sorts of flora and fauna when I
head out on my Sea Eagles. There are many species of waterfowl and birds like egrets,
pelicans, black-bellied whistling ducks, wood stalks, roseate spoonbill and diving
anhinga. Plenty of other creatures cross my bow as well, including a variety of turtle
species, frogs and alligators – some topping eight feet in length.”

One of many creatures Bob comes across when he paddles.

A photo buff at heart, Luce is always looking for his next great wildlife shot. The
problem, he says, is that he’s also framing a lot of garbage floating on the water and
littering the banks in some of the captures he takes. “There’s enough trash along my
favorite stretches of river that it seriously detracts from the experience,” he laments.
“Rather than complain about it, I just clean it up. That’s how I got into kayaking.”

Originally, Luce viewed most of his river corridor wildlife from shore. It was in 2011, he
says, that he started picking up litter along the shoreline of a small creek that ran behind
his Tampa Bay townhouse, and from the Hillsborough River around Temple Crest Park.
As he began removing more and more trash from the riverbanks, he soon realized he
needed a way to both haul the debris and gather more of it from areas he couldn’t access
by foot.

“I couldn’t believe how much trash was in the water in what could be beautiful places,”
he recalls. “I figured the city, county or state would clean it up at some point, but some of
that stuff was decades old. No one was taking responsibility for picking it up, so I
decided to do it myself.”

Just some of the litter Bob collects.


Investing in a pair of chest waders, litter grabbers and 18- and 42-gallon garbage bags
helped Luce reach and remove more junk but came with an assortment of pitfalls. “I
couldn’t carry everything I could gather, and there were drop-offs in the river where I
might flood my waders,” he explains. “Then there were the alligators. It’s not a good idea to be in the water with them, especially if Momma suspects you are intruding on her nest.”

Mama and her babies.

Eventually, Luce added a 16-foot extendable pool pole to his clean-up arsenal, but it still
wasn’t long enough to reach all the litter he wanted to grab. That’s when he decided to
give kayaking a try. “I’ve had tremendous success with Sea Eagle inflatable kayaks,” he
says. “In fact, several different models have served me well over the years. Each was
chosen for its toughness, the amount of trash it could transport, and the degree of
maneuverability I needed during the time of its use. Being lightweight, easy to inflate and
relatively inexpensive were also big selling points, as was the ability to smoothly and
quietly approach wildlife on the rivers while creating as little disturbance as possible.”

Luce began his prospecting with a two-person, 11’ 2”, 500-pound capacity Sea Eagle
SE330
. From there, he stepped up to the three-person, 12’ 6”, 635-pound capacity
FastTrack™ 385ft. Next came the Explorer 380x, a three-person inflatable with an
impressive maximum load capacity of 750 pounds. Recently, he stepped back down to a
one-person, 9’ 10” Explorer 300x with a 395-pound load capacity.

“I liked that Sea Eagle kayaks are built tough and feature three or four air chambers
depending on the model,” continues Luce. “Their stability, 1000 Denier reinforced
material, and the removeable high pressure drop-stitch floor on some models, also add to
their overall performance. For me, though, the toughness, multiple chambers and load
capacity have been key since I haul a lot of junk and frequently push up against
shorelines with broken branches, cypress knees and who knows what sharp-edge debris
might be lurking in the shallow water.”

Once, Luce stepped into his FastTrack 385ft without knowing a shard of glass was stuck
in the bottom of his boot. He punctured the floor on that vessel but was impressed that,
with three separate air chambers, he had no problem paddling back to the launch ramp
even with a heavy boatload of trash. “I patched that kayak and it was ready go again
almost immediately,” he says with a chuckle.

Overall, the ability of the 380x to carry a lot of gear and haul a load of trash made it
Luce’s favorite overall Sea Eagle inflatable choice, but as he became more enthralled
with photographing alligators, he decided to trade the extra load capacity for the
additional speed and extra maneuverability afforded by the 300x.

“I needed something that could back up and get me out of trouble quickly if I was going
to be taking more photos of the big reptiles,” he explains. “It’s important to keep a safe
buffer between you and the creatures but even then, you’ll sometimes want to get out of
Dodge should a ‘gator seem overly annoyed or aggressive. The 300x responds quickly to
your paddle strokes, turns on a dime, and still has ample load capacity. I pile on my litter
grabbers, extendable pool pole, tubs and bags for the junk I gather, and also carry a
cooler with water and something to eat, plus my camera gear. Sometimes, as I paddle
home, it’s hard to see over all the trash I pile onto that ‘yak.”

Top left: Juvenile Little Blue Heron ruffling its feathers before bathing. Top right: Immature Little Blue Heron foraging. Bottom left: Roseate Spoonbills posing for a photo. Bottom right: Wood Stork stretching its wings.

The types of trash Luce has gathered from Tampa Bay’s river systems over the years is
extensive. Most surprising, he reveals, was the loaded pistol he found and turned over to
the police. Other items include television sets, shopping carts, tires, discarded electronic
equipment and fire extinguishers. The most common articles include plastic water bottles,
plastic bags, beer cans, Styrofoam, and all kinds like paper plates, cups and packaging.
He’s never actually weighed a haul of trash removed from the rivers, but does suspect his
heaviest included several large trash bags of trash plus three car tires balanced on his
bow.

Bob in one of his first Sea Eagle® inflatable kayaks, the original FastTrack™ 385ft. Sadly, you never know what you’ll find in the water.

“People see me cleaning up the shoreline and sometimes offer to help, but I prefer to
work alone,” reveals Luce. “It gets two chatty to capture good wildlife photos when other
people join in. I do, however, encourage people anywhere to clean up their own waters if
they feel so inclined. I just like to keep my own efforts generally under the radar.”

Press him on the subject and Luce will admit Father Time is slowing him down a bit.
Still, as long as he can continue to get close to the wildlife on the rivers he loves, he plans
to keep heading out, cleaning up and taking photos.

“Some days, it’s like a religious experience that refreshes my soul, he states. “When it’s
nice and quiet, I can get some really great shots of birds in their nests, alligators, turtles,
frogs, dragonflies and more,” he adds with soft-spoken pride. “It is, after all, the wildlife –
not the junk – that draws me to the water.”

Happy to see Bob?

With Sea Eagle’s FastTrack™ 385fta, A Little Car Goes A Long Way

By Tom Schlichter

Sea Eagle fans will tell you that having a high-quality inflatable kayak can really be a plus when it comes to transporting your kayak and gaining access to hard to reach or shallow stretches of fishy rivers, lakes and ponds. Still, Sea Eagle FastTrack™ 385fta owner Joe Furman has taken things to the extreme to really get the most out of his ‘yakking experiences. He transports his FastTrack™ to some really out of the way places in his 1986 Porsche 911 Targa.

“I used to have a plastic kayak that I tied on the roof of my Subaru,” reveals Furman, 60, from Huston, Texas. “It looked like I was one of the Clempetts from The Beverly Hillbillies as I drove down the road with that setup. These days, I like to go in style, so I pack my FastTrack™ into my seats and head off wherever I want at full speed without ever worrying about my kayak shifting on the roof as I travel.”

To be sure, even Furman was amazed that the 385fta fit in his Porsche. After all, this sporty model is as compact a car as you’ll ever see. “I love my car, but it has a tiny trunk and hardly any room in the back for someone to sit comfortably. Inflated, my 12’ 6” Sea Eagle is actually longer than the car. Still, when I was researching it, I thought the 385fta broke down so nicely that it just might fit if I put some components in the back seat and some in the front. When I first got it, I was thrilled to see that it actually did – and not just the duffel bag that contains the boat, but the collapsible paddles, seats, motor, battery – the whole dang thing. Awesome!”.

Furman is also impressed with the Fasttrack™ 385fta light weight, stability and tracking. At just 45 pounds deflated, it folds into a 36″ x 15″ x 20″ package, can seat three passengers, and handles any reasonable water you might want to sample. It’s also sleek and tough with quadruple overlapped seams, 1,000 Denier-reinforced material, a removeable high pressure drop stitch floor, and a curved touring shape with a state-of-the-art NeedleKnife Keel that ensures rigid, safe and stable kayak performance while maintaining all the benefits of an inflatable.

“This really is an impressive inflatable kayak,” continues Furman, who uses his FastTrack™ for fishing, touring and wildlife viewing. I love to fish in freshwater rivers, lakes and creeks, and I like to push back into the brush or fish in isolated waters others wouldn’t dare to test. I’ve even taken it in the ocean and on trips as far away as Iowa. I am conscious of not puncturing the hull, of course, but I’ve yet to have a problem. I’m not fragile, and neither is my 385fta. It’s a real boat, made for a real guy that isn’t afraid to push the limits, especially when fishing. I go where the bass boats can’t.”

Nice 20″ bass!

One thing Furman really enjoys is attaching his Torqeedo T245 motor and powering upstream when river fishing. That way, he can drift all the way back to the launch sight casting away or simply taking in the scenery while only making small adjustments in course. “It’s such an incredible feeling,” he says, “In fact, that’s what I’m planning to do right after we wrap up this interview.”

As for the occasional comments and strange looks he gets while packing and unpacking his kayak in a Porsche, Furman takes it all in stride. “A lot of people think it’s hilarious,” he says with a chuckle, “but it takes me about the same time as it takes the bass boat crew to launch or haul their boats at the ramp. I can have this inflated or deflated in less than 15 minutes. A lot of serious boat anglers tell me they wish they had bought a kayak like mine rather than a bigger boat because there’s so few repairs, less maintenance, less stress and less investment.”

Another great catch from his FastTrack™ Angler 385fta

Furman usually agrees with a smile, and then drives off in his bright red sporty car – all the while planning his next Sea Eagle adventure.

FOR THIS ARKANSAS PADDLER, SEA EAGLE 370 SPORT KAYAK IS A PERFECT FIT


By Tom Schlichter

Mike M. isn’t one of those guys that was born with kayaking in his blood. In fact, it was just in the past few years that the retired auto mechanic, an Arkansas resident, first realized he really liked paddling.


“I got into kayaking because my girlfriend liked it,” says Mike. “We took a trip together down the Buffalo National River in a canoe a couple of years ago and I graduated from there. When it came time to buy my own kayak, I purchased a Sea Eagle 370 inflatable kayak. Now I absolutely love it. We started with some short and easy local flat-water trips and eventually progressed to more challenging, longer trips. At this point, I can tell you that I’m really putting my SE370 to good use. I’ll head out with my girlfriend or my dog, and often spend a full day or more on the water.”

How did Mike end up in a Sea Eagle Sport Kayak? He did his homework before making his purchase. “I liked what I read about the 370 being stable, rugged and having a 650-lb. load capacity,” he says. “At just 32 pounds, it’s also very portable -and it won’t stick out the back of my truck like a hardshell kayak would. That lightweight and extra portability are key factors for me as I have a bad back. I also like that this kayak is easy to blow up. In fact, you can do it in less than ten minutes because it has a one-way valve that prevents the air from coming back out as you pump it up. It also fit my budget, which is usually pretty tight. It’s a three-person kayak, so I can bring my girlfriend and my grandson along when I want, but mostly I go with my dog.”


Mike isn’t a serious angler or thrill-seeker, although he does enjoy riverbank camping. While he’ll challenge himself with an occasional run that sports class I or II rapids, he generally prefers to paddle and drift along while breathing in some fresh air, checking out the sights and taking pictures of wildlife. Given a choice, he tends to head for places where there isn’t too much traffic on the water, and really appreciates having the ability to get off the beaten track when feeling the need for a change of scenery to help him relax.


“I got my 12’ 6” Sea Eagle 370 Inflatable Kayak last June when a lot of the rivers around here were still pretty low, so I kept things local in the beginning,” says Mike. “Eventually, though, I moved up to some bigger waters like Big Piney Creek, the Mulberry River, and then the Buffalo National River. That last spot is where I did two different trips recently. The first one covered 31 miles in two days and the second saw me go 43 miles in three days. It was just me and my black lab, Sassy, on those trips. Both ventures were nice, quiet, and relaxed. The 370 is terrific for these longer trips because you can load it up with plenty of gear. I’m a big guy and I tend to pack heavy with a dry box and a couple of duffel bags, but my Sea Eagle is always up to the task.”


In terms of the 370’s toughness, Mike noted that he has on several occasions run it through or dragged it along shallow, rocky waters and he even tested it in class three rapids. “There are two passages through the Sacroiliac Rapids on the Mulberry River,” he explains. “On one trip there, the safer (suggested) route was too shallow and rocky, so I decided to go through the rapids. The current put me right up against a big boulder but I managed to push away unharmed. My 370 really did a great job with that brush-up and I’m thankful I didn’t flip. I later found out a kayaker died there a year ago so next time I encounter a similar situation, you can bet I’ll shoulder my vessel and walk around.” Two other features of the Sea Eagle 370 Inflatable Kayak that Mike enjoys are its ability to track exceptionally well and speed along at a fast clip. He made good use of both abilities on his last venture down the Buffalo National River when it started to get a little
busy.


“There were a lot of kayaks on the water since it was over Memorial Day weekend,” recalls Mike. “Some people had boom boxes blaring, too. I just paddled right past a bunch of them – even a few in long, skinny hardshells designed for speed. In just a few minutes, I managed to put some distance between myself and the crowd and was off to find some quieter waters. That actually turned out to be fun, passing all those other paddlers. I must have been moving at three or four miles per hour. That’s rather good for any kind of recreational kayak on a flat-water stretch.”


Most recently, Mike headed out on a yet another Buffalo National River trip, this one starting in north Arkansas, at the Lower Buffalo Wilderness area, which is the most remote part of the river and includes some rapids near Clabber Creek. The entire run, says Mike, covered 30 miles.


“That trip took three days because I didn’t get on the river until 5 p.m. and had to camp after about four miles. Still, it was pretty easy to do 17 miles the next day, and then finish up the trip in the morning on day three. I can cover 15 miles a day with no problem in my Sea Eagle 370.”


Mike reported that his top speed on this adventure was just over 8 mph in the faster flows, and 3 to 5 mph in the calmer waters and flat stretches. His average speed for the full trip was 3.5 mph according to the GPS and total run time was 8.5 hours.


“I don’t think I could expect any better from a paddle-powered vessel,” reveals Mike. “The 370 handled the rapids very well. It’s very forgiving and makes me feel safe when I’m out in the middle of nowhere with no cell service and little chance of rescue if something goes wrong. I think Sassy feels safe on these trips now too, as she doesn’t rock the boat and stays right in the middle of her seat most of the time. She is becoming quite the river dog.”


As for the future, Mike says he plans to continue exploring bigger and more challenging waters, and that he’s really looking forward to seeing what each holds in terms of wildlife along its banks. So far, he’s covered nearly 250 miles in his Sea Eagle.

“Some neat things happen when you kayak,” he reveals. “I see a lot of eagles, and I recently had a heron fly by me with a snake in its mouth. Too bad I wasn’t holding my camera for that one. It would have made one heck of a show.”

Paddling in a Pandemic

March 14th – As I paddle out into Port Jefferson Bay the morning sun is blocked by a cloud bank. Soon the clouds will clear and the sky will be blue. I consider myself lucky to be out on the water enjoying all this while a Pandemic makes its way across America.

By Cecil Hoge

March 14, 2020

On this Saturday, I took the opportunity to go for an early morning paddle. That is easy for me because I live by the water and have a dock about 100 feet from my back door. So all I have to do is walk out of my living room onto my back porch, walk down a few stairs and go another 100 feet. I am then on my dock where I have several inflatable boats at my disposal. On this day, the water on the bay is flat and glassy, the sky is still and has a large bank of clouds off to the Northeast. The temperature is around 45 degrees Fahrenheit and the sky is still reflected in the shimmering tones on the glassy water.

Today, I choose to paddle my RazorLite kayak. I have a choice: on my dock, I have a kayak and a rowing craft, I also have a solar-powered electric motor craft I call the TriTiki. I use the TriTiki to cruise around our bays on warmer days. Today is not one of those days.

When I use my kayak on chilly days, I also use a kayak blanket that we sell for that occasion. I like to be warm when paddling a kayak and since my legs do not move when paddling that blanket comes in mighty handy for when I want to be toasty warm.

Out on the water in my kayak, the air is clean and wonderful to breathe. Soon, I know, the winds will pick up out of the Northwest. Then the clouds will move out and the sky will be fully clear. And with the sun will come some extra warmth. No matter, I am well dressed for the occasion with gloves, a windproof fleece-lined nylon jacket, and a warm wool hat with earmuffs. I am, as always, totally warm and comfortable.

I paddle out past the old stone bulwark that used to lead to a wood bridge that spanned my bay (Little Bay) and leads to Setauket Bay. The wood bridge is gone since 1898 when I assume it was washed away by a ferocious storm. On this tranquil morning, I am wondering if I am paddling in an allusion – if this calm and beautiful scene is but a dream. Perhaps, in reality, I am paddling in an unseen and silent storm.

The broken-down stone bulwark is still quite close to where I started, so I do not feel that I have exerted much effort. It is the beginning of my paddle. I am in no hurry. A little further along a line of 7 Canada geese proceed out in front of me from the shore. I steer a little further out in order to give them space and time to figure what they want to do. I know either they will get all excited and start barking at me or they will change course and paddle their webbed feet back towards shore.

I am hoping they will not get excited because they make a terrible noise and the end is always foreseeable. They start barking, then their barking becomes louder and occurs faster and then they all fly away barking as they go. But on this day, they have wisely chosen to change course, stay silent and cruise back toward the shore.

March 15th, 2020

Here is my prototype rowing craft, rigged with all the comforts of home, thermo-bag with seltzers, cushion for the seat, mirror to have an idea of where I am rowing and a life jacket.

On this day in old Setauket (it was first settled in 1665), the weather is clear and reasonably warm for the time of year. I choose to use my rowing craft this day. This happens to be a prototype of a new kind of inflatable boat that I am tentatively calling the GoSkiff. Originally, I designed it to accommodate a sail, which I tested at the end of last summer. It sailed quite well, but with the advent of colder weather and winter, I converted it to a rowing craft, using my friend Urs Wunderli’s sliding rigger arm. I have been using this sliding rigger arm for 5 years now. Urs calls it “Row Board” and sells it on his website: DiscoverRowing.com. I consider “RowBoard” an uninspired name, but the product is truly great. I have told Urs to rename it the “Wunderli Rower”. So far, Urs has ignored my suggestion.

A sliding rigger arm is similar to a sliding seat, except instead of the seat going back and forth, the rigger arm holding the oars goes back and forth. In truth, a sliding rigger arm is actually more efficient. I won’t go into all the details. Both systems improve the ability to row. What I like about rowing is that it provides a total body exercise. That is because your arms, your legs, your hips, your stomach, your back are all in motion. Rowing provides another advantage over paddling in that you are naturally warmer because all parts of the body are moving…so no need for my trusty kayak blanket.

Rowing is different from paddling in that you see where you have been, rather than where you are going.  It also is a form of exercise that seems to feed on itself. Simply put, there is NOT a tendency to stop and smell the roses, so to speak. Rowing seems to promote an exercise rhythm that becomes addictive. Once you start rowing you really do not feel like stopping. That does not mean you do not take in the sites…you do. The difference is that you usually row steadily for a long time, not wanting to slow down, but still seeing the sites as they pass into vision. And yes, after rowing steadily for two miles or so, I do stop and secure my oars. I then float silently on the water as the wind blows me where it wishes and I take in the sites while I chug down a seltzer. The sparkling water is surprisingly refreshing after rowing 2 miles.

I characterize paddling as lollygagging whereas I characterize rowing as rowing. Paddling is lollygagging in the sense that there is always the temptation to stop paddling, take a deep breath and take in the scenery that is always in front of you. And in fact, that is one of the most pleasurable aspects of paddling.

On my many paddling or rowing journeys, I see many interesting sites…loons diving for fish, hawks circling high in the sky, seagulls clustering over a school of minnows, elegant white swans cruising nearby with young brown-tinted smaller and younger swans in tow, a seal popping his or her head out the water to check you out. Now, these sites occur at different times of the year and some are far more often than others. I see seals only a couple of times in the year, always in the dead of winter, although two years ago a baby seal took up residence on my dock – see below:

Here is an overnight guest that came one winter day. I did not charge this youngster a residence fee for the night.

On this Sunday I take my rowing craft, tentatively called the GoSkiff 14. As I mentioned, with rowing you see where you have been. Now I have to confess that I cheat. I have installed a mirror on my rowing craft. It allows me to see most of where I am going – my mirror does not have Xray vision through my body so I have to be careful. That still does not prevent me from occasionally running into a buoy or a boat. At this time of year, all buoys and boats have been removed from the harbor except for one rather large fishing vessel named the “Lisa Jean” that floats by itself in Setauket Harbor as a reminder of the fishing fleet that once was moored there.

So, off I go, rowing as I wish through the different bays. Paddling or rowing these days is practicing social distancing in the extreme. There are no other paddlers, rowers or boaters on this day or, for that matter, on most of the days during the late fall or winter. So, I usually have all the bays to myself. When I go rowing in the winter, I wear fleece-lined pants which keep my legs toasty as they push back and forth. As I have mentioned, I like to be warm and, if you dress properly, you always are. I would mention here for those concerned about my safety and boating regulations I always wear or carry a life jacket, so worry not, I am safely ready for my journeys on the sea.

It is another wondrous day on the water even though there is a chilly breeze. I carry other equipment with me that I consider vital. If it is an early morning, I carry hot coffee in a Yeti mug. If it is later in the day, I carry a couple of seltzers in a thermo-lined bag. At this time of year, the thermo-lining is not required, but the bag makes it convenient to carry the seltzers. So, on this sunny and clear March day, I row out past Little Bay, past Setauket Bay and into Port Jefferson Bay, the largest of our four bays. Here I can take a break, pull out a seltzer and take in the view. It is a good day to be alive.

Social Distancing at its Best

March 16th, 2020

And so, while America deals with closing schools, bars and restaurants, I intend to paddle or row the waterways of America. From my dock, I can paddle into a small bay appropriately called Little Bay. From Little Bay, I can paddle to the Atlantic Ocean. 

Of course, paddling from my house to the Atlantic Ocean is something of a jaunt. Long Island Sound is about 5 miles from my house, but the Atlantic Ocean is another 60 miles to the East or the West. One has a choice when coming out through the inlet into Long Island Sound to go West towards New York City through the East River into the Hudson River into the Atlantic Ocean with New Jersey just on your right. That’s a good choice if you want to paddle on to Miami. If you decide to go East, all you have do is paddle 60 miles East and pass Montauk Point and then you can head to Block Island or further north to Maine if that is your fancy.

Needless to say, I restrict my paddling to the 4 bays that are most directly accessible from my dock. I failed to mention the fourth bay which is called Conscience Bay. It is off to the right as I come out into Port Jefferson Bay. Anyway, I think you get the idea that I have a lot of options, even if I don’t take them all. But paddling or rowing are the main options that I choose to ward off the sad events of the Coronavirus in America.

March 18th, 2020

I go for a very early morning row. It is mostly dark when I leave at 5:45 am. The water on the bay is a flat black glass. The moon is still out and it sports an unusual halo this early morning. I do not know what the halo portends. It seems strange. In the distance, there are lights from the surrounding houses that circle my different bays. In the dark, I hear garbage trucks making dinosaur screeches as they stop and pick up cans. Today is plastic day. The town of Brookhaven (our township) has announced that it can no longer recycle the plastic they are picking up. I wonder where the plastics will go.

Here is what I see on the bay:

The darkness before the dawn is fading. Soon the sun will erase the moon and spread its light over all.

I row out of Little Bay into Setauket Bay and then into Port Jefferson Bay. The dim light of the day gives way to a clear blue expansive sky and soon I can feel the first warmth from the sun. The wind is out of the Northwest about 10 mph and as I come out of Setauket Bay, it pushes against my back as I row forward. When I get to the mouth of Port Jefferson Bay, I take a break, put up my oars, sip my still hot coffee and ponder the new day.

After a few minutes of contemplation, I pick up my oars and resume my journey. It is easier to row back since the wind is now pushing me in that direction. As I come around the bend in Setauket Bay, I row along the Strong’s Neck shoreline. I am now protected from the wind because I am in the “Lee of the Land”. And while I always dress warmly, the extra warmth that comes from the rising sun in an area protected from the wind is much appreciated.

March 20th, 2020 

This day is sunny and warm, with temperatures making into the 60s. I take the opportunity to go for a morning paddle.

March 21, 2020

Since the weather is sunny and a pretty comfortable 52 degrees, I head out for a paddle on the bay. I encounter no other paddlers. It is still early for most kayakers to get out on the water. I take my trusty kayak blanket to keep my legs warm and dry. The dry part is an especially handy feature because of “paddle drip”. This is something that most kayakers never mention, but water tends to make its way down the shaft of a paddle blade and drip into the cockpit of the kayak. But no worries for me, my trusty, toasty waterproof kayak blanket keeps me both warm and dry. It is a good day for a paddle and I come back feeling refreshed and happy at the news that we can continue operating.

March 27, 2020

The weather on Friday was clear and in the low 50s. I take the opportunity to go for a paddle and ponder the state the world with a wide expanse of blue water in front of me.

It was a beautiful day and a wonderful paddle. The air was fresh and clear and I saw no one during my paddle. It was just me, some seagulls twirling around in the sky, some swans cruising elegantly by me, some great blue herons standing on the shore looking on at me in disapproval. I can tell you from experience herons, especially great blue herons, don’t like humans. They consider us interlopers on this earth.

The weekend comes and with it some nasty, rainy, cold weather. I stay home and light a fire. It gives a cozy and toasty feeling for me and my family.

March 31st, 2020

This Tuesday morning I choose to go for a row. That is both practical and smart. It is a cloudy, cool morning with a heavy bank of clouds stretching above as far as the eye can see. The temperature is around 40. The wind is out of the Northeast blowing at steady, cold and unforgiving 10 to 15 mph. My decision to row rather than paddle is practical because my kayak has gathered about 3” of water since I last used it. When I go down the dock, the first thing that I do is undo one of the drain valves on my kayak and drain out the water. Then I close the drain valve and flip the kayak upside down so no more rain can come in and the kayak will dry out.

“The Fleet” at my dock – a water filled Sea Eagle RazorLite to the left, a prototype “GoSkiff 14” on the right, a prototype “TriTiki” on the far side of the dock. The “”TriTiki” is 16’ long, holds up 4 people and features 2 solar panels, 2 lithium batteries, 2 electric motors. The solar panels charge the batteries, the batteries power the electric motors. The Green Revolution is in place at my dock.

My decision to go for a row is also smart because the kayak seat, having rested in 3” of water, is not going to be either warm or dry. So I then get on the other floating dock holding my rowing craft, slide it off that dock and get on my “GoSkiff” after I place a dry seat cushion on it. Fully prepared now, I begin my row out of Turtle Cove (my name for my little cove) and ply my oars into Little Bay. As mentioned above the temperature is still pretty chilly, the wind right nippy coming out of the unforgiving Northeast. Someone forgot to tell this March that it was supposed to go out like a lamb. 

In Little Bay, I hug the shoreline which means closely passing by the cemetery that is at the end of the road my house is on. Appropriately, my road is called Cemetery Lane. The cemetery houses many folks from the Revolutionary War. Strong’s Neck, where I live, was settled in 1655 by the Smith and Strong families. And many family members are now buried in this nearby cemetery. I stay close to the cemetery and the shoreline because it keeps me in the “Lee of the Land” and thus I am sheltered from the nagging Northeast Wind.

I ply my way along the shoreline on this gray and cloudy day, happy almost instantly to be out in the clean refreshing air. I come around the stone embankment and pass into Setauket Bay & Harbor. Immediately, I run into the 10 to 15 mph Northeast wind. Now I can row quite easily through that. Because I am rowing directly into the wind and my back is facing the wind, I am quite shielded, thanks to my trusty Duluth Nylon fleece-lined jacket. I can plow through winds pretty efficiently up to 25 mph, but after that, I prefer to let others try it. Rowing in 25+ mph winds is a younger man’s game.

I read that Teddy Roosevelt when he was a boy, loved to row in Long Island Sound in high winds. Teddy was a sickly child and not strong, but as he got a little older he took up outdoor exercise with great relish, his theory being that outdoor exercise would help him overcome his early sickly disposition. It seemed to work. He went on to become a very energetic President of the United States. Teddy grew up in Oyster Bay about 21 miles west of here.

Here be the “Lisa Jean”. Maybe the last of her kind in Setauket Harbor. Two crows sit at the stern on this cloudy and chilly day. Here the wind is sheltered by the land on both sides of the bay. Just seconds before there was a seagull on the bow. He or she flew away, perhaps, afraid that I might digitally capture their soul.

I am not rowing in high winds on Long Island Sound today. Good thing too, because it would probably mean rowing against sizable whitecaps. I am rowing in brisk Northeast winds as I ply my way through Setauket Bay and Harbor. Pretty soon, as I row into the narrows of Setauket Bay, I come up to the one boat that is still moored in the harbor. It is the “Lisa Jean”. She stands as a lonely reminder this once was a working harbor, a place from which whalers set out into the Atlantic and Pacific oceans in search of whales and whale oil, a place where fisherman and clammers and oystermen once made their living.

The “Lisa Jean” is moored about a half-mile from Port Jefferson Bay, so this is about a one and half mile row from my house. I take a picture of the venerable fishing craft and row my way around it and head back home. It is not my longest row by any means, but it is enough of a row to get a full slug of fresh air and to be reminded that the real world is outside, not inside. I am hoping, like Theodore Roosevelt, that my paddling and rowing activities will bring me true peace of mind and strengthen my body. While I am at it, I also hope that it will protect me against the Coronavirus.

Back on my dock, I walk up my dock gangplank and look back over my little cove and the bay beyond. I cannot help but think it is a beautiful morning.

 

Author’s Note: The above story is an abridged version of a longer blog published on my personal blog site.  The longer version discusses in addition to paddling and rowing, the progression of the Coronavirus, and other political and economic conditions. Should you be interested to read the full version, click on TangledTalesofanAmericanFamily.com

FISHSKIFF 16 – SHALLOW WATER STEALTH

By Bill Marts

My hat is off to Sea Eagle Boats. I had been looking for the exact right craft to guide clients in skinny/shallow waters for bass, panfish, trout and carp. And to explore waters where a normal boat can’t access. Two years ago I found it! It is the FishSkiff 16′ inflatable boat from Sea Eagle Boats. I searched blogs, YouTube, Google, advertisements and I finally came across Sea Eagle and checked them out. There it was. Under fishing inflatables. I ordered one, but they were already sold out of their first order. Maybe some others with the same idea as I had? I finally got it in late August of last year but I didn’t get it on its maiden voyage until later in September. It is really a skiff/SUP designed for big and small waters. Sort of a SUP on Steroids.

Unpacked and ready to inflate.

I went equipped with directions (yeah, I’m one of those) to the lake and unpackaged everything including the Watersnake electric motor and electric pump to inflate the skiff. It has three chambers; each side and the deck. So safe and stable. I got it pumped up hard-rock solid. Noticed the fish measurement scale on each gunnel. Attached the rear seat, launched it. Stepped on and paddled out to deeper water. So far so good. I borrowed a farmer John wet suit (the water was cold) and a one-piece pushpole. This was exciting stuff for me. I was imagining some favorite Eastern Washington shallow waters where this was going to be awesome. I turned on the electric motor and was scooting over the water. This was fun. After about an hour playing around, I made my way back in to the shallows to try my pushpole. I was a little harder to get control with the pushpole. It was not like poling a flats skiff or panga. As I kept searching for the sweet-spot for poling, I got a little better. I have found, since, that with a person on the bow seat, it is much easier, stable, smoother and quieter. I had quite a few people looking it over and inspecting it when I brought it ashore. It was easy to disassemble and deflate and wrap it up in its protective carrier. It is a little heavy when loading and unloading and an extra person is helpful carrying it. I couldn’t have been happier.

Stand Up Paddle, Pushpole and motor…I was ready for anything.

The following months drove me crazy not to be able to get it on the water during winter and spring cold-water conditions. I don’t have a wet suit, yet, but it is on my list. This will get me on the water early during shallow warm-up in the spring. It will add two months to my fishing, exploring and guide season.

Ok, now skip forward to early July 2019. The water was cold during the spring and didn’t warm up until late June. I had it out a few times to get used to it in windy and calm conditions and then took out my first client. It was tough conditions limiting us to very protective waters. The wind conditions were 15 to 20 mph constant with gusts to 35 to 40. The air and water temps dropped suddenly. We did find some water but the fish were difficult, only hooking a few large carp. But my boat handling abilities in the wind improved. I made a decision to add an outboard for next season for safety and the ability to get to better waters easily. I did make some changes to the FishSkiff. I do not use the seat in the back. This gives me better maneuverability for poling. I sometimes use a watertight, heavy-weight ice chest as a dry-box I can sit on and use for items that I don’t want to get wet. I also use an adjustable pushpole. This is handy to make the pole shorter when running from place to place and to use as a stick-pole. I added a long post to the seat in front to give my clients a better view and make it easier to stand up for a better view of spotted fish. They can also use it for support when standing. We fish only for sighted fish except in extremely muddied up waters where we use an indicator and retrieve it VERY SLOWLY at a depth just above the bottom. With the alterations to the FishSkiff we are able to move slowly and quietly along the shoreline where we can find fish easily and also observe the wild and bird life carrying on their routines at the shoreline. I am a happy guide.

The FishSkiff provided a steady platform for fly fishing.

This July I organized a fly fishing only tournament for carp at Banks Lake, in Eastern Washington. We had about 30 participants who had a chance to use the FishSkiff and a FishSup 12.6 during the event. The FishSup was donated by Sea Eagle as the overall grand prize. The winner was ecstatic with his prize. He won with 9 carp landed on the fly. Congratulations to CraigSchumann. I have a feeling he will get a lot of use from it. There were several other prizes from top tier fly fishing companies as well. Everyone committed to next year’s “Schmoots Clooper”, the name of the event. Its comes from the book “Another Day In Paradise” by John Gierach – “It was a hot, windless day and the carp were clooping the schmoots.” It means the carp were eating food from the surface.

I am heading to Eastern Washington soon to do some exploring of new carp waters with a friend. A regular boat cannot get to this water. We will inflate the FishSkiff and lower it down a hill to get to the lake and then explore the shallow waters. I will report about our trip in a future blog.

I am excited about this next trip and using my skiff.

Labyrinth Canyon in the Sea Eagle FastTrack 385ft

by Corey Thayn

After owning our inflatable kayaks, the Sea Eagle FastTrack 385ft for a year, it was time for a multi-day adventure. The premier flatwater river trip in the western US is floating the Green River through Labyrinth Canyon, in southern Utah. The canyon stretches 46 miles from the popular put-in spot at Ruby Ranch to Mineral Bottom, just north of Canyonlands National Park.

There are several alternate start points that can stretch the river miles to almost 70 miles, but those extra miles are through rolling hills of sagebrush and farms, not quite as picturesque as the high red sandstone walls of Labyrinth Canyon. Floating this section of the Green River requires a free permit from the Moab office of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). This can be obtained through contacting the BLM office, or on-line. The permit requires carrying specific gear (portable toilet, fire pan, safety equipment, etc) on your boat, along with other stipulations to help ensure safety and maintain the back-country conditions of the area.

You can’t help but take it slow in the FastTrack 385ft while enjoying the beautiful Labyrinth Canyon.

The flow of the Green River varies widely based on the annual precipitation and season of the year. Ranging from 2000-4000 CFS (cubic feet per second) in late fall and winter, to over 20,000 CFS during the spring runoff. As we monitored the flow in the weeks leading up to our trip, the river flow ranged from 13,000-15,000 CFS. A little high, but within the expected flow rate for an early June trip. However, just days before our trip was scheduled to start, the water managers at Flaming Gorge Reservoir, 300 miles upstream, significantly increased the output from the dam. The purpose was to lower the reservoir level enough to make room for the expected snowmelt runoff. It takes about 3-4 days for increased flow from Flaming Gorge to travel downstream to Labyrinth Canyon, so 2 days before our trip, the flow of the river jumped from 15,000 CFS to 25,000 CFS. This was a slight concern, but after a call to a local river guide and the BLM office, the trip continued as planned. The main downside of the increased flow was a significant reduction in the available campsites along the river and increased difficulty of exiting and entering the river due to the flooded river banks.

The 385ft is the perfect boat for this type of trip. The carrying capacity is adequate for hauling camping gear for a multi-day trip. The geometry and style of the boat allows for easy paddling and control, even when it is fully loaded. The portability of the inflatable kayaks increases the options for setting up the vehicle shuttle for this multi-day trip.

For this trip, my wife, Eva, and I each paddled our own 385ft kayaks. This provided plenty of room for the gear required by the permit and all the other niceties that make for a comfortable camping trip. We chose to launch from Ruby Ranch, a working alfalfa ranch south of the city of Green River, Utah. After a 40 minute drive on gravel roads from Green River City, we arrived at Ruby Ranch. The ranch owner charges a nominal fee ($10/boat + $5/person) to park and launch from their river access. There are also camping sites ($5/night) and a picnic area at the boat launch.

We dropped off our kayaks and gear at the ranch and proceeded to set up the vehicle shuttle between Ruby Ranch and the takeout point at Mineral Bottom. For our shuttle, we chose to use an ATV (all-terrain vehicle) as a second vehicle. We left Ruby Ranch and trailered the ATV to Mineral Bottom. This leg of the trip was 20 miles of pavement and 50 miles of dirt road. We parked our vehicle and trailer at the overnight parking site at Mineral Bottoms and rode the ATV on 40+ miles of dirt backroads back to Ruby Ranch. The entire shuttle setup took almost 4 hours to complete. We made it back to the launch point and were on the river around 2 pm.


Sea Eagle 385ft Kayaks Fully Loaded for a 3 Day Trip

The river was running high and fast and we quickly covered the 2-3 miles to the start of Labyrinth Canyon. As we entered the canyon, the riverside terrain changed from flatland desert to sandstone cliffs rising on both sides of the river. The cliffs continued to rise as we floated deeper into the canyon. The canyon was true to its name and the river wound back and forth between the high cliffs. The beauty of the canyon increased as we traveled down the river. The river flow was such that paddling was only required to keep the kayaks pointed down the river.

The unusual high flow of the Green River reduced access to many of the campsites but did have the advantage of flooding the side canyons. Normally these side canyons are high and dry above the main river. Seven miles from Ruby Ranch are the three canyons of Trin-Alcove Bend. Where you would normally need to hike into these canyons, the river was backed into the side canyons leaving calm waters to paddle up the canyon to explore. These side canyons felt like a jungle river as we paddled through the treetops, with the canyon floor buried below the waters. This was a completely different experience from those who travel the river during lower flow rates. We continued until we found the campsite for the first night on the river. We camped on a sandy beach below a high sandstone cliff. We enjoyed a quiet night as we watched the sunset create a glow on the red sandstone surrounding our camp.

Sunrise at camp.

The next morning we broke camp and got an early start on the river. The rising sun on the walls of the canyons met us as we left the side canyon and entered the main channel. I estimate the river was running at about 4-5 mph so little paddling was required to move down the river. After several more miles, we took a side trip down 10 Mile Canyon. This canyon wound through the thickets of tamarisk until it opened into a deep walled canyon. We paddled about a mile down the canyon until we found a nice shady spot to beach the boats and have lunch. Again it was a beautiful area as we watched a Blue Heron fly around the canyon, and we were visited by a family of geese as they paddled down the creek.

Hey Joe Canyon was the next stop. This was the site of a historic uranium mine and we explored the abandoned equipment and mining site. There were many other points of interest along the river, but the high water level kept us from finding a place to beach the FastTracks and explore.

We did make a stop at Bowknot Bend. This is a location where the river flows alongside a high sandstone cliff. Over the next 7 miles, the river makes a 180-degree bend and flows back to within 1/2 mile of itself on the other side of the cliff. We were able to find a spot to get off the river and complete the hike to the top of the Bowknot saddle and view the other side of the cliff and river.

View of the river from Bowknot Bend.

After 23 miles of travel, the second night’s camp was in Spring Canyon. The entrance to this canyon is similar to the others, but it quickly turned into a tamarisk jungle. The tamarisks were so thick it quickly became too difficult to move forward, but there was also no place to turn around.

Tamarisk is an invasive species that has invaded many of the western US waterways. The species was introduced in this country to combat erosion but has quickly taken over the banks of many western rivers and lakes. Tamarisk chokes out the native species and prevents other plants from growing. Each tamarisk can produce 200,000 seeds each year and spread quickly along the shorelines. Along the Green River, tamarisk has blocked shore access along much of the river. The tamarisk is so thick that it can be impossible to pass through.

The entrance of Spring Canyon had 2-300 yards of thick, thick tamarisk. I went in first while Eva waited at the entrance. It took 20 minutes to fight my way through the overgrowth of tamarisk, not paddling most of the time, but using branches to pull myself hand-over-hand and weaving the kayak through the mess. The FastTrack kayaks again performed great. The tough skins of the kayak were not damaged at all by the sharp branches of the tamarisk. Once through the thicket, the canyon opened up into a beautiful campsite below the high sandstone walls with a clear pool to park the kayaks. The night treated us to a dark star-filled sky we watched through the mesh roof of our tent.

The Flatwater of Labyrinth Canyon.

Day three was another beautiful day with perfect temperature, no wind, and clear blue skies. We only had 15 river miles to go until we arrived at the Mineral Bottom take-out point. We didn’t want to miss Mineral Bottom as the next takeout point was 4-5 days and 60 miles downriver. We were having such an enjoyable time, we did not want to hurry down the river. We rafted the kayaks up and floated the last miles of our trip, with a stop at Horseshoe Canyon for lunch and to explore Hell Roaring Canyon.

The final miles of Labyrinth Canyon was as picturesque as the rest of the canyon. We paddled into the boat ramp area of Mineral Bottom at around 3:30 pm. We broke down the kayaks and loaded the gear to make the trip back to Ruby Ranch to pick up our ATV before heading home.

Takeout point at Mineral Bottom.

The Sea Eagle FastTrack inflatable kayaks were perfect for this trip. They easily held all our camping gear and supplies, with room to spare. They were easy to paddle and control as we explored the tight side canyons. The durability and high-quality construction was evident.

Luggage Goes Fishing in Patagonia

ABE_holdingfishsm

Abe with fish caught with luggage

 By Denis Isbister, Fisherman and TV Personality on Wild Fish Wild Places

The southernmost reaches of the Patagonia region in Argentina boasts some of the most unexplored and rich fisheries in the world. Producing television shows for the last 12 years I have been to some of the most remote and wild places on earth but this area of the world is without a doubt, one of the best.

Our good friends at Estancia Laguna Verde aka Jurassic Lake, invited the crew back to fish, film and explore some new waters on the big lake that they had just opened up by building an outpost camp. This massive lake is famous for producing some of the biggest rainbow trout in the world with many rainbows in the 15/16 pound range and a good handful over 20 pounds.

DSC_3641

Jessica and myself launching luggage

The goal for this trip was to fly the Sea Eagle Packfish 7 boats with us as luggage! This would give us the advantage to explore some of the off shore reefs and shelfs that are out of casting distance from the shore. We wanted to figure out what the fishing was all about and for a few key reasons, the Packfish 7 boat was the perfect fit. Here’s why:

  1. Approximately 20 pounds and comes with a bag! When checking luggage you can take 50 pounds so the extra room in the Sea Eagle bag allowed us to pack waders, boots and other essentials so we didn’t waste any space!
  2. Safe and Stable! Jurassic Lake is a big windblown body of water so safety is the number one concern. Two air chambers and tough construction make this boat the right tool for the job.
  3. Fishes great! When you are planning on being on the water for hours on end comfort and maneuverability are huge. We fished with sinking lines moving very slow and precisely to get these fish to eat a streamer and spent 10 hours a day in them! The PackFish inflatable boats have a 4-keel system on the bottom that keeps this boat tracking perfectly at all times. You don’t get the annoying kick off from side to side you get with regular pontoons and the boat does not spin around in circle in a high wind.
  4. Rows great! A big difference between the PackFish and a traditional float tube is the fact that you can row it really long distances and cover a lot of fishing ground. That was particularly important in Patagonia where we were fishing a very large body of water and where the wind can come up bigtime in a heartbeat.
PF_Jessicaplussm.jpg

Jessica and me rowing luggage (aka 2 PackFish 7s)

When we first arrived at the outpost camp side of Jurassic Lake we were looking at a giant bay with steep drop offs and some off shore weed beds that had to be holding fish. In a matter of minutes the boats were ready to go and we were in the process of figuring out what these fish were after. Brian Oakland from Gotfishing.com started one direction with a sinking line and black streamer while Jessica and I worked olive buggers on floating lines. It didn’t take long and Brian had a pattern figured out, black streamer on the ledge and real slow! We all started changing lines and streamers to match and making a very slow and subtle presentation that the big fish could not refuse. Brian landed over 20 fish with most of them double digits and one 18 pound giant. The boats gave us the advantage of presenting a fly in a unique way as well as in the place they were holding. Unfortunately the guys on shore had a very slow day (for them, that is).

PF_TwoFishingsm

Out fishing with Jessica

Over the next couple days we explored a big area of this side of the lake that had never been fished from a boat….Ever! Due to the Packfish 7 size and design we were able to unlock the true potential that this fishery has to offer, as well as having a great time ripping fish!

PF_twoboatssm

Two boats along the shore

 

ABE_6775

Big Rainbow, Little Boat with Fisherman

 

Luggage catching fish or the PackFish strikes again!

 

Big Salt, Big Adventure

By Warren Maddox

At first glimpse of the chocolate powerhouse, I knew we were in for an epic river run. I hadn’t seen water this powerful in person since running the Lions Head section of the Matanuska River in Alaska. The difference was that I had taken that current in a huge raft; I’d be taking on this challenge in a Sea Eagle Explorer 380x. Seeing others at the Big Eddy put-in quickly dispelled any apprehensions, and I began suiting up.

Watch as we head down the Upper Salt River.

The Upper Salt River — a true Arizona classic, and one I had run before at low flows. At lower flows the river manifests as a technical bump-and-grind with crystal clear water. Surrounded by a beautiful landscape of towering canyon walls in a unique Sonoran riparian ecosystem, Cottonwoods and the mighty Saguaro guide you down the river in the heart of White Mountain Apache country. At lower flows the major danger is drowning from foot entrapment on one of the many boulders or ledges throughout the river requiring prior knowledge and experience with “defensive swimming”.

Originally, I ran this river in the Sea Eagle 330 with great success. Looking forward to what the river would become with a little more power. The Salt River was running at ~3750 CFS. (CFS or Cubic Feet per Second is the rate of the flow, in streams and rivers. 1 “CFS” is equal to 7.48 gallon of water per second). At this level the dangers change from foot entrapment by boulders and ledges to flipping and flushing down river unable to retrieve equipment or worse, drowning unable to swim to shore because of the powerful torrent. Self-Rescue becomes difficult at these levels and should only be attempted by competent teams of at least two but preferably three Class III to IV boaters or better in separate white-water crafts. Bailing early is made difficult by the remote and steep Salt River Canyon. So I knew we had to be careful on this trip and take every prudent precaution.

The plan was to kayak from Big Eddy off of Highway 60 to Cibicue takeout. This is the same stretch we had done before, approximately 4 miles and about 10 marked rapids ranging from Class II-IV Leading through the first drop (Kiss and Tell) and our first taste of the power and just how different this river trip would be. I charged through to the eddy on river right. It was a huge, pushy tongue above 3k. When paddling out of the eddy (eddies are sections of water that flow upstream when an obstruction blocks the main flow of water) the eddy line where the downstream current meets the upstream current caught one of my inflated tubes and tried to flip me out. Ready for the pull, I quickly counter-balanced the high side of the boat and rode it out. I was using an older model Sea Eagle Explorer 380x that I had used on many previous river trips. It was incredibly forgiving when boating off axis. My paddling partner using the Sea Eagle 300x which, being lighter, shorter and more nimble, had no problem making a clean line down the middle.

Boating off axis out of the eddy through Kiss and Tell

Next, we faced a true test of what the Big Salt would have in store for the rest of our paddling trip. We crashed through “haystacks”, a series of waves found on a rapid often referred to as a wave train. Haystacks tend to occur after a drop or on high volume or flooded rivers. Charging full speed, the river was big, splashy, fun and fast! That was the tale of Tailings and Bump and Grind. Where once we were carving around boulders and shooting lines, those boulders were replaced by holes and waves to punch. Holes are features on a river where the surface water is actually moving upstream creating a hydraulic. A big enough hole can flip a boater and keep them recirculating within the hydraulic. After a short break from the action, we met at a fork in the river. Trying to remember what we did last time, we discussed and then headed to the right, entering MayTag. The river split and narrowed then chewed us up in holes and wave trains and spit us out the other side! The Sea Eagle Explorer 380x took everything the river could throw at it, charging through in high-flying wheelie fashion! The whooping was in full force, and we knew we were in for an epic ride! The SeaEagle 300x handled everything just as well but I was glad to have a bigger boat in the bigger water.

We opted to pull out above Grummins and sit on a large, fallen cottonwood, arguing over whether or not we were seeing elk hoof prints or those of the bovine variety. We hung out for a bit and talked safety when we spied another raft coming up from behind. Not wanting to miss this chance, we quickly hopped back in our Sea Eagles to chat about the upcoming rapids, attempting to leach some information. Fellow paddlers graciously told us their lines and offered to let us follow. We swallowed our pride and did just that — no room for egos on the Big Salt!

A massive hole in the middle line of Grummins

Following river right we threaded small trees, avoiding massive holes river left and in the middle, while launching off haystacks until we made our way around the bend, continuing to stay hard right to avoid becoming a tribute to the Mother Rock. You know it when you see it!  What followed was a short break and quick discussion about the next rapid, Eaglesnest/ Overboard, this proving to be the most intricate and beta-intensive rapid. Right and through the willows, we punched holes, back ferry (a maneuver where you turn to paddle upstream) to river left, just skirting the hole at the bottom of the rapid. After a short conversation about the rest of the river, we parted ways and were once again left to our own devices. The rapids ahead were, in comparison to what we had already done, much simpler — that is until Exhibition

My paddling partner in his Sea Eagle Explorer 300x enjoying the calm before the storm

We heard the thunderous power of this rapid far before we saw it. I stood in my Sea Eagle Explorer 380 in hopes to scout out a line with the least mayhem. I didn’t see one. I only saw a huge diagonal wave that I knew I wanted to miss if I could. I picked a line and began charging ahead. The drums of war beat in my ears. The paddle and boat were now just an extension of my body as I smashed through holes and plunged through waves. I saw the wall of water. The massive wave I knew I wanted to avoid. I no longer had time to maneuver away and would have to hit the wave straight on. I took one final stroke, launching myself off of the massive beast and saw nothing but blue sky. My Sea Eagle had learned to fly! In that moment, it all occurred in slow motion. Like a car wreck. I knew I was going into the water and that I was about to flip, but lo-and-behold I came crashing down still in my boat! Hitting that next paddle stroke in auto-pilot, I turned to watch my paddling buddy make his way through the Exhibition. I let out one battle cry and then another. Those incredibly testing and triumphant moments are the ones you know you’re truly alive!

Learning to fly the Sea Eagle 380

I Laughed out loud at nothing, throwing my hands up in exclamation at the canyon walls. I was “right here, right now”, running a river through your nat’ geo. There’s no place I’d rather be.

One of the more mellow read and run rapids

We splashed our way through the last rapids, joyfully floating over wave trains backwards with child-like grins from ear-to-ear. After 2 hours, we had our first site of the shuttle parked beside Cibecue rapid. I found a nice eddy and took out halfway through the rapid to run to my friends, whooping and giving out high fives and sharing in the stoke.

“WE MADE IT!” I exclaimed.

After an epic, exhausting run, the small mining town of Globe and a huge Roberto’s burrito couldn’t come soon enough.

Staring down the wall of water in Exhibition

Warren Maddox is a long time white water enthusiast and has been using different Sea Eagle models for many years.

ROB SAMUELSEN: GOOD TIMES ON THE BIG MUDDY

This CFO knows you work hard so you can have time to play.

By Tom Schlichter

Rob Samuelsen is a serious world traveler who strives to get the most out of every adventure he undertakes. The 60-year old Vail, AZ, resident has been to 48 of the 50 U.S. states, visited 40 countries, and lived in Utah, Indiana, Ohio, Ecuador, New York and California.

“I have an MBA in Finance and I’m a chief financial officer right now. Over the years, I have served as CEO at three different companies, one of which was public. I’ve done a lot of different things in my professional career, but mostly I work so I can play.”

And play he does. A certified canyoneer with significant climbing and repelling experience, Samuelsen also enjoys back-packing, owns a boat and drives a Jeep. “I have all the outdoors toys,” he says unapologetically, “I have a solid group of friends who love outdoors activities and we are always looking to challenge ourselves. Together, we’ve traipsed across much of this country. ”

Rob & his friends ready to retrace the journey Lewis & Clark took over 200 years ago.

With such impressive outdoors and business resumes, we were thrilled to learn Samuelsen chose the 11’ 2”, 26-pound Sea Eagle 330 Sport Kayak as his transportation of choice on a recent 108-mile passage down the Missouri River. He and his friends were planning to follow the trail blazed by Lewis and Clark more than 200 years ago, taking in the sights, reveling in the history and enjoying being on “The Big Muddy” for the four-day journey. As you might expect, the experienced paddle sport enthusiast did his research before making his determination.

“This was going to be my first time in an inflatable kayak,” explained Samuelsen, “so this was something new. Initially, I wanted an inflatable kayak (IK) for this trip because I planned to fly to the launch site rather than drive. As it turned out, we eventually drove, but having an inflatable Sea Eagle still proved a big plus because I could just put it in the trunk. At home, I could store it in the attic instead of the yard.”

Samuelsen also wanted an IK “that didn’t seem like a toy,” he stated. “I needed something that was a more serious expedition-type craft, more of a commercial grade kayak that could take a beating and keep up with the Kevlars,” he continued. “That narrowed the search to just a few vendors offering more serious expedition-type craft. Sea Eagle was on my radar at that point and then they put the 330 Kayak on sale. The price seemed crazy good, so I bought it.”

With a busy life, Samuelsen never actually got to try his new Sea Eagle until the day he set off on the big river, so he was real pleased when everything came together smoothly. He liked the stability when he first climbed in, loved how quickly it could be inflated and was happy with how well it transported. He would have liked a few more tie grommets for strapping in his gear, but he managed to get everything aboard by rigging a few extra tie downs and bungee cords.

“I’m a big guy, 6’ 4”,” says Samuelsen, looking back on the experience. When I look at pictures of myself in that kayak, it looks Lilliputian, so I’m already contemplating a bigger version. Sea Eagle’s 370 Sport Kayak is a little longer at 12’ 6”, so I’ll probably step up in the future. Still, I was very comfortable in the 330. I was really surprised at its stability and how well it tracked. I thought it might be a little “tippy” but it wasn’t’ at all.

Packed up and ready to go. Rob says the SE330 was comfortable, stable and tough, handling up to 37 miles a day.

So, how’d the trip go?

“It was wet, very wet,” said Samuelsen, “but it was fun and amazing, too. We launched at Coal Banks Landing in Montana and ended at James Kipp Recreation Area on the Upper Missouri National Wild and Scenic River. We covered as much as 37 miles per day, banging rocks and carving through all sorts of water. My friends were concerned I might pop my inflatable on the boulders and rough points, but it was absolutely fine.”

While the group had to deal with a lot of rain, they found the scenery spectacular, made great time, and viewed amazing sights.

“We saw a paddlefish that weighed a couple-hundred pounds moving upriver against the 4-mph current; that was something. We also got to see the White Cliffs and Missouri Breaks areas. The White Cliffs were astounding. Because of volcanic action, there are lines that split the white cliffs with vertical and horizontal black stripes. We saw a ton of swallows and swallow nests in the cliffs, too. We also saw big horned sheep, bald eagles, beaver and lots of deer on our route.”

Some of the many beautiful sites Rob & his friends enjoyed on their journey.

For their second night on the water, the team camped at a place called Slaughter Creek. Lewis and Clark had a base camp there – and the first skeletons of dinosaurs in the Americas were discovered there, too.

“It’s named Slaughter Creek because Lewis and Clark found hundreds of dead buffalo at the base of the cliff here. They assumed Indians had driven the herd over the edge while hunting but it turned out that a flood had actually washed the huge creatures away.”

It turned out to be a good thing that Samuelsen and friends kept moving right along, for significant flood waters were building upriver and headed their way.

“The first couple of days,” revealed Samuelsen, “we noticed small debris floating in the in the river. Every morning I’d post a stick in the water and see how much it had risen from the day before and we could tell it was going up. The last day we took out on a beach to set up camp and the following morning found our vessels all afloat – the beach was completely underwater. At that point, we started seeing bigger stuff like whole trees coming down the river so we decided to come out a day early and shuttled our vessels to our end point. That turned out to be a smart choice because they closed the river half-an-hour after we pulled out. A ranger told us that in another day our cars would have been submerged. Always better to be safe than sorry.”

All this bears out how important it is to be prepared on any expedition that takes you off the grid, points out Samuelsen. “You’ve got to cover all the bases before departing,” he advises. “We had a satellite phone and put tracking on so friends could follow us on Facebook. I gave a separate link for the map share to my wife and family so they could track us as well. Nothing beats having fun, but you need to do it safely. Always keep that foremost in mind.”

Editor’s Note: You can see some of Rob Samuelsen’s excellent photography on his website: www.backcountryexpressions.com. To read a more detailed account of his 108-mile Missouri River kayak trip, check out his newspaper column here. To view a short video of his trip, visit here.

SIDNEY STUFFLE: PUNCHING THROUGH TO BIG TIME FUN!

Easy Portage: An easy portage of the Jim Bean Distillery dam on the Elkhorn in central Kentucky.

By Tom Schlichter

Sidney Stuffle didn’t have a lot of help getting started with kayaking. Like a lot of people without friends or family who take to the water, the 26-year old from Tucson, AZ, had to mostly figure it out himself.

“That’s all part of the fun, I guess,” laughs Stuffle, who after just three years in the sport is already on his second inflatable kayak. “There’s not a big kayaking community out here in Arizona, so I didn’t have anyone to warn me to avoid the rough water starting out, either. As you might imagine, the first few trips were a little hairy before I got the hang of it.”

Salt River AZ: Looking over the front of Stuffle’s 330 sport kayak down Salt River Canyon on the White Mountain Apache Reservation. This beautiful Class III run is his favorite in the Grand Canyon State.

Since then, it’s been non-stop fun for the affable outdoorsman. To get his feet wet, Stuffle explored the typical barriers to entering the kayak game. “I wanted something safe, affordable and easy to transport,” he said. “With an engineering background, I could tell the Sea Eagle line was well constructed. A little more research revealed they were also the safest, most affordable kayaks I could fit in a car. I quickly decided on the Sea Eagle 330 because it felt sturdy when I got in and could be put in a carry bag, hauled to the water and inflated in only 10 or 15 minutes.”

A serious hiker, Stuffle had often focused on pushes to the tops of mountains and high peaks. Eventually, however, he realized he’d rather float through the valleys. Perhaps that explains his favorite stretch of kayaking water.

Big South Fork: Stuffle’s paddling buddy, Warren Maddox exits one of the more relaxing riffles of Big South Fork Gorge in his Sea Eagle 330 Sport kayak. This location is the continuous ¾-gorge on the Big South Fork (1100 CFS). Lower on the river is a long class 2 canoe camping stretch with comparable scenery and excellent bass fishing that Stuffle hopes to paddle in the future.

“I really love the Salt River Canyon right here in Arizona,” he says enthusiastically. “There are 2,000 foot vertical walls on either side and you are on the White Mountain Apache Indian Reservation. It’s awesome terrain; secluded once you get going. It’s on some of those stretches where I actually learned to kayak.”

According to Stuffle, the Sea Eagle 330 is a ton of fun on the white water and big wave trains you’ll find over the first few miles of this stretch, known as the Mule Shoe. Inflated to 1 psi, the two-person, 11’ 2”, 26-pound inflatable “bends with the waves” to stay on top the whole time. “It actually gives you the feeling of doing ‘wheelies’ at some points. It’s an adrenalin trip for sure,” he says.

His new single-person Sea Eagle 300x Explorer, by comparison, measures 9’ 10”, weighs 30 pounds and inflates to 3.2-psi. “That one is more rigid,” explains Stuffle, “It rides lower in the water and absolutely punches through the waves and holes. It has sixteen self-bailing valves which are critical for runs that see continuous whitewater. Without those, you would be paddling a bathtub down the river after the first big hole.”

The beautiful Elwha river has recovered after two of the largest dam removal projects in United States History (see: DamNation, 2014 documentary). These shots are from the Madison Falls access where Stuffle went on to solo run the class IV+ rapid through the old dam site. “

To get the most out of either of these Sea Eagle kayaks, Stuffle cautions it is important to know which flows are safest wherever you go. Try to stay in the big waves and the main flows as much as possible, he suggests. The deepest water will help you avoid a lot of potential hazards like submerges trees, bridge pillars and large boulders. “Don’t take on more than you can handle or enjoy, either,” states Stuffle. “I start to feel pretty wet after 10 miles so I like to keep my kayak ventures less than that, but I have paddled up to 22 miles in my Sea Eagle 330.”

Earlier this year Stuffle camped on the Verde River, a class 3 – 4, Wild and Scenic River in Arizona. “It had plenty of rough passages,” noted Stuffle, “and I chose my 300 Explorer for that trip. It performed great – even though it was packed full of camping gear.”

On the beautiful Elwha River, Stuffle went on a solo run through class IV+ rapids passing though the site of a removed dam. “The 300x Explorer kayak punched every hole and breaker I went into,” he said. “The kayak would fill with water, then drain right away through the 16 self-bailing drain valves. Few people have run this rapid. I’m thrilled Sea Eagle made it possible for me.”

Stuffle also recently kayaked the Elwha, Hoh, and Queets rivers in Olympic Peninsula National Park. “It was so special to kayak through the old Elwha Dam site,” he relates. “This Class IV+ rapid really put me to the test, but the 300X Explorer Kayak was incredibly stable! I took out on the beach and carried the boat to the little Toyota Yaris I rented. What other kayak can you put in a Yaris?” he asked. Stuffle added that Alaska Airlines, Delta, and Allegiant were all really cool about the kayak, too. They let him carry it on as a normal checked bag, no questions asked. If you are taking your Sea Eagle on a flight, he suggests using two bags: one just for the kayak and one for your helmet, lifejacket, paddle and other gear.

Catching a glimpse of local wildlife can be one of the highlights of any kayak adventure and Stuffle has seen some interesting creatures in his travels. In Washington State, he came across numerous beaver and otter, then found king (chinook) salmon staging at the river mouth. Closer to home, on the Mule Shoe, Stuffle has spotted bald eagles, huge mule deer and a big male coati – a raccoon-like animal he said probably weighed over 40 pounds.

Future runs on Stuffle’s wish list include a trip downstream of Big South Fork Gorge on the Tennessee-Kentucky border that offers a 30-mile canoe camping run and some great fishing possibilities. He’d also like to kayak the Grand Canyon, but hasn’t been selected in the yearly drawing for permits.

“I’m looking forward to some family kayaking down the line, too” adds the paddling enthusiast. “My wife is pregnant and we have a young son, so I’m mostly getting out on my own these days. I can’t wait for them to come along.”