Back in the paddle

by • April 10, 2017 • Feature, HighlightsComments (0)642

As spring blossoms, Boating season beckons

Melissa DeVaughn.

Melissa DeVaughn.

Every time I fly into Kodiak, the sun is shining. I still recall the first time I ever visited this lush, green island with my husband more than 20 years ago. We rounded the bend into town – known at the time by locals as Dead Man’s Curve for the occasional out-of-control accident on its rainy roads – and I sighed. I turned to my husband and said, “I want to live here.”
Andy, who had spent eight years living on the island before we met, laughed out loud.
“It’s not always this way,” he said. “You got lucky.”
Statistics say that Kodiak is indeed one of the more rainy locations in Alaska, but I have yet to experience it. Call it the “luck of the Emerald Isle,” but I’ve been fortunate and so far have yet to experience the sideways, weekslong rain and drizzle that gives the island its lush feel.
The Kodiak Archipelago is also home to one of my favorite kayaking destinations: Shuyak Island, where one can lose oneself in countless paddling opportunities ranging from protected coves to open-water Gulf of Alaska paddle fests. It’s one of dozens of breathtakingly beautiful sea kayaking destinations in Alaska and for me, the best ways to see Alaska.

Rafters enjoy the frothy white water of Six Mile Creek on the Kenai Peninsula. Boating trips are beginning to fill up for the season, as spring draws near. Photo courtesy Chuck Spaulding.

Rafters enjoy the frothy white water of Six Mile Creek on the Kenai Peninsula. Boating trips are beginning to fill up for the season, as spring draws near. Photo courtesy Chuck Spaulding.

Another favorite destination is Kachemak Bay, where I have spent countless weekends with friends and family exploring such favorites as Tutka Bay, Seldovia and Halibut Cove.
“We offer the smorgasbord that is Kachemak Bay,” said Alison O’Hara, owner of True North Kayak Adventures. “It is one of the richest marine life areas in the world and a great place to teach people about the environment, from the seat of a kayak or standing on a paddle board.”
April marks the beginning of boating season for many Alaskans – and visitors as well. Now is the time when boat owners are pulling out their rafts or kayaks and dusting a winter’s worth of buildup off canoes. They are pulling tarps off their sailboats and tuning up the outboards on their skiffs. The air may still be chilly and the lakes and rivers not yet thawed, but we can sense it. Spring is upon us, and in a matter of weeks, it’s time to start exploring beyond the roads and trails of terra firma and dipping our paddles into new adventures.
Chuck Spaulding, who founded Nova River Runners in 1975 says the season’s healthy snowfall will be good for Alaska’s rivers but the volume is less important than the temperatures in late spring, and the speed at which the snowpack melts.
“Last winter the snow was pretty thin but spring was hot, and in May the rivers went berserk,” he said. “And they stayed that way through June. Six Mile Creek on the Kenai Peninsula was so high we couldn’t float it. Once the snow pack melted we got a window, but it was brief.”
The Matanuska and other glacier-fed rivers are less affected by snowpack and come alive later in the summer when glaciers begin to melt. Daily weather changes have more impact of the flow of these rivers once the snow melts.
This year, boaters like Spaulding and O’Hara expect spring conditions will allow world-class boating opportunities. They are among dozens of operators in the southcentral Alaska region who are fielding call already from eager boaters – like me – who are ready to get on the water.

— Melissa DeVaughn, Andy Hall


Paddling primer

Get a Drysuit
Drysuits are expensive, but in Alaska they are worth every penny. Drysuits with booties are a must in Alaska, and high-quality suits will keep you warmer longer. Scrimp on other items, but not your drysuit.

Wool vs. Synthetic underlayer
Our vote is wool. While it might take longer to dry out, it will keep you warmer if it gets wet.

Extra layers
Pack a small dry bag with extra layers just in case you take a dunk.

File a trip plan
This is the oldest advice in the book but can literally save your life. Let someone know where you are going, when you plan to be back and when they should raise an alarm if you have not yet returned.

Steer clear
When kayaking or in other high-traffic areas, do not impede boats larger than you. Often, they may not even see you.

Tricky weather
A calm lake can turn nasty quickly. Watch the weather and know that on lakes, small waves in the morning and early afternoon can become large waves and white caps in just an hour or two.

Gotta go?
Do your business at least 200 feet from any body of water, and pack out waste if traveling in overly sensitive habitats.

Need we really say this?
Wear a life vest or other personal flotation device. Just do it.

— Sources: American Canoe Association, National Park Service

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