Monday, August 23, 2010

Give me the moon, the stars, and a paddle

It’s a great time to go kayaking under the light of a full moon. Warm weather and cloudless nights prevail, at least in the inland valleys of California. Even if you’re paddling in very familiar surroundings, it seems like a totally different experience after dark, as I learned last fall on a full moon paddle at Lake Natoma near Folsom.

My paddling pod took another full moon tour on Natoma last Saturday, and it proved to be a wonderful outing for our regulars and several newcomers. Once you’re out on an expanse of water and away from streetlights, the sky glitters with celestial diamonds. Venus and Mars are among the starring attractions this season.

Here are a few simple tips that I've learned from a couple of  guys named Moon. I kid you not. Who better to lead a nighttime paddle? California kayak tips

First, don’t just check the calendar to plan a full moon paddle. Moon-rise time is also important. Earlier this year, we took a moon paddle and began wondering where the darn thing was before it finally popped up at about 10 p.m. There are many Web sites with lunar information – here’s a link pre-set to Sacramento, but you can search worldwide.

Go out with a group, including someone with night paddling experience. (Check my post from last season for guided full moon tours.) Note that if you're kayaking on your own in a state park, many lock their gates at night. You'll pay a hefty fine to free your car if you ignore the posted closing time.

If at all possible, at least one of your kayaks should be a good-sized sit-on-top. Last summer, I happened to be in such a boat when the wind sprang up and created a nasty chop on the lake. Another paddler flipped at a place where the bank was high and the water deep. The sit-on-top made it much easier to pull him out of the water while his sit-inside yak was righted and bailed out.

Unfortunately, he and I had to share seating on my yak in what might be called a compromising position. But it was better than risking a case of hypothermia in the water. I’m sure my pals will stop ribbing me – eventually. And speaking of the unexpected swim, it’s obviously a good idea to carry a light windbreaker that doesn’t absorb water, and a change of clothes back at your car.

Also remember that sound seems to travel more clearly over water at night. That means that if you go too fast and run aground, everyone else will hear that “crrrrruuuunch.” Or to put it another way, slow down – speeding blindly into low-hanging tree branches, snags, or rocks is no fun.

Finally, lighting. Those battery powered glow-sticks from the home improvement store should be tied to every kayak so that you can keep track of each other. Don’t pack a regular flashlight, buy a headband light that leaves both hands free – it’s well worth the price and also will come in handy around the house and yard, or as a shining cat toy.

Most headband lights now have LED bulbs that last forever and are incredibly bright. Stash it within easy reach before it gets dark, because otherwise, you’ll need a light to find your light. (Duh. Personal experience here.) Another thing – after your kayak outing, when you’re using that bright headlamp to pack up and leave, don’t quickly turn to face someone who speaks to you – though it is kinda funny to watch them stagger around blindly for a few minutes….
© 2010 Glenn Brank