For more than a year, each weeknight, I would join my friends Lew and Dale for a paddling trip when the weather permitted. We explored many places new to me, seeing manatees, dolphins and birds too numerous to count on every trip. Once, while paddling in the barge canal between the Indian River Lagoon and the Banana River, we were joined by an alligator. Having your hand in the water when a manatee brushes by is one thing. When we saw that alligator, we kept out hands in the boats.
With each trip my skills improved and I learned more from them. All in my fat, short plastic kayak. My arms were growing stronger.
One day they decided to spend the day on the St Johns River. Dale offered to bring one of his non-rotomolded kayaks for me to try.
We put in at Lone Cabbage Fish Camp and paddled north. I had never been in the St. Johns River in a kayak. What a wonderful experience! It was a maze of twisty waterways between tall grasses. Sitting low in a kayak gives you a much different perspective than aboard a boat.
We could hear boats off in the distance, but we couldn’t see then until they were nearby. All of them were curious about us, slowing down and waving as they went by. They were out for a day of fishing, sharing nature from a different perspective.
Using Dale’s kayak was like stepping from a VW Beetle into a sleek sports car. And I was ready for the upgrade. I started watching Craigslist carefully. Having been recently let go from my long career at Kennedy Space Center, I was watching my pennies. For the first time in over 33 years, I was not receiving a weekly paycheck.
Digging through Craigslist, I felt like a kid in a candy store. There were several dozen kayaks for sale, and more than a few that would fit my needs. But there was something that looking at all these colorful boats triggered in my mind. I started thinking – didn’t I buy one of these years ago? I didn’t remember seeing it in a long time. Had I sold it or traded it for something else?
Many years before I built a giant garage in the back of my home. Sure enough, tucked deep in this building, amid more stuff that any one person should have, was a filthy kayak. The dust and grime was so heavy on it that it almost left a ring where I washed it off.
What I had bought all those years ago was an Aquaterra Chinook. The best I can recall was that I bought it used from a kayak shop in South Florida on my way home from a Scouting weekend. That would put it no newer than the mid-1990s. I only used it a couple of years before hiding it away. Being kept out of the sun, the decals and plastic still looked new.
So with no new money out of pocket, I was ready to surprise Lew and Dale on our next trip.