“Really babe, sunrise!?” Kaleigh gave me THAT look as we were making dinner the night before our Casco Bay kayaking excursion. I looked up from my phone where I had just been reading someone’s post about HOW worth it their sunrise adventure had been.
I watched the sunrise almost every morning of college from the narrow confines of University of Vermont’s women’s varsity rowing shell. I knew the freckles, sweat and muscle definition of the girl sitting in front of me better than I knew the answers to my college exams. I picked up knitting again to stay awake in class and almost grew to resent people who got up for sunrise adventures simply for fun.
Oru Kayak got me back in a boat for the first time since college. Sure I’ve dabbled with lake kayaking and sea kayaking but never fun kayaking - the kind you can’t wait for.
An Environmental Studies major at UVM when we met, my partner Kaleigh is passionate about the environment, protecting it from humans in all forms: climate change, oil spills, negligent campers… all of it. With a dream of being a park ranger some day and a desire to serve her country, Kaleigh took her college education as well as a love for the outdoors and spent the past three years trying to get into the U.S. Coast Guard Officer Candidate School. Well, she did it and heads out in two weeks for over four months of school. As a last hoorah we set off for a simple breakfast outing with enough gear to survive a night on an island in Portland’s Casco Bay.
We were seeking an adventure that was only slightly outside of our comfort zones - an overnight in home state of Maine. Short enough to allow for digital unplugging and long enough to enjoy being present with both each other and ourselves.
Our plan was to sunrise kayak from East End Beach to Fort Gorges for breakfast.
Well, rewinding a little bit, first our plan was to go on a multi day kayak camping trip but the Oru Beach Kayak doesn't have a spray skirt and we’re pretty new to this whole kayaking thing so... we opted for something tamer. And, as Kaleigh has said before, “I am not getting into a situation where I might need to call the coast guard”. So, instead, we picked the most attainable, yet cool, and opted for an easy yet rigorous kayak adventure in Casco Bay.
Sunrise came and went and the bay was still covered with such thick fog that I wanted to start humming the theme song to Pirates of the Caribbean. But Kaleigh was adamant we not enter a busy harbor when we in our white boats would be the last thing to be spotted. So we waited.
As soon as the fog was clear enough we could begin to see the fort above the mist and we started to paddle across the bay. A good gauge that you are on the edge of type two fun is if your chest feels a smidge tight or you find you are holding your breath a little bit. So, I started to sing in my head, as I always tend to do when I’m doing something that scares me. Kaleigh paddled ahead of me a bit quicker in her Bay Kayak and the fog parted as we paddled through. I couldn’t help but gaze agape as the Fort rose out of the mist. I felt like a little kid conquering a new part of the playground as we paddled up on shore and pulled our kayaks into the middle of the fort for our morning feast.
We pulled out our breakfast picnic - homemade yogurt with Granny Oats granola and hand-picked strawberries, coffee and tea. After we licked the last bit of strawberry juice from our lips and swallowed the final dregs of caffeine, we explored the second and third floors of the Fort, waved hello to a massive cruise ship entering Portland harbor and caught a glimpse of one of the South Portland USCG response boats out training. Finally, we collected and packed up our belongings to head back to the mainland before the wind picked up.
From our cozy breakfast spot inside the Fort we didn’t realize how much the wind had picked up until we set off. I was reaching the limit of my comfort zone as I paddled harder and harder against the waves and boat wakes, my arms shaking from both fear and fatigue. Kaleigh kept talking to me through it as I paddled. We got pretty lucky that morning but it doesn’t take a lot for a situation to go from good to dreadful on the water and kayaks aren’t always the best place to test your limits. In all, however, we braved the waters pretty well.
Other tips for not needing to call the Coast Guard when paddling in the ocean I’ve gleaned from other Oru Kayak ambassadors, life experience and the USCG:
-Always kayak with a pal or two
-Have a waterproof radio and know how to use it
- Understand who has the right of way
-Pack an extra paddle, first aid kit, etc.
-Wear a PFD
-Understand the tides and water charts of the area where you are paddling
-Pay close and careful attention to the weather and radar
-Whether you capsize or don't feel like paddling anymore, never leave your boat behind. Stray boats are one of the most common causes of lengthy USCG Search and Rescue missions. If something does happen that separates you from your boat. call your local authorities