How To Cruise with Kayaks
Take along a small boat that you can paddle into thin waters. You’ll be glad you did. Hands-On Sailor: Living Aboard from our December 2012 issue.
Unfortunately, kayaks are out of the water more than in, so you need to think about launching and retrieving and onboard storage. When it comes to stowage, there are several options. We carry our two aforementioned 9-footers on Winterlude, our Passport 37. They nestle nicely in stainless-steel cradles affixed to the forward lifeline stanchions; the “swinging” cradles allow mounting inside or outside the lifelines. When at anchor in a blow, to reduce windage we take the boats out of the cradles and lash them to the handrails on the cabin top.
Because our side decks are narrow and we carry our dinghy on the foredeck, when under way, we usually stow the kayaks outside the lifelines. Yes, we realize that they could be swept off by a wicked wave, but after 10 years and almost 10,000 nautical miles, it hasn’t happened yet. Other sailors lash their kayaks to the cabin top, secure them above the bimini hardtop, or even make them fast to their dinghy davits. It really depends on the characteristics and layout of your particular boat.
Whichever way you go, you won’t regret bringing along kayaks on your cruise. From exercise to exploring, they can’t be beat.
Paddle with a buddy boat whenever possible. If there’s no one available and you want to paddle, make sure someone knows where you’re going and when you expect to be back. Carry along a handheld waterproof VHF radio.
Practice getting in and out of your kayak. Try different entry points from your boat until you discover the one that’s easiest for you. We used to slide into the kayaks from our dinghy until we discovered it’s almost as easy to step down from our wide rubrail directly into the kayak when it’s secured to the boat on a long painter. I steady it for a moment, then lower myself into place. I leave the paddle on the deck of our boat but within reach until I’m lowered in and can grab it.
Once aboard, sit quietly in the kayak and let the current or wind take you to determine if there are significant amounts of one or the other and which way it’s pushing you. Always paddle upcurrent or upwind first as a test to determine how difficult it might be to get back. Last winter, in the Little Shark River in Everglades National Park, the current was fierce, but I really wanted to go for a late-afternoon paddle. I tested conditions three different times until I felt comfortable that I could get back upcurrent to the boat.
Wear or have a life jacket within easy reach in case you need it. If you’re new to paddling, you should probably always wear your life jacket until you gain confidence getting in and out of the boat.
Before it actually happens, practice falling out of the boat. Paddle to a calm beach and deliberately capsize. See if you can get back in. Then do it again in water just over your head. I can get back in my kayak from deep water by placing the paddle at a 90-degree angle to the kayak and using it to help pull myself in. Depending on your boat and on your skill levels, everyone will have a different technique, so learn yours.
Always take water shoes or flip-flops: You never know when you might want to hop out and pull the kayak ashore for a look around, perhaps on a rough shoreline. We actually think Crocs are ideal; they float, aren’t smelly, and don’t cost an arm and a leg should we lose one overboard.