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Bob Laney

On an Indian summer warm day on October 29, Janet with her golden retriever Gracie and I paddled our canoe and kayak in Martin Marietta Park. We went from the canal to Goose Creek, and then on to the Neuse River. This was my second trip onto the Neuse River and in times past I have been intimidated by the suspected current. As I am learning, this close to the coast, the Neuse has little current and is no trouble to navigate.

While Janet and I paddled our boats, Gracie swam the whole way. I am surprised by her strength and endurance. We went for several miles going out and then coming back to the same put in. In the pictures you can see a short video of Gracie swimming between our boats.

Janet and I are having a good time paddling together and it is nice practice for me to get used to my re-outfitted canoe and my upgraded kayak. A good time was had by all.

A couple of weeks earlier, Janet, her golden retriever Gracie and I had paddled Rice Creek near Wilmington, NC, going upstream first, as we are taught to do for safer logistics.  That way, we can return to the takeout with the current in our favor. Then we don’t have to be concerned about the current being too strong to paddle back. On October 21 we decided to go there again and paddle down-stream first.  We had discovered before that the current is so mild as to be negligible.

The weather was warm and clear, with a few drifting clouds and less wind than before. Janet provided Gracie with a nice new dog PFD (life jacket).  The jacket’s usefulness was a tradeoff.  It gave Gracie more flotation, which was safer if she got tired and had to rest in the water.  But it also caused a drag in the water and hindered her forward progress, making her tired sooner.  Janet elected to leave the jacket on for the trip.  

The black water was getting a little cooler on each weekly trip as the fall season progressed. Fortunately, neither of us boaters fell in. Gracie relished the water.  She never stayed still on the bank. Even after swimming with us for several miles, when we returned to the takeout, she joined us on the shore and then jumped right back into the creek to cavort some more.  

Each outing I am getting a little more used to paddling and staying stable in my sleek sea-going kayak. I am working on building up my torso muscles so as not to get sore while sitting in this stilted position for the entire trip. Each outing Janet shows what a natural athlete, comfortable outdoors person and water sprite she is. A good time was had by all.

On the pleasant warm and sunny Sunday afternoon of October 8, Janet and I and her golden retriever Gracie went paddling near New Bern, in Craven County, on the Neuse River, from the Spring Garden landing maintained by the NC Wildlife Resources Commission.  Gracie loves the water and is prone to jump into the river from any position when the notion grabs her. When she gets in the water, she is too big and heavy to get back into a boat. So, Jan and I did not put her in one of our boats. For the trip she either swam near us or climbed onto the bank and ran along the shore. We paddled several miles. Gracie kept up the whole time but apparently got tired occasionally and would go to the bank to rest.

Janet and I have a predilection for paddling, so most times when we visit each other in New Bern or Wilmington we go kayaking and canoeing. I have a nice kayak, but lately, I have been training for my next big trip on the Black River through the Three Sisters swamp. I will take my canoe on that trip, so lately I have been using my canoe to practice.

Janet is an athletic and strong paddler. I have probably paddled many more times than her; for a greater number of miles on the water; in more precarious and wilderness situations; with bigger loads of multi-day camping gear. So, at one point, she challenged me to a race! She won! I protested the results because during the race we were facing a strong headwind which put me at a disadvantage. She was in a kayak which is low to the water and has little wind resistance. I was in a canoe which sits higher in the water and has to work harder to get through the wind. I appealed to the rules committee, but my request for a new race was denied.

This trip was both of our first paddles on the Neuse River, which is the biggest watercourse in the Craven County area. At first, I was concerned that there would be a strong current and we would have a difficult time keeping our balance. It turned out this issue was not a concern. The current was so mild that we could only casually feel it, so we had no trouble paddling upstream against the current to begin the trip. A bigger issue was that the wind was stronger than the current. Several times on the return trip back to the put-in we had to paddle harder to get downstream.

It was a good trip, good practice in our boats, great to be outdoors in the sunny weather and on the water, and a good athletic workout for all three of us.  A good time was had by all.

On the beautiful, warm, sunny early fall afternoon of Saturday, September 30, Jan and I drove to Rice Creek near Wilmington NC.  We put in the water at the NC Wildlife Commission boat ramp for Rice Creek. The creek borders and wends through a swamp. We encountered only one tree that had turned to bright red fall colors. The blackwater was flat and calm, with just a little bit of wind ripples. This trip was the first time Jan and I had paddled together other than on a lake in New Bern, NC.

I paddled my canoe in solo configuration, with four airbags strapped in, while Jan paddled her solo recreational kayak. We were both comfortable with our boats and competent on the water. Along the way, we encountered several lily pad ponds with a few bright, yellow flowers. We did not see another person on the water. There were a few other small groups at the wildlife ramp, but none had paddle boats. They were all motorboats going downstream for fishing. We went upstream where the Creek is narrower and goes through the swamp. I used my Garmin Montana 750i GPS for practice and it worked fine. I was able to follow the route back to the takeout.

The trip was good practice for our paddling, and we had a fun time.

On September 22, 2023, Craven and Carteret Counties were in a tropical storm. It was not quite a hurricane, but there were strong winds and heavy rains. It was not the most conducive weather for hiking, but I had cabin fever from enduring too many months of forced indoor recuperation. I got all layered up with a waterproof outfit, including heavy leather boots, rain pants, a raincoat, a waxed canvas waterproof cap, and a hood.  Fortunately, the weather was cloudy and cool, so it was not too hot under all those layers.

I went hiking solo at Flanner’s Beach recreation area on the northeast side of Croatan National Forest, adjacent to the Neuse River.  The forest was, of course, soaking wet, with the wind whipping around some of the open areas.  The Neuse had bigger and faster waves than I have ever seen on this river. I was glad to be standing on the land.

I had plans to do some boating in a couple of days, so I left the kayak on top of the Jeep.  When I crossed the high bridge over the New Bern Harbor, my vehicle was exposed to the broad side blast of the full wind.  It pushed my kayak off the roof rack saddles and onto the downwind side of the roof.  Luckily, I had the boat strapped down tight enough that it did not come soaring off the roof and onto the road.

For the last week, September 14 through 20, Jan and I  engaged in multiple paddle logistics activities.  After one and a half years in New Bern and trading five boats, I have settled on a 15-foot solo/tandem canoe; and a 16.5-foot ocean-going kayak. Both can carry enough gear for multi-day and over nights trips.  I can’t remember buying a piece of outdoor equipment, or taking it on a trip, whether paddling, backpacking or whatever, that did not need some kind of renovation or repair.  Last week started with my kayak.

Due to my enduring 12 straight months of pain and disability from hip arthritis, hip replacement surgery, pulled back muscles, many months of recuperation and now narrowed discs with a  pinched nerve and sciatica down my right leg, I have let my body atrophy and my equipment deteriorate.  To give my back more support, I glued a thick foam rubber yoga block [yes, Paul,  I  finally got some permanent use from this gear] to the back of the kayak seat.  It was a tedious job with multiple measurements and many jumps into and out of the boat to test the fit. Besides supporting my back, I found the foam pad pushed my body forward in the cockpit, which makes my feet and thighs flit better in the cockpit and locks me into the boat for better security and stability.,  I still need have to another inch or so of foam block glued into the forward bulkhead to make my feet fit even tighter. My paddling and outfitting friend Bill Webb, who sold me this sleek boat, will hopefully help me with this project.

Next, I had a Dagger canoe for about 25 years which suited me perfectly.  It had three seats for solo and tandem paddling. I had put years of effort into adding outfitting, including painters (bow and stern ropes) exactly measured to tie onto the top of my vehicle; about a dozen D-rings glued to the bottom to tie in gear, two float bags, two waterproof storage bags, and more.  It had beautiful wooden decks, handles, gunnels, thwarts and seats.  The hull was made of old-style Royalex material, which is tough as nails, but somewhat heavy. 

In recognition of my ever-weakening 71-year-old body, and in an effort to save weight, last year I sold the Dagger to a friend in Wilmington I met on Blue Ridge Outings.  I replaced it with an identical size Esquif canoe from Canada, made with newer plastic hull material that was 10 pounds lighter. After a year I started suffering from seller’s remorse.  The new boat was efficient but lacked character. It did not have a center solo seat, lacked wood fixtures and looked “too new” to suit my character on the river.  So, last week I bought back my old Dagger canoe.  I am just going to put up with the extra 10 pounds.  Now I have the newer, lighter, Esquif canoe for sale at a discount price.  

I set about renovating the Dagger outfitting.  I added parachute cord to the bow and stern gunnels to help hold in the floatation bags.  The cord was uncooperative in that the sheath was not attached to the core so it would not push through the tiny holes I had drilled in the hull below the gunnels. I had to use a lot of my prior outfitting experience to melt the cord ends just enough to fuse the components, but not too much, and make a “mushroom” shaped top that was too large to fit through the holes. Each cord end had to be cut, melted three times, and whipped around in the air between each melting to narrow and sharpen the end.

Then I retrofitted four straps on my kayak deck bag so it could be attached and removed as needed. The deck back was badly designed at the factory so that when it is attached to a boat, it cannot be removed. I needed to remove it while carrying the boat on my roof racks, and when storing it in my shed. 

After that project, I retrofitted three straps on my canoe thwart bag so a water bilge pump can be attached and carried while paddling.  The thwart bag was badly designed at the factory so that the buckles were attached backward.

Over several days Jan and I took four trips to the large Craven County Martin Marietta park with a lake, a creek and multiple paddle boat launch sites with ramps, rollers and docks. We paddled once the week before with both of us in the canoe, with which she was not comfortable.  This week she brought her own kayak and went paddling with her dog Gracie paddling along beside several times in the lake.

The picture of the two kayak paddles shows on the left a European-style blade, which most Americans use.  On the right is a Greenland (Eskimo) slype blade, which many of the older and more experienced paddlers in New Bern use. The Greenland paddle enters, flows through and exits the water more smoothly.  It feels less jerky and more stable.  I recently obtained the Greenland paddle from Bill, and I prefer it.

Finally, during one of these trips, the glue from two D-rings in my 25-year-old Dagger canoe gave up the ghost and pulled free. Now I have another project to glue those rings back in.

On the warm day of June 24, 2023, I accompanied the Twin Rivers Paddle Club, of which I am a member, on a leisurely paddle trip on Swift Creek near Cool Springs, NC.  The weather was alternately sunny and high clouds.  We put in at the NC Wildlife Resources Commission Cool Springs boat ramp. This trip was my first in my new sea-going kayak when I went from point A to point B.  The trip was pleasant and full of camaraderie with fellow members, and encouraging advice from the expert leaders Greg Blanchard, Bill Webb, and Terry Rich.  We had views of Spanish moss-covered woods and saw right many birds and jumping fish. 

My experiences on the trip had three main features.  The first was getting familiar with my sleek, long, narrow, fast, and technically difficult NIgel Dennis Romney Excel kayak.  I only recently learned how to brace my feet against the forward bulkhead, my thighs against the cockpit combing, and my butt against the sea back.  When locked in like this, I found the boat to be considerably more stable and sea-worthy.  I was also testing an Eskimo Greenland-style paddle which is narrower and sleeker than a modern bladed paddle.  A Greenland paddle provides for a smoother and less jarring entry and exit to the water which is more stable. It also is more useful when doing emergency boat exit self-rescues.  I took to the paddle like a duck to water and instantly liked it.  Later in the trip when I traded my paddle with Bill in return for comparing his modern bladed paddle, I strongly preferred the Greenland. 

The second experience was that after suffering six months without any significant exercise, due to three months of pain before my hip joint replacement surgery this past March, followed by three months of physical therapy and recuperation, my body was in weak physiological condition. Within 15 minutes my thigh, abdominal, shoulder, and lower back muscles were in unbearable pain.  The rest of the trip was a suffering fest trying to paddle back to the takeout ramp.  When I finally arrived at the ramp, my triceps muscles were too weak to do a back-side push-up and gracefully get out of the boat.  My only choice was to roll over and fall out of the boat into the water.  No harm, but not good form and embarrassing. 

The third experience is that for several decades I have been working with increasingly complex electronic devices to help me navigate.  My current GPS is a Garmin Montana 750i.  As far as I know, it is the most comprehensive outdoor sports GPS on the planet.  It has hundreds of functions and will do nearly everything but cook breakfast.  For about a year I have been struggling with making it show me the location of my trip with latitude and longitude numbers after the trip is over and I have gone back home.  Then, I can plug these numbers into my computer and publish them on my Blue Ridge Outings web site.  This feature shows in the published article the location on an Internet map where we went.  The reader can click on a button to a hyperlink showing the surrounding forests, creeks, marshes, roads, and anything else nearby.  This morning I finally hit pay dirt.  I was able to program all the features to function together and show the real-time location to a reader, which am adding to this article here.  

A good time was had by all. 

Fishing on Brice Creek

Notice the caption does not say “catching.” Those are two different things. Also, the photographs do not show fish flopping on the dock. That’s because I had no clue what I was doing.

On the warm, sunny afternoon of May 18, I went fishing in Brice Creek at the dock on the back side of Creek Side County Park. This was my first-time fishing in a couple of years; and the first time at the coast in about 30 years; and the first time on a coastal creek ever. The closest I came to touching a fish was three times I felt a very light tap on my line. Before I could set the hook the fish were gone. When I reeled in the lure, I found the rascals had stolen my bait.

I was using live night crawler worms on a large circle hook with a 10-pound test nylon line and a medium weight pinched on about two feet above the hook. The problem was that there are hundreds of factors that could be affecting the fish biting, including where to cast in the creek, sunshine, my shadow on the water, underwater structure, spawning, wind direction and force, time of day, season, water temperature, kind of bait - live or artificial, size of hook, how the worms were hooked, how fast or slow I retrieved, and on and on. I did not know what to do about any of these factors.

Fortunately, I have several nice New Bern lady friends who are coastal fishing experts. They have agreed to guide me on a couple of fishing trips so I can learn some of the ropes. To quote the Terminator, “I’ll be back.”

On May 14 in warm temperatures, but under a cloudy and rain-threatening sky, I engaged in another paddling trip in my sit-on-top kayak. I put in the water at the dock behind the Town of New Bern Recreation Department office beside Lawson Park. My trip took me down Lawson Creek to where it empties into the Trent River at the downtown waterfront of old, historic New Bern. I was paddling solo without a partner, which is a bad habit that I need to break.

My last ten or so paddles in my canoe, sea-going kayak and my sit-on-top kayak have all featured the same uneasy feeling that my boats were too tippy, and I was unstable. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I have concluded that the problem is not the boats, but me. As I have gotten older, I have naturally lost some of my athletic ability to balance. This trip included serendipity! I made the happy discovery of a way to get more stable.

Most times when I am paddling my balance points in the boat are my two butt cheeks on the seat. These two points are not sufficient to be fully attached to the boat. I have other body parts touching the boat, like my feet on the hull and my back on the top of the seat, but those points of contact were not solidly wedged in. On this trip, thanks to the wonderfully tall, sturdy, and supportive seat, I found that I could push my back into the seat more firmly; push my feet into the foot braces more firmly; push my outer thighs against the gunnels, and firmly wedge myself in. Thus, I have 7 points of contact instead of only 2. The benefits are several.

By being tightly attached to the boat, I can feel more quickly and accurately what the hull is doing. If the boat is starting to roll, I am there in the roll and working with it in real-time, instead of reacting to it and trying to correct my position a second or two late. Also, when the boat starts to roll, it takes my body with it, instead of rolling out from under me. That gives the boat more negative momentum and slows and shortens the rolling motion.

Even better, during my prior paddles, holding onto one “best” position was tiring and made my back, hip, and thing muscles sore. Being locked into the boat today, to the contrary, felt comfortable and comforting. I could keep up a steady paddling pace for a longer time.

This trip of 3 miles was my longest one since I moved to New Bern. I hope to soon paddle from Hammocks Beach State Park to Bear Island, and back, which will be about 6 miles. It was a wonderful day. Now I need to find some regular paddle partners.

Today, May 13, was warm. But working in the bright sunshine, wearing a neoprene wet suit in case I fell in the cool river, loading and unloading my 45-pound boat from the Jeep roof racks, configuring equipment, and hand hauling the boat to the dock launch, it was mighty dang hot. For the rest of the warm season (late spring, summer, and early fall) I am swearing off neoprene clothes in favor of polypropylene underwear and nylon short pants and shirt.

I put in Goose Creek, at the dock in Martin Marietta Municipal Park, and paddled downstream through the edge of the swamp and towards the Neuse River. Today was my first trip with a Pelican 10-foot-long sit-on-top kayak. It is 32 inches wide, which is 10 inches wider than my 22-inch Romany Excel sea-going kayak. But it is still 3 inches narrower than my broad-based canoe. The SoT kayak also had a sharper, narrow entry and exit shape at the water line, which made it track straight ahead better than the canoe. But its 7-foot shorter length makes the SoT track less well than the ocean-going kayak. . Oddly, despite large differences in the three boats’ widths, I could not discern much more stability from one to the other. I am guessing that the reason I mostly feel tippy and unsure of my balance all the time in all the boats is my advancing age and reduction in athletic balance. However, the more I paddle, then the better I feel.

The SoT kayak seat is a major positive revelation. It is made of open-weave nylon mesh on a sturdy, metal folding frame that is affirmatively attached to the hull. And the foot pedals are just right my size. It is far and away the most comfortable boat in which I have sat.

The wind was at my back pushing me downstream, which meant it was against me when I paddled upriver to take-out at the dock. I kept at it and pulled the paddle with my abdominal muscles instead of my arm and shoulder muscles to keep from getting tired. All’s well that ends well. A good time was had.

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