Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Merry Christmas

 What a great Christmas tree!  Throw a few PFD's under it and you're all set for the holidays!

  This tree decorates the Old Town Canoe Factory Outlet (part of Johnson Outdoors) in Old Town, Me.   It's a great place to visit if you're in the area.

  Today, after three days of on and off icing/snow/rain we still have power!  I'm especially grateful today to the various work crews that keep roads clear and power flowing. I wish them well as they continue to restore electricity to  households affected by the recent storm.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Swan boats on Lake Eola, Orlando

   In September 2012, I was skunked in my attempt to ride a swan boat on Bainbridge Island, Washington. So when I happened on a description of Lake Eola and its swan boats, I knew we'd be headed there.

   We drove up to Lake Eola after arriving in Orlando. Our hotel was south of the city, while Lake Eola is at city center, just up Interstate 4. We planned for a pleasant twilight paddle. Unfortunately, we hadn't allowed for traffic. Rush hour is not really a thing Bangor Maine has (though there are occasional construction delays.) But apparently, in Orlando Florida, there is as much traffic heading into the city during the evening rush hour as there was headed out. It was a long slow slog to the lake, moving a few feet at a time.
Swans await their steads
   When we arrived, there was a parking space right beside the rental, which is by the intersection of Rosalind Avenue and Robinson St. . Swan boat (pedal) and Gondola (motor) boat rentals rent by the half hour, which is enough time to do a couple of lake laps and pretty much as long as anyone wants to pedal a swan boat. The boats are well maintained, but only go at one speed, slow and steady.

   Lake Eola  Park has graced Orlando center since the late 1800's. The path around the lake is just under a mile long. There's a lovely lit fountain in the center, some smaller fountains on the far side, and sculpture scattered around the shore.

    It was pleasant paddling under the moonlight, but I did miss being able to identify birds and other wildlife. Fortunately this black swan posed for us.  Ideally this would be a twilight into evening activity, followed by a dinner at a nearby restaurant, you just need to plan for traffic (or route yourself on smaller roads.)

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Homosassa River, Florida: Monkees, Manatees and Monitors

Just above Homosassa Springs State Park
 Homosassa River is another bay/river/spring which has been carved into canals creating thousands of waterfront lots.  But there are still large stretches of undeveloped land along the water.  Riversport Kayak is a great place to rent kayaks to explore that water. 

   Riversport Kayak is located inside the Homosassa Riverside Resort and is right on a canal, with its own launch site.  Bring your own kayak and you can launch there for free.  Mark rented a Wilderness Systems Pungo 140 and  I rented a Wilderness Systems Tsunami 145.

   Canals and river branches all tend to look similar, but there is a great landmark for the Homosassa Riverside Resort canal - Monkey Island.  Monkey Island started life as a pile of rocks which occasionally gave unsuspecting boaters an unpleasant experience.  In the 1960's the pile was built up to make it more visible.  Mr. Furgason, a local developer, added a lighthouse to the barren island.  Later, he decided it would be the perfect home for his monkeys.
  Apparently, Mr. Furgason kept monkeys on some of his land as an attraction, but they were often in trouble, escaping and attacking tourists.  Originally, he moved three spider monkeys and two squirrel monkeys to the island.  Those monkeys have long since gone to their final reward, and the island is currently the residence of  five spider monkeys.  Their fear of water keeps them confined to the island.

  Every time I pass by Monkey Island I'm amazed that the monkeys remain there.  Look how close those keep-away buoys are to the island.  And the cedar trees have branches that lean out over the water.  It seems like it would be an overwhelming temptation for a spider monkey to leap from the tree to a passing boat, but I guess they don't and no boat ever gets too close. ( I never test the theory, because having a terrified toothed creature on a kayak with me seems like a pretty bad idea, but surely someone else is more foolish than me...)

  Anyway further along the river, by a tiny canal, is a sign for Manatee Pub.  It's nice to see that the manatees have a quiet place to gather.

  And just a few miles up river from Monkey Island is the outlet from Homosassa Spring, which comes directly from Homosassa Springs State Wildlife Park.  There, in the warm out-flowing water, wild manatee gather.  Overseeing them and protecting them are a crew of volunteer monitors in kayaks.  On the day we were there, about a dozen manatee stretched across the river - guarded by three alert volunteers in kayaks who approached us and instructed us on good manatee etiquette.
A collection of manatee outside the park
   Homosassa Springs State Wildlife Park is a really sweet park containing a small zoo with only native Florida wildlife, (including a hippopotamus, who was declared an honorary Florida native.)  It hosts the biggest manatees you've ever seen, flocks of birds, an aviary, and much more.  And it's a great place to get wildlife closeups.

   The park attracts flocks of volunteers, some of whom work in the gift store, or at the education center, and others who sit in their kayaks and make sure wild manatee are not disturbed. 

   We talked to several kayak volunteers;  watched as one scooped up garbage flowing by ("Bud fish," he called them), learned one was from Mark's hometown, but did we take any pictures?  I guess not.

   The outlet from the state park spring is fenced off, but the river continues on a short way, under a bridge and into a quiet neighborhood.  That's where we spotted this alligator snapper, nicely outlined against the algae.

   We also followed a few canals along the trip, exploring these quiet passages.

Then it was back to talk to Don at Riversports.

  If you enjoy tales of wildlife, Don is great person to talk with.  When we arrived he was chasing vultures away from a trash bin, which had accidentally been left open.  He chased the big birds off, not because they were unsightly, but because things in the bin, like plastic with food on it, injure the birds.  Don helps with the care of the monkeys on Monkey island - he mans the squirt guns which keep the monkeys under control when the veterinarian visits.   He has an armadillo named Tank who lives under his porch and has had adventures with almost every type of animal in Florida.  And for good measure, his wife helps with the bears at the wildlife state park. 


Friday, November 29, 2013

Updates from King's Bay, Crystal River, Florida

 After our experiment at Wekiwa Springs, we decided to head to Crystal River where a keen demand for rental kayaks results in better boats being available.  Specifically, we went to King's Bay, where manatees, wildlife, and fish compete with people who love to kayak, boat, paddleboard, swim, scuba and dive with manatees, wildlife, and fish.

  In the morning we rented  from Crystal River Kayak.  They offer several types of sit-insides, sit-on-tops and canoes for rent.  We used the Delta 14's, which are a nice size for the bay.  

   Before renting we were required to watch a Florida Fish and Wildlife video about interacting with manatees.  It encouraged passive observation, and documented all sorts of inappropriate interactions.

  There are several seasonal manatee protection areas in Kings Bay; near Buzzard Island, Banana Island and Warden Key, as well as some spring areas.  It has been clarified that seasons are dictated by Gulf of Mexico water temperature and not specific calendar dates.

  King's Bay, has inlets, canals and springs and an abundance of wildlife, which makes every paddle there interesting.  The undeveloped islands are all sanctuaries, but there is the manatee observation platform, as well as parks and launches along the shoreline where you can land.  And though much of the shore is developed, there are undeveloped sections.
a wood stork wandering through the marsh

  I love Three Sister's Springs, though the recent addition of a boardwalk around it does make it a little less magical.
heading into Three Sisters Springs
  Only one non-bridged island has a residence on it; Christmas Island.  The house was built in 1960 of bricks taken from an old railroad station in Lakeland.   I'm not sure how much use the house has, but it serves as a terrific bird sanctuary.

Dock at Christmas Island
  We saw many, many black vultures in many,  many places:  acting as a welcome to this tour location.
     working with cormorants to festoon a wonderful Christmas-shaped-tree.
      We also saw manatee,

     other birds (Coots, ibis, osprey, gulls, wood storks) and  fish in abundance.

  A new sighting this year was a skate, who unfortunately did not pose for a photo..

  In the afternoon we rented paddle boards from Bird's Underwater.   These were rotomolded plastic boards, with separate narrow fins.  On a quiet day, King's Bay is an enjoyable place for paddleboards, primarily because the water is calm enough to enjoy the board and, the water's clear enough, with enough creatures in it, that we benefited from the improved view.
Mark snapped a picture of the Traverse paddleboard, from Emotion Kayaks

A pamplet showing the manatee sactuaries (off limits areas) in the bay
A paddle blog with links to launches from selected areas in Ohio, Florida, Tennessee Pennsylvania, etc  kayak2u
Our 2012 Paddle, ( includes kayak rental links and google map.)    A 2010 Paddle
A 1985 article about Christmas Island being available to rent

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Wekiwa Springs State Park, Apopka, Florida

The nicest part of Wekiwa Springs is the spring.  Most springs I've seen in Florida bubble up from a deep round basin.  Wekiwa Springs comes from a crevice, about four feet wide, twenty feet long which sits in  four feet of water.  You can stand at the edge, or more likely swim, as the surfaces are algae covered and quite slippery,  staring into the deep abyss as crystal clear 72 degree (F) water rushes by you.  Forty-two million gallons a day run from the spring.
   In the pool by the spring, you can snorkel about, watching turtles and fish.
    It's nice that the spring is so lovely, because the kayaks there are wretched.  I don't say this lightly.  I don't expect there to be anything but recreation kayaks for these small rivers.  I'm not only willing to paddle recreation kayaks, (in the right waters)  I own one, a Keowee Aquaterra.  It's a wonderful little boat, ideal for poking into coves, especially with a toddler in the front seat.  It's also useful for those who want a really stable boat.
   Sit on tops are a different story.  The sort of sit-on-tops that rental places offer are mostly heavy rafts, good as a sunning and swimming platform but not much more.  Wekiwa Springs concessions offers both uncomfortable sit-on-tops and lousy sit-insides.
   Their sit-inside kayak is an Old Town Otter without foot pedals.  With no place to brace my feet I had two choices, brace awkwardly at the knee and feel my feet go numb, or slump backwards and paddle in the lounging position.
Knees locked against the side I'm plowing along, but not really rotating well
    Not helping was their four pound kayak paddle, a metal shaft surrounded in rubber with plastic blades at the end.  It might be ideal for fending off the errant Burmese Python, but much less effective for paddling.
   The river itself was nice enough, with the requisite turtles, ergets and herons.  But it was scarcely compensation for dealing with the gear.   It was a busy river, we could look enviously at the youth group whose leaders were comfortably ensconced in Wilderness Systems Pungos, and be entertained by the other paddlers from the park, who, wisely had elected to rent canoes.
    A pair of canoes paddled past us when we stopped to take pictures.  Careening from side to side, they didn't manage to overturn, but were obviously having an adventure..
   Another trio, all in one canoe, was preparing for an upcoming 72 hour race.  They were vague on the details of the race, but very enthusiastic.  They were using real kayak paddles, which they must have brought from home.  The woman in the center proudly announced this was her first attempt at paddling.
   We also met a paddleboarder who does the trip from Wekiva Island (another launch) to Rock Springs regularly, and thinks of it as one of his favorite runs. (He uses his own board.)
   We didn't go very far; Sandy Huff in Paddler's Guide to the Sunshine State, calls the Wekiwa River one of the prettiest in the state, she suggests if you can paddle just one waterway in the state to make it this one.  That may be, but I wouldn't use these boats.
Paddle board bottoms
    A few days later we returned to Wekiwa to play with the paddle boards.  The paddleboards are tough plastic Yolo Yaks  with molded plastic fins/skegs back and front.  They were fun in the pond and did OK on the river.  No one makes a four pound paddleboard paddle yet, so the paddles were pretty decent.

    One thing to watch for on the down stream runs was submerged logs.  Those can put a sudden stop to a board and entertain fellow paddlers.  But on a warm day, it's all good.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

So when do the leaves turn?

      "So when do the leaves turn?"  In Maine, we often get that question, usually asked by a tourist positioned beside a still green tree.  The truth is, it varies from year to year.  And it's different by plant and by location.  Poison Ivy and sumac turn before maples and birches which turn ahead of oaks.

     That top shot was taken September 27 on the Souadabscook Stream.  Most trees are green, but the swamp(red) maple is blazing away.

     A few days later we explored Hamilton and Hermon Ponds and caught these shots.

     Most of the trees have turned, some have even lost their leaves.  The undergrowth is still green though.

    On October 12, while paddling on the Penobscot, we captured the opposite.

   Here the trees, which are mostly pine will stay green, but the undergrowth is a vivid red.

   The shore of the Penobscot, graced with high walls tend to change later than many places.  It was October 18th when we captured this picture.

    By October 25th, most of the maples are bare, but the oak trees still had their foliage.
    But though the river had muted some, these trees at Bangor Waterfront Park were still bright.
     That's a red maple in front of a sugar maple.

     There is no one date for glorious foliage, but scenic vistas can be found from late September through late October, if you're will to search a bit.

A Somber Monday

     As some of you have guessed, we are the kayakers who discovered the body of Barbara J. Goodwin in the Penobscot River.  As Trashpaddler noted on a similar occurance, this is something no paddler ever wants to encounter.  Our hope is that she and her family can find peace and comfort.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Greenland Drip Rings

As our water gets colder and colder – Mark, a dedicated Greenland-style paddler (GP), starts to look very enviously at Euro paddles with their nice drip rings. Mark loves those skinny wooden paddles – but the water running back from the blades over the paddler's hands can be uncomfortable in colder weather. Some die-hard GP enthusiasts will say “just get good gloves” - and he has tried – but the gloves never seem to stay waterproof for very long.

Mark's past experiments with GP drip rings have not been very successful – however this year he may have finally found a design that works (for him anyway). Of course, it required an entirely new paddle design and some changes to his paddling form – some might even question if it really is GP any more – but he likes his warmer hands!

Here's his not-so-secret recipe to make drip rings and gain drier hands for Greenland-style paddlers:

  1. Extra-long dedicated winter paddle
  2. 7/16” (1.1 cm) kernmantle line (braided covering over loose core) for the drip ring base
  3. 1/4” (0.6 cm) kernmantle line for the capping line on the ring (may not be necessary)
  4. Waxed nylon sailmakers twine and needle

  1. Make a very long paddle. His normal paddle is 88” (223 cm) long. For his drip ring paddle, he made it 92” (234 cm) long and full width 3.5” (8.9 cm) at the ends. You want a paddle that has long blades so that your hands (and the drip rings) can stay out of the water. You also want a paddle with enough blade area and power to do most corrective strokes with your hands on the loom (similar to a Euro blade in this respect.) The goal is to reduce extended strokes which put your hands in contact with wet blades. You might find that a paddle like this requires some adjustment of your paddling style – you may have to slow down your pace a bit and play with your paddling angles.
  2. Figure out where you should place your drip rings. You can temporarily attach a couple of rubber bands or some rope and try different locations on the blade. You want to find the location that keeps the rings out of the water most of the time yet isn't too close to your hands.

  3. Use a round file or rasp to cut a shallow groove in the paddle at the correct location (first frame in photo above). For Mark, it's about 2” (5.1 cm) to the outside of his hands when he's gripping at the “home” loom location. The groove keeps the ring fixed in place and might also reduce water seepage under the ring.
  4. Cut a length of the 7/16” line maybe 3/4” (2 cm) short of the circumference of the paddle shaft and use a lighter to melt the ends closed. Watch out for that molten plastic – it really hurts if it gets on your skin!
  5. Wrap the line around the shaft in the groove with the ends centered about the power face of the paddle (the “top” face that doesn't see dripping). If you have a symmetrical GP paddle, just pick one side or the other and call it the power face. Use waxed sailmaker's twine to sew the ends together (second frame). Use a stopper knot and a couple of large stitches to pull the ends towards each other, using the mechanical advantage of the stitch loops to tension it. Then, take some frapping turns around the stitches to add further tension (third frame). Finish off the binding with a couple of half-hitches (fourth frame). Trim and melt the end of the twine (fifth frame). 

  6. Use marine sealant to fill the gap between the ends, although it really isn't needed if you put the gap on the top of the paddle – gravity takes the water to the bottom surface of the paddle.
  7. Try out your rings and see how they work. Mark found some strokes resulted in water flowing over the top of the ring and getting on his hands (mostly his right hand for some reason – he must have an asymmetrical stroke as well as an asymmetrical paddle!). You might find that a larger diameter line would cure this – feel free to experiment. Mark has concerns that a larger line might be too stiff and not follow the curve of the paddle blade, leaving a gap under it.
  8. Rather than going with larger line, Mark chose to sew on a “capping” line on the shoulder of the base line. This makes a kind of lip on the ring that creates turbulence in the water flow as it comes down the blade, forcing it to drip off, rather than flow over the ring. It seems to be working. He uses a 1/4” line for this purpose. (He also tested an 1/8” capping line and loose ends to help encourage dripping – 1/8” was too small. The loose ends didn't improve performance.)
  9. To sew a capping line on the shoulder of the base line, you can use a straight needle – but angle your stitches so that the needle doesn't run into the shaft of the paddle. If you have a curved needle you probably won't have to do that.

Here's the completed ring with the capping line on the shoulder. Mark reports that it works pretty well. Occasionally, a head wind can blow the drip stream back on to the shaft – or the ring might go below the water surface and bring up a bit of water – but it is a vast improvement over no rings. He expects he will still be wearing gloves as the season progresses but hopefully they will actually keep his hands dry and warm with the help of the rings!

(And yes, as you can probably tell by the vocabulary used, Mark did write this!)
The drip ring in action

Friday, October 4, 2013

A Sighting of Ctenophora

At least four little creatures are in this picture
   We were on the south side of Long Porcupine island, headed back to Bar Harbor, when I noticed something iridescent in the water, then something else and another!   Dozens of quarter-sized striped balls with two long tentacles.
   A little ways on, there were more, and then a few of these larger creatures:

   We watched and photographed. Through the rest of the trip, we occasionally stopped and searched for more.  There were none close to Bar Harbor, or Bar Island, but most other places we saw them.

  My Mac's Field Guide to Northeast Coastal Invertebrates identified the larger creatures as Northern Comb Jellies and the superball-sized ones as Sea Gooseberries.  Some more research at home would provide some interesting tidbits.

Both Northern Comb Jellies and Sea Gooseberries are Ctenophora.  (Americans get to use CB language to pronounce Ctenophora, "10-o 4-a little rainbow buddy,"  but everyone else has to append a "ka" on the front.) Ctenophora are a separate phylum from jellyfish, (which are cnidarians).  Both ctenophora and cnidarians are simple brainless creatures.  Both are a mass of jelly with cell layers outside and lining the body cavity.  In the ctenophora those layers are two cells thick (versus one for the jellyfish.)

An underwater shot
Ctenophora get their name from their combs (or ctenes.)  These combs are made up of rows of fused cilia, whose movement propels the little creatures.  It is also the movement of cilia which causes their iridescence.
This is blurry but is shows a few flashes of green and blue
Those two strings hanging out from the Sea Gooseberry are not stingers.  Jellyfish may have stingers, but ctenophora do not.  The strings are made up of sticky cells, used to capture prey and drag it to their mouths.  (One end of the body is a mouth, the other an anus.)

These little creatures look harmless, but Ctenophora are voracious carnivores; consuming zooplankton, fish eggs and pretty much anything else they can stuff inside themselves.  They can eat ten times their body weight every day.

One species of ctenophora, the sea walnut or Mnemiopsis, is an invasive species in the Black Sea, destroying the fishing industry there.

Blooms of ctenophora, like jellyfish blooms, can be a sign of an ecosystem out of whack, or they might just indicate favorable conditions for breeding.  Ctenophora reproduce year 'round.

There are about 150 known species of ctenophora, found from arctic to tropic waters.  Many are bioluminescent.

So, those were our new species sighting of the day!  If you'd like to learn more, check out:
 Wikipedia: Centaphora   http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ctenophora
Centophores - some notes from an expert - http://faculty.washington.edu/cemills/Ctenophores.html
Smithsonian Jelly Fish and Comb Jellies  - http://ocean.si.edu/jellyfish-and-comb-jellies

Mark is moving on...