Puget Sound Challenge – Day 1

Posted by Ken Campbell March 1, 2009 0 Comment 459 views

I couldn’t have wished for better weather, especially here at the end of February. The sky was pure blue, shot through with puffy clouds out of the south. The air was warm and the water was calm. I had driven out to Menard’s Landing, out past Tahuya, and left the van in a parking area there. There were several road closures and detours at points along the way, products of the winter’s storms. A sixteen mile shuttle on the Orange Crush had brought me back to Belfair State Park, and I was getting on the water by 10 AM, not a bad morning’s work.

I have always thought of the currents in Hood Canal as rather negligible, not powerful enough to really make a difference one way or another. With a slight breeze at my back and the water running the same direction as I was, however, I made excellent time. In three hours, I had already rounded Sisters Point and was almost at the mouth of the Tahuya River.

The bottom arm of Hood Canal is anything but wilderness. Houses and cabins line the shore for its entire length, with only a few short breaks of green and gravel. The intertidal area is dominated by oyster farming operations, some more well-tended than others, but everything covered in a layer of mud. I saw a half-dozen seals along the way, curious brown eyes trying to figure out what they were looking at.

It’s funny, I’ve had more than a few people ask me, “How can you stand up for so long?” Some of these folks have been kayakers, which makes me want to ask, “How can you sit down for so long?” Actually, there are two considerations here that might help explain: First, I only stand up until I want to sit down. I have the choice of kneeling or sitting, and even a step off into the deep water and a climb back onto the board is mighty refreshing. So I’m not just standing up, glued in place.

Second, and more importantly, I can stand up for so long for the same reason kayakers can sit down for so long… it’s a captivating activity. The senses are all engaged, eyes and ears constantly aware, always monitoring the situation. There’s a seal, an otter, an eagle. The time passes so smoothly that I could probably do ten hours standing on my head.

I think that standing, for me, seems like a more active stance than sitting in my kayak. I definitely enjoy the change in perspective from the seated position, but it does have its limitations. When I finished the day’s paddle at Menard’s Landing, I’d been on the water for about 5 1/2 hours and covered about 12 nautical miles. That’s off the pace I might have made in a sea kayak, but I’m much more tired. Where I can easily spend 10 hours a day paddling a kayak, I was close to being all in after half that time.

Some of that is undoubtedly due to experience. I have 20 years of sea kayaking to fall back on, 20 years of pushing myself and perfecting my paddling technique. I have about 6 months of experience to draw from on the SUP; by the time I get a couple decades under my belt, I’ll probably be able to last a bit longer.

The other part is that my 12-foot SUP is not nearly as efficient as an 18-foot touring kayak. Its flat bottom slaps the water rather than cutting through it and its short waterline means it won’t glide nearly as well as a kayak. I spend an inordinate amount of time on the water thinking about the perfect SUP design, wondering if I’ll eventually have to make it myself or if there’s someone out there right now who’s working on a prototype for me. (Feel free to get in touch if you’re out there somewhere.)

So the first day of the Puget Sound Challenge is in the books. Twelve miles, just under ten percent of the route total. My plan was to add another 15 miles the next day. That didn’t happen.

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