Saturday, January 31, 2009

01/31/2009 – Steel Creek Paddle

Launch: Steele Creek Park in Satsuma, AL
Distance: Approx 4 miles
Route: West up Steele Creek and back to Gunnision Creek to watch the sunset.
Pace: Slow to not moving.
Weather: Sunny, 50-55 degrees, calm conditions.

1) House for sale on Gunnison Creek, half off. There ought be a law forcing removal of hazards like this. If this house was on land, it would be condemned and removed.

2) Up in Steele Creek, these folks were enjoying the pretty day although they said the fish weren't biting.

3) The slick conditions made for some interesting reflections. 

4) The interesting reflections have been rotated to save you the trouble of turning your head sideways.

5) Another odd reflection.

6) Back out at the mouth of Steele Creek, a sunset reflection made the green kayak look golden.

7) Post sunset on the mouth of Steele Creek.

8) A zoomed in view of the sunset - a blanket of smoke clouds part of the sky (darker portion of the sky).

01/31/2009 – Gunnison Creek Club Paddle

Launch: Steele Creek Park in Satsuma, AL
Cost: Free.
Distance: Approx 6 miles
Route: Up Gunnison Creek to just past Interstate 65 and back.
Pace: Leisurely.
Average Speed: 2.7 mph.
Weather: Sunny, 55-60 degrees, calm conditions.

Today I led a kayak club paddle up Gunnison Creek and had the pleasure of padding with Ryan, her mom Randi, and Kristen, all three from Bay Minette, and Tom, and John. Hope I’m spelling names right.

1) Kristen and Ryan take the lead up Gunnison Creek in ideal kayaking conditions.

2) John and Tom look at a small paddle wheel boat.

3) Everyone was enjoying a pleasant deep blue sky day.

4) It didn’t look like there were very many homes on this creek based on looking at Google. Must have been an old image – there were a lot of homes along Gunnison Creek.

5) Randi looks at another paddle wheel boat – we saw 3 on this trip.

6) Kristen eyes the creek banks for wildlife which we didn’t see much of except for a few turtles. The water had a slight green tint to it and I was surprised how clear it was. We also noticed that there were Red Maples starting to put out color.

7) The cow on the creek bank seemed a little startled as it watched all the colorful kayaks going by. (click on the photo for a larger view – the cow is on the bank just above Randi’s front hatch). I couldn’t tell if the cow was watching only the red kayaks or not.

8) Not far after crossing under I-65 we stopped for a short break at our turn around point. These timbers are remains of the old bridge crossing for old US Highway 43. I was thinking this might be a great place for launching a kayak but it is private property according to Probate Court records. On the other side of the creek is a swimming hole diving platform about 20-30 feet in the air.

9) A couple of shortcuts were taken on the way back. Gunnison Creek has a several splits in it, some leading quickly to dead ends, others merely loops.

10) All good things must come to an end. If you look at this photo carefully, the one thing I didn’t anticipate was for the water to be so low. It was a long drop from the dock to the water surface today as compared to other times meaning everyone had to use the concrete boat ramp to launch.

Thankfully no one went swimming today. Rising air temperatures can promote kayaking in t-shirts or other light clothing. It is important though, to remember the water temperature doesn’t change rapidly like air temperature. A boater drowned in the Tensaw River today. Be careful out there!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

01/24/2009 – Bay Grass

Launch: Causeway – Tensaw Public Launch
Cost: Free
Distance: 10 miles
Route: Across the Tensaw River and up Spanish River to Bay Grass Creek and back.
Pace: Leisurely.
Average Speed: 2.5 mph.
Weather: Mostly cloudy, 55 degrees, with some light rain, fog, and mist. Winds less than 5 mph except during a passing Arcus cloud. Approx 1 mph current in the Tensaw River. Tide was so low it was impossible to get into the east side Bay Grass Tributary.

Header Image is a photomerge of a Roll Cloud which rolled by.

1) Today was the maiden voyage in my new Necky Zoar and the sunrise experienced from the water was worth the early morning start and gloomy forecast.

2) After a brief rain, it started to get misty and foggy – not a good day to take photos.

3) This was a good day to be kayaking with a stopped up nose (cold). Dead fish were abundant along the banks of Bay Grass Creek.

4) Whatever killed the fish didn’t seem to be bothering these white ibis or other birds.

5) Sandpipers were busy on the mud flats today. Judging by a bird book guide, it looks like these are Short-Billed Dowitchers.

6) Looking at a bird book guide, it looks like this bird is a Greater Yellowlegs.

7) There were bits of blue sky showing through the clouds occasionally. The reflections on the water looked like this for most of the trip.

8) White Pelicans at rest.

9) White Pelicans at at play.

10) Getting to watch a Roll Cloud pass by was fantastic. Cool sinking air was meeting warm rising moist air and rolling in response to a gust front. The Roll Cloud was only over the moist waters and as it went overhead winds gusted momentarily, then when it was past, the winds abated. This was a wonderful inaugural trip in the Necky kayak.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

01/17/2009 – Bay Minette Creek Sunset Paddle

Launch: Buzbees
Cost: $3
Distance: 6 miles
Route: Up Bay Minette Creek for about an hour and back.
Pace: Leisurely.
Average Speed: 3 mph.
Weather: Mostly cloudy, 49 degrees, light winds out of the south.

1) Buzbees–perfect for launching kayaks. Today I led a club kayaking trip and two hardy individuals decided to brave the cold and enjoy another day on the water. 

2) Joe, in the red canoe, started pushing a 4 mph pace and left me behind. Joe can paddle that canoe fast!

3) Joe, Tom and I enjoyed the almost slick waters and the reflection of the puffy clouds on the water. At one point, Tom found the hidden water falls. 

4) We also stopped several times to observe ducks and osprey eagles. We all wished we had binoculars with us.
5) Tom was leading us in his bright yellow Current Designs kayak on the way back. 

6) The signs were looking good for a seeing a colorful sunset.

7) Drat! Heavy clouds on the horizon hid the sun’s expected colorful disappearance.

8) Despite lack of a colorful sunset, this was a enjoyable paddle among good company.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

01/11/2009 – Gravine Island

Launch: Byrnes Lake
Cost: Free
Kayak: Hobie Outback
Route: Out Byrnes Lake and northwest across Tensaw River to Gravine Island and back.
Distance: 5 Miles
Pace: Leisurely to working hard.
Weather: Mostly cloudy, 46 degrees, winds occasionally gusting a little over 10 mph.

1) Conditions in Byrnes Lake were calm despite a small craft wind warning. 

2) A little wind and small waves, but current in the Tensaw River was about the worst I’ve ever seen it – running about 2.5 mph. Probably a combination of a cold front blowing water out of Mobile Bay and flooding conditions further up the rivers.

3) The water in the Tensaw was very turbid looking like coffee with cream added. I pedaled hard crossing over to Gravine Island barely able to average 1 mph – it took about 45 minutes just to cross. Speed on the return trip across the the Tensaw was 6 times faster - it only took about 8 minutes. Beware of the current on the Tensaw River!

4) None one was at the island today and the tide was low.

5) There were few rays of sun that peaked through the clouds.

6) Back in Byrnes Lake on the return trip, conditions were very calm with almost no wind. Nice little workout today but due to cloud cover, no sunset on Byrnes Lake.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

GPS for Kayaking?

Here are some things for you to consider when thinking about buying a GPS for kayaking.

1) Marine Chart Software.

2) USGS Quad Map Software.
3) Basic garmin Mapsource software (came with GPS).

4) Delorme Street Map Software.

5) Google Earth.

Compare all the images above. All the images show the same area - Little Bateau Bay and part of Mudhole Creek. The connecting stream between Little Bateau Bay and Mudhole Creek is clearly seen on Google Earth but not on any of the images above it. In other words, MOST of the maps you get with GPS software will lack decision making detail, at least for kayaking purposes. If you're doing all day trips in unknown areas, plan your trip carefully in advance because again, the standard map you see on most GPS devices are about worthless.

So what good is a GPS if map detail is not good?

A) You get to a new kayaking launch site, set a waypoint and leave the unit on. As you kayak, the GPS tracks you. You go off for several hours and get lost. The sun is going down fast and you don't have time to guess which creek branch to take at the fork ahead of you. You can view the track on your GPS and follow it backwards to your launch site. It is hard to get lost if you leave a trail of digital crumbs from where you started. Map detail is not necessary for this use.

B) The GPS unit acts as a Compass (on some models). Sometimes, when the sky clouds up and there isn't much around you, sense of direction can be difficult, especially on open water when no land is in sight or in foggy conditions. When paddling in fog though, I rely on a Seattle Sports Nightquest LED Lit Deck Compass instead of a GPS.

C) You get in a hurry and drive to the launch site and then remember you forgot to see what the tides are doing today. Buy a GPS with the Tide Chart feature built in which will allow you to view the current or future tide chart near your current location. Having this feature can help save you from getting stuck on a mud flat if you live in an area affected by tidal influences. For kayaking, a GPS without tide charts is worthless in my opinion.

D) How much longer can you paddle before the sun goes down? If you're like me, you don't check the sunset time before you go on a paddle. If you get the right GPS, it will include Sunrise and Sunset time for any day. By knowing the sunset time, you can better time your trips (assuming you are doing a sunset paddle) to be where you want to be at the actual time the sun sets.

E) Distance traveled may be important. If you know how fast you normally paddle, you can use the distance you have traveled so far to know how far you have to go on the return trip. A GPS can help you gauge factors like current. If you know you normally paddle at 3.3 mph without current and you find yourself down to 1.3 miles per hour, you know you're paddling against a 2 mph current. Likewise, if you are cruising at 5 mph,  you're paddling with the current. GPS's are great because tracking speed and overall distance traveled can help assist in deciding when to turn around.

F) Trip recording. If you have recorded your trip on a GPS, you can see distance traveled, time it took, average moving speed and possibly elevation changes. You can download the GPS data to a wide variety of programs. You can also share your GPS track on websites like EveryTrail.

G) General Route guidance. You can enter waypoints into your GPS at specific points to help direct you when kayaking into new areas. By turning on the GPS navigation feature, you can determine distance and direction to the next route point. I've witnessed on more than one occasion trip leaders paddling right past the turn into a tributary they needed to make. Had they planned their trip, uploaded the data to their GPS and navigated by it, they would have not gotten lost. How embarrassing! Besides routes, you can also upload tracks to GPS devices which will also aid in following a pre-planned trip.

H) Worst case situation. You're out there alone, no boats in sight, clutching your chest in pain. You grab your cell phone, dial 911, and ask for help. The operator asks where you are. Got no GPS? You tell her, "On the River near uhhh, well uhhh, a few miles south of uhhh..." Only got a smartphone? You don't want to have to hang up on the Operator to use a smartphone GPS app to get coordinates which is why it is good to have both a phone and a GPS. What kind of information do you think will get rescue help to you quicker? Yup, Exact Coordinates. If you have a GPS unit, you can give the 911 operator your exact coordinates immediately while still talking on the phone. You can also tell 911 how fast you are drifting and in what direction to help aid rescue personnel in locating you quicker.

What GPS do I Recommend?
When you buy a GPS, make sure you keep your receipt, original GPS box and all the original packaging. I used to recommend the Garmin brand but Garmin refused to update tide chart firmware on a GPS 72 which had stopped generating tide charts shortly after I bought it. Based on personal experience, Garmin does NOT support their products that fail due to their fault. I had a relatively new Garmin eTrex Vista (now out of warranty) which was literally falling apart. Garmin told me to go out, buy some super glue and fix it myself. Really?

DeLorme is another brand that showed promise since it does satellite images and tide charts. I recently tried their PN-60 gps only to spend a week with tech support trying to get it to work properly. We could not get it to work right. DeLorme confirmed a bug in their PN-60 GPS firmware. I returned the device for a full refund (Luckily I had kept the packaging. If you don't keep all the original stuff, paperwork, and boxing, you may not get a full refund). I'd recommend the DeLorme PN-60 if it worked. I have no experience with Magellen because none of their products had Tide Charts and for me a GPS without tide charts is worthless. I'll try DeLorme again in the future and if it works, I'll probably never go back to using a Garmin again. Meantime, I much as I hate to recommend Garmin, I prefer the Garmin GPS76, which can display large numbers visible from a distance, which floats, which has tide charts, and can be found on sale occasionally at West Marine for $150. Having a GPS with you on Kayak trips is a cheap form of life insurance.

Update: With the popularity of smart phones and apps, now days you really don't need a GPS. Free tide chart apps are easy to use. There are mapping apps like Google Earth and Everytrail that work with smart phones along with a multitude of cool apps to take place of a GPS recording device. Going on a multi-day trip? Battery life of a phone can be extended with an external battery like PowerMonkey. There are waterproof and floatable cases available for smart phones. The only drawback may be poor or no cell phone coverage. I still use a GPS because it is easier for me to upload a pre-planned track to the GPS than it is to the phone. That's not to say apps with easy uploading from the computer are not available. I'm just not willing to change what works well for me.

What Computer Software works well with my GPS?
As for software, I do not use the software that came with the GPS - Map Source. As you can see from the above images, Google Earth is the best mapping software you can use for trip planning. Bing Maps would also work along with a variety of other free online satellite maps. I use Google Earth to plan trips because it is easy. I save planned paths and convert the data to GPX data and upload the trip plan to the GPS using Garmin's free BaseCamp software. You should be able to do all your mapping for free. There is however other software that work with GPS devices, including commercial mapping programs like DeLorme, Terrain Navigator, ExpertGPS and many more. Use what works best for your GPS and Operating System and Budget. You can read more about how I design a kayak route and upload it to my GPS here:

Google Earth has proprietary KML/KMZ files which can't be uploaded directly to GPS units without first converting it so I use GPSBabel (freeware) that converts between the various gps data files types. Garmin's BaseCamp software has gotten better now that Google Earth files can be imported and GPS maps in BaseCamp can be sent to and viewed in Google Earth.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

01/04/2009 - Dauphin Island Video

This video, taken on Jan 4, 2009, shows one of the reasons why I love to kayak at Dauphin Island.

01/04/2009 – Dauphin Island

Launch: End of the Bienville Blvd, east side, beyond Fort Gaines on Dauphin Island.
Kayak: Hobie Outback
Route: Meander around Pelican Bay and out to Sand Island and back.
Pace: Leisurely.
Weather: Mostly Sunny, 65-75 degrees, winds less than 10 mph. Nice conditions!

1) I was going to call it a day and get off the water early but a pod of dolphin came by and proceeded to play nearby. Spending an hour with dolphins so close made this trip very intoxicating both spiritually and emotionally because it was such a beautiful sight to behold. My brother recently died and it was like the dolphin were communicating with me indicating he is at peace.

2) Common spiderwort, also known as Widow’s Tears. The petals on this flower do not drop off but turn into a jellylike liquid, hence the name widow's tears.

3) Upon arrival at Dauphin Island, a long flock of anhinga or cormorants were flying northward. The birds just kept coming from the horizon nonstop for over 10 minutes and caused people to stop their cars in the middle of the road to get out and watch the spectacle.

4) As these pelicans went soaring by, they suddenly put on the brakes having apparently seen a school of fish, but then changed their mind and proceeded to fly off again.

5) Herons with lovely red hair were playing a game of chase.

6) Much has changed since my last trip out to Dauphin Island. No one is fishing on the pier because the water is gone. Sand Island now connects directly to Dauphin Island so there is much more pedestrian traffic on Sand Island. With no water flow through here, the kayaking conditions in Pelican Bay have improved because the currents are gone. Kayaking conditions however, please note, are still dangerous on the south end of Sand Island for those looking to go around it.

7) As the sun was lowering on the horizon, #3 Buoy seemed to sparkle brighter than normal.

8) Every sunset above ground is a good sunset.

9) After the sun went beneath the horizon, the colors began to slowly appear. The reflection on the water constantly changed color from yellow to orange to shades of red. The colorful wave action was mesmerizing.

10) Dauphin Island is one of my favorite places to launch a kayak from. Sadly, there was a lot of noise pollution coming from nearby Oil Rigs today. You can always put on a set of headphones and listen to an MP3 player or radio.