We of the “trawler community” see ourselves as modern day seafaring explorers. Zipping from marina to marina at 0.3 mile per gallon is not our style. No, an isolated anchorage is what we look for. After the ship is securely anchored, we take a look around. From shore, we would need a low tide to approach creatures in tide pools. In most deeper draft cruising boats, we must stay away from shallow water and rocks where marine life is easy to see. Floating in a kayak allows a complete disregard of depth and bumping the occasional rock is fine.
Kayaks are easy to carry on top of a cruising boat and come in many sizes and types. If a kayak is too short, its seaworthiness is called into question. If it is too long, it is hard to store and launch. It is nice not to have to crank up the davit crane or mast and boom launching system used for the dinghy. For inshore exploring, a small kayak will do very well. If you intend to cover some distance on your tour, a longer kayak is safer and more seaworthy.
Kayaks are made of fiberglass, plastic, or Kevlar fiber. Kevlar is very light and expensive. Fiberglass is lighter than plastic but plastic is more durable. If a plastic kayak knocks against swim step, it does no damage to its self or your vessel.
My wife Linda and I use kayaks that do not have rudders. For us, efficiency is less important than simplicity and durability. The rudder is vulnerable to damage during launch and recovery.
We don’t use spray skirts because we are too old for Eskimo rolls. If a kayaker capsizes wearing a spray skirt, water does not immediately fill the boat. With the proper and timely application of paddle strokes while inverted, one can roll over and come back to upright like the Eskimos do. We will leave rolling over to the Coast Guard boats on the Columbia River Bar and Steve Dashew’s FPB 64. I carry a small pump. If I tip over in water more than waist deep, I can pump and splash water out to make my craft seaworthy again. If in the shallows, I walk to shore, drag the kayak out, roll it over, and dump the water out. Then I decide whether I want to get in and paddle back or call the mothership for dry clothes and a dinghy ride back.
And how does one phone home after getting everything wet? This is a great argument in favor of a waterproof VHF handheld radio and a pre-arranged frequency that the big boat will listen to. Any time your crew leaves the ship in a dinghy or kayak, having a waterproof VHF handheld radio along is an excellent idea.
Getting in and out of a kayak is a little tricky. You must be careful and take your time. More people tip over while getting aboard their kayak than while they are paddling on their way. Once seated in a kayak, you are low and fairly stable as long as you stay over the center of the boat. Leaning out too far to grab the dock may put you in the water. Wearing a PFD should be automatic while in any small craft. Kayak-friendly life jackets are available. Inflatable PFDs are a good second choice for adults. Children under 16 must use conventional life jackets because they might not know how to manually inflate the PFD if the automatic system fails.
FREEDOM, SAFETY, AND HUGS
It is wonderful to have the freedom to explore the anchorage, but before venturing out to see what is around the corner, look at the area charts and figure out if there is or will be a current running. If there are waterways called rapids or channels with names like Surge Narrows or Hole in the Wall, stay away. If you manage to safely slip through at slack water, you may be trapped on the other side until the next slack, 6 hours later.
There is a theory about your three chances to learn how to hug: First with your wife, second with your kids, and third with grandkids. While it is not nearly as important, kayaks offer three chances, too. Starting when you are young and a kayak is all you can afford, then when you take your own kids cruising, and finally, when all three generations head out on the water together. Kayaking is a great way for all ages to have fun.