Restoring the Sacred

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Closer to God in a Kayak

Beginning in 2007, after my retirement, I began to record the many ruminations that had occupied my mind while kayaking in the Atlantic Ocean near my home. Some are probably too personal to post here, but with a little editing I hope to use Tuesdays to put them all on this Blog so as to preserve them for the grandchildren. My kayaking days, while not over, have been suspended by a recently discovered illness: treatment for which has delayed my return to the ocean until my immune system can protect against the numerous bacteria lurking beneath the water's surface. Today, the post will be devoted only to the Introduction, and I promise to keep all the posts as brief as possible.



The “almost” qualifier is necessary because the vehicle in which I have spent my life at sea, at least for the most part, happens to be a one-person kayak. The sub-title comes from my strong belief, which grows with every passing year, that when paddling my kayak, alone, miles out in the ocean, I am as close to God as one can get while remaining a part of this world.

When we moved to Atlantic Beach, Florida, in 1988, and were lucky enough to be able to buy a townhouse within two blocks of the beach, I knew I needed some kind of affordable boat to get me out on the ocean as often as possible. I have always loved the majesty and the ever-changing characteristics of the ocean; being on the ocean is being closer to God in my mind.

So, in about 1989, we bought a Force 5 sailboat (we had owned a Sunfish sailboat when we lived in Miami, and sailed it regularly on Biscayne Bay off the Rickenbacker Causeway). Unfortunately, I cannot report on too many special times in that Force 5, and the only memories about those outings are of the times (too frequent) when coming back in to shore, a wave would pick up the stern and plant the bow just deep enough to send me flying as if shot out of a slingshot. I’ve had more fun in the water. In short, the Atlantic Ocean is not the ideal place for small sailboats launched from shore, unless they have two hulls.

Then one day in about 1991, while walking on the beach I saw a bearded young man riding the waves in a yellow kayak. When he came in to shore, I approached him and made several inquiries. That man was Jim Stehr, and he lived in a little A-Frame house on the beach, which he rented from his next-door neighbor, a surgeon. Jim and his wife Laurie were teachers so of course they were renting.

Jim was very helpful in explaining everything he knew about his Ocean Kayak Scupper Pro, which he had bought at a garage sale. There was even an 800 number for Ocean Kayak on the bow of the boat. It was not long before I learned of a young entrepreneur, Edward Hogan, who rented kayaks in Hanna Park, which was just about one mile up the beach from where we lived.

It was a Sunday when Cass and I went to Hanna Park and met with Edward Hogan. We asked him if had any kayaks for sale; he did, of course – everything is for sale when you’re dealing with an entrepreneur. He sold me a 9-foot Ocean Kayak Frenzy for $300 and threw in a paddle and a seat. What sounded like a good deal at the time, turned out not to be so good after just a little research. The boat had to be the very first Frenzy manufactured by Ocean Kayak; the paddle broke that first summer, and the seat is a near relic. All that said, I still have the boat (and the seat) but use it only for surfing since trying to paddle a 9-foot kayak for any long distance is for younger, stronger men.

Getting back to that Sunday, which was probably sometime in 1991, Hogan put the Frenzy in his trailer and drove the short distance through Hanna Park to the beach where I was allowed to try out the boat in the ocean. I paddled out through the moderate surf, turned around and headed back to shore. I got knocked out of the boat, and swam to shore behind the boat, which was riding nicely on the wave which had dislodged me. I told Hogan he had a deal, got back in the boat, and headed back out through the surf toward home yelling back to Hogan that Cass would give him a check. She did; and I became the owner of my first kayak.

I remember Hogan yelling to me as I crashed through the surf: “Have you ever kayaked in the ocean before?” and my answering: ”Yes, just a few minutes ago.” I paddled out past the surf, and then some, and turned south toward home. When I saw what we came later to call “The Moon House” (an all white triplex built into the side of the hill at the top of the beach entrance at 19th street), because it looks like it belongs on the moon, I headed in toward the shore. Soon after hitting the surf, I was toppled once again and found myself swimming behind the boat. Cass had by then driven the car back from Hanna Park and witnessed my second spectacular somersault of the day. I made it three in a row after paddling back out one more time to see if I could figure out how to stay in the boat coming through moderate surf. Finally, I decided to cut my losses for the day and allow myself to be content with the knowledge that I was now a kayak owner, and would live to try another day. Falstaff was right when he discoursed on the subjects of discretion and valor.

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