Stay in bed why waste my time
Open your eyes but only if you can
Office in a sidestreet is no place for you
Night talk and romance like beat the clock.
- gary numan
Just as the last of the day’s light was fading into the north-west, and just as the last two rec boats were coming off the water, I was backing my Jeep up to the shoreline. In the mix of black and blue shadows I managed to find a thin strip of grass where I could put my 3 piece Rockpool Alaw Bach together. It’s not that the broken stones and gravel that surrounded the little island of grass could have punished my boat anymore, but I do try, sometimes, to lessen the scars.
Night paddles can be fun and relaxing. In the recent heat wave, a night paddle is like heaven! They can also be scary, lonely and cold. It depend on how your mind works, where you are, and how you got there. A night paddle on a warm local lake that you know like the back of your hand isn’t too scary. Still, darkness changes things. The familiar is lost in shadows. New sounds travel across the water. It’s hard to gauge whether those sounds are far or near. It becomes harder to anticipate the state of the water. It’s a whole new world when it comes to judging speed, drift and distance. Heck, the racing clouds under a bowl of starlight can give me vertigo when looking up from the seat of a bouncing kayak. Last night, I was just happy to feel the slight change in temperature brought on by retreat of the sun. The water on the other hand, had moved beyond tepid into the warm soup range.
At night it’s important that you can be seen. Reflectors on the side of your kayak can help. My kayaks also have reflective deck lines which look something like a silver spider web when seen at night under a bright light. It’s also important to have some sort of lighting, not necessarily to see, but again to be seen. On my little, local lake, motors are not allowed, so I can paddle by stealth if I like. Still, I find I like to have a red headlamp on that at least gives me a sense of the water state and hopefully will keep me from running into surfacing sea monsters. The advantage of the red light of course, is that it won’t mess with your night vision.
As I paddled out into the dark, my kayak was surrounded by hunting bats spinning and swooping in controlled mayhem from all directions. Red light and darting bats, while on Devil’s Lake seems somehow appropriate. One tiny hunter hit the water right next to my hip and was back into the air before I had time to register the splash.
If not for a bit of ambient light from the clouds and the shoreline, I’d have easily hit this buoy marking a swimming area and warning boats to “Keep Out”. Still, the lake was dark enough that I found myself checking my compass every now and again just to be sure I was staying on a straight course. In the end I simply paddled light to light, picking markers on the shoreline to guide me in a rectangular path across a kidney-shaped lake.
On the water, you don’t trip. I pulled my kayak up onto the beach on the south shore to go find some water. Not sure why I left with an empty water bottle… I stumbled up the bank and through the woods like a drunk until I found a restroom with a faucet. Even running the water for what seemed like an hour never managed to get it cool. Finally I gave up and settled for “clean” tea. Soon enough I was stumbling back to my boat and then once again slipping out into the blackness.
If you’re new to kayaking and have never paddled at night, I’d urge it. Get used to it before you find yourself in the dark by accident. Be prepared. Check the weather forecast. Don’t paddle alone IF you can avoid it. Tell someone where you are, where you’re going and when you plan to return. Start someplace familiar. Know what’s out there. Be visible, especially if there will be power boat traffic. Dress as if you might fall in and expect that if you did, you’ll be there a while. Remember that air temperatures will fall throughout the night. Have some warm clothing, especially a warm hat, in a dry bag. Have signaling devices; Whistle or air-horn, flairs on the big water, strobe, signal mirror, flashlights and at the very least a cellphone on a small lake. Have your VHF radio with you on the big lakes. Have a compass, it may be your only guide, and be sure you can read it with the lighting available. Don’t find out that you can’t read your compass by headlamp, only when you realize you’re lost! Keep in mind that this is simply a quick look at night paddling.. The bigger the water, the longer the distances, the more preparation you’ll need.
Of course here on my local lake on a calm and hot August night, I don’t need thousands of dollars worth of gear on board.. I’m not worried about a sudden storm and 10 foot seas… It’s a matter of common sense. Just keep in mind that everything you’ve learned about kayak safety is exponential in the dark of night.. With that in mind, night paddling can be is a wonderful experience.