Kayaking Lighthouse Reef and Half Moon Caye Belize

2 05 2014
wet exit lesson island expeditions half moon caye

Tisha gets a wet-exit lesson!

A week kayaking and snorkeling on Half-Moon Caye Belize guarantees a return to natural rhythms – awakening to the sunrise, sounds of gentle surf and rustling palm fronds, paddling sapphire clear waters, snorkeling amidst nature’s underwater splendor, and no hashtags. Plus, the 80+ degree water doesn’t hurt, either!

Lucy paddling out to the wreck on the reef lighthouse reef

Lucy paddling out to the wreck on the reef

Paddling Lighthouse Reef is definitely living a fantasy. The water is utterly sapphire clear and it’s warm. Inside the reef’s 22-mile long ring, the lagoon is only 8-10 feet deep. The protected waters are packed with an array of life. Our guides were of Garifuna, Mayan and Mestizo ethnicity – and they’d switch between English, Creole and Spanish at will.

Kayaks in the Island Expeditions fleet

Kayaks included Necky single or tandem polyethylene kayaks, Seaward tandem fiberglass kayaks and a few Boreal Design polyethylene single kayaks – and SUPs. The tandem kayaks were set up for sailing.

Island Expeditions paddling accessories

They also had a selection of Kokatat and Astral PFDs. A good portfolio of equipment for a tour operator, I thought.

Our agenda shifted each day depending on weather conditions. Sunrise was followed by 6:30 a.m. yoga with Tisha, from Vancouver BC. After breakfast, we would launch kayaks and paddle out to the reef, where we would snorkel.

Day one was mandatory snorkeling and kayaking introduction including wet exits and rescues.

DSCF1213One big question for me: Considering my back and hamstring injuries, which I’ve been working diligently to resolve, how will they handle trying to roll a kayak or do a rescue? The only way to know is to try. So upon launching, with the guides observing, I proceed to successfully roll my kayak five times! No back pain. Then, I try a re-enter and roll. A re-enter and roll is performed with the kayak upside down floating on the surface. I take a deep breath, get into the kayak upside down, and roll it up. Voila! I did it, no pain! Now to try an assisted rescue. In this case, with someone else stabilizing the boat, I pull myself onto the rear deck face down, inchworm my body/legs into the cockpit and then corkscrew right side up. OUCH! That was NOT GOOD! That exercise positively zonked my hamstring. But otherwise, paddling went well.

One afternoon we tried kayak sailing. We used ruddered tandem kayaks, and the sails were mounted in between the cockpits. I have to say it was fortunate I have a lot of sailing experience, because the guides pretty much said, “Here you go. Sail down to a big stick down the reef and then come back.” I steered and held the sail and my “crew” was Tisha. Remember that sailboats have keels or centerboards, which are like a fin in the middle of the boat. Kayaks don’t have them. So sailing a kayak is more an exercise in getting there without paddling, but not efficiently or in any way IMHO satisfyingly. We all arrived at the stick within one minute of each other…but that was the more downwind leg. On the way back, it was what we sailors would call a close reach – meaning we were more or less with the wind coming from the side. The return leg really “separated the men from the boys,” and I had to use every trick in my sailing skills base to get that kayak going straight instead of sideways, and to land on the island and not miss it entirely and wind up in the ocean. When we turned around at the stick, Half Moon Caye was almost invisible. I had to hold the sail as low and stiff as possible, using my outstretched arm, to spill air, whilst pushing the rudder with my feet so we had the correct angle. Lucky for me I was wearing my Astral Brewer shoes. Others got blisters! We learned to lean into the wind to keep the boat tilted right. Anyway we were so focused we simply doubled down on getting back to the island, and never looked back. When we landed, we were amazed that the others were dots on the horizon! We KILLED IT! We had 30 minutes of swim time before anyone else landed. After the experience, though, I say sailing is for sailboats!

Here’s a video of Tisha learning to wet exit her kayak!

Here’s a video of kayaking off Half Moon Caye…!

Next post – we’ll explore snorkeling Lighthouse Reef Belize!





Half Moon Caye Belize on Lighthouse Reef with Island Expeditions

25 04 2014

If you have seen “Gilligan’s Island,” then you might have imagined Island Expedition’s small operation on Half-Moon Caye. It is a true slice of paradise! No more than a mile long, coconut palm forested Half-Moon Caye sits in the southeast edge of Lighthouse Reef.Calm Day  North

Just off its eastern edge, the water drops to 12,000 feet deep. But inside the 22-mile long lagoon, the water is no more than 10 feet deep. This creates some interesting explosions of sea life, which we’ll explore in later posts.

Half-Moon Caye and several square miles around it are a World Heritage Site. The caye hosts a colony of rare red-footed booby birds.

These birds are amazing acrobatic aerial fishermen. Every day hundreds issue forth to forage in the ocean.Image

They bring back food for their young, but they are never alone.

Image

Red-Footed Boobie

Red Footed Boobies are symbiotically connected to Frigatebirds, which steal the food for themselves.

Image

Like an F-15 the Frigatebird wheels to steal some food.

Frigatebirds are even better fliers than boobies. But they have absolutely no fishing skills. They are completely dependent on stealing food from the boobies. So much so, that frigatebirds defend the entire colony from other scavenger species such as sea gulls or petrels. Oddly, the boobies seem OK with surrendering food.

Island Expeditions had about 12 platform tents arranged along the east side of the island, facing the ocean. Just beautiful, with coconut palms overhead.

 

ImageI certainly enjoyed my tent, which had two twin beds inside. ImageIt was simple yet thoughtfully laid out. It had strong pipes for a frame. It had a nightstand, a table, a laundry line, a hanging “dresser,” and an anti vermin cannister just in case. It stood up to the 24mph winds one night.

One job all of us had was keeping sand out of the tents!

Here is a video of the layout. Here is a video on a calmer day…with snorkelers!

Lodging is a misleading term, because we “lodged” in platform tents – each with beds. No super resorts here: exactly what I wanted. There were 12 tents lined up along the shore. Island Expeditions runs a sustainable operation – with water from rain collectors, a well, and composting toilets. Electricity was on four hours per day, just enough to charge your camera batteries. So, we were far from luxury yet far from roughing it. The kitchen served up three sumptuous meals daily.

Image

Dishes included Creole fair (lots of bbq), plus conch soup, coconut pie, pineapple and mango, and when we caught fish, catch of the day.

Image

Rise and shine! 6:30 a.m. yoga.

We were fortunate to have Tisha, a yoga instructor from British Columbia, on hand. Each morning she’d lead us in stretching and moves to open up the day.

In the evenings, we all gathered in the dining tent for discussions of the days adventures and misadventures.

ImageImage

With island life taken care of, we had much off shore activities to pursue. So the next series of posts will explore kayaking, fishing and snorkeling in Lighthouse Reef, and the Great Blue Hole!

Image

The lagoon at sunrise.

 





A Trip Kayaking and Snorkeling in Belize – An Introduction

20 04 2014

ImageThe next series of posts to Cabin Fever Chronicles shall focus on a sun-splashed week I spent on Half Moon Caye, a tiny coconut palm island on Lighthouse Reef, 50 miles off the coast of Belize.

Why Belize? Why did I pick this trip? For starters, I usually think of mountains and cultural immersion when fantasizing about an overseas trip. This time, I wanted to switch it up. I’ve been to hot, humid, jungle destinations like Laos, Cambodia, or Northern Thailand. I actually was close to picking a trip to the headwaters of the Amazon. But for the past year I’ve found myself researching places with healthy beaches and coral reefs. I cannot stand big resorts or cruise ships. No, I wanted an adventure. I have not snorkeled on a healthy coral reef since I was 14 years old. More recently, I snorkeled on some reefs off Bali, Indonesia, and Sayulita, Mexico, but these were in decay. Many of the healthy reefs are in the South Pacific, some elsewhere in Indonesia or The Phillipines. I also found myself on the Internet searching for Pacific Atolls. Along the way, I came across rare coral atolls in the Western Hemisphere – and most of them are in Belize.

Another factor in deciding on this destination was my injury. If you read a few blog posts ago, you know I sustained a lumbar injury lifting a kayak – which referred down my hamstring. I’m still healing – so full-on camping is not comfortable right now. But I found a trip with Island Expeditions, and they have tents on Half Moon Caye that have beds in them. Perfect! This trip would involve kayaking, kayak sailing, fishing, and lots and lots of snorkeling. I can do all of that even with my recovering injury. This trip would be a perfect mental-health break from the injury-related-life I have been leading of late.

Belize. It is a country on the east side of the Yucatan Peninsula. The coast faces east – the Caribbean Sea. Formerly British Honduras, Belize, which became independent in 1982, has a population of 324,060, and locals speak English, Spanish, and Creole. Inland, there are Mayan ruins, a few rivers which are fun for whitewater, and interesting caves to explore. Its highest mountain, Doyle’s Delight, is 3,688ft high. The country is only 180 miles long and 68 miles wide – not counting the atolls off the coast. The population is split amongst ethnic Maya, Maya/European (Mestizo), Creole, and Barifunda (African Descent).

My flight to Belize was an overnight flight, from Portland, Oregon. Our first day was spent gathering up the seven souls participating in our Gilligan’s Island adventure. We would spend the afternoon and evening resting at the Bird’s Eye View Lodge, about 45 minutes from the Belize City Airport.

The following day, after a quick cruise on the lake, we drove to Belize City and met our boat which would shuttle us out to Lighthouse Reef. Our guides oriented us to the reefs off the Belize Coast, and our route out to Half Moon Caye.

Our route today!

Our route today!

 

 





I’m Back – From a Back Injury, that is…

8 03 2014

You may have noticed I have not posted to my blog in months. If you’ve read my blogs, you know I’m a very active individual. My hearts desire is to be outside, breathing the air, being active. Whether hiking, trekking the Himalayas, paddling surf, or skiing the Wasatch, I live for outside activities. Travelling overseas is especially rewarding to me, whether soaking up cultural experiences or adventuring rivers or mountains.

My lifestyle is also my work. I have taken kayaking/paddlesports and wrapped into a way to earn my keep. I’ve been a brand manager for Feelfree Kayaks, a company that imports New Zealand-designed, Bangkok manufactured kayaks into the American market. And I’ve converted countless couch potatoes into outdoor enthusiasts as kayak guide / instructor for Alder Creek Kayak and Canoe. I never tire of getting great gear into a customer’s hands and then hearing their stories of their adventures using it. To put it mildly, I am a tireless evangelist for outdoor recreation.

But my passion does involve risk. It can’t be avoided. It can be managed, and minimized, but not entirely eliminated. When it comes to kayak instruction or guiding, lifting boats is part of the work. I carry boats to the dock for renters. I set up lakeside trade show affairs involving dozens of kayak models. When guiding, I sometimes have a trailer of kayaks and have to lift then on/off of the trailer. I’ve done it thousands of times. I’m in my early 50’s.

So, the reason I have not posted to this site in months is a mistake I made loading a kayak onto my car. One day, in August 2013, I was in a rush to get extra boats to a kayak class and purposely grabbed a boat and heaved it onto my car. Not the right way. I have paid dearly for it. I strained the illiolumbar ligament in my back. It connects the 5th vertebrae to the hip. When it’s strained, it “refers” pain down the hip. For months, I had pain when sleeping in my back and hip. I could not get going in the morning without 20 minutes loosening my leg. I could not sit in a movie without writhing in pain.

I have been on workman’s comp since August. I still work, but on “limited duty.” I have cancelled a September trip to Yellowstone National Park, and a trip kayaking down the Mekong River from Vietnam through Laos and into Vietnam. Plus a two week ski trip to Jackson Hole Wyoming and Park City Utah. It has been depressing. Yet I have never skipped one single physical therapy routine.

If you’ve had back problems, you know my plight! But I am a fighter. I have been with a chiropractor and massage therapist. I have been with a physical therapist. I have been with a osteopathic doctor. And now, Pilates. Thousands of hours of work later, I am much improved. Slow, steady progress. So, I continue my daily two hours of physical therapy work. Yes. Two hours.

I have content for a few things I have done, some hiking trips and ski trips. Stay tuned, they are upcoming! And in just a few weeks I am snorkeling/camping/camping on the barrier reef in Belize!

I’m blogging again because I am proof positive HARD WORK PAYS OFF! I can engage in activities again. There will be new content very soon! You may see some content about working with physical limitations! I will never give up.

See you soon!

Rod





Sparks Lake and Hosmer Lake, Oregon

1 08 2013

IMG_0659Just returned from a kayak camping trip to Sparks Lake and Hosmer Lake, Oregon with my friends Jessie and Laura! These two lakes are located right on the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway in Bend, Oregon. Wow! These are two of the most scenic lakes in the Pacific NW.

Bathed in fantastic clear blue skies and looked upon by 10,450 ft South Sister, Broken Top and Mount Bachelor, these crown jewels are worth paddling. Everyone visiting Oregon ought to come and ply these waters.

On the water you’ve got a 200-degree view of glaciated peaks above. The lakes are easy to explore, their waters typically calm and not too deep.

Sparks Lake and Hosmer Lake have different personalities. Sparks Lake is dominated by flows of a’a lava flows, so sharp they pierced one of my dry bags. These flows make for isolated channels and difficult boat landings. Yet, we found a beautiful camping site with a jaw-dropping view of South Sister!

Breakfast!

Breakfast!

Out on the lake I’m overwhelmed with the views before me. In every direction there is an otherworldly view – each one magnificent all in of itself, yet here there are THREE!

IMG_0640I feel justifiably spoiled.

We have perfect weather, impeccable views, and I have two women with me.

For dinner, we have fresh shrimp and veggie skewers, plus rice. After a laborious preparation involving ginger, garlic etc. the meal perks my taste buds!

IMG_0633

Mount Bachelor provides a backdrop…

Evening is quiet. I have to disclose Sparks Lake is a tourist hot spot. During the day kayaks, canoes, inflatable rafts, everything is out enjoying the view. But we put out on the lake with our camping gear and found a quiet spot, so once dusk came all became quiet. One bright light in the SW sky we determined was Saturn.

After dawn and a breakfast of oats, nuts and fruit, washed down with Sumatran coffee, we packed up the kayaks on the 2013 Ford Escape and headed 20 minutes down the Cascades Lakes Scenic Byway to Hosmer Lake.

Hosmer Lake is characterized by lakelets connected by lillypad clusters, rushes, and channels filled with rainbow and brook trout that would make a fly fisherman blush. It’s a different vibe than Sparks Lake. It’s just as busy though. So, on the channels connecting the lakelets, you have a parade of stand-up paddleboards, kayaks, canoes, etc., and oar powered fishing boats. Everyone is looking down at the fish! Although the whole time, you are surrounded by the mountains!

IMG_0646 It was another impeccable day, with different scenery as a backdrop.

IMG_0645With mountains above, lillies on the water’s surface, and beautiful trout below, it’s hard to beat Hosmer Lake.

IMG_0652Parts of the lake feature Caribbean Blue waters where your boat’s shadow can be seen underneath!

We follow a channel up one end of the lake in search of a waterfall everyone told us about. The water temperature drops precipitously, an indicator we’ve found the source. The width of paddle-able water narrows to two yards – in some places, two feet. Then we glimpse some beached kayaks.

Here, we haul out and make lunch. Just above, there is a to-die-for waterfall beautiful enough to make Laura cry!

That is enough for me. Such a perfect day. We head back to our camp at Sparks Lake for another fabulous meal. Tomorrow we head home, full of memories.





Transforming my new Kayak: The Thunder Dragon Rises!

29 07 2013

I recently acquired my first fiberglass sea kayak – a used Tiderace “Extreme.” It’s one of the world’s most advanced rough water sea kayaks. Specifically designed for kayaking along the ocean surf zone! It’s LOTS OF FUN, if you know how to use it. I’ve used it in the surf and Holy Cow it catches waves with ease. What a ride!

It was used with a lot of scratches. I wanted to refresh its finish. Plus, I was a bit embarrassed by the huge “EXTREME” label up on the bow. It came with some fraying black deck lines and bungees. So, a project was born. “Project THUNDER DRAGON.” I would take this slightly abused “Extreme” and transform it into a fabulous dancing dragon! She came all red. That’s a great start. A Ferrari red, in fact. What goes with Ferrari red? Answer: YELLOW!

IMG_0619

Start by removing black smudges with acetone…

So, how do you refresh a scratched all-red kayak with frayed black bungees? Remove those offending bungees.

Then use acetone to remove rubbery black smudges from the finish. Then get some Boat Guard. Boat Guard is like Liquid Gold for kayaks. Rub it on, even buff it on using a electric buffer, and it hides scratches, leaves a UPF 50 barrier, and leaves a super nice shine!

IMG_0622

Boat Guard makes everything new.

Keeping the boat in the shade, I worked aboIMG_0620ut 90 minutes on the entire hull.

One thing about working with Boat Guard is that, once you start, the results are so fantastic you cannot stop. This kayak went from dull, scratched-looking to fabulous in an hour and a half.

But I was not done. I removed the “Extreme” label from the bow, and substituted a dancing dragon! I felt that was much more the kayak’s true nature.

I replaced its deck lines with yellow bungee cords and yellow reflective perimeter lines.IMG_0677IMG_0676

Here she is, the end product. She is now known as the Thunder Dragon! And she turns heads everywhere she goes! I love it.

 

 

 

 








Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 181 other followers