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!





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.