Watery birthday, Part I

What do you get a man who already owns pretty much everything he needs and wants? If you’re my parents, and you’re shopping for my husband’s birthday present, you buy a gift certificate that can be applied towards an inflatable canoe. That may sound like a slightly unusual purchase, but it is something that Sasha has been wanting for quite a while now.

2014-07-27 14.34.21Before I arrived in Falmouth, Sasha used to do a bit of surfing, but the early mornings, cold water, and shortage of big waves cumulatively diminished his interest in the sport. He continued to periodically don a wetsuit and go for a snorkel, but his days of cruising over the water’s surface appeared to be over.

When I moved here with my kayak, I anticipated that we would frequently head out into the bay or paddle up one of the many nearby creeks and rivers. However, I failed to appreciate just how exhausting it would be to even contemplate carrying my kayak down two flights of stairs, through a parking lot, down the street, through the Falmouth Watersports Centre’s boat storage lot, and to the ramp where we could actually put the craft into the water. I am ashamed to say that neither of us has taken it out since I moved here in early 2010–though we’ve frequently discussed the need to buy a water vehicle that Sasha could take out alongside me in my kayak, or that the two of us could power together.

As I recall, Sasha first thought of buying an inflatable watercraft several years ago after he saw a photo of the Molokini:

This transparent kayak–which costs a whopping $1800–is not inflatable, but it did lead Sasha to discover a range of boats that are both see-through and affordable–such as National Geographic’s Eco-explorer Boat. Once he realized that we could own a craft that was easy to both store and transport, and that wouldn’t break the bank, it was only a matter of time before one came into our lives.

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So it was that we recently found ourselves paddling through Falmouth Harbour on an overcast but unusually warm and humid late July day. We’re lucky that we’d had such a tremendous run of hot weather, because it meant that the Cornish waters were not nearly as chilly as normal. You tend to drip water all over yourself while paddling, but this felt refreshing rather than frigid.

At least, that’s how the water felt at first, when it was just coming off our paddles. We weren’t too far away from the loading ramp when Sasha commented on how there was a lot of moisture around his feet and under his seat. He was sitting at the back of the canoe, and is heavier than I am, so at first I assumed that all my splashes were running backwards and accumulating at his end of the boat. Soon enough, however, he reported that the water was nearing his lap; not long after, I began to feel a pool forming around my own chair.

It was at this point that Sasha casually mentioned a hole in the back of the boat. Initially, I thought he meant a puncture, but it turned out that he was referring to a valve like this:

Image courtesy of Carmo

He hadn’t been able to find the plug for the valve, so he’d just assumed that it functioned as a sort of drain for any water that happened to get in the canoe while we were out on the water. Sasha may be an expert in biology, but a physicist he is not. Luckily, the kayak was inflated in such a way that it couldn’t sink even if fully filled with water, since the sides and top were isolated from the main body. Thus, while we continued to sit ever lower in the water–and struggle ever harder against the waves buffeting our bow–we were never in danger of having to swim to shore.

Happily, we were not too far from a floating pontoon dock erected by the Royal Cornwall Yacht Club. We pulled over, dislodging the juvenile gulls that had been sitting there begging for food and generating copious amounts of guano. I could have done without stepping onto the poo-covered surface, but needs must. We dumped out our watery cargo, plugged the hole, and set off once again. 2014-07-27 14.02.46


I’d originally thought we might go all the way to the docks down by the Penryn Bridge, but the tide was too low for us to get that far; that entire area becomes quite an extensive mud flat when the water isn’t moving inland. Instead, we made an exaggerated U-turn near Mylor Creek and the Truro River, where we could see beached boats of varying ages, along with a wide variety of waterbirds.

There hadn’t been much wind during our outward journey, and what breeze was present had been in our faces. This gave me the mistaken impression that we would have an easier time paddling home than we’d had when going towards Penryn. However, I soon noticed that I seemed to be working awfully hard to make only tiny increments of progress; further, although we hadn’t needed any breaks during the first half of our journey, we had to take several on the way back. Clearly, though we’d been going against the wind on our trip out, we had been going with the tide; when we turned around, the piddling breeze at our backs did virtually nothing to assist us in our battle against the current.

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Feeling happy to have reached the safety, and relative dryness, of shore

And so it was that we novices learned one of the most fundamental rules of coastal watersporting: One must always check the tide times, and plan accordingly. Alternatively, one could avoid tides altogether by going inland and paddling on a lake, which is what I always used to do. In any case, though the maiden voyage of our inflatable craft was certainly eventful, we ultimately escaped relatively unscathed (save for a few sore muscles).

It didn’t take much time to fill the canoe with air or to deflate it once we returned home, and it was easy to carry it next door to the access ramp–where we were ignored by the Harbor Master and therefore managed to avoid a £5 fee. With the exception of our life vests (purchased separately), all our supplies fit into a single, sturdy carrier bag–which means we can easily throw the kit into our car and look for navigable waters elsewhere.

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All in all, I’d say that Captain Birthday Boy was pleased with his gift.



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