The lady at the kayak rental place told us to paddle out to the island because it was “lovely, lovely, lovely” and not too far away, and [boasted] two 135-foot lighthouses, one which we could climb for a view of Cape Ann from Rockport to Good Harbor Beach in Gloucester.
My wife and I were in Rockport for the weekend, ready to try sea kayaking for the first time. The bonuses of trying a new activity and climbing a lighthouse was appealing, tendency to get seasick and fear of heights notwithstanding.
First things first for anyone interested in seakayaking: the skirt vs. no skirt debate. Skirts are worn by hardcore sea kayaking types just as often as lycra shorts and tighter spandex shirts are worn by serious bicyclists, or at least those who pretend to be. I’m no Scotsman, so the skirt question was easy to answer:
Rental lady: “Would you like skirts?”
My wife was the only other woman in the building.
My wife: “Yes.”
A skirt on a sea kayak, first-timers learn, is a tiger of a different stripe. Made of nylon, usually, or neoprene, a kayaking skirt is of unisex design wholly unflattering give to the body. It cinches in close to the waist and, like a saggying tutu, billows out below the knees, whereupon it thehn achieves the appearance of a diaper that wants pinning. Sea kayaking skirts are designed to make you the wearer look ludicrous the rental shop lady’s declaration that the skirt keepsseawater out of the kayak in which you are sitting.
A customer wearing a skirt walked by. He was a he and indeed he, look ridiculous. The skirt looked remarkably on him like a diaper that needed pinning; when he turned for the door, the skirt swirled around his knees like a pair of deflated pantaloons the tailor had failed to furnish with crotch or seat.
Moreover: from the bottom of the skirt dangled a loop which seems to have been designed to allow users to either lift the skirt from the front to pee or for a prankster to yank down, snaring the wearer and sending him, tripping, across the floor.
“The lip of the skirt wraps around the cockpit coaming”, the lady explained, “and keeps you dry.”
She explained. Cockpits in sea kayaks are not at all like that of jet figher planes. airplane. It’s rather more like a bathtub too short to sit in comfortably. The coaming is a lip around the cockpit which manufacturers leavesthere because they’re too lazy to trim off all the excess plastic and fibdrglass left behind when sea kayaks pop from the mold in factory. Sea kayakers foist off the lip as a necessity. It’s supposed to make the cockpit watertight.
Many confusing terms created a metaphor in mind. For starters: were lip and waist ever to get involved in wrapping…well, to wrap latter around the former would require both enormous lips and a very small waist, and yet would still remain an impossibility. The sea kayaker’s own legs would get in the way.
I nixed the skirt.
The rental lady handed over the remaining gear we’d need: lifejackets which she called pfd’s, pumps (which seemed reasonable, although I wasn’t comfortable with the image of what would make the pumps a necessity), and two paddles whose blades resembled lollipops and which were angled so that their faces were offset from one another. She called this angling feather, and explained that it would make sea kayaking easier should the day turne windy. There was not a breath of wind, as far as I could see.
Finally she described the route. Paddle out of the harbor, turn right, then and aim for the white lighthouse on the island about a mile. The, when we reached the gap between mainland and island, we were to look ahead for the bold rise of the Thachers Island’s twin lights.
All I can say is we managed to off that island in one piece. This was early June. Apparently, early June is not only when “lovely, lovely, lovely” Thachers Island not onhy present its thickets of poison ivy with leaves bright enough to blind. It is also the time of year when seagulls on the island begin to act insane. We approached the island.
From a distance the prospect was lovely, lovely, lovely. Pinkish granite shorelines. Twin grey lighthouses lifting from rocky promonitories, a handy sloped wharf for landing.
But apparently the island’s gulls are offended by the sight of anyone carrying a paddle or anything having to do with any sort of feathering — perhaps because feathering implies theft or, worse, an invading species. The gulls seemed aroused especially by people wearing skirts in any manner, shape, or form.
My wife and I had not taken ten steps along the path that leads to the north light when a hovering gull, big as a cargo plane, angled its beak, folded its wings, and plunged from the sky toward me. First that bird tried to give me a haircut, failing that, it returned and tried to give me a shave.
My wife: “EEEE!”
Skirts, lips, feathered paddles and combings, I mean coamings. I say forget sea kayaking. If wearing the get-up you need to sea kayak saftly doesn’t make you look silly, then getting chased by seagull into a thicket of poison ivy, your yellow skirt flapping in the breeze will, believe me.
I think I’ll stick with bicycling’s garish tights, its silly shoes, its package-of-sausages-and-bratwurst spandex jerseys. I may look just as silly, but at least it doesn’t require skirt-wearing.