A Family Adventure

Tyson, Emilie & Isaac

Rec boating on Lake Potanipo

September 3, 2018
Emilie Phillips

Labor Day, the last day of summer, ninety degrees, sunny, and we hadn’t yet been paddling this summer.

“Let’s go kayaking this afternoon,” I said as we sat down for lunch, “just a quick dip.”

“It takes us two hours to pack,” Tyson complained, “an hour to drive anywhere, and two hours to clean up again.”

“I’m sure we can do it faster, and go to a closer lake.”

“No we can’t. And the parking is probably already full at Nubanusit or anywhere else. We can’t go kayaking today.”

“But Mom,” interrupted Isaac, “you said we were going kayaking today. I really want to.”

“Other people go kayaking for an afternoon,” I argued, “I see rec boaters do it all the time.”

A “rec” boater, aka a recreational kayaker, generally paddles a wide plastic kayak on a small inland body of water. They might paddle for an hour, bringing nothing more than the swimming suit they are wearing.

After a long silence, Tyson said, “It is a nice day for kayaking.”

“What if we were rec boaters today,” I proposed, “I’ll leave behind all the stuff I usually bring: food, extra layers, repair kit, safety gear …”

“Where would we go? Everyone else probably has the same idea.”

My mind flickered to Hampton beach in the summer. From a kayak 100 feet offshore, the people blend together into a cacophonous mottled carpet, as if the beach were covered with seagulls.

“Let’s go to Potanipo,” I said, “It’s five minutes down the road. We can change at home. The water will be warm enough to wear swimming suits.”

“Please Dad,” Isaac was verging on a whine.

“What will we do there?” Tyson asked, still dubious, “It’s a tiny flat lake.”

“Splash around,” I answered, “Stretch our legs in the boats. Work on Isaac’s skills so next time we can go somewhere better.”

“Ok,” said Tyson.

It still took us an hour to get packed. Nothing was in the right place. The racks weren’t on the car. The PFDs and spray skirts were in winter storage. One of the boat straps is holding together an airplane seat.

We decided Isaac should try paddling a kayak on his own. My Tahe Greenland is our smallest boat. Tyson would paddle his red Anas Acuta. That left me to choose between our plastic Avocet, and Tyson’s new used yellow Anas Acuta which we haven’t outfitted. Tyson brought them both down for me to try. I picked the yellow Anas Acuta.

In the end, we left the house with three boats on top of the car, no bow ropes, three towels, four paddles, three PFDs, two sponges, two water bottles, one pair of kid goggles, and two spray skirts. You’ll note, we missed the cameras. Not quite rec boat standards, but as close as we could manage.

Tyson parked near the Potanipo boat ramp to unload. I told Isaac to stay out of the way at some rocks while Tyson and I dodged pickup trucks loading and unloading motor boats. We added our kayaks to the canoes and wood paddle boards stacked on the grass beside the ramp. Tyson re-parked the car. We hurried into our boats and wove our way out between two motor boats waiting for captains or trailers. We’d made it onto the water with most of the afternoon ahead of us.

Lake Potanipo is a small lake, or a large pond. It’s the only lake in the area that allows motor boats, so it’s often busy. The boat ramp is at the narrow end of the lake, right near the outlet stream.

I led away along shore while Tyson shepherded Isaac. By our standards, Isaac isn’t safe in a solo kayak yet. He hasn’t shown he can swim out of a kayak if it flips over. We’ve tried to practice wet exits, but Isaac jumps out before the kayak is upside down.

“Is that the bottom of a sailboat?” Tyson asked pointing north into the lake.

I didn’t have my prescription glasses on, but there had been a sailboat about where Tyson was pointing. I saw motor boats, but no sailboat.

“That white thing?” I said, “Must be.”

“Can you watch Isaac,” Tyson asked, “while I help the folks in the sailboat?”

I nodded.

“Don’t take your eyes off him,” Tyson insisted, “He’s not safe.”

We needed someplace calm to play, someplace where I could touch the bottom to help Isaac wet exit. The near shore is full of houses. No place there. The inlet stream at the far end of the lake is navigable — that might work. Isaac and I left the shoreline and headed out into the lake.

Back behind, Tyson and two other swimmers, hauled on the sailboat hull to right it. Afterwards, Tyson swam back into his kayak upside down and rolled it upright. The sailboat crew thought that was impressive.

Tyson caught up out in the middle of the lake. He was alarmed I wasn’t right next to Isaac given the wakes from speeding motor boats. So we traded responsibilities again.

“Where are we going?” Tyson asked.

“Over to the stream,” I answered, “I’m hoping to find a calm spot back there.”

We paddled a little ways further.

“Which way are you going?” Tyson asked, sounding annoyed, “that’s not the way to the stream.”

“No, but Isaac is having trouble controlling his boat in the wind,” I said, “so I’m going straight upwind until we get to shore. Then we can paddle over to the stream.”

“He’s wandering all over the place,” Tyson countered, “The wind doesn’t make any difference.”

Meanwhile, Isaac had spotted another boat wake.

“Whee!” he said as it bounced him up and down.

“We aren’t making any headway,” Tyson complained, “can’t we go straight to the stream?”

“I want to stay here,” Isaac said, “and play in the waves from the boats.”

“No! We’ll get run over.” Tyson and I agreed on that.

Once we approached the shore, I realized the bottom was muddy. No place to get out. Tyson remembered the whole inlet stream as mud bottomed too.

“I guess we continue around the lake,” I offered, “and look for someplace better.”

“But Mom”, Isaac whined, “You said we were going to stop and play.”

The best we could find was a cove with a rocky bottom. The shore was too steep and thick with bushes to pull our kayaks up. Instead we anchored our boats in a stand of tall marsh grass. Time for fun.

We played, swim to Dad’s boat and try to tip him over. Tyson has a strong sculling brace, so Isaac couldn’t flip him. Then Tyson and Isaac tried to flip me. Tyson succeeded. I rolled a few times for fun. I’m rather stiff.

Another one of Isaac’s favorites — climb onto an empty boat and jump off, splash, into the water. Isaac raced me after trading his tiny paddle for my larger one. We tied.

Tyson started the competition to hold your breath the longest under water. Tyson always wins that one. Then Tyson and Isaac swam around without their PFDs until Isaac tired. Isaac’s swimming has improved a lot since last summer.

Before we left, I wanted to try an exercise my Dad, or Turner, had suggested. I positioned Isaac in his boat in waist deep water.

“Hold my hands,” I instructed, “I’m going to flip you upside down. I’ll count to three. Make sure you keep holding my hands. And then I’ll pull you back up.”

Isaac held on and said “ready”.

I flipped him over and then back up. He fell halfway out of the cockpit, so the kayak didn’t roll back up all the way.

“I couldn’t stay in,” Isaac said, “I just slid out.”

The Tahe Greenland coaming that’s snug on any adult, hovers over his shins. I showed him how to tuck his knees under the sides of the deck. We tried again.

This time Isaac and the kayak went over together. His hands were steady in mine as I counted to three. And when I pulled, Isaac and the kayak rolled up together.

“That was fun” he said.

I emptied his boat and climbed back in mine. Time to head home. I led along the east shore to avoid most of the motor boats. Isaac didn’t keep up. He’d stop to play, Tyson would remind him to paddle, he’d paddle for a few strokes, and then stop to play.

“He’s tired,” I commented to Tyson, “I bet he’d like a tow.”

“Rec boaters”, answered Tyson, “don’t bring tow ropes.”

“Guess we’ll have to do a contact tow — at least we brought our skills.”

I waited for Isaac to catch up and turn around as instructed. Then I put my bow right next to him where he could grab it.

“Lean over on my boat like you are napping” I told him.

I pushed Isaac halfway back to the ramp before tiring. Tyson took over and carted Isaac the rest of the way.