I wouldn’t say that I necessarily have a knack for being in the wrong place at the wrong time — rather I seem to always unintentionally be where the action is. There are all kinds of situations that a paddler can find themselves unlucky enough to be in and it’s good to have the necessary skills to get out of them.
Beware of Hogs and Alligators
Take my trip down Turkey Creek near Niceville, Fla., for instance. Our group had stopped for a brief rest at the mouth of a shallow creek. Always the adventurer, I began wading up a shallow side creek to explore. As I rounded a bend a group of feral hogs exploded from the underbrush and bolted full tilt across the creek. Luckily for me they ran away from instead of at me. I wisely decided that it was a good time to return to the group and not push onward.
Feral hogs in Florida are a big problem and this wasn’t my first encounter with them but it was definitely the most I’ve ever encountered at one time. These destructive animals can weigh several hundred pounds and have dangerous tusks that can severely injured someone. Sows with piglets and lone boars are particularly dangerous and should be given a wide berth.
My next close encounter was while I was innocently photographing aquatic plants on Silver River near Ocala. I wasn’t paying attention to where I was going and as I rounded a bend I glanced up to see that my kayak was headed straight for an alligator that had strategically placed himself on a floating grass mat for the sole purpose of eating paddlers who weren’t paying attention to where they were going.
Frantically I started back-paddling while chanting my now famous, “Gator! Gator! Gator!” protection spell and simultaneously snapping pictures (because everyone knows the most important thing to remember in a life and death situation is to get the shot!) Upon later review of the photos the ripples left by my frantic back-paddling can clearly be seen in front of the grinning alligator.
Luck was with me in this instance because it was a younger alligator about four feet in length that I encountered instead of one of Florida’s infamous man-eating monsters. Had it been a larger alligator I may have been in a lot more trouble than I bargained for.
Paddling Dangers: Motorboats and Rough Surf
Not all close encounters involve animals. While paddling on the Perdido River I had turned my kayak around to check on a fellow paddler who had gone up a side channel to explore. I was almost to the mouth of the channel when I heard a motorboat rapidly approaching. I barely had time to point my kayak at the side channel when the boat rounded the bend and sent a wave towards my kayak, lifting it and sending it surfing into the channel.
When paddling always keep an eye and an ear out for motor boats as the curves of the river can sometimes obscure the sounds of an approaching boat. A paddler may need to react quickly to get out of the way.
Some misadventures are a result of human error. At St. Vincent Island near Port St. Joe I paddled out of Indian Pass on flat surf into the Gulf of Mexico. On the return trip to the pass, the water had become a washing machine of large waves which can often occur due to wind and afternoon heating. From a safe distance I bobbed about in my kayak while trying to find some pattern to the waves that I could use to my advantage.
I steeled my nerve and pushed forward into the churning water and found myself fighting the waves to keep from capsizing. A large wave lifted the back of my kayak and drove it nose-first into the base of the wave in front of me. I instinctively braced my paddle behind me and leaned for all I was worth, wrenching my elbow in the process. I bounced haphazardly through three more sets before punching through to calmer water.
After catching my breath I started paddling with my uninjured arm towards the nearby boat ramp less than a quarter mile away. It still took almost half an hour to reach it and I was exhausted by the time I did. This was a misadventure that could have easily been avoided had I checked the weather beforehand and had a better paddling technique.
These and other close encounters led me to revisit kayaking and canoeing safety tips and to also work more on my paddling techniques. I recommend always paddling with a buddy, wearing a life jacket, and keeping a whistle close at hand. You never know when you may need one, two, or all three of these.
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This article is copyrighted by Beverly Hill