Web posted Wednesday, May 8, 2002

photo: people

Kayaking is a delightful way to experience the grandeur and majesty of Kachemak Bay

Sea kayaking in Kachemak Bay

Kachemak Bay is one of the richest marine environments in the world and is home to an abundance of wildlife species. From the Homer harbor, a 30-minute boat ride takes kayakers into a wonderland of islands, fjords and protected coves.

Kayaking is easy and inexpensive, and trips range from day excursions -- don't forget that daylight averages 19 hours in June -- to longer expeditions. And because of its protected location behind the Kenai Mountains, Kachemak Bay receives relatively little rainfall for a coastal area, making it a wonderful place to explore.

The beauty of kayaking is the feeling that you are a part of the ocean environment, not just passing through. Wildlife watching is easy for whales, porpoises, seals, sea lions, otters and seabirds. Good spots are Jakolof and Little Jakolof bays, Tutka and Little Tutka bays, the backside of Yukon Island, the Herring Islands, and from Sadie Cove to Halibut Cove. Gull Island, offshore from Peterson Bay and Halibut Cove, is a major seabird rookery.

Low tides uncover a wondrous world of tide-pool life and gravel beaches to explore, or paddle through crystal clear water over crustaceans, mollusks and starfish in the intertidal zones.

Good camping is available throughout Kachemak Bay State Park. There is plenty of room to pitch a tent and many trails to hike while your kayak takes a break.

Getting across the Bay is easy through any of the licensed water taxi services in Homer. Kayak guides can arrange charters. Lessons, kayak rentals and guided trips are also available.

Paddle safely

Though kayaking is easy, inexperienced kayakers should seek help. Going with a guide who knows local waters is good insurance for a once-in-a-lifetime experience. No experience is necessary for those going with a guide. Those who choose to go it alone should take into account weather patterns, winds and the peculiarities of current and tide. Storms can force kayakers to be weathered in, making the necessary equipment, clothing and additional food crucial.

Paddlers should always wear a life jacket while on the water. Kachemak Bay on a hot summer day may seem inviting, but its cold water can cause hypothermia to set in quickly. For that reason, always paddle with a buddy who can assist in an emergency situation. Know your equipment and have the right clothes. Practice and drill for emergencies before leaving on a trip, and carry a spare paddle or at the very least a paddle leash.

Taking classes or workshops on sea kayaking is a good way to prepare for possible problems. On the other hand, experience paddling on one type of water is not necessarily applicable to another. The large tidal range of Kachemak Bay and Cook Inlet can create fast, hard currents <> not unlike a river*<> in channels such as the one entering Halibut Cove Lagoon. Even experienced paddlers should talk to those in Homer who are familiar with the area and who can give advice on everything from good places to camp and fish to areas of dangerous water conditions.

One advantage of kayaking in an area like Kachemak Bay is that help is usually not far away <> if you have the means of communicating. Cell phones have revolutionized the rescue business, and carrying one on any camping trip, regardless of the means of transportation, is a good idea. Handheld VHF radios are also a good way to communicate as all large boats and many Kachemak Bay businesses use them daily. Either one can also be used to keep track of the weather, which can change with little notice. Always carry more food than you think you will need, as a change in the weather can extend your trip into extra days.