Story last updated at 1:31 p.m. Thursday, August 22, 2002

Point it and go
by Sepp Jannotta
Staff Writer

photo: outdoors
  Photo by Sepp Jannotta, Homer News
Brian Saunders pulls several kayaks away from the incoming tide on Saturday at the mouth of the Martin River near the head of Kachemak Bay.  
Knowing that two thirds of the earth's surface is covered by water, I get a quiet buzz when I paddle a kayak across the calm surface of the sea -- a feeling that feeds on the various stimuli that soak into the senses as I glide along.

I began to try and break that feeling down as I slipped my sea kayak into the water at Aurora Lagoon last weekend for an overnight paddle to the head of Kachemak Bay with my friends Brian Saunders and Shellan Miller.

What is it that makes paddling such an enjoyable sport?

Freedom? That's part of it, for starters. You put in and off you go, with the weather and your boating skills as the only major limiting factors.

And as in all good wilderness adventures, it is the unknown -- that X-factor combination of the elements, the wildlife and you -- that stokes the drive to pick a spot on a map and go there purely for the experience.

The spot we picked was Chugachik Island just north of Bear Cove.

As we floated out the entrance of the lagoon on the out-going tide, the exiting water danced into a riffle as it poured over shallow rocks at the mouth. Paddling out into the bay, the sound of the moving water gradually gave way to the much broader sound of a following day breeze scratching up intermittent white caps on the surface of the bay.

Again paddling comes back to the sensory, the intimate quiet that kayaking affords over any other kind of boating. No motor churns up fumes or interferes with your hearing.

If you're lucky enough to experience that peaceful absence of sound that comes when there isn't a breath of wind, perhaps the only thing you will hear beyond the fluid dip of the paddle will be the calls of the otters and the loons.

This was the kind of quiet the three of us sought and found past Bear Cove, where there is far less boat traffic than in other parts of the bay.

But getting there, if the tide is running hard or the wind is blowing, can be interesting. As the three of us rode a slight chop toward our destination, I noted to myself that the feeling of the wind against my neck ignited a visceral feeling, a slight tightening of the gut comes any time you give a thought to the sheer size and power of the ocean.

I ran through the safety and rescue techniques I've studied. Though there was no real danger of flipping a boat on this day, still I thought to myself that I needed to test my out-of-date flares.

The tide runs swiftly through the channel between Chugachik Island and the foot of the Kenai Mountains before ultimately pushing onto the shallow flats at the head of the bay.

Despite the breeze, the paddling was a no-brainer for the various skill levels in our group -- from Saunders, who guides kayaking trips, to me, a middle of the road intermediate, to Miller, who has notched several days of paddling in her life.

Besides a 180-degree view that sweeps from Kachemak Selo past the Fox River flats to Dixon Glacier, our campsite offered a decent bed of blue mussels. We quickly rounded up a mess of these for our night's meal.

The paddling we found beyond Chugachik Island is best timed to take advantage of a high tide in order to ride in over the flats once they are covered and ride out on the outgoing tide while the water is still high enough to offer a straight shot back toward Bear Cove.

The Martin River drainage and the Bradley Lake area offer excellent backcountry camping and exploring opportunities, though we opted for a quick turnaround, heading back to our mussels.

As is the norm for a sunny high pressure morning, Sunday dawned calm and the bay was glass. The air was so still that Saunders, an unabashed morning person, was able to hear bits of a conversation in Russian taking place in Kachemak Selo some four miles to the north.

The early morning air rang with the cries of birds of all kinds. Gulls, bald eagles, geese, loons. Off the northeast corner of the island a couple of dozen sea otters joined the mesmerizing chorus.

As we turned our backs to the Fox River and slid past the outer ramparts of Chugachik Island, the lolling tide gently slurped against the rock walls.

When a salmon swirled the glassy surface a few feet off my bow, I chanced upon the notion that makes me grin when I paddle. It is the simple satisfaction that comes from knowing I can float along under my own power in the smallest of crafts on the largest of oceans.