Saturday, October 6, 2012

The Season Winds Down

A few days ago, Nate and I led what would probably be our last guided trip of the season. We had a group of fifteen- travelers on a package-deal bicycle trip that shuttles them by van between various attractions on the Maine coast. They sleep in upscale inns, eat at nice restaurants and bicycle in choice locations. We provide the on-the-water entertainment, taking them on a short kayak tour, usually out to Russ Island and back. Probably the most important goal of these trips- just slightly lower on the priorities than bringing them back safely- is getting them back to their vans on time. Their day is tightly scheduled: places to be, wine to drink, etc. The customers pay quite a bit for these trips.

This excursion started like they usually do. I paddled over from Stonington Harbor and met Nate. We pulled tandems off the rack, arranging them on the beach, and piled life jackets on the picnic tables so when the vans arrived we could get everyone outfitted quickly. Nate pointed to a chart on the outside of the building and outlined a probable route. I said “walk this way,” and for the last time this season, strutted one of those Monty Python silly walks toward the water.

After everyone chose a cockpit and we’d explained how to sit in the boat and how to adjust the foot pegs and pedals, Nate and I went around and helped everyone get fitted. This is where you start to see what sort of clients you have- who’s going to figure it out on their own, and who might be difficult. Most of them are older than us, and less flexible. We tell them to look inside the cockpit first so they understand where the pedals are. But there’s always someone who wasn’t listening. We’ll stick our heads down between their knees to see what’s going-on and discover that their feet are a good foot beyond the footpegs or vice-versa. Then when they complain that it’s too tight a fit, we tell them - probably the second of many times- to sit up straight.

Foot pedals are a hassle. Far be it from me to be dogmatic, but most of our problems guiding people arise from the rudders and foot pedals. Of course, with a 19’ 6” boat with a 28.5” beam, the rudders come in handy when people want to turn. And in a two-hour trip (that’s 2 hours including the time it takes to get ready on shore) we’re not going to be teaching any maneuvering skills.

When the pedals were all sorted-out, Nate and I did a quick tag-team “in the unlikely event of a water landing/out of boat experience” talk. We kept it quick and streamlined; you can usually sense people getting impatient, wondering how necessary all this talk about capsizing is. Someone asked “how often do people tip over?”

I looked at Nate, remembering the last time. “A couple times a season,” he said.

We launched boats as fast as we could, Nate gave an on the water paddling lesson, and soon we were a big, clumsy flotilla ambling across Webb Cove. Nate and I kept busy, making suggestions: “turn your paddle over,” “bring your rudder back to the middle,” “try sitting-up straight,” etc. By the time we skirted Indian Point, the questions began:
“Have you lived here all your life?”
“Where are you from / how did you end-up here?”
“What do you do in the winter?”
 “Who owns that house?”
“How many people live in Stonington- do you know everyone?”

I answered the “lived here all your life/where you from” question four times in a row.  It’s a lot like the tedious part of working in a small town art gallery, except that you’re simultaneously watching for lobster boats and trying to keep the group together. But, as people like to remind me, at least we were kayaking. Imagine getting paid for such a thing.

Everyone survived. We made it back in time.

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