— Brinestorm

 

From the always-excellent XKCD.

Read More

 

Yours truly contemplating a crag at Tinnari, Sardinia.

Yours truly contemplating a granite arch at Tinnari, Sardinia. Photo by Barbara Kossy.

We were lucky enough to have not one but two kayak sojourns in Sardinia (actually Sardegna) during a three-week visit there in the summer of 2014. One journey was pretty cushy and guided in the northwest and one self-supported camping in the east. In short: Sardo is awesome and everyone should paddle there, dammit.

Sardinia, an island region of Italy that is smack-dab in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, is a fascinating place: Occupied and conquered by pretty much every civilization that’s ever touched the edge of the Med, it has a history of inhabitation that goes back to the Stone Age, has vibrant and amazing ruins from very sophisticated Bronze Age civilizations, has unbelievable food (in quality and quantity), and has a sturdy, independent spirit that I respect a lot.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know. What was it like to kayak there? Well, Nancy Soares beat me to the punch a year ago with her own trip report on the Tsunami Rangers website, so I’ll spare you the blow-by-blow of the trip. I have a Flickr album that does that anyway. Instead, I’ll focus on what’s interesting, cool, and challenging about Sardinia in general, from a sea kayaker’s perspective.

Because, seriously, you need to paddle there.

Read More
soDone

Photo of Monsieur Brinestorm by Barbara Kossy.

So very done. Just…done. (Pro tip: With a PFD on, pretty much every beach is comfortable.)

Read More
Paddle to eat, eat to paddle.

Paddle to eat, eat to paddle.

For the third in my series of post-mortems on my 2-week kayak camping trip on the West Coast of Vancouver Island, I want to tackle the topic of food. It’s also the longest of all of these articles. Coincidence? I think not!

For some, food is fuel, and little more. Food is indeed fuel, but food is also the hub of most in-camp socializing amongst paddlers, a source of comfort on cold days, and a major element of morale if conditions are tough or things are going wrong. Becoming demoralized at dinner time because you’re starting to find your food uninspiring – or, at worse, unpalatable – is a major issue.

Food fatigue = fueling failure. Poor planning produces peckish paddlers. And other alliterative aphorisms.

I would argue that how much you enjoy what you eat is actually a significant safety and group cohesion issue…and don’t we do these trips to, at least partially, enjoy ourselves?

Read More

This is a packing test for my 2-week Vancouver Island trip.
I wound up using at least five more dry bags than shown here!

This is the second in a series of articles detailing what I learned on a 2-week kayak journey on the West Coast of Vancouver Island, a trip with four others that ranged from the South Brooks Peninsula to the northern tip of Nootka Island.

Of course, if you’re camping out of a kayak, you need to find a way to pack all your stuff in your boat. But what many inexperienced kayak campers don’t realize is that you need to re-pack your boat every. Single. Day. Doing this every day for two weeks solid makes you pretty self-critical of your packing strategy!

Having just gone through this myself, I thought I’d offer my own take on some of the harrowed, classic kayaking strategies and some new discoveries I made on my own.

Read More
My QCC Q700x in between the main islands of the Bunsby Group, West Coast, Vancouver Island.

My QCC Q700x in between the main islands of the Bunsby Group, West Coast, Vancouver Island.

It’s been almost a year since my last post, and since my 2-week trip to Vancouver Island. I thought I’d share some of the learnings I had from that trip, across several articles. First, I’ll follow up where I left off: The boat I used for the trip, the QCC Q700x.

In short: It did great, overall.

Construction

The beaches that we encountered were usually broad and shallow. This meant that you can land and be within five boat lengths of your camp, but you have quite a haul in the morning when the waterline is now 20+ meters away when the tides turn. In this regard, the lightweight construction of the Q700x was dreamy. However, that also meant that caution – nay, paranoia – was needed when even thinking about moving the boat with any weight in it. No, you’re not supposed to move a fully loaded boat. But you’ve got to do some dragging or short-distance lifting when launching – hence my application of KeelEazy. But, after two weeks, no cracks, pops, or scary sounds.

A surprising frustration was actually the interior of the boat’s hatches. My right index finger had a preternatural ability to find exactly where that roughly-finished edge of carbon fiber was, getting a shard jammed under a fingernail quite a few times. Better attention to interior finishing would have saved me a few drops of blood, a lot of screaming, and plenty of obscenities. What’s more, the boat seems to be constructed with an outer core of fiberglass and an inner wrap of carbon fiber. This means, of course, that the interior of the boat is pitch black. I seriously thought I lost a couple of small bags (black, naturally) of expensive bits until I realized that they were all the way in the bow or stern compartments. One bag remained missing for 5 months until I found it again!

However, these interior misadventures also speak to the Q700x’s vast storage area. Without a skeg, the rear compartment is especially cavernous. However, the hatches and low deck heights confound all ability to get a rigid bear canister anywhere except in front of the footpegs in the cockpit. The rear hatch is big enough but the rear deck is too low, while the front hatch is too small but has the appropriate volume within. By using flexible Ursacks, I managed to fit all my food and smelly bits just fine.

While QCC doesn’t publish volumes on their website, I’d say that the interior hatch volumes on the Q700x total between 190 and 210 cubic liters.

Ergonomics

As mentioned previously, the deck of the Q700x is low. The benefit to this is an extremely comfortable low-angle touring stroke; I was often using an 84″ Greenland paddle with a short loom, and it was comfortable to use such a short paddle all day long. However, this wound up somehow straining my legs in a strange way, probably because I couldn’t raise my knees very high. My guess is that the pressure on my hamstrings from the upswept front edge of the seat pan caused both my hamstrings and the muscles around my sit bones to ache and spasm. By the end of the trip, I couldn’t paddle more than 90 minutes without stopping to lift my behind out of the seat and stretch.

I actually carved up part of my sleeping pad and made “donuts” of closed-cell foam to try and alleviate the pressure on my sit bones while also raising my bum slightly. This helped a little. After the trip, I switched out my standard Skwoosh gel seat pad with a thicker one, but that hasn’t helped. I just think that my legs need more bend than the Q700x’s low deck will allow.

The hatch design of the Q700x makes them tough to pry off if your hands are wet and you’re exhausted from a day’s paddling, but they were extremely dry during the trip. Their design does catch a lot of debris right around where the “weather strippping” attempts to make a seal, so I found myself cleaning the hatch lips a lot with my fingers before launching. Pebbles and sand were everywhere.

Q700x in the Cuttle Islands. One of my top five favorite campsites ever!

Q700x in the Cuttle Islands. One of my top five favorite campsites ever!

Handling and Performance

With a short 84″ Greenland paddle, touring was comfortable but slow; that paddle is my “rock gardening GP,” anyway. With a standard-sized Euro paddle, I was off like a rocket. Sustaining high speed was nearly effortless, and I constantly had to throttle down to stay with my companions. The Q700x’s low, soft chines don’t impart the world’s best secondary stability, but I never capsized accidentally in any conditions, and the boat just generally wanted to remain upright. Twitchy at first, confidence inducing with some experience. Its extreme length and plumb bow sliced right through waves, but I didn’t detect a particularly splashy paddling experience.

The biggest conditions we encountered were off Tachu Point, where a long underwater spit causes swell to rise up and break nearly a mile offshore. We were able to avoid the worst of it by navigating around the spit with a marine GPS unit, but at times we found ourselves in very steep 2-3 meter swell. The Q700x yawed like crazy on wave crests, and didn’t really find its direction again until the rudder bit back into the wave face. But over time, it all kind of evened out: It was a frustrating lack of control at first, but over time (and with better timing on little sweep strokes on wave crests) a more relaxed attitude and cadence let the boat kind of find its own way, the yaws averaging out over an hour to really still hold a pretty good heading. But it did so with a noticeable lack of efficiency. Here’s where a skeg – or a rudder and a skeg – would have added a lot more efficiency and reduced yaw.

We did a little bit of following of the coastline on a choppy day – not rock gardening, exactly, but certainly up close and personal with rocks. Dynamic and fun, but as you might imagine, a boat with very little overall rocker that’s 18′ long just isn’t very maneuverable. It’s the tradeoff for its excellent speed. It was responsive enough when I exercised good judgement, gave it the time it needed, and used supportive sweep strokes with an aggressive edge or lean. If you want to play the terrain you expedition in, you should probably be looking at a Tiderace XPlore, a P&H Cetus, or similar.

Of course, the boat just wanted to surf in straight lines all the time…assuming the wave period is long enough to not bury the bow into the wave in front of you. Seriously, this boat outpaced much of the surf I was in – a weird sensation. Still, this is wonderful, exhilarating, and fast – what surf ski paddlers live for – until you realize you’re heading towards a kelp patch and all those kelpy bits are actually otters in your way. I think I caused them more stress and fright by cringing and yelling aloud that I didn’t want to smoosh one than I did caroming down wave faces at them. It’s kind of like sharing trails when you’re on a mountain bike: Yes, the downhill rush is addictive, and speed helps your progress over obstacles, but you never know if a person or dog’s around the corner, so using caution and reasonable speed is the wiser course of action.

To my credit, the only thing I struck with my kayak was a 5′-wide ocean sunfish (video!), but that was only because he came to the surface between my bow and stern, and I didn’t see him below the water when I first passed over him. My rudder just clipped him (which rises out of the way under pressure, so no harm done), and he laid around for about five minutes not seeming to have been bothered by it. I did actually land on a beach without seeing a bear and her cubs on it, but that’s a story for another day…

Overall Impressions

The Q700x is absolutely an expedition-worthy boat if you know how to treat it and if the boat fits your body. It’s fast, sufficiently stable (poor secondary but strong initial for a rounded hull), and swallows a metric crapton of supplies and gear if you can be a little finessed with your packing. My modifications made it more livable and flexible for a camping trip. It’s done fantastic as a double-duty boat for expeditions and kayak racing (which I do a couple of times a year). It’s not a balanced boat: Its design makes a statement and takes a stand. You need to know what you’re in for: A go-fast, go-straight, fun boat with a streamlined sensibility and good cargo capacity, albeit with shallow heights. I have no doubts or regrets on my decision to put my life in its hands for two weeks in a remote region.

However: I’m selling it. The ergonomics just didn’t work for me: I must have a boat that I can potentially be in for up to 15 hours a day with no discomfort. I also love rock gardening and ocean play, which the Q700x just doesn’t deliver. What’s going to be replacing it? If you follow me on Facebook, you already know, but that’s a blog post for the future.

Read More
Guest contributor Krista Fechner races through a rapid in a sea kayak during the 2014 Cal100 adventure race.

Guest contributor Krista Fechner races through a rapid in a sea kayak during the 2014 Cal 100 adventure race. Photo by Tom Gomes.

[Editor’s Note: This is the first guest post on Brinestorm.com, by my significant other, Krista Fechner. She did an amazing job slamming a sea kayak down a river for 100 miles in 100 degree heat in a one-day adventure race on the US’s West Coast. Take it away, Krista!]

Last year, the folks behind Rivers for Change organized the California 100, a 100-mile adventure race down the Sacramento River in California, from Redding to Chico. Several members of our kayaking club (BASK) did the race and had a great time, so this year, I decided to give it a shot, even though it would mean getting up before dawn for a 6 am start and possibly finishing well after dark. I had only kayaked on whitewater twice. This race would be far different, though: I’d be using a full-size sea kayak. Other competitors would be using racing canoes, outriggers, ultra-fast surf skis, stand-up paddle boards, and of course, kayaks.

Course map showing checkpoints in purple

Course map showing checkpoints in purple

Training…and Injuries

To prepare for the race, I signed up for a forward stroke clinic with racing-trainer extraordinaire Susan Starbird and started planning gear, GPS waypoints, and food. In mid-March, Nathan and I headed up to Redding to do a race prep clinic—the first six miles of the river, covered twice. At low flow levels of 4,000 CFS (cubic feet/second) due to the ongoing drought, the rapids were easy for us.

Krista and Just Kayak More president, Jason Montelongo, confer on the right line to take during a training session. Photo by Tom Gomes.

Krista and Just Kayak More president/Sac River ninja, Jason Montelongo, confer on the right line to take during a training run. Photo by Tom Gomes.

In mid-April, I hit a snag in my training. Upon recovering from a cold, I went out for a jog and stumbled off a high curb, spraining my right foot (or so I thought). Four days later, we had our second race prep session in Redding. Our goal was to cover the first 50 miles of the river. Flows were identical to March, so I wasn’t worried about the rapids. I was trying a new hydration system (consisting of an MSR dromedary bag on my back deck) and new clothing. The first five miles did not go well for me; I capsized twice due to the shifting weight of the water in the dromedary and had to be rescued by my companions. My clothing was insufficient for the water temperature and I became slightly hypothermic. Fortunately, I was able to re-align my water bag, keep paddling, warm back up, and complete the rest of the day without further mishaps. We only covered 40 miles because the group was slowed down by strong headwinds. For several days, I thought my foot would fully recover, but instead I found out that I’d actually fractured my 5th metatarsal. It was into an orthopedic boot for me, and no more paddling for many weeks!

First place women's kayak finisher Priscilla McKinney asks: "What's this all a-boot?"

Krista and 1st place women’s kayak finisher Priscilla McKenney. Photo by Kristen Podolak.

Second Thoughts and Sanity Checks

At this point, I had no idea whether I’d be able to do the race, but I decided to prepare anyway as if I were going to. Thankfully, I was not in a cast, so I could swim for exercise, but all I could do was pulling, no kicking. I started piling on the laps, working up to doing a mile in 30 minutes as well as swimming for an hour without stopping. I was also able to do some kayak rowing machine workouts and weight lifting at home. I glued rings into my kayak’s day hatch to better secure my water supply much lower in the boat, and drilled a hole in the back deck so I could run a water tube out of it. A couple days before the race, I had another x-ray. The doctor said the healing was on track, but that I’d have to stay in the boot for another month. He gave me permission to kayak using an orthopedic shoe. I did not ask him whether paddling 100 miles was medically advisable, because it’s pretty obvious what the answer to that question is. I made the decision to do the race anyway, rigging up a foot splint (consisting of the orthopedic shoe, an ankle brace, part of a SAM splint, and an ace bandage), and using my right foot as little as possible.

The Race

The day of the race, flows on the Sacramento were 8,000 CFS, so the river would be faster than I’d practiced on, but slower than in last year’s race. Here are some notes on my race experience, broken down into the Good, the Bad, the Ugly, and the absolutely Wonderful. I’ll start with the Wonderful stuff first:

The Wonderful

  • I could not have done any of this without Nathan’s incredible support, which started before we even got on the road…we went out to put the kayak on the car, and my left front tire was flat! We were up against the clock to get to Redding for race registration, so Nathan whipped out this tire repair kit with a bottle of slime and a compressor that plugs into the car’s 12V receptacle. Talk about being prepared! That did the job, and totally held for the entire trip, even in the scorching Central Valley heat. He also got me to the 6 am race start on time (not as easy as it sounds), and helped me immeasurably at every checkpoint, driving to each spot, restocking my water, helping me change clothes, re-taping my hands, and applying sunscreen.
  • The volunteers at all the checkpoints were so supportive, cheering us on, braving the 100-degree heat, and helping all racers complete their portions of the race safely.
  • Little kids playing in the water gave me high-fives as I pulled into checkpoint 3. So cute!
  • This was a fantastically well-organized event. Major props go to John Dye and Danielle Katz of Rivers for Change, as well as Race Director Matt Palmariello and all of the folks who hosted introductory clinics!
  • Jason and Kasumi Montelongo shared their incredible knowledge of the Sacramento river and answered my numerous questions about the race and course.
  • Although I didn’t get to complete all of Susan Starbird’s forward stroke training sessions due to my injury, I know that what I’d managed to learn from her and Misha Riszkiewicz was what helped me take second place in my category despite being a gimp! I still have so much to work on…
  • Dave the shuttle guy held my hand to help me walk uphill on the dirt path to the parking lot after the race. It was pretty obvious that even with my boot back on, I was not in any shape to make it there on my own, while Nathan and Johnny Werbe schlepped my kayak (thanks, Johnny!)
  • The food at the after-party…WOW! How they managed a spread that scrumptious on top of such a complex racing event is truly amazing. Turns out fellow BASKer Daphne Hougard takes most of the credit! Acknowledgements of paddlers who stopped to assist others were awesome too.
Food strategy played a big part of Krista's success and morale during the long paddle.

Food strategy (and some hacked re-packaging)  played a big part of Krista’s success and morale during the long paddle.

The Good

  • For racing, I prefer real food and plain water to commercial energy products. Crushed-up sweet potato/carrot chips, spiced cashews, turkey jerky, banana chips, tangerine sections, and chocolate milk hit the spot. Homemade rice krispy treats made with hemp seed and brown rice syrup instead of marshmallows kept me fully fueled.
  • My food containers worked well for eating on the river. I used plastic spice jars with flip-lids, the perforated dispenser tops hacked open with flat-edged nail clippers; these allowed me to get a good mouthful using only one hand.
  • My hydration system, with all the kinks worked out from my practice run, was awesome. It was so nice to have water below deck rather than having to carry it on my back for that distance. I drank at least seven liters during the race.
  • I’d heard from last year’s participants that the last 50 miles of the race could be psychologically grueling because there are so few landmarks like bridges and rapids. I solved this problem for myself by setting dozens of waypoints on my GPS for side channels to avoid, feeder streams, and bends in the river. Whenever I checked my GPS, it was never more than a mile or two to the next waypoint. I always knew exactly where I was, and this kept me really motivated and less anxious about encountering 60 miles of unfamiliar river.
  • My kayak felt comfy for the entire race, although I’d been worried about problems with leg cramping, considering that I’d been getting very little leg-based exercise lately.
  • My aerobic training worked well. There’s no way I could have pulled off that distance without it.
  • A small sponge was perfect for dipping in the cold river and squeezing over my ventilated helmet or visor.
  • A liberal slathering of fragrance-free generic zinc oxide cream prevented chafing. I only had minor chafing in my armpits where I’d neglected to reapply it.
  • I used Leukotape (a type of runner’s tape) on my hands, ending up with NO blisters after 15 hours and 15 minutes of paddling!
Smooth sailing for long distances can turn into quite a mental challenge.

Smooth sailing for long distances can turn into quite a mental challenge. Photo by Lisa Thomas.

The Bad

  • Not being able to press hard with my right foot due to my fracture slowed me down and put extra strain on the right side of my upper body, but I knew this would happen and just dealt with it, pressing instead with my left foot and right knee.
  • I took a long time at the three mandatory checkpoints where we had to get out of our boats (I stopped for a total of 79 minutes!) But it was what I needed to do on such a hot day, in my condition.
  • There were long stretches of the race where there were no other paddlers in sight, which felt a tad uncomfortable at times. I’m used to social paddles! But I expected it to some degree, and didn’t let it bother me.
  • Paddling after dark on an unfamiliar river was scary. Well, this was an adventure race, so it came with the territory. Luckily that part of the river was flat and easy. If there were any hazards like submerged trees, I managed to avoid them. With a higher river flow and no broken bones, I’m sure I could have finished during daylight! I was fortunate, only having to spend 25 minutes in the dark…many folks finishing later were paddling in the dark for hours.

The Ugly

  • I had a brief bout of dizziness and nausea in the middle of the night after the race. I’m guessing it was due to dehydration exacerbated by exhaustion. I drank some water, fell back to sleep, and felt fine the next day.
Done. So very done.

Done. So very done.

Despite my injury, I managed to finish second among the women solo kayakers, no mean feat for someone with only one good foot! Would I do it again? Hell, yeah! But I’d love to be in a faster boat, or maybe part of a relay team, especially if I could convince some other kayaking gals to get in on this incredible event!

Read More

This month has been an embarrassment of riches for those of us that explore the briny plains of the sea. No fewer than three pretty pimp products have crossed my path in the last few weeks. I own, and have reviewed, none of these products, but it’s pretty great that we paddlers and water explorers have so many options and opportunities these days.

So, what are these interesting new products?

Nikon 1 AW

Nikon 1 AW. [Image by Nikon]

Nikon 1 AW [Image by Nikon]

 

Waterproof cameras are usually point-and-shoots: Little manual control, fixed (and often slow) lenses, and they don’t shoot raw (they only produce compressed, 8-bit JPEG images). Nikon is aiming to change all that with the mirrorless Nikon 1 AW. Check the shortlist of features: Waterproof, interchangeable lenses, shoots RAW, shutter speeds up to 1/16,000, 15fps motor drive, 1080p video at 30fps…it’s a lot to promise. If Nikon really delivers, this could be a genre-defining camera.

I’ll be the first to admit that no one is going to change lenses on a camera like this while on the water, but this aspect could make the Nikon 1 AW the only camera you need for an expedition. I’ll be anxiously awaiting reports on its battery life, especially. $800 retail is pricey compared to waterproof point-and-shoots, but the flexibility and modularity you get could be pretty interesting. However, due to its form factor and cost, I don’t see this being strapped to many peoples’ boats when options like the GoPro HD Hero 3 are available.

New Trent Powerpak Xtreme

New Trent Powerpak Xtreme [Image by New Trent]

New Trent Powerpak Xtreme [Image by New Trent]

 

I got my first New Trent battery by surprise, as a gift…and holy crap, has it been great. It kept my iPhone and three GoPro batteries charged during my two-week expedition on Vancouver Island, and has never given me a lick of trouble. Of course, such things are best kept in waterproof containers like Pelican cases or Otter Boxes…they’re too fragile and sensitive to be trusted to dry bags alone. And a 12,000 mAh battery is a pretty beefy thing: I can charge an iPad gen4 off of it no less than three times before the charge has been drained. It’s been instrumental in keeping me charged and recording in the backcountry.

Well, New Trent is now shipping the New Trent Powerpak Xtreme, and have even made it generally waterproof. While I still wouldn’t trust a drybag for any power cables, this certainly would make me less worried about the integrity of the battery itself. But will its port covers really protect its inner guts?

If initial reports and tests prove positive, this could become the definitive USB-interface battery to beat. Now that so many digital devices, from phones to cameras, can be recharged from a 5V USB source, the New Trent Powerpak Xtreme will certainly be a device to keep an eye on.

 

Road Shower

Road Shower [Image by Joel Cotton]

We’ve all been there: We’re covered in sand from a surf session. Eel grass covers our boots and boat. Muddy silt coats the bottom of our kayaks. Salt encrusts our hair and eye sockets. It’s such a pleasure to have something to rinse off with before you get your boat on the car, much less doff your drysuit, before you drive away. Joel Cotton of Silt, Colorado proposes a new solution, now being funded on Kickstarter: The Road Shower.

The Road Shower is a solar-heated, pressurized water storage and shower unit that mounts to car rack systems, with a standard multi-setting garden hose sprayer at the end of a flexible, food-grade hose. The whole unit, when filled, should only add about 40-60lbs. to your rack’s total load, which for most people should be fine.

As for me, I’ve always used a simple agricultural hand-pump tank sprayer: It warms the water in the car on a sunny day, is pressurized, and works great. But the Rack Shower doesn’t require pumping like an ag sprayer, and is mounted on top of your car, making it easier to get all that salt water and sand off your roof. The Road Shower also has amuch higher capacity, so it’s great for paddling couples or doing a full body, boat, and car top rinse, and then some. The Kickstarter campaign will offer price points that are lower than MSRP post-Kickstarter, according to Cotton, so if this is of interest, fund that shit ands support individual innovators!

 

Read More

I and four other paddlers did a two-week kayak camping trip to the west coast of Vancouver Island. We were there from late June through early July. Because we traveled from Northern California with our own boats and equipment, we drove 2,280 miles round-trip in order to paddle less than 60 miles.

Oh, but what an amazing sixty miles. In the video above you’ll see us launching and landing via a crane aboard a diesel freighter, encountering a mola mola after I ran over it (which I chronicled previously), hiking on Nootka Island, riding a rusty “zipline,” feeding anenomes, tidepooling, and doing a whole lot of paddling in conditions that varied from long, steep swell to placid waters, from sunshine to heavy rain, from clear skies to dense fog.

All I can offer from this experience are slices of my own perspective over those two wonderful, intense weeks. To get the barest sense of being there, you can watch the short film in this post (or on Vimeo - either way, viewing it in HD at full screen is recommended), or view my photos on Flickr. While I’ve written about the boat I used and the mods I made to it in the past, be sure to keep an eye on this space (and my Twitter and Facebook accounts) for more lessons and learnings from planning and executing our own trip.

Stay tuned for more soon!

Read More

In the midst of a crossing from the Cuttle Islands to the Brooks Peninsula on the west coast of Vancouver Island, in the summer of 2013, my rudder struck something.

I knew there weren’t any submerged rocks, according to our chart. I immediately spun around and saw a fin in the water behind me. My mind started reeling with what it could be…of course, going to the worst case scenarios first (orca?!?!)…

I had just glided over an ocean sunfish, or mola mola, coming to the surface to bask. I was not prepared to see a typically tropical pelagic fish that usually lives 600-2000 feet below sea level on a day paddle! The sunfish was about four or five feet in diameter, a bit smaller than an average adult male, but it probably weighed more than my fully loaded expedition boat.

Mola Mola in the Monterey Bay Aquarium; this specimen was at least ten to fifteen feed long. (Photo by yours truly.)

Mola Mola in the Monterey Bay Aquarium. (Photo by me.)

It was lazily flopping its top fin around after I struck it (not that it seemed to mind getting clipped by a kayak). It’s thought that the sunfish’s basking behavior is to warm itself after feeding in the depths (they mainly eat jellyfish), but they’ve also been observed to float near kelp to be cleaned of parasites by wrasses. Even more intriguing, seabirds have been seen to peck parasites off sunfish, and it’s theorized that fin flapping is to attract gulls to engage in this activity.

With our white hulls and shallow draft, did this mola mola think that we were birds? Did the fish even care we were there? Regardless of the reason, the sunfish let us watch it for three to five minutes before righting itself and sinking slowly out of sight. It was a magical, bizarre chance encounter with what I consider one of the strangest fish in the world.

Read More