Posts Tagged ‘Mirage’

The biosphere of Planet Earth is a miracle. We know of no other world where we could live outdoors. The moon is inhospitable, Venus a furnace, Mars’ air thin and oxygen-poor. Forget the other planets in our solar system. And we know little about those beyond. By comparison, Earth is a paradise. Every day we should rejoice in the sunshine, breathe deeply with gratitude, and take water as a sacrament. So why do we spend so much time inside?


Once I took a plane trip on a perfect day in May. Flowers bloomed and trees wore new leaves. We flew at low altitudes where I could see the towns and neighborhoods, parks and school yards, fields and forests below. But no children played on the playgrounds. No one walked or jogged. No farmers worked their fields. No workmen or fishermen were evident. How could they stay indoors on such a beautiful day?


People move to Florida “for the weather”, then find it too hot, too cold, too humid, or too many mosquitoes. Day and night they keep windows closed and the air conditioner running. Why not live where the climate requires such confinement?


“When was the last time you spent the entire day outdoors?” A character in a movie asked another. Nothing substitutes for the physical, mental, and spiritual refreshment you find in the open air. Last January on the Mirage, we lived outdoors the entire week. Only the cabins are enclosed. The dining area, where we spent mealtimes and evenings, is open to the elements. Surrounded by wilderness with no light pollution, we stood on deck at night and enjoyed the stars. We spent our days on the water, under the sun, in the wind, and it was good.


But not perfect. Nature is not always kind. In Pine Island Sound, destruction by Hurricane Charley nearly a decade ago is still evident: heaps of uprooted, storm-tossed trees.


Monday’s sun heated the cabins below deck. To hasten cooling, I left my hatch open until bedtime. By then, my cabin was full of mosquitoes. I don’t know how many I swatted before I started to count, then I killed sixteen, more during the night, and probably another dozen in the morning. Afterwards, I was more vigilant.


If you kayak in the sub-tropical sun, you need skin protection. I wore a hat, long sleeved shirt, and long pants all week. Splashing waves cooled me. I used sunscreen on my face and hands, but forgot UV protection for my lips, which burned, cracked, and peeled. A lesson learned.


At least I didn’t turn into a Gumbo Limbo. Natives call it the “tourist tree” because its bark is red and peeling. On Wednesday, we encountered the human variety. The kayak trail in Commodore Creek was choked with tourists. Poorly prepared, they probably lathered on sunscreen, but did little else to protect themselves. Most wore shorts and short sleeved shirts or tank tops and, while they remembered sunglasses, few wore hats. Even though Commodore Creek is shaded by mangroves, I’m sure by evening they resembled Gumbo Limbo trees.


The week was not all smooth paddling. Wednesday morning was calm but the wind picked up when we returned to Mirage. We skirted the shore in Pine Island Sound but had to cross open water to get to the boat. The wind kept blowing me off course. I’d paddle several times on one side to get straight, then over-correct and be blown the other way. Finally, Jun suggested I align myself perpendicularly with the waves and let the wind blow me along. I told him I was trying to align myself with Mirage. He said to align myself with the waves and Mirage would take care of herself. He was right. The wind blew me right to the ship. Nature is bigger than we . Why exhaust ourselves trying to work against her? Better to cooperate.


That evening, waves too choppy for kayaks, we took the dinghy out to North Captiva Island, beached on the inland side, and crossed a short neck to the Gulf of Mexico. We collected shells and watch the sunset. The water was cool but pleasant enough for a swim.

Kayak voyage 081


Thursday dawned with a nice south wind, but a cold front loomed in the northwest. When we reached the south point of North Captiva Island at 1 pm, the wind shifted and picked up speed, the weather turned cold and the water choppy. Paddling became difficult. We hugged the shore until we came to a shoal too shallow to paddle, so Elke and I got out and waded, towing our kayaks. Keith and Jun detoured the shoal and landed on a small beach. My muscles cramped from the chill. Jun came back for our kayaks, allowing us, thankfully, to walk on the sand.


From there, as the gull flies, Mirage was not far, but I struggled against the wind. When I’d stop for a brief rest, it blew me back. At one point a strong current caught us. Keith offered to tow me. Fatigue and pain eventually conquered my stubborn pride, and I let him. Sometimes you just have to accept help.


Tarps were lowered around the dining area to shelter us and we wore coats to supper. All night, the rigging snapped in the wind and Mirage swung back and forth on her moorings. There’s a saying in Florida: if you don’t like the weather, wait a few hours. The morning dawned cool but soon warmed and we enjoyed beautiful weather the rest of the week.


Did discomfort diminish my pleasure? Only temporarily. Afterward, I could laugh and reflect. I don’t go looking for trouble and “No pain, no gain” is rubbish, but roadblocks lead to self discovery, adversity to growth. Adventures yield good memories once we are safe at home. Being outdoors all week was well worth it.


As I write on this beautiful day in May, the sun is shining, the birds are singing, and the yellow flies are biting. I almost need armor to go outside. Oh, well. At least my windows are open so I can breathe fresh air. I don’t have to leave the house to pump water, so I can take it as a sacrament.


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Last month I began to relate my adventures aboard Mirage, the mother ship for Kayak Voyagers. This month, I focus on the parallels between life on a small boat and existence on a small planet.

We view our world as a big place and seldom consider how everything comes from the Earth. Once we regarded her resources as limitless. We Americans are especially guilty, originally gifted with a sparsely populated continent, virtually unfarmed, uncut, un-mined, immense. Over the past half century, we have become painfully aware that all this land, water, forest, and wildlife are finite after all. If we want to continue to enjoy them, we must be careful.

A planetary disk of white cloud formations, brown and green land masses, and dark blue oceans against a black background. The Arabian peninsula, Africa and Madagascar lie in the upper half of the disk, while Antarctica is at the bottom.

To prepare for the trip, Elke had sent me a “What to Bring” list. The first words were, “Pack light”. How do you pack “light” for a week with no opportunity to do laundry? I usually travel in my Road Trek which has the capacity for a complete wardrobe. In my defense, driving from Florida to points North, I must pack for more than one climate, but I tend to plan for every contingency, forgetting I’m in a civilized country with access to stores and washing machines. But Mirage was cruising in wilderness areas with no stores or laundromats. Storage space on a boat is limited, so packing lightly is imperative. I had to be more resourceful, making do with less.

Technically, Mirage is a catamaran, seventy feet long and twenty six feet wide, but little of this is living space. Her main hull (the vaka) is only eight feet wide. Three passenger cabins and two for crew are nestled in the vaka. My cabin, accessed by a hatch on the deck, could sleep three, but I had the luxury of being the only occupant. Like my pioneer ancestors, I could to spread out my things without bumping elbows with anyone. I suppose Mirage could sleep a dozen, but the open-air dining area accommodates only eight. With just four of us on board, we were comfortable.

Technically, Earth is a satellite of the star we call the Sun. Her circumference is about 25,000 miles, equal to about a dozen round trips between Disney World and New York City. Like Mirage, Earth is unique. She is the mother world for our species and millions of others. Compared to the few other planets we know, she is a paradise. We have nowhere else to live. Over seventy percent of Earth’s surface is water, so we air breathers are confined to less than a third of our planet’s area. Earth’s population is increasing astronomically. We do not yet know how many she can accommodate.

On Sunday, Elke hauled a car load of groceries out to Mirage. She had to plan meals carefully. The food must be not only tasty and nutritious, but adequate for the week. Additional trips to the store would have been inconvenient and wasteful. Another consideration was food storage. The Mirage has only two small refrigerators, one gas and one electric, a cooler for frozen foods, and only a few shelves for non perishables. Careful planning is important.

Earth has no stores floating around in outer space to replenish our supplies. We are restricted by what we have here and what we can make from it.

In preparation for the voyage, Keith emptied the holding tank and filled the fresh water reservoir. This water is for washing and had to last the week. An almost inexhaustible supply of sea water is available to flush toilets, with a caveat – the capacity of the holding tank is finite, with no opportunity to empty it during the voyage. Storage space for trash is also limited. Once, people just dumped their garbage and waste in the ocean. Now we understand we need to keep our only home clean, so we generated as little waste as possible on our Blue Boat Home.

Each of us had a water bottle labeled with our names. Elke had bought several gallons of drinking water to refill our bottles as needed, nothing wasted. Despite the quantity of water on Earth, we are learning how precious clean drinking water is and struggle to conserve it.

Mirage is propelled by two large outboard motors. Again, the fuel supply is finite and has to last a week. Electricity on board is at a premium despite the solar panels and limited to 12 volts unless the generator is running or the boat driving, both which require fuel. Besides the refrigerator and lights, laptops, cell phones, and camera batteries require daily charging. Running the motors charges the storage batteries, but only when driving to a new location.

Earth’s supply of fossil fuel is also limited, but she does have a virtually infinite source of solar energy. Like the solar panels on the ship, we need better ways to harness it for our use.

Of course we were not confined to the Mirage the entire week. Every day we paddled out to the mangroves for birding or to the beach for shelling. We visited a lagoon occupied by manatees. Every day Keith would move Mirage to a new location. Twice we lunched at shore side restaurants. But for our daily living, our resources were confined to what we had on board. All this may sound like a hardship, but it was not. We only had to stay mindful.

How often in our busy lives do we stop and think about the consequences of our actions? Of carelessness? Perhaps we could all benefit from a voyage like this, an opportunity to leave behind all the extraneous fluff and focus on true needs. More than the sea shells and photographs, as much as the memories, I cherish the lessons in ecology and sustainability I brought home from my voyage.

 Standing on these mountains and plains
Far away from the rolling ocean
Still my dry land heart can say
I’ve been sailing all my life now
Never harbor or port have I known
The wide universe is the ocean I travel
And the earth is my blue boat home
(Peter Mayer)


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We sing a hymn at my church, “Blue Boat Home” by Peter Mayer. Even a landlubber like me can’t resist rolling with the rhythm. Some of the words are:

                                The wide universe is the ocean I travel                                                                              And the earth is my blue boat home.

Of course, this refers to the Earth in her voyage through the heavens, but whenever I hear the song, I think of another blue boat home, the Mirage. Last January, I was privileged to spend a week on board, cruising Pine Island Sound near Ft. Myers, kayaking through the mangroves, viewing birds and other wildlife. A white boat trimmed in blue, on blue water under blue sky, Mirage is a magnificent sight. Viewed from the port side, she resembles a substantial yacht. Seen from other angles, your head snaps back for a second look. “Did I see that right?” Hence, the name Mirage. She is unique, custom built by John Bartlett and operated by Kayak Voyagers out of Alva, Fla. There is no other like her.

Kayak voyage 165

The Mirage is seventy feet long and twenty six feet wide. Her main hull, called the “vaka”, is only eight feet wide. This is joined to the outrigger, the “aka”, by two arches called the “ana”. Mirage is not a luxury yacht. She is a mother ship for a small fleet of sea going kayaks. On our trip, there were only four of us aboard but she can comfortably accommodate twice that many.

In “Taking Pictures from a Kayak” I wrote about one aspect of my adventure. This post will be one of a series I have been working on as I digest the meaning of the experience.

Much more than a pleasure trip, it was the breaking of a mold for me. I was a late-comer to open water. My childhood was spent in the foothills of the Catskill Mountains and I never laid eyes on a body of water larger than a lake until I was fourteen. Then my family migrated to Florida. I caught my first glimpse of the Atlantic Ocean as we drove over a high bridge in Savannah. That night, we stopped on a Florida beach after dark, my first intimate contact with salt water. I was unprepared for the sheer power of the ocean. Roaring like a lion, it surged forward, receded with a sigh, then attacked again. By the headlights of our car, I could see only those lion paws clawing the sand and the black depths of the sea and the sky. No way would I commit my body to that behemoth!

Of course, living in Florida brought better acquaintance with beaches, and with lakes, canoes, and sail boats. Then work and family responsibilities kept me from the water for many years. I did not touch a kayak until after I retired.

On my first kayaking adventure, I tagged along with my daughter Amber and her friends to the SuwanneeRiver. I did not tell anyone I’d never been on a kayak before. I hoped I could fake my way through the experience, and I did. As we launched, I considered strategy. Those young people could paddle all day without breaking a sweat, but could I? I suggested we paddle upstream, so that the return trip would not be too difficult if we were tired, and everyone went along with it. I was pleased with myself at day’s end.

But when the opportunity arose for a week-long kayak voyage in South Florida, I had second thoughts. And third thoughts. Was I up to it physically? I had obligations on my schedule. Could I be gone from home that long? These concerns only masked my trepidation over trying something entirely new, engaging in an activity for which I had few skills, spending a week with people I had yet to meet.

I took a deep breath, cleared my calendar, and broke the mold. I committed myself to the adventure.

On the appointed day, I drove half the length of the peninsula to the Ft.Myers area. Many years had passed since I’d visited southwest Florida and I expected to see the countryside covered with concrete. I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of farm land, mostly cattle ranches and orange groves, which survive, and the wilderness areas that have been preserved.

I enjoyed the scenery so much I took a wrong turn in Punta Gorda, heading north toward Tampa instead of south. As a result, night had fallen by the time I reached Pine Island. Although the island is only fifteen miles long, the road seemed to stretch forever in the dark. Finally, I crossed the small bridge to Bokeelia Island. Out in the bay, I could see the lights of the Mirage. I parked by the dock and called Elke. What did we do before cell phones? Soon, I heard the put-put of the dinghy and Elke pulled up to the dock. We loaded my stuff and cruised over to the Mirage.

I knew I would have my own cabin and head. I pictured a hallway in the hull with cabins opening from it, but the hull is too narrow and that would have been wasted space. To my surprise, my cabin was accessed by a hatch on the deck and a steep set of stairs almost like a ladder.

Keith had gone to the airport to meet Jun, our other passenger. When he called from shore, Elke picked them up in the dinghy. After introductions, Elke rustled up a nice supper, which we enjoyed in the open air dining area. In the morning after breakfast, we embarked on our first paddle, around Back Bay.

In the week that followed, we explored mangrove islands and swamps, wildlife refuges, and an Indian mound. We viewed untold numbers of birds, visited manatees, collected shells, and took lots of pictures. The days brought not only good times, but lessons in self sufficiency and interdependence, ecology and sustainability. Stay tuned for the next installment.

For more about the Mirage, visit http://kayakvoyagers.com.

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