This column was first published May 24, 2008

Sometime it would nice to turn your world upside down – introduce a little variety, some spontaneity, have dessert first, do what you want to do first rather than wait until after work – wouldn’t it?

We get tied into life’s routines and forget that having diversions and downtime really aren’t sins. Actually, without them all we’re really doing is spending countless hours toiling away to pay the piper, the oil man, the tax man, the banker, the grocer, the power company… see ya, I gotta go paddling. Back in a few hours!

My time on the water is precious in a number of ways, mental therapy being high up on the list. After a day filled with inanity, complaints, ever-increasing expectations and fewer and fewer people to get the job done, we often need to turn to something to make it all go away. I find that escape on the nearest body of water I can find. (The people I work with might say I don’t find that water often enough!)

The other evening after work I bounced out Essex Street (one of the worst pieces of so-called paved road in the area) to Gould Landing in search of solace. Inside of 10 minutes two days of work’s stress melted away and I was in a zone. A gentle breeze ruffled Pushaw’s surface and kept the flying pests at bay.

Rounding the southern end of Moose Island, I picked up a tailwind and cruised north at a pretty good clip when all of a sudden I found myself pretty much high and dry on a submerged tree stump! What a rude awakening! Fortunately the stump was wide enough that capsizing was not a concern.

My first thought was that I hoped no one was looking (I doubt it, it’s behind the island). Next I chided myself because I know there are a few similar obstacles in that area. To date the water has been high enough they’ve been covered. And finally I felt a little cheated because my reverie had been shattered.

But it served as a wakeup in more than one way. When we’re doing something like paddling that has a life-threatening component to it, we shouldn’t get off our game of safety. I’ll always wear my PFD. I’ll always have the usual safety gear aboard. That’s pretty much ingrained. But Tuesday evening’s outing helped me reinforce the caveat that we shouldn’t get complacent no matter how many times we’ve hit the water.

Take a class

Which brings me to a class I was invited to attend last weekend at Alamoosook Lake in Orland with American Canoe Association instructor trainer Armand Mickune-Santos of Lakeville, Mass., who co-taught the course with Karen Francoeur of Castine Kayak Adventures.

Attending the two-day event was a group of guides and would-be instructors including: Alan Greenburg, Bradford; Victor Anderson, Kennebunkport; Ted Cake, Bar Harbor; Kaitlyn Fowle, who just moved to Rhode Island after accepting a position with Eastern Mountain Sports; Keith Brown, Corinth; Tara MacDonald, Corinth; and Andrea Russell, Bar Harbor. I tagged along only on Sunday (what a day it was, though!).

The group, some of whom are already Maine Sea Kayak Guides, had signed on to enhance their paddling skills at a course offered by Castine Kayak Adventures through the Maine Maritime Academy Continuing Education Program. It’s part of a series of kayak skills classes that are being offered at MMA throughout the summer.

The Coastal Instructor Development Workshop is a course offered through the American Canoe Association to prepare certified kayak instructors with important teaching skills. Once certified, these instructors educate paddlers through a series of Level 1-4 safety skills courses.

The progression allows paddlers to follow a comprehensive structure to their paddling education. With every new skill learned as a paddler, the more freedom and ability to safely explore new waters the paddler gains. The series will be offered at the Castine Kayak Symposium, July 11-13, along with a followup exam for students of the IDW.

I used the opportunity to refresh some rusty rescue skills and to remind myself I should plan on a couple more on-water self-rescue drills. The assisted rescues, on the other hand, popped right back for me, and you’ll be comforted to know if you are anywhere near me when you capsize, I can still haul your soggy butt out of the water and get you back into your boat.

The session was a golden opportunity to sharpen skills. And here’s a tip you can take to the bank: If you’re using a dry suit that does not have attached booties or socks, don’t plan on staying dry if you pull your drysuit on over waterproof socks, like I did. The socks kept the ankle gaskets from sealing around my ankles and water seeped in, wetting the lower legs of my long underwear. It wasn’t a large influx of water, but it would have been a concern had we been in colder ocean water. Wool socks inside booties will be in order next time out. My feet will get wet, but they’ll stay warm, and the drysuit will seal against my skin.

If you are looking to enhance your kayaking skills, here are a few upcoming classes. Some will be repeated at the Castine Kayak Symposium.

— Beginner Kayak Touring, ACA Level 1: 6-8 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays beginning May 27 and ending June 10. Cost is $145 with your own gear, $180 if provided. This course includes classroom safety and gear sessions, a rescue session and three on-water sessions.

— Coastal Kayak Strokes and Maneuvers, ACA Level 2: taught July 12 or 13 during the Castine Kayak Symposium (one day), cost is $125. Class size is a minimum of five and a maximum of 10.

— Intermediate to Advanced Sea Kayaking, two-day workshop, ACA Level 3: taught May 31 and June 19 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Cost is $250 with your pre-approved gear.

— Coastal Kayak Strokes and Maneuvers, ACA Level 2: taught during the symposium at a cost of $125.

Castine Kayak Adventures is offering other skills classes including advanced rescue and rolling, navigation on water and other open water skills. Check out the Web site at or call 866-3506.

Steer clear of Bremen

This just in from Scott Shea, president of the Maine Association of Sea Kayak Guides and Instructors: If you paddle in Bremen (and why you’d ever want to after hearing this is anybody’s guess), your kayak must display a flag measuring 8-by-11 inches, four feet above your deck! And it’s not for your safety, mind you. No, you and your speed-bump kayak are a liability for the lobstermen. And should you get caught (by whom it is not clear), you could be fined by the town anywhere between $100 and $2,500! Maine, the way life should be!

You might want to factor that into your summer paddling plans and steer clear. Besides, I’ve heard a rumor the summer visitors, referred to by the natives as “summer complaints,” will be required to wear orange football helmets so they won’t get hurt when they fall down while walking around and rubbernecking the sights that make Bremen so quaint. I hear you’ll be able to buy a pass for around $100 to avoid that embarrassment. Just pay at the gate and don’t forget your wallet.

Jeff Strout’s column is published on Saturdays