Offshore perspective: Kayaking provides Bellingham couple quiet chance to explore marine wildlife

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDJune 16, 2014 

A small group of kayakers floats near Lummi Island on a calm day, when suddenly one of them capsizes.

Jeremy Boyer sets to work right away bailing out his kayak. He knows that hypothermia can take hold quickly in the chilly water, limiting his chance of righting his kayak and reaching shore safely.

A powerboater near the Lummi Island ferry dock at Gooseberry Point notices the capsized kayak and zips over to help. To the boater's surprise, Boyer waves off the assistance and quickly pops back into his kayak without issue. Passengers aboard the motorboat cheer.

They didn't know that Boyer, an avid kayaker, had capsized on purpose to practice emergency techniques. He and other members of the Whatcom Association of Kayak Enthusiasts regularly put themselves in the water for drills, so when the time comes to use them for real, the maneuvers are second nature.

As a lesson learned from the incident, Boyer now cautions others to be aware of their surroundings when practicing drills.

"Don't practice where people think you have an emergency," he says. "But the good thing about practicing drills is, you have confidence."

UNEXPECTED HOBBY

He didn't mean to do it, but somehow Boyer went to the 2012 annual REI garage sale in Bellingham looking for camping gear and picked up a new hobby instead.

He and his wife, Caitlin Bennett, had moved to Bellingham from southwest Washington a few years earlier. As avid campers and canoers, they weren't strangers to outdoor adventure. Indeed, they met while working at a lodge in Montana's Glacier National Park.

While neither of them had ever been sea kayaking, when they saw a kayak at the sale, they decided to put down the cash and walk out with it. They haven't looked back.

Boyer was first to take up the sport and quickly joined WAKE, a local group dedicated to hosting trips and teaching safe kayaking practices.

Boyer and Bennett paired up with the late Ray Bailey, a longtime kayaker. Bailey advised them on proper maneuvers and necessary gear as an informal instructor with Members Helping Members, a WAKE program.

Often, kayakers focus on rolling, a technique for righting a flipped kayak while still inside, but Boyer says that's not the only important maneuver.

"People get fixated on rolling, but really, I want to say, 'Can you do a high and low brace?'" he says. "I would always preach to the public to know how to do a wet exit. Know how to do those re-entries, because it may not be reliable to roll."

Practicing drills builds confidence for kayakers.

"You feel like, 'What's the worst that can happen?'" Boyer says. "It's like a sense of accomplishment."

Boyer is now a trip coordinator with WAKE, and helps others learn about tide currents and proper gear, such as personal flotation devices and dry suits.

FAVORITE THINGS

Boyer and Bennett enjoy kayaking to campsites in the San Juan Islands. Getting close to wildlife is often the best part of a trip.

"Many people don't realize that tide pools are very colorful and almost subtropical," Boyer says. "We see seals, harbor porpoises, crabs and huge sea stars."

Sitting on the water offers adventurers the chance to see much more than they might be able to by land or boat, Bennett says.

"Seeing land from the water is incredible," she says. "We used to dream about hiking on the islands before owning kayaks, but there were no ferries there."

Many of their island destinations are accessibly only by water.

"Kayaks can get you to see places you can't get to by land," Boyer says. "When it's raining, I spend a lot of time fantasizing about trips and looking at maps."

Samantha Wohlfeil is a reporter at The Bellingham Herald.

Reach DEAN KAHN at dean.kahn@bellinghamherald.com or call 715-2291.

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