Cuba, Kayaks and Carry:: Cotopaxi Challenge 113 (Part II)
From Havana, Cuba, Frank Sedlar walks us through what to pack when preparing to cross the Straits of Florida via kayak. A 113 mile undertaking lasting between 30-40+ hours.
In contrast to the vibrant old city, western Havana stands as a dull and boring locale a few miles’ drive west on the Malecón. Depressing Brutalist styled buildings rise from the coast, half of them completed, all of them faded. In front of the bleached concrete our two support boats and five kayaks have been docked for the past week. It’s unclear if the ropes holding our boats or the eyes of the olive green fatigued “dock hands” had our boats under tighter control.
Beneath this sluggish backdrop our team is busily preparing the boats for next morning’s departure. In the middle of the Atlantic hurricane season we’ve been informed that mother nature is allowing us to attempt a crossing, but only if we act fast. As dry bags are hastily loaded my kayak partner, Brent Rose, and I nervously glance at each other. As two journalists who looked past the logistics and realities of kayaking from Cuba to Florida and instead started by toasting glasses of dark Cuban rum to a successful crossing, aside from a kayak and a paddle we had no clue what gear to start grabbing. Luckily a Carryologist is never completely lost when it comes to gear. The below equipment is what ended up on our boat, and what would hopefully get us through two days on the open ocean.
Fate picked our kayak for us, a blue Wilderness North Shore sea kayak affectionately named Fidel Fastro. Five meters long and with room enough for my two-meter frame to sit comfortably. Both cockpits offered numerous attachment points, one waterproof compartment and a whole mess of webbing to strap gear to. The color was chosen to further help two inexperienced journalists disappear at sea.
1x Adventure Technology Quest Carbon paddle – Having taken maybe 100 strokes before leaving Havana meant that I had no idea on optimal paddle ergonomics. However, within three hours at sea and the quick adjustments in paddle length and blade angles possible with the Quest paddle I had gotten this paddle dialed in. So if a complete novice can appreciate the design and construction of this paddle which still stays light in your hands after two days of continuous use, Adventure Technology must be doing something right.
1x NRS Bilge Pump – We soon found out that we would be using this pump a lot. In dicey seas when removing your spray skirt is a terrifying prospect, being able to pump up to eight gallons per minute with no hose required was something we would soon come to appreciate.
1x NRS LED Deck Light – As DMX said “It’s dark and Hell is hot.” We can confirm that it’s dark at sea and we’ll take his word about Hell. We had this light suctioned to our stern and cranked on from 6 pm – 6 am basking our boat in the safe glow of white LED’s. Though we were later informed that the white glow attracts sharks…
1x Voltaic Systems 6 Watt Solar Charger Kit – Between GoPro’s and cell phone cameras, two journalists can go through a lot of power. Luckily for our batteries, though not so much for us, there’s no shade at sea. The size of this panel (10″ x 15″) fit snugly beneath the webbing on the kayak and gave us ample power to keep the charge on our battery packs at all times.
1x Nanuk 903 Case – Hard, waterproof and decked out with padding for storing the electronics of the Voltaic device. Any device we needed to charge could then fit snugly within the yellow interior of the Nanuk case.
1x Osprey Hydraulics 3L Water bladder – For getting water in, conveniently.
1x Piss Bottle – For getting water out, conveniently. Fashioned by simply repurposing a Gatorade bottle. The key was to make sure that we were able to tell our piss bottle from our water bottle in the middle of the night.
1x Cotopaxi Agua 1L Water Bottle – Under the glare of the midday sun, the double-walled, vacuum-sealed insulation of this bottle ensured that ice cold water always greeted our lips. The sense of relief this provided really can’t be captured in words. It turns out this bottle was really popular with the residents of Havana.
2x Black Plastic Garbage Bags – We lined our kayak seats with two layers of black plastic garbage bags in our continual effort to fight chafing. This turned out to be a very, very good idea.
2x NRS Padz Heel Ankle Pads – NRS makes an array of self-adhesive mini-cell foam padding that can be placed anywhere in the boat. I grabbed a handful of heel pads and covered every inch in my footwell.
1x Havana Club Bucket Hat – Havana Club, el ron del Cuba! Finding a kitschy bucket hat branded with our new favorite rum brand was not a difficult task in any tourist part of Havana. I’m still waiting on that Havana Club sponsorship to come through.
1x Oakley Radar Deep Blue Polarized Sunglasses – The deep blue polarized lenses Oakley has developed were clutch when staring at the endless blue expanse of the ocean and sky all day. I’m not sure if sea-blindness is a thing but these glasses prevented me from getting it.
1x Adidas ClimaCool Long Sleeve Shirt – Adidas has really done some innovative things with their ClimaCool fabric which results in actually feeling cooler with a long sleeve shirt on than without. This loose-fitting shirt was extremely comfortable when at sea.
1x Mesh Running Shorts – Chosen on an entirely unscientific assumption that these had the least probability of chafing.
1x New Balance Minimus Running Shoes – Although I wouldn’t take a single step during this crossing, a lightweight pair of shoes was important to provide some additional padding for my feet and specifically heels. The Minimus have been an extremely comfortable pair of shoes in all walks of life and didn’t miss a step at sea.
2x Generic Painter’s Gloves – I missed the boat on purchasing paddling-specific gloves so a last-second run to the hardware store landed me with two pairs of generic painter’s gloves. These gloves had no padding and were terribly hot but nonetheless helped prevent some blisters.
1x Casio G-Shock Watch – While my partner’s watch had a GPS I opted for the fail-proof simplicity (and style) of a G-Shock. The main purpose of the watch was to make sure we stayed on a regular eating, drinking and medicine-swallowing schedule.
1x Seals Inlander Spray Skirt – The skirts came with the kayaks so we didn’t have too much choice here. This skirt kept us reasonably dry but the lack of suspenders meant that the skirt never stayed up high enough to keep us completely dry. Perhaps we shouldn’t have been using an inlander skirt on the open ocean?
1x NRS Ninja Life Vest – The low profile and athletic design helped make us not want to tear this life vest off, while the 500D Cordura and numerous pocketing holding our supplies made us feel like we might actually last a bit at sea if we fell overboard.
1x Generic Orange Whistle – If/when these two journalists get lost at sea, playing songs on this whistle will be our best bet at passing time.
Aquaphor & Desitin– Luckily fashion is not an issue in the middle of the sea, as our bodies would be completely covered head to toe in diaper powder. We’d been told that the moment we feel any chafing to drown the area in more diaper powder. This would prove to be excellent advice.
2x Cotopaxi Dry Bags (8L, 15L) – Cotopaxi manufactured some gear one-off for this trip including these dry bags. Their small size prevented anything from getting lost in their depths and allowed us to fill them with a range of amenities and stash them close at hand.
1x Goal Zero Venture 30 – Goal Zero products are perhaps the best mobile power solutions for adventures. We could squeeze out plenty of power for lights and cameras while the integrated USB/micro USB meant one less thing we had to be fumbling with at sea. Finally, the Venture 30 packs a ridiculously powerful light. If there was an MVP gear award for this trip, the Venture 30 would win hands down.
1x Field Notes & Pen – It’s a rule that a Field Notes notebook never leaves my side, even if at sea. I’d heard that some pretty ridiculous thoughts pop into your head after days at sea and I was determined not to miss them.
1x Black Diamond ReVolt Headlamp – One of the better bits of gear I blindly threw into the dry bag. The extensive lighting options – a full power beam, a more moderate beam, red LED’s and strobing options – handled every situation we turned the Revolt on for. And though this light runs on AAA batteries, it’s fully rechargeable via micro USB meaning any of our power options could keep this light going long-term. Finally, it’s got a locking feature that prevents it from being accidentally turned on while in a bag.
1x GoPro HERO3 – One word here, selfies. And we’re pretty sure that a GoPro is standard issue gear by now. We’d leave it to the photographers on the two support boats to cover anything else.
1x BullFrog Sunscreen – Though this sunscreen burned when putting it on, it refused to wash off under the potent mix of salt, water and tears coating our faces.
Drugs – To prolong pain and insanity we fell into a rotation of popping Tums, Pepto, Imodium, Caffeine goo, Ibuprofen, Tylenol and salt pills. It’s a rather potent mix with a pill taken once every two hours for 30+ hours straight. Certainly not a routine recommended for long-term survival, but for what we were about to do it seemed like a pretty darn good idea.
Water – Five liters of water on the kayak and gallons more back on the support boat would hopefully keep us from dying. The water was stored in a mixture of bladders, plastic water bottles, and Cotopaxi insulated canteens.
1x Cotopaxi Luzon (18L) – A great bag that was stashed on the support boat to function as a feed bag. After spending two days in a kayak you tend to get ornery fast. Luckily for everyone the Luzon’s one large pocket made it a breeze for someone on deck to quickly find my last zebra cake and toss it to me before the kayak-induced nerves got the better of me. Aside from a feed bag, the Luzon became the go-to daypack for everyone during our time in Cuba. It’s really a do-anything pack that’s sewn from scrap material in Cotopaxi’s Philippines factory.
Food & Drink – The Luzon was swollen with a fat pile of PB&J sandwiches, beef jerky, candy bars, zebra cakes, trailmix, bottles of Ensure and Starbucks Doubleshot Espressos, and leftover pizza from our hotel in Havana. It was difficult to tell what would sound appetizing, so I packed everything.
1x Bottle Cuban Rum – Break open in event of successful crossing.
1x Cuban Cigar – Light up in event of successful crossing.
Photos by Cassandra Allred and Michael Boren of Red Tractor Productions