Tag Archives: hot sea

Safety First!

The third week in June, as we’ve done for the last 20-odd years, my kayak buddies and I rented the same next-door houses on the water in Stonington, Maine. At the end of a long peninsula, Stonington is a seakayaker’s mecca. A dozen or so islands not far from shore offer us refuge from the open ocean and delightful spots for picnics and hikes. We can see the hills of Acadia National Park from the house and water.

This year, a sudden squall scared the heck out of a couple of us, including me. I wrote about what happened on my Facebook page (link). Essentially, it was terrifying and truly took all my skill to not flip over. If I had, my pals couldn’t have reached me because they were fighting the same conditions. We made it to shore, but a few hours later we learned that two kayakers were not so lucky and died as a result of the decision not to wear wetsuits. There’s a scene in COLD BLOOD, HOT SEA in which readers learn how and why paddlers practice rescues. What happened to those kayakers is why.

Since the event, I’ve been asked for details on how to safely kayak in marine waters. I’ll use Mara as an example of Kayaking 101.

Mara's Kayaking Gear

Mara’s kayak, like her buddies’, is specifically designed for rough ocean waters – very long and narrow (hers is 17′ long and cockpit narrower than most – just big enough to squeeze into). In high winds she might drop her skeg a bit into the water so the boat doesn’t turn into the wind. Other boats have rudders, some nothing. Basically these boats are designed to go straight and fast (river kayaks turn quickly). Mara’s kayak is light – less than 50 lbs – so she can lift it easily.

Mara always wears a wetsuit when she paddles off the Maine coast, even in midsummer, and of course her PFD (life jacket). She would never go out without her sprayskirt, which wraps around the cockpit and keeps waves from swamping the boat. If the water is really cold, as in early spring, she wears a drysuit. It’s a total pain to put on but keeps her dry if she rolls the kayak.
As I show in the book, Mara and her pals practice self and buddy rescues. Using a paddle float, she can get back into her kayak in about a minute if she flips the boat and can’t roll back up (although it’s never happened to her).
Mara has years of experience dealing with super tall waves, breaking waves, wind events, currents, and motor-boaters who can’t see kayakers (so low in the water) or don’t look for them. She loves to surf waves with her kayak even though that’s a tricky maneuver.

Finally, Mara carries these on her trips: weather radio, compass mounted on the deck, chart, extra paddle, emergency kit, emergency food, extra water, extra clothes in dry bag in the hatch, cell phone, bilge pump, tow rope, and whistle attached to her PFD. No wonder it takes her so long to get ready for a trip!

The event was another sobering reminder of how everything can change in an instant. As Mark Twain said, “Life is short, break the rules … Never regret anything that makes you smile.”

Maine in June

Summer has definitely arrived in Southern Maine – lilacs are in full bloom and best of all, the water has warmed up to safer temperatures. I paddle alone quite a bit (close to shore) and the dangers of Maine’s cold water are very real. Readers of COLD BLOOD, HOT SEA will see what I mean!

Finally, the first in the Mara Tusconi Mystery series will be published this month on June 7th. Reviews have been very positive. I especially liked the one in Foreward Reviews, the independent press magazine:

Pacing is spot-on, making for a page-turner that allows time for reflection on larger issues … of note is the friendship between [Mara and Harvey]; their relationship is warm, believable, and modernly feminist without being preachy. Cold Blood, Hot Sea will make for great beach reading, but it also has met on its bones, with rich characterization and an intriguing mystery at its core.

I have a three-book contract with Torrey House Press—a book a year. The editors will soon give me feedback about book number two (Deadly Spirit of the Sea) in which Mara, Harvey and Ted travel to Haida Gwaii. It’s an archipelago of islands and national park off British Columbia where there’s a temperate rain forest and lots of sea kayaking, of course. The native Haida’s mysticism and intimacy with nature is the basis for another “cli-fi” mystery.

Now that it’s June, I’ve started on the third book. Lobster Trapped (working title) takes Mara and her friends back to Maine. There, lobstermen wars, Maine islands, secrets, and Mara’s lobstering cousin Gordy are the foundation for the story.

It’ll be a busy, busy summer. I’ll do Cold Blood, Hot Sea readings and signings, rework the second book, and write the first draft of the third one. I’m doing what I love and consider myself extraordinarily lucky.

Speaking of luck, I want to thank the many friends and colleagues who’ve helped me with book promotion. These days, it’s up to authors to do most of that (Facebook, setting up readings, etc.). For a first-time author like me, it’s a lot to learn. I’ve had a ton of help for which I am so very grateful.

Rafting, Turtles, and More!

I just came back from one of the ecological wonders of the world – Costa Rica. What a terrific place! They’ve never had an army and a quarter of the country is national park and other protected land. The biodiversity of Costa Rica is astounding, especially considering it’s roughly the size of West Virginia. The diversity of the landscape – extensive Atlantic and Pacific coasts with volcanic mountains and farmland between – is partly responsible. Also, of course, this is a tropical country with benign weather year around.

Tourists flock to Costa Rica. Two long coasts with gorgeous beaches, volcanoes you can drive up to in national parks, ziplines, river rafting. That’s me in front of the raft, by the way.

  • The Caribbean coast most impressed me. I spend several days in Tortuguero, a national park only accessible by water and air. It’s the closest I’ve been to a jungle and is replete with animals like caimans (they look like small crocodiles), brown pelicans, magnificent frigate birds, dozens of herons (little blue, tiger, cattle, green, tricolored), green macaw. The list goes on. Tortuguero is most famous for nesting turtles. For instance, the beaches swarm with leatherbacks on January nights.

    Given the timing of my visit, I didn’t see turtles. I did see the beach, though, and was stunned that the distance from the upland down to the ocean distance was so short. That means this critical habitat is extremely vulnerable to rising sea level caused by climate change.

    I’m always on the lookout for ideas for future books and have been thinking about setting one in Tortugero. Mara, Ted and Harvey would study impacts of warming on the turtle beach. What a setting for a mystery – caimans, the jungle, and howling monkeys and more!

    But that’s for later. Today I send off my draft version of Shadow Spirits of the Sea (working title) to the good folks at Torrey House Press. The story takes Mara, Ted, and Harvey to Haida Gwaii, a temperate rainforest and archipelago of islands fifty miles off British Columbia. The memory of thousands of earliest Haida people who lived off the land and water is everywhere. Crumbling totem poles greet Mara and her colleagues as they kayak ashore and vanishing spirits challenge Mara’s world view.