GASP! Gulf Area Sea Paddlers

Mollie and me in St. Charles Bay, Texas Gulf Coast

Paddlin' With Pooch

Copyright by Jackie Fenton
(written in 1997)

Mollie, my 5 1/2 year old Westie, is an avid sea kayaking dog. She took to the water immediately. After her first few trips out on the kayak, she now becomes quite excited when she spies me loading my kayak and gear for a trip. She knows it's time for an adventure. I feel really guilty whenever I have to leave her behind.

Paddling with Mollie can make the experience, well... interesting. She doesn't often sit in such a well-mannered state as shown in the photo above. I can detect when something has caught her interest by a sudden tilting or bumping of the kayak as she throws herself against the side of her "rumble seat" in the direction of whatever has captured her attention. The sudden jolt can be a bit disconcerting at times.

Mollie began kayaking with me as a pup when I was mostly paddling a Prism. Balanced on the bow hatch of my boat, she made quite an impression as a bow ornament. I soon discovered my best asset for safe paddling among powerboaters was Mollie perched visibly up front. And, without a miss, powerboaters that seemed in the past to have great difficulty spotting me, would now almost throw the gears into reverse to slow down so as not to upset the boat with the tiny little dog on the bow. Inevitably, I would hear "Oh LOOK! It's a little doggie with a life vest on!" Then, arms would go up into the air, hands would wave vigorously, and I would hear "Hiiii little doggie!" Never failed. Powerboaters suddenly developed the highest standard of manners and would travel very slowly until the distance between us guaranteed that an increase in boat speed would not upset the kayak with the little dog. And in all those times prior to paddling with Mollie and experiencing close calls with powerboaters, I simply thought the boaters couldn't see me. By the way, I have also experienced this miraculous increase in visibility from jetskiiers, too, since I began paddling with Mollie.

The Prism presented something of a problem in keeping Mollie with the kayak. She loves the water and would often dive off the bow for a swim which is made all the more easy by an open deck kayak. The fact that her pfd sports a grab loop on the back makes fishing her from the water an easy task. The pfd also has reflection tape on the back for those times when she might want to do a little fishing of her own in the dark. I would latch a thick towel onto the deck via the hatch latches (sometimes I used an extra pfd). This prevents Mollie from sliding off the deck and provides a surface to which she can grip and lie down on.

When paddling with pooch, there should be plenty of drinking water and a drinking dish available for him/her. Mollie has her own pfd, and for those times when the weather turns really cold, she also has a nylon sweater (cotton is not effective in the damp cold). I also keep a leash under my deck line for quick restraint of Mollie when landing as the smell of wild prey or squawking herons are just too irresistible for my excited and enthusiastic little hunter.

Food and treats are always good to have along. All of that excitement quickly burns up calories. Uhhh... that goes for Mollie too.

Now that Mollie and I paddle a Sea Lion, I have fashioned her a rumble seat from a plastic tub by cutting four small rectangular holes in the bottom of the tub through which I then run the stern hatch gear straps (the Sea Lion comes with double hatch cover straps on the stern). The holes are no larger than what is necessary for threading the straps so that the straps may be tightened securely to prevent the tub from slipping. I know some folks paddle with pooch inside the stern compartment without the hatch cover. But with the rumble seat, I don't have to worry about taking on water in my kayak. I always place a towel in the bucket to prevent Mollie from sliding around. Occasionally, the bucket creates a paddling challenge in the wind and Mollie's higher center of gravity can contribute to instability. Especially when that center of gravity is bouncing off different sides of the tub. For those occasions when the weather might suddenly become more challenging, I have designed a break-down rumble seat which can be stored in the kayak and Mollie can then ride in the cockpit under the spray skirt. So far, I have avoided having her along during rough weather paddles and there have been no real problems. By having Mollie ride in her rumble seat as opposed to riding in the stern hatch, she is able to see over my shoulder as well as around me much more easily. My fuzzy first mate likes to see where she is going, too.

A photo gallery of paddling pooches. Do you have a photo and/or short story you would like to add here?

If you wanna see Mollie's adventure photo page, click here.

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