Launching Dustspeck
by Shawn Payment

My new mouseboat, "Dustspeck", was officially launched this past Saturday morning! Our local messabout group, the Southern California Small Boat Messabout Society (aka ScuzBums) had organized a group paddle through the salt marshes at the southern tip of San Diego Bay. Even though my mouse is still awaiting some "finishing touches", i.e. decks and gunwales, I couldn't pass up the chance for test drive.

The mouse caught a lot of attention immediately... "What's that you've got there?" was the immediate response, closely followed by "It's awfully small" and "Have you got a bailer?" Another attendee who had brought his tiny "Wee Lassie" canoe immediately recognized the benefits of a mouse. "The smaller the boat, the more you'll use it," he said. Assuming that's true, then I should be using the mouse an awful lot...

A 9 yr old boy asked me how I was going to launch the mouse. I picked it up and dropped it off the dock into the water. "Pretty much like that," I responded. Once launched, I had no choice but to climb aboard since I've yet to install any method for tethering the hull to anything... I have to admit that I hadn't truly appreciated how small a mouse is until I climbed in and sat down. I had borrowed an inflatable kayak seat with a back rest from a fellow ScuzBum which at least kept my arse dry and prevented the aft bulkhead from digging into my lower back. A few tentative strokes later and I drifted easily away from the dock while the other ScuzBums stared on, half expecting my tiny craft to flounder at any moment... it didn't... but I kept a watchful eye on the tiny 3-4" of freeboard separating me from an unexpected swim nonetheless.

The rest of our group soon launched their boats and our rag tag bunch headed out of the marina and into San Diego Bay. In attendance were my mouse, a wee lassie canoe, a 10' plastic canoe, a flat sterned guide boat canoe, a couple of inflatable kayaks and pretty 15' lapstrake rowboat. As soon as we exited the harbor, we were faced with a 8-10 kt breeze and 6" - 12" chop... a couple of small waves broke over the bow of the mouse and I immediately began to question the sanity of launching without decks or installed flotation of any kind... however, I quickly settled into an easy stroke and began to make progress across a short stretch of open water toward the nearby salt marsh.

Within a few minutes, the rowboat, the wee lassie and the mouse had left the rest of the group far behind. (More due to steady paddling than any performance advantage...) Once we reached the salt marsh, I paddled Dustspeck up a narrow passage in the reeds. The rowboat quickly ran aground in the shallows and the wee lassie headed off up the shoreline... Dustspeck cruised onward however, moving easily through the 6" to 12" depths... I followed the network of narrow passages for about a 1/4 mile north and re-emerged from another exit to the bay just in time to find the rest of the group paddling up the shoreline to meet me.

We spent the rest of the morning exploring the small marsh channels, looking at herons, sandpipers and the occasional stingray scooting along in the shallows. After about 2 hrs of exploring, we set course back for the marina with the wind and sea at our backs. Dustspeck paddled easily with following sea and gave indications that it would easily surf along when the opportunity presented itself. I seriously regretted not bringing along an umbrella for a "wind-assist" on the downwind leg. Next time I'll be better prepared...

All in all, it was a very successful first outing. The wide cockpit took a bit of getting used to and I'm looking forward to widening and smoothing the gunwales to minimize knuckle scrapes... The hull also had a lot of flex in it's current form, which I expect will be greatly reduced by the installation of decks and gunwales. Although I was a bit tentative about pushing the limits sans floatation, it seemed that the harder I rowed, the better the hull tracked... It's not a speed demon but it could easily keep up without too much effort on my part. I also discovered that after intentionally grounding myself on a sandbar, I could slide my seat forward, lay back, kick my feet out onto the bow and take a nice nap in the summer sun... thus proving that a boat doesn't have to be moving to be enjoyable.

More mousey adventures are undoubtedly to follow.