Snake Bite Medicine – A Sea Kayaker’s Cure-all

by Nancy Soares on December 15, 2014

by Tsunami Ranger Commander “Tortuga” Deb Volturno

Editor’s note: ‘Tis the Season, and once again we address the engrossing subject of What to Drink When Kayaking!

Deb and her snakebite

Commander Tortuga and her snakebite medicine

A celebratory toasting tradition is rooted in river kayaking for me, and has richly endured over the years.  While toasting and celebrating the safe completion of a river run, I also employed “snakebite medicine” for what became the “bad water cure” following raucous river runs in suspect waters.  Myth or not, with the “medicine”, I never again suffered the intestinal scourge after running a river!

Deb's super flask - light, handy, and full

Deb’s super flask – light, handy, and full

In good time, imbibing “snakebite medicine” evolved to the lofty metaphysical level of a celebratory ritual toast to the Sea Gods and Goddesses punctuating any day on the water, the flask of fine elixir raised in gratitude for the generosity of the Sea Deities. We survived yet another sea adventure, being given the gift to indulge and dance in the wild sea on a new day.

Yay! We survived! Jim, Scott, and Steve celebrate the end of another amazing day on the sea.

Yay! We survived! Jim, Scott, and Steve celebrate the end of another amazing day on the sea.

The term “snakebite medicine” has withstood the test of time, because it continues to cure what ails you.  These days it is most often the stiff and sore muscles after a long day kayaking at sea that benefit from a dose!  Plus tippling the tonic seems to magically put a grin of satisfaction on your face – even, I can say, in the throes of the Weather Gods’ wrath!

TR Dave Whalen manages to suck down some snakebite despite his faceguard

TR Dave Whalen manages to suck down some snakebite despite his faceguard

Sometimes in my travels I would discover a local Sea Deity enshrined at a launch site, as in Mexico where a shrine of Guadalupe is commonly found on random beaches.  In that case the ritual of a resolute toast is extended to venerate the enshrined deity.  A gift of a fine libation is left in a vessel (usually a bi-valve shell) at the shrine, along with a special complement treat, like cookies or dark chocolate.  This ritual is also a humble request for safe passage in their home seas.

Deb at Tokomaru Bay, NZ, saluting the sea

Deb at Tokomaru Bay, NZ, saluting the sea

By the way, snakebite medicine is not any random generic alcohol.  Of course it must be a fine elixir worthy of honoring life and adventure!  Most preferred by me is a fine sipping tequila!  Choices are unlimited though, and have included fine sipping whiskey, scotch, rum, brandy, calvados, grappa, and port.  Weather can be helpful in determining the best choice of spirits.  Cold arctic circle temperatures in Norway beg for something very different from a steamy Mediterranean day at sea.

Capt. Kakuk on retreat - warming the belly with 'bite

Capt. Kakuk on retreat – warming the belly with ‘bite

One of the most memorable of celebratory elixirs on our Tsunami retreats was “Chōrni Doktor”, a fine chewable port that escaped from Russia with Jim and Misha.  True to form, Tsunami Rangers reveled in that potion, and saluted the Sea Deities deep into the clear starlit night, on a secret beach somewhere along the shores of the Great Sea.

What’s your favorite snakebite? Do share! For more on our Tsunami libations, click on the link and check it out.







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Paddle California 2014

by Nancy Soares on November 24, 2014

by Barbara Kossy

Editor’s note: Barbara Kossy is an artist and environmental activist. She lives in Moss Beach, California with her husband John Dixon, Tsunami Ranger and surfski paddler. She is a former president of Bay Area Sea Kayakers and has been organizing kayaking trips in Italy since 1996. See for current trips.

Thanks to Barbara Kossy, Gerard Ungerman, Charlotte Hendricks, and the Sacramento River Preservation Trust for the photos!

Paddling the Sacramento River - the group photo

Paddling the Sacramento River – the group photo

We paddled 100 miles in four days on the Sacramento River. The trip was more about time than distance.

I’ve been paddling for over 20 years and I knew I could paddle the whole thing. But I figured the best way to be sure I saw John Dixon, my surfski racing husband, over the course of the trip would be to paddle a double with him. We chose the stalwart ocean-worthy open deck Tsunami X-2 Starship.

Barbara and John paddle the staunch old X-2

Barbara and John paddle the staunch old X-2

Why this trip? We had some vacation requirements:

  • Not far, no planes. (We live just south of San Francisco.)
  • Fewer than seven days
  • Active
  • Nature
  • Warm
  • Something that fit both my competent and his elite skill set
  • Did not require buying lots of stuff

We drove up with our friend Charlotte Hendricks, kayaks car-topped, and spent the night in Redding. After a greeting, a talk, and sandwich packing, the three of us and about another 14 people launched near the Sundial Bridge, a swoosh of Calatrava that hops over the river to Turtle Bay Park in Redding.

The intrepid Charlotte Hendricks

The intrepid Charlotte Hendricks


In four days of downriver paddling I had plenty of time to think about time and rivers. The river hints at the scale of geologic time. As it cuts through the earth and carries us down, the river exposes more. Some say, and I agree, that we’re in the Anthropocene, the epoch that began when human activities started to dominate global ecosystems. There was plenty of time to view bald eagles, surf motorboat wakes, assess waterfront homes, and try to spot big fish underwater.

Swallows' nests

Swallows’ nests


  • If you want your rudder to work you need to paddle faster than the river.
  • Bald eagles are big and look kinda badass.
  • River otters and turtles have something in common. Mostly all you see is the splash.
  • When you paddle a kayak on fresh water you may not need a shower, and you don’t need to rinse your gear.
  • Take care of your skin.
Pete Rudnick taking a break

Pete Rudnick taking a break

What you get:

  • A satisfying paddle vacation.
  • Fresh water and lots of it.
  • Some guided spiritual moments on/in nature’s realm.
  • No cooking. All meals plus ample snacks provided.
  • No tedious kayak packing. Your stuff is schlepped by the staff and their trucks!
  • Friendly helpful guides.
  • Great conversation and friends on the water and around the campfire.
Gotta have the campfire

Gotta have the campfire

Back to the trip:

It’s so kinetic – bouncing down a wave train. Seeing the white water boiling cold splashes into the hot air and onto my hot skin. It’s a downhill ride. I can’t claim to know all that much about river running. I’ve rafted. But I was the one who just pulled hard and followed captain’s orders.

We paddle. There were eddies here, boils of water there, white water flumes, gravel bars shallow, and deeper water with salmon swimming to an upstream spawning and decomposing end, while we run downstream to our own end, some composing (this article?) and hors d’oeuvres.

Gotta have food - yummmm...

Gotta have food – yummmm…

Between celery sticks and hummus I chatted with Gerard Ungerman of Respectful Revolution. He is a French videographer documentarian humanitarian revolutionary. And this fellow has had his share of life roaming the asphalt rivers of the USA on his Harley, looking for the inspiring story. “Do we need inspiration and a connection with the greater powers to save our own asses?”

Gerard (in front) and Lucas Ross Mertz

Gerard (in front) and Lucas Ross Mertz

While paddling we talked with Sacramento canoeist and guide Tom Biglione about writing. To honor the gravity powered journey I write:

The cool water under the October sun heated air
The flow, we go floating on water
Pulling the paddles.
A hot blue sky
Cold green water
Trees dotted with vultures arranged as black ornaments.
The eagle flies up river as we fly down.

an unspoilt riverside view

A peaceful riverside view

Tom pulled out his stage voice and sang some tunes from “Paint Your Wagon.” Russ Clark, a canoe guide from Oregon, belted a song from “Oklahoma.” John and I paddled in time. Charlotte sang and I hummed as I can’t carry a tune. I closely watch the banks for fuzzy river otter pups. I’m hoping for my own cute animal show. John’s comment is, “Lean right!” as we eddy out.

Later, we’re floating. I’m paddling. I wiggle.
He says, “Don’t do that.”
“I’m standing up.”
And I turn around slowly – full rotation – and see he’s standing upright in our kayak. 

In camp Haven says, “Hey, you two should do the Cal100!
I guffaw.

No. I hate suffering. I hate pain. And I don’t train.

Paddling a smooth stretch of river

Paddling a smooth stretch of river

The Cal100  uses the same course. Paddlers slam through the 100 miles in one day. It may be just the thing – for you.
The river changes constantly. Sometimes gradually, sometimes suddenly. The river flows with gravity. It runs down to the sea, and always runs down. If you wait it still runs down to the sea. You cannot go up. Well, unless you have an engine.
Eriogonum roseum - wand buckwheat

Eriogonum roseum – wand buckwheat

The motor boats:

It’s not wilderness. There were motorized fishing boats. They could power upstream through shallows. If they went fast enough they planed and left very little wake. When one came downstream we could surf the wake if it was slower than planing speed. The Sacramento is not the Mississippi, but going back up for us human powered craft would be difficult in places and impossible in others.

The fish:

I was wearing polarized sun glasses and could see through the water’s surface glare, deep into the channel. Over the center flow I could see big fish swimming upstream. They must have been salmon or trout, but it was hard to tell since the glimpses were brief and the water murky. We were going downstream and the fish were going up. That can’t be easy. One day someone yanked a big fish from the water, hand caught. It was a big salmon, half alive, half dead, mission accomplished. In shallow side pools we saw frogs, and tadpoles (bullfrogs?) and little fingerlings zipping around under the aquatic plants. I wonder what it would be like to snorkel down river for a day.

Lucas and his big fish

Lucas and the big fish

Here’s a list of the plants and animals one might encounter:

The message:

Lucas would talk to us about the river: its history, its geology and the way it’s the hinge of a huge and important watershed. We were all thankful to be there.

You won't be doing this during the Cal100

You won’t be doing this during the Cal100

The food:

It was good. There was lots of it and it was way better than I could ever drum up after a full day of paddling. And there was beer and wine and brownies and fruit and salads and S’mores. One night we sat around the campfire and Ethan performed a sort of S’mores performance piece, gliding from warming toasting marshmallows to bits of oozing chocolate, all done just so as he delicately assembled the morsels and delivered them to us one by one. This was culinary art. Thank you thank you Haven and Ethan and all the camp and kitchen crew.

Or this - camping under the river oaks

Or this – camping under the river oaks

The camping:

We had to set up our own tents. That’s it. Given that our safari was serviced by trucks, and there were lots of us, we used campgrounds near roads. When compromise includes hot showers, I’m IN.

Your river trip will be different from mine. Maybe you’ll get into the lava formations along the Lassen stretch of the river. Maybe you’ll photograph all the native plants, or work on your paddle stroke. Or learn about geology, or the native people who lived there. If you’re reading this blog, I have the feeling you would love this river trip. And say, if you don’t have a kayak or canoe you can rent one.


This trip happened October 2 – 5, 2014
Catered paddling trip put on by Paddle California
The California Paddlesports Council is the same organization that produces the Golden Gate Sea Kayak Symposium.
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Ocean Survival Swimming – Part 2

November 3, 2014

ShareEditor’s note: After a short break to talk about the TR retreat and the newest Ranger, we return to the subject of Ocean Survival Swimming. This essay by Eric Soares is published as is. It’s opinionated, funny, and informative. Enjoy. STAY WITH THE BOAT An old mariner’s maxim. This rule is true in most boat [...]

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Tsunami Ranger Retreat 2014: A New Ranger!

October 12, 2014

ShareCaptain Kuk: When Eric and I first came up with the idea of a kayaking team in 1984 we wanted to have a system for rating the skills of the paddlers that we planned on inviting to join us. Eric proposed that we use naval ranking. Having been in the U.S. Navy he was familiar [...]

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Ocean Survival Swimming – A Sea Kayaker’s Guide to Staying Alive in the Water

September 22, 2014

ShareEditor’s Note: One from the archives: Eric Soares wrote this essay illustrating the Tsunami Rangers’ approach to sea kayaking emphasizing ocean swimming as a key skill for sea kayakers. We’ll publish his thesis in five parts. This first part is the outline for Ocean Survival Swimming. Note that Eric refers to buoyancy compensators instead of [...]

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California’s Lost Coast – Extreme Hiking in Southern Humboldt County

September 1, 2014

ShareIn June, my son Nick and I hiked the Lost Coast of Northern California. It’s an extreme hike – there’s no trail for much of the way – and it took us four days and three nights. We started at Shelter Cove and hiked north to the mouth of the Mattole River. Most people start [...]

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Tsunami Ranger Sea Cave Terms

August 11, 2014

ShareEditor’s note: Thanks to Michael Powers, Eric Soares, and Jim Kakuk for these fabulous photos. One of the cool things about the Tsunami Rangers is the lexicon they invented to describe the marine environment. Some of these terms have probably become mainstream, but just for fun I thought I’d reproduce the Tsunami Ranger Sea Cave [...]

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Up a Hot Creek With a Paddle – Sea Kayaking in the Oregon Desert

July 21, 2014

ShareOn a cloudy day in April we headed east. Clear sailing until five hours out and a pronghorn played chicken with the truck so I had to cross into the opposite lane and take my foot off the gas so it could pass on the right and run in front of the truck at 60 [...]

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Reef Madness 2014 – Sea Kayaking Mayhem Strikes Again!

June 30, 2014

Shareby Ed Anderson Editor’s note: Thanks so much for this post to Ed Anderson who always does such an amazing job as Master of Ceremonies and Paddler Extraordinaire at Reef Madness. And thanks too to Lars Howlett and Jim Kakuk for all the great photos. Paddle. Party. Piracy. That’s a perfect day! Sunday June 8th [...]

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Put Yourself in the Picture! – The Armchair Sea Kayaker

June 9, 2014

ShareEditor’s note: This is one of the topics Eric had lined up for 2012. Some of the featured pictures he picked out himself and he specifically suggested that you “Put YOURSELF in the picture”. I can’t look at a painting of a seascape without evaluating it in terms of my kayak. Could I survive in [...]

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