Alternate means of transportation
by 1st Lt. Erin Dorrance
MacDill commuters are frustrated with rising gas prices, traffic congestion at the gates and the Crosstown Expressway construction debacle. But there is at least one exception.
Navy Lt. Cmdr. James W. Collins, U.S. Special Operations Command J-8, finds his commute to the base refreshing, he said, since he paddles in on his high-speed kayak across Tampa Bay.
"It is great because by the time I get to work, I have already done my PT," he said. "The workout is anaerobic unless you really push hard, then it becomes an aerobic workout and is a great way to stay in shape."
The 5.72-mile trip from his back yard in Apollo Beach to the Base Marina takes him about one hour depending on tides and winds. His Necky Looksha III kayak, which measures 19.5 feet long, 21 inches wide and weighs 43 pounds, is his favorite mode of transportation.
Once Commander Collins reaches MacDill's waters, the 6th Security Forces Squadron Boat Patrol checks his ID card just as if he were at a gate. He said the perimeter rule on MacDill's waters adds a half mile to his commute, but he understands security measures and said he is happy to comply with security forces rules.
Commander Collins uses his kayak to commute to work at least four days a week. During Florida's summer thunderstorms, he often has to resort to driving. He always keeps his car on base to drive from the marina to the SOCOM building, and to use in case of inclement weather.
The rest of the year Commander Collins' trip is pretty routine but several interesting encounters have made the daily trip more exciting. One night on his way home, he looked down and noticed he was paddling right over a huge manatee. He accidentally woke the manatee up and his skinny kayak was tossing around in the water while the manatee orientated itself.
He said his kayak is so quiet, he sneaks up on animals quickly. He has seen dolphins, pelicans, sea turtles and several fish.
Although the manatee encounter sent Commander Collins' kayak tossing in the Bay, it is nothing compared to the wake caused by the large ships in the channel, located in the middle of the Bay between MacDill and the Brandon area, which he crosses every day.
"It is just like a road, when I get to the channel I look right and left before crossing," he said. "My favorite is when there is a Carnival cruise ship and I just wave to the happy passengers and wait for it to pass."
Commander Collins not only watches out for large ships in the channel but takes safety seriously as a whole. He is always equipped with a cell phone, a whistle, a signaling mirror, reflective tape, a head lamp, a global positioning system compass, a light installed on the kayak, a radio, a flashlight and a life jacket.
Although Commander Collins kayaks to work by himself, he says the most important thing he does is to let people on each side know his plans in case something happens. He thanks the Base Marina and 6th Security Forces Squadron for looking out for him.
When drivers are stuck in traffic jams or filling the tank with two-dollar-per-gallon gas, perhaps they may see Commander Collins whizzing across the bay in his kayak, enjoying Florida's picturesque landscape.