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Review: SealLine Baja Deck bag for expedition sea kayaking

A deck bag is crucial for long days on the water. It provides quick and easy access to things like phones, sunscreen, hats, snacks and Gatorade pouches.
I've used a few different deck bags over the years so my requirements evolved to be very specific.

What to look for in a good deck bag for sea kayaking:

  • Made from durable waterproof material
  • Rigid structure to make it easy for me to dig around in it single handed
  • Fast and easy to open- I don't want a deck bag with a roll top closure that takes forever to open and close
  • Fast to take on and off my boat
  • Low profile to reduce wind resistance
  • Small enough to safely put in my lap under my spray-skirt in high winds without hindering my ability to wet exit
  • Splash proof
  • Dlastic d-rings to attach a strap so I can easily carry the bag on my shoulder. When I get to Ocracoke I use my deck bag like a purse- which gets me lots of strange looks.


So far my all-time favorite deck bag is the Baja Deck Bag from SealLine.


What I Love 
Size & Storage
  • Perfect Size- It is big enough to hold what I need it to, but not so big that wind resistance is a problem. It is small enough to keep in my lap under my spray skirt in extremely high winds. It has a stiff plastic insert that keeps the upper side of the bag in a curve shape which keeps the bag from collapsing and makes it easy to find your stuff. 
  • Zippered Access- There is a zipper to get into the main part of the bag- which in the above photo is covered by a rubber flap to make the zipper more water resistant. There is an outer mesh pouch that I use to keep my chapstick and other random bits in. 

Attachment Points
  • Straps to Rigging- The bag itself attaches to the deck rigging with two tough strips of rubber lined with velcro with two plastic buckles at the end. Un-clip the buckles, pull apart the velcro, and slide the straps under your deck rigging then clip to secure. I find it easy and quick to put on and take off this deck bag. I have used other bags that attach in different ways and this method is my favorite. 
  • Bungee- I use the bungee on top to hold my map and hat sometimes. The clips on the bungee are made to be a fast and easy paddle holder. I've only used them to hold my paddle a couple of times- it worked but I didn't feel like it was that secure. 
  • Carry Strap- The removable strap is the perfect length to throw over my shoulder- making it easy to carry my bag to my tent or around Ocracoke as a handbag.

So far so good. It seems like the perfect bag- and it is. Except for one major flaw. 

     The zipper sliders are metal. Why is that a problem? This is a bag for sea kayaking- in the ocean. When exposed to salt water they corrode. And no longer open or close. So you either end up with a bag that is stuck open or a bag that's stuck closed. Neither is good. 
      These are also our deck bags of choice for our sea kayaking guides at Pamlico Sea Base. We have four of them that our guides use all summer. In order to keep them working, the zippers have to be sprayed with silicone lubricant at the end of every trip. This is obviously annoying. 
      After sitting idle from August to May during our off season, they are stored in a closet in our boat shed. The boat shed is three sided, so although the deck bags don't get rained on, they aren't protected from the humidity in the air. After 9 months sitting idle, none of the zippers work. They are stuck closed. 
So until they fix this massive error, I can't say that the Baja Deck Bag is the perfect deck bag, but it's the best I've used so far. 

Dibba Fish Market

The fish market- on a not-so-busy day
Wander into the mina (port or harbor) in Dibba any afternoon except Friday and your nose will find the fish market for you. The buzz of activity is hidden from the road by big refrigerated trucks waiting to be filled with fish. Weaving through and often squeezing between the trucks you'll come upon an open area with orange tarps laid out to protect freshly caught fish from pavement. There is never enough tarp space, so many fisherman display their catch on their boats.  There are no size limits, catch limits or restricted species here- so you'll see a huge variety of marine life at the fish market. Large sharks are pretty common- along with parrot fish, cuttlefish, squid, black tuna, grouper, red snapper, swordfish and a bunch of others that I don't recognize.

An enormous hammerhead shark. We guessed it was 14 feet long.
The shark next to it was a decent size shark at around 8 feet
It's easy to be intimidated here, especially for Westerners. Everyone is shouting in Arabic, people are walking quickly from seller to seller, fish are being packed into baskets layered with ice and heaved into trucks. There is constant movement and constant noise. Browsing the catch on the tarp means gingerly stepping between carcasses on slippery, blood and water covered tarps. Push your way through crowds to get a look at the catch on the boats. If you can't identify fish species, and more importantly don't know which ones are tasty, don't go without someone who does. The locals don't know the western fish names. It is typically warm and sunny at the fish market- the smell of sweat mingles in the air with the fish smell- and there's fish grime and guts all over the ground. Stray cats hang around trying to steal small fish when no one is looking.  Don't wear nice shoes and expect to leave feeling grimy.

Kent and the snapper
The first time we went, I was determined to buy a fish- we were planning a cookout that night. I found a nice big red snapper I wanted. I just stood there pointing downward and asking every man that passed "how much." Eventually my stubbornness paid off because someone who spoke a little English appeared to bargain with me. He was asking 250 dirhams- around $75- way, way out of our budget. Haggling is customary and expected here. A decent price is usually half of the amount they start at. I wanted to pay 140 dirhams- around $38 for the fish, but I couldn't get him below 180.  My companions and I gave up and walked away. We were checking out some black tuna on one of the boats when someone tapped Kent on the shoulder.
     "It's okay 140," the man says, wobbling his head to the side and waving his hand with a single flick of his wrist.  We headed back over to the snapper.
  After collecting our fish we head to this building where we can pay $3 to have our fish cleaned. The building feels vastly empty, clean and quiet compared to the fish market.

The guys who clean the fish don't speak English, so I motion as if I am holding a knife and cutting a fillet off the fish and the guy gets the idea.




A smaller snapper -photo credit Jessa Hobson
He scrapes the scales off with a short board with nails sticking out of it before pulling the guts out. Tony and Kent left me to supervise the cleaning process while they went back to buy a tuna. The fish cleaner slid his knife into the fish flesh by the gills to slice the fillet off. The fillet was nearly three inches thick and at least a foot long. I tried desperately to call Tony to tell him not to buy a tuna. Oman mobile cell phone signal isn't the most reliable. Not knowing if he could hear me or not, I tried to tell them that the snapper fillets were huge and not to buy a tuna. Much to my amazement Tony and Kent returned without a tuna. Apparently the only word Tony could make out was "huge" so they assumed I was trying to tell them that the fillets were enough to feed everyone.
This first successful trip to the fish market let to many more. We learned to walk away from a fish we really wanted only to be tapped on the shoulder as we stood browsing by the competitor's boat. We also learned just how much we could get away with paying for these fish. I got the snapper pictured below for 50 dirhams - just over $10. We originally agreed on 40 dirhams but when I pulled out a 50 and expecting to get change, the price jumped to 50 dirhams. Next time we'll bring exact change.

Curtis and Kent's Perfectly Easy Red Snapper
Ingredients:
-red snapper fillets with skin still on (the skin adds flavor and is good for you)
-sliced lemon
-garlic
-butter
-salt
-pepper
-basil
-aluminum foil

Directions
Place fish fillets on flat pieces of foil, skin down. Chop fresh garlic cloves into relatively small chunks and place around fish. Sprinkle salt, pepper and basil onto the flesh of the fish. Place several chunks of butter on top of the flesh. Then lemon slices on top. Fold, roll and pinch the foil to make airtight pouches. 
Place pouches on grill with medium-high heat until fish flakes easily with a fork. Serve with tasty alcoholic  beverage.