The weekend of sea kayaking was a bust. I head out today to E-no-shima with the intentions of (as I have several times before) kayaking across to the Izu on the miura peninsula. Normally it is only an hour or so trip, but I should have known it wasn't a good idea when only three minutes after launching into the high surf, I had lost my fresh water supply and maps overboard. At this point though it was more fun than scary, so I kept going, out past the waves breaking over my boat, to where the waves were just big, but not breaking.
Big waves are great when I'm with someone else, and nerve wracking when I'm alone, but so long as they are all coming n the same direction, and not breaking on top of me, the kayak just rolls over top (that's what it's made to do) and I can suppress my fears.
I picked a big rock on the horizon to navigate to, and started paddling in that direction. Unfortunately, the direction I wanted to go had all the waves hitting me broadside, which does wonders to destroy my confidence and sense of balance, especially since my boat is one of the narrower, less stable models recommended for advanced intermediate and up. I'd consider myself a lower intermediate, who hasn't practiced bracing, roles, self-rescue, or even been in a kayak in over a year.
I found myself turning into each big wave to meet it head on, much safer, but facing the waves head on meant paddling straight out into the middle of Pacific. Just thinking about it brings back memories of one of the most vivid nightmares I can remember as a child. I was in a lake in Michigan (not Lake Michigan) and had just learned to doggy paddle. I started paddling and was happy that I was actually swimming, but soon realized I didn't know how to turn. By now I was in water over my head, so I surely couldn't stop paddling... I woke up then, and have never been able to forget how I felt knowing that the only thing I could do was swim my self out into the middle of the lake where I would get to tired to keep it up and drown.
The other thought that comes to mind is unfortunately not a dream, but involves swimming naked on a Pacific coast beach in Mexico called "La playa del muerte". (the beach of the dead) It was named so because so many people were swept out into the ocean each year and die. The lifeguards here wouldn't even go into the water to rescue anyone, they simply yelled from the shore "Come back in!"
Of course Julio, a friend's boyfriend, and I somehow didn't see the connection between the name and the danger until after a huge wave swept us both out from the waist deep water, within 50 meters of the shore, to where we could only make out the brightly colored umbrellas on the shore. We both knew instantly that we were going to die. I turned to find him about 10 feet further out than I was, and will never forget the look on his face as he suddenly learned his first English words "Help me Kevin!".
Like the lifeguards, the only help I could give was to yell back, "Swim back in!". And I turned and started swimming. Each wave that came would suck me down for what seemed like minutes, and each time I came up I seemed further from the shore.
My life didn't flash before me, though I knew I was going to die. I thought about how I hadn't mowed my grandma's lawn yet that week. I also thought about the fact that our bathing suits were still lying up there on the beach (it was a nude beach) and when our friends came looking for us later that night, all they would find are our swimsuit.
To make a long story short, despite the fact that I knew I was going to die, I still kept swimming for shore. This time I just put my head down and swam, never looking up to see how much further I was getting sucked out. The waves kept coming, and never any sign of ocean floor no matter how long I was under. Until...
Still swimming full force with my head down, never looking up, I suddenly felt the sandy beach scrape up against my stomach, and stopped to find myself in about two feet of water. I stood up and looked around for Julio, wondering how I would ever be able to tell his girlfriend that when he asked for help I simply turned and swam. There was no sign of Julio anywhere... then I happened to look down and find him laying three feet away in water, still paddling with all his might.
We spent the next half hour laying on the beach puking. Put on our swim suits, and began to walk back to the hut we had rented, when we ran into the girls all smiley and happy asking if we want to go for a swim. We didn't. Instead we went back to our hammocks and puked until nightfall when it was time to start drinking. Next time I'll tell you the story of how we awoke in the middle of the night to find a friend lying on the beach next to the two-story, wall-less hut saying "I can't move my back. I fell over the edge".
So as you can see, I have a deep fear of all things water, and especially the ocean, and most especially waves. Despite that, I like kayaking, and the fear out on the ocean Saturday was giving me a good adrenalin kick. Until that is, I ran into the whitecaps 300 meters from shore. They were few and far enough between, allowing me to regain my composure after each one, but every time they cashed over me, the boat would take on a little more water.
A kayak can take on water. Hard-shell kayaks have airtight compartments in the front and back that will keep the boat afloat. Mine is made of canvas, which is generally not known for being air-tight, so I use large inflatable bags in the front and back. My boat can be totally filled with water, and I can still be sitting in it, and it still wont sink. But it wont move either. The heavier it gets, the less likely I will be able to paddle against any current or wind. I could have taken out my pump and started pumping the water out right there, but that would require me to remove the spray skirt which keeps most of the water from getting into the cockpit. If I did that I would most likely get swamped even faster.
I had only been paddling for about an hour, and was not even half way to the big rock I had my sights set on. Knowing I would never make it that far without emptying the boat, I headed in to the nearest beach to drain the boat.
This is the first time i have ever really had a chance to surf with my kayak. I have seen it on films and in photos, and it looks fun, but I never had any idea. This first time it was scary as hell, and when the waves picked me up from behind, I forgot all my kayaking basics. Luckily I was still able to stay upright for the first two, and by the time I lost it, I was close enough to shore to paddle back without worrying about being able to get back into the boat.
Dragging a sea kayak filled with water onto shore is not easy, but I managed to get it out of the surf, and get the water out. I put the bow back into the water, climbed in and waited for a wave big enough to lift me off the beach so I could head back out. It's here that dan voice of sensibility started nagging me. Maybe it was because I was sitting on the beach with my line of vision only about 2.5 feet above the sea level, o i was looking across at the waves, as opposed to standing and looking down at them, but they seemed bigger than ever before. And they were breaking further out than ever before.
I sat there for at least twenty minutes, waiting for a calm period to make my move. When it was clear that none was coming, I looked up and down the beach for a calmer area. The waves didn't look so deadly off to the left, so I climbed out and dragged the boat in that direction. No matter how far I dragged that boat, the waves in front of me were always enormous, and that calm spot kept moving off to the left.
I heard a train behind me, so I had two choices. Call it quits here, pack up and catch that train home, or try to make across to Izu. The big dilemma was that if I tried to make it, and gave up later, assuming I made it past the cliff portion of the coast where there is no place to land the boat, I would be out of range of the train, and still not to my destination. I wasn't looking forward to paying for a taxi either.
If I go home now though, and still want to go kayaking the next day with the people I was supposed to meet up with, I would have to disassemble my boat here, lug the thing back home, then again at 4:30 the next morning lug it all the way back to Izu, assemble it again with hands that are already aching at the joints from putting it together this time (thanks for the arthritis dad), launch from Izu and paddle an hour or so (if the water is calmer there) to the meeting point.
Not an appealing idea, so I made up my mind to head out thought the waves and give it another go. I made it out past the breakers on shore without experiencing any of the scenarios my imagination had constructed in what has now become forty minutes of staring at the sea. That was never the major worry though, and sure enough, the waves were still breaking further out, and still found myself paddling directly into them, and directly into the middle of the Pacific.
By now, it has also started to rain. This is not a direct problem, since I am already soaked, but the big difference is that where there was once a seemingly solid wall of sailboats a couple hundred meeters further out to see, between me and Hawaii, now there was nothing. If I get sucked out to see now, there is no one there to signal for help. All the people on the once crowded shore have also started to head for dry ground as well. Except for a pack of surfers, I was totally alone.
Being the clever boy that I am, I kept going because the destination rock was closer now. I was still close enough to shore that I could probably paddle back if I was overturned, and the inside of my boat was dry giving me more control than before. Then I ran into the pack of surfers. I can't go thought them, and of course I can't go between them and the shore... And I really don't like the thought of going further from the shore...
The moment of truth arrives, and I am a little chicken bastish. I turned to shore and surfed in where I unloaded my gear, pumped the boat, and spent the rest of the afternoon perfecting my surf kayaking. I packed up the boat before it go too dark, caught the train at a station which was luckily only about a half mile from the beach, and here I am.
Did I learn anything? You bet. Surfing with the kayak is kinda kick butt. I'm a little chicken bastish. As I was walking away from the beach, the waves looked so small and harmless. I now know that even if waves look big and scary while I am in them, it's all just an illusion... They only look dangerous because I am so close. And finally, I learned that I have to find a place to keep the kayak in Izu, so that I don't have to assemble and disassemble it, nor carry a waterlogged piece of canvas through four different train changes each and every time I take it out.
Oh yeah... I also learned I am a little chicken bastish.