Sunday, December 5, 2010

No Lunch Makes Kayaking No Fun

Day 29:

I woke up in the comfy heated cabin of a medium sized yacht in Saint Raphael.  I had been invited to breakfast by my neighbors and was happy to join them for a baguette and butter.  They were very friendly and I had an opportunity to work on my now slightly improved French, since they didn't speak a word of English.

After breakfast I checked the weather, it looked like there would be a mild east southeast wind throughout the day.  The people in the captain’s office were eager to take my picture as I launched in my kayak, and in fact followed me and grabbed more shots from one of the marina's small motor boats.   Hopefully they'll email them to me.

At a meter and a half plus the swells were big, but there was space between them so I went over one, then slid down and began going up the next.  While not as pleasant as smooth water, it was a fine way to paddle.

Then I left the bay (43.406793,6.785774).

The wind changed direction and came at me from the northeast, exactly the direction I needed to go.  Out on the open water my progress slowed significantly.

I found myself on another fold of my map, I needed a drink and to take a leak and the water was too rough to feel comfortable with these items, so I spotted an extremely small port and headed in (43.413642,6.806822).  Heading in was rough, the port was built in a ridiculousness place with giant waves rushing towards it and breaking in furious explosions not far to my right.  To my left it was only a little better, somehow there was a thin path on the sea that the water rushed through with medium sized waves, yet settled them down just enough at the last moment to keep them from fighting me.

In the port I rearranged my map, and rested for a moment.   Paddling against the wind is hard.  Heading back out was scary, having to watch the waves explode around me and managing to stay just between them.  One particularly ferocious helix of doom had me saying some words that I typically keep to myself.

Menacing wooded red cliffs and an island sporting an old tower (43.410846,6.846542) made the water especially rough.  The kind of rough that makes kayaking no fun.  At the next port I would pull in, get a baguette for lunch to eat with the salami I had picked up in Saint Tropez, and an update on the weather.  I wanted to get off the water.

Around the cliffs I was in a bay where the water was again much calmer, though no Sunday leisure paddle.  Rather than cut across I took the longer route to stay out of the dangerous waters and evil wind.

Coming in the opposite direction was a father and son sit on top kayak team.  I spoke to them briefly and was on my way.  They were not dressed for kayaking in this weather.  Come to think of it, it was not a good day for recreational kayaking, certainly not a sit on top.  They were headed the way I had come from which was a little scary.

I turned my boat around and sprinted for a time until I had caught up with them.

“It gets really rough up that way near the rocks.”  I told them.

“That's OK, we're going to the beach.”  The man said back to me.  The boy sat silently in the front.

“OK, I saw it.  Are you sure that will be OK?”  I saw the beach, it was not very big and had cliffs on either side.  If he was smart and knew where he was going it would get rough, but he might not lose his kid, if he was lucky.

Maybe he was trying to lose his kid.  “It gets really windy outside the bay.”

“We won't leave the bay.”  He told me.

I left him, and the paddling wasn't too bad until I left the bay.  There was a small town there but no port that I could make out.  Outside of the bay, I could head out to sea and have to contend with the wind, but a more predictable surf, or stay close to the cliffs were it was a little less windy, but much rougher.  The cliff was low with houses all along it.  There were also concrete docks that were not sheltered enough to safely pull up to in these conditions.  Wanting to get off the water I paddled near shore hoping to spot a sheltered dock.

The water got rougher as I got more tired and went longer without lunch.

I was without lunch because I had been invited to breakfast and had not made the usual double portion of rice and lentils to get me through the day.  I had read that the weather would be good and hoped to find a port between 11:00 and 1:00.  That would have made for an eight mile section of coast to choose from, not a problem.

Going without lunch makes things no fun.  Now, that's not always the case, if for example I was lying in a warm bed with a hot chocolate and a Calvin and Hobbes, I would have been just fine.  Even if I was out kayaking on pleasant waters I might have been fine.  But the water was rough, visibility was terrible, and occasionally I would be rained on.

There was an island (43.427484,6.89362) coming up on my right and the water between the island and the main land was hurling itself all about in no friendly way.  Going around the island would have been an unhappy detour.  I moved forward, desperately hoping that around the next corner I would be able to make out a place to pull in.

As I pulled up to the space between the island's cliffs and the main land's cliffs I was able to make out the rocks that were the source of the water's trouble and circumvent them.

As I was about half way through and the headwind had reached a new fury, a giant breaking wave came from behind me, nailing me forward as I struggled both to remain upright and in enough control to steer clear of the rocks.  As the wave finally passed under me and a second heaving wave from behind the first began to overrun my stern, I was awash in spray from the torrent of water being blown off the top of the first.  Blinded in whipping world of white, I rode out the second wave, only hoping that there were no more rocks that I hadn't spotted.

The upside of the experience is that I passed through the rough area next to the island in a great hurry, having caught both waves.

A bit later I thought I saw a tiny bay with a dock.  As I got closer I found myself on my first standing wave.  That is to say that while the water beneath me was wild, I was holding a position some seven or eight feet higher up then the dock, looking down on it.  Not something I wanted to screw around with.  I backed away, as though doing something wrong would pull the pin out of a hand grenade.

The cliffs curled in again, creating for a larger bay and slightly calmer waters.  Here I hoped to find a dock where I could make an emergency landing.

It wasn't a dock but a small beach of smooth red rocks below a house (43.435355,6.893033).  There was a stairwell up to the house and a small garage for boats.  Larger rocks made their way out into the water to the right, and the cliff was ever present to the left of the beach.  I moved forward with the waves slowly as I studied the surf and contemplated how to make my landing.  Then I saw it, a rocky outcropping only a few feet in front of the boat, a chain of them mostly hidden in the wild tumbling of the water.  And then it hit me, a breaking wave over half my height.  I turned hard and my head hit the water on the down side, now perpendicular to the rocks though much closer I pulled myself back up while vaulting forward and around the rocks.

Close to the beach the water was calmer, having spent its fury farther out.

“Holy cow!” … “I am a kayaking god!”  I shouted in triumph over the waves.  My immodesty the product of a record high level of adrenaline.

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