A couple of days ago I tried changing the batteries in my waterproof headlamp. Salt water had gotten in and dissolved the inside pieces. It fell apart when I opened it.
Wednesday I ate breakfast, got ready to paddle, and puked. It looked like it would be another bad stomach day, so I sat in a comfy chair, watched Pulp Fiction among other movies on my computer, and managed to avoid moving unnecessarily for the next 24 hours. In the evening I forced myself to eat, which wasn't easy.
Day 58 was a force to be reckoned with. The plan was to kayak from the Lega Navali in Santa Marinella (42.036273,11.87223) to the next Lega Navali, in Ostia(41.718111,12.301828). It would be a distance of about 30 nautical miles of coast, and on account of a strong headwind, I would be sticking close to the coast.
Even on the coast, though, my progress was slow. Moving into the headwind and the oncoming surf I passed by waterfront towns in the outskirts of Rome.
After a nature reserve I heard shooting above me. It wasn't the first time; I also thought I heard shooting next to the airport in Genova. I didn't think anybody was shooting at me, they say that if a bullet passes very near you, you can hear it whiz by. While I have been shot at plenty of times,* I've never heard the whiz of someone aiming for my head and just barely missing. Either way, no whiz, no visible shooter, I figured I'd be fine.
The Military dressed man on the beach who stopped me probably didn't think so. I brought my boat as close as I risked and he told me I couldn't paddle any further. I parked on the beach and got out. A sniper was practicing in a range and the coast was closed five miles out. I guess he wasn't a very good sniper, if they were worried he might accidentally hit passing mariners up to five miles out. No, I was used to such rules, there are plenty of them in Israel.
I waited about half an hour and then was back on my way. There were a number of places I passed on my way and at each one I considered whether or not to stop. I was expected in Ostia some time between 7:00 and 9:00. If it looked like I wouldn't make it in time, I would stop, call ahead, and finish tomorrow.
To stay out of the headwind I was paddling very close to the beach. The closer to the beach I got, the less current and headwind were against me. Considering this, and how many times before I've been in the same situation, it's strange that I hadn't until now accidentally washed up on shore. It was annoying. With my starboard side to the beach I was not at all in a position to launch. I tried anyways, and hopefully didn't lose to much of the finish off of my bow. With what my boat has been through, the finish has probably been gone some time now, so I can rest easy.
In the afternoon when I had my last chance to stop for the day, an expected good thing happened, my headwind turned into a tailwind. At a decent speed I moved slightly away from the coast and began to cut straight across to Fiumicino where I passed the mouth of the Tiber at night. I looked up its wide banks and saw lots of lit up buildings on either side. It may be the largest river mouth I've passed yet, but I'm not sure since it's been a long way.
The other noticeable thing about Fiumiccino was the airport. There was never a moment when a plane wasn't taking off, one big commercial jet after another.
Paddling in the dark I found a seawall ahead of me and followed it away from land, only to take another turn at what seemed to be the top of a “C” heading back the way I had come. Had I accidentally moved into a port without realizing it? I hadn't noticed any navigational lights. I was almost at my destination, or so I thought, and it was frustrating to be backtracking, looking for a way out to sea around the wall. The light from the city blinded me and I had no idea how long it would go on for. I shut off my own green/red light to allow my sight to improve slightly. Finally, I turned a corner and was headed back in the right direction.
Interestingly, a look at a map shows the area to be nothing like I perceived it at night. Fortunately, keeping the mainland on my left is easy enough even when depth and angle perception are completely thrown off.
Finally my GPS had shown me that I was there. I got the coordinates from the previous Lega Nevali, and thought that maybe I could make out the masts of sailboats just beyond the rise of the beach. I had also seen it on a map, I was fairly certain I was in the right place. A good thing too, because it had been a long day.
A couple of fisherman were fishing off a seawall and I checked with them just to make sure. They told me several things, among them, that I shouldn't be paddling at night and that there was no Lega Navali here. “Are you sure?” I asked. Yes, they were absolutely certain, I would have to paddle for another kilometer.
Huh. I must have gotten bad coordinates. Maybe this was some other boat club, my host for the night would be waiting at Lega Navali, not here. It was 9:00 in the evening. I paddled on, past industrial places, storage houses, and beach bars, all dark in the night.
Finally, after about a kilometer and a half I saw an inviting beach that might have had some small sailboats parked a little ways up it. I stopped and got out. Wet, cold, and exhausted I dragged myself and my boat up the beach. The small sailboats I saw dissolved as phantoms.
I found a walkway that brought me past many small buildings, unlocked. I couldn't make out much inside of them, but I was very cold and the small room would be a refuge. The building that I thought was the L.N.I. tuned out to be restaurant that was closing. I asked if I could leave my boat there over night.
“The Lega Navali isn't far, about a kilometer back the way you came.” I was told.
I put in what felt like it ought to be a post-last effort. I paddled back the way I came. I came to a building on the beach that was toop dark to make out. A flag flew above it, a flag that might have had the “L.N.I.” on it. While I was thinking about it the surf surprised me with a short fight. I think the thought was that I was as beat as I looked.
I didn't want to risk another wrong guess. I figured either this was it, or the fisherman was wrong and my GPS position was right. I didn't want to do another beach landing and relaunch, so I paddled back to my GPS position. The land was right as I had seen it on the map, maybe I had been shown the wrong place.
I got out and climbed a very steep beach, stumbling and falling over myself and the sand. From the small hill I could see a field of light double hulled sail boats and a building with people in it just beyond. With great effort I got my boat next to one of the others.
Covered in sand and so tired, I wished I was a weaker man that I could cry, I found myself in a bar in the building asking if I could just sit there for a while.
It was the Lega Navali. The fisherman who told me it wasn't was the devil, come out to try to put a stop to my trip in the night. I'm so close to finishing. The people of the L.N.I. were super nice; after a shower I found myself in a room with a couple dozen or so, finishing up a meeting. When I walked in, they all applauded.
I guess I deserved it, after all, I fought with the Devil and survived.
* True. ~ ed.