Yesterday, just as my day was ending, my paddle snapped. Could I risk paddling without a spare? I had another one in America. I wondered if Nelo would be willing to replace the one that broke. I doubted it. Should I make another Greenland paddle? If so, storm or full length?
I was in a city, Crotone. It might be a while before I’m in a population center again. It seemed like I should take advantage of the local infrastructure and replace it.
I asked the Lega Navale dock hand if I could stay a few days while I resolved the problem. He wasn’t sure and would get back to me.
I walked to the boat repair garage and dry dock next door. With some difficulty, I explained to the manager that I wanted another paddle like the one I showed him. Could I please use his tools to make it.
No, he would make it. It wouldn’t be a problem. In his shop he had to small white squarish plastic paddles that looked about right for a bathtub toy. He would cut a piece of wood to connect them and I’d be on my way in no time.
“No!” For a moment words failed me. “Hydrodynamica importante.” I said. “Tutto millimeter importante. Io canoa Cipro, molti mile.” [Hydrodynamica important. All millimeter important. I canoe Cyprus, many mile.]
We walked into the garage to look at his selection of wood. It appeared as though it was entirely composed of pieces that he’d taken out of other boats of had washed up in the harbor. Most of them had rusty nails jutting out.
“Cedar. Where can we get cedar?”
“If I get the wood can you do it? I’ll give you instructions.”
“Come back in half an hour. I’ll have it ready. Two Euro.” He told me.
“I don’t think it can be done in under eight hours.” I tried. He didn’t seem to understand that he was holding a work of art. “It’s very careful work.”
Maybe he did understand. After all, I wasn’t very much of an artist. He pointed out every blemish and mistake in the paddle. Some happened when I was painstakingly carving the six sides into the wood at exact angles, and some were the results of various beatings it had taken since then.
I tried explaining my needs one more time, but he walked off muttering something about Americans.
I returned to the Lega Navale. The president asked me if I would be leaving. I said I didn’t know. I had to figure out what I needed to do about my paddle.
“Today the weather is good. Tomorrow it will rain. I can call ahead to the next Lega Navale and tell them you’re coming.” He said.
I was being politely asked to move along.
“So will you leave?”
By the time I was packed and ready it was 10:00. If I didn’t launch then I would lose my daylight window. The dockhand approached me with a friend as I was making final preparations.
The friend spoke to me in what I think was French for a little while before I told him I’m American.
“Oh, American. I can help you make a paddle.” He said.
I showed him mine.
“I need to go back to my shop to make sure I have enough materials. It will take a half an hour. Can you wait?”
I couldn’t, not unless this would really work. I had to find out. “Do you have a band saw?”
He had a look that suggested he didn’t know what a band saw was. It was the key to quickly manufacturing a paddle like mine. “Yes, yes.” He told me he had one.
He continued, “ But can you wait here while I check to make sure I have enough aluminum?”
I was fed up. “I don’t get it. Are you punishing me!? You steal my things, again and again. You break my paddle, and now, adding insult to injury, you torture me with insanity!”
I was on the water using my storm paddle and screaming loudly into the formidable and completely unforecast headwind.
“Yes, this is a punishment.”
“What for?” I asked.
“Why can’t you just get in line like everybody else? When you finished high school, did you go to college? No, you went to study Judaism in a yeshiva and from there the IDF. When you finally did go to college, did you pick a practical major? No, you chose math even though you failed it in high school. Apparently you had something to prove to yourself. And when somehow you persevered the gauntlet, did you go get a job in your field of choice? No, you went kayaking. And now you have the gall to ask why this is happening to you. You dug this grave, good luck paddling out of it.”
My shoulders ached. My storm paddle was fine for a couple of hours of paddling on a lake. I had never tested it in conditions. I didn’t know how much the wind was slowing me down, but at two knots, I suspected that at least half a knot of the 1.5 reduction could be attributed to my paddle.
Grad school hadn’t gone so well. My academic advisor suggested I pursue a career in something other than math. Ranger school came with its own set of troubles. My summer job as head lifeguard at a camp could have been worse, but they undoubtedly will not rehire me.
I was kayaking with piece of wood I cut myself on a freezing cold day in a hole on the face of the earth feeling like I was at the end of my rope.
I put my small package of crackers down on my chafing skirt. A wave washed over my deck and it was lost.
Little did I know, Jesus would save me.
I pushed forward into the wind. I would not make it to my destination for the day. In fact, I wanted very much to stop at the next opportunity.
I passed the mouth of a wide river, I saw a factory in the distance along the banks. Frigid water poured down my paddle onto my arms until I finished passing the mouth.*
Swampy scrubs grew thick behind a short beach. A jeep drove along the beach, pulling ahead of me then stopping. The driver loaded driftwood into the back, and then continued on his way to repeat the process.
It rained. And kept on raining.
I saw a town far off.
I asked the driver, keeping pace with me, how far it would be. I figured at least three or four miles.
“Uno kilometer.” He called back over the clash of the surf.
It looked much farther. But it wasn’t. Before long I paddled around a bend and there was the beginning of the town above a long beach.
I took out near some fishing boats.
Walking up the beach I nearly puked from exhaustion.
I changed as quickly as I could into dry clothing and the shivering gradually subsided.
I leaned my kayak against a wall. If not well hidden at least it was discrete. And a fisherman thought it would be fine.**
I found a bar. They didn’t have internet access, or even toilet paper to clean my glasses. When the bartender saw me trying to clean them with a waxy napkin he handed me a real one. I saw a poker game in back. This was not a good place.
But I needed to sit and rest. And as I did we began to talk. A man treated me to a chocolate croissant. We talked a little more. The folk in the bar took out their smart phones to look at my blog. One fellow looked up the next day’s weather for me.
We went to move my kayak and gear somewhere safer: The churchyard.
Oh, and the people in the church were happy to let me stay in there warm guest apartment. There was a hot shower. The cubbies were full of food. I cut up an onion and some garlic and made myself some spaghetti sauce on the stove.
I was warm, clean, and happy. There were Jesus and Mary statues and pictures on every wall. I wasn’t supposed to talk in the hallways. But they made no effort to proselytize, which is more than I can say for chabad.
When a couple of my hostesses made my bed, they did it with unparalleled speed and precision. If bed making were a sport, they would have been allstars.
After lying in bed for twenty minutes, I sprinted to puke into the toilet. I heaved but nothing came up. It had been a long day.
It takes more than a shower, bed, and meal to get me to change religions. I have enough troubles with my own peoples wild stories, I’m certainly not about to adopt someone else's. But all the good will got me thinking about the fundamental concepts that our people share in common.
My ravings against the sea were left far behind.
*A Greenland storm paddle is much shorter than a traditional kayak paddle, and the paddling stroke is different. Doing it right means your arms get soaked. ~ed
**Don’t worry, it wasn’t stolen.
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Nautical miles paddled: 10
Total since Naples: 383.5
Current location: 39.246224,17.109527