Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Day 107


I did not sleep well.  I lay in my sleeping bag on the beach as the sun set.  Cars pulled up and honked.  Families played and little dogs approached and barked.  I love dogs, but these miniature freaks of nature would probably better serve the natural order of things as ferret food.

At around 22:00 a different sort of visitor came.  Two cars drove onto the beach.  The music was turned on.  It wasn’t just music, it was a speaker system so impressive that I felt like I had a front row seat at a Thunder Bash Sex concert.  The ground shook around me and I was a little scared.

There was some disagreement, apparently not all the revelers liked that particular band.  A moment later I was listening to Acoustic Anger, which while preferable to Thunder Bash Sex was also abandoned after a moment for the revelry of the Cat Slaughterers and The Cyanide Kings.  They weren’t so bad, and just as I thought I could tune my sleepy dreams into the roar that was undoubtedly produced by a random number generator and a gorilla on ecstasy, the channel was changed again, and again, and again.

I did not sleep well.

They left right around 11:00 when I needed to get out of bed to kayak across the sea. The kayaker who welcomed me to the beach the day before showed up.  He saw my blog.  Had he but known I was coming he would have left a tent set up for me.

In my sleeping bag I was warm.  I checked the weather on my phone.  Damn, it was perfect.  If I only had an excuse to wait for the rest of my gear.  But I didn’t.  If I postponed the launch, it could be weeks before I got another weather window like this one.

My friends from the escort sailboat showed up.  They took all the gear I wouldn’t be needing.

Loading my boat presented some challenges.  I was taking a 10 liter water bag instead of the usual three.  I didn’t want all that weight high up on my deck, so I put it right in front of my seat.  The 36 packages of crackers in a shopping bag also went with me in the cockpit.  It was a little tight, but it worked.  I wore headlamp over my neoprene cap and under my wide brim hat.  It didn’t seem to consistently turn on when I hit the switch, but waving it around and flicking it fixed that.  I had another light just in case, as well as some batteries and my backup gps in a dry bag between my shins.

Strapped to my back was the radar beacon cylinder.  I had two paddle floats and storm paddles fastened down:  One on my front deck and one on my back.  If things went bad I could set them up as outriggers on either side and try to wait the situation out or rest.  

My radio and GPS were in a flat dry bag on my front deck, pushed far enough forward so that they wouldn’t influence my compass, I hoped.  Behind me were two nalgene bottles with chia fresca.  My neoprene jacket kept me warm and my booties served the additional function of heel cushions.

I was as ready as I’d ever be.  It was 12:30.  By some miracle I managed to comfortably fit into my cockpit with all that stuff.  I waved goodbye to my friends and set into the darkness.

Paddling out of the harbor, light from the village brightened my way.  After that, it was the full moon and the stars.  The night was bright.

I flicked my headlamp on to read my compass.  I turned my boat to 104 degrees, facing the north beach of Othonoi 45 nautical miles away, and found the nearest star on the horizon.  I turned my headlamp off and paddled to that star.  My poggies kept my hands warm, but prevented me from reading my watch.

The plan was to start eating every five minutes after the half hour mark.  I guessed and began at 35.

Off to my left was a lighthouse.  Behind me, Porto Badisco.  And to the right, the stinky sulfur town.  As I paddled out to see the lights got smaller and smaller.

I was warming up and took my poggies off.  I could read my watch by the light of the moon.

Stars move, they wander across the sky for the same reason the sun does.  Every seven minutes I ate a cracker and turned on my headlamp to make sure my star was still good or find a new one.

Every hour I turned on my radio.  “Securitay, securitay, securitay.  Solo kayak crossing from Otranto to Othonoi.  Current location - North [ ] degrees and [ ] minutes.   East [ ] degrees and [ ] minutes. Repeating ... ”

A freighter came towards me from the north.  It was big and loud and getting closer fast. Everything about its silhouette told me it was going to pass in front of me.  I stopped and waited.  One of the lights I saw was red.  That’s odd, the red light should be on the port side.  It didn’t make sense, until the giant ignorant mass passed behind me.

I learned a lesson.

The lights of the towns dropped below the horizon.

I checked the bearing on my gps.  It had dropped from 104 to 100.  I started trying to aim a little farther to the north. I checked again at the end of the next hour and it was down to 94.  For the rest of the crossing I aimed my boat duen east and stayed on course.  The sea was calm and the wind negligible, but what force there was must have been pushing me south.  On top of that, my stars were moving south, and that was bound to throw me off even with my frequent updates.

The next freighter came from the south and passed in front of me.  It felt close, though not as close as the first one.  I didn’t see the red navigational light.

The moon set and the world got a lot darker.  I couldn’t read my watch any more.  There was blackness nearby and all around me.  I was alone at sea in the night.  Not even the moon lit my way, very far from the friends and family rooting for me.  They were with me, encouraging me, cheering for me, telling me that I wasn’t alone.

A bright red star rose to the south east.  Of all the celestial bodies in the clear black sky, only that one cast a reflection.  A red river of light flowed from the horizon over black waters towards my boat.

My abdominal muscles were beginning to feel the distance.

Dawn light crept into the sky and the stars fled the horizon, but it was not yet bright enough to read my compass.  I turned my headlamp on and left it on.  I no longer needed to conserve the batteries.

The sky met the sea at the horizon all around me.  I could not see the land I left, nor the land I was going to.  There was nothing but the sea.  And it was calm.

Far ahead and to the north there was a mist.  Through a break in that mist I saw mountains - Albanian wilderness.

I was chilly.  My pogies were in my cockpit.   I could root around in there for them, but I prefered to just keep on paddling.

The sun began to rise directly ahead, and I got my first glimpse of the island.  The tiny northern stretch of Othonoi was directly between that rising red sphere of flame and me.  The left half of the sun rose cleanly from the ocean, but the right half was blocked by the silhouette of my destination on the other side of the sea.

A bright green seagull flew past my boat.

Once the sun was over the horizon I could no longer look into it, and the island disappeared into the mist.  Albania was also gone.

The sun warmed me up.

The cockpit of my Nelo Inuk is and always has been a little leaky. I think most of the water that collects on the bottom drips in from the screws that bind the deck rigging.  Occasionally I sponge it out.

I opened my skirt to take out another handful of cracker packages.  The hose unscrewed itself from my water bag.  It would be bad if I lost my drinking water to the salty sea sweat of my cockpit.  There was still a long ways to go.  But I held the waterbag in place between and under my thighs and I screwed the hose back on, tightly.  Disaster was averted.

Someone said something in response to my position broadcast.  But I don’t know if it was Italian or Greek.  To save batteries I was leaving my radio on only for my broadcasts at the end of every hour and a few minutes after in case someone had something to say to me.  And they did, but it wasn’t in English, so I turned my radio off.

My mouth was parched and my throat was dry and I was sick of those nasty crackers.  I pulled a nalgene off of my back deck and for the next hour got my calories from chia fresca.  I was bursting with energy.  I picked up speed and sang loudly.  “A whole new world.  A new fantastic point of view.  No one to tell us no, or where to go, or say we’re only dreaming.”

My go juice ran out, but I could now handle more crackers.  And I could see the island.  The blocky shadow was visible in front of the distant mist.  It pulled at me, and I went forward.

I turned on my radio to make my broadcast, and someone was “Calling Kayak Dov.  Calling Kayak Dov.”

Joy!  My friends were coming.  I was no longer alone.

“This is Kayak Dov!”  I told them.  I felt GOOD.

We switched to channel 72 and I gave them my gps coordinates.  I couldn’t wait for them.  If they went to the coordinates, and then headed straight to the island, we would undoubtedly meet.

I continued to feel the pull of the mountain island ahead of me.  An enormous fish leapt out of the water directly in my path, disappearing as quickly as it burst out.

I saw the sailboat behind me and to the north.  I called them on the radio.  They could not see me.

What were my coordinates?  I tried to read them, but the sun was bright and the GPS dry bag covered with water drops.  I couldn’t make out the numbers without adjusting the contrast, and I wasn’t sure how to do that.  I didn’t want to risk removing it from the bag.

I turned my boat around and pointed it directly at them.  I subtracted 180 from the bearing and told them exactly where to find me.

It took a while, but eventually they told me they saw me and headed north, away.

I was hot and chafing kicked in the same place it had the day before.  I tried lowering my shorts again, but this time it didn’t help.  After more paddling, I stuck one of my storm paddles under the deck lines for added stability and took off my neoprene jacket.   I felt pleasantly cooler and free, but the chafing did not go away.  I unbuckled the clip on my life jacket belt below the zipper.  The chafing went away.  At least my wonderful skirt chafing had been cured a month earlier when I upgraded to an Akuilisaq.

I called the sailing boat and gave them a new bearing to find me.  But they were having trouble of some sort.  

“Dov, do you hear that sound we just heard?” If I was near the sound, they supposed, I must be near them.

“Forget it, just go south.”  I told them.  When they crossed the line between me and the island I could tell them to stop and I would meet them.

“Is the ferry to your right or left?”  I saw the ferry near the sailing boat.  They were to my left, but far away.  

“To my left, but all you have to do to find me is go south.  I’ll tell you when to stop.”

“We’ll stay here.  You come to us.”  They told me.

Fat chance.  I was not going to paddle any farther than I had to.  Forty five miles was enough, thank you very much.

“Just go south.”  I tried one last time.

They wandered farther north “I think we know where you are.”  I heard over the radio.

“Dov, are you okay?”  They asked.

“Yes, I’m fine.” though maybe a little frustrated.

“Good, we’ll meet you in the port.”  They had given up on finding me.  Maybe they didn’t know where south was.  Oh well.  I had about five more hours and I was doing fine.

The forecast said that around 15:00, when I would arrive, there would be a force four tail wind.  A bit strong for my state of exhaustion.  I sulked for a couple of hours about how I had been abandoned before I had my second nalgene and the joy of a new wave of energy kicked in.

I was getting close to the island.  The cliffs on the near shore were staggering.  Only Fezzik was strong enough to get to the island this way.

But the last few hours were arduous.  The island did that trick that islands sometimes do, where they creep away from me as I get closer.  Why was I going so slow!

Maybe I’m sinking.  Shit, what if I’m sinking? What if the repairs I made the day before didn’t catch the problem?

I carefully watched my bow.  Was it lower in the water than it ought to be.  Should I get out, swim to the front, open the hatch and pump the water out.  The water was cold.  To spend that much time in it I’d have to put my jacket back on.  Would that be enough?  It was stuffed into my cockpit.  I didn’t want to fish it out.

I could be at the island in a couple of hours.  I increased my speed to four knots.  Calypso beach, next to the cave where Ulysses was held captive, would be the first safe spot for a landing.  There was no road access there, but all I had to do was pull over and pump the gallons of water out of my cockpit.

I pressed on, and reached four knots, then four and a half knots.  I took my GPS out of the bag to measure.  If I was able to keep up the speed, then I couldn’t have been in that much trouble.  The delusional panic passed, and I didn’t even have to go for a swim in the winter water.

For the last hour I was too sick of the crackers to eat any more.  Next time, I want to have peanuts with me.

I paddled past the cliffs.  I passed the white sanded Calypso beach at the base of an incredibly steep mountain.  I saw the cave.  There were a lot of caves.  Above the cliffs, grassy slopes spilled into each other at sharp angles, and above those still more cliffs.

I was in Greece, and it was breathtakingly wondrous.  A motorboat prattled along parallel to me.  The captain cheerfully waved and I waved back.  I didn’t remember Italian boaters being so friendly.

For the thrill of going fast I kept pace with him at five and a half knots for as long as I could.  When we went around the corner of the island and I had to turn he pulled ahead of me.

Around the mountain I saw the harbor.

A throng* of people were waving to me and cheering.  I pulled up onto the beach.  A Greek flag waved in the air and a tiny village sat under the mountains just behind it.

I got out of my boat.  My legs were stiff; I could barely walk.  The time was 15:45, wait, no, I was in a new time zone.  The time was 16:45.

“Is it safe to leave my kayak on the beach,” I asked as I hobbled towards a shower.

“Yes, of course.  You’re not in Italy anymore.”

I wasn’t.  Crossing the strait of Otronto was a personal record, an unprecedented personal achievement.  I crossed the sea and found a new people and a new land.

I love you world!

Later, when I opened up my hatch I found about half a liter of water in the bow.  My boat was leaking, just not dangerously.


*Okay, six.

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  1. Hooray! So glad you made it safely to Greece!! And I'm glad you had chia seeds to fuel the way. Can't wait to see what happens next.

  2. Thank you. Me too. Those were the last of my seeds, by the way, but a new package is being shipped to Athens.

  3. I saved them for the crossing.

  4. Nice one!
    It sounds like the experience you had in the middle of the sea in complete darkness is something very rare and special.

  5. did you ever try the cream that open water swimmers/triathletes use ?

  6. and like the sun, stars "move" 15 degrees an hour. That is the distance from the tip of the index to the tip of the pinky with these two stretched out from a fist.

  7. I should add that that is with your arm fully extended.

  8. No, I find that stopping the cause and showering works wonders!

  9. It's cool that comes out to 15 degrees. I checked by doing it six times and did get 90. But, I don't think all the start move at the same pace, the north star, for example, moves very little.

  10. Yes that is 15 degrees/hr at the celestial equator...