Saturday, August 16, 2014

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Day 159


At 23:00 I woke, gathered my things, and returned through the darkness passed the ruined city to my kayak. The back hatch was full of water. How had that happened? It was likely the result of a serious leak. If the enormous quantity of water had seeped into my boat in the last mile then there was no way I could make the crossing. Who knew when my next weather window would be.

I used my cooking pot to load the back compartment with sea water, dug sand out from underneath and examined the hull closely with a flashlight. I didn’t find a leak. Should I risk the crossing?

An hour later I was paddling in the dark. My weather window was short and depending on which forecast came true I might face an additional hour of bad weather at the end of my day.

With my headlamp on I was able to follow the bearing on my compass. No moon shone. This was the first time I used this deck light. It was dead in half an hour. The entire world was reduced to my small pool of light which rose and fell with the black water. I wanted dawn to come soon, but the wanting slowed time to crawl. Minutes took hours and that made me want all the more. I couldn’t see the waves, there was only my compass, my paddles pulling at the blackness, and me.

I turned my headlamp off and as my eyes began to adjust picked out the star closest to my bow. The problem with following the star was that my bow may have moved between when I turned my headlamp off and my eyes adjusted, so I repeated the star choosing a few more times before I was comfortable with my choice. Since I was heading almost due south, my star shouldn’t move that much in the remaining few hours of night.

Without my headlamp, the world opened up to me. The sea and sky were no longer black, but shades of grey with size and depth. Brilliant lightning shot out from my bow and paddles as they sliced through the water. White caps were white and I was in control, both of myself and my boat. I ate whole grain bread sticks that one of my friends in Alanya had bought for me and I saved for the crossing. I burst with energy and a song sprung forward.

“To sail on a dream on a crystal clear ocean,
To ride on the crest of a wild raging storm
To work in the service of life and living,
In search of the answers of questions unknown
To be part of the movement and part of the growing,
Part of beginning to understand,

Aye Calypso the places you've been to,
The things that you've shown us,
The stories you tell
Aye Calypso, I sing to your spirit,
The men who have served you so long and so well

Hi dee ay-ee ooo doo-dle oh
Oo do do do do do doo-dle ay yee
Doo-dle ay ee

Like the dolphin who guides you, you bring us beside you
To light up the darkness and show us the way
For though we are strangers in your silent world
To live on the land we must learn from the sea
To be true as the tide and free as a wind swell
Joyful and loving in letting it be

Aye Calypso the places you've been to,
The things that you've shown us,
The stories you tell
Aye Calypso, I sing to your spirit,
The men who have served you so long and so well

Hi dee ay-ee ooo doo-dle oh
Oo do do do do do doo-dle ay yee
Doo-dle ay ee“

I was thrilled. This was it. I was finishing my expedition. Two thousand five hundred nautical miles, one hundred and fifty nine days on the water and much more dealing with logistics in the field and waiting for the weather. And now, it was all coming to a climax. I sang loudly, victoriously, joyfully, as though I didn’t still have nine hours ahead of me.

The sky in the east began to lighten and eventually I could read my compass. The sun rose and a small bright green turtle ahead dove deep in the clear water.

To save energy I decided I would not roll to cool off while paddling. I could stay cool by filling my hat up with water and dumping it on my head. My long sleeve shirt protects me from the sun and keeps me cool when wet, though once it dries out it insulates. Since much of the crossing was at night and early morning I decided sun protection was less critical than keeping cool, so I paddled without a shirt. It turns out, my shirt protects me from akuilisaq chafing. It wasn’t bad, and had I only been out for the regular six to eight hours it would not have been a problem. But the chafing at five different locations on my body was bad and getting worse. With each passing hour I had less skin and more raw sweaty wounds torn wider and deeper.

Some 15 miles from land a common tern approached, flew four tight circles around me and headed off. A few moments later it came back and after two more turns left for good.

I checked my GPS every hour to make sure I was on schedule and on course. My course was fine. In the last hour I paddled only two nautical miles. Something was very wrong. There were two possible explanations for the slow progress: Icarus was sinking or I was fighting a current.

I could open up her back hatch, check and potentially save my kayak before everything was lost. The maneuver would entail a large risk. Opening the back hatch to begin with was not a good idea, but more than that, in order to see what was going on I would have to remove my sleeping bag backpack that was thoroughly wedged in. It was not a task smoothly performed on land and I could only guess how it would go while swimming next to the boat. My guess was not optimistic.

I decided to keep on paddling. I rocked Icarus to see if I could feel the water. I didn’t, but how sure could I be that I would? I was pretty sure, but I was also tired, and being tired affects one's judgment. I now had an ongoing eye on my GPS’s speedometer. I was paddling between 1.5 and 2.5 knots, about a knot and a half slower than I liked.

I recalled the power of my GPS. I stopped my boat. As far as I could see, there was only the calm deep blue water and cloudless sky. But my GPS told me the secret my senses would not. I was moving north at about 1.5 knots.

My boat was not sinking, which meant the problem could not be solved except by turning back or heading on. If I continued at this pace I would run out of drinking water potentially a couple of hours before I finished. If I turned back I could return to the launch in good time if the current persisted. If it did not I would run out of drinking water.

I pushed on.

I had to poop. I would finish in a few hours. I could hold it.

The current died down. I was only two hours behind schedule.

My chia maca gogo juice ran out. My breadsticks ran out. I switched to the white bread I had with me. It tasted like bread fungus. Maybe that was a reflection on my exhausted state. The bread was fresh yesterday. I threw it out, if I ate it and I puked I would be worse off.

I did not want to hold my poop anymore. I set up a paddle float and scooted onto my back deck. I aimed my butt over the side. More or less sitting up, my balance was precarious. I got most of it directly into the water. The technique was not elegantly done, but that’s what happens when you try something at sea unpracticed.

Eleven miles from my destination I got my first glimpse through the haze at three Cypriot peaks. They vanished. But at least I knew I was on target. A few days earlier I saw Cyprus from Turkey, I had hoped to see it as early as dawn.

At seven miles I made out the headland I was aiming for, dead ahead.

Without food, those last two hours were hard. The closer I got to the end, the more I struggled for each stroke, the more the chafing gnawed into me, the harder I tried to force my mind to numb the pain. No breaks! Just keep paddling! Just go. Why can’t you just go. No stopping, not even for a moment.

A man on the beach waved to me.

The shore was rocky, but the water was shallow. I dropped out of my boat with an inelegant splash, and Haris, my new best friend, picked it up with me and we climbed ashore.

I rejoiced and thanked my god for seeing me through to the end of my quest in good health.* I had landed in the Turkish Republic of North Cyprus. My expedition was over and I was safe.


*His plan apparently did not include dental.


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Nautical miles paddled: 37.5
Current location: 35.403896,32.920688