Friday, July 28, 2006

Return to the sea: A Tight Spot

After a long spell (too long) ashore, I returned last night to the ocean, this time in a sea kayak. We were a large group - a dozen or so colleagues, mostly novices (even my own modest paddling skills appeared relatively competent and economical). The boats were beautifully efficient, and perfect for novices: streamlined enough to let even weak paddlers maintain a good speed, but broad enough to be very stable.

The coast was spectacular: we explored the lee side of a long peninsula: sea cliffs all the way, riddled with caves and sea arches. The water was flat calm - at times we might almost have been airborne, so clear were the colours the rock and weed below. The paddles through the caves and the arches were magical. We had only two capsizes on the trip (neither mine). I did have one awkward moment, though, in a cave. The episode was typical me: the guide stopped at the entrance, which was large and very inviting. Curiousity propelled me forward, and I glided past her, into the gloom beyound the cave mouth, and found a broad and inviting tunnel. Moving deeper, the gloom became a pitchy darkness, navigating now by sound and touch. The walls closed in: I shipped my paddle, and used my hands instead. I slowed to a stop as the loud and hollow slop-splashing just a few metres ahead warned me of the end of the cave: a moment too late, as it turned out.

Above me, a huge rock wedge protruded unseen from the roof almost to water level. Sliding under it, I stopped below its lowest point just as the trough of the swell passed by. Then, the boat rode up and forwards on the surge of the following wave, and I found myself forced onto my back, pinned in the darkness between the deck at my back and the rock pressed into my chest, wondering how high the water intended to rise...

Patience and calm were rewarded: the crest came,and went, and a sharp shove to the offending wedge sent me smartly sternwards, back to the light.

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