Monday, May 28, 2007

A Hole In the Head

We launched out kayaks (sit-on inflatables) from a broad and sandy beach in near-perfect conditions - a sunny Saturday afternoon with no detectable swell. Mr. T and I paddled south from from the beach in the generous lee of a long and narrow headland. To port, the cliffs of the headland rose from modest beginnings, while ahead and to starboard lay the open ocean. This early in the season, there were no masts on the horizon, and the dearth of wave action kept even the die-hard surfers away - us paddlers had the sea to ourselves.

Two miles from our launch point, at the foot of huge and vertiginous cliffs, we found our target: a cave glimpsed three years previously during a weekend sailing cruise along this coast. Then, I'ld glimpsed a semi-circle of daylight at the cliff-foot; intriguing, but not a feature susceptible to investigation by a 40ft sailing yacht. Now, three years later, we arrived at the corresponding point on the opposite side of the head to find several more cave mouths, of which at least two pierced the head right through. Calling to Mr. T to wait for me, I paddling a little further to scout for an easier, wider route, which I found. Go back and tell Mr. T, or go through?

Against my better judgement, and guessing that Mr. T would be making a similar decision at the first cave, I nosed forward into the darkness by myself, tempted by the bright daylight visible about 120 metres ahead. Not far in, I began to have misgivings; sea caves generally exist in the because the area around the mouth amplifies wave action. A previously invisible swell now rose in the rock-constricted throat - a rise and fall of up to a metre made me grateful for the high roof. Eighty or so metres in, bound by walls I could not see except as silhouettes and paddling waves detectable by touch alone, a new problem presented itself: I was now close enough to the far entrance to encounter a wind-driven chop. At this point, the combination of opposing waves from both ends created sea conditions which I considered a little dynamic, especially in such a confined environment. With no torch or light stick, with my fins strapped to my boat rather than my feet, and no leash to keep my paddle and my boat handy, I could not risk a capsize. I beat a retreat.

Mr. Spider Crab waves at the camera, but refuses to smile

Outside, no sign of Mr. T. Uh oh. Entering the likeliest alternate cave, I was very pleased to see him silhouetted against the daylight, paddle in hand - I'ld more-than half expected to find him capsized. Conditions in his cave being similarly marginal, we retreated to the entrance; back in the daylight, Mr. T's hands turned out to be a little bloody - his (collapsible) paddle had self-disassembled mid-cave, and, what with the darkness and the waves, recovering and reassembling it had been a tricky business*.

We hauled out on to a "beach" of large boulders, and broke for lunch. Later, we did a little snorkeling and free diving (capturing the pictured spider crab); then, after a short detour past a sea stack covered in sea birds, we began a 2 1/2 mile paddle back to the launch site.

We'll be back.

* It's true what they say about adrenaline and the strength it gives you. Later, packing away the canoes, neither of us could unscrew the paddle Mr. T had reassembled in the cave - this was finally managed a full day later, with the aid of special tools.

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