My friend Matt, who you first met in my non-bear adventure, was in a car totaling accident a few months ago. Now you may be thinking, that must must have been some serious accident, but in reality it wasn’t much more than a fender bender. The car he was driving wasn’t worth a lot, and as insurance companies are wont to do, they paid him to replace it rather than spend a lot of money repairing a 1994 PoS. Matt also has some back problems, that were exacerbated by the rear ending, so the insurance company decided to offer him a substantial chunk of money to cover his chiropractic visits, in exchange for him signing a release saying he wouldn’t come after them for more money. Matt agreed to these terms and walked away smiling.
With this windfall Matt decided to sponsor an adventure that he and I have talked about taking for the longest time. But after giving it some thought, he decided the costs for such an excursion were too steep even with his newfound wealth. He decided it would be prudent if we test our sea legs before making a significant investment in such an adventure. So he rented us a couple of flat-water kayaks and we spent a weekend on a nearby lake learning the ropes and determining whether we were cut out for the open waters.
It rained all night, and a light drizzle was still coming down Saturday morning when we reached the lake. The rain had driven off most other boaters, so, with the exception of the occasional bass rig, we had the lake to ourselves. We had rented two different style kayaks, expecting to trade off to get a feel for which style we preferred. We picked out boats and in a few minutes had donned all the necessary gear and put in.
The boat that I had picked was long and narrow. I fully expected this boat to be fast and maneuverable, but what I did not expect was the constant adjustments necessary just to keep the boat from rocking with each passing ripple. It felt as though any time someone skipped a rock across the lake I was having to perform a hip-hop dance routine to move my hips enough to steady the boat. All the shimmying and shaking made my legs fall asleep in just a few minutes. This was not the boat for me and from the way Matt laughed I’ll assume it showed on my face, he offered to switch with me. I quickly accepted the offered.
The second boat we rented was much easier on my sense of well being, not to mention my abs. Essentially sit-on-top kayak, modified to allow you to sit in rather than on it, this boat was shorter and wider than the first one I tried. The width seemed to provide a great deal more stability which made for a much more relaxed experience on the water. Matt seemed to be ok in the boat I had such trouble with, so we set out to tour the lake.
We paddled out of the little cove where we had put in, and once out in the main body of the lake the traffic had picked up. The rain had stopped, and while it was still overcast, and threatening more rain, people were making their way onto the water. With all the traffic we decided it would be best to stay close to shore, so we decided to make our way around one of the big islands in the lake.
About half-way around the island Matt was having the same legs-falling-asleep problem I had with that boat, so we headed for a nearby beach to stretch our legs. I have been told that the island we stopped on was called Billy Goat Island. I have no idea why anyone would name it that, because there was a noticeable absence of goats. A more fitting name for this place would have been duck poop Island, but some places like to be named for what they aspire to. Like New Jersey, it’s called the Garden State, even though it would be more appropriately nick named, the Armpit State. This island aspired to move beyond duck droppings, to something more pleasant, like goats. We didn’t stay for long. Just long enough to get circulation back in Matt’s legs. Then we set off again.
We had almost completed a lap around Billy Goat Island when Matt expressed to me quite urgently, that he needed to stop again. So, we stopped a second time so to stretch our legs. Matt legs are apparently so far gone, he is doing windsprints to get the circulation flowing. I offered to swap boats with him but he insists that he’ll be fine in the one he’s got.
We shove off and the last thing Matt says to me as we do is, “Don’t get too far ahead of me.” So we start back toward the cove where we put in. I paddle for a couple of minutes and check my GPS to make sure the visual landmarks I’ve picked out will in fact lead me back to where I wanted to go. I look back to make sure I haven’t gotten too far ahead and notice that Matt, for some reason, has paddled several hundred yards in the completely opposite direction from me. At that very moment I also happen to notice that Matt was yelling something like “ahhhh!” or “aaaaaaahh!” which stopped suddenly, then followed with the typical splash noise one makes when capsizing a boat that rides very low in the water.
I immediately turned my boat, and started heading in his direction. Now, if he had just been patient and stayed put, I would have paddled right up next to him and helped roll his boat back up right. (Well, probably not, because I forgot about that trick until later in the day). Matt apparently didn’t feel like sitting around underwater waiting for me to come to his aid with some cool trick that would have him paddling again in just seconds. No, he bailed out of his boat, a technique kayakers call a “wet exit”, in the middle of the lake. It wasn’t exactly the middle. He was, in fact, fairly close to one shore, so he pushed his boat to the nearest dock hoping to use it to help us get on our way again.
The owner of said dock, happened to own a dog, that when he saw us, decided to let his owners know that someone was about to use their dock without permission. Fortunately, the man who owned the dock was a kayaker himself, and was more than happy to help out a fellow boater in need, and welcomed us to make ourselves at home. Fortunately, we were able to get Matt back in and, on the right course, back to our starting point.
We were doing fairly well, until we got to about the very middle of the lake. Not like the middle I talked about before, but really the middle, in the area where all of the ski boats and jet skis were playing because it allowed them the room to open up and enjoy all of the horse power their engines offered. As it turns out the clouds had started to break and the skies had begun to clear, and the aforementioned powered watercraft were now swarming the lake. These boats with all their horsepower, create wakes that wreak havoc on small one-man power boats such as the ones Matt and I were in. With Matt being in a boat that had already proven unsteady, and a quick succession of waves from the skiers, his boat went under again. This time though, it sounded more like, “Shi” *plunk*. I’m pretty sure he said what you think he said, but his face went under before he could complete the thought.
I was much closer when the boat went over this time, but as before, I still had not remembered my trick about righting an upside down kayaker. Matt performed another wet exit. Because we were really in the middle of the lake this time, it would have been just as easy to go to the shore we had been headed toward in the first place as it would have been to return to the dock that had been so handy before. Either way was going to be inconvenient and getting back in the boat would be difficult.
We tried various tricks to try to head back to shore. First, Matt tied his boat to the back of mine, and I paddled for a minute while he swam. I apparently got to far ahead of him, because he screamed, “Stop paddling!” I looked back and maybe 50 yards separated us, but swimming while wearing a PFD is tough work. Paddling a kayak, while another boat is tied to the back of yours, and a swimmer hangs on to the other boat is even tougher. After Matt had screamed at me to stop, I sat back and floated, while he made his way toward me. As soon as he got close, he said that it was ok to paddle. I made several strokes, and realized that the two landmarks I had identified on either side of me, had not moved. I made a couple more strokes, this time with a little more gusto than the last, and realized that I wasn’t moving at all. The landmarks hadn’t moved a bit.
I yelled back to Matt, “Are you hanging on?!?!”
Sheepishly, “Uhh, yeah.”
Frustrated banshee scream from me, “Aaaahhhhh!!”
Then I explained that no matter how hard I paddled with him hanging on we didn’t seem to move forward at all.
“Matt, untie the boats. I’ve got an idea.” For some reason this is the moment I chose to remember the trick I had learned from my little brother. “Do you think you can get in the boat while it’s upside down?”
“I don’t know, I could try.”
I think he thought I said on the boat while it’s upside down because we rolled his kayak back over and he tried to get on it. “No, I meant in the boat. Like when you first flipped over.” I then explained that this is usually done just after the boat goes over. If the paddler can’t roll the boat upright by himself, then he lets his buddy know he needs assistance, the individual that’s underwater then grabs the boat of the right side up paddler and flips himself and his boat up right.
Matt understood and set about getting back in the upside down boat. He executed the maneuver flawlessly on his first attempt, then asked, “Why the hell didn’t you think of the sooner?!” Good question. I’d been asking myself the same thing. With Matt back in his boat, we headed back to the boat ramp and the truck, for some lunch.
Our return to the water after lunch was short lived. The sun was out, the wind had picked up considerably, and our cove was bustling highway for all of the lake people trying to salvage the rest of the day. The combination of steady winds and heavy traffic through the cove had created a significant steady chop. I was in the “Nervous” boat as we had dubbed it this time around and found it even harder than my first attempt to keep the boat from rocking.
Eventually, I tipped over. Sitting underwater while in a boat, is not nearly as panic inducing as one might expect. I suppose it could have been had I lost my hat or my sunglasses, but those remained almost magically attached. As I sat there for a moment I realized that part of the calm was that I was no longer having to dance with the boat to keep it steady. Upside down, with me acting as a rudder, this boat was as steady as a rock. If I hadn’t let go of my paddle as I was dunked, I might have tried to paddle this way. As I sat there underwater, it occurred to me that I hadn’t had any air for far longer than any animal with lungs ought to. So I bailed out of the kayak.
After getting some air I looked around and noticed the wind seemed to have pushed me several hundred feet from the dock we had been playing around. The water was quite deep, so I had to swim myself and the boat back towards it so I could get out. With the PFD, the boat, and the wind working against me I made no progress as I swam. Matt finally got to me and towed my boat back to the dock, but I was still swimming. I’m sure rip tides are a much more power force than what I was fighting on the lake, but it was all I could do to make any progress towards my goal. Having taken at least a half an hour to make it 100 to 200 yard against that current, I decided that you won’t find me anywhere near the water when the red flags are flying at the beach.
As I sat on the shore, Matt and I decided we really enjoyed the experience. With a little practice, and maybe some boats that are better suited for novices like us we would definitely be back for more adventures like this one, sans the unnecessary swimming.
Exhausted and feeling abused Matt and I decided that we were going to call it a day.