Today I took my lovely purple kayak and dropped it into Baker Bay, at the Chinook boat launch. My thought was to traverse the bay to the unnamed sandbar, then hand-rail up Sand Island, take a peek at Cape Disappointment, and rejoin Shannon at Purly Shell in Ilwaco.
Excellent plan. Didn’t work.
I have been in a kayak (including today) four times. Several miles of open water, even in a calm bay, might be a bit ambitious, it turns out.
About half a mile to the sandbar I noticed that the swells were becoming more pronounced. Something about the depth of the water, I imagine, but it’s difficult to be certain. I was the talk of all the birds floating in the area, who didn’t even have the courtesy to lower their voices while speaking harshly of me. Obviously sea fowl of low social circles.
I had worked out, based on a rudimentary understanding of physics, that one puts a pointy end of one’s watercraft directly toward the incoming swells. That seemed to help with the stability a bit, although it had me going south, and I needed west. I’d been planning to continue south and west until I overshot the bar, then go north and west until the bar shielded me from the waves. As the roll became higher, I began to question this plan. I wondered if the coldness of the water might become a hypothermic issue, if I capsized and had to swim the kayak out (assuming I couldn’t right it with me inside).
Actually, I didn’t wonder. I knew that hypothermia would be an issue. I wondered about the likelihood of capsizing, though.
Resting and thinking a bit, I saw that I wasn’t alone. A harbor seal was sharing the blank stretch of water for which I’ve no specific noun. It was obviously seated on something, as harbor seals aren’t terribly tall and the water was rising and falling around it. We enjoyed a moment together, recognizing in one another, I assume, the aged depth of soul that only true lovers of the sea can note in another.
Then I wondered what the seal was sitting on, to rise above the water like that. I didn’t see anything … which means I was five kayak-lengths away from having a swell raise me above it and a trough drop me on it — whatever it was. It occurred to me that, if only part of the kayak dropped on it, the rest of the kayak would demonstrate in practical terms a very neat real-world use for notions regarding angular momentum. I mentally raised the odds of capsizing. I thought some more about hypothermia.
Then I turned around and decided following the shore to Ilwaco was a much better plan. Hypothermia a couple hundred feet from shore is much easier to handle than the same condition a mile or three off shore.
I felt wise; I recognized hazards, I acted in accordance to my best interests, and all would be well.
The tide was, at the time, just finishing coming in. This gave me some lovely swells (which I’d disliked somewhat a few minutes earlier) to ride on. The effect, for those who haven’t had the chance to try it, is half the time one gets to paddle downhill. A nice bit of speed is picked up, and if you push on the uphill you don’t lose it.
So you go faster next time down.
After playing with this for a bit, I was startled to notice a standing wave a couple lengths in front of me. On rivers, standing waves mean a rock, or perhaps a sunken kayak sufficiently weighted down with poor judgement so that it stays submerged. I looked around for my best direction to dodge.
And saw that all of the waves were standing.
I was surfing.
That was nearly as cool as a harbor seal. I had a blast with that for a time, until I reached the north end of the bay and had to turn west.
The waves did not join me. They felt they’d made a good day travelling north, and were going to stick with something that had been working and working well. They had managed maybe 18 inch to 24 inch peak-to-trough (which likely has a word, but I don’t know it yet), and could pretty much continue north against all of my protests. My best efforts did not change their direction, nor decrease their amplitude.
It was, in every aspect, as if I were not supremely potent enough to still the seas when they displeased me.
In our disagreement over how to proceed, the waters had stopped displaying swells and moved into the more staccato motions called “chop” — with the same amplitude. This meant there was a certain amount of breaking, as well.
This is not water motion that is conducive to serene contemplation of the infinite as one gently paddles along. It is very conducive to contemplation of how close one is going to be to the infinite, and how soon, but the contemplation is less characterized by “serene” and more by “adrenalized”. I found that it took me half an hour to traverse a quarter mile, and I had two miles left to go.
Capsizing now had such odds in its favor that no one was willing to make book on it. ”A done deal,” seemed to be the general belief in the sporting community. I imagine the harbor seal was cashing in nicely at my expense, having been afforded a look at me fresh out of the stables. He knew my form, and harbor seals are notorious for diving on a sure thing when they’ve got one.
I considered all of my options, and my various futures. I came within a twitch of capsizing several times during this consideration. I turned my prow into the waves, and found that there was a contingent of diagonal traverse waves to account for me, if I tried it. Obviously the local currents either held a grudge or were taking a bit under the table from the harbor seal.
I was becoming somewhat down on that damned seal. Not a sportsmanlike bone in his flippered body, was my feeling.
I found my best chance for a happy ending, and took it. I brought her about (as we sea-dogs will say, against all advice) and paddled strongly and with specific ambition. In a few breaths I was grounded about 100 feet off the nearest road, and texted Shannon for a lift.
Turns out to have been a good thing. Once we were back at the shop, I ate a sandwich and utterly passed out. I think I was too tired to have traversed those waves, even if my luck had held me upright.
Crossposted from Epinephrine & Sophistry