In planning my kayak trip through Clayoquot Sound, there was a stretch I was fretting about. My route included a seven mile stretch of rugged coast that would take three hours of paddling, exposed to the Pacific swell and westerly winds. It was going to be challenging and full of hazards; I nick-named it ‘danger paddle’.
I became obsessed; studying nautical charts for hours, but it didn’t help; it just made me more nervous. I had the chart laid out on the floor. I would hover over it on my hands and knees, drops of sweat formed on my brow as I studied it during the summer heat. There were shoals, submerged rocks, exposed points and lots of shallows. That spelled trouble – boomers: unpredictable waves that rise out of the shallows and are catastrophic if one hits you. It was going to be like paddling through a minefield.
The cons were endless, with most scenarios ending in my capsizing and huge waves mashing me into the rocks.
There was only two pros :
1 If I didn’t do danger paddle, I had a 20 mile detour; A full day and half worth of paddling. That would put a big kink in my schedule.
2 It would be intense, exhilarating, scary. I wanted to do it bad!
The bottom line; I was only attempting it if everything was perfect; both weather forecast and sea conditions. But the only way to know if everything was perfect was to check it out in person.
Helen isn’t a big fan of my solo kayak trips. She was definitely was not happy about this one; Ten days and out of cell phone reception the whole time. For safety reasons, we went through my trip itinerary before I left, like we always do. We mapped out my route on the nautical charts and went through each day and all my notes. Everything was fine until she flips to day five on the notepad. “Why is day five titled ‘danger paddle’?” I hemmed and hawed a little, and muttered, “It’s an exposed area … But it shouldn’t be that bad.” H – “If it’s not that bad why did you call it danger paddle?”
Crap. I just made her more nervous than she already was.
But I was going to be careful, I always am on these trips. All alone, miles from anyone, no cell phone reception. If you’re in trouble, there is hardly anywhere to land. If you can even make it ashore in the massive surf and jagged rocks, you’re on a deserted island. If it goes bad, you’re on your own.
Finally, the big day arrives. The Pacific is usually calmer early in the morning with the off-shore wind building throughout the day. So I woke up before dawn and stuck my head out the tent. A perfect day; a little mist but no wind and the ocean was calm. I quickly broke camp and launched.
The swell built as I paddled west out of the bay, but sea conditions were still manageable as I swung well off-shore. The waves passed under me and thunderously broke against the rocks; foaming and chaotic. Soon I could see the first large point that extended a half mile out into the sea; a massive headland with 100 foot cliffs. Large waves exploded off it’s face and whitewater bubbled and churned all around the point. I would have to swing over a mile off-shore to get around, and this was the smallest of four points I would have to pass.
The power of The Pacific was terrifying; I felt tiny in my little kayak bobbing in the powerful swell. The wind had slightly increased, and the waves had less rhythm to them, which was disconcerting. This was the point of no return.
I went back and forth. I would be fine if the conditions didn’t get worse. But what if it did get worse? It’s not easy turning back, but the whole scenario freaked me out; in the end I had a bad feeling, a sixth sense that said “don’t do it”.
So disappointed, I slowly turned around and headed for calmer waters. Instantly my blood pressure dropped, my head de-stressed, my body relaxed. Two hours later, a strong wind kicked up, It was like I won the lottery! I would have been right in the middle of danger paddle; it would have been ugly.
I had a big smile on my face as I cruised the long way on perfectly calm channels.