Yesterday Tony and I decided we would go to St. Philips today and have a little paddle practice around the cove for a couple of hours. The wind was forecasted to be North 30 km with temp about -2 C (-10 or so with the wind chill). With a North wind there is little protection in the cove as wind from this direction pretty much comes straight in. To make a short story shorter, we decided to cancel our plans for this afternoon….
So I was checking my log book from last year to see what I had been up to last year around this time. On March 20 last year I did my very first ocean solo paddle at St. Philips. The weekend before I had done my very first paddle using a borrowed
Greenland paddle and I wanted to get on the water and give it another go. I remember e-mailing people to see if anyone wanted to join me but did not receive any yes’s. I went anyway thinking someone will show up; nobody did. I remember it being sunny with some wind and as I was there already I decided I would get on the water and stay in the cove, close to shore.
It was an uneasy feeling at first. I was using the Greenland paddle for only the second time on the ocean and it was the first time I was by myself on the ocean, granted I was relatively safe in the cove. After a while of paddling close to the shore of the cove I began to paddle from headland to headland across the mouth of the cove. I was into more wind and waves there but the uneasy feeling of the new paddle and being alone continued to dissipate.
Then I decided to paddle towards Topsail beach. I paddled maybe 2 kilometers and decided to paddle back to the cove. After some more paddling around the cove I paddled a kilometer or so in the other direction toward Portugal Cove and then came back. It was a nice day, not too much wind, the
Greenland paddle was feeling good in my hands, and my uneasy feelings had completely left me by this point. I decided to paddle further toward Portugal Cove with the bit of following wind and sea for the practice.
I was enjoying the paddle. I passed familiar points along the way and before I knew it I was at Beachy Cove, about 4 km from St. Philips. I had been in my kayak for a while and decided to land to stretch my legs and have a granola bar and some water. There was some surf dumping on the little beach but landing was not a problem. I got out and pulled my kayak onto the beach. When I turned around I realized the wind and waves had picked up since I left St. Philips. I had been paddling in the following sea with the wind in my back and had not realized the wind had picked up a little.
I watched the waves as I ate my snack. With the direction of the waves coming into the little cove they would rebound off the rocks on the right, and then sort of come straight across the beach while mixing with the water from the little stream dumping into the cove. Sometimes some higher waves would rebound making the water more turbulent. As I stood there finishing my snack, watching this turbulence coming across the beach, and seeing the higher waves and wind blowing past the little cove the uneasy feeling came back upon me. It seemed the wind was picking up a little more.
I remember beginning to contemplate the situation and what best to do. The conditions were not highly intense or anything, but I was concerned about being by myself in the event of a capsize, a missed roll, and a swim. Yes, the wind and waves had picked up. I had been in far, far worse conditions during our practice sessions at St. Philips. My strong side roll was very good, but I did not have a good weak side roll at this time (I had only just gotten my weak-side roll in January past and had been working on it in the pool...). I supposed I could play it safe and paddle the additional kilometer to Portugal Cove in the following sea and then walk back to St. Philips for my car. But I decided that it was only the fact of my being alone, depending solely upon myself, that things just looked worse than they actually were.
I took a couple more minutes to let the anxiety subside. I turned my kayak around, bow pointing out and partly in the water, secured the spray skirt, and knuckled myself toward the water until I found myself afloat. The rebounding waves were coming at me almost sideways and after I took one stoke I had to brace on my right as I was pushed sideways for a few feet. A few good strokes and I was away from the beach. I paddled out of the cove and turned my bow into the wind, toward St. Philips, and paddled. The waves were about two feet high but not steep. There was some white on the tops of them and I had to paddle a bit hard. I concentrated on my strokes and used my torso against the wind. I just paddled, passing the familiar points, and started to enjoy the moment again. It did not seem to be too long and I was back at the cove. I paddled back to the slipway, packed up my kayak and gear and drove home.
This experience was one of those kayak turning points for me. I had been paddling less than two years at that point and that was my first experience on the ocean by myself. I know I did not paddle far into the wilds of the world and that the conditions were not greatly intense and highly life threatening. But for me at the time, having limited experience on the water, it was an experience that somehow seemed bigger than my skills at the time. I have paddled by myself since and in much more wind and waves, but not far from safety. And I do not advocate anybody paddling alone - I will always tell other people not to do it - but I admit it was a good experience for me.
I have since come to the conclusion that when we paddle we ultimately paddle alone, even when someone paddles with us. The other people with us merely ease our mind and provide us entertainment and a social aspect to the experience. They, no doubt, will pull us out of the water and help us into our kayak if we should swim, or look after us if we should become hypothermic, or even feed us if we did not bring a snack or enough lunch. But they do not keep us upright on the water, or paddle our kayaks for us, or decide for us how to handle the conditions we are paddling in as we paddle along. They do not decide for us what safety gear we take. They do not decide if we will go into a rock garden or a cave, or if we will get in close into the clapitas. They do not decide that we will practice our braces, rescues and rolls on the ocean or at the pool. These things, and more, we decide and do for ourselves. Thus, I believe that we are all, ultimately, solo paddlers.