20.12.2007 Thu, Day 57/ 40
Wanganui River, 60 km. 1880 km.
Fuck!!! Lost my stern on launching, repaired. Lost my paddle on landing, gone. Fuck! But I’m ok. Just stupid misjudgement.
Just a normal day at the West Coast…
Suddenly I held my whole kayak in my hand. I took my shirt off, ready to jump into my sleeping bag, and it just fell off. It was tied to my neck with a black leather string ever since I began sea kayaking. It was my talisman – my good omen pendant. The cord had never broken before, but now I could just rip the whole leather string into small pieces. It was just plain worn out.
But I didn’t loose the kayak pendant. I still held it in my hand!
I was too tired to go outside to my real kayak, through the hundreds of sandflies occupying the exit ready to enter the tent and suck my blood. I didn’t search in the repair kit for a new string. I just stuffed the pendant into my pocket, and forgot about it the next morning…
I should have checked the leather string regularly for still being strong enough, and I should have checked the clips and screws of my three piece, Nigel Dennis Explorer kayak, regularly for still being strong enough. Both obviously not frequent enough.
I would have to punch out through some big lines of surf this morning. The dress code would be helmet and bug net, but I skipped the latter. I swallowed several sandflies, spat them out and tried to blow them off my face. One of the beasts felt happy flying right into my eye. It was irritating when I was trying to concentrate on the best launching time and place.
I got washed up the beach again several times, and eventually broached high up on dry sand. I jumped out to straighten the kayak, only to get several breakers full of sand water into the cockpit. I emptied it out with some effort, including falling over some times by the force of new breakers – good nobody was there to watch…
Eventually I made it straight through the first breaker, braced into the second, but the third one got me! It surfed me backwards to the beach, digged my stern into the sand. It rolled me up the beach, no chance to fight against the violent force of the sea. No idea how I ended up sitting upright on the dry land again, sideways for sure…
Yuppp, ok, sh^#* happens, jumping out again, straightening the kayak, jumping in again for another launch. Don’t give up! That was the plan – so far so good.
Jumping out was no problem. I grabbed the bow toggle to turn the kayak around, wondering why it felt so easy. Bugger! The stern section was bent at a very unusual angle from the cockpit section.
This is what I never wanted!
“Du bloede Kuh! Wie kann man nur so doof sein?” – I called out this and some more serious loud German cursing to myself for my stupid actions…
An ugly big chunk of fibreglass was missing from the deck. Both hooks of the hull clips were bent almost straight.
The two hull clips just slid off the hooks, straightening the heavy stainless steal on the bending force of the impact of the stern to the ground. But who knows what would have happened to a one piece kayak??
The two deck clips were still in position. I loosened the deck clips to check the whole damage.
Maybe if I had checked the stainless steel connections more often, it might not have happened. But maybe if I had tightened the clips more often, the hooks may have deformed even earlier. Maybe, if I had received my brand new kayak in time, instead of taking the old one it wouldn’t have happened? This one already did a great job around Iceland this summer, but – it was too late now for regrets. There were two pieces of kayak on the beach now, instead of one. And I was on a wild west coast beach with no road access or houses.
My mind searched for solutions; no way to call for help. I need to fix it myself, and keep on going!
Don’t even think about I was in the mood for taking a picture now of the incident! 1000ds of sandflies still flying around my head, making the forced break not really a more happy event…
I checked the hooks on the hull, but to see clearly, I had to wash the sand off first. One looked more bent open than the other. I could try to bend it back into shape again, with a big rock as a hammer. I could even swap it to another hook from maybe the front deck. I could duct tape or even glass the whole stern section to the cockpit section, to make it more solid with the bad hook. I should have taken a spare set of hooks for that case! But I hadn’t.
The chunk of fibreglass missing on the deck didn’t affect the watertightness of the boat, so good luck for that – so just the rock hammer solution was the first thing to try.
Hundreds of sandflies around my head again – they love black as much as I do. I took my helmet off, but left the hood on. The bug net would have been a better choice, but I wanted to get going, not to bother with those little details of comfort. My bare hands were also a target of those sucking beasts. Blowing them away, whilst working on the boat, was another part of the multi-tasking morning. In bright sunshine I got nicely hot in my black gear, sweating from stress and mental strain.
The hook was solid massive stainless steal, but was still bent open from the force of the impact. Not an easy job for a tool out of the stone-age. I was worried to hammer too much, either to break the hook or to hammer the screws loose, which were holding them.
Eventually it looked like it might hold enough to give it a try. I tightened the clips and screws with my multi tool as best as possible, but no overdoing it! For sure the multi tool got full of saltwater and sand, too.
The bent back hooks felt soft on tightening the clips, but it looked like they would hold enough for me to continue. That night I hoped to land sound and safe in the Wanganui River mouth anyway, where there might be people around to help. This is what I figured.
A more attentive look around that beach, through the sandfly clouds, would have shown me a nearby little river mouth before the first launching try, only about 100 m away. It would be a slog to get the fully loaded boat there, but no more risks!
Option one: Unloading again, carrying two or three heavy bags of gear to the river, dragging or carrying the light boat easier then to the mouth. It would take three return trips.
Option two: Dragging the fully loaded kayak 20-30m to the surf slop, and dragging it in more or less floating manner to the river mouth, cockpit covered to keep the dumpers out.
I decided on option two. There were still enough layers of fibreglass on the bottom to get worn off in this way. I dragged the heavy boat downhill, metre by metre, straddling the cockpit and pulling on the rim. In the slop I used my towline to haul the kayak, which was rolled up the beach several times by the surge. Eventually it floated sufficiently to drag it more or less easy to where I wanted to start again.
Jumping in the cockpit, ready to start, I noticed I had forgotten to attach the spare paddle bag on the back deck properly. Jumping out again, I clipped it back on.
Jumping in again, I noticed my skeg launching line was hanging loose instead of going straight back to the skeg. Since sand pebbles jammed the skeg blade in the skeg box quite often, I ran a long cord loop from the skeg blade to the cockpit, so I could ensure I could pull the skeg into position after launching. But the small loop on the skeg broke from the dragging force over the ground, just before the second launching try.
Again I jumped out, fished for the spare string sitting in my map case, attached a new loop on the skeg, and threaded the launching cord through the loop again.
Then the map case couldn’t be closed again with all the sand, I needed to undo the four carabiners holding it, take it off the deck and wash the clips out in the river.
I attached it to the deck again, and was ready to start again eventually! Two hours lost! I had a late morning anyway. 10am now – be patient, Freya! – only 60 km to go.
Turning around for a last look, revealed an obvious wooden cross with something long looking like a grave further up the beach. What happened here years ago? It was quite a spooky place. Not only did I nearly lose my kayak pendant, but I also came ever so close to losing the stern section of my kayak.
Launching from the little river mouth was easy then after all. Why didn’t I see that option earlier? The boat was more or less afloat already, then my timing for punching through the lowest possible breaker was good, and I was off. My stern came with me.
On the open sea, time to relax. Releasing the skeg with the cord loop, stuffing the cord away, taking my helmet off, sliding it under the back deck net, taking the fuzzy rubber hood and PFD off, but where was the carabiner clipped to the loop of my spray skirt? Gone, probably stuck open by sand and slipped off. At sea I used this carabiner to clip onto my PFD when I was not wearing it in calm conditions.
Finally opening the velcro neck of my paddle jacket for ventilation, put some sunscreen on, and ready to go!
The GPS stuffed under the deck net survived the whole launching drama, the kiwifruit and apples in the little deck bag were squeezed – fruit salad with salt water is good nutrition anyway.
The Waiho River mouth came up after 15 km, the outflow of the white glacier water was clearly to be seen from the distance. Green warmer sea water and white glacier river water don’t just mix gradually. The border is sharp – suddenly you are paddling a river instead on the sea!
After entering the sea, the West Coast rivers all swung to the north, with positive benefit of is a speed increases about 1-2 km/h – just like entering a glacier highway. But everything looks more 3-dimensional, the swell, breakers and normal waves appear higher and just somehow scary in bright sunlight. Floating pieces of wood scared the hell out of me, it might be a shark – but just plenty of playful dolphins were visible, the great white thankfully stayed camouflaged in the milky white glacier waters.
I followed my GPS, with my speed increasing all day, satisfying at least, not too bad after that eventful morning!
Whataroa River mouth flew out just before Abut Head, but less milky, less scary, less added speed. About 15 km left to the destination.
The Oneone River mouth had a wee hut site, civilisation was close again! The triangular shape of Mt. Oneone before was a clear landmark. Behind there should be Wanganui River mouth, my safe harbour for the night.
But where was it exactly? The swell and waves were pretty high that late afternoon. What I could figure out sitting high on a wave crest was not too much – just endless white lines of breakers everywhere – not too inviting to land at all!
Maybe it is behind the next bluff? It must be, as there are no huts to be seen here? No interruption in the beach line, just white breakers and endless sand. Another look on my GPS showed it must be right here, just behind the triangle mountain! I could see a darker zone right in the mountain’s shadow. I need to get closer and have a look!
Somehow I was able to avoid three huge offshore breakers, just shouting at them, “You don’t get me, you bloody bastard!” ending up highest on top of the first one, bracing into the second one, and punching forward again through the third one. Then there I was, halfway closer, in a quietish zone of water.
“Get closer, Freya, eventually you’ll see where the river mouth might be!”
Some more careful approaching, and the last dumper looked temporarily like I could handle it. A sandy beach anyway, so why keep on searching for that hidden river mouth, when I could just land here? Time it right, and I’ll be OK…
I had a 1:250.000 map, plus my GPS with the Blue Chart map, which was generally precise enough for the whole trip. But even on maps with a bigger scale, river mouths are not always where they should be, as they are changing over the time. And this time the Blue Chart GPS was just wrong. Maybe a loaded Topo map might have been more precise.
But the most precise guiding would have been using my brain! I was successfully approaching and entering already some other river mouth on the West Coast, means don’t get irritated about the endless line of breakers, just keep on paddling to the north, still way out, clear of all breakers.
Eventually from the northern side there will be showing up a zone with less breakers on the more flat north beach of the river mouth, and maybe you can even enter the river over the bar without catching too many breakers.
What irritated me this time was the GPS map position, the shadow zone behind the triangle Mt. Oneone which I thought my have been the river mouth, also the lack of huts to be seen, as I was sitting way out there on up and down going waves without any precise vision of the shoreline. Unfortunately I just dangerously underestimated the final shore dumpers, once through the first breaker zone. The surf is always BIGGER than it looks!
I waited carefully for the final beach landing through what I estimated was a ‘normal size’ dumper, and eventually paddled in past a big one.
It was a bad run, either wrong timing or not fast enough. I started to sprint from too far off the beach. The surge went way up and down a long way, which should have indicated to me a violent dumper size, too!
I had successfully cleared the offshore breaker zone, had a few moments to rest on quieter water, and assess how should I not be able to handle that last barrier!
I was almost safe up the beach, when the next dumper came. Later I saw they made their way at a 45˚ angle northwards along the beach. That final mighty dumper just developed where I didn’t expect it, to the right of me instead of from behind.
It trashed me violently. A high brace was useless. During the inevitable capsize my paddle was wrenched from my hands – no chance to hold on to it. I probably tumbled sideways up the beach two or three times, lying flat on the back deck until I managed with an already well practised ‘beach hand roll’ to sit upright high on shore, where the surge of the dumper spit me out. I was luckily in one piece, and my kayak was, too! Good to be flexible, and the repaired stern obviously held that rolling style…
But my paddle was gone! My loved ‘special edition’ black Epic wing blade had disappeared! Swallowed by the dumping sea, like the sea was laughing at me, “If you are *that* foolish to dare to land here, I have to take your favourite toy away!”
Where was it? I immediately jumped out of the kayak, realizing I had to be quick to find it. The seas swept northwards at 45˚, so it might be washed in that direction! But although walking up and down the beach several times, saying (in German), “Little sweet paddle, please come back to me! I am naked and helpless without you!” – not a single glimpse of my paddle again L
The trip had good and badder days. This was the most eventful day of my trip. But I’m unhurt, my repairs to the clips were successful, I had spare wing paddle, nothing really to stop me to continue…
Victurus Vicero! (Keep on Fighting!)