Sun 05/08-2018 Day 263

Pos: 56.4055,-160.1148
Loc: Cape Seniavin
Acc: Hilleberg Keron 4 tent
Dist: 62,0 km
Start: 09:45 End: 18:45

First time in my career, I total-wrecked my boat…

We had many different forecasts for today and this week. I am used to Windguru with it’s ten-days outlook, and it said for today 1,80 m, and for tomorrow Monday seas 2 m. Winds today are low, tomorrow following westerlies, but up to 20 knots gusts. Then it would probably be too strong wind on Tuesday and maybe Wednesday, before with Thursday, Friday and probably Saturday there would be a lull in the weather with low seas around 0,40 cm and winds under 10 knots. Hope it won’t change…

Natalie likes Windy as a forecast site, she saw seas around 1,40 m for today and low winds under ten knots. Karel’s reliable forecast said also winds under ten knots, and even lower seas.

We decided to ask Aron to drive us quickly out and up the outer beach with his quad cart, to have a look if the sw wind calmed down the seas and surf as we hoped. What we saw far up the beach looked promising, and we agreed both and were both excited to finally leave Port Moller.

I felt on one side very much sorry to leave this sheltered place with the friendly hospitality of Gary Johnson from Peter Pan Seafood and all the wonderful and entertaining fishermen and -women around us – on the other hand, I love my trip, and am keen to continue as soon as conditions look reasonable. Many alternatives for paddling were lurking – driving to the hot springs with some Russian guys yesterday, skeet shooting with Tony and AC today…thanks so much for all the attention! We enjoyed the company and community of the fishermen waiting for their opening, and had nothing to suffer!

Natalie and I decided both to go. Natalie’s back got a good healing over night, and we felt both excited to pack our gear now. Thanks to Randy who helped us to carry the kayaks down to the beach, and we said good bye to Gary. Aron, Sasha, AC, Tony and another guy who hugged and waved us good buy. We almost left a family and a home!

The outgoing current has been at it’s max at 8 am, but was still strong to drag us around the Entrance Point spit with 8-9 km/h. We were calculating the outgoing tide would drag us out of the Port Moller Bay for a while, before the in-going tide into Bristol Bay would take over. So tide behind us all day! It was almost no wind, so conditions to paddle were at it’s best, despite some fog in the morning. The surf was behind the Entrance Point still low-ish, it developed some more power the further up we paddled. We preferred to paddle so far offshore we didn’t really hear or see it…

The swell felt low in calm surface seas. However, it was there…and also the noise of the surf when we came closer…but we didn’t want to think about the landing yet and were good moods we could handle it in these calm-ish sea conditions.

The sun came out, and the unusual warm-foggy conditions from the morning changed into warm-sunny conditions. We were glad we went paddling! We both stripped our dry suit top, but Natalie preferred to put her monster-PFD back on…her call. It was sitting on the front side heavily on her spray deck, leaving at lest her chest space to rotate. It was noticeable she felt much more comfortable in today’s conditions, and overall with the sitting position in my kayak which we didn’t change, and her speed was just right! She admitted later, she eventually got used to the “free-knees” surfski-racing kayak-style in my kayak, and straightened out and closed and finally used her legs for paddling, instead of having them spread out and cramped under the cockpit rim for safety – like most sea-kayakers do. Good!

I felt happy with our overall speed also, as the current carried us along strongly, and finally got us in constantly double-numbered km/h and an overall average with all breaks of almost 7 km/h! Great paddling! The speedy feeling absolutely topped the view of the day, as it was, as expected, just low dunes and nothing more. No interesting animals showed up besides one or two lonely seals and sea otters. A few cabins were sacttered around the big river estuaries we crossed, two four-wheelers were racing up and down the beach, some plane noise, and one early fishing boat sitting already in position for the fishing-opening on Monday. We briefly talked to the two guys we already have met in Port Moller, and kept on paddling towards the first small Cape of the day, Cape Kutuzof.

It had a line of tall cliffs, and upfront them, the surf appeared for the first time of the day very low – also, because we went pretty close past in the deeper water. It looked dead-easy to land there, – but who wants to camp under tall cliffs with no escape to the back and maybe few property left once the tide rises to the max? Just behind those cliffs, I had noted a small gap in the beach as a good landing, which did not necessarily look very calm to land, but at least all right and good to camp.

But we decided to keep on pushing to Cape Seniavin with this still great double-numbered progress on riding with the current and low following wind and seas! We were also keen to see the walrus colony there, and were hoping to find similar easy landing conditions.

Sure as it goes, some minutes later, the wind lifted noticeable to maybe 15 knots, and accordingly the swell waves on the surface started to lightly break here and there. No big deal, we rather both enjoyed the ride and the push, hoping Cape Seniavin would give a small relief with trending around it’s corner almost east. We had already put back on our dry suit tops an hour ago when some little rain started.

The offshore break eased out a bit nearing the Cape after we passed a huge river mouth and the coast trended due east. Our only concern was that the calmer corner of our possible landing right behind the cape would be occupied by walrus! We had no real idea how many animals we would find there, and how widespread they would be laid out.

We spotted the walrus colony down the cliffs od Cape Seniavin. The maybe 200 bodies were rather densely packed, lying almost on top of each other, and occupied not more than 100 m of the beach under the cliffs. We really hoped this was not only the “suburb” for even more guys around the cliff corner??? We couldn’t get very close to see details, it was still too lumpy with the swell occasionally breaking in the 15 knots wind.

When we came around the cape, the shore was at least sandy, different to some long rocky stretch before. We saw another small cliff cape not far away, and first paddled almost past the sandy beach area which didn’t really appear calm or even sheltered. We were hoping to find even better conditions around the next cliff corner. But from our view angle, the cliffs didn’t really stop there, so we decided to go in here on the beach between the two capes.

Looking backwards, it didn’t look to bad, as we could now spot the small breakers offshore on the surface rather coming from our side than having to ride them in on their backs. It really looked doable to not get thrown already offshore, and to get close to the beach and to have to deal only with the shore dumper! We both felt confident to make it in all right.

We already had put on our helmets and my PFD around the Cape, had taken off our paddle leashes and the safety bow lines from the spray decks. Me as the more experienced paddler went in first. I agreed with Natalie to switch on her VHF radio on channel 69, while she should wait on a safe spot until I was full in, have retrieved my boat off the surf, and would signalize her safely in. In case of any particular dangers, I could talk to her before she was starting her own landing approach. It is always easier for the second paddler to go in according to the signals of the paddler already on shore.

I dubbed it easy to avoid the low offshore breakers, and if one would have caught me, I would have been able to brace it out. No need, all easy going on the approach!

I got close to the last shore dumper, and might have been lulled by the easy ride in so far…but I should have been warned by the broad white wash up the steep beach, indicating a fat dumper breaking almost continuously, and with a very short period in between two of them. Highest danger. One can not really see a single breaker’s height from the water, the white wash up more or less wide, more or less continuously, is the only indicator. I knew it, I waited a few of the dumpers breaking, and finally decided it would be lull enough to paddle quickly in behind a larger one.

I had already opened my spray deck to be able to jump out faster, but obviously could not accelerate enough with my heavy loaded kayak. The distance was still too wide to reach the sand, before the next breaker was piling up unfortunately still too high instead of low-ish in that small lull as I was expecting…bad call, and also some bad luck.

The monster shower broke just over me, I heard my kayak breaking, got capsized, hit the sandy shore and knew that that was it. But I also felt no broken legs, back or neck…I managed to get out of the kayak very quickly, glad my spray deck was already open, threw my paddle high up the beach out of the way and took care I was not between my broken kayak and the shore. The power of the breaking water has simply broken my kayak in the front cockpit area in two halves, but still connected somehow with deck lines and net and some bits of the carbon fabric.

One half was upside down, the other half not, I struggled hard to get the heavy half of the wreck upright and out of the still washing high up dumper zone without getting trashed again. Two larger ones washed my kayak eventually up higher, one wiped me off my feet also, but without my boat hitting me, thank goodness. This is the worst danger once trashed on a beach, to get in between kayak and beach.

In between my struggle, I managed to reach my sat phone, VHF radio and cell phone out of the under deck bag, which loosely dangled inside the broken cockpit and sharp carbon wreck pieces. Thank goodness, those were still alive! I quickly positioned them high up the beach, and found my rolled in the wind paddle. I secured the essential pile of communication together with my spray deck It was just in my way of working still hard to get my kayak higher up on the rising tide. Thank goodness, the hatch compartments with all my luggage seemed to be intact, including spare paddle. Nothing besides my tow belt was lost – and I remembered I should secure it sitting just loosely behind my seat before going in!

Once I dubbed my wreck and gear safe, I started to think about Natalie still floating out there in the safe distance of the shore. I turned on my VHF radio, and explained to her to take utmost care about the last shore dumper, the rest of the smaller breakers offshore were ok. I did not mention my broken kayak to not worry her…I waved her in, she got meanwhile drifted a bit more east, and I just prayed she would make it in safe without breaking her back or neck.

Once she was close to the last dumper, I saw a larger one piling up behind her, signalized her heavily to back paddle, which she thankfully did with a short noisy cry of astonishment and danger. She then was obviously spotting over her shoulder also the next two approaching dangerous monster dumpers. Finally, she was barely, luckily and thankfully riding backwards over three large ones.

Then came a for me visible lull, I frantically waved her in to speed up NOW while following her drifting path along the shore to catch her bow as early as possible. I managed to grab her bow, and she kind of rolled out of her cockpit. Another fat wash up came, which covered Natalie laid down with sandy water and flipped her kayak upside down. But she was luckily also not between kayak and beach, could get back on her feet, and we mutually worked on righting the kayak back up and to drag it out of the surf zone. In this process, I grabbed the front deck line somehow, and ripped one fitting off it’s screw, but this should be fixable.

Once her kayak was safe up and dry, I excused to Natalie that this would be now the end of our mutual trip…I am so sorry, but I broke my kayak…but it is like it is. She was just happy Iwe were safe, and all gear was still there. We unloaded my kayak and worked the sad looking remaining pieces higher up to a flat dry sandy area not too close to the dunes, but besides a huge piece of whale bone. Possible bears had some space to walk past our camp.

I was about to pull my tent out of it’s bag, and was not really thinking of bears, when I decided I might still have a look up the low sandy cliff to the dune grass top, if there would be a better and sheltered camp spot. Then I saw HIM, a huge single brown bear grazing peacefully maybe 500 m away from me, but clearly moving towards the beach in that process…time to chase that guy away with our collection of “weapons” before we finally settle down!

I climbed back down to my pile of gear, signalized the presence a four-legged animal to Natalie, who was at her kayak about 200 m away. I dug out my bear sprays, my bear bangers, and handed my spare paddle to Natalie who came quickly up to me. Feeling well-armed, we made our way back up the cliff. The bear had meanwhile moved pretty close to the cliff’s edge, he was maybe only 50 m away from me who was up the cliff first.

Unfortunately, the least thing I was now thinking was to grab my camera, as I had already three “weapons” in my hands, bear spray, paddle and the loaded bear banger launcher plus the spare bangers in the pouch. As soon as I spotted him so close, I started to shout at him, which made him the pretty amber-colored big guy beautifully rising up on his hind legs, what an impressive view! How I’d have loved to catch this movement with my camera! But I was also prepared to make myself “huge” with my paddle, just in case, and continued to shout at him which made him very quickly getting back on all fours and to run away in a speedy mood.

Natalie was meanwhile also up the dune, she unfortunately didn’t see him standing up, but could catch him with a small video while he was running away. All felt safe now, he didn’t stop running until he was over the horizon…scared about the two “monsters” suddenly appearing over the cliff’s edge, LOL…hope he or some other guy won’t be back anytime soon! I have some hope that the strong wind the next days would make our tent flattering enough to scare them away anyway…

We erected the tent, and I started to bring in my gear and dry bags which were meanwhile sandy allover, coming wet out of the intact, but from the impact leaking compartments. Nasty job…

Once settled, I started the texting communication with Tony in Port Moller, who had previously announced if we would need any assistance between Port Moller and Port Heiden, he would be happy to help. He would come out anyway with his boat in this direction on the fishing opening starting Monday or Tuesday. But I was not expecting we would really need to take him up on his offer so soon…

He had a Garmin Inreach, I had my Iridium 9555 to text. Text length is limited on both ends, so most messages come in as two, thee or more sections, and I have to puzzle them together while deleting them very soon as my buffer in the sat phone can take only about fifteen messages or such. Karel had also sent many weather messages which i had not downloaded to the minute, and I was sitting for endless time there to try to keep the communication with Tony flowing.

Thank you so much Tony Parra, to be my friend and main helper in this emergency situation! He was even offering he’d come out that night or tomorrow to get us off the beach, but this would not be working with that sea state. We have nothing to suffer here, are healthy, have plenty food and water and batteries, and were mentally prepared anyway to stay now for three days on the beach until probably Thursday there would be low seas around half a meter and low winds to keep on paddling.

Tony was obviously discussing our case and the best way of getting us on a boat and back to Port Moller with his fishermen friends, and I feel a bit guilty as I really do not want to keep them off their long-awaited fishing opening starting on Monday! It has been a bad fishing season, and as soon as the guys are allowed to get out the and to do their job, they should not be bothered to rescue some stupid paddling ladies off the beach asylum…

They would probably have to wait anyway until minimum Thursday to be able to either row/ swim out to us or we paddle/ swim out to them, as the surf really needs to calm down. I am also very keen to get my poor looking, but still floating wreck off the beach and somehow displayed in the fictive “Port Moller Maritime Museum”, as I feel sorry to leave my so far trustworthy companion behind on the beach…my last Australian kayak is sitting in the Queenscliff maritime Museum, my last South American one was supposed to go into the to be build Argentine Adventurer’s museum…

I reckon the “heavy shower impact” on my kayak bow was also ending in that breaking disaster, as on the first launch in the Bering Sea with Michal, I previously had weakened my front section of my kayak bow on a bad launch with my kayak upside down washed up the beach. Many large gelcoat flakes were splitting off the front deck at that time, with many additional cracks. I was not happy to fix the front deck area with some strong layers of gelcoat on the beach, as sand storm and rain prevented me to do so. I preferred to use two wide stripes of Flex Tape to keep it all waterproof covered and together, which was basically a great idea and working fine. Maybe see the pictures on the blog entry of July 13th. As one can’t peel Flex Tape off again, I left it as it was, and it felt fine, strong enough and looked alright. Maybe not…

I have never total-wrecked a kayak on any of my trips, and really don’t plan to do it again…I had many damages due to bad landings or launches, but at some point, it catches you fully. Thank goodness, not my body!

I am feeling very sorry for Natalie as this marks the finish of our so far weather-wise not very successful mutual trip, as she won’t continue solo with her remaining kayak. But this is the mutual risk of such a trip. It could as well have been her wrecking one of my kayaks, and this would have been my risk, as I would not get a replacement from my paddling partner.

I might continue by myself, as far as I am getting until end of August. I will be safe. Thanks for anyone involved in our “rescue” off the beach the next days! It will be Natalie with her gear and hopefully my wreck to get somehow out to one of the smaller boats and larger fishing boats, probably ending up on a large tender and finally at Port Moller to fly back home. Thanks so much to Tony Parra organizing it now. We are grateful to have you as our friend.