Loc: across Las Varas
Acc: Hilleberg Allak 2 tent
Dist: 125 km
Start: 06:25 End: 12:40
I slept fine, but in the early morning, while I am packing, two guys are strolling around my tent to check on my kayak, obviously impressed, knocking on it and starting a conversation with me. “Gringa!” Ok…I have not even pulled up my paddling pants fully, but they are friendly. It sounds like they are keen to see my paddles and how this craft is propelled, but I am doing my packing routine as always, not willing to perform a show until I am ready to launch. They finally run out of patience and leave me to my packing routine. Thank you!
I am feeling I am a bit hectic this morning to get to the water, and I do not even give it a second thought I might not be able to land safely? I do not pack more than a day’s worth of food and water in reach of my cockpit, counting firmly on I will land somehow. The worst of the coast is behind me here! Wishful thinking…
The launch goes easy with the regular timing, my kayak slides downhill and I am back afloat, happy to leave this ugly industrial city with the still burning firy chimny behind me. Is there no other way to get rid of surplus gas on the PEMEX oil production they likely burn off here? The light wind has changed to offshore, and it stinks.
But what I see soon breaking on the very steep sandy shore on the still rising tide makes me thinking “Oh my god!” and I am hoping it will change when the tide is going down again. It was looking so harmless on the satellite images, but I should have known it better. Upfront lagoons, the swell and break is usually strong and the submerged outflows makes the water often lumpy, not only on the openings. One strange object floating under the surface shows an interesting fin combination – a shark? No. A harmless whale shark? Maybe, I cannot recall I have ever seen one consciously. I better paddle away quickly… Soon, I see another animal, but what is clearly a dolphin. This is a sign of luck!
Three fisihing boats come from Salina Cruz, stopping for a brief chat or driving by slowly. They are waving, likely wondering about my plans to paddle to Puerto Arista? I should be wondering, too, but at the end, I just take my chance, still confident to land in the afternoon somewhere around the first lagoon outflow. Mostly, it is calmer behind such an outflow…mostly…
But I also look into plan B – what if I have to stay out again and to paddle the full distance to Puerto Arista over night? Plan C – to get ‘rescued’ or to take help from a fishing boat is no option, neither Plan D – to turn around.
So I need to work on Plan B – and NOW, as long as I feel fresh and the sea and wind is low. I have two more waterbags additionally to my full one in my deck bag in my stern hatch, also the bag with my breakfast is easy in reach in the back hatch. I have never opened the back hatch by myself on the water, but given my previous ‘Greenlandstyle-Gymnastic-Balancing’ experience, I know at least I can easily get my legs out of the cockpit, turn my bum in the seat and swing the legs completely around, now facing the stern and staying stable with the legs still out. So I do.
Now, I need to open my back hatch – not the day hatch! – without falling in or sinking the stern to much or not being able to close the hatch securely again or caching water. Why did I not do this stunt whith the help of one of the three fishing boats? But I know this could work. I can open two clips of my spare paddle bag to flip the long thing which covers the hatch out of the way and over to the side. This is step one. Now – if not the opening tab of the large oval back hatch would be on the far end side! I keep my weight low, have to lift my bum out of the seat and can just about reach the tab. Pulling the hatch from this wobbly bad angle position is tough, but I NEED to do this! And it works. I quickly put the far end of the hatch back on and am thankful quite some sand on the rim makes the opening and closing a bit easier.
I can grab a full waterbag, swing it into my cockpit, and find the breakfast bag which I can open to grab two prepared bags with a grounded grains-powdered milk mix which my ‘engine’ runs on perfectly. I additionally have two grapefruits, some small apples, and a small bag of dried mangoes, cherries and cashew nuts handy in the day hatch. This should be enough to survive a night and another day on the water! I can close the hatch again, clip the spare paddle bag back on its place, slide my bum back in and swing my legs back facing the right way round without losing balance or taking water in the stern hatch. No thoughts or ideas ‘what if’…I just HAD to make it safely, and I did.
I still have hopes to land, but now I feel relaxed that if I would need to stay out again over night, I would at least not to suffer from not enough water or food in reach. I also do not switch on my phone for an audio book or music, as I would save the battery for this valuable ‘keeping awake’ entertainment for the dark night hours if I needed it. Unfortunately, the quarter moon is setting already at eleven-thirty, and six-and-a-half hours with no moon are looong. The night paddle to Acapulco was easier in this regard, as it was almost full moon and only one hour in the morning was dark.
Ok, let me keep on paddling and covering distance! The wind blows all morning ninety degrees offshore and is of no help, rather breaking me down by a kilometer per hour. Or is this the tidal current? At least my travel speed does not go above five kilometers per hour. What shall I do? Just keep on paddling…
When high tide is over in the late morning, the landing looks for about an hour much more doable, the dangerous trashing monster breaks are over, and the retracting water does not break too badly on the steep beach which looks somehow like ‘filled to the brim’. But it is wayyyy to early to call it a day after three or four hours of paddling! I will have to take my chance, also as the threatening upcoming strong wind on Sunday needs me to reach Puerto Arista by Saturday. Though I still trust and saw on the long-term forecast, the further south I am getting, the more I am getting out of this funneling north wind gap around Salina Cruz.
Nearing the first lagoon opening around four o’clock, the break again looks at least halfway doable, if I do not count the intimidating high spray on the breaks crests in the now around fifteen knots strong offshore wind. At least the surface of the open sea where I paddle is calm due to the offshore wind. But could I paddle in fast enough against the wind to make it safely in within the lulls? And – has it not always been calmer to land BEHIND such a large lagoon opening?
I take my chance to also cover more distance before I really would try to go in. And if not – I am at least prepared to stay out. I have to give the lagoon opening as always a wide berth, no chance to get safely in there in an unbroken channel – if there would be one. But what do I see – is there just a fishing boat coming out of this endlessly breaking opening? Yes, but they have an engine, can outrun a rolling breaker to the side, and by standing up in teir craft, they have a much higher position to get an overview over the breaking entrance. They CAN DO IT, I CANNOT.
But they also see me around five o’clock at the other side of the entrance, stop by and we have only a brief conversation that I am aiming for Puerto Arista and that the lagoon opening is not a safe place to enter with ‘olas grande’ – ‘big waves’. This would be my last chance to hop on a fishing boat – but what the heck should I do then there? They are out for night fishing!
I let this boat number four go, and realize soon the wind has changed late, but as forecasted to about fifteen knots onshore This creates behind the wide opening now a lumpy sea surface, and by no way the shore break looks anyhow easier or less frightening. If I would take my chance to land and one of the big one catches me, my carbon boat might break like once back in Alaska, might get lost or fully trashed on the shore if I have to bail out, and/ or my body might also break here or there. Then I would rather paddle once more through the night – unpleasant, but at least somehow safe! I knew at least from Rebeca, in Puerto Arista, the beach is flat and the break rolls out. But there is no ‘port’ anyhow in no way, just an open coast. But the name must come from some more or less doable landing.
Ok, now at five thirty, the decision is made, and I need to prepare a bit more for the night. I have already called my man Peter in Denmark to announce the unpleasant outlook, and I would a able to call him again at midnight, just when he gets up in Europe. This is a valuable mental support! I get my phone out for an audio book session to stay motivated, the battery would last all night. I have one more ‘breakfast’ portion for dinner, at least this is always swallowing well. My bum is feeling much less sore compared to the long paddle to Acapulco, and I get my headlamp out and more GPS batteries handy.
Night falls, but the small moon makes the horizon visible. Still, there is barely any light on the beach for orientation, and I have to pick my stars for directional control. I know I will have to paddle a bit more offshore to get out of the swell area and also maybe to ‘cut’ a bit of the bay. But where to aim? Straight to Puerto Aristo, letting the chance go to find at least in the morning some reasonable landing conditions? At the end, I would paddle zig zag anyway, as keeping direction in no moon is tough. My speed is also going down, especially in the second half of the night when tiredness kicks in extremely and the moonlight is gone. It is a much tougher night than on the Acapulco paddle, especially in the second half. I have to keep up all my will power to keep on going somehow, slow or not, not to fall asleep and to stay upright. In the second half, I switch from audio book to music as I feel I need to sing to stay awake.
Unfortunately, every time I like to do something on my phone, I need to carefully pull it out of my waterproof Aquapac with wet hands, as the touchscreen plays up with the plastic layer sticking to the screen. I am worried how long my precious machine would do this? I also have to switch it off whan trying to call my man via satellite phone, who is unfortunately not available at midnight as he is in the pool for an early morning swim which I forgot about. So I have to switch back and forth a couple of times pulling the phone out of the waterproof bag with wet hands, no good for any electronics. Finally, I can reach him, and once more again at four o’clock. This gives me a mental boost, thank goodness he understands what I have to do here!
Still, it is a VERY tough night mentally, as the horizon is almost disappearing with no moon, but I can fight at least sea sickness as thankfully the wind and water finally becomes calm again. I might be now about four kilometers offshore, can feel no swell and hear no surf. I am just here by myself in my small kayak. Nighttime fishermen are rarely alone, can move around in their boats, and are likely not worried about capsizing when possibly falling asleep. And I NEED also to cover distance, or I would not make it to Puerto Arista by now Friday evening! I would not survive another night out, at some point, one needs to catch some sleep.
In the second moonless half of the night, I have bioluminescence with every paddle stroke, at least pretty to watch. And then this dolphin finds me! I can clearly hear him breathing as a dolphin, sharks do not breathe like small whales. I had such an impressive encounter before, even with a whole school of dolphins, when I night-paddled around South America, from Venezuela to Trinidad via the infamous ‘Dragon Mouth’ Strait. This dolphin also leaves a trail of bioluminescence wherever he is moving around me – and this is everywhere upfront, besides and underneath me, for about ten minutes! Impressive, but also somehow scary, and I barely dare to paddle.
I count down the hours until first light at six o’clock, look on my GPS more and more often to check the time. The covered distance? Now I am only counting on survival. With no moon, I cannt keep the display lit, not even on the lowest light, as I need to activate all my possible night vision. It is always a pain in the ass or rather in the eyes when I like to operate my phone display or the satellite phone.
FINALLY – the first glance of a gray shimmer reveals the horizon again, and I am relieved, this dark night is finished! I am able to literally ‘handle’ my bathroom job number two as always in mornins, thankfully no mess, and the smell on the hand is gone soon. I am still not keen to jump in the water with no real need, though I should be able to climb back on with no problem. But the captain only leaves a sinking ship, and mine is thankfully pretty much afloat!
NOW – lets cover some more distance! I am wide awake again, and dig in deep for a while. But soon, I have to switch mostly to the ‘sleep paddle’ mode, with closed eyes, the body still working, but the mind is sleeping. It is going slow. I aim back to the coast, in the hope to find reasonable landing conditions, as out here, I can feel no swell. My hopes are trashed vey soon, the break is crashing on the rising tide looks even more horrible than before. The highest splash is about estimated five to six meters! Deadly, when caught… An average splash might be around four meters, but the moderate ones with still two meters also can capsize me whan caught wrong. And chances are very high not to be able to cover the distance to shore in the ‘dangerous’ area in a somehow lull.
My upcoming calculation reveals the obvious – I will not reach Puerto Arista by this evening. Chance A is the shore turns soon more flat, the break becomes doable and I can land somewhere for a rest. But who knows? And if I leave more than fifty kilometers for Saturday, I might still not make it before I might be trapped by strong winds and high seas somewhere on the remote beach with not enough water to sit it out. Karel still sends me the high winf and seas weather warning for Sunday to Wednesday.
Chance B is I will find a fishing boat and hitchhike along the coast, at least for some distance. Not the ‘real’ way to circumnavigate North America, but I would consider this as a case of emergency. But I do not like this option, as I never had to be ‘recued’ – and would there be a suitable boat coming anytime soon?
Chance C is I will stay out another night, but this time a bit more clever. Why have I not thought about these options before? Back arund Australia, I crossed the Gulf of Carpentaria with 650 km, and really SLEPT seven nights on the water. I had paddle floats tied to my spare paddle which kept my kayak stable. I have no floats, but empty four-liters waterbags which I could reach out of the back hatch. I have my gear bag acting as a sea anchor on my bow line not to get drifted to the worg direction, if necessary. I have done this twelve years before, so why not another night here? I would need some ‘real’ sleep…especially in the dark hours of the night.
I need to prepare for Chance C and turn around in the kayak another time, open again the back hatch, fish an empty water bag, more breakfast mix and the last full waterbag out, close it safely again and I am all set. I would tie my spare paddle to the hull with my paddle leash, this works well and is handy. I would thread the inflated empty water bags on the paddle shaft and add some more spare bungee which I could cut off from the top of my deck bag. This setup would keep me stable enough for deep naps, not as comfortable as I had it in Australia, but enough not to fall in for one night. I have a rescue blanket to keep me warm enough when I do no more physical action. And food and water would suffice.
Ok, mind eased, now I keep on making distance! Still there are about sixty-five kilometers to paddle. The break does not change much. But what is that – I see a lump on the horizon! A fishing boat. But it is far away… I keep on paddling – there is another lump, closer, but I like to stick to Plan C, if necessary, and who knows if they are happy to assist me, move at all or moving into my direction. I keep on paddling…and suddenly, I hear an engine just BEHIND me! A fishing boat is really coming from my rear end up for a chat!
I cannot resist, smile friendly, talk a bit and finally ask kind of as a joke for a ride – just a bit, to be able to reach Puerto Arista THIS evening…shame on you, Freya! But I dare to do it, as I feel it is kind of an emergency. Sure this would be the chance for the guys to rob and rape me, and dump the rest of me and my kayak anywhere back to the water, if there would be any rests left. But I know my fishermen, these four guys would no do anything like this, they rather think this is a funny challenge for them, and agree to take me and my heavy kayak on board. They say they would aim for the last big lagoon entrance before Purto Arista – but this is not that far I like to hitchhike with them!
My greatest worry on such a ride on a fishing boat is as always the damage of my kayak hull on a rough ride. I climb on the boat first, and instruct the guys my kayak is heavy, and not to lift it on the deck lines but rather under the hull and on the cockpit. It works all right, and my kayak sits solidly flat on a wide bench with the stern and on a big soft cooler box lid on the bow. Still loaded, but it looks well positioned and solid enough as the sea is quite calm and the bumps would be not existing on a moderate speed. Would they understand my concerns? The driver is thankfully not powering along in highest speed. Still, he sees my stern rubbing on their hull, stops and shifts it back where three people hold it in a better position. These guys are awesome! Sure, conversation is limited, but good enough. They even say they would take me all the way to Puerto Arista! But I would not like this, though it sounds temptingin my physical and mental state.
The decision where and when to end this free but ‘unallowed’ ride is taken soon when a wind comes up and the water surface becomes that choppy my untied kayak starts to jump a couple of times. I soon hear a CRACK – my fragile kayak hull does not like this ride! Little ‘sins’ like hitchhiking even a short bit on my circumnavigation, even in an ‘emergency’, are quickly punished. The boat driver also hears the hull cracking, stops, and I have a look – a small crack shows on the stern, and it obviously leaks through the hull when I look inside the hatch.
I also realize already for some minutes the shore break just here looks much more calm as the beach is very flat and wide here – just ike I was hoping for at Puerto Arista! I ask them to please already dump me here, I do not like to risk more damage on my hull. I also do not want to slow them down so much the risk of my kayak jumping on the fishing boat would be minimized. I do not know how much distance I have covered by hitching this ride, and I do not feel like a look at my GPS, also not to rise any desire for them who likely do not own such a fancy machine. I will exit the boat, just quickly paddle ashore, make camp and repair the small crack. They understand and release my kayak to the water. I pass them my card as a souvenir and jump in. We take mutual pictures, and I wave good bye, thank you very much for your little assistance! Overall, I was a ‘cheating’ of a twenty-minutes, twelve kilometers ride.
I land easy and safe on a very wide, flat and very hot beach just after noon. I have to drag my kayak and carry my gear quite a distance on low tide for a dry camp spot, but that is better than an unsafe landing on a steep trashing beach! I feel like an old woman, my body is worn, and my mind with no sleep is not really up for a beach repair on my kayak hull, but I have to do it after making camp. Unfortunately, I have to save my four liters of drinking water which I have left for the last day of paddling tomorrow. My sore skin especially on my backside, would urgently need a fresh water rinse to heal better over night!
Here on this flat beach, a lot of trash, including many plastic bottles, is scattered around. I am lucky to find two almost full bottles with obviously drinking water, fallen off from some fishing boat. Good enough for a rinse of my back side! But the water is HOT from the heat of the sunny day! Almost too hot for my backside, but it works! Now, my skin has to dry in my wide beach dress while I smear, mentally half in trance, some two-components quick epoxy inside the back hatch on the fresh crack and on some other small bad-looking areas. I close the hatch, have stored already all other gear inside my tent and vestibule, and turn the kayak around to do the same on the outside. This must do, and will dry quickly in the heat.
Finally, I can retract inside my shady tent I additionally covered with my sleeping bag, and crash. I almost instantly fall asleep, having not even eaten anything but just drank some water. I just see to my left a man on a horse turning inland, likely on his way to the village Las Varas which I know lays across the dunes. Come on, buddy, just leave me to my well-deserved rest! I briefly wake again on sunset, pull my sleeping bag off the roof, close my fly screens and turn around again, drifting back to sleep and hoping my body will quickly recover to the degree to get going again tomorrow! I NEED to paddle again on Saturday! Usually, I need one more physical rest day after a night out, but as I landed already at noon and covered ‘only’ 125 km, of which I hitchhiked twelve kilometers, this MUST work.
But at seven-thirty, I am deeply asleep, a stupid old man comes by my tent, shines with his flashlight straight on my camp, and calls out loud with his hoarse, old-man voice: ”Jefe! Jefe!” (The person in charge for this camp). The heck, does he really have to wake me in the middle of the night, when I urgently need my rest? I let him call for a while, but he does not stop. I am not sure what I answered, half in delirium, but likely only something like sorry, I do not speak Spanish and I do not understand what you are saying. He voices something like “Agua?” – water? Sure I am coming from the water, where else from?
Finally, he strolls off into the darkness, and I fall back to sleep. But the same thing happens again an hour later, this time I see two men and the man on the horse around my tent. I am acting not unfriendly, but likely do not say more than the first time, hoping they will VERY soon fuck off. The man on the horse does, but the two pedestrians sit for a while at the water’s edge close to my tent. Maybe they are throw-net fishing? I am at least hoping so, and let them be while I fall back to sleep.