Sun 02/03-2014 Day 612

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Rescue camp after the Pororoca night. Sorry, I didn`t take live pictures while getting surfed...

 

Wrong information…and caught Pororoca live at night…
Pos: here
Loc: Punto do Congo
Acc: in kayak
Dist: 66,6 km
Start: 6:45 End: 19:30

The whole night the rain and storm was howling around my safe and dry room (if I kept the wooden window shutter closed…), and despite a calm day was forecast, I really had trouble to get my mind on the planned departure. Couldn’t I just ask for a boat to bring me wide inside the river…

But I packed my gear as usual and started with first light. Thanks again to the guys from the police station and from the nature conservation office to host me in their house! The locals had warned me about the still high water level, I should wait for two more days, but no one mentioned the Pororca any more, and my knowledge from the internet was it appeared with two waves around new and full moon, then it is done…and as I saw the first wave on Friday afternoon, it should be done now on this calm Sunday!

I left the river on the still running up tide right from the jetty upfront the house, it was raining still lightly.I saw some fishermen with canoes paddling also out to check their nets somewhere, and if they can paddle close to shore against the running up tide, I should be also able to do so! So it was, I had no trouble to get the 1,5 km to the corner with not much current close to the banks where the Rio de Sucuriju merged into the “real” Amazon river. The wide corner was flooded, and I had to “log hop” again, watching carefully where I paddled as some surf waves broke also on the shallow sandy corner.But all good, it calmed down, the tide started to run nicely with me for a while, until it turned. But I could paddle all right with reasonable speed of 4-5 km/h, always close or mostly upfront the shallow breaker zone running on the wide sand banks.

Some corners had more current running and before a larger river mouth it was quite scary choppy with two currents merging. It washed me out that I barely made it back to shore! The river almost stopped me for the day, as the current of that one was looking so strong I simply didn’t dare to cross. I dragged my kayak against the current along the river bank for about an hour, all solid sand, until I thought the current looked better and I could ferry glide across without the fear being washed out again into that horrible chop! I could easily continue then paddling calmly along the shallow sand banks, with not much trouble, until I had to cross the wide river mouth of the Rio Aragupi. All looked calm, speed was reasonable, I was wide offshore due to the low tide displaying wide sand banks any way, and I should just make it in last light to the other side. If not, no problem, I’d just hand rail along the sand banks until the water was high enough again to hit some shore. Either I’d stay already there, or I’d wait another two hours before I’d dare to fall dry and to get some rest just on some sand bank. Fortunately it was all sand and no mud any more. So far the plan and thoughts! The tide times were surely bad, but I was used to paddle at night and in the shallow water upfront the wide sand banks it felt all safe all day.

I eventually couldn’t avoid to run already dry around night fall at 6.30 pm, the tide ran still out for another hour and I took the time to eat and to have a short nap bent upfront on my kayak. I had wrapped myself into my rescue blanket to stay warm and had turned the kayak with the back to the wind. I’d continue paddling when the tide would start to raise again!

Yes, I did… and HOW! I heard the noise behind me already for a while, but no thought of this world gave me the idea this might be another Pororoca, as they were supposed to be finished… I rather thought shit, must it be raining just now heavily very soon, as the sound is similar…in last second, the right flash came through my mind and I thought not much, only “oh shit!”, I better grab my paddle…

It came with might at 7.30 in darkness, and still kind of unexpected for me being so innocent. But as I heard it and would have thought the right thing, I had no other choice also… where to go with the heavy boat sitting dry? A heavy fat wave hit me hard, and my only reaction was as usual to lean into it and to brace, in any way. OH MY GOD! It was really another of those dreaded Pororocas, and I was fully exposed out there on the sand bank, about 6 km offshore!! What a bad mistake and stupid wrong information! I braced for my life, braced, braced, felt still the ground all the time, as the wave was running surely over shallows to the distant shore. I braced, braced, laid fully on my side, the kayak sideways vertical. I braced, braced, will this horrifying ride never end??? Surely my rescue blanket was gone, and I felt my kayak slowly filling with water through the spray deck, as my jacket over it didn’t hold this water force. It was not only water, but also sand, debris and whatever. A Pororoca carries a lot of shit of wooden pieces with it, and getting closer to shore, I felt larger logs whipping around my kayak and head. I still braced for my life, I was still side washed in the darkness to the shore… where and when would this ride stop?

I half way feared I’d be washed into the Rio Araguji, but the really working light house on it’s southern bank told me in a second I’d be washed south, past the river mouth. At least some thing…so I must hit shore at some point. But how hard? It became more shallow, I noticed my braced now heavily filled kayak was topping and stumbling occasionally, I was still laying on my side and bracing. But one very shallow spot stopped my ride hard and tumbled me over, but up again, and I continued bracing in heavy strong current. Another hard stop on a shallow spot threw me upside down again, this time I was stuck somehow with my paddle crosswise and maybe some logs anywhere underneath my heavy kayak…all in darkness… I had no choice but to pull my spray deck and to bail out. SHIT! FUCK! My kayak got washed away from me! Thank goodness my life line (bow line) connected to my spray deck was holding, I could somehow eventually get hold of some deck lines and then the bow toggle, still washed heavily over shallow ground. No chance to simply stand up and to try to hold the boat.

I noticed at some point my paddle was still in my hand, but the paddle leash was off the shaft…hold on to the paddle for hell!!! I eventually hung on to the bow toggle, my paddle solidly in my hand out of the way of the still heavy ride, I could make it a bit better to endure by simply lying flat on my back and relax somehow on the wash. But shore came closer…how and where would I bang on to some beach? Would I bang heavily at all, or would I just lie at some point on a not yet flooded sand bank?

I felt the ride got stopped eventually in some deeper water, it was a tiny not too deep river pool where I eventually could try to get upright somehow. But the current was still ripping on me, and FUCK! I really lost one sandal in the darkness…couldn’t be  helped. I was aiming for a gap between two trees, and behind them I could eventually feel I might be able to get up, and to get out of the current. I still had my kayak and paddle in my hands, that felt ok for the moment, and I was not injured other than some bumps on my butt when I tried too early to get up. The wave almost stripped off my pants… 🙂

My headlamp which was around my neck was fortunately still working, my strong flash light tied to the deck also, and I was missing only my rescue blanket tied loosely around my body (surely…), and my drink bottle which I thought I didn’t clip after dinner back to the deck net. And one sandal…but it could be a lot worse!

My GPS clipped to the deck was also still there and working, thank goodness! I had covered really about 8 km over ground from the spot where I had dinner stuck on the shallows, at a maximum speed of 30 km/h!!! How long the ride was in real time? No idea, maybe 10-15 min? This is like hell if you are bracing for your life in darkness… my body felt luckily all right everywhere, thank goodness. I may have injured whatever…just had much sand in my eyes and ears… or my kayak could have been washed away, or my paddle…or my kayak and paddle would be broken somehow hitting the many logs and the ground heavily…

In a shallow safe feeling spot, I started the first inspection of body and gear, and the first job was to get the flooded kayak empty! Easier said than done, as half of the content was solid fine Amazonian sand, stuck heavily to the hull inside the kayak. I had to use a spoon to scrape it out, it was maybe a big bucket full, which took me a while! Not much sign of shock, I am getting into action to undo the damage…

The hatches seemed to be safely closed, just the endless sand and dirt in my kayak and in my clothes also. I spotted a shallow pool and started to have a shower and to wash the wooden bits off my clothes and body. But there were no real trees on this “beach” where I could hang my hammock, as I didn’t dare to walk far in the shallows as high tide was still to come. I rather inspected the area just behind me, a pile of logs which looked like I could drag my kayak on top, just in case the water level would rise so much. If it would rise even higher, I would have to jump back afloat in the now almost empty kayak in the now also calmer sea, and to wait what would happen. But so far I just crunched back in my kayak, halfway clean, unfolded my second and last rescue blanket and tried to get some sleep. Around high tide, the water was gently lapping on my bow, but that was it. The water had actually in between gone down a bit after the Pororca had washed me to the highest up the sandy river bank. I continued my sleeping attempts, and was at some point really gone feeling safe now with the retreating water. Tomorrow? We’ll see…

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Randall Lackey

Thanks for the interesting info Peter. Keep her strenght and spirits up when you can.

PeterUnold Post author

The sailing directions for the east coast of South America has this description:

The tidal bore phenomenon, known locally as Pororoca, occurs at times in the Amazon estuary prior to spring tides. The bore consists of a wave which varies from 1.5 to 2.5m high whose crest breaks and spreads over the shallow waters of the river and its tributaries.
[…]
The wave has a velocity of 10 to 15 knots being strongest and most dangerous from January to June, and at the equinoxes, when the wind is from the NE. It carries off everything in its course. When the wave passes, it leaves the river almost full. Afterwards, the flood current continues to attain rates of 8 to 10 knots in the vicinity of Cabo do Norte from January to April and less in August and September.

Barbara G.

Wow. You leave me speechless. Quite a drastic way to find out that what you thought you knew about Pororoca was a misunderstanding. I am so glad it all ended well. Your description of this adventure is really good – I’d almost say it made me feel like I was there, but I know that only someone who has been through something like this can imagine what it was really like. Keep safe – and watch out for the next spring tide!

Ken

Freya … I really enjoy reading about all your adventures as you make your way around SA.

You don’t need to paddle in such extreme conditions to keep me interested.

Randall Lackey

Wow, you have been through it all now. That must have been one hell of a ride.Glad to read the worst you lost was a blanket and a sandel. It could have been so much worse, I am sure you know. Thank God above for looking after you. Rest and recover well. Be safe.

Frances Price

This tale leaves me open-mouthed! I am thankful that you are safe, along with all your necessary gear for survival. What a terrifying adventure!

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