Loc: Peninsula Valdez
Dist: 75 km
Start: 00:00 End: 15:30
I knew the moon would be gone at 3 am, and was a bit dreading those 2 1/2 hrs of more darkness, but the moon disappointed me even more – it started to hide behind clouds already around 1.30 am. Around the same time, the forecasted wind breezed up from NE – nice, I thought…
But I forgot what happens when the seas just got up a bit, there is no horizon…the moon was not only gone, but some kind of fog was hanging over the water…no horizon to be seen at all any more.
It means I started to get sea sick around 2 am…actually nothing special for me either, e, just ugly. I tried to help my throwing up by sticking a finger down my throat, but my food was seemingly already so far digested that nothing came out on my dry choking…well…usually it gets better after throwing up! But it got better any way, and sea sickness doesn’t made me weak or dizzy or such, I had it too often already to fear it.
Next set of the same sea sickness feeling came around 4 am – in between was more or less visibility.Sometimes I paddled with my headlamp on, to help with the light to stay awake. All working all right – but I still had a text for my night singing composed: “Willing the night away…” – counting down the hours to the first morning light around 5.45am.
Morning came eventually, and I knew I’d instantly get a boost of energy out of the new day light! No sunny morning this time, but LIGHT!
The seas were lightly moving, nothing special in day light, but at night without horizon it was creating that sea sickness.
I first texted my position to Alejandro, and then had my deserved morning breakfast – oats with milk powder and water. It was a bit of a balancing act in the moving water, but I had it worse…all needed to be done being by myself on the water – eating, drinking, refilling my drink bottle, peeing, changing my jacket…and yes, I think I really have a great balance! And my boat is very stable fully loaded.
I noticed already at night my course had to be a bit of a zig zag one – my planned bearing of 215 degrees was perfectly perpendicular to the tides moving in and out. If I’d have followed my 215 degrees, I’d not be moving fast at any time of the tides. But just 30 degrees off gave me almost double speed! So I decided already at night to go for that tactic, still decreasing the leftover km reasonable fast. My bearing on the GPS changed between 210 and 220 – all good, if you know why. Still nearing the coast!
Around 9 am, the wind breezed up to 15-20 kn, directly following. Good – normally – if there wouldn’t be the strong tides!
Tide against wind beats up the sea to create interesting wave pattern -the sea goes up steep and high, and you can surf like hell downhill – but are not moving very fast over ground…
But my goal was not having fun playing in a big tidal race, but I wanted to get to shore! As soon as possible after that long previous paddle without sleep!
But it was meant to be different. Not the forecasted less than one meter seas I had to negotiate for the next six hours, but steep waves of 3-4 m and higher! As I said – in other circumstances just fun for an experienced sea kayaker – though if something would happen, even a near by paddling partner would have trouble to get there to help.
So I better hooked my self to the boat again, kept my PFD on, secured every thing, just in case, and concentrated on PADDLING like (bat out of…) hell.
My pace over ground was marginally 5 km/h, though the downhill surf was up to 15 km/hr! If a very steep wave did break, it was not powerful in this pattern, but still dreaded by me. But none really caught me! If it starts to make the dreaded breaking sound behind you, I could judge how far it was, and if the second one would break again…some times just not looking saves nerves…
I had to paddle the same zig zag course like in the calmer night to make distance at all, and I think I paddled more km up and down and left and right than straight!
My concentration was up to the max, and that after more than 110 km and over 26 hrs with no sleep. But in Australia I handled even bigger tidal races, I think, I remember once I surfed downhill without even speeding with 23,3 km/hr!!
It was just a bit frustrating having to go through this wave hell instead of getting faster to shore!
I know I can do such extreme things, so I never had any doubts I would get out of here…the km were counting down slowly, but steady. Every 100 m I celebrated a new success…and was steering into the distance, eventually the island would show up. I had the sight of a flashing light on Punta del Norte already in the dark night, but nothing was to be seen…
I got hungry again well after breakfast, but no chance to eat any thing. I barely could keep myself hydrated by grabbing the drink bottle. Refill was just about possible, but without my usual fruity flavor.
The first two hours in those big waves, I still tried to pee as usual with my Freshette, but after the second big wash of sea water into my open pee zipper I gave up that process – I was wet inside my dry suit any way, so I peed for the very first time the last five times into the dry suit…not really a pleasure thinking you have to clean all that later!
Luckily my regular digestion in the morning did not call in…but I’d be ready to handle even that in a reasonable clean manner. I’d use my hollow hand through the pee zipper…I did practice that already twice in Australia, but there being in my normal paddling pants. What else could you do? You have to think about it before you set off…
As my feet got already frozen the last hours of the night, I was somehow hoping peeing into my suit was reaching my feet at some point, but it did not get that far…so the ugly feeling of frozen feet had to last from 2 am until I landed…plus the eventually ugly chilly feeling of being wet inside the dry suit. A neoprene suit would have been better insulation here! But I was paddling too hard to get any hypothermic feelings…
Simply, if you are not sure you can handle any kind of conditions and challenges getting thrown at you in such a trip, you are better not doing such things! There was no other way out of that wave hell to shore than to PADDLE, PADDLE, PADDLE – upright, with maximum power and concentration. No rescue boat would be able to help me here, you have just to rely on your self, on your skills, power, endurance and strength. Which I know I have. And if necessary, in a super human amount.
To top the whole day up, I knew already since last night when I got a text from Alejandro on my sat phone the distance I had to paddle would have to be 10 km more, as he advised me to NOT land at the popular Punta del Norte spot, but rather 10 km to the west, where people would be picking me up from the beach where I had no permit to be there…
The last hours I decided to head directly to Punta del Norte, as that was the shortest distance to shore and at the right zig in the zig zag paddling direction any way, as I was fed up with the paddling and the thought of adding 10 km extra was the icing on the cake.
But when I eventually came closer only one thought came to my mind – “What kind of shore and landing would be provided by those massive seas?”
I could see eventually only high cliffs in the distance, with a solid stripe of dark beach below.
I assumed the seas would get down when I came closer to the peninsula, which they luckily did! Still, there was a massive swell …I came more closer, and realized the beach must be as steep as I already experienced in New Zealand south of Christchurch – which I saw was correct when I was very close.
I also realized that that steep beach calmed down the sea almost to nothing, and relieved being out of that hell and still being able to paddle in a reasonable manner, I sent a text to Alejandro I’d be paddling to the agreed landing spot 10 km further west, and he should alert my pick up people. Though I was really chilly now I was just relieved I was in safe waters. And I was now somewhat looking forward to the hosts of the Estancia looking after me!
I even enjoyed the leftover 8 km paddling close to the steep high beach, watching plenty of sea lions, seals of many kinds, elephant seals and hundreds of penguins in their natural habitat! Not any sign of humans any where…good!
But now I knew why paddling outside the peninsula was such a problem to get a permit for – literally every beach spot was occupied with wild life! Regular tourists are not allowed to be on the beach, and and some random paddler should not be camping there either…
I accepted that rule, and had already during the night a flash of a new idea – I’d be paddling west, crossing the (allowed) bays with a 7 km portage instead of paddling the not allowed outer beach ! And I could better accept as well the by Alejandro desired landing spot 10 km further west, when I’d be paddling eventually into that direction any way!
Well, if some one would blame me now I’d pick the “chicken way” the next days instead of going outside the peninsula – please help me with my English – if this would be the “chicken way” – was it the last two days then the “rooster” or the “cock way”??? :-)) It was the same distance any way.
I reached the agreed GPS point, and was looking for a reasonable landing spot – a not so steep part of the beach behind a small rocky reef was just perfect! No marine mammals or penguins close to that spot either…
I made an easy landing, and was just relieved I could get off the water and warm and get dry soon – hopefully with a hot shower! I was a bit dizzy stumbling out of the kayak onto the very small pebble beach, and eventually now felt I was quite at the end of my strength. My vision made for some reason the black letters around my white kayak all yellow… but oh well, if necessary, I’d have added some more km… 🙂
Unfortunately, no pick up people were in sight, though I was very sure to be at the right spot. I could see the driving track to the Estancia on the hills behind the dunes!
I just had to get dry and warm – NOW! No waiting for the ride to the hot shower…I stripped my inside and outside wet dry suit, struggling to keep my balance. I stood there, all naked, in the chilly wind on the beach, had my cleaning fresh water shower, expecting every second my pick up people would be stepping over the steep beach edge! So my shower was probably shorter that it should have been…drying myself, and finding the cozy dry and warm, windproof clothes was quickly done as well.
I was walking up the hill to have another lookout for the pick up people, and texted Alejandro again I’d be there, but no one else is here.
I had no other choice, as it started to rain as well – I had to make camp here and now. I chose a spot as high up away from the beach and the wildlife as possible, and set up tent quickly. Last was dragging up my kayak, a late arriving elephant seal in mating spirits might like it too much…! It would crush my kayak! :-))
Inside my tent, I stretched out for a while, feeling simply tired physically and mentally, and thought: “Well, Freya, here you are again, dry and warm…as expected…no doubts!”
But I had to get up again for some last chores at the boat, and eventually spotted two young people walking down the hill – my potential hosts! The girl came up to me and invited me to the Estancia for whatever I needed, but I had already my (freezing) shower, was already (more or less) warm, and just had one thought on my mind – rest and sleep! No way I could WALK the 5 km to the Estancia, loaded with gear…so very much thank you, but I stayed in the dunes as usual. I’d be gone tomorrow…