Kayaking the Exumas – The Final Day

I wrote the opening sentence to this post, just to delete it and start all over, three times now. I’ll just put it bluntly. Today was a suck fest. It would take every ounce of strength, energy, determination, will power, and self-talk I could muster. And then some. The weather gods were not cooperating and brought what seemed like 30 mph winds at our face. What started out a lovely and calm morning, turned into hours of crashing waves and a kayak full of water. But, hey, the sun was still out so the ocean was stunning! Always a silver lining!

I was eager to wake up again, shocking I know, and get the day started. When I’m traveling, I try to take in everything I possibly can as if I’ll never see it, hear it, feel it, smell it, or taste it again. The ladies discussed waking up to watch the sunrise over the cliffs the night before but I didn’t think anyone would wake up in time for it so I didn’t worry about ensuring I was up early enough. Given that my tent was violently shifting all over the place throughout the night, I didn’t get much sleep. I abruptly awoke to the sun shining and faint voices outside. Welp, guess I missed the sunrise! I was the only one of the group that didn’t make it. Hmph.

It was about 7am and everyone was up and about, eating breakfast, and relaxing on the shore. We still had no idea just how strong the winds were going to be and thought it would be another beautiful day of paddling. Correction, I should only speak for myself, I thought it would be another easy day. We packed up camp and got an early start on the water. One of the ladies mentioned she wanted to see the blowhole so we agreed that we would head that direction first and then cross over to Barre Tarre (home). The blowhole is on an island almost directly across from Barre Tarre where, on a rough day like this, water is pushed through the limestone which creates a beautiful spray several feet in the air. It makes for a great photo opportunity. This is also the spot where Ben left Olivia on the last season of the Bachelor, if you indulge in garbage TV like I do. On a calm day, there is a small natural tidepool that you can soak in near the blowhole that is quite amazing. I’ve been there a few times on the Exuma Water Sports excursions so I was indifferent to stopping there before heading home.


The calm.


No one had a clue what we would endure shortly after this picture.


My oblivious self.  Last picture of the trip before making the crossing.

The water in our cove was calm and tranquil but after just a few turns around the bottom of Williams Cay, we were being blasted by strong winds and waves coming to our left side. I’m not sure if I prefer wind at my side or at my face. Now I was being tested. I was at the back of the group for an hour or so and just couldn’t seem to catch up. I changed my paddle form multiple times but nothing seemed to work. It wasn’t for competitive reasons but, rather, I didn’t want to fall too far behind the group for my own safety. It’s best if we can all stay together in the event someone tips over or needs help. Pull, pull, pull. An hour in and I was exhausted. I didn’t feel like we were getting anywhere. So I started to identify points of reference on the islands to give me a better idea of my distances/times in hopes I would feel better about all this damn pulling I was doing. That didn’t work.

I was hoping and praying that Tamara, who was near the front of the pack, would decide NOT to go to the blowhole. The wind and waves were just too strong to fight so we might as well just head diagonally for home. Blowhole was straight ahead, home was the hypotenuse of the triangle. Let’s just paddle the hypotenuse and get out of this mess. And that’s we did. I saw Tamara turn right and stop. The others with her stopped as well and I was able to catch up a little bit. Stopping sounds easy but in 2-3 foot chop, your attention was always on the water. Pictures weren’t even a thought that crossed my mind as it was far too dangerous for that type of distraction. I couldn’t hear anything but the deafening sound of the wind. I also couldn’t see well because I didn’t have my contacts in. That didn’t matter much during the trip but it would come into play later. Without a spoken word from Tamara, I knew we were heading for home. The group was dispersed all over the place as it was too tough to stay together. We were all fighting our own battles.

Every possible question/scenario ran through my mind at this point. What if I capsize? What is the best path home? How much longer? Is everyone else ok? Will I even make it back? Can I just stop here? I was on my own at this point. We all were. I couldn’t get over the fact that I felt like I had just paddled for 10 miles and I wasn’t even half way home. Was I even moving???? Pull, pull, pull. The waves began to pick up and crash over my kayak, making me feel a little unbalanced. I had to engage my core for the entire trip so I didn’t tip over as the waves were hitting directly to my left side. The wind in the middle of the crossing was so powerful it was catching my paddle, kicking the shit show up a notch.   Pull, pull, pull. Every pull was starting to hurt. My hands were cramping and the blister than formed on the inside of my glove was raw and tender. I wondered when I would ever get home.

I noticed many of the ladies starting to fall behind and some getting very close to the shore of Barre Tarre but still extremely far from our destination. I wondered if that was a good strategy – to get closer to shore and maybe, just maybe, the waves wouldn’t be so big. But it sure didn’t look any better over there. The water inside the cockpit was swooshing around my legs and even though I had my skirt on, the crashing waves would continue to pour into my lap filling up the kayak even more. This is when I went from nervous to a bit panicky. My kayak was filling up such that I couldn’t use my core to balance the kayak when waves crashed to my side. Instead, the water inside the cockpit was so deep that it would control the direction my kayak leaned. I didn’t appreciate that. I fought back as hard as I could muster. It was intense and it wasn’t ending any time soon.

I decided that the best course of action would be to get closer to the shore and paddle along the rocks so that if I tipped, at least I wouldn’t be in the middle of the ocean. I could drag the kayak to the rocks and just sit there until someone could come rescue me. Convinced that this would be my fate, I continued to paddle closer to shore but still in a diagonal direction towards “home”. I was hoping if I just kept paddling parallel to shore, the wind would just push me home. But it was pushing me over instead. I didn’t have it in me to fight anymore so I would just throw my arms in front of me and lean into my stroke. At least I was doing something. Not a lot, but it was something and slowly but surely I would get somewhere. At this point, I couldn’t see anyone. Mandy, another kayaker, was far in front of me, all the rest were well behind me and I couldn’t look back long enough to see where they were or what direction they were paddling. There is a radio tower near home base that I was supposed to paddle to but nothing was looking familiar and I didn’t have my contacts in so I couldn’t see.

I was about 300 yards from shore now and still throwing my paddle forward, pulling backwards. Pull, pull, pull. My core was toast, my shoulders were jelly, my hands and fingers were almost numb. And I was cranky. I was ready for this to be over. I squinted to try and make out any sort of safe place along the rocky shore to bail but saw nothing. But I felt a little better about seeing some homes and docks just a few hundred yards away. Worst case scenario was that I could ask for help or just bail out of the kayak and drag it to the rocks under their house. Pull, pull, pull. Now the water in the cockpit was above my thighs and every wave that approached required an exaggerated lean into it. Otherwise, I’m tipping. Any minute and I knew I was going to be swimming with the fish. A half hour later, I was relieved to recognize the house owned by Exuma Water Sports. I would consider the owner an acquaintance of mine so I contemplated just bailing at his house. However, he didn’t have a great beach that was easy to access from my location. I was still too far away from the shore and turning directly for his house would be too dangerous. So I kept paddling. I knew I was close. His house is just a few hundred yards away from “home” but now I had to make it around a point that juts out into the water. That would require that I turn directly at the wind for about 20 yards. I was really being tested. I decided I had made it all this way and there was no way I was going to bail. It took everything I had to get around that point. Paddling straight into 20-30mph wind and waves proved nearly impossible. I was going nowhere fast. But I couldn’t stop or I would be carried backwards which was the last thing I needed. Boy, it would be nice to just take a break but you just can’t in these kinds of conditions. So I gritted my teeth and charged through.

I rounded the corner and spotted home. Mandy’s yellow kayak lay nicely on the shore and I stared at that thing like I was chasing it. Pull, pull, pull. I was almost home but didn’t see anyone standing around. Just 50 yards more and I did it. I will have completed my mission. My kayak sat low and heavy and I could hardly keep it upright. As I approached the sandy/rocky shore, Mandy came running from the other side of the dock to help me pull up the kayak. I pulled up my skirt, literally, not figuratively, quickly hopped out, and felt the sand underneath my feet. Touching quasi-solid ground never felt so good. I took off my life jacket and un-velcroed my skirt, relieved I made it, but still concerned about the others. Dallas drove up in his truck and said the others got out up the street at Exuma Water Sports and we had to go pick them up. No rest for the weary. I had to pump the water out of the kayak, hurriedly unpack all of my crap, throw it in the truck, THEN lift the kayak over to and on to the trailer. Stick in a fork in me. It was similar to the worst crossfit workout I’ve ever done. Like ten Murph’s in a row (my fellow crossfitters can understand the reference). I was elated that I finished without swimming with the fish…or the pigs. However, I didn’t have much time to relax or to create the sand angels I wanted to but I thanked the energy forces that be for getting me safely to shore. I had been paddling for what I believe was about 3 straight hours with no break. Dallas said something I’ll never forget. It’s etched in my brain forever. “It’s amazing what you’re capable of when you have no other options.” Aint that the truth! Love it. Remember it.

I’ll wrap this all up in the next post in hopes to still convince you that this is something you should do. No, really, you should.  I realize this sounds like a miserable time but, unfortunately, the weather just didn’t cooperate on this day.  This should absolutely be a bucket list item for everyone.  Read the “why” in the next post.  Stay tuned…

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