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A Story for the Grandkids

I'm 76 now so this is an old one, circa 1964. North East coast of England, off Hartlepool and Teesmouth. The coast aligns north-south with the frigid North Sea beyond. Great ships come and go between the breakwater arms each side of the Tees estuary. The southern arm has a mile-long tail of rocks merging to gravel pointing south. Behind that bank is a lagoon of quiet water.

My two companions and I had agreed to launch from Hartlepool Docks at 07.30 hrs. The previous night I'd arrived home at 02.00 hrs after a jolly time at the night club. I'd had a sufficiency of beer. With only three hours sleep I was a tad weary before we started. I wore a farmer john wetsuit and windproof top. Offshore were two tankers in ballast moored to anchors. The great rusty links grunted as the slight swell heaved the hulls up and down, to and fro. My companions stopped by the chains for a smoke. I don't smoke so paddled around in the pea green shallow sea, calm as a park lake. I glanced down. The watery sun cast a shadow of my kayak way down in the water so that I seemed to be perched on a pillar of shadow. Instant nausea hit me but I kept it down. We paddled on a mile or three to the entry to the Tees.

A small coaster was heading in on an arc and I was at right angles to the tangent. No matter what I did his fore and aft masts were in line. He grew in size with every passing moment. I started to sprint although my head and my bowels protested. He passed a few yards behind me with a thrumming of diesels. My mates were laughing, commenting "They love chasing paddlers!" I was new to this game.

We went beyond the southern breakwater on the seaward side of the long tail of rocks. As a wave passed over they were submerged, in the troughs they were exposed. I committed a novice error and waited too long before attempting to go in to the lagoon as my need was urgent. Sure enough the hiss of a big one told me a moment before the acceleration that I was in for a rocky ride. My bows hurtled along just clearing weedy blocks and the kayak reared into a loop. I'd never looped before and surfed only on small ones. As I stood on the footrest I had the wit to plunge my paddle overside and grab a chunk of water. That induced a half spin and I landed right way up racing in backwards. Great fun, but my need was no longer urgent. My bowels had made their final protest.

In waist deep water I peeled off my gear and enjoyed a bath in the grey North Sea. My companions gathered near, not too near, and laughed themselves silly, a laugh that lasted years each time we met.

Submitted by Alan Byde

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