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My Stupid Paddling Companion

Every morning I get up at 5am, suit up, and jump in my kayak. I wear my life jacket, carry a whistle and always bring a cell phone encased in plastic. As you might imagine, it is difficult to find paddling partners at 5 in the morning but, in the interest of safety, I rarely go out alone.

One morning in early May, I recruited my life-long companion "stupidity." Stupidity and I were almost inseparable when I was young and we were especially close when I was in college. But, that's another story. On this particular morning, in May, the wind was blowing about force 5 (19 - 24 knots), the skies were threatening and the water was cold. I thought about staying in that morning but stupidity was excited about the adventure and who was I to disappoint. So I put on my .5mm wetsuit and off we went.

When we got to the beach, we were blown back by the shear force of the Southeast wind. I looked north into the protected creeks; stupidity looked out into the open bay. I was soon outvoted by stupidity's sense of adventure. Stupidity argued that it would be a valuable experience to battle the heavy weather and I bought it. Dead into the weather we went.

As we headed out, the bow crashed into the waves as we skillfully powered our way to weather. As the sea crashed over the deck and onto the spray skirt - we were impressed with our kayaking skill. We continued on for the next 2 nautical miles without incident.

When we arrived at the cove of Robbin's Island, it was time to turn around. I thought it might be best to head directly to the lee shore and then hug the coast to home. Stupidity thought we should hang a 90 degree turn to port and head to the closer shore of the peninsula. Of course, this would put the wind directly at our beam. Why do I listen?

As I turned the boat, my stability worsened and the ride became precarious. I decided to head-up into the wind for a few strokes and then fall off the wind to ride the crests of the waves toward the homeward shore. Stupidity thought that would be a great idea. As I carried myself further and further into the wind, the sea took me. What I mean to say is that the waves flipped me like the coin at the start of a football game.

Now upside down, I discovered that stupidity had thrown our paddle away. After a few attempts at a paddle-less roll, I performed a wet exit. Did I mention that it was about now that the skies opened up to the worst downpour that I had seen all year? Through the blinding rain I noticed my paddle floating about 30 feet windward of me and the gap was widening. Stupidity told me to swim for it and get the paddle. For the first time all morning, I told stupidity to piss off. I was going to stay with my boat. Since a paddle self rescue was out of the question, I was down to plan "B" - Call for help.

I reached for my phone which was sealed into a plastic bag with a simple knot (stupidity's idea) and cleverly tethered to my PFD. The problem, as it turned out, was that the knot in the bag was not exactly water-proof. For those of you that may not have experienced this, cell phones and salt water do not mix. The phone was dead. Time for Plan C.

Luckily, stupidity had a plan C. Plan C: let's try cowboy jumping this puppy from the stern, slip into the cockpit, reseal the skirt and pump out. This plan may actually have worked if it weren't for the 4 foot seas. So much for plan C. Time for plan D.

No plan D. Tired, cold and paddle-less it was time to formulate a plan D. I had nothing left. I just wanted to be home. I was a mile and a half from the lee shore and all I could think of was to start swimming. I clutched the kayak as tightly as I could, presented as much hull to the wind as was possible and made for shore.

After just 2 hours in the water, I was tossed ashore in heavy surf. I dragged my boat up the beach and pumped it out. I began walking the quiet streets of New Suffolk looking for an early riser to make the "call of humiliation" to my wife. I now tether my paddle, seal my phone in two bags with a heat sealer, choose my days more carefully, give considerable thought to the routes I take and am more selective with my kayak partners.

Submitted by Russ L'HommeDieu - Cutchogue, NY

For more great stories: See the Archive!


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