Sunday, September 29, 2013

Humble Pie For One

I would say that I am a pretty patient person, at least with most things besides computers.  

I've been waiting for the perfect combination of quite specific conditions for a couple of summers now with the hope of taking the boat that I built, an outrigger sailing canoe, on a short overnight expedition to surf, spearfish and camp onboard. I won't go into the details of my plan, but because of my planned route and the nature of my trip I had to wait for the stars to align with favourable winds, tides, swell and weather all falling over a 48 hour period.  Last summer I took the boat on a maiden voyage along a short stretch of my route; this spring I tested the boat's abilities to launch through surf and return again, using the experience to make some minor modifications; then this July the weather was perfect however I had work commitments.  I scoured the weather forecasts daily.  I started to become impatient.  In mid-August there was a day that looked do-able; not ideal, but I thought that I could give it a shot.

My alarm was set early and I got up in the dark.  I'd set the boat up on the beach just above the high tide line the evening before, so I arrived early and loaded it whilst the local small-boat fishermen prepared their boats and reversed them into the water.  I launched twice, and I returned twice.  I never did make it to the beach where I had planned on surfing, or to the small cove where I had intended to moor up and sleep under a boom tent on the hiking boards strapped across the outrigger arms.  I spent hours at sea out in the bay battling against the wind, swell and the power of a big spring tide.  I couldn't sail upwind so had to drop the sail and paddle, but for a solid hour I made no progress against the elements.  I measured my progress against the flow of the pushing tide by triangulating my position with a lobster-pot buoy and the westernmost point of a small bay.  If I paused my paddling the wind pushed the bow around so that I was broadside on to the large swells so I had to pull relentlessly.  Continuing to my intended camp spot would have been foolhardy so I turned around, put the mast back up, raised sail and then slipped.  One leg went overboard into the water and I landed heavily on the gunnel.  With the sail up and a following wind it took me less than ten minutes to retrace my course which had taken over three hours in the other direction.  
Back on the beach one of the fishermen, Lloyd, told me that I did the right thing coming back - he didn't think it a good day to be out in a little boat like mine without a motor.  The next day the bruise under my leg came out, a proper deep one the size of a dinner plate, and I ached from the hours of paddling.  I felt pretty humbled by the entire experience.  What must it've been like for the early Polynesians who explored the Pacific Ocean on boats not dissimilar to mine, or for modern day fishermen who still use these boats across the Pacific and Indian Oceans to scrape a living?  The Ocean is massive…my small boat was like a grain of rice in a swimming pool out in the bay, and yet only ever a mile or so from safe harbour. 

And now the seasons have started to turn.  Perhaps next summer...

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