Compared to being strapped into my bunk on my rowing boat Happy Socks in rough weather, our current tent life in the rough stuff is pretty good. At least here there is no capsize risk and I can get out for a wander or a pee. Mostly today we have been trying to limit both to avoid the rain as drying things is impossible. It was so wet out that we even decided to use a stove pan to pee into if needed. (Happily the rain abated enough to avert this for now). The downside of a double tent life is that it means I have Justine’s farts and general fragrance – as well as my own – to endure. Having been in each other’s company 24/7 for the last 99 days we have no qualms about doing this, taking childish delight in gassing out the other.
Come on wind, play nicely
On Monday we woke at 3am in the mizzly dark to have a go at paddling after yet another day off with this stubborn low pressure system which has dealt us strong winds lately. Justine always gets out of the tent first to start on breakfast while I take all my tablets and begin dismantling our sleeping bags and mats. She appeared shortly after, saying she ‘Couldn’t call it. ‘ Relatively sheltered as we were, it was hard to tell what the sea was doing and guesswork to know what would be happening out in the straits between us on Shuyak and the Barren Islands. Leaving in the near pitch black at quarter to five, we paddled out and around the corner of our cove past shadowy rocks and luminescent surf, picking our way through safe water, already lumpy from recent wind and running tide. Looking down at my map made me feel queasy, so instead I focussed on the high – glow strips on Justine’s boat and clothing, keeping as close to her as I could. The beam of my headtorch made the rain look like bright flying spaghetti which, along with the pitching sea shapes and shadows, made the whole thing feel like I was paddling in an uneasy monochrome kaleidoscope.
As we skirted the coast I felt more and more uneasy and told Justine as much. Dawn happened and the black greyed into day. We rafted up to discuss our options. The forecast was for increasing winds and we have already been warned of the notorious tide races off the islands, which would be rougher in said wind. It isn’t a place for daft decisions. That said, sometimes the forecast doesn’t show. I didn’t want to go but agreed to try, with the caveat of turning back if it was ridiculous.
So off we paddled into the chop, sails up with the cross wind. I wasn’t enjoying it. I chatted away to myself quietly, trying to calm myself and relax my rigid legs which gripping the boat to keep upright as I didn’t feel at all comfortable. Often I surfed down waves on the wrong angle, struggling to hold course. The grey waves were being kicked up by the swell and soon we were in a tidal race, rolling, boiling seas with breaking waves cresting. All this made things even less enjoyable on my part and I quickly decided I had lost all interest in seeing a whirlpool, which I had read of in the Pilot. In fact I don’t think I have been that uncomfortable since way back in the Aleutians, hundreds of miles ago. I shouted to Justine that I was not enjoying it – which she understands now to mean I don’t feel safe or comfortable – and we agreed to turn back. Already in a tide race with wind over tide and more rough stuff ahead it was the best option. The only sensible one, really.
I am glad we tried and I am glad we are still sane enough to make safe calls. I am also glad that this machine I have paddled with these last twelve hundred miles is such an unflappable, expert paddler – there ‘s a reason I call her the Queen of Sea Kayaking. I shall be happy to make it to Homer (eventually) and safely and Justine has a lot to do with that, in spite of noxious gases. I have learned heaps from her, laughed lots together and only wanted to scream at her a few times. (Which I have) I think an ace team mate is one you can evolve with and work with in concert, flexing with and for each other, forgetting the niggles and picking them up when they are down. Mostly, there needs to be lots of belly laughs and banter and a space to be yourself. All told, it has been ace journeying with Justine and I am sure I will miss her if we ever make her flight. I shall certainly miss the ability to rib her about going to Cambridge.
Camped in the grass just out of reach of the huge spring tides that swallow this beach twice a day we have been sleeping, reading, eating and talking with home, all with the backdrop of numerous birds, waves and wind flapping tent material. Happily we were able to get outside this afternoon for a few hours to dry some wet gear in the wind and cook a meal after the rainy front had passed, leaving the wind to keep pushing the rolling fog curtain, hiding and revealing nearby rocks and features through the white haze.
In all, we are raring to go, fully topped up with sleep and rested, poised for an early getaway, weather dependent. Hopefully there will be enough of a window tomorrow for us to make the Barren Islands at 16 miles or even push on for the Kenai Peninsula a further 12 miles beyond that. If we can buzz over in one shot, we could feasibly pull out a super big paddle to make the final coastal run in another day, meaning we make the flight. Homer feels so close and yet so far and we ‘ So stuck ‘ as our friend Lisa Spitler put it. We will just have to wait and see what happens.
Until next time,