My sister Muna has some experience kayaking, so we did something a bit unconventional. We only have two kayaks and they are by no means seafaring ones. They’re each six feet long and they lack a spray skirt, as well as storage compartments. Not exactly top of the line.
Before she even arrived in town, Jason and I had checked the weather for Monday and planned to get out to Tomahawk to do some cleaning and possibly paddle in to False Creek, if we couldn’t get the engine going. We had little faith in our little Honda engine, since we hadn’t had any luck so far. So we thought Muna and I could double up in one kayak and he’d take the other.
So far so good. I had my backpack full of boat odds and ends on my back; Jason had his on his lap. It was a fine day but the water was a bit rocky. That should’ve been our first warning. We carried our kayaks down to the beach, along with our newly purchased paddle board paddles to use for said paddling, if necessary. Before we put the kayaks in the water, we noticed a guy swimming in a wet suit and commented on how cold the water must be. It must’ve been an omen.
Jason set off first and then the two of us managed to get on our way with a bit of an awkward start. Our combined weight set the kayak very low in the water so it was almost awash, but not quite. Some splashing and Muna’s almost fetal position notwithstanding, she managed to paddle us all the way across English Bay, which is no small feat. We got to the boat okay, where Jason was waiting with a length of line in hand.
Our major mistake, although not obvious at this point, was not tying our kayak docking lines onto the kayaks before heading to the boat. As I’m sure you can imagine, it’s impossible to reach the front tip of a kayak when you’re sitting in it. So he was having some trouble tying up and we had a bit of mental scuffle with the issue of getting our kayaks attached to the boat.
This was our second mistake. We should’ve sat back for a moment and sorted it out, sitting very carefully. The waves rocked the kayaks enough as it were, without us shifting our weight around trying to solve things so unnecessarily urgently.
I saw Jason’s kayak starting to capsize, but couldn’t formulate a warning before he went over. A moment later, Muna and I were in the water too, dumped by our own rocky kayak. Jason had the presence of mind to grab his pack and Muna got our paddle and her hat, but the paddle board paddles and Jason’s kayak paddle went down.
If we ever had any doubt about the importance of lifejackets, we are now hardcore believers in wearing them at all times, unless you’re sitting in the cabin, or in the cockpit on a calm day. Muna’s hair didn’t even get wet. The buoyancy kept us above water even with the shock of the cold and wet, not to mention the weight of our backpacks.
Somehow, Jason managed to haul himself up over the stern of the boat, by climbing up the engine. I should remind you that Tomahawk is a 27-foot boat. Although extremely small in the wide world of boats, our boat’s stern is probably at least three feet above the waterline. It’s not easy to pull yourself out of water in ideal circumstances, let alone when the waves are tossing you and you’re quickly losing motor function.
I’m not sure if I would’ve made it out normally, but my sodden backpack was too much weight for me to pull in addition to my own body. Jason found a thick line on deck and I was able to give Muna my bag and pull myself up with Jason’s help. Then Muna was up and we helped her into the cockpit.
Soaked, disoriented, and freezing, we collected ourselves reasonably well. But when Jason took off his boot to shake out the water, it flew overboard. I guess the loss of limb control was stronger than it felt. I saw it land in the water and was going to try to jump after it, until Muna and Jason reigned me in. They were right, of course. It was just a boot. Another sacrifice to the sea gods.
Jason’s kayak had drifted off, but luckily ours was tied on by this point. Also lucky was the fact that the current was going into shore, rather than out to sea. Mike, a nearby liveaboard who we met briefly last fall, picked it up in his dinghy and returned it, but that was later.
For now, we were stranded and unable to start the motor, although Jason gave it a good try. Muna unhooked the mirror from the bathroom wall to flash some light toward shore and Jason got out the air horn. It gave a couple of good toots and then died miserably. So we got out the flares and fired one off.
This was when Mike showed up towing our second kayak in his spiffy, motorless dinghy. Not realizing how muddled we were feeling, he asked us questions about what we wanted to do and told us stories about random people slashing up his dinghy while it was on the beach. I couldn’t fully follow, but Jason gave him some contact info to meet up sometime in the near future. He offered to help us sail Tomahawk into the Creek if we couldn’t find another way.
Four officers from the police marine unit arrived shortly after this. They asked if we needed an ambulance. We said no, even though we could see flashing lights on the shore through the trees. Someone in the gawking crowd on the beach must have called 911.
We explained the situation and fortunately, they didn’t tell us off for having two people in one kayak. Their expressions made their views clear enough. After some questions about our ages and who the boat belonged to, they dropped us off at the ferry dock. None of us resented the questions; if something harmful had been going on, they may have preempted it. But our story was so stupid that I think they believed us pretty readily.
They offered to put the kayaks back on the boat and told us to wait in the parking lot for a ride home. The young woman took a while to get there, but we were in the sun and the shivering had mostly subsided. She was friendly and didn’t tell us off either. I have to say, so far the police have been extremely professional and pretty helpful at all times (this is our third time dealing with them in relation to the boat. For the other two, read this post and this one).
Once home, dry, and warm, we had a good laugh about it and threw all our clothes in the laundry. My phone is toast and Jason lost his sunglasses and hat, which sucks. But those are small things compared to how badly it could have ended.
Here’s what we learned:
- prepare the end of your trip as well as the beginning BEFORE you set out
- always wear your lifejacket (we already knew this, but it was certainly reinforced)
- if the water is too rocky, don’t go out into it. In other words, respect the sea and don’t be overzealous
Clearly we weren’t too shaken up about it, because the next day we were out on the water with Jamie on Paramour. But that’s a story for another post…