The last time I was in a Kayak, I nearly died, or at least it felt that way. I think it was in 1998 when I went with some friends to the Johnstone Straight on northern Vancouver Island. It was August, but of course, the water temperature was still only 4 degrees C. Anyway, with almost no training, off we went into the swells. Of course, being in a single, I was inherently less stable, and also being a little top heavy, I was like a lollipop standing on end in the ocean.
Eventually, I tanked and the water knocked the breath out of me because it was so cold. Not knowing how to self-rescue, we dragged ourselves to shore, where we were pounded on the rocks before reaching safety. After this, with nearly all my clothes on in 25 degree heat on the beach, I was still freezing, nearly hypothermic I'm sure.
So now we're going kayaking in the world famous Abel Tasman National Park. This would be a massive challenge for me, to beat the fear that I so thoroughly developed last time out. Kristine of course was mainly oblivious to this - everything is so much just a walk in the park for her - sometimes I wish I could think that way. Anyway, on the way to the park we stopped in Kaiteriteri for a swim at a beautiful little beach. It was just great. However, my real purpose was to acclimatize myself to the water temperature so that I could potentially put my mind at ease with the "what if's" if we did happen to dunk the thing. It helped.
We chose a half day only because we remembered the story that Liam and Cory told us about how they had to get towed back to port on a full day trip because they were out of gas. Way to go buoy boys (ha, ha)! - We were determined to not wind up like that! Our guide, named Cory, was fantastic; he knew a tremendous amount about the history of New Zealand and spoke to us all the way, telling stories while rafting us up. He even got out of his kayak, stood on all of ours in the middle of the sea while we were rafted, and performed a Haka - extremely powerful stuff. You can understand why the old indigenous tribes beat the crap out of each other - this was seriously scary stuff. These days the Haka is a very honourable thing, sometimes seen spontaneously at funerals, but most often at sporting events.
Anyway, we had a double kayak. The control freak (me) gets the back. This is where the rudder pedals are. Cory gave us a little sociology lesson at the start because he's found that poor communication between kayak mates leads to the highest amount of trouble. I think he's right. If the person at the front doesn't turn around to speak, you can't hear anything at the back, and it gets exceedingly frustrating. Anyway, he was great.
The first part of the trip was called the MAD MILE. That made me feel good.... We saw it on the way up in the water taxi - MASSIVE SWELLS - some breaking. Cory said no problemo. Off we went. I immediately noticed that the double was much more stable than the single. OK, good. Now, stay low, paddles always in the water - I remembered that one lesson I had in Johnstone which was to keep your paddles in the water as much as possible - you are like an outrigger canoe when your paddles are in the water, and you are much more stable... We entered the Mad Mile. "Hey Cory, why is it the Mad Mile"? "Well, because you're mad to do it...". Great, thanks!
The swells began to grow. I called out to Kristine - keep paddling - do not stop paddling. I jockeyed the rudder swiftly with the movement of each swell to keep control - we must have been moving up and down a couple of metres with each one.
Then it came. I could see it coming from behind - it was already breaking about 10 metres back. It's the kind of thing surfers wait for - the set of two or three that come every five minutes. I chose not to say anything to Kristine about it thinking we'd have a better shot at it if she didn't know. The back of the kayak started to lift and I said, "paddle"! The kayak began to surf, the front of it staying up, and my heavier weight plus the bags in the back hole keeping the tail down. Then I was submerged! Shit, this it I thought! Water flowed over my skirt, over the entire back of the kayak, but still the bow was free. We surfed for about 10 seconds until the stern settled out into the trough and we continued to paddle all the way.
I thought that was it - but we made it! There would be no swimming today, as Cory promised, and he was right. I said to Cory, good thing there was all this ballast on board to keep us more stable. Although it wasn't really what I meant, he said, "You shouldn't talk about your wife that way, she might get mad!" Fear Conquered; onto the next...