November 13, 2005

Hawaii Blogging 3: Kayaking in Kaneohe Bay

Hatched by Sachi

On the last weekend before I had to sail away again (I'm still working, you know), we decided to do something adventurous: we would kayak on Kaneohe Bay and visit an island a ways offshore. I made a picnic lunch, and we started off.

Dafydd always talks me into these "adventure" things. I would be happy just lying on Waikiki beach for a week! There was the time we collapsed from heat exhaustion on the North Kaibab Plateau in the Grand Canyon, in 120+ degrees in the shade (no shade, of course). Or the time we were riding over the crest of the Fernandez trail in the Ansel Adams Wilderness, and it was so steep that as we descended, my head was actually hitting the horse's butt. That was the same trip where a bear prowled around our campsite during the night; I woke up Dafydd and told him there was a bear outside, and all he said was "let it get its own tent." He thought that was hilarious. Our nature trips are always... interesting.

We drove to a Kayak rental place called Go Bananas on Kapahulu Avenue. The store clark briefly (very briefly) showed us how to securely lash the kayak on top of the car. Then he gave us life jackets, seats, paddles, and a "dry bag," which was supposed to keep stuff inside it totally dry. He made us sign all sorts of legal notices and agreements. I foolishly read through them and started to get a little bit nervous: Kayaking can be dangerous, kayaking can be physically challenging, you can't sue us no matter what we do. etc. I asked Dafydd, "what if we capsize -- then what?" He assured me the bay was perfectly calm; besides it is so shallow, we can practically walk. We are wearing lifejackets; if we capsize, we just get wet. No big deal.

I wasn't totally reassured, but the boat was already attached to the car, so what could we do?

We found the Kaneohe Bay without incident, but hauling the kayak from where we parked the car to the pier was quite a challenge. Dafydd told me that the rental guy said the boat only weighed 70 pounds. I have had a quite bit of weight training, and have no problem carrying 35 lbs. I tell you after struggling with that thing that it ain't no measly 70 lbs!

After bitching and moaning for a while (just to get in the mood), I grabbed the lanyard at the front and helped Dafydd carry the kayak a long, long, long, long, long way to the boat-launch... only to find out we carried to the wrong place! We were supposed to launch at the "canoe beach;" but of course, we had no way to know that. I looked at the long pier and said, "since we're already here, let's just use the boat-launch. It's more convenient." My real motivation was that I was not about to carry that thing across the parking lot again. We launched and paddled furiously, hoping to avoid being run over by huge power boats. Our goal was to reach Kapapa Island about 2 .25 miles frome there.

At first, we were going pretty slow. But after a while, we found our rhythm and paddled fairly well. Dafydd told me that there was a sunken island on the way. I didn't know what he meant until I saw it: the color of the ocean changed, becoming much lighter there; and the water, which had been too deep to see bottom, was suddenly very shallow. Below us, I saw sandy beaches, coral, and some little fishes. It was like we were floating over a regular, dry-land island.

Dafydd wanted to walk around on the sunken island a bit, so he jumped out of the kayak. Big mistake! When I turned around to see what he was doing, I lost my balance, and boom, hit the water. Now we were both in the ocean.

Dafydd might have thought the water was much shallower than it actually was. It was about four feet deep. Four feet of water does not seem like anything. But when you're wearing a life jacket in the ocean with some wind, you don't have much control over your body. We bobbed around like couple of corks, and our parka, water bottles, my T-shirt, and whatever other gear wasn't lashed down went floating away from us.

We caught up with the parka we'd taken in case it rained, my shirt, and one water bottle; the other drifted off, never to be seen again. But we were still in the ocean and not in the kayak.

Getting back aboard was not as easy as we thought. First, I tried to get in it by holding on and putting one of my legs over the side. But all this managed to do was capsize the kayak. On the second attempt, Dafydd held the other side of the kakyak to keep it from capsizing while I climbed on top of it.

After a major struggle, I managed to get back into the kayak. Now it was Dafydd's turn. He told me to lean over the left (port) side when he climbed over the starboard. But when he told me to lean, I leaned too much and fell into the water again. Oh, I was so mad! We were right back where we started.

Then we thought it might be more feasible for Dafydd to climb back on board first, then pull me over. He got back in, he pulled me up... then somehow, the kayak flipped the other way, dumping us both in the drink again.

I started to get really scared. We were more than a mile out; what would happen if we couldn't get back into the boat? On the third time around, I struggled in safely (we had gone back to the mode of Sachi clamboring up first). Then Dayfdd got back in and slowly inched into position. I kept striaght up and didn't throw my weight around, and "Finally!" Then the kayak started rocking, I panicked and leaned too much to the side.....again, we were in the water.

Dafydd said to me in exasperation, "OK, Sachi. You climb back in first. When I climb in, no matter what, don't move! Stay stil." I was almost panicking at this point. I don't remember what exactly we did, but we mananged to get back in the kayak safely this time around. Amazingly, my sunglass which were not tied to anything, stayed on my face this entire time. The only thing we lost was an unsecured water bottle.

By that time, I had lost interest in going to the island. I was so scared that we were going to capsize again, that I just wanted to go back to the shore. But Dafydd would have none of that. "After all that trouble, you just want to go back? That's ridiculous. Besides," he added, "you'll be mad at yourself if you yield to your fear, just because we capsized a few times." Then Dafydd made the killer argument: we were more than half way to the island. That meant it was quicker heading to the island that going back to the shore -- and that made up my mind for me. Well, after few more minutes of coaxing and getting me out of panic mode. We headed toward the island.

It's hard to believe, but the most of the way to the island, the water is only a three or four feet deep. However, when we got closer to the island, we got caught in a wave "crossfire": the waves from the open ocean would hit this tiny island and wrap around, making a kill-zone of breakers from both left and right as we approached.

The guidebook had warned about this, but it's one thing to read about it and another to be in the middle of it. The waves made it really hard to steer; but at least the water was shallow, there was no danger of falling out of the boat. In fact, in another few paddle strokes, the water got so shallow we just climbed out of the kayak and pulled it to the island beach.

What had looked like nice, soft sand from the water turned out to be smashed up coral; I slipped on the slippery stuff and fell and cut my wrist. But I was happy to be on the ground again!

On the island, a young man with some sort of british accent* helped us carry the kayak out of the water, because I was too exhausted. He said he and his kayaking club members were camping on the island. When we talked about how calm the ocean was on the outbound trip, he warned us that the weather could change very quickly. Unless we were going to stay overnight on the island, we should not linger. So we quickly ate our sandwiches, took some pictures (our camera had nicely survived the repeated dunkings, being sealed inside the "dry bag;" I got some nice pix of a baby bird nesting inside a hollowed out rock), got the British guy to take a couple of pictures of the two of us, and then loaded up and pushed out into the water again.

Coming back from the island was much easier, since the current and wind pushed us towards the shore. Every so often, a wave would sneak up behind us, and we would find ourselves unexpectedly surfing! The only trouble we encountered was running aground over the very shallow part of the sunken island. Some parts were only a foot deep; I saw many tourists walking around only ankle deep in the middle of the ocean.

There is only about a half mile between the sunken island and the shore where the water is deep enough for power boats. On the one hand, this was good, because we did not have to worry about capsizing anymore. But on the other hand, the water eventually got so shallow that we could hardly move. (I think the tide had gone out since we paddled over this stretch going outbound.) This got worse and worse as we got closer to the shore.

After about four hours of constant rowing, interrupted only by the brief rest on Kapapa Island, we finally came back to the pier. We had to struggle to get the kayak up on the car roof. I especialy had a difficult time, and again, some total stranger lifted my end of the boat for me. We managed to secure the kayak (we thought), even though we didn't quite remember everything the store manager had said, and off we went. However, once on the H1 freeway, we noticed the kayak was defenitely shifting to the left. Dafydd told me to pull over, and just then, we heard a loud scrape as the kayak shifted hard left. It turned out we forgot to run the tie-in straps through one side of the kayak! After all this trouble, if we had lost the kayak on the freeway, we would have had to cough up at least $500.

After restrapping the boat right there on the freeway, we got back in the car. By mutual assent, we agreed not to tell the rental-shop manager about our screwup. "But you can blog about it if you want," Dafydd said -- and so I did.

When we got to Go Bananas again, it was 5:30, seven and a half hours after we rented the kayak. The store clerk who examined the kayak found some trivial "damage" on the rudder and immediately began talking about how we might have to replace it -- for $250! Dafydd looked at it and said it didn't look all that damaged to him. It was nothing a quick bend with a wrench wouldn't fix, he said. Dafydd and the clark argued for a while, then the clerk got the store manager, who had to make the final decision. After looking at the rudder, he went inside a shed... and came out with a crescent wrench and bent the bar back into place. No charge.

One last point: just for our future reference, we asked the manager how to get back aboard a kayak when you've capsized. It turned out we were doing it all wrong. It was amazing that we actually managed to pull ourselves aboard the way we did.

When we got back to the hotel, we both noticed that we were covered with scratchs and bruises, abrasions and bites. We were too pumped to notice them before. My muscles got so stiff and painful, it was difficult to walk to a restaurant for dinner.

But it was an adventure... and after it was over, it was really fun in retrospect!

* Dafydd says the guy was South African.

Hatched by Sachi on this day, November 13, 2005, at the time of 5:20 AM

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The following hissed in response by: Dana Pico

It was 28º F here this morning, and you're writing about Kayaking in Hawaii. You really know how to win friends and influence people!

The above hissed in response by: Dana Pico [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 13, 2005 5:30 PM

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