As I pulled into my in laws place out in East Sooke I could look out and see a wonderful off shore break out in front of Whiffin Spit. A seemingly perfectly straight white curl formed about 200 meters out. A second break appeared closer in.
Previous plans to go east out along the wild East Sooke Park where immediately dropped. This would be a surf day. I'd learned of this elusive surf from my wife's cousins husband. He's a big time surfer out here on Vancouver Island. You're big time when you sell your house in town and builds a home 10 minutes from the local surf Mecca - Jordan River. That's the local surf beach for Victoria. Anyway Guy told me that when the swell and winds where just right you can surf the outside of Whiffin Spit.
The problem is that the outside of the Spit is littered with large boulders that lurk just below the surface. However with Guy's directions and with numerous trips along the shore at low tide I'd developed a pretty good idea of where it would be safe to surf.
I launched and ferry glided across the entrance and was soon approaching the breaking waves. I pulled on my helmet, secured everything off the deck and dropped my skeg about an inch. I'm not the best surfer in the world and I'd been thinking that dropping the skeg on my NDK Explorer might just give me a little extra directional stability. I started on a moderate wave and got a good ride. Then I moved up to the larger off shore break and again got a good ride. The third was the best. I caught the wave just ahead of the green wall and shot off toward shore. A fast stern rudder, pushing on the paddle face kept me running straight, then neutral, then I pulled hard on the paddle and induced the boat to broach just on the top of the second break. The boat swung around and I headed back out. The fourth ride buried the bow right to my body inducing a tad nervous flick to the boat but we road it out and turned for more. Where do those nervous twitches come from?
Alas there seemed to be nothing left. I waited and waited but the only breaks where occurring very close into shore in the soup zone in very shallow water. Time to move on. Back across the entrance to the rock gardens.
The forecast for today was low to moderate swells with winds 10 to 15 knots. We have a weather station on the roof of the house and the winds where West at an 8 knot average. This was the second mildest paddling day on the Strait in the pass month. Perhaps it was the fact there where no high winds, no white caps, and lots of sunshine. What ever it was I made a critical mistake. Just past Company Point I came up on a rock garden that I've paddle through dozens of times. Often in high winds and lots of wind waves. Company Point ends in an islet that is separated from the rest of the point by a narrow cleft in the rock. The cleft is perhaps three meters wide. On certain tides you can paddle through the cleft. Today the stopper in the middle was fully exposed. So I pushed on to what will be a second cleft in the rock. In about one million years.
This cut has a rock face on the left and a series of rocks on the right. The outer rock is usually dry. The inner rocks wash and drain. Two thirds of the way along the wall there is a perfect dog leg to the right that you can escape out. If you miss that exit there is a second right-hander at the end of the cleft where a narrow 40 in crevice leads directly back to the sea.
My mistake on this day was not taking enough time to survey what was happening in front of me and more importantly what was coming up from behind. As I looked in I saw the surface chop, some foamy white water but mostly a nice aqua. I pushed forward with powerful strokes to get my speed up. I was planning a hard paddle support turn to the right to set me up for the dog leg then more power strokes to slip back into the open water. I knew things were changing when my stern started to rise. Too bad for me there was nothing I could do as I was committed. It was turn the boat or terminate the ride by plowing the bow into the rock wall at the end. My turn worked and the boat swung to the right just as that aforementioned moderate swell arrived from the open sea on my right. I was perfectly broached to the breaking swell. I used a draw stroke desperately trying to keep the boat from being pushed past the dog leg. I hung on for a bit and the wave passed. The problem now was the retreating water was pulling me on to the rock that seconds before was on my right. My draw evolved into a skulling stroke. Unfortunately the water was turning to foam. My boat slipped stern first into the hole that is until the next wave crashed in. Tons of water poured into a very confined cauldron. I felt the boat hit the rocks just as I lost all support and went under.
I set up to try to roll into the on coming wave. Swung my paddle. It slammed into a submerged rock. I set up again tried to shorten the extension but then I heard more scrapping followed immediately by a compression on the top of my helmet. The water was draining out of my rock pool and I was on bottom. I bailed.
Leon Somme's words, "never let go of your boat", came to me in slow motion as I popped up with one hand firmly on the boat and the other on my paddle. I flipped the boat upright and got smashed again. Picture yourself in a big washing machine going round and round. Add an 18 foot kayak to the spin cycle. I bounced off the rocks and feared for my dry suit. My inner mind said, "If you rip this suit on the razor clams or barnacles and have to cut the feet out, I"m going to be really pissed." Right! It was time to forget about the equipment so I let go of my paddle. It was on a leash and I'd only hung on to it fearing that left to it's own it'd just come back and slap me about out of spite. I reached out and grasped the rocks. The spinning stopped and I was able to cough and spit out the sea water just before the boat was thrown into me. I don't know when or how but I'd clearly moved to the bow as I had the single line toggle tightly in my grip. Quickly between swells I scaled up about two feet onto a rock shelf dragging the kayak behind me. Before I could take stock another swell washed over the shelf and threw me and the boat toward the rock wall. Luckily I went down into a shallow pool which slowed us enough so the impact against the wall was minimal.
I got up never let go of the boat stuffed the paddle in the cock pit and took a look around.
For my small shelf I looked out over a sea of moderate rollers. They were not the monstrous waves of apocalyptic doom. They were just moderate waves. One after another and another and another. I stood there looking out at the sea with my boat in one hand and my feet braced to absorb the waves as they broke over my shelf. Time to take stock. My feet were dry so I knew there were no holes in my dry suit. My hands were not cut, no blood on my face or ears no pulled muscles. I turned to my boat and decided to empty the cockpit. I tipped it over and let it drain then lifted it to get the last of the water out. It seemed heavy indicating I might have water in the forward hatch, which is leak proof, which meant a possible hole. I decided to deal with that possibility later and turned to the deck. There seemed to be no cracks or damage to the deck so I decided once the swells subsided I'd pop the hatches and have a look inside.
Turning back to the sea I started to time the swells. One one thousand, two one thousand...14 one thousands. Could I throw my boat off the shelf, jump in, fasten the spray deck and paddle out in 14 seconds? I switched to Mississippi's, then Steamboats but it didn't make much difference. I looked to the rock face. Scrambling up would be easy, pulling the boat up with my various ropes would be had but could be done, but to want end. I'd still be on a rock cut off from the point and this was likely the best place to re launch from. Seal launching out when the shelf flooded wasn't and option as I'd be dropping into a foam stack laying over rocks just below the surface. Slamming into them would surely lead to greater hull damage then I'd already inflicted on the boat.
I looked at my watch it was 20 minutes to 12 noon. I looked at my for deck and read the grease pencil message, "High tide at High noon". Would my drying shelf be completely flooded? Or would enough water water pour into the rock garden to change the water dynamics? Would the swell pattern recycle back from moderate to low. It was time to watch the ocean and study.
I love the sea. No matter it's state watching it is easy. The way swells break and spill from blue to green to white is hypnotizing. The slate gray of rollers rising and falling can draw me in. And the sound. Whether it's listening to the trusted sound of waves breaking on a beach when your tucked in tight on shore, or the clatter of rounded stones being played as waves wash back and forth, or the pure fury of a wind storm over deep waters, or that distinctive sound water makes in confined races when the current is running hard and fast, all of it is music, a symphony of nature. It was no different on the shelf.
Gradually I began to see a pattern in the swells. I figured I'd be able to slide the boat off the shelf and step in then paddle out until I could safely put the spray deck back on. I watched through the first then second calm period during the third I checked the forward and aft hatches. They were dry. I reasoned the boat felt heavy simply because of the after affects of the adrenaline that had coursed through me.
At noon the largest set of waves washed over the shelf re flooding my cockpit. I settled down to wait some more. Sometime after 12 PM I slipped the kayak down the rocks stepped in and dropped my but into the seat. I pulled my right foot in and paddled out just as if I'd launched off a dock. I let out a whoop and a yell and headed out towards Possession Point. I checked out the slot into the phony water treatment plant where Michael Jackson and I landed last week. It was impossible to see the sand at the end of the slot so I decided to pass and headed for a small beach further along. I knew the waves would be dumping on the beach. But I also know I need to work out strategies for landing on just such a beach. I paddled up on the back of the waves. Studied the beach choose the spot where I thought getting in would be the easiest.
Winslow Homer knew a thing or two about waves! You can see the real thing in New York at the MET.
Then on a whim I decided to pull the spray deck so I could jump out and run up the beach as soon as I hit the stones. Immediately the cockpit was swamped by a rebound wave off a wall to my left. I was tunneling in on the beach and had forgotten about the wall. The kayak slewed sideways, slowed on the back of the wave I chosen to come in on and was rolled up by the wave behind me. My high brace was futile. The landing was less then eloquent. I pulled myself and the boat up well beyond the high tide point and did an inventory check of all my equipment. My VHF, binoculars, camera, paddles, hatches, deck and hull all seemed fine. Pulled out lunch. While sitting there I said to my self your not having a very good day. Then laughed as I realized this was my best day paddling in the previous months. I was out here on the edge of the world doing the things I have trained and dreamed of doing. Pushing myself and my limits.
Thankfully I was alone. Partners would have grown impatient, tried to force a rescue or some ill conceived plan upon the situation. Discussions would have followed chatter, chatter, chatter. Self reliance beats all that noise. Oh and self reliance on flat calm water doesn't count.
I decided to enjoy the sun rest and had a nice nap. Shot some photos and re launched. I paddled out to the end of Possession point. Amazingly I was able to surf the rebound waves off the wall back along the tops of the incoming swell. I was getting long rides on the rebound. But I took a pass on surfing between the rock just off the end and the point itself. I turned for home. On the way back I stopped and took some photos of my shelf. I watched for some time figuring out how to paddle back in and reverse out the way I'd entered earlier. Then I worked out and alternative approach. Essentially rushing into a drying rock shelf and timing the arrival to coincide with the incoming swell so the bow would rise over the shelf and glide on out the other side. I worked these plans out then turned around and by passed the entire rock garden.
This blow hole makes a wonderful bass boom when the waves compress the air inside until it blows.
Back in the entrance I played in the standing wave at the end of Whiffin Spit. Did a couple of rolls, skulled left and right, did a reentry and roll, pumped out, followed up with right and left high braces then headed for home. When I pulled the kayak up and washed it down with fresh water I discovered a one inch gel coat chip on the left aft side right at the aft bulkhead. I'll fix it tomorrow.