Paddling on the Brink
San Felipe to Bahia Animas
Baja Sea-Kayaking Adventure #3
24 days, the Sea of Cortez with Linda, Dec 1976
DAY 23, January 11
We awake before first light and find the seas fairly calm. At least calm enough to make for what looks to be desperate but barely passable paddling. We load up and set off into the rising sun. The sea picks up with each stroke, and a scant 15 minutes later we are paddling in a frothy inferno. Powerfully breaking seas suggest the day will be another stormy one. But we have reached our Waterloo. We no longer have enough water to dawdle. Either we continue ahead, paddling through the rough seas and making some real coastal mileage, or we retreat.So we set our resolve and paddle desperately ahead through the flung spume. The heavy onshore wind dumps the seas over our freeboards, and breaking waves are turning and tossing us all over the chaotic face of the sea. Suddenly a rogue wave looms high overhead and turns white. Nearly capsized, we are swung into a nest of breakers. We no longer have a choice. If we do not power shoreward with all our might, then we might be quickly drowned.
The kayak skids into the sand and we haul ourselves soaked from the boat and into the cold wind. After pulling the craft free of the surf, we find shelter from the wind in the lee of some large dunes. We drag out some food and rest awhile, and discuss the fate of our journey. We are growing weary of the indescribable difficulties of living and working in this unnerving, incessant wind. No doubt the flu has weakened me enormously. So it is here that with the greatest reluctance we decide to repack our loads for a portage back across the immense tidal flat, and try to backtrack to the previous village before our water supply runs out.
I load the "white pig," my backpack, and Linda makes herself a pack out of a large duffel bag. We load nearly all our gear in one ponderous go, and carry it three miles back along the beach. Two hours later we have returned for the kayak. With a long cord attached to each end of the empty boat, we wade a foot or two of water, lining the boat through the water while the wind and waves yank and jerk at it constantly. Eventually we reach a rocky shoreline where it is no longer possible to tow the boat. I put to sea and Linda follows along the shore. Although the swells are enormous they are not breaking, and the small craft rides easily over every one. Her bow merely slaps down after each wave. Granted, it is a major effort to gain headway in the wind, but the problems don't really get serious until I round one of the points and catch the brunt of the wind sideways instead of straight on. The swell is four, occasionally five feet, and the surf is absolutely hammering the nearby shore. It is all I can do to keep away from the surf, and this is by paddling on the left side only. I expend most of my energy just keeping off the shore, and in so doing I make agonizingly slow progress. I reach a section of sand and call to Linda to come drag the boat out of the surf. Just as I quit paddling a wave picks up the boat and lurches it onto the beach. Wham! I am suddenly ashore. We backtrack to retrieve the packs, then return to make a camp in the lee of a dune. The wind is so fierce that we are forced to construct a fireplace from rocks. We eat a luxurious dinner out of cans and soak up the heat of the campfire. Today has been the roughest 3.5 miles in my memory.
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1977 Baja4 John Al