Paddling on the Brink

San Felipe to Bahia Animas

Baja Sea-Kayaking Adventure #3

24 days, the Sea of Cortez with Linda, Dec 1976

Ray Jardine

page 4 of 22

DAY 3, December 22

In the fading darkness of early dawn we hustle the gear down to water's edge. The sea has fallen fairly calm but the tide is receding at an alarming rate. Only a small pool in the tidal flats remains before us, with only a shallow connecting waterway from that to the open sea. Soon the falling tide will cut off our escape, leaving us pondering the great expanse of intervening tidal flat. Hurriedly we pack the boat. And as an afterthought we assemble the sail rigging, which we have not yet tried.

Shoving off, we deploy the billowing orange sail, sewn from our camping groundsheet. Suddenly the boat responds to what seems like a primitive instinct. She comes to life as a sailing vessel. Her motion is much different, almost to the point of nobility. Responding to the helm, she makes her way through the shallow outlet and heads for open water.

The coast begins sliding by, slowly but effortlessly. Riding on the wind is exhilarating, but soon the lack of effort robs us of metabolic warmth. My bare and wet feet are fitted into the rudder straps and they soon loose sensation. We cover ourselves with anything within reach to help ward off the chill of dawn. Having grown accustomed to the steady pace of paddling, we find that the boat's speed undulates undesirably at the whims of the unsteady breeze. Sometimes we move faster than we could paddle, but more often we move much slower. Yet compelled by the novelty of sailing, we keep it up.

As we navigate through shallow channels of the ever broadening tidal flat, which by now reaches out half a mile, a large sand bar begins to take form seaward of us, to our left. We sail on, but eventually we see someone walking on what must be dry ground in the distance far ahead. That means we are heading into a blind alley! We swing the boat around, douse the sail, and paddle furiously back along the sandbar, which now threatens to trap us. The water becomes so shallow that our paddle blades begin scraping bottom. We step out, and with a length of cord I pull the sluggish craft as fast as I can drag it through the water, with Linda hurrying at my side. Being trapped here would leave us stranded in the mud a long ways from shore.

Forty-five minutes of effort brings us to the northern end of the spit. We are glad to have gained access to the open sea, even though the wind driven waves have risen. We stow the sailing rig and snap on the spray deck, which streamlines the boat and helps keep the waves out of the cockpit.

The sea is rough but the shore is inaccessible. We can't fathom the prospects of lugging the boat and the gear all the way across the vast tidal flat, while keeping ahead of the advancing surf. So we have little choice but to press on.

Further along we paddle into shoal water and suddenly find ourselves embroiled in frightful surf. I jam the rudder to seaward and the kayak stabs into a wall of water. Cold brine crashes into our faces, but we manage to remain upright and afloat. Composure regained, we power seaward. Another wave rises for the attack, and the boat shudders as it takes on more water. By the time the third wave hits we are somewhat less distraught, and soon we reach deeper water where the swells, though still intimidating, are not breaking.

Clear of the surf, we turn southward again and after wrestling heavy seas for another hour we get past the tidal zone where we now can land ashore. But still we are far out at sea, and between us and land is a zone of frothing surf. Linda's uncanny eyes for quieter water guides us in toward shore. "Left... left... now straight... " I can't see that much difference, but the waves crashing on either side suggest that Linda can. Landing ashore feels like returning to earth after a long space voyage.

Searching for a wind protected campsite, we finally locate a suitable place among a few sand dunes a ways farther south. I return to the kayak and drag it through shoal water along the shore. In the deeper sections I sit on the bow and straddle it with my legs, and paddle for shallow water.

Pulling the boat free of sea, we are wet, cold, and deeply fatigued. But the sheltering dunes deflect the wind very suitably. So after lugging the gear and boat to the dune camp, we change into dry clothes, eat a few handfuls of gorp, and go to sleep in the wonderful warmth of the sun.

The dune camp

Awakening a few hours later, we find that we had been discovered. An old bedraggled pelican, apparently no longer able to fly, had adopted us as its bodyguards. It keeps fairly close to us, we imagine for safety against prowling coyotes.

That evening around the campfire we reflect on the trip. At the end of our fourth day, we are now just south of Nuevo Mazatlan. Two years ago on a similar trip in single kayaks, my friends and I had arrived at nearly this same spot after the first day's paddling from San Felipe. For Linda and me now, the tides are exposing the mud flats during the quieter morning hours, and we are experiencing heavy winds and seas which are reducing our progress greatly. But we've had a warm, restful afternoon; the evening is beautiful and we're looking forward to a good day tomorrow.

The story has 22 pages. This is page 4.
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