Flight of the Errant Torpedoes

Baja de los Angeles to La Paz

Baja Sea-Kayaking Adventure #4

26 days, 480 miles, Nov 1977 with John and Al

Ray Jardine

1977-10-28Flight of the Errant Torpedoes page 3 of 28

October 28, 1977

We rise at 4:00 am, and by the light of a full moon carry our boats to water's edge. There in semi-darkness we find a mere 3/4-inch surf lapping quietly onto the soft sand. It was one of those stone-quiet Baja early mornings when the sea becomes as flat as the proverbial pancake. Perfect!

The first few times the intrepid kayaker loads his or her boat during a trip of this magnitude is rather like trying to solve a complex puzzle. One straightway discovers the lack of sufficient stowage down in the hold, compared to the load of gear. So packing becomes a trial and error ordeal. The pile of gear is inevitably much too large, but it consists of things that one simply cannot leave behind and venture forth into the unknown without.

Once we have everything loaded, our legs find themselves sharing their private quarters with proofed nylon bags, plastic water bottles and what have you. It feels rather like sitting in a small can of tightly packed mackerel.

Because of the tipsy nature of the kayaks, we find it all but impossible to get into one's boat while it is floating. So we always begin with the boat's stern on the beach and the bow in the water. Then once settled into position, with one's feet in the rudder straps, the ethafoam backrest adjusted comfortably, and the pads under the knees in place, the person can launch his boat by simply pushing with the hands against the sand. And too, proper etiquette says that if someone is ready to launch, and you are not, then you politely give him a little helping shove...Haarrgh!

And so we begin our adventure by heading directly out into open water, heading for the distant point of land. John and Al had done well in our day-and-a-half of practicing, so I think they are now sufficiently competent to safely cut this bay, 4 miles across. I hate to think how far it would be to hug the shoreline, going all the way around.

For the first few minutes all goes well. Then suddenly the ghostly serenity is shattered by a tumultuous racket that sends our hearts reeling. It is only a group of playful porpoise. The encounter amuses me but makes my apprehensive companions all the more nervous; they begin tracking erratic and unpredictable patterns about the face of the ocean. When they get too far away from my boat, I call them back. Then they head in for the attack like errant torpedoes, leaving me fearing for the structural integrity of my own boat.

After a few rounds of this, I holler, "Ok guys, let's stop for a discussion."

"Now listen," I begin, "we've got to stick close together. It's a matter of safety. If anyone flips out here, I want to be nice and close. So as I head straight for that point of land, let's have one of you exactly 10 feet off my starboard beam, and the other 10 feet to port. Ok?"

The reference to the inherent dangers of drowning only seem to make my companions all the more nervous. The two neophytes resume their wildly gyrating courses, ignoring my pleas to remain close. By and by, the futility of our heading across deep water - at such an early stage - begins to dawn on me. For after all, John and Al have very little kayaking experience. Neither of them has ever paddled a fully loaded boat, or paddled in the open sea, far from land. Or paddled in the half-light of a new day, which this still is.

There is nothing for it but to turn around, and return to shore. That done, we begin to hug the shoreline all the way around. Now a capsize this close to shore would be far less serious; the rescue procedure being reduced to the mere act of standing up.

It takes us a whopping six hours to circle the bay and reach that first point on the far side. But I have been giving them a few pointers along the way, and with the hours of practice their technique is improving by leaps and bounds. Paddling efficiently is important and not as easy as it may seem. With hundreds of miles of blue water ahead, one doesn't just go out there and hack at the water. The main difficulty with efficient paddling is that the paddle applies its force markedly off center. Each stroke tends to swivel the boat in the opposite direction, even though the boats and their rudders are designed to minimize this. And brute force only tends to exacerbate the problem. The basic idea is to achieve the maximum forward travel with the minimum waste of energy. This is why the technique must be given a lot of practice.

We are feeling tired from the six hours in the kayaks, and also from the driving, working on gear, and the general mental strain of logistics. So we decide to continue only another few miles around the point, and then to paddle into a large bay where I know of an excellent beach for camping. Along the way I throw out my trolling line and land a nice cabrilla, a sea bass very good for eating.

A nice Cabrilla for dinner

Ashore, I am sewing some adjustments to my spray skirt, while Al, donning mask and fins, commences to wreak havoc with the underwater marine life. He seems to have a piercing aim with his spear gun, and returns to camp with a menagerie of lifeless fish. Unfortunately only one is edible. He is saddened by his wasteful massacre of poisonous fish, but John and I think it is quite funny! And anyway we reason, the waste will be food for other hungry creatures.

Just after dark, we are relaxing each with a cup of steaming hot coffee embellished with a few heaping spoonfuls of powdered milk and a splash of Kahlua. The embers of our campfire occasionally flash brightly as the sizzling cabrilla drips hot oil. The fish smells wonderful and adds to the heady aroma of the burning campfire wood. The night air is warm and still, as we watch an enormous golden moon slowly rising over the empty sea.

With the day's work finished, the evenings around the campfire are a time of relaxation and reflection. Having left all our worldly cares behind, our lives have been reduced to the basics. At least for me, I am living in the present moment with no thoughts for the days ahead or behind. So I am free to enjoy life. Granted, the labors of padding these frail craft for endless hours can create a sense of struggle against the whims of the wind and sea, but also - in a general sense - a profound spirit of adventure. And I know that in the days to come the physical effort will hone our bodies, and we will become much more capable.

It is this sense of adventure that I live for, because it pulls me out of the ordinary and steers me towards the realm of the extraordinary. And I find that much more fun.


This is my fourth Sea-kayaking trip to the Sea of Cortez in as many years. I fell in love with the region on my first trip in 1974, and have been coming down here every year since.

My trip the previous year with a girlfriend was absolutely the best. We paddled 24 days in very trying conditions of mid winter, from San Felipe to Bahia Animas. She had studied marine biology, and we spent hours fossicking through the tide pools, turning over rocks and looking at the rich and fascinating sea life. It was a real eye opener for me. That trip was also the most difficult kayaking trip I have been on - ever - owing to the strong winds and cold temperatures; and was a real tribute to the girlfriend for just hanging in there throughout those many ordeals.

Now this year I am trying to cover new ground, paddling all the way to La Paz. Not for the challenge so much, but simply because I have grown to like doing this so very much. I like the sense of adventure and freedom. I like being around the ocean - in its many moods for better or worse, and paddling a kayak to the distant horizon. I like these evenings around the campfire sitting under the stars. I like the early mornings when I can get up in the dark and pack the boat comfortably in a t-shirt. And always the new day full of adventures.

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