I love the ocean. This is perhaps not such an unusual sentiment coming from most people – particularly from a Newfoundlander – but for me the unusual thing is that my love of the ocean co-exists with something akin to terror. The romantic side of me plays with the idea that in a past life I was a sailor who drowned in a horrific storm. The more practical side of me says it is most certainly due to my father who, when the teenage daughter of our neighbor tragically died chasing waves at Cape Spear, decided to instill in his small children the very real idea that waves are big balls of certain death.
Nevertheless, when I found myself in Malaysia being propositioned with sea kayaking around the Perhentian Islands I immediately said yes. The German and his siblings were diving that day, and so it was only myself and Andreas left above water. The day before we had been snorkeling with a group and it had been lovely. Even I, a member of the terrified-to-breathe-under water club had found the experience entirely pleasant. So we trooped down to the beach to the rental shop.
It was a little disconcerting that the people renting us our sea kayak didn’t ask us whether we actually knew how to use it. It was even more disconcerting that they didn’t offer us safety vests. Nevertheless, we grabbed some safety vests anyway (Andreas is Swiss and I’m a wiener) and pushed our rather battered looking vessel into the water. The sea seemed to be much choppier than the day before, but there were no “waves.” Even I was willing to hop into our boat and paddle away.
Reality: to ignore, or not to ignore?
Once we made it out of the harbor however my joy diminished a little, and I remembered that I was supposed to be terrified. You see, pleasant though it is to ignore reality, the troubling fact is that eventually reality refuses to let you ignore it any more. This has happened to me before: for instance, in Japan, when I jumped on the Sky Dream Fukuoka: a ferris wheel 390 feet high. Ignoring my fear of heights in that situation only worked up to a point (about 50 feet, perhaps), and eventually I found myself curled up in a little whimpering ball of fear on the floor. This time my visions of death were much more vivid, especially when the waves began to break over the boat. I wasn’t even sure whether waves are supposed to break over a boat, but I did know that the sea did not look like this the day before. Or even earlier, from the shelter of the harbor. I was swimming the day before and there was no way I would go swimming in what we were now experiencing.
As fear started to close down my throat I decided to play it “cool” and suggest to Andreas that we head towards the beach where we had finished our snorkel tour. It was within sight – provided of course that we were not dashed to pieces on the rocks surrounding it en route. But although sinking was all I could think about, Andreas wanted to go even further.
Andreas, infuriatingly, did not appear to suffer from wieneritis.
I played the “I am cool” game for about 5 more minutes, and when the next wave lifted us a little too high for my liking I dropped all pretense at being a semi-normal human being and started shrieking that we had to go for the beach – NOW. Fortunately, by this point some of the waves had flooded Andreas’s seat, and he decided that maybe heading to shore was not such a bad idea. The kayak did look a little old after all.
We aimed for the beach’s dead center, as we felt it would be infinitely preferable to hit sand rather than to hit the jagged boulders we knew surrounded the edges of the beach. Fortunately, this time the ocean decided it was on our side, and the waves practically flung us onto the beach. Good news: we were alive! The bad news is that as we scrambled out of the kayak the next wave sunk the boat.
Stuck on a desert island
This, we thought, was not such an irreversible state of affairs. We could at least still SEE the boat, after all. It was merely…submerged.
And so commenced an hour of pushing, pulling, and digging. Eventually we managed to use a piece of bamboo that was lying on the beach to help us get the leverage to drag the boat out of the water.
During this entire time, even though this was the time of day the snorkelers would normally be showing up in huge hordes, only one boat appeared in the surrounding waters. And instead of releasing a horde of backpackers onto the beach and into the sea, they bobbed there for about 10 minutes before giving up and returning. Clearly they were wiser (more wienery?) than us. The gentle harbor was no more, and nobody seemed to particularly care that we were obviously in trouble.
But even without the help of the people who didn’t show up, we finally freed our kayak from its water-logged state and collapsed in exhaustion on the beach. Our shipwreck was salvaged. Now there only remained one problem. How (insert expletive of your choice) were we going to get back?
Maybe he was just happy that I was bellowing in sufficient distress for the both of us.
We played with this question for about another hour, the feeling in our stomachs not a comfortable one. I had images of waves sinking us before we left, while the Swiss guy commented that he was amazed they’d let us take the kayak out at all (it gave us temporary solace to think this whole affair was their fault, and not ours. Recall the importance of ignoring reality.). Either way, we needed to go back.
It turned out that getting out was easier than we had thought. My visions of being sunk were all for naught! We made it into the kayak and we made it out of the harbor to the open sea. Andreas was now of the same mind as myself: our mission was to get back as quickly and safely as possible. I am pretty sure he would have preferred that we did it without my shrieks of impending doom every time we were hit by a wave (which was about every 10 seconds), but he suffered through it stoically. Maybe he was just happy that I was bellowing in sufficient distress for the both of us.
When we’d returned safely to our point of origin and its considerably less evil harbor (without sinking our boat this time), I did the dance of the saved. There was one bright spot: if the Germans came back boasting they’d seen a shipwreck on their dive that day, we’d be able to boast that we’d been shipwrecked first-hand. In this business, one-upmanship is everything.
However, from now on I stick to motorcycling.