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High seas adventures, now that was stupid!

March 26, 2011

March 24, Fernandina Beach

The night was incredibly windy. I woke up and took off for the inlet thinking that it would be much faster than going through the meandering intracoastal. The wind was from the west at 15 miles per hour, gusting at 25 to 35. It was windy but I figured it would be fine since I could follow the coast really closely and a west wind usually makes the water really flat. Or so I thought.

The inlet has a breakwater that extends an extra mile and a half at least. I did not expect this at all. I had never seen such a monster. By the time I got to the end of the inlet it was positively scary but I pushed on. It took me quite a while to do my diagonal back to the beach. The gusts where bringing my kayak to a stall. It appears that past 25 miles per hours the kayak cannot go into the wind at all. Actually, it does not go very fast in any directions come to think of it. The reason is that after a certain point the mast bends a lot and starts to wobble. My theory is that this reduces the sail’s efficiency.

I almost capsized once. The outrigger must have gone underwater a good two feet and a half. I was also taking a lot of water. I bailed water out of my hull as often as I could. Once I got close to the beach the wind was just as fierce but the waves were small.

All would have worked out just fine if it hadn’t been for the breakwater in front of Fernandina’s inlet. That thing extended even farther than the one I had come out of some 20 miles before. Now the wind was really, I mean really nasty. It was a steady 25 with gusts that were pushing spray all over the place. If I got too close to the beach I got sandblasted.

I really thought about not going around the inlet in these conditions but I looked at the tide and saw I had maybe 30 minutes to get around it. I was now or in six hours in the dark so I went. Some of you will think that  I was crazy to go out into this sort of weather but I have to say that I do have a lot of experience doing things that make most people uneasy. I knew the sort of trouble I was potentially getting into. I’m not fearless at all but I have accumulated enough rough seas experience to go into some scary stuff without generating too much excitement.

With that back wind, I made it two miles out in mere minutes. The ocean went from totally flat to scary in about 500 meters. The last part of the rock jetty was submerged so it was even farther than I had thought. I went around the light and tried my best to go into the inlet with the wind, the waves and the current against me. the current would have been manageable in normal circumstances. I had another 30 minutes before it would start to rip.

I pedaled with all my might and tacked as close as I could but I was losing ground, fast. It was not one of my finest moments. I had to get back on the other side and somehow find a way to make it back to the beach. This far out the wind was a good 35 miles per hour in my face with gusts that I thought would tare my boat apart. This was more than I had bargained for and I was very aware of my predicament.

I pedaled with the energy of the doomed. The sail was useless in that sort of wind. I was looking for any sign that I was making progress and not slowly drifting out to sea. My only indication that I was not going backward was that I could steer. I plunged into every wave and my muscles burned like hell. I prayed for no breakage. If my drive or my rudder broke I was done for. I could not anchor since the bottom was sand and besides my anchor was out of reach in my back hatch. Being taken out to sea would have meant sailing in the storm all night to get back to the beach. I could have sailed north towards Georgia but it would have been the hardest night in my life.

It took half an hour before I could see people on the beach. I had to go south since my trampoline was menacing to flip me over. I did not want to take time to roll it. Fortunately I only had one trampoline on the left side. The gusts were just unbelievable. I could barely see anything in the spray but I was making progress even if it was slow. Just as long as nothing broke and I continued getting small pauses between gusts I knew I would make it. Basically, during the gust I pedaled as hard as I could to stay in place and whenever the wind died down to lets say a comfortable 35 miles per hours, I tried to gain some ground. I lost most of my extra calories during that battle. The other calories were spent hauling my kayak piece by piece over the dunes and inlet.

That was my last bit of sailing in Florida. Everything forth is in Georgia.


  1. All I can say is WOW. Now you have some “experience” under your belt. One of those times people would pay to have it but not have to deal with it. I think we all need to get to that point to really know what we’re made of. I’ve been there. Nice going and thanks for describing it.

  2. Ah ah, unfortunately I’m sure I’ll gain even more experience as I go 😉

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