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Saturday, July 26, 2008

"Redcliff Head"

I probably will never forget this name after today...."Redcliff Hd". Redcliff head is about 4 and a 1/4 nautical Miles from the entrance of St. John's harbor, due north. It was about 23-26 degrees when we put in at Quidi Vidi today a most spectacular weather day for paddling on the ocean. The four of us were delighted to be there and hopeful anticipation of finding whales today was thick with crisp strokes.

Low tide gave us ample opportunity for some rock hoping and some cliff hugging which along this stretch of coastline on most days fishermen say can be treacherous. Today though the kayaking gods were watching over us and particularly me. I believe I saw the largest whale of my life today, a Fin Whale, as we followed the sound of the blow we could see the monstrous shape glide effortlessly though the water as it slightly broached and dove again and it seemed like you were watching the body for minutes, that's how long it was but in reality it was merely seconds. Huge!! We saw another huge whale of some sort and were even speculating that it might have been a Blue Whale totally unbelievable paddling near these humongous creatures. We made Robin Hood Bay,Sugar loaf Head, Logy Bay(Saw Fin Whale here)the headed for Redcliff Head. As we neared you could see that there was an arch that cut through under Redcliff as you could see light shine through from the other side even from the substantial distance we were at now. Stopped for a cliff bar and some water as I was getting hot from the sun and our moderate pace. Enjoying every minute of it.

When we approached the arch and from the outside it sure looked innocuous enough and one of our group went on to investigate with me of course following fairly close behind. I could see waves coming from the other side but the entrance and exit looked passable and I believe they are under the right circumstances. As I shot a few pictures I realized that I was rising substantially about 1/4 of the way in which must have been about 15-20 yards.I could see that Alex ahead of me was well navigating thru but I could tell it wasn't a clear run. I didn't hear him either when he yelled not to follow. By this time I had just finished tucking the camera away when I saw this huge wave coming at me as I readied to brace I could feel myself being lifted up but the arch ceiling was high so I felt a bit of temporary relief. When that wave passed I felt my stern being lifted slightly and I began to surf in semi darkness and as I picked up speed employing a left stern rudder I could see uncovered rocks in the middle of the arch now exposed so I dug in with a firmer rudder and felt the boat respond and I altered left and was picking up speed even more and narrowly missed the rocks and was instantly gratified and felt good about my rudder when I looked behind and saw this huge wave right behind me and when I turned forward again I was headed straight for the right side of the arch wall now a little more than half way in through the arch under Redcliff Head. I hit the wall and as the wave beneath me started to rise it scrapped me against the wall of the arch tipping my boat to the left and then the wave dumped and over I went. By now Alex had made it through and may or may not have know at that point that I was in side the arch at this time. Slightly before the wave crashed the side of the arch had tipped me over. I felt water crashing all around me, rolled up then over again, I tried a pallata roll this time and the instant my head was above the water I saw a wave coming from the other direction my paddle separated and over again and now confused underwater I had to bail. As the waves passed and I had a brief lull I hung on to my boat my half paddle and tried quickly to assess my situation, which wasn't pretty in the half dark and try to see how the waves were coming time they were just coming from both directions, I never even thought of a re enter and roll, only had half a blade at any rate, because of the waves coming constantly from both directions I didn't even have time to put my spare paddle together. I didn't want to loose it in the quick confusion and have nothing. Because it was still low tide I was able to get periodic footing on some of the rocks there but the ensuing waves would flush me off quickly, paddle float reentry would have just seen me slam more into the arch walls. The cockpit was totally full of water and wouldn't stay righted at this point. It was me in the water with my boat and I realised I had to kick my way towards the entrance in between brief lulls and hope that one of the surges would flush me out to more stable water. By now Alex and Neil were deciding what to do. I tried with all my strength to keep the kayak in the center of the arch and kick, kick, kick to the entrance. I was having some degree of success but tiring quickly as my semi-dry suit was now full with water. My legs felt like metal poles as I tried to direct my boat from the stern forward. In retrospect they may have even helped with the weight in them to keep me in a straighter line heading out.Neil Came in helped me in the boat but with only half a blade and now extremely tired and with cold hands and a cockpit full of water, another wave ...I went back over. Strangely enough at that moment we realised the safest place was out of the boat. Neil hooked on to the bow I went to the stern again and kicked with what energy I had left and we made it to the arch entrance under Redcliff head. I hiked above these cliffs last year and when I looked down I remember saying how steep they were and how rough the water must be down there, little did I think I would be swallowed by the damn think I was standing on at that time. So much for irony.

I got back in my boat with Neil's help of course. We first drained it using a T-rescue. I put the spare paddle together and paddled out towards further safety. The spray skirt had been difficult to attach with cold hands but I got it on , got further out and pumped out the boat some more then headed on our way somewhat shaken to say the least and whales still popping up in the distance.

We paddled to Torbay Point and when we neared the wind was just howling and I was still a little drained but as I paddled round the head after Alex we were lambasted by high winds and wind waves blowing southwesterly to the right beam as we headed into Outer Cove our take out. The winds were about25 knots and confused around us and as I heard Neil yell ,"paddle Stan" I dug in and never looked back until I hit the beach some twenty -thirty minutes later. I enjoyed the paddle in but I was dead, literally dead tired when I stepped out of my kayak .....laid on my back and looked up at the blue sky and felt the warm winds blow over my body. I helped the others land and we loaded up, Alex and I went for an iced cappuccino at Tim Horton's and then went on to kid's day to help out with some kayaking being done on the pond. I learned a lot, got a sore rib, broken pride because of failed rolls and such and because I had to put other people in a daring rescue situation. Neil is a kayaking instructor and I was lucky to have his skill to get me out. Alex retrieved my other half of my Ikelos paddle which flushed out and I still don't know how or why it came apart. However I suspect when I was trying a Pallata roll I might have grabbed the middle of the paddle and pushed on the button and released the paddle parts.I continue to be grateful.


Michael said...

You're a lucky man, Stan! Thankfully you were paddling with skilled friends who knew what to do when the problem occurred. A lesson for us all!

Stan Mac Kenzie said...

You are right Michael. I am lucky and fortunate enough to paddle with very skilled people. Sometimes pushing the envelope comes with a certain degree of risk. Most people would have avoided that arch I believe, me too really if I'd known what was inside, but then again I like to challenge myself but it should never be at the risk of others.


Brian Newhook said...

Good on you Stan for keeping a cool head the entire time, I doubt if I would have been able to do the same.

Stan Mac Kenzie said...

Thanks Brian it sure was good to get back out I know that.