'I was so lucky': Mackay man shares story of survival
I AM usually keen to go for a quick sunset paddle, depending on the tide as to where I go or who is about.
This day the beach at Shoal Point, close to home, nearly high tide, 10knots, intention to paddle out and back, not far, just to keep working on the feel of paddling with bumps on the V1.
I had the canoe, paddle, water and a bailer. Paddle out and I get to my half way mark at One Tree reef, about 2km from launch and turn around, witness the sunset between the rocks, the birds flying on and off the reef, I am enjoying the moment.
Last photo, then I hear a loud crack and I am in the water in the blink of an eye at the choppiest part of the reef. (Expletive) I am in the water, the hull just flops around fills with water in the cockpit. I am grappling at the rig and the hull, treading water...thinking NOW I have a SERIOUS problem.
The paddle has drifted away by now, not worried about that, also the water bottle. The bailer is useless. I am thinking, no matter how many phones I have killed out here, now would be a good time to have one.
My only option was to get to land, preferably Shoal Point beach. I couldn't help thinking about how Maata (my wife) would be when she worked out I wasn't just late dawdling around with the camera, but there was serious situation and how worried she would be.
I tried a number of times to get into the canoe and sit in it to stroke with my hands and arms, but I had no hope what so ever, I was bucked off immediately, just the way the ama was set, the hull tipping to the right side, maybe I was just panicked and angry at myself and didn't slow down and rethink. The sun had dipped away well and truly now. Still light in the sky and the 60% moon was up.
I was kicking along and dragging the canoe with me, pushing then swimming, right by the rocks. Not making much ground. I was not moving much at all. Then... I laid myself flat on the back end of the canoe, and paddled it like a surf board, this worked pretty well!
The rig held, I caught some momentum, "roses" ...well not really, I had to kick then use arms, or single alternating arms. I was making ground though, I headed toward Shoal Point beach, but the chop and wind keep turning me down and using a lot of energy to maintain or get back on course. I fell off a few times, climb back on. I ended up only using one arm and keeping the balance and rig secure with the other, I did not want to have it come apart in the dark.
I changed my target to Little Green Island. (it is privately owned- no trespassing) I have worked on there and know the caretaker, and the owner is our neighbour. Kick, then swim one arm, kick etc...I held on at times with my teeth into the timber Iako, just to rest my arm a moment from the grip on the rig.
My greatest concern was getting to land and notifying someone to say I was safe and get re assurance to Maata and the boys.
Other things I thought about as I was inching to the island were sharks, I saw a sea snake pop up, thoughts dying in the water from just falling off and not coping, but when I really thought about it, those thoughts were not from what would or could happen, but more the preconception of what you hear in movies or what people might say, not a guaranteed risk at all. A risk, yes, but not likely. Once I had that worked out, then it was like Nemo, "just keep going, just keep going" and the island got closer.
I finally got close to the tail end of the island, and knew I'd make it from here, soon I felt the rocks under foot and steadily stood up. Got the canoe and moved onto the higher parts that I knew the tide wouldn't come to for a few days at least. I figured it took me at least an hour to reach land.
It is over 2.1km. Not far at all... when you're paddling a good boat, board, ski, SUP. It's an eternity when you're in trouble.
Should I have ditched the canoe and just swam. Never entered my head...while that thing was floating, I was hanging onto it for all it was worth. I can swim ok, but if I'd taken a wave the wrong way, gulp of seawater, missed a breath...goodnight.
All my 30 plus years of paddling and time on the water before that, the amount of times we had people come unstuck and the frights we had over the years, the rules we insisted we have at the outrigger clubs all culminated to me at that moment that I had done virtually none of what I/we had been pedantic about at the clubs to the point of people being upset at the onerous task of protecting ourselves and others.
I was lucky, so close to shore and yet so ......so so far away.
No matter how skilled, how smart, how knowledgeable, how experienced, one thing out of your control......it's over.
Yes a phone might help, do me a favour though, use your swipe phone in a bag, wet, hopping on one leg under a sprinkler, after you have sprinted 100m and make a call, hopefully it's tied on as well.
An EPIRB or PLB you just flick and activate. Someone's coming. even only 500m off shore. and they're cheaper than a phone.