Stranded on an isolated, deserted beach, with my sit-inside touring kayak flooded, I had to think fast. The deafening, pounding surf and the powerful drag of the ebb kept sucking the kayak back into the sea. Crashing waves hurled in sand and stones, it was too heavy for me to move. What to do? The white stony beach and sheer towering cape left me with no protection from the searing rays of the sun. Exhausted, and with little water, I needed help from within.
I was woken by the dampness in the air. It was 6am. As the temperatures had been over 38°C this was a promising change. Or was it? In an effort to get myself back into shape for sailing, I had cleared my morning to take a long paddle in my touring kayak. I have been in training for a couple of weeks gradually extending my target destination.
My ultimate objective was to complete the tour of the massive Cape Aspro and 8 miles of sheer, white faced headland towering around 850ft beyond, but not today. It was perfect for bird life with the smaller species nesting in the nooks and crannies, enquiring and timid calling to me from a distance whilst the larger species circled over head curious yet making it quite clear to me this was their domain. Now I was familiar, I was greeted by elegant cormorants, curious egrets and massive seagulls, Elenora’s Falcons and other migrating species I had not identified. The tall cliff face was their territory, their home. They realized I would do them no harm, I was accepted and welcomed. The 10 minute paddle out of Pissouri Bay took me into another world.
I was disappointed. There was a heavy mist in the valley and a sea fret building. These can be very dangerous as the moisture brings a heavy veil like mist which can sit hovering over the water or merging with it creating an eerie void. The dampness is delicious on the skin but any water activities are dangerous. Whilst in or on the water, if you lose the sight of land the thick haze will leave you disorientated and confused. I learnt this lesson a few years ago having ignored the signs and being determined to have my early morning swim I set out, powering away but I was soon enveloped. Sinister and silent, it muffled sounds, even the lapping of the waves and seems to slow down the passage of time. I realized my mistake and clung on to a marker buoy. We became good buddies as I was there for some time until the mist cleared.
My home sits on the top of Pissouri Hill perched at 940ft, overlooking the winding valley leading down to the sea. I am close enough to monitor the sea conditions in the Pissouri Bay and beyond. I waited and watched, impatient. Time was slipping by. Fifteen minutes later the mist began to clear, I gathered my essentials together.
As I reached the beach the mist cleared completely. The waves were beginning to pick up a rhythm as the wavelet’s chased each other across the bay. It was ideal. Not too hot as the dampness was still in the air, yet with a steady movement of water and wind. It was 7.30am as I packed my kayak with an extra T-Shirt for sun protection and a lovely, long wispy scarf with I could wrap around my head and neck, even lower face and fine enough to stay put under my peaked cap. Most important of all was my stock of water. As time was short I decided to leave one bottle under the catamaran, which protects my kayak and stashed two 500ml bottles in the kayak.
On a Roll
At this time of the year, mid-summer, the waves are rolling into the bay towards me giving something me to dig into, creating a wonderful workout. As I head out of the bay nothing is stirring, I breath in the cool intoxicating air and feel invincible. As I round the corner at the first cape, a water playground awaits. There are heaps of submerged boulders and rock slabs which have fallen from the cliff. As the waves roll in and over they create a kayaker’s dream, white water. Paddling behind them as the white water crashes and peaks over the rocks I can surf with the gathering waves which have paused, built and gathered into rollers. Reluctantly I pass them by today.
I paddle stretching cat like, maximizing each pull, push paddle stroke loosing myself in the rhythm, knowing my journey home with be a blissful transport over the surfing, cresting waves which when the timing is right and my balance is just so, becomes one long roller coaster.
Supported by the cool breeze, having built up a rhythm, I travel a much greater distance than I imagined I would. Everything is quiet, the birds are still enjoying the coolness as they cling to their nest on the cliff side. I unwind my scarf, unnecessary, it dances unfettered around my shoulders. Delightfully cool wafts of breeze come off the water a pure treat as the sun caresses my skin, shimmering through the damp salty air. Still I paddle on.
Pausing for a moment I take stock. I am very close to a cove I have passed before. The waters, turquoise blue, are lagoon like with waves splashing playfully onto the beach. Aware that beaching and launching a kayak are the most dangerous moments I stood off, tempted. Paddling back and forth, I look at the foreshore checking the rhythm and velocity of the waves. It is so tantalizing. I have enough time to beach, have a look around and launch again. One of the Elenora Falcons shot by screeching, waking me up from my trance but the ebb and flow of the waves and the beauty of the area got the better of me.
I turned the kayak around so I could drive her rear end up onto the beach and leap out using my paddle for balance. I was part way through my maneuver, half in and half out of the kayak when and enormous wave crashed in, filled the kayak and threw me to one side, followed by another and another. Hanging onto the kayak I was dragged knee deep through the water scraping my arms and legs on the stones. The raging surf hurled me back and forth angry that I would not release its prize. As the next huge wave crashed in I released and let the roaring wave drag the kayak up the beach. Petulant, it hurled everything out of the kayak, my seat, water, scarf and tee-shirt were floating off in different directions. I plunged in chest deep to grasp my water bottles, then my seat. In desperation I flung my scarf and tee-shirt onto the beach, only to see them drifting off with the next wave.
Fight for Survival
The beached kayak was still being thrown around by the incoming waves. Filled to the gunnels it was impossible for me to move her. My chest hurt as my heart pounded, pumping adrenaline. Frantic I tried dragging, pulling and pushing but could not get her away from the pounding waves. Standing on the beach I clung on to the cockpit staggering back and forth she was driven too and fro, up the beach then sucked back with the surf, both of us sliding and skittering over the pebbles. Everything around me was moving at a crashing, furious pace, there was hardly a heartbeat between each pounding wave. My whole body ached with the effort but I hung on. Without my kayak I was marooned on a beach which truly was deserted. The only access from the land was a long and dangerous scramble and climb. I had tried to scramble down to the beach years before but gave up at the pencil slim ridge which fell away sheer on either side.
Exhausted, with one last effort, as the sea pushed her up towards me, I pushed back with all my strength using the waves momentum to roll and capsize. I heard and felt a deep sickly grind. My head span as a red hot tearing pain shot through my back. My knees buckled, I sat down heavily on the kayak, my legs either side of the hull. My head span but I tried to focus. I desperately needed to rest. Sitting on the hull I slithered up as close to the cockpit as I could. Grabbing a long thin rock I leaned across the hull, unable to stand, I jammed the stone like a dagger into the pebble beach against the seaward side of the kayak hull, Reaching out I found another and another stabbing at the beach with my urgency. The raging surf still pushed her further up the beach but could not drag her down past the rocky palisade. As the sea pushed her up, I moved the stones until inch by inch, the power of the surf was helping me move her back, away from the shore line. The waves began to calm and lose their ferocity. I could move her no further but I knew that for now the greedy surf had lost its prize.
Desperate to rest I looked around me. The sheer rock was an aggregate of limestone, mud and coagulated stone, great slabs lay scattered on this very narrow point where the cliffs and the sea met. I was beyond exhausted. With my new found stillness I felt faint with pain. It was almost 11am, one small overhang offered a little shade. I had to trust and accept this simple gift. By mid day the temperature would be 40°C. How would I fare without shade? Too overwhelmed, I simply pushed the thought away.
With the pounding sea quietening my mind began to chatter. I had a client coming to my home office at 11am. Hopefully she would wonder where I was, but would she act. My partner would be back from tennis at noon. We usually lunch together at 1pm. Would he question my absence or assume I was out lunching with my client. My next client was 3.30pm. hopefully by then alarms would start to ring.
As I sat in my shady nook I looked around me. I was at the edge of the cove, to the right of me the beach spread out. The bleached white stones and pebbles threw off a fierce, white burning heat intensified by the white rock face. The pebbly beach was on three levels. The lower level, the shoreline was a mixture of sand and pebbles but predominately rounded pebbles of varying sizes. No wonder the kayak felt as if it was slipping and sliding on ball bearings. About 3ft back stood a steep sheer step to the next level about 5ft above the beach. The debris of sun bleached flotsam and jetsam was scattered on this shelf. From where I sat I could see plastic containers, a 5 gallon fuel container, a couple of old, mismatched shoes, plastic bags of varying hues and small pieces of driftwood. Set back another 4ft, closer to the cliff wall was the next sheer and higher step possibly 6ft from the shelf below. This was littered with large chunks of driftwood, bleached and of varying thicknesses. There were thin planks with nails, rotted trees, great thick sleeper sized lengths long and short lying around as if flung there by a massive tantrum. I trembled as I realized how powerful the sea must get at this spot. What I had experienced was nothing compared to the force which could fling these heavy weights more than 10ft high and at least 12ft from the shoreline.
The pain in my back was excruciating, the heat was so intense. I tried a short walk to assess the damage but slipped and slid on the stones and pebbles. I needed to settle my mind. I settled in my nook and began to breath in deeply to the count of 5 and out to the count of 5. I focused on my heart letting go of the pain as I breathed out and visualizing healing and well-being as I breathed in. I felt my mind and physical body begin to shift. Instead of pulling and screaming at each other they were mellowing, synchronizing. I kept bringing my attention to the soles of my feet, grounding myself. I felt the sand between my toes. Keeping myself present, in the moment was essential. This was no time to drift off. I focused on the inner ease within. A place where I can be: without pain, without conflict, without exhaustion, without judgement. With my eyes closed I kept myself in this space of inner stillness, allowing my mind and heart to work together, to create harmony in my system. This is the HeartMath Technique which I have used for many years with students who have been struggling with self esteem, poor images of themselves as learners or victims of social isolation and bullying. 6 months earlier whilst following an advanced HeartMath Training I realized just how powerful this process can be for healing the body and the mind. Through accessing the tools we have within ourselves, we can self heal. I was certainly going to need all the help I could muster to get myself out of this situation.
As I opened my eyes I felt the heat of the sun scorching my toes. Within minutes there would be no more shade. I stumbled to the beach and clambered onto the first shelf with the stones slipping and sliding around me. I gritted my teeth against the pain and dug my toes in. I picked up the fuel container and threw it down towards the kayak below, the pain shot up my back aggravated by the slightest twist. Scrambling faster on my hands and knees I picked up an old tahini tub and a large yogurt carton and flung them to the beach below. I allowed my feet to release their grip, the stones loosened and I let myself slide down. As I sat across the hull of the kayak once more, I was horrified to see it was not only filled with water but masses of sand and stones too.
The fuel container soaked up the water greedily, it filled, I emptied 5 breaths in and 5 breaths out, my breath sustaining each moment of inner ease keeping my mind clear. With much of the water out, I used it as a barrier against the rogue wave that randomly rushed up the beach. The yogurt carton was cracked and useless. That left me with the tahini tub. It was sturdy and eagerly dug into the sand and the stones. Ignoring the pain I used my 5 beat breathing rhythm to support me and give me momentum as I worked on. Eventually I could see the bottom of the kayak once more. What a wonderful sight! This spurred me on, using my bare fingers I dug away sand and stones lurking beneath and around the seat structure. My head had some protection for faithful hat was tied on by a shoe lace, my neck however was scorching, even though I kept trying to shift my position. The loss of my t-shirt and scarf were taking their toll. My raging thirst meant rationing, each sip counted.
I was just too exhausted to paddle the kayak back and it would be blazing hot for at least another 3 hours. There was no shade anywhere. I had to make a shelter. With the kayak empty I grabbed the front handle and began to drag it round 90° to the shoreline. Bit by bit I started to pull it nose up to lean against the first step. As I scrambled up the shelf, ignoring my pain, hauling the kayak with all my might the shelf collapsed around me. All that effort for nothing. I was filled with self pity, pain and frustration.
I started my breathing rhythm once more, this time as I breathed in and out through my heart I let go of my personal judgement and thought of all the people who had helped and supported me in the past. I forced myself to smile with love and appreciation for their acts of kindness. I felt the fire of determination begin to burn within me once more. My mind cleared, of course the I must secure the kayak by jamming in the flat stones as before. Each time I inched the kayak a little further I worked the stones in to stop it from sliding back. Eventually I created enough of an angle so that I could slide my whole body under the kayak. It was tight but most of me was in the shade. However, I knew that as the sun moved that shade would reduce. I needed to create a lean-too and maximize the casting shadow.
The driftwood would help, which meant scrambling onto the top shelf. It was slow and arduous, the pebbles slipped and slid beneath my feet. The intense pain drove me on as did my need to escape the heat of the sun. Each time I reached up and tugged on a piece of wood I prayed it would co-operate. Some did and some simply refused to budge, they had nestled in nicely to their last resting place. The perfect wider flatter pieces usually had one end buried beneath fallen rock and mud, inaccessible. Eventually I had a hotch potch of shapes and sizes which I had flung down to the beach next to the canoe and leaned them against the hull of the kayak. I slid my slim seat pad into the centre of the shade to ease my back from pressure from the rocks and hung my life jacket over the nose of the kayak. Bracing myself against the searing back pain I shimmied under the kayak into the shade.
At last, three hours after I had attempted to beach I could truly rest. I had no idea whether I had damaged a disc, torn a muscle or cracked a vertebrae. I decided to try and keep my back as straight as possible. I made a cradle for my head with my life jacket. It felt so good, as this meant I could tilt my back relieving pressure and pain. With my head cradled and supported effortlessly I could keep watch for any boat passing by. It was soothing, cool and for the first time totally without trauma or drama. Keeping my eyes wide open I settled back into my five breath rhythm. I began to picture arriving back on Pissouri Beach. Back to safety, back to civilization. It began to feel more of a certainly than a possibility and then a tangible reality.
I checked my water. I had been taking sips but now I was desperate to glug the whole bottle down. I had less than 2 inches of a 500ml bottle left. I had at least two hours to wait before I could consider trying to make it back. I had to make it last. The best use of my time was to watch the waves. Watch and learn, discover their pattern to assist me later.
The position of the cove meant there appeared to be three different wave sources landing on this beach. One coming in towards Cape Aspro from the SW, one coming directly from the South into the cove and the other curving around from the next Cape from the WSW. They each had a different rhythm and velocity. This is what had caught me out. I beached just as a thermal shift was taking place. The mist cooled air had heated up sufficiently to create an unseasonal melt down, assisted by a shift in wind direction. I sipped my water savouring each drop as I plotted and planned my moment of escape.
At 2.30pm I had less than an inch left. I needed to make my move. Everything had to be ready in advance. Even though the sea was calmer the rouge waves were still rolling in, in patterns of 4. Caught at the wrong angle the kayak would be flooded once more. Determined this was not going to happen I dismantle my lean too and set about putting my essentials back into the boat. My red waterproof bag which would have doubled as an emergency flag was stuffed behind my seat back. My seat pad was back in position and my paddle secured to the kayak once more. My precious water bottle was squeezed into the front pocket of my life jacket.
I purposefully dragged the kayak down to the beach keeping her nose to water, she must not breach. I counted the waves as my life was depending on it, gathering my strength I sprang forward and ran the kayak into the sea turning the nose to the right so the powerful waves would swing her round exactly where I wanted her to be. I leapt in and grabbed my paddle. Pumped with adrenaline I paddled with all my might so as not to be washed backwards onto the beach. I was free!!
I paddled out of the cove keeping my heading directly south powering into the oncoming waves. Once I was out far enough I met with the waves coming from the SW which pushed me round to follow the headland. The waves became big rollers. Once out of the cove they were flowing with me. It took little effort to catch the surf which lifted and carried me closer and closer to home. I kept on promising myself my last sips of water, tantalizing myself pushing onwards instead to the next target until at last I rounded the rocks at Pissouri Bay. I opened the bottle, tilted my head and let the delicious drops flow knowing I had a full bottle of cool water secured underneath the catamaran on the beach
Beaching was simple as there were barely any waves. As I levered myself out of the kayak I felt I was stepping back in time and just wanted to flop and float in the water. However, I had to bring the kayak up onto the beach, At that moment I knew I was totally spent. I could do no more. Thankfully a couple strolling along the beach were happy to help me. I understood why later, I looked like a wild savage, my hair stood on end caked in salt and I was covered with seaweed, grit and sand. I am lucky they did not run away in fright.
Once in range my phone soon beeped into action. My 11am client had texted me early to postpone as had my 3.30pm client. My partner assumed I was out having fun. I may not have been missed until late that evening.
I am deeply grateful I was able to get home under my own steam. My back is still recovering but time and patience will heal.
However, I do not underestimate the subtle yet vital assistance I received by having HeartMath in my life. Nor do I underestimate my own grit and determination but when things got really bad I needed to access a deeper part of myself, the stillness within. The HeartMath tools I have learnt helped me do that.
Barbara Jones completed her training as a HeartMath Intervention Practitioner earlier this year having worked with the HeartMath Program since 1994. She is an educational consultant, Special Needs Assessor and Feldenkrais Practitioner
She is the author of “Sailing with Sam” and is presently working on “Sailing Beyond” a collection of short stories of the adventures and personal development we can achieve by pushing ourselves beyond our boundaries and limitations.