Try as I might to shut it out, I could no longer deny that there was something floating off to the right. About thirty metres away, bobbing in the milky blue waves, was something black and shiny, triangular in shape and it seemed to be on a course that would bring it alongside our double kayak very soon.
My partner and I were well into what was supposed to be fourteen days of relaxing island hopping, the ultimate paddle in paradise. But with winds gusting twenty to thirty knots for the tenth day straight and with little relief in sight, the trip had begun to place demands on us in ways we had not anticipated. We had just completed another difficult passage which had left our nerves raw and our mental and physical reserves low. Now, finally in the relative safety of the inlet where our intended camp lay, we had decided to explore one inviting cove too many. We found ourselves once again grinding against the ever-present wind, making slow headway towards our beach camp. The sun was setting and seemed to be taking our spirits with it. But the tide was rising. It was feeding time on the reef.
There was no need to draw attention to the thing off to the right, as my partner in the bow had already seen it and was also trying to “watch but deny”. We know what dolphins look like and turtles, eagle rays and even small reef sharks, as we had already seen plenty on this trip. But this thing didn’t fit any of those and if the iceberg principle held in this instance, the body below this thing would be very large indeed. As I applied the brakes in an attempt to avoid our inevitable meeting, the thing appeared to respond and alter course to compensate, the low sun flashing off its shiny black surface as it did so.
We had limited experience at expedition-type paddling on our own and this was one of the reasons we had hired the double, thinking one big boat would be safer than two small ones. And apart from intending to be a relaxing paddle, this trip was also meant to test our own decision-making skills without being influenced by others. But that was all we had done since hitting the water, the relaxing element was sorely lacking as reality wasn’t matching the paradise plan. I know some thrive on such challenges, but for us the vulnerability of a lone kayak, even a large double, in a big ocean had us longing for some paddling company.
The thing just kept on getting closer despite our attempts to avoid contact. As it came nearer we began to get a better look at it as it crested on the sets of waves and caught the angled sunlight. As the triangle shape began to fill out and the tip became somewhat hairy looking, our initial assessment as to its identity began to look shaky. We soon found ourselves shouting in disbelief, confirming to each other its true identity..it’s a coconut!
After our close encounter, we were charged with adrenaline and we made it to our beach camp quicker than anticipated. The whole incident made us realise the impact the relentless conditions were having on us and that we needed to do something different to get a reprieve and make this trip meet our expectations. The paddle plan that looked so good back home after so much research was finally surrendered to the relentless SE winds. A quick call on the mobile had a rendezvous with a boat arranged for a transfer across open waters to another island closer to the mainland.
Once at our new destination the winds did eventually abate. Of course we could have waited out the weather and made the big crossings when conditions improved. But time was running out and, once made, our decision to catch a lift heralded the retreat of the white knuckled paddler and the return of the happy camper. The remaining days took on a new importance and were spent relaxing, paddling crystal-clear waters over coral reefs, exploring rugged shorelines, snorkelling or just lazing on the beach. As we took in another magnificent tropical sunset while munching on Pringles and sipping wine, we gave thanks to the coconut.