From the Chronicles of the Cursed Kayaker
Let’s face it. Sea kayaking can be dangerous and these dangers come in many forms. But I think I’m about to add one more danger to the infamous list. It would be comforting to think what happened to me has happened to others, but try as I might, I can’t recall ever reading or hearing about any similar incidents. Not even in the American Sea Kayaker magazine that has all sorts of safety tips from the land of the free and accident prone.
My story begins with some routine kayak maintenance. I had upgraded from my usual rubber preserving/nourishing liquid to a new brand, which the automotive shop assured me was at least twice as good, being made from the latest space age chemicals. And as I was applying the new product to my hatch covers I noticed that the rubber cradles of the roof racks on the trusty wagon could do with a squirt. So I coated the cradles liberally and was happy to see the resulting rich rubbery sheen. I was equally happy to see how easily the kayak slid into the cradles from the garage roof pulley system. I headed down to the local waterway for a solo paddle.
For some time I had prided myself on being able to deftly lift my sea kayak on and off the car. Nothing instils the sense of individualism and self sufficiency as demonstrating this skill to other kayakers and to the crowds of passers-by who often seem to gather at such times.
I can recommend honing this skill to other club members who are in need of a boost to their ego; particularly those who have never managed to get the Eskimo roll just right, or the hordes of weekend paddlers who may at times feel inferior after reading yet another article on a wilderness adventure by paddlers of steel.
All went well on the unloading as I swung the kayak off the car for a shoulder carry to the water’s edge. On my return I proceeded with the usual routine, washing down the kayak, stowing gear etc. But as I lifted the kayak to my waist and deftly flipped and lifted at the same time to place it in the roof rack cradles, I was oblivious to the embarrassing and very serious situation that was about to be literally dumped upon me. As usual the kayak landed in the cradles, but instead of settling there, it spun on the newly greased rubber, flipping upside down. In a split second I found myself pinned against the side of the car with the kayak half in the cradles and my head stuck inside the cockpit. Not to worry, I’ll just spin it upright and I will escape this misfortune unscathed.
But it was not to be. Something was stopping the kayak from flipping upright no matter how hard I struggled. But I couldn’t see what it was, as my head was firmly lodged in the cockpit. Being only half in the cradles, there was enough weight on my upper body to know that if I ducked out, the consequences to car and kayak would not be good. But on the other hand, I couldn’t lift the kayak due to the mystery snag. I was firmly stuck.
Stay calm man, I repeated to myself, and after a while a strange sense of resignation set in. I began to look around and realized I have never taken a really good look inside my cockpit. I noted the rubber diaphragm on the foot-operated bilge pump could do with a squirt of the new lubricant and there was also a fair amount of wear and tear where my heels rubbed against the cockpit floor. After what I think was my 54th rendition of ‘We shall overcome’ I also realized that there are some very fine acoustics to be offered by the confines of a cockpit. But the divine intervention I so hoped for still did not arrive.
I could hear the occasional fall of footsteps as people passed by, and although I would have gladly accepted any help offered, I was too embarrassed to draw attention to my predicament. But from the outside, the desperation of the strange situation must have been quite evident. It would have looked like a kayak was devouring a person head first.
It was about now that resignation turned to indignation and I thought, this is ridiculous, kayakers don’t meet their fate in the bleeding car park. But despite my renewed efforts to be free, the kayak still refused to budge.
I decided a new tack was required. I knew lifting wasn’t doing the job, so I began to push the kayak forward and immediately felt it free up and spin upright slightly. Glory be! I continued pushing the kayak forward and as it spun upright even further I could see that the perimeter line had caught in the edge of the rear saddle mount and this was what was stopping the kayak from spinning into its proper position. I soon had the perimeter line free and the kayak fully in the cradle and most importantly my head out of the cockpit.
With the kayak finally tied down, I scanned the scene around me. The beach was crowded with people just metres away, some of whom must have been watching the whole time. What the hell did they think I had been doing? I really don’t know how long I was stuck, but it should have been long enough to at least arouse suspicion that things weren’t quite right with the kayak guy in the car park.
There is a slight chance that this incident was a one-off, never to be repeated in the known universe. A rare combination of overzealous application of space age chemicals, my particular lifting technique and kayak and roof rack dimensions. All compounded by beachgoer apathy. But there may well be other paddlers out there, who like myself, continue to push the boundaries of unfortunate possibilities. To the fellow cursed, I suggest: ‘Use space age products sparingly’.
A very lucky escape indeed! Must give that foot pump a squirt.