17 hours at sea…

The trip had just been a bit too docile up until this point. Smooth sailing (or peddling, more often than not), gentle surf…not much of a story besides the stunning natural beauty of the Gaviota coast. So we decided to embark on a night sail, beginning around midnight for a short jaunt down the coast to Point Dume.

Preparing the crafts in daylight is always a bit of a mission. Making sure that everything is functioning on the kayaks, that we have adequate water, snacks, sunscreen, hats, layers for warmth, etc., takes some time and always creates some chaos before departure. So, it was no easier by the light of the moon and a few flashlights. But things went relatively smoothly. Only two walkie talkie radios were charged and ready to go, but we knew that we were only going a short distance and with little wind, so we assumed that it would be easy to stick together and cruise easily to our next destination only 10 miles away.

We set sail beneath a just short of full moon, bright enough to create shadows from mast and self upon our craft. Gliding southward, moonbeams rippling all around, it was beautiful, silvery and so sweet to be quietly slipping away down the coast. There was only the slightest bit of wind until we reached Point Dume, so we were able to stay relatively dry in the cold night air. And then the wind came.

We gathered, all five crafts, at sea to reconvene before landing. Just after departure, Dave semi-jokingly suggested that we just sail through the night and try to make it all the way to a peninsula way down the coast. Haha, very funny, I laughed. I knew that statement would come back to haunt us. With wind swept wild eyes at 3am, Dave stuck by that early comment and insisted that we make use of the bit of wind that came up and push onward. It wasn’t much wind, only maybe 7-10mph. We didn’t have much in the way of food and water, having only packed for a three hour sail. We also didn’t have much in the way of communication, we had a few phones between us and two walkie talkies, but not one for every craft.  With only slight protest from a few of us, at 3:33 am we found the constellation Canis Minor and let it guide us toward our destination. Just as we pulled sail again a seal slid beneath all of our boats, glowing with sparks of lime green phosphorescence. I couldn’t make out the form of the body of the seal so much, just the ghostly speeding of light flashes streaking through the water. It looked like a Patronus from Harry Potter.

So on we went into the night, into the freezing cold, to cross the Santa Monica Bay by moonlight. With the wind and occasional splashes of water it was nothing short of bone chillingly cold. And we all felt it. I had on a fleece rashguard, a 4/3, a battery powered heat vest, booties, gloves, beanies, and a rain jacket and was still freezing. My sailing partner and I took turns taking quick naps through the night to try to get warm and keep our minds off of the cold. I woke up from one nap with the moon setting, blazing red and dusted with clouds. It was eerie and beautiful. And I was freezing and, in a state of sleep deprived delirium, was cheekily cursing Dave for choosing to lead us into the frigid night.

There was a point of thick darkness when the moon had set and the sun had yet to show any light. It felt like a monumental stage of transition in the cycle of the day. And then the light seeped in slowly, radiating warm colors onto the sky’s black canvas.

The sun never rises slower than when you are waiting for the warmth of its rays. Finally we could see land and sky and begin to peel off the layers of jackets and wetsuits. And then we saw the massive wave of fog ahead, like the largest white water closeout imaginable. It was impressive, but not exciting. We hoped that we wouldn’t be clogged in fog for the remainder of the day. But, as it turned out, we were.

When the sun came up we realized that we’d been separated from two of the other crafts. Neither of which had any means of communication to us. So we peddled onward across the bay, into the fog. And all was gray. For the following 11 hours we didn’t once see land. We peddled and experienced waves of laughter, extreme exhaustion, bursts of energy, and anger. We also didn’t have any help from the wind. It was pure peddle power, like riding a bicycle for 17 hours. The more you peddle, the more tired you get, but the faster you go. It was an exercise in finding balance and efficiency in energy usage. It was also a test of mental stamina. Sure, it was physically tiring, but not being able to see land was the trickiest part. We didn’t have a GPS, no one from land could see us, so we just had to keep peddling. It was incredible to watch my mind undulate between so many different emotions with nothing changing at all externally—surrounded by gray sky, gray ocean and crazy humans.

We all started hallucinating in the nebulousness of the fog. We saw trees, buildings, lighthouses and even heard voices. And that continued on for some time. Still no land in sight.

As the afternoon waned, we started to get concerned about the possibility of being at sea through the night again. It wasn’t something that I preferred, to say the least. None of us did. When we saw a sailboat cruising by, we decided to make the most of the opportunity and sprint over to ask for directions. They informed us that our destination was only four miles away. So onward we went, celebrating at the eventual sight of land and arriving just in time for the fog to clear the coastline, sun emerging after all that time.

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