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There are no roads

There are no roads

I leave Nitin with an unopened box and tell him to stitch things up while I get my gear ready. When I return I find the kayak trolley assembled, but missing the strap to tie a kayak atop it. He runs to get some rope. We never run short of rope. We have a car full of equipment. And everything has been over used. Including patience. If I looked closely, I could put someone on mars with what we have packed in our car. Make Elon Musk’s day. We fasten the kayak to the trolley, and I set down the winding path from MTDC’s lovely cottages down to the beach at Harihareshwar. 100 metres in, the road ends in stairs. 19 feet long, and a fibre hull, is not going down stairs on a trolley.

Nitin and I carry it down. Past the stairs. Through the thorny bush. The pebbles turn to white shells. Each intent on cutting through. Shells turn to rock outcrop. And through it is a small sandy square. 3 metres wide. Launch pad.

I adjust the paddles. Check my watch. Time is always against us. Tide in, Tide out. Winds building up. Sun setting. Sun holding that full frontal position. Lift the skirt. Butt in the kayak. Leg over. Leg in. Two sharp paddle strokes. Turn to wave bye. Two sharp paddle strokes. Cover the mouth of the kayak with my skirt. Two sharp paddlestrokes. Release rudder line. Press hard on the left pedal. Paddle Hard.

You find yourself at a calm beach. You check your course. You scare the gulls with some sharp paddle strokes.

You find yourself at a turbulent beach. You brave the white breakers. You get tossed. A rude awakening in the morning. Water in the kayak if your skirt isn’t on. You tumble out. If the waves aren’t doing it for you, you drag your kayak to shore. Upturn. Check three compartments. Sponge it out. Start again. You get hit again, but you break through. Secure everything. Cap, glasses, cameras, phones, water bottles, food. If it’s not in a bag tied down or in a hatch locked away, you might as well have thrown it in yourself.

You find yourself at a creek. The wind blows, and the tide takes you in directions you haven’t mapped out for the day. You’re 4 kms off your course. You’re veering close to the breakers at the mouth. There is a buoy that probably means something you don’t want to know. There are small eddies set up you can’t navigate past. You recalibrate. You can probably sit there and google it, if everything stands still. But it doesn’t. The only law out here is Murphy’s.

You find yourself at a rocky face. You take in the sheer immensity of it. In Gujarat you wouldn’t find one. In Maharashtra you can’t miss them. Big majestic hills. Sheer face. Brown. Black. There is white breaking foam. And waves are building up on starboard. You surf your way through. You cut through. You recalibrate. Sun to the right, sun to the left. Point right out at sea. You escape, you press hard on the left pedal.

You cross a rocky face protruding at sea. Only you don’t know. Your route says straight. Only the mainland opens out to your left for miles. You have 7 miles to the next knuckle, and you’re suddenly 4 kms off of shore to your left. The wind trumpets your arrival and picks up the beat. Big swells start forming behind you. As one picks you up from behind the one in front hasn’t swept through the 19 feet of white kayak you’re in. Your nose is in the drink and you think you’re coming to a nosedive. A grinding halt. But your speedometer says you’re top speeding.  Your downwind has had a look at your due-south course, but the on-shore waves are from WNW. Another day of choosing the lesser of two evils. You’re doing  a great speed. But where was your initial bearing. Atleast you’re not bored.

You hit a sandbar. Sure they’re lovely islands of sand sitting less than a meter under the sea. This one stretches for miles into Harihareshwar. And its turning. A fishing vessels slows down to see the fun. 4 Kms back, Nitin has climbed up the rock, through the mine field of shells, past the thorny bush, up the stairs, and is watching from the MTDC canteen. The kindly old man who’s serves us food for 2 days has his hand over his open mouth. ‘He knows there are waves there? He’s going to be thrown in.’

I watch the breakers. Paddle left. Paddle right. I don’t slow down. I’ll need the momentum if I need to get out. I watch a wave 10 meters ahead.  Three metres to it’s right is another one. Closer still in a circular arc white tips herald another. You’re living life a meter at a time. I take 500 strokes to a km . A stroke is 2 metres. My kayak is 5.5. I need 3 strokes to take me past a point. And a wave is fairly long. I dart right into the thick of it. Past the wave to the right. Bank hard on the rudder. Take it out to sea. Take one breaker head on. Bank left. A rogue wave takes me on the side. My spray skirt takes a sip of the turbulent sea. I press hard on the right paddle, and take another breaker at 30 degrees. Once I get the tip over, I slow down over the side. One more wave but it’s going to come from behind. I need to get between two consecutive waves. I can’t slow, and I have to time this. As it starts to form, I approach at full speed. It starts to rise and I slip over. It forms a meter to my left. Breaking white surf. The next one starts forming 2 meters to the right. I’m through.

I’ve passed through it. If I knew my audience was to my right now, I would have bowed. I take a second, and I recalibrate. There are no roads out here. Because you’re making them every minute.

Day 10 Palms

Day 10 Palms

Day 10.
Waking up in Ganpatipule to the sound of the sea coming in through the large wooden doors at the MTDC Ganpatipule. It’s 6 o’clock and I need to be down at the water in an hour. The packet of 4 boiled eggs we’d gotten parceled the night before is awaiting me, and mom comes into the room with a serving of sugar for my milk. Shanj throws in some dates. It’s my museli egg breakfast again.

Rounding everything up, I bathe in some sun screen. The first time Rajiv told me to bring sunscreen to Kayaking, I thought “What a sissy sport is this?” Now I don’t get out without it. The morning air is rich with the sound of my driver’s incompetence, as I hear my dad helping him reverse the car. Mornings aren’t his cup of tea. But then again, I’m wondering whether he’s just a coffee person. We huddle in and make for the beach. I’d stopped just short of Ganpatipule, thanks to the quickly receeding light last evening, which led to the discovery of another pristine beach. Malgund. At waist high I could see my toes. I’m not much for staring at toes mind you, but when a nice wave drags the boat right out of your grasp as you stop to admire the beach, it’s useful to find your quickly drowning glasses. Beach admiration should be a course.

As we pass by the early temple go-ers and the early check-out-ers, that familiar feeling of eye-balls on the car hits me. It’s a small winding road and the going is slow. Finally our driver brings it around and plants us on a beach. Shanj is on the boat today, her last day with us for a bit, and she needs to be ferried to the jetty. After a quick huddle for a photo, I make for the water as my land crew heads on. I drag my kayak to the water and jump in. My fingers are swollen and the skin between my thumb and the palm has hardened from chafing. They bid me a good morning, as I set out. Paddling in the morning, with the sun still over the hill is good. The water is not too choppy and the temperature is apt for some exercise. I paddle out 3 kms. At 4 kms, the safety boat catches up and Shanj lets me know I’m doing good time. She then starts to dance about the boat in a manner to scare most gymnasts. This is worrisome. So I paddle on.

Dangling them legs
Dangling them legs

At an hour in, I’m at 7.5 kms and I deem it pretty decent given that I have no wind and an ebb tide. I sip some hydration drink and paddle on. It’s 8:15 and the sun is just over the hill. I have another good hour to paddle until the sun turns me dry like that one time I made Lemon chicken. Luckily I had some nice pesto sauce to go with it, and we had ridden that storm. No amount of pesto would do after 9:30. So I paddled on.

A pause on the water
A pause on the water

At 2 hours my speed has dropped. Thanks, greatly, to a strong headwind blowing in. It’s slowing me down and like before only my GPS tells me I’m moving in the right direction. When I finally get out of it and come under the shadown of the cliffs, I find my safety boat drawing next to me. That charismatic dancer now asks me to eat something. I think it’s an even trade for her not dangling her legs over, so I take out an energy bar. As I sip my hydration drink, I feel the sun’s glare harden. It’s caught me. I’d escaped this hour by paddling in the evening for the last 3 days, but today it would have its measure.

As my mind was contemplating losing the suit and tanning some, I spot that dark black that is a sea snake. Now I won’t say I haven’t spotted a few on the trip already, but if I see another sea snake in my lifetime, it will be too soon. This one however was either blind or tanning, because by the time I could say ‘Sea sna..’ the bow of my kayak had hit it. I hear that familiar boom in the buoyancy chamber up front when I hit something, only this time it’s a nasty, poisonous, bound-to-be-irritated sea snake. There are a few things in this life I take fright to. But snakes have to top the list. It took me 5 years to watch “Snakes on a Plane”. Obviously, that move helped ease my fear. Back to it, I took a minute to stop paddling. Looking left and right, I made sure the sea snake wasn’t giving chase like the policemen we’ve met on the trip so far. When I couldn’t see it, I paddled hard to make sure I was out of that area. It’s up for debate whether a 7.5 km/hr kayaker would outdistance a rattled up sea snake with a headwind and no tide, but I for one wasn’t stopping to find out.

Cliffs. Now the thing with Cliffs is that while they are perfect for navigation, they have this way about them that makes it hard to gauge how far out you are. Through the haze of the morning mist, you spot one and you tell yourself – “Well, old chap, it seems you are there.” And then you paddle for an hour and a half and as the damn cliff just gets bigger, you spot a goat standing up there quizzically looking at you thinking “Damn he’s slow.” or some such. Goats are a mysterious species. And on the water, next to dancing navigators, they are right up there in the list of species you want to leave to their own devices.

So when I crossed the final cliff that is “Serenity Waves” (I don’t make this stuff up) I was glad of it. I had another 2 kms to get to my mama’s lovely house at the end of Ratnagiri with that sweet pagoda overlooking the lighthouse. That’s obviously when cops give chase. As I contemplate making a run for it leaving the boat and it’s occupants to their fate, I think of that goat. And I turn around. We capricons don’t abandon people. Oddly enough by the time I reach the boat, things have reached a casual phase and the cops are guiding my safety boat to the safety of Bhagwati Bundar(Jetty). My arrival in a white kayak and parrot green skin with a tomato red face was quite a sight and the cops all drew to the bow of their boat to take a photo with me.

Sizing each other up
Sizing each other up

As the safety boat did what it does best, stay safe, I paddled straight to the palms and the white sand. I remember from my last stay here that there was a place the fishermen would bring their trawlers up, and that my uncle has palm trees on his property. From 2 kms out I made for the largest bunch of palm trees. When I saw an open expanse with what looked like drying out old boats, I knew I’d found the right place. Paddling in at 500 metres, I saw the pagoda and outside it, as always a beacon of light, a single person that had to be my mom. She waited there the whole time, till I drew up onto the beach and parked my kayak; then she climbed down and came to see me. My uncle’s left hand man came down to greet me, and helped me with my kayak, until the local boys who’d been fascinated by the white, green and red made themselves useful too. My dad’s driver sat up on high and watched.

Finally home
Finally home

As the kayak was brought up, I walked through the gates and took my seat in that lovely brown pagoda with a green, cocounut tree laden garden, and looked out onto the calm blue-green waters of Ratnagiri. As we stared out, a school of dolphins welcomed me just 500 metres out. Day 10 is done, and we are that much closer.

Paddle Hard.

Day 1. Home Stretch

Day 1. Home Stretch

Within moments there was silence. The sweet sound of your blade leaving the water was all I could hear.I passed past the throngs of boats lined outside the Gateway. Out of nowhere I heard a voice saying – “Best of luck”. I turned to see the familiar violet colour of the Yacht club Tandel’s. I smiled at the familiar face and then I was gone.

Assembling the paddles
Putting things together

Just as quickly as it began, I was out of line of the boats. There was emptiness. Commercial vessels scattered far and wide. I altered my course. I knew I wanted to pass through the massive oil rigs. The early morning tide was pushing me out the harbour and I let it. The wind was absent at the beginning but 3 kms in, it kicked up and came straight at me. I was going quickly and I was happy when the safety boat caught me just short of the first commercial vessel out on the water.

Safety Boat catches up
Safety Boat catches up

GC, Shanj, Melanie, my mom and the two boatsmen, Santosh and Vishal seemed to be having a good time. In typically GC fashion, I saw him lying prostrate on the bow of the boat. Go-Pro in hand catching a shoulder high shot of me zipping past. I’ll have to say that it got a little choppy when we arrived at the rigs, but the tide was still pushing me, and I carried on. I completed the first 7 kms in good time. On my last crossing, I’d covered 14.5 kms from the club house at Mandwa to Gateway and I approximated this as mid point. I was glad for my hydration pack and it made short work of stay hydrated. But the mist was insane. At 9 kms in I should have sighted Uran or atleast the high flame, but no. I checked my course. And we seemed to be on track. As affirmation the traffic to Mandwa would pass right past us. A little further came the first big change. The two people on board were woken up as it was time to part ways. GC and Melanie were to leave from Mandwa, and the boat was to take them there. This was to start a series of fun events that had nothing to do with the kayaking. As I bid them farewell, I clocked a good 4 kms before the mist cleared enough for me to realise where I was. I was well past Mandwa and almost into Sasawane. I’d saved 2 kms with the tide and my bearing. I was glad for it.

So began the home run. Having spent 2 weeks down at the BSA guest house in Mandwa, I could do the route down to Kihim with my eyes closed. Having not shut them nearly enough the night before (3.5 hours of sleep) I went with inertia and kept them open though. Despite the comforts of the familiar I had no help with the tide or the wind. When I knew I’d cleared the rocky area at the tip of Mandwa, I paused to look for my safety boat. Not finding them, I decided to move on. Around 9:30 the wind just dropped and with the sun high in the air already, it made for a gruelling hour and a half of paddling. Moving past Sasawane I got a stretch of carrying waves and surfed them for a bit. But it was not nearly fast enough and it felt like a punishment. I fought the dehydration by emptying the other 2 litre bottle into the hydration pack, but that was all my water supply. Somewhere along the stretch I must admit I had to pause for a quick pee break. I glided past Awas the way a sleep deprived, partly de-hydrated and terribly warm kayaker would glide and braced myself for the rocks that litter the south part of the beach. By my calculations I was 4 kms short of my destination. I was glad for it. When I spotted Kandheri and Underi through the mist, I quickened my pace. On the beach I could see people engage in a bunch of beach activities and I paddled clear of them. It’s good to get a moment to cool yourself down when you land, and lets not forget the surf toppling me out the kayak doesn’t make for the great first impression.

I touched Kihim and made for the shade. Something about keeping a boat steady, holding a paddle, shading the gopro and doing your business compels you to wait for shore.

Spotted at Kihim
A good start to day 1.

When I returned I found two workers at a nearby farm house inspecting my beauty. I was quick to take pics with them and then answered their many questions about the expedition.

Two workers inspect the kayak
With the curious couple


I was curious to know where my land and sea support were, since I was apparently first on site. I thought they wanted me to tell them the coast was clear. (In a manner of speaking, as Kihim is not the sparsest beach on saturdays) It was just then that Shanj and mom showed up with one of Avnish’s men with a bunch of bags. Dad was nowhere in sight and neither was the boat. As I changed, and plonked myself on dry ground, mom spoke to dad and he had the funniest story. Shortly after offloading everyone at Mandwa, my safety crew ran out in search of me. Somehow I eluded them; the way that a 19 foot white kayak with an orange lifejacket strapped at the back can in clear day. They were prompt in calling my father, who at this time was enjoying his Poha at my uncle’s discussing gymming and where to buy houses. It’s not a fair stretch of imagination to think my dad didn’t digest his breakfast as he tried vainly to contact me on my vodafone number. As is custom, my phone was on silent and lodged in mom’s purse. A good 16 phone calls later, my dad drove with much haste down to Kihim. This, in the company of our august Raikkonen of a driver made for a fun account. So it was sweet relief hearing that I was dry, taking in the para-gliders.

We made a beeline for Arany at Phansad where we are put up for two days. A hot shower and being out in the open here made for a good change from the beach, and the hospitality meant I would probably get good sleep tonight.

Till tomorrow. Paddle Hard.


Dolphins at Mandwa

Dolphins at Mandwa

Today was the first day waking up at Mandwa. I’ve been, very kindly, put up as a guest at the Bombay Sailing Association Club house by the gracious and extremely affabale Randhir Behl. A long evening of kayaking yesterday, aggravated by a heavy wind and rocky waves, meant I woke up with a touch of soreness. Since no one likes waking at the clock, I snoozed till 8:10.

I stumbled out of my room and was greeted by the extremely caring attendant, or mama, who enquired about my breakfast. I was happy collapsing into the chair and awaiting a double omlette, I downed a cup of coffee laced with a strong dose of sugar. Good morning world.

Kayaking into the sunrise
Into the sun

Passing past Battery Park, I waved to the circle of friends I’d made the day before. And headed to pick up my kayak. The good natured Sridhar helped me take my beauty out of the housing and I took it straight down to the water. I had an idea of what I wanted to do today, and a good warm up after, I was in the kayak paddling away. The waves were kind today and after a few practice drills, I set off for the fishing village just off the cliff at mandwa. And what a glorious sight it was. The sun was out and it paled everything that the mist hadn’t already conquered, but through it all, one could see the outline of an army of fishing vessels. Anything else would be a gross understatement as I stared at 20 big fishing trawlers. But only for an instant. Then I was gone. It was a good route with a 2 km downwind stretch that let me test out my kayak. Heading back I got the headwind, but it was quick going and I had no complaints as the sun hadn’t set the air on fire.

On the run back, I was plagued by fishing nets. Not wanting to jump in and have to release it from my rudder, I chose to paddling through the minefield of bobbing thermacol. Pulling up alongside one, I found that I was not the only person avoiding it. 10 metres off my kayak, a grey creature emerged, took a deep breath and dove back in. As always, everything stops for dolphins. And I slowed to watch him do it again. He, like me, was looking for a way out. Every now and then you find a kindred soul in another species.

I made a couple of runs and ended the morning session with 15 kms in just under 2 hours. It wasn’t my fastest and I found myself bracing in the downwind conditions. But it was fun. A couple of seat adjustments and a deeper seating meant I was more in control.

Lunch was very welcome. And I dug into the rice, dal and bhindi that made me nostalgic about Kolad. I wolfed down on it, and it helped that the moushi had asked me twice over the amount of rice I’d requested. (My own estimations of how much rice I eat, were grossly exaggerated) So I ate as much as I could, and took a walk down to the jetty. My friends from battery park were in the process of leaving, so I took the time to say goodbye and headed back home.

A group of very bubbly women had recently checked in to the club house and I set about welcoming them (including agreeing to take one of them on the water in the afternoon). I then retreated to my room to catch up on some rest. My body had been asking for it. A quick nap and that alarm I’m getting so used to loving, chirped.

My clothes from the morning were sufficiently dry and I picked my kayak and dove into the water. As the evening high tide swung in, I found the going more fun. The evening wind was strong and my short forays were met with much resistance. I clocked another 7.5 km and then brought the kayak in for my capsize drills. The water was a lot calmer than yesterday, so I enjoyed a fair amount of success. All in all, I spent about 2.5 hours on the water. Then I hauled the kayak back and decided to call it a day.

The evening has been kind. And I’m finding out how much I adore a hot water bath. There is probably nothing sweeter after spending 5 hours on the water in various degrees of being soaked to the bone. I polished off my rice and moushi produced some fried fish that I used as desert.

An old sailing friend, Muruggan Nadar, is holding a beach party it would appear, so I’ll sign off and see if I can soak in some of the bonfire. From Mandwa, feeling good, this is Kaustubh Khade Paddling Hard.