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RJ Kaustubh

RJ Kaustubh

Time to read: 2 min

The good folks over at 94.3 Radio One recently had me over as part of their #jobswitch and it was a pleasure being there.

RJ Annie, who hosts Mumbai on Demand, was an absolute pleasure to work with and I could tell right from our first call, where she was excited about being on the water –

…I can’t swim, so I will definitely need a jacket!! – RJ Annie, before we’d even met.

For her jobswitch, she had to hit the water. I naturally wanted her to have a good time, so we took her out to Mandwa. The old training ground, and met up with Prafful at his watersports center on the other side of the Mumbai channel.

I would say the only thing that eclipsed the beauty of the day, was how pumped Annie was on becoming a kayaker. I’d drawn up a list of things she needed to do –

  • Load the kayak
  • Navigate to the beach
  • Kit up
  • Warm Up
  • Hit the water – Hard
  • Load the kayak
  • Enjoy the beach
  • Share her day

She handled everything from putting on a skirt to falling into the water on a rogue wave, like a PRO. Big shoutout to her! <3

You can watch her side of the story here –

Here’s a lovely shot of  her in action.

Annie out for a stroll
Annie expedition-ing

I was down in the offices to do my bit and it came out quite well. Do listen in here.  There were four segments across a one hour show. (Music not included 😉 )

Here’s me in action at the Radio One offices –

Time to hit the console

As always, PaddleHard

The Plot

The Plot

Time to read: 7 min

Plots.

There’s a line from the F1-racing movie Rush, where the protagonist*, James Hunt says – ‘I’ve always been one for showing up on the day(unprepared) and playing chicken with everyone else.’ It does seem to have an appeal to it. And people who know me might nod their heads silently knowing that I’ve been known to shoot and ask questions later. But expeditions are different. Expeditions are about planning, and accounting for the unaccountable. What are you going to do when a rogue wave hits you? What happens when your phone dies? What do you eat on a beach you’re stranded on?

Everyday a dry bag goes into my kayak with dry clothes secure in cling wrap, food supplies, water, a swiss army knife, ID, an ATM card(only useless thing in this list at the moment), some spare cash and my spectacles. I’ve always got an excess supply of water, bailers for water coming onboard, sponges, and everything is secured on / in the kayak at cast off. Everyday that dry bag leaves the kayak unused is a great day.

Leaving Bombay Shanj mapped out places we would halt / sync up. Safe to say that 50% of the time we haven’t found the spot we set out of find. It’s got a Columbus feel to it, complete with locals who don’t know what to make of it all.

Our good friends at Meraki have been trying to get to us for the last 2 weeks and with our constantly changing timelines, we are having a tough time coordinating where they can meet us 2 days from now let alone 1 week ahead.

The changing landscape brings different weather patterns and no day’s paddling is the same. Winds pick up or change directions and the water gets choppier as we progress down south. It’s made it difficult to estimate when we complete a leg. Despite it all, we aren’t lagging behind too much.

Landing in Rajpara the other day was quite a scene. I’d navigated some very dubious waters. A fisherman’s boat turned back around and came out to check on my small craft. I unkowningly got caught in a eddy and everything was choppy around me. As I jostled with the waves, the fishing boat came out and asked me if I needed a tug. I declined the kind offer but not before noting that I was in some deep water. After they pointed me in the right direction, I got back on my charted course (To my relief I’d plotted the exact course that they put me on). And I entered Rajpara still having clocked my best time. We’d marked a point called Bajrag Tea House. And as I stood outside it scanning the shore for a golden car with a girl on a cycle to go with, I realized I’d beaten them to it. On land people started pouring in and following my progress. I went left, and they went left. I took a right and the kids started running the other way. I called ahead and found that the team was 10 kms off. That’s another 30 minutes and I couldn’t just stand here when I had such a warm welcome party on land waiting. So I skirted past the fishing boats, waved at a bunch of people, and popped my skirt. Effortless landing and I pulled up my kayak onto land. I was hit by a large crowd of small people. Kids flocked to the kayak. Again and giving credit to the people no one tried to touch it or sit on it or do anything remotely malicious. The elders soon appeared in drones, and I was hit with a barrage of questions. Where is the motor? What do you eat? What, Dwarka? Like Krishna’s Dwarka?

The people continue to be nice, and I was offered water (Which I declined. An incident with the water and my stomach at Navadra had convinced me off of it) but I accepted Bajrag’s tea. I mean, it’s a Google Landmark. A very nice gentleman took me to it, and sat me on a wooden bench which I presume is a bed, and I was given a saucer full of tea. Nobody bothers with cups this side, and a steaming saucer later, I pleaded a little cold in the tea house. Part true, part excuse to check on my kayak, I returned to find the stern two feet in the air attached to the village drunk. I was quick off my heels and ran down to ask him to drop it. Which he promptly did. He flapped his arms around and said something which I registered as – I want to take it out into the water and turn it upside down. I remarked how preposterous the idea sounded to which he flapped his arms and repeated said lines. Things were starting to boil over when he came over to touch something else, something I didn’t feel particularly comfortable with and he backed off. The third time he came around to the kayak, I got between him and the kayak. We had a bit of a stand off and we were seconds away from a brawl when an elderly man in white came running down and whacked him repeatedly on his head till he slunk back. A couple of other drunks followed suit and came down to see the vessel, but now that a precedent had been set, nothing much ensued.

The kids foamed about my watch or my phone though both of which aren’t something to write home about, but given the packaging of the product and it’s coming right out of the sea, they became things to talk about. I underplayed my watch’s price and even at it’s modest rate of INR 5,000 it’s stories ran through town.

People came and went, and by the time I saw the car on the outskirts of the town, I was rested, hydrated and had stretched enough to call it a day. The village was a departure from what you’d call a tropical fishing paradise the way that an ulcer is a departure from a warm fuzzy feeling. Having arrived at the banks, Nitin and I carried the kayak through a road littered with pigs and their natural habitat. The air was rank with dead / dying / decayed fish and we wanted to put as many miles between us as possible. In reflection, it explains why Shanjali chose a Vegetarian Gujarat Thali on our return to Diu.

But the 45 minutes of waiting, explains the chasm between our land and sea journeys. Often it is the other way around, and being a girl with a fancy bike in these areas can’t be overtly pleasant. One would choose an ulcer in my opinion.

Which brings us back to plotting. Not the Brutus and Mark Anthony kind, but the charting of our routes. Everyday, after the rest / documentation and dinner is done, we pull out our laptops / phones / internet source of the day(Docomo is a no-no here) and we plot the next day’s route. We figure how far it is by water, and sync it to my watch. A couple of backup beaches are plotted out and we painstakingly comb Google maps, Suunto’s maps and Navionics to find ourselves rocks, waves, islands and beaches. A beach in Gujarat doesn’t necessarily mean sand. In fact, in our experience, 90% of them are lined with rocks and to find an escape route / entry point often comes down to being on the ground. Plotting, thus, is not a whispered word in a ear like it was in Cassius’ time. Though an Assistant Commandant at Pipavav played his part and his words of –‘I would stay 2.5 Kms out because there are a lot of eddies’  brought his parting words with Brutus back –

“I am glad that my weak words
Have struck but thus much show of fire from Brutus.” –Cassisus to Brutus. Act I. Scene II. Julius Caesar.

So we plot.

Plot Thickens

Plot Thickens

Time to read: 3 min

Eddy. Back in the day, he was that Tekken character who with his Brazilian martial arts and colourful pants was never going to amount to much, and your best friend would chose him for his roundabout kicks. Dial it forward to today, and Eddy means a circular flow of water often caused by an obstruction such as rocks in the middle of the sea.

Now why would anyone put a rock in the middle of the sea. This is ridiculous and absurd and in Kayaking terms it’s called – that-spot-with-the-breaking-waves. What it does, in case you’re caught in one like I was yesterday is turn a fearsome 19 foot long white fibre kayak that’s on top speed into a rubber duck in a turbulent washing machine.

I’m kayaking from Dwarka to Kanyakumari and the process has seen us kayak down the beautiful blue / green west coast of Gujarat down to the tip at Diu. We are now into Day 2 on the East Coast of Gujarat, and it is a doozy. With the Gulf of Khambhat acting as a real contender for spoilsport of the year, the water here is literally sucked into that narrow stretch of land locked sea. Imagine a sponge, if you will, that’s thrown into a quiet unsuspecting lake, but just by the edge so a fraction of a portion of it’s tip hits the water. Now imagine the sponge is twice the size of the lake and it’s not a sponge but a vacuum cleaner for water, and as the water starts funneling towards said sponge / vacuum, you will start to get an idea about my affinity for sponges and it’s irrelevance to this story in general. Also, you might tangentially arrive at how the Gulf of Khambhat is pulling me towards it.

Now, on an average day, you’d say – Hey Kaustubh, isn’t that a good thing. And on an average day, I’d say – did you forget about Eddy and his vicious kicks in paragraph 1?

So, here we stand. In some pretty murky water. I mean, dark brown, can’t see my paddle in the water, murky. And there are some rocks underneath. And the wind is blowing against me. Oh, sorry, forgot about the wind. It’s what they say, the lesser of two evils. But at 4-7 Knots it’s building up some nice head on waves. And the bow of my kayak is like the sensex on receiving the demonetization news, it doesn’t know whether to climb or come crashing down. Only there are rocks. And I’m still being pushed into the Gulf.

So no Edddy. I saw to you, not today.

#GoTreference #waterdance

Back on Radio

Back on Radio

Time to read: 1 min

It’s always great to be on air. And being on air with a friend is even better.

Took to the airwaves yesterday with RJ Pankaj on Must Radio 107.1 FM. and had a really lovely time.

Me sitting at the radio station
Behind the mike

Pankaj took back the mike to play us some beats.

Pankaj takes back the studio
Over to Pankaj for the right beats.

Pankaj has dedicated a large part of his life to the pursuit of archery and is the main reason I took up the sport in the first place. He’s taken it to the next level and now teaches archery in Thane. (For all those interested, find him on my FB list)

So it’s natural that his Radio show has a sporty twist to it. This week he invited me to talk about my upcoming expedition and we talked about kayaking, Asian medals, sports in India and marketing.

A couple of segments from the talk last night are here – >

What followed was I stole his phone thinking it was mine, and spent 2 minutes staring at a new screen being – how did I change this so fast?

Long story short, on the train ride back, my ‘other’ phone rings and Pankaj catches me in Ghatkopar to pick up his phone again.

#PaddleHard

A day well spent.
A day well spent.
Day 9 Clear Beach

Day 9 Clear Beach

Time to read: 4 min

Day 9. Velneshwar to Malgund.

Red octagonal cottages. Atop a small hill. Overlooking green water and a white beach. Sometimes it pays to wake up at 6:30 in the morning. You can hear the light sounds of the waves as the tide leaves the shore showing you black rocks between the whites. The resort has a slide and swing. Some things never go out of fashion? And a quick breakfast later, it’s time to catch up on some more sleep.

The blue and the Red
The blue and the Red

It’s hot in Velneshwar and there’s not much else you can do. The drive up to the resort is steep, so we trek down for lunch. Pawal is the fish of the day, and I put down as much of it as I can risk two hours before paddling. It’s going to be a hot day. And I need to hit Ganpatipule tonight.

Getting back to the resort, I try and get some more rest. It’s a combination of an evil lingering cold, exhaustion and dehydration that gets me 45 minutes of sleep. Then it’s time for sunscreen.

As we drive the kayak down to the beach, the restauranter next to the beach and his customers come down to see me off. It’s 3 o’clock and still no mercy from the sea. I must be daft they reckon. I think they’re right. As on cue, the sun turns up the dials a little. As I slip out of the rocks lining Velneshwar, I try and pick up the pace. 30 minutes later, I’m still no quicker. At an hour, it’s 7 odd kilometers and I’m just rounding Jaigarh Fort. As I pass past a huge factory on the left, that smell of civilisation wafts through the hot afternoon air. I paddle hard.

Civilisation = Factory?
Civilisation = Factory?

On the hill here at Jaigarh stands a massive lighthouse. In it’s streaks of white and red, it looks magnificent and I pale in magnitude. I stop half for a selfie, half to let off some steam. It’s 4:20 and the sun is still not letting up. Not much to do apart from sip some drink.

Paddling past the lighthouse
Paddling past the lighthouse

The problem is dehydration. It’s going to get to me in a bit. On the boat, Shanj calls out for me to eat something. So I welcome the break. My go pro looks like it will give out in a bit, and as we sit chatting about the heat and my needing to drink and pee more, it gives way. A devour an orange to the amusement of Shanj and then quickly swap my go-pro out. The new one will give me 2 hours of paddling, but the sun will give me a lot less. By 5:30 it finally relents and I slip off my skin. The warm air quickly dries off my skin and I feel much refreshed. At 6 I round the final bend. I have a couple of choices to make.

Paddling in the evening heat
Paddling in the evening heat

1. Follow my GPS down to Ganpatipule. It’s 6 kms out and I can make it in 45 minutes if I paddle hard. This gets the job done, but leaves the safety boat in the lurch because their nearest jetty is at Malgund and they’d lose all light coming after me.
2. Follow my line of sight to Malgund beach. It’s 2 kms out and it puts me within reaching distance of Ganpatipule and the jetty and the car can come out to get me.

An Evening of Paddling
An Evening of Paddling

As Shanj plays out the options again, Santosh’s suggestion in the background betrays what he really wants. This coupled with the fact that Ganpatipule has hidden rocks close to shore, ruled 1 out.

As the sun dims behind me softly, I paddle into Malgund. It’s a short stretch but getting there early will not do anything as the car(and dry clothes) are 20 minutes away. It lets me do other things, like admire the water. Stick my feet out on one side and paddle sideways like a crab. Take in the jetty and our boatsmen tie ‘Jaeger’ up. This is what Kayaking is about. What you fill your non-paddling moments with. As I dismount and put my go-pro out, this nasty wave welcomes me to the beach.

As I drag a kayak out onto the shore, I’m alarmed by how clear this water is. It’s also warm. And with no one in sight, I dive back into the water. 1. to swim around 2. to stay warm.

Keeping warm
Keeping warm

As the last light leaves us, Shanj shows up at the kayak. My driver has done a good job of getting lost and it sends mom into a panic. When we get through to them, we help them find us and that jolly-good-sport of a driver helps me take my kayak back. Racked-up, and a small backrub later, we are packed in and ready to get to Ganpatipule.

Day 9. This is Kaustubh, just short of Ganpatipule. But dry and warm.
Paddle Hard.

A slow kayaking day

A slow kayaking day

Time to read: 5 min

Another day of training started early and I was awake by 7. A look out at the water though sent me back to the covers. The tide was way out and there was no wind at all. Despite having to tackle the afternoon sun if I lingered, I decided to catch up on some much needed sleep. After a quick breakfast, I slept off for 45 minutes. Re-woke at 8:30 and was on the water by 9.

Conditions had improved marginally, and I set a decent pace down to the rocks just off Mandwa beach. The tide was out and I could clearly see the rocks. Just to highlight their presence, the breakers created white froth as they crashed on them. I steered well clear to the point of pointing towards bombay. Once sufficiently out of harms way, I turned south to coast down the coastline. Rounding the turn the is the north face of the mainland, I turned to find the blue fishing boat from yesterday. Abandonment is a thing. I dwelled on the loneliness of the boat for a few seconds and then carried on. About 4.5 kms into it, I had my first break. I saw a clearing in a beach I’d not docked at and pulled in; If for nothing else, but the beauty of this picturesque house / villa / resort on it.

Kayak against someone's sprawling house on the beach
Not a bad property is it? The house in the back’s not bad either.

I got back in the water quickly and made for Awas once more. This time I met the fishermen of Sasawane and had a quick chat. The sun was coming up quick and I didn’t linger. I was looking to head back after 7 kms but in the distance I saw a group of people playing on the beach. It seemed like cricket, but the love for games on the beach is something I couldn’t resist. So when I drew up alongside, I was happy to see that they were playing a real sport. Football. Before the breakers could toss me out the kayak I was on the beach, ready to join in.*

Football. Not cricket.
Who can resist a good game of football?

In return I let the eldest of the family sit in the kayak for as long as he could. Having had his fill of sea water, he re-enquired about my expedition. I got on with my training and had barely gone 200 metres, when a fish flew straight out the water and back in again. Such sightings are now a common thing, but when I say fish I mean, a fish the length of my arm and the height of my face. Short of a catapult, I could not fathom the power that would propel this, easily 5 kg, beast out the water and a metre into the air**. Barely had I had the time to say ‘Whosbeenfeedingyouyoumonster’ when it had gone back in. I’m not sure what he was doing getting some air time, but I think we both left with the impression that strange creatures abounded in the waters near Awas. As if by mutual understanding we decided to put each other out of our minds and paddle on. Paddle Hard fish.

The rest of my paddle was uneventful except when rounding back to the jetty, the tide had found it’s feet and was crawling up the beach. I hadn’t accounted for it, and at the lovely breakers that were so pronounced, I miscalculated my turn and found myself in the midst of the rocks. Feeling through the rises and falls around me, I gave the rocks the slip, but it was a bit of tricky business with the water falling and rising and waves hitting me from three sides for that minute I was hung. It quickened my heart rate a little and I have to think that Mr. Fly-So-High fish must have had a “that’ll teach you, you white-black-and-orange surface dweller” smile on his Fly-So-High lips.

I returned to a healthy lunch of chicken and rice. A few phone calls to sponsors and media ensued and I spent the afternoon recovering. After a quick snooze, I got back into gear and headed out a second time. I made for the fishing village of bodani aided by the light evening wind, which was a trickle compared to what I’ve had on this stretch in the recent past. The tide had gone back out again, and ahead of bodani I saw teams of fishermen in pairs, out a km from land but standing up at waist length.

Fishermen with their hand nets
Low tide means get the fishing net out to go shrimping

It made for a fun way to unwind with no wind in sight, and I spent some time going from one fisherman pair to the next. Once content they knew what they were doing, I headed back. Job done. The kayak back didn’t offer much excitement, but was an hour of paddling in the wind again. Finally back to shore, I practiced my re-entry without the jacket, and I must say it’s a lot easier. I’m tempted to tuck it in the back and pull it out only in emergencies.

*This is disputable, as the author might have been thrown out of the kayak by a vicious wave that didn’t respect the rules of kayaking. As there were no witnesses to this, (football is a very immersive sport) the author is entitled to deny this allegation entirely.

**No, I didn’t take a picture of this fish. But it would look something like this –

http://lonestarchronicles.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/BertDan015.jpg

The goatee is a little misleading.