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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

There are no roads

There are no roads

Time to read: 6 min

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.

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 2: New shores

Day 2: New shores

Time to read: 5 min

Today I snoozed it. For 5 minutes. I woke in 3.

The good people at Arany woke up at 3:30 to have breakfast ready. I felt a tad guilty shovelling the double egg omlette and 3 toasts down. A bunch of fruits and a tea later, I was feeling much relieved. The drive down to Kihim was longer than I imagined, and our driver, a regular columbus meant I was awoken multiple times to find the right path.

I hurried down to the water as the land party found parking. At the beach, I found the beached boat with my Kayak safely towed on board. As I warmed up our two boatsmen undid the kayak and set her down. There were a inordinate number of joggers at the beach, and only after the 20th person slowed down did I realise I’d upset some Kihim Beach run. (There seem to be more runs than cricket matches these days, and I’m not saying that’s a bad thing)

In the midst of changing my playlist, I lost my precious blue bailer. It was a sign that I needed to keep the kayak dry?

Changing my music at Kihim
Changing music can be a gruelling thing

I didn’t wait for the grounded boat to get clear. (The beach party had a fair bit of fun getting the boat out, I later learnt and my mom’s maternal instincts, or her inkling for fun, made her tug at the boat too)

Pulling the boat out to the water
Mom gives it a go!

It was 7:25 and from yesterday’s sun, I would need some sun block today. I dove a km straight in before tacking and made for the gap to port of the islands. I immediately felt the jolt as the rising tide drove me further and faster. Assisted by it, and not bracing, I clocked a good 8.8 kms in the first hour and 8 minutes. A simple wave and a friendly hello made a bemused fisherman point me through the rocks and out towards Alibaug. The mist was the same, but a silhouette of the distant hillocks made for easy redirection.

Just short of Alibaug, is the Kolaba fort. Apart from being a lovely fortified island, and playing harbour to some colourful fishing boats, Kolaba fort is occupied by all of 5 fishing families. Talking about knowing your neighbours, my safety boat caught up with me here, and it gave us our first shots of the day.

Kolaba fort it is
Coasting past Kolaba Fort

I was doing just fine, and the tide really funneled through this stretch. I was keen on making it work for me, so I sipped some more water and carried on. Alibaug was our first big marker, though the mist made little of the beauty that everyone flocks here for. I stuck to my fishing boats and weaved through. Past Alibaug, Revdanda was the next big point of call and we’d decided to stop here today. After about 17 kms of paddling and roughly 2.5 hours on the water, I felt pretty good though.

Feeling good paddling
Feeling good paddling

So we skipped Revdanda. Shanj and Santosh rerouted me to skip past the inlet at Revdanda and it helped shave off quite a few kms along my current path. The current was strong here, and I used it right to the point of breaking off and headed onward. At around 25 kms I started to feel it. And we had our second refill of the hydration pack. I had just just 2 500ml bottles, so we stopped to draw from the 20 litre barrels. This gave mom and Shanj, who are taking surprising well to being on water, the time to feed me a bunch of things including an energy bar, dates, and anjeer. I’m pretty sure there was a point of time that I was fed some Gulkand Barfi (But I couldn’t complain)

Now, the thing with this GoPro-ing is. It’s great for quick trips, but when you’re out on the water for 5 hours straight and you leave it on video, you tend to run out of juice in 2 hours. Swapping one go-pro for another gave an adventurous Shanj a bit of the sickness of the sea, and gave mom one more person to worry about. The shade of the boat was a great respite as the sun was really turning it up here. And it was only 10:30.

Having had my fair share of injesting and outletting water, I had just about had it with the sun, when the mist cleared. And I could see the coast of Maharashtra in all her beauty. Endless rows of trees in varying shades of green adorned the landscape and hillocks that dotted the coast. The water turned a deep shade of green and the wind picked up. Deliverance.

I was 4 kms off the shore paddling into the beautiful water when I saw the beach that had made me skip Revdanda. I was at Kashid. As I crossed the last turn I remembered that it was a sunday, and banana boater after banana boater welcomed me to what appearde to be the holiday destination for 2015. I distanced myself from the crowd and found a nice patch to land on.

Feet on the ground. 32 Kms.

A good run. A good start.

Going solo
Going solo
Day 1. Home Stretch

Day 1. Home Stretch

Time to read: 6 min

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.

 

The man who crosses Oceans

The man who crosses Oceans

Time to read: 2 min

Álvaro de Marichalar.

Jetski route from Rome to New York
Rome to New York

Up until yesterday afternoon I had known madness in the form of Bear Grylls and Freya Hoffmeister. Sandy Robinson and our own Lt. Cdr. Abhilash Tomy.

Yesterday I met someone who has crossed the Pacific Ocean on a JetSki. He’s done a 18,000 km trip from Rome to New York on a 3m Jetski. To say that it’s madness is an understatement. To say that it’s being free is an even bigger one.

At the Royal Bombay Yacht Club, he gave a modest audience a 30 minute lecture on his expeditions, what motivates him and what the sea is to him. I spoke to him of my expedition and he was happy to meet me today morning.

I met him at 9:30 this morning, after navigating some good bit of office traffic. He was full of ideas and things to share. And from his wealth of experience, I gathered some important insights –

  • Water, water, every where; Nor any drop to drink.
  • Navigating with the wind, setting it behind you as far as possible
  • Trust in fisherman. Not the weather guy.
  • Wear a white cotton t-shirt. If any clothing at all. (You are out in the wild, aren’t you?)
  • Maps and Navigation
  • Logging the event

He’s promised to help out with any questions I may have. And I probably will have more.

But the important question that he answered yesterday itself – Sharks are like Pitbull. If you don’t give them a reason, they won’t bite you.

More on his exploits – www.pacificdiscoveryexpedition.com