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Paddling Blind

Paddling Blind

One of my favourite poems ‘On his blindness’ by John Milton ends

Thousands at his bidding speed
And post o’er Land and Ocean without rest:
They also serve who only stand and wait.

A friend of mine, Sandeep Mhatre, had buzzed me when I last checked into Karanja. A 17 km paddling trip that was one of these flights of fancy. I’d returned home to powai when he’d seen it but I promised to meet him saturday morning.

Waking up at 7 today, I have to say it took a long time to get on the water. A few days back, I’d lost my right eye contact to a wave while re-entering my kayak(subsequently, I tried in vain to get back in). So I broke a new case open, got my glares out and was ready to hit the water by 9. A good warm up and I hauled my kayak down to the water. The plan was simple. Cut straight across to Uran following the flames. I sent my spectacles and my contact lens box with a friend who would join us in Uran. 100 metres in, I felt my right eye twitch. I felt my contact travel down my cheek and fly into the water. Good luck finding that again.

I had two options. Head back to the club house and open another contact lens box or paddle to Uran. So began my 8.5 km trip with one eye. Now, I know it’s probably romantic thinking of an eye patch and a wooden leg, but the ground realities are that when your kayak is being washed by waves on starboard and a nice morning wind is slapping your right cheek, the depth perception of two eyes is a good thing. I had to veer off quite a bit, and like Frodo & Sam, make a circuitous route to the eye of Mordor. (Flames of Uran) It made for a fun trip and my brand new waterproof earphones, that Saurabh kindly gifted me for my birthday, dubstep blaring, was a bit of a distraction keeping me from hearing the waves. I changed course and made more for Karanja, planning on hugging the coast when I got there. It meant a bit of headwind and I learnt to make peace with that. Little by little I corrected my course till I was staring right at the flames. Keeping them to my right, I carried on, past the dargah, across a line of rocks and in between the fishing lines. An old couple on a rickety green boat was making for shore. As they saw me, they enquired who’s boat this was. As my reply went – mine, they asked me where I came from. I said Mandwa, and got an incredulous question back – is there a motor attached. I said – No. Bewildered he went – Chappu? I wished them a good day, and paddled on past the broken jetty that was our decided point to meet with Sandeep.

Landing at Uran
Landing at Uran

As I disembarked and walked my kayak to shore, I was happily reunited with my spectacles. I swapped out the lens and sat to admire the stretch I’d just bested. While Sandeep couldn’t meet us, his brother Sanjeev and his wife, Anita had brought their boys, Dishant and Mohit, down to the water. I took Mohit out on the kayak and he loved the way it ran on the water. He looked a natural taking my club carbon paddle and even stroking the water. A passing wave rattled him a little but only for an instant, and when we finally took him out of the kayak, he had the paddle stuck in his right hand. #startingyoung

Sanjeev, very graciously took us to coffee to a lovely place overlooking the water and it was a welcome break, talking about NDA and sailing and my upcoming trip. It was an hour well spent. I wanted to cast off, since the afternoon wind wouldn’t be in my favour and I didn’t intend on being stuck in the sun for any longer than I needed to.

Coffee table at Uran
Catching up

I set off and skirted past the fishing lines, pulling my rudder up in the ones I couldn’t avoid. It seemed to be going well enough, when I realised my right eye was leaking. I contemplated washing it out, but thought it would probably pass given time. I was wrong. As I waded deeper into the water, crossing into the channel, the irritation got worse and I found myself keeping my eyes shut for longer durations of time. The glare off the water was immense and very soon, I could keep the right eye open just for a few seconds. Again, I found myself paddling blind in one eye. There were a few things in my favour though. For one, the water was calm. Secondly, the wind hadn’t picked up considerably. Mid channel it was anyone’s guess where the waves were coming from, but I kept the pace. I barely braced, but corrected my course multiple times. Starting with Gull Island to my starboard, I ended up crossing it at port, something that was necessitated by a series of rocks on it’s east side. Past the island, I figured I needed to correct my course further, and the ferry from Bombay helped a blind man remap Mandwa. When I was past Gull Island, with a couple more kms to go, the glare was blinding, and with just my spectacles(spectacle to be honest) I had a tough time keeping an eye out for sudden waves. When I arrived at the jetty, I was a little more at peace. I rushed ashore and washed out my eye. It felt so good, I even did away with my PFD and did a km run within sight of shore.

I’m not one for standing and waiting, but paddling hard over Land and Ocean without rest seems just fine.

Post over land and sea
Post over land and sea
The delight of being on the water

The delight of being on the water

I woke up later than I intended to. The sun was way past that time that we ignore each other’s existences.

I turned and I felt my back throb. I reflected on last evening and decided a prolonged evening out is not for me anymore.

I felt the laziness kick in, and just as I was about to spur myself to leave it in bed, dad yells out – “Mom’s made methi for you. You better have lunch and go.”

Foiled. By mom’s marvelous methi. We can take a moment to reflect on how beautiful a thing it is. When I make my big debut on Masterchef, I’ll make a methi so fine, people won’t need desert. And then I’ll shrug it off and say “You should try my mom’s.” (End of digression.)

I’d luckily purchased and packed a host of healthy food and groceries for Mandwa. And after a nice sumptuous methi lunch, I set off on that 3 hour journey to training. In the attempt to get there, I take a rick to Vikhroli, a train down to CST, a bus to Gateway(Why, because buses are cool) and a ferry to Mandwa. In the middle of all this, I manage to make time for a pack of popcorn freshly made, and a medium glass of sugarcane juice from Gupta’s (that most awesome of sugarcane juicers). In my ‘oh-can-we-just-get-there’ morning melee, I hadn’t accounted for the punctuality of our ferry men, and I had to grumpily acknowledge the growing heat of a Bombay afternoon. (Safe to say, despite the Starks and ravens from the citadel, summer is coming)

The ferry ride was mostly uneventful, apart from a couple that were conspicuously dressed to match, in their white shirts and black trousers and black shoes. I wouldn’t have paid too much attention if not for the copious amounts of chips they were so eager on tossing to the passing gulls. One can only imagine a more health conscious seagull taking much issue with our penguin draped friends. In a fit of rage, I can picture him / her hovering precariously close to penguin man’s face and saying – “I say old chap, I do hope you’re feeding your children better than that.” Flap, flap, flap.

Sea Gulls flying past the oil rig
Sea Gull Health Inspectors take flight.

Seeing as how this didn’t really happy and these hapless gulls lapped up all the Balaji wafers offered up to them, I felt it was time to get down to the task at hand. Offloading my supplies I trudged down to the club house. A chance encounter with Randhir Behl was a welcome break to my otherwise slow day and after exchanging notes on our plans for the remainder of the weekend, I got down to changing into gear.

I must, at this point, remind you about the state of my muscles and the soreness it felt. I returned to trudging and picked my kayak from it’s housing. With a heavy foot, I pulled it down to the water. Did my stretches. A few muscles that had had the snooze button on, were rudely awakened. I took the kayak in, assembled my paddle. Eased into it, and gave it a few strokes. My Suunto didn’t kick in for the first 500 meters, and that’s when I felt it.

A rush of wind coming from just beyond the jetty. Smack on my port side. A wave splashed right along the side of the boat, and dragged me a good 5 metres wide. And just like that I was awake again. And I was paddling. Sometimes, all it needs is that first jolt.

Kayaking into the sun
Sunset, Kayak and a touch of wind

I did roughly 8 kms of paddling, quite a bit into the wind. It was a quick sea and it let me know that I needed to have my wits about me. In the distance I could spot a bunch of sailors enjoying the wind. I could agree with them, if not for my rude awakening. I paddled till the sun had had enough of me, brought the kayak 100 metres off the beach, and did my capsize training. 10 successful reentries and a jug full of sea water later, I called it a day and hauled my kayak back to it’s home.

From Mandwa, on my 5th day, this is Kaustubh Khade, Paddling 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.

The joy of receiving…

The joy of receiving…

…your paddling equipment.

Epic Paddles flown in to Bombay
Hello Equipment!
Mid Wing and Touring Paddles
Sphinx (Black) & Nameless(White)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

With baited breath you wait at the arrivals gate of the airport. I’ve been here tons of times, with tons of friends and had many a fun moment scaring, exciting and surprising people. And yet, today I wait with baited breath. With an unspoken anticipation that is telling to present company.

My cousin Rohit, or RB, was kind enough to purchase, parcel and post my brand new kayak paddles just in time for the journey. I do not know the person I am to receive, just a name and the familiar sight of Epic Paddle bags. Her family awaits at the head of a queue of eager, bubbly, teary-eyed, red-eyed people awaiting their sons, daughters, wives, mother-in-laws, bosses.

I however, am the only person checking out luggage.

An hour of waiting and I see them. Proudly mounted atop two other suitcases. My babies are here.

Decorum dictated I didn’t rush Mugda. Or hug her and jump up and down in glee. After the requisite time allowed to her to greet family and friends, I respectfully approached at her brother’s calling. Thanking her and her most accommodating brother Sourabh, I whisked away my paddles and let the family have their space.

As you can see, I wasted no time in letting them out for some cold(?) Bombay air. And have been fawning over them all day today. The black one is Sphinx. (After Vinnie Jones from Gone-in-60-seconds.) The other needs a name. Suggestions?

Why Kayak

Why Kayak

 

Prongs Lighthouse
Prongs Lighthouse

There’ll always be serendipity involved in discovery – Jeff Bezos

As I step up my training, I find that rather than doing circles around familiar territory, It’s far more rewarding heading out in new directions. Every paddle out however comes with the knowledge that you need to paddle an extra stroke back.

On days, this means that if I have a meeting with sponsors or a call with media, I have to be extra careful about the clock. I find myself on occasion whipping out my phone at 10:30 or 11:15 sharp in the middle of the water, trying to find a calm spot to coast while I take a call and make my pitch. Often I wonder what the other person is thinking hearing the calm of the sea in the background.

Digression aside, the real reason why, is that when you are 8.5kms off shore after a gruesome hour and a half of paddling a very unwieldy, overweight recreational kayak, you see a lighthouse. Standing tall as the sea comes crashing down on a reef behind it.

In the distance and with the morning sun, you see a fishing fleet coming out of the mouth of mumbai harbour. Calmly they pass by, a mysteriously queer line. You wonder how there is such discipline in these shipping boats as they maintain a line you’ve never seen on the streets of Bombay.

As they pass on by, you find the choppy waters have taken you closer to the lighthouse. You are almost kissing it, when the good people manning it come out to greet you. By the looks of it, they don’t get company too often. And a barrage of questions ensue. You remember human contact that extends beyond the digital. You make a mental note to come back.

Then you cross the lighthouse. And the sea hits you. It’s rough swell snaps you back to reality. There is danger here. You laugh and paddle on. You Paddle Hard.

Meeting with the Governor

Meeting with the Governor

Raj Bhavan sits on the edge of Malabar hill and looks out on to marine drive. On a 3 km run I stand facing the whole of it, with a Mumbai Police buoy to give me company.

On Thursday, the 20th, after a long afternoon of training, I found myself at the house I’ve spent many a kayak session outside. (Albeit on the water.)

In conversation with Ch. Vidyasagar Rao
An evening with the Governor

The Governor of Maharashtra, Ch. Vidyasagar Rao, was exceedingly polite and made allowance for the traffic in Bombay. Rushing in, the ADC gave us a sharp reprimand about the time, but the Governor didn’t bring it up even in passing. His only concern was his evening conversation he had to have with his daughter. Terribly humbling.

Our conversation took place overlooking Marine drive, with it’s soft yellow lights and the soothing sound of waves lending a tranquil setting to the evening.

I informed him of my kayaking, and my representing India at the Dragon Boat race in Thailand, 2012. I told him about the secular team we at the event, with people from Kasmir, Haryana, Chattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Kerala and how often our practice used to bring us far out enough to see his house. The boys had all been curious about it, and it was a point of discussion of many a training.

The hospitality offered was exquisite and extended well after our meeting. The PRO was prompt in giving us photographs as memories of the evening and lent a ear to my coming expedition.

Next step – try to get the governor on the water?

Personal Safety – Check

Personal Safety – Check

Getting enrolled at NAMAC
Sign up for Safety

Seafarers know that there’s nothing more brutal than tempting the sea. I was advised to keep the mad ideas aside for 3 days and focus on what I might encounter at sea.

I signed up for NAMAC’s Personal Safety Techniques course that should in all likelihood keep my head above water. 3 days later, I’ve walked out with a good understanding of what to expect out there, and some quick insights on what to do if I come across the unexpected.

However, there were some gems that went like –

Me: So, sir, if I were to encounter a shark. What should I do?

Naval looking instructor: See. Shark is a fish. If it smells your blood, it will come. And it will suck your blood.

Me: Ok.

Naval looking instructor: See. It won’t bite you. It will suck your blood. And it will leave.

Needless to say, I called it a day after that. [Jaws.Twilight.]

The practical training was quite a bit of fun. And jumping from 4.5 metres into a pool and ferrying people using just the one hand makes for a highly successful day.

We had a good bit of fun over 3 days, and the chaps headed to the next level were a good crowd.

Boys in class
Survival 101
Sea King Rescue Helicopter
The one thing I’m not hoping to see
No one knew who I was till I put on the mask

No one knew who I was till I put on the mask

The most important things leading up to the expedition is training. As Pradip Patade, my kayak guru, has been saying – train, train, train. Be on the water.

Given the limited time, I’m experimenting with some different techniques. So I brought in an Altitude Mask to simulate a high altitude environment. I trust this will help me work on low oxygen and build on stamina.Altitude Training Mask

The reactions today were fun. The mask itself is rather fun to look at. And it wasn’t lost on the people at the gym today, who for better or for worse, gave me very confused looks.

Take Control.

A good day to paddle hard

A good day to paddle hard

Mumbai was overcast today. Lovely weather after the days of may heat.

Optimist Sail boats at Marine Drive
Wind in the sails

Conditions were perfect to take a kayak out and I didn’t need a dry fit with the cloud cover. Slapped on a little sunscreen and after a quick warm up I was out with the wind behind me and the cool water rising over the sides of the kayak.
Heading out to the yacht was a breeze and I pushed it a little further to break the 2 km barrier. (I often do this to gauge my speed on runs to and fro) But you turn back to the shore and I could feel the strain on the arms and the wind hitting you square in the face.

I completed 3 trips. Covering a little more than 12 kms in an hour and a half.
It’s a steady beginning.