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
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.
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 😉 )
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.*
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.
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 –
I woke up rather rested today. I have to admit, I stayed off the water entirely yesterday. (My lower back hasn’t fancied carrying the kayak everytime there is a low tide, and I felt it needed to lay low yesterday) The day rest had done me good and as I eased out the muscles at warm-up, I felt like there was a fair bit of paddling ahead of me. I was on the water the earliest I’ve been in my last week, and at 9 o’clock I was rounding the bend at Mandwa.
Taking the advice of seasoned kayakers, I stopped mid-way to chat up some fishermen. This is something like asking for directions in Bandra, minus the condescension at not knowing pali-hill. I’ve learned fishermen are most helpful, and these chaps were quick to point out where I’d meet some rocks and what time I should look to head back unless I meet headwinds that would render me useless. Since trudging seems to be the order of the week, I trudged on. Saw the breakers and steered clear off them. They seemed harmless enough and after rounding the rock face, I started my quick trip down.
The wind was a little high here, and the uncertainty of the swell around the face meant I had to stay sharp. Generally, I don’t mind head wind. I can feel the wind change better and I tend to see the incoming waves. It’s where two waves meet that one has to brace. A km of paddling cautiously meant I was out of this area and headed down further. I could feel a small tail wind and the waves wanted to drag me onto some rocks they had a fancy for. I decided otherwise and paddled deeper out into sea. At 5.5 kms I came across the fishing ships of, what mama at the BSA club house would later point out, Sasawane Beach. As Google confirms this, I must remember to slap mama on the back and tell him what a good old chap he is. (This might eventually lead to my ousting from the club house, as mama is a good chap just as often as I take a strong dose of sugar in my tea.)
I tried my best to amble through the fishing boats, but the following waves meant I steered clear and kept all of these boats well to port. At this stage, I might remind you that my fishing friends from mandwa had given me a strict mandate for when to return. And at 8 kms out, I felt I had another 15 minutes before I started back. I found a nice stretch of beach that didn’t look very threatening, and I made for it through the waves. Waves don’t always think highly of your plans so when I had my two legs out for a nice swift dismount, they decided to throw me out and fill my boat. Nothing quite like getting a little wet in the morning, and I laughed as I pulled me kayak out the water.
I let the water out the kayak and stretched my legs. I took a few minutes to appreciate the untouched beach I’d found myself on. The lone person walking the beach, I found, was some random pole 500 metres off. The trees lined up 20 metres from where I’d landed and things looks surprisingly white and green. I paused long enough to readjust my food and water, and take a few selfies. Then it was back in the kayak. There were a few strong waves and I waited for the large one, and then ducked into the water. Marathoners at the finish would have been proud, and I found myself on the other side of the waves in no time.
Then it was back to paddling and I braved the first 2-3 kms in full headwind. Nearing Sasawane, I heard the unmistakable hum of an overhead chopper. Having had enough of their antics, I was in no mood to stop for the Navy. At first, I felt the Navy thought the same of me, and they ran right over head. A little over the fishing boats, still a km in the distance, they turned and ran past me. Circled around and then went overhead into the sea. It’s that mixed feeling of relief and anguish at being deemed ‘small fry’. Paddling back was good fun, and I enjoyed the wind in my face. By the time I rounded the turn for Mandwa, I’d better the tide and wind, and wasn’t overtly concerned about he breakers near the coast. The last 2 kms, the wind died entirely, and the high tide carried me slowly and surely home.
18 km in a little over 2.5 hours. It was a good start to the day.
In the afternoon, I admit I snoozed the alarm a little longer than intended and was out on the water at 5 p.m. It allowed me to catch a nice tailwind and coast down to the picturesque fishing village called Bodani.
I passed bodani and decided to stop to chat up my fellow maharashtrians. I found they were busy mending their boats. And it made for a sight indeed. On one of my roadtrips, from Manipal to Panjim back in 2010, I’d chanced upon a fishing boat factory where they were making these fine boats, and the warmth of the people there always brings a smile to my face. I encountered these people toiling away at their boat were no different. They were quick to pose for a photo and full of question about where I came from.
Here are some pics from that lovely little village.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.