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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.

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.