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Tortola – British Virgin Islands &#8211


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When my friend, Nick asked me to do a barebones sailing charter (that means WE do the sailing) in the British Virgin Islands last month I was extra special delighted (and relieved) to find he had obtained two sit-on-tops to accompany us on the deck.

On our second day in 80 degree waters we ventured out with VHF radio, PFD’s, some money and one whistle, mine. Among other things my words to Nick, a complete novice were, “ now, don’t paddle too far away from me”.

Our first stop was at a fisherman’s dock on the ‘other side of the island’ where we picked up two lobsters. They don’t have claws down there but are still dangerous…no safety rubber bands. I had the presence of mind to tie the lobsters to the bow line of our 8 ft boats.

So, it’s a lovely day, Nick dumps once while playing in a rock garden and we are about to paddle around a headland. I’m figuring, ‘Let’s put on our PFD’s”. We round the headland, no problem. The waves are getting a little bigger but no big deal.

But I can’t figure it out. Every wave that comes by is making me more and more nervous… out of place for the wave size and boat handler’s skill…or so I thought. Finally, one wave gets me off balance and the next one knocks me over. Thank goodness for tying our lobster dinners, now kicking all over the place,to the boat.

Nick, naturally is nowhere near me, cause a novice paddler has no idea of how long it might take to do a rescue. And what’s a rescue, anyway?

I’m not in any distress but having a ton of trouble getting back in the boat. Humm. What is the problem here? Haven’t I paddled for ten years and I can’t get back in the boat? Is that herniated disc acting up again? But the body inventory registers no pain and I persist in trying to get back in the boat to no avail.

I notice as I try to mount the kayak one last time before I blow the whistle that the bow is suspiciously pointing up in the air! It’s then that I realize that it is filled with water with the stern submerged. So that is the problem. The veritable, deadly leak in the boat with no floatation. So that’s what they mean, truly no maneuverability and definitely no stability. Dead in the water. Should I expect a Caribbean sailing enterprise to outfit us with safe and reliable kayaking equipment?

I’m stranded in the water, getting close to the rocks but not too fast, so I blow the whistle. The lone yacht many hundreds of yards away hears me and finally alerts Nick who is close to them and unaware of what is happening behind him.

He finally gets to me and my disabled craft. I mount the back of his boat and we drag this hulk of water filled plastic (how it killed my back…) to the yacht. The nice fellows on fishing and scuba vacation are happy to haul us back to our boat. One fellow rigs a pulley system to drain the gallons of water out of my boat which we note has a two inch by ¼” crack in it on the seat.

Safe and sound, the Caribbean kayaking adventure behind us, the moral of the story is, always check rented equipment. Don’t assume anything ( at least I brought my own paddle… in a hard rifle case…yes, it was an FBI airport adventure…and that’s another story). And paddle closer together especially in unfamiliar areas with new paddlers. Warm water always makes the stakes way, way lower.

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