Starting off inside Khasab harbour blissfully unaware of what awaited us on the open ocean!
You would think that, at my age, I would be wise enough to know my limitations. I learnt, or re-learned, some tough lessons last weekend and was lucky to have got off quite lightly.
Most Saturday mornings at dawn I join a group of sea kayakers and we canoe from the Jumeirah beach around the Burj and Palm, usually on perfectly flat water. I am new to the sport and have thoroughly enjoyed these trips. My nervousness has grown into confidence. Over the barbeque fire our kayaking group hatched a bold plan that would take our kayaking to a new level.
We loaded up the sea kayaks and long before sunrise one Friday morning set off for Khasab in the Mussandam region of Oman. The plan was to load the camping equipment and families onto a dhow which would go ahead to Telegraph Island. A group of six of us would follow, paddling the 12km on sea kayaks and meet the others at the island. We would stop to watch the dolphins playing on the way and enjoy the sunset from our campsite.
The seasons are changing at this time of year and the wind had whipped up a stormy sea, which we watched with trepidation as we drove along the coast. My wife, an experienced sailor, took one look at the water and told me, quit sensibly, that it was far too stormy. No question about it. I was more optimistic and kept on saying ‘we’ll see what it’s like when we get there’. The sea was just as rough at Khasab and, having decided to be safe and go on the dhow, I went over to the paddlers to tell them that I was not going to join them.
‘No, no, no, Andy’, said Renier, ‘went we did this last year it was just as rough and we all made it. Don’t worry. You’ll be fine’. The others gathered around to reassure me that paddling would be a great adventure. They twisted my arm and I agreed to join them. My wife looked at me with a look that said ‘you’ll regret this’, and I waved goodbye.
The water inside the harbour was calm, as it always is, but as we left the shelter and headed out into the open sea it was terrifying. The waves were two metres tall and angry and within moments the others, being experts, had zoomed off and I was left behind floundering. I made a few hundred meters before I capsized for the first time. It was a battle to get back in, but I managed and sloshed along for a few seconds before toppling over again. And again. And again. I felt like I was in a washing machine and was getting tired quickly. Two of the others came back to help, but in those wild waters there was little they could do. I was in trouble.
Summoning up all my strength I climbed back into the kayak, turned around and headed back to the harbour. I don’t know how I did it, but I made it to the slipway, hauled my boat onto the shore and kissed the firm ground. All my clothes and kit were on a dhow far away, so I looked around for help. Some kind Italians offered me a ride in their dhow and it was only when I was out in the bay in that I appreciated how rough the sea was and hopeless my efforts would have been to continue. We picked up quite a few of the group along the way in various states of exhaustion.
The day had a happy ending with us all on Telegraph Island enjoying a sunset barbeque.
I was reminded of some important lessons. The first was to think with my head and not to give into the ‘it’ll be all right’ mentality of adventure sports people. They may be graduate professionals, but that doesn’t mean that they have much common sense. The second was to listen to my wife, who is the voice of reason. The third was that the line between bravery and stupidity is a fine one and we were lucky to have got away without something serious happening – the sea commands respect. I think I’ll give up being a risk-taker for awhile!