CASKE 2000 > Stories > Adventure > Honduras > Tough Call

STORY FROM HONDURAS

Sleeping at Sea or Landing in the Dark, a Tough Call !

4/06/2000 by Jean-Philippe Soule


We rested all day under the shade of a sea grape tree, staring at the mad ocean. By 3 PM I noticed that with the low tide, there were less breakers to pass, and more space between each wave. The problem that same morning had been their tremendous power. (read: "The New Rush: Night Kayak-Surfing in Reverse") While they did not curl as high as other waves we had paddled through before, they were much faster.

The wind had stopped blowing, and the surf appeared easier to handle. I woke Luke up and we got ready to go. We didn't want to be stuck another day on this tricky beach if the wind picked-up again. I thought we had a chance to get out and we had to take it.

Luke nervously launched first while I took photos of him. A couple of times I thought he was going to end up in a back flip, and he even caught some air a few times, but he made a clean exit out of the surf zone.

I followed after packing my camera gear. With the experience of the morning still vivid in my mind, I set up apprehensively. With good timing between the waves, and back paddling to avoid the explosions of the second set of rollers, I still had time to gain enough speed to break through. One close call threw me in the air just as I cleared a curling wave that dropped off right under the stern of my kayak. A few minutes later, I was out and it took me five minutes to catch my breath from the effort. A sharp pain throbbed between my left shoulder blade and spine. It must have been the last violent paddle stroke I gave to pass the final wave.

Luke was waiting, recuperating from his launch. It was 4 PM when we actually started paddling south. We knew we had two hours of light and needed to find a better beach to land on. After 45 minutes, a beautiful beach appeared. The surf looked very big; from the sea we couldn't really judge its size or the shape of the waves. All we knew was that large swell was breaking on the beach in a curl of light blue water. That's all we could see. I was still in shock from the morning and intimidated by the landing. From our position, we couldn't tell if the surf was smooth or dumping. It could have been anywhere from 6 to 12 feet high. We had never landed our foldable kayaks through a 12-foot shore break and never wanted to try. Not only would the kayaks break, we’d be crushed as well.

We decided to push on until dusk. The beach became steep with dunes. The more we kept going; the less appealing the beach became. At 5:30 , as the sun dipped close to the surface of the ocean, we decided that we had to land without delay. Just as Luke approached the surf zone we noticed a jeep going full speed on the beach. It was then followed a minute later by a slower pick-up truck. It seemed odd to us that private four-wheel drive vehicles were patrolling the beach in the evening in such remote place. We remembered the armed drug guards who forbade us access to a beach north of La Ceiba. We recalled the stories we had heard about drug traffickers along this coast. We didn't want to deal with that type of situation, but our only alternative-- to spend the full night in our kayaks paddling--wasn't much more appealing. The decision between death and discomfort is an easy one and we resigned ourselves to a long uncomfortable night on the ocean.

At 6 PM the jeeps had long since passed and the wind and surf were getting stronger. Luke made the call, "It's almost dark. If we land and quickly haul the kayaks and hide them in the bushes nobody will see us."

"Ok, let's hurry" I replied.

I was still nervous about the landing, but there was no time to waste, soon we wouldn't see the waves forming behind us. I took the lead and Luke followed two waves behind. I waited for four large waves to pass and let the last one break a couple of feet in front of my bow. I looked down at the lip of the wave and paddled hard behind it so as not to be caught by the next large set. Then I stopped and back paddled into the second set as it was breaking. As soon as it went by, I started paddling as hard as I could. Closer to the beach, I surfed down the third set which was already smaller, and ended up bracing and side-surfing the last set onto the beach. Luke followed a few seconds later. We quickly hauled our kayaks up the beach. It was a perfect landing for both of us. Our timing was perfect, both in the waves and with the light. Five more minutes and we would have been landing blind.

The beach was very steep and narrow and the high tide line went up to the edge of thick vegetation. We found a small patch of dry sand hidden behind some trees and hurried to unload our kayaks. As I returned to my boat I saw people walking toward us. Our secrecy hadn’t lasted long. All I could see were the shadows of two people. The person behind was holding something that looked like a rifle. The man in the front was holding a machete and the sharp edge of the blade flashed in the night. Less than two minutes on the beach and already we were in trouble. I started closing my hatches and tried to hide my fear. Then I saw a third silhouette, one of a child. Reassured, I walked toward the couple with their little daughter and greeted them. They had been working in their yucca field and what I thought was a rifle was just a machete the woman carried, with the blade resting in the crook of her arm.

They were surprised that we had been on the ocean with these conditions. None of the local people ever go to sea during Nortes. They could not believe we had come from La Ceiba in our little cayucos. After satisfying their curiosity with a few questions, they reassured us. There were no bad people around, but we had to clear the beach of our kayaks, as it is one of the roads used for transportation between Limon and the last Garifuna villages of the Punto Cabo Camaron. We had barely covered 6.5 nautical miles, a meager distance compared to the 25.5 miles of the day before, but it was a day full of emotions and challenges. Not knowing the sea conditions we would have tomorrow, we decided to enjoy a good night’s sleep. Waking up at 4 AM would be enough to be ready to go at daybreak. We had earned a decent night’s sleep.


Read the first part of the same day:
The New Rush: Night Kayak-Surfing in Reverse

If you liked this story try the following Selected Stories:
Surviving Nicaragua, A Kayaker's Battlefield


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