My buddy Kris and I checked out a spot we had talked about for years and never made time to explore. Conditions were perfect, 45′ visibility, calm water, no current. Fish were everywhere, first drop down and I was rewarded with a large female sheepshead, Kris popped up with a Vermilion. We left the blues, kelpies, and perch alone for the day and focused on finding Reds and Sheep. By the end of the day we had brightly colored stringers heavy with fish. In total 15 Vermilion and 8 Sheepshead, very close to limits of each.
After an exceptional day of diving last Saturday I blew off work the following Wednesday for what I believed would be the final day of amazing conditions at a spot that was fairly new territory for me.
The swell was a little more powerful on Wednesday, and was stacking up higher than it had before on Saturday. The launch for this area involves either a short portage to a very rocky launch into breaking waves or a much longer portage over a boulder field to a safer sandy beach launch into smaller waves. I’m sure everyone can guess which launch I chose. Saturday’s launch between sets from within the boulder field had gone smoothly and on Wednesday Pete and I had figured the period between big sets was plenty to make it out. Adam and Eric, also diving with us, took one look told me to count my teeth before and after and started carrying their kayaks over to the beach. Well, at the moment of launch, Pete snuck out just perfectly dodging a large breaking set, I waited a bit longer launched and realized I had misjudged the size of a breaker. The wave crashed and the wall of churning water washed across my bow and began rapidly shoving my kayak backwards, I was trying to stay perpendicular and ride it out when SMACK, the stern keel area (Adam, JT at CCK informs me skeg is not the correct term and actually refers to a blade that can be removed) of my kayak catches a large rock and I backflipped out of my seat into the water, got knocked around in the surf for a minute, gathered my things, flipped my kayak back over, took another look at the sets and punched back out, this time without problem.
Caught up to Pete, took a minute to wipe some of the shit I had just eaten off my chin, and we start paddling towards the dive site. About halfway there and I notice my kayak is becoming very unstable. At first I thought I had just taken on a lot of water in the spill, so Pete and I flipped my yak over slid the bow onto the center of his boat and began trying to drain it, that’s when I noticed a fountain coming out of the hole in my keel.
At this point, I realized I was pretty much in for a shore dive with a very cumbersome float. I had already removed my fins and weight belt, and except for a few small things my kayak was empty and I knew that although it would quickly become swamped it would still more or less float. This wasn’t my first experience with a swamped kayak. So I swam the yak the rest of the way to our dive site, tied it off to a patch of kelp, and went about diving for the day, all the while nervously looking back for my swamped kayak and dreading the 1.5 mile swim back to the launch. Thankfully Adam had his gps and had marked where I tied the yak off so I knew even if it did sink we could find it.
Well, diving was not nearly as good as Saturday. It was no longer as fishy nor was the visibility as stunning, although it was still quite good. I was without a right hand glove since I could not remove it from deep within my swamped kayak. I was also more hesitant to load up a massive stringer because I knew I no longer had a good way to get it back to shore. The other guys all did great, loading up on sheepshead, vermilion, and other fish. I bungled a bunch of easy shots and finally scored a single small vermilion, lol. My dive times were actually better than they had been on Saturday, and I attribute it to poorer visibility, less fish, and being bummed about my yak (I find that on really great days my bottom times are often worse than usual because of how excited I get).
Time ran out, and we knew we would have to head back earlier because of the extra time needed to drag my swamped yak. Indeed it did take quite a bit of extra time. Adam, my hero, did the paddling all the while dragging my kayak behind him during the 1.5 miles back to the beach. I did my best from behind to shove the kayak forward or to the side to keep it in line while swimming like some sort of interesting lure.
After over an hour of this B.S. we made it back to the the sandy beach area. Adam disconnected and I swam my very swamped and VERY heavy kayak through the breakers and up the rather steep beach. I believe this was probably the ugliest beach exit I have ever done. It was like two dead bodies washing a shore with the tides. Constantly I was trying to stand up, and then knocked back over by the waves or the swamped kayak which probably weighed over 500# with all the water it had inside. Then the wave would recede and I would do my best from whatever standing or fallen position I was in to hold onto the line I had used to pull the kayak so it wouldn’t wash back out to sea. This system eventually worked and once the kayak was high enough to be consistently out of the surf it began to drain. Once drained, there was a lot of portaging left to do but the real brutal parts were over. It was close to 5pm and I had yet had anything to eat or drink other than a bottled cold coffee on thr drive down, I was now finally sufficiently tired and hungry.
I can’t thank Adam enough for his help, if I had been by myself it would have certainly meant no diving for me and I would have been forced to spend much more time getting my kayak back out. With Adams help I was still able to more or less enjoy the day and get a solid 5 hours of diving in. The whole experience was a lesson in risk assessment, a testament to the value of good friends, and a brutally exhausting exercise in building character. Every time I have a day like that it makes the days that I don’t have these problems that much better.
And finally, my beautiful red tarpon 160, is by no means dead. She is alive and kicking, was repaired within the week, and on the water shortly after. So all in all, no serious harm from this grueling experience.
Here are photos of the damage and the repair.