All fishers have tales about The Big One That Got Away; here’s mine about The Big One I Was Glad To Let Go.
One summer in the early oughts of this millennium, four of us took the MV Uchuck from Gold River into Nootka Sound, with our sea kayaks as deck cargo. My wife and I were in my double kayak; my buddy Mike had borrowed my single for the trip, and his partner was paddling another single.
Several days into the trip, we were camped on an idyllic beach with a view of the open Pacific. I borrowed back my single boat and set off in search of supper. Since I was after bottom fish, I was using a hand reel and lure, but had no gaff or net — a nearly tragic oversight, as we shall see.
As I round the tip of Whitely Island into the long Pacific swell, the bow of my kayak lifts like the head of a stallion eager for rolling, open country after miles of narrow trails. The first leg of my solo paddle from Fair Harbour has run through sheltered channels, and my boat seems to welcome a greater challenge. As do I. For the past several hours, the weather has been what the Irish euphemistically call “soft”—meaning it has varied from gently curling mist to torrential downpours that have hissed on the surface of the water like oil on a hot frying pan. Now the clouds have parted, making the final hour of paddling to Rugged Point pleasantly dry.
Up at 5AM, on the water for 7:35. At first, I paddled through thick fog that was backlit by the rising sun into a luminous white. It looked rather like a Hollywood effects tech’s idea of “going to heaven.” Heaven or not, the prospect of running the Upper Rapids blind was pretty daunting, but fortunately the fog burnt off as I went.
This is my grandfather, Lieutenant Colonel George Leslie Torrens. I never met him, though I was in my teens by the time he died. He’d left the service under a cloud during the Second World War, after diverting tightly rationed resources – army vehicles and gasoline – to a family wedding. This was so scandalous that he and my grandmother parted and he was rarely spoken of. Growing up, I was given the impression, without ever being directly lied to, that he had died long before we were born from wounds received in “The War” (though which war was conveniently unspecified.)
Back in the day, I had a bombproof kayak roll. But gradually, I fell out of the habit of practising it. When I first abandoned whitewater and surf paddling in favour of exclusively ocean kayaking I kept it up. But over the years, I persuaded myself it wasn’t really essential for sea kayaking and probably wouldn’t work anyway with my sail on the boat. Besides, my brace worked fine (except when it didn’t.) Somewhere along the line, I convinced myself that age made it unlikely I could recapture my roll.
Displacement Hull Boat? Check. Wood Paddle? Check. Chunky PFD? Check. This must be me, surfin’ the 90s.
But this year, one of my personal and professional goals is to regain my roll. And to do it like a girl.
A routine inspection of my paddling drysuit had revealed a pair of notches in the latex neck seal. Stress risers like these will propagate under tension into full tears ̶ usually at the most awkward moment possible, like the first day of a multi-week tour. So it was off with the old and on with the new. Continue reading →
The picture was a combo pack of cute: a little Inuit girl carrying a squirming husky pup. “That’s a nice doggie you’ve got there.” I said as I crouched down to her eye level. “Yes,” she agreed, then added very matter-of-factly, “but he’s lame, so we’re going to have to shoot him.” Continue reading →