There really was no navigation required to get to CP1, yet we still managed to miss one turn and have to go back when we reached a water crossing. A little time lost, but nothing major. We arrived with 2 other teams and as 4 teams were hitting the water. We needed to take our bikes apart to pack them, stage our water gear, select a boat and go. Being a new foursome this was not as coordinated as you might see with a more seasoned team, but we still managed a fairly fast transition. As I put my packed bicycle where the TA crews would take it, I noticed team Norcal returning on their boat. They had a boat with a faulty rudder and were coming back to switch for another boat.
When I finally got everything ready to select our boats that was one of only 2 boats left. I figured we would do some quick repairs and hope for the best. We had to cut the foot straps, and retie them so I could reach the foot pedals, unfortunately that made them quite short and I was pretty crunched up inside the boat trying to keep my feet on them. The water was still calm and I could do without a rudder if had to. I was uncomfortable, but not terribly so, and I estimated the crosing would take us less than 4 hours.
To make this part short the water did not stay calm for long. The wind coming from the east was calm on the east shore, but in Patagonia winds come fast and strong, and only a mile out the waves started picking up. By 2 miles out we had 4 to 6 foot chop, but that was still quite manageable. What was a different problem was that I was having a very hard time keeping my foot on the pedals, being so crunched in the boat. When my foot would slip off the pedals of the rudder, I had to open the spray skirt, reach down with my hands, pull the pedals back, reset my feet, and then try to keep them solidly on the pedals.
Another mile and the seas truly got rough and we were taking waves over the boat. These were sea kayaks and they were very stable (Necky Amaruk). As long as we did not take water, we would still be OK. About that time I started feeling the water around my calves inside the boat. My first though was that we had a hole, but Dustin soon felt the culprit. Instead of his spray skirt going up around his back, it was pushed down, kind of the difference of having your shirt tucked in or not, and water was pooling in his spray skirt and running into the boat. He tried to pull it up, but it was solidly tight and had seemed to form a suction ring holding it down.
Then, almost suddenly it got rough. We did not get the usual single large waves from one direction, we got the dreaded cross chop. In cross chop waves come from 2 different directions at angles. When 2 waves combine you get a double peak, and a double trough. They add. As we paddled and bobbed we would see Joe and Julie, and then they would disappear into a trough only to reappear a few seconds later. Kind of a big roller coaster. We would be OK as long as the waves did not start topping and crashing, we could easily keep the water of the top of the boat and prevent the pooling in the spray skirt, and leaking into the boat. Then the wind picked up. The side effect of wind is cresting and whitecaps. By the time the water in the boat reached my hips I was concerned.
As we were fighting this situation, the Navy chase boat went by and headed for the calmer water in the bay near PC2.
We were now paddling a half full kayak in heavy wind, 10+ foot waves, and oh yea, now the rudder had decided to completely fail. I could not open my spray skirt to fix it, and the rope to pul it up was seized. The rudder was stuck in a right pushing position. We did not want to go right. We wanted left. I was concerned and Dustin was really concerned. We knew the Navy boat was probably near and as long as we could use the sat phone we would be able to call in a rescue. We signaled for Joe and Julie to stay close and shouted have the sat phone ready. Our response was they did not know where it was. Dustin shouted back to me, did I know where it was? I had never even seen it, so that was no help.
So the situation was simple, we were in high seas, in a sinking kayak, with a faulty stuck rudder, which was leaking in the Straight of Magellan, with just aboving freezing water temeratures, and did not know the location of our safety gear. That was when Dustin yelled back that his dry suit was also leaking. At this point Dustin was very concerned and let all of us know. He was pretty emphatic that he would like to make it back home to his wife and children. I assured him that I would also like to make it home too. By my estimates we were 3 miles from the closest shoreline, visible but not quite reachable.
Try this experiment, take a bucket, fill it half way with water, and move it back and forth so the water sloshed back and forth. Once you have it sloshing, try to stop it. The water wants to keep moving. This was our boat, and the problem with this is that that sloshing water wants to tip the boat over. This is really only a problem in a boat if something is sloshing the boat back and forth, like waves. The first time I felt the boat trying to tip over I became quite concerned again, the next few times made it perfectly clear that we would need to do something.I wondered how the other team, the Brazilian team of Go Crazy was faring with the same situation. I knew that by now the lead teams had like reached PC2 and were well on their way. Paddling a boat full of water is very slow, and even more slow when you have to correct direction every 4th or 5th stroke. My best estimate was 3 hours to make shore if we could stay afloat.
************************************ PART 2 *********************************************
A good friend of mine, Dana Allen, a firefighter told me to people get into trouble when they write checks their bodies cannot cash. What this means to adventure racers is that all those endless hours of training are money in the bank when your body needs it. We pretty much had 2 choices - the same choices you always have in a sinking boat; get to shore or fix the boat.
I could see that we had about one mile of paddling and the whitecaps stopped. We did what we had to do, we paddled as hard as we could. Even then it took almost an hour of all out paddling to make that mile. This however gave Dustin a chance to open his spray skirt and use the bilge to remove some water. In a few minutes I could feel the water had gone from my waist, to my hips, and then further down on my legs. We were still fighting the boat, but not as much. We kept paddling, the shore got closer. At this point Dustin was wasted, I could see the immense fatigue the sprint, the cold, and the adrenaline had left behind. He pumped more water out of the boat and we kept going. Another hour passed, we were making slow progress, the wind and waves were still fighting us, but the end was in sight. After a forever of paddling our boat hit ground. Julie and Joe had beached before us and helped us out of the boats.
After making landfall, I tried to stand and realized I was so tired I literally had to crawl on shore. Dustin was not in much better condition, but he had the added problem of the leaking drysuit. Joe checked and the waist zipper had not been secured completely. As soon as the water passed his waist in the boat it had rushed into his suit. This was ice water, so if you want to simulate the experience simply get in a trash bag and dump a bucket of ice water in it. He was shivering and miserable cold, but he had not settled into hypothermia (yet). Strangely I felt a sense of pride that he had overcome so much.
After about 10 minutes of simply lying on the beach I felt my strength return. Joe and Julie had helped Dustin out of his dry suit and into dry clothes. Dry clothes and a spot to rest out of the wind started to do wonders for him. Our wet gear and suits were hanging on bushes and drying in a 30 to 40 mph (cold) wind. I got some food from my pack and ate, and started to feel my strength return. We let Dustin rest. We were not going to be able to take the boats out the beach we had come in due to heavy surf, so Joe and I scouted a spot we could launch and portaged the boats to it.
Once everyone was lucid and somewhat warm, we had a little team meeting. I pointed out our location on the maps. The remainder of the paddle should be sheltered from the wind as we would follow the shoreline to PC2. We had no choice, we suited up, got back in the boats and launched back out into the hostile sea.
This time the seas were friendly. As we turned the corner and headed to PC2 we had mild waves and a slight tailwind. It was only about 6 more miles. We were going to make it, though we would miss the 2 PM cutoff. A group of penguins swam to our boat and greeted us into their wonderful harbor as we approached the PC. We could see 4 sailors on the beach in fatigues. I could make out the form of Stefan - the race director. He asked us what happened, and we explained our problems. He said we had missed the cutoff, but asked if we wanted to continue. There was no pause when we all answered YES. He let us know we needed to leave the PC immediately, and head out on the next leg, the portage.
We all needed rest and rest badly. This was not going to be an option. It was 3:30, we had missed the cutoff by 1 1/2 hours. We needed to get moving. What would have been a pleasant 3-4 hour paddle had become an 8 hour ordeal. We gathered up our gear and strength and headed down the beach dragging our kayaks behind us. We were facing what would probably be the most difficult portage in adventure racing history. Still the other teams had done it - we could too.
Team Go Crazy from Brazil was the only team that had entered the water behind us. They never made it across but were safely rescued (from the reports that we got).
More pictures of teams at http://www.patagonianexpeditionrace.com/en/gallery.php?id=6
NEXT UP - http://eaglinar.blogspot.com/2012/02/patagonia-portage.html