The wind blows through the night. I can hear it rush across the beach but I’m sheltered among the low trees. When morning comes it has died down completely. We pack for the next camp, this time heading north. I’m happy to leave the scorpion’s nest and dung piles behind.
Noah says that last week the wind blew from the north and brought in some big swell. He led his students over a 2 mile crossing to Isla Danzante in 8-12 ft waves. It took them over an hour just to land all the kayaks and he was sponging pee out of the cockpits at the end of it.
It’s hot . The sun is bright and the water flat. Pato is leading the group. We stop paddling for a water break.
“Whales!” Noah says. “Just to the left of that second island.”
We are all completely silent for several minutes, waiting and watching the horizon. Then just in front of White Rock we see the spray and big black humps.
“Humpbacks,” Pato says. “Let’s get closer.”
We paddle, trying to anticipate where they’ll come up again. After about 5 minutes we all stop and wait. Silence again. Then they surface right in front of us. Big black humps, then the tail. They look a lot bigger up close, but it’s so hard to judge scale on the water. We paddle again, this time a lot harder, all the while looking around. Then stop and listen. The whales surface behind us, very close to shore. It looks like a mother and a pup. We watch them and slowly follow them along the cliffs, and leave them as they swim out to the north.
After lunch I tell Noah that I want to try the Chilco, a longer, narrower kayak. It has a tighter fit and feels like it should be easy to roll. I take it out into the protected cove of our new campsite. First I try a standard roll, then storm roll, armpit, crook of the arm, butterfly… I can’t get up with butterfly though. Noah arrives in another kayak to join me. He shows me “C to C”. You know I’ve never really learned that one. He shows me a paddle float roll and recovers leaning forward. It’s a lot like a norsaq roll using a paddle float on your hand, with a forward recovery. I grab a paddle float and roll up, but with a layback recovery. I set up for a reverse sweep, roll over by throwing myself back and pop up with a forward recovery. He asks how do you set up for that? I show him but he doesn’t try it since it’s a little unusual. Enough showing off – it’s time for sculling practice…
We sit on the beach in the dark and the tequila is passed around. Someone asks me what’s the difference between the Aleut qayaq and the Greenland qajaq. I say that they probably all evolved from an ancestral skin boat when the first peoples migrated across the Bering Sea land bridge and through Alaska, Northern Canada and into Greenland. Jon Turk makes a good case for the migration from Asia to North America being a coastal marine migration in skin-on-frame kayaks and open deck boats. I talk about how the Greenlanders hunted seal in protected fjords, how the harpoon is constructed with a detachable tip and connected to a harpoon line and a float made with an air-filled seal skin float, how when a seal is harpooned the kayaker throws the float off the kayak and when the seal eventually tires from pulling the float it can be harpooned again and killed, how the different Greenland rolls probably developed as recovery methods when hunters capsized with their paddles tangled up in those harpoon lines or deck lines, how the Aleut paddled on rough water on exposed coasts, and the typical design of the baidarka with its truncated stern and bifid bow resulted in an extremely fast rough water boat that could surf even small waves and the concave surface on the bifid bow could not be constructed otherwise with skin-on-frame design, how the King Islanders used a single-bladed paddle for the King Island roll, how the Aleut were enslaved by the Russians to hunt sea otter in hunting parties involving hundreds of kayaks that traveled as far south as California and nearly drove the sea otter to extinction….
Then I stop myself. Jeez, how come I know all this stuff? There are paddlers like Noah who know kayaking because they live it every day, wandering around and exploring lost lakes in Central America. But me? I suddenly realize that I’m just a kayak nerd!