On the morning of the day we had planned to paddle around the peninsula I woke up to the sound of the wind howling. We wanted to get an early start and eat breakfast before sunrise. I could see the stars clearly. As it grew lighter, I saw a few wisps of clouds in an otherwise clear sky −− the first clear day all week. David said it was a bad sign. Wind in the morning is unusual. It could signal a paraca, a sand storm that blows with gale force winds. I could see the gusts ripple across the bay. The wind was coming from the south.
We decided to wait to see how the conditions evolved, but couldn’t wait too long. I wanted as much time as possible to complete the trip, which would take us 23 nm from Lagunillas, the little fishing port south of the peninsula where we landed the day before, up along the spectacular thousand foot tall cliffs of the west coast of the peninsula, around the north end, and across the bay back home. As far as we knew, there could be nowhere to land along the way.
[Our GPS track, UPPER ROUTE: We started just south of the northwest corner of the peninsula, rounded the point and headed east along the northern shore, then southeast across the Bay of Paracas to home.]
Juan Carlos arrived for breakfast. Even though we advised him that he should not accompany us on the trip today, he continued to support us in an advisory role. He did, after all, take two days off of work for this and was still getting paid. Yes, he said, the weather had changed. It was unusual. Yes, it could be a paraca. Hard to say. He advised that we wait and see. Unfortunately, weather reports were unavailable. We didn’t even have a barometric pressure reading.
Juan Carlos said he knew of a beach along the western part of the peninsula called Playa Los Viejos where we could put in. This would cut the trip in half, and the remaining route would be relatively protected from the south wind. We would also avoid paddling the rough passage between the peninsula and Isla San Gallán. We didn’t have a map but he knew how to get there.
We waited a couple hours longer. I watched the bay. No whitecaps. The wind had died down. By this time the whole team had joined in and the discussion went on a little longer before we finally decided to find this beach Juan Carlos was talking about. At least we could go and see what conditions were like there.
Since David and I were the only ones paddling that day, we left the kayak trailer at home and strapped two kayaks on top the SUV. Juan Carlos led the way in another truck. The route wandered through the middle of the peninsula, first west, then south, within sight of Lagunillas at the south end, then west, then north again. It was taking longer than expected and we were very low on gas. As Juan Carlos led us over and down an alarmingly steep ridge, we caught sight of the ocean and stopped at the edge of a cliff. From the top we had an impressive view of the cliffs along the coast and the clear water of the protected cove below.
I estimated it was at least 100 ft down to the water. At first I thought there was no way we were getting down there, but David found a trail. He followed it down and said it felt stable.
We unloaded the kayaks and carried them down empty. Point of no return, I thought, because there was no way we could carry the kayaks back up that cliff. Honestly I preferred taking my chances in the ocean than taking the truck back, given the real possibility of running out of gas in the middle of the desert. I happened to have my helmet with me and wore it for the climb down. Cheap insurance.
Once at the bottom we carried the kayaks further along the beach to a sandy spot. Juan Carlos and Dan helped us launch. The wind had died down considerably and we had it at our backs. That little bit of wind helped keep us cool now that we were paddling in the full sun.
To the south we could see Isla San Gallán. San Gallán is a marine reserve and enjoys a reputation as one of the finest surfing spots in Peru. It has been made famous because of an unusual long right−breaking wave that comes off the island in the west.
I didn’t see anywhere to land along the western shore. The surf would make landing and launching difficult. Even if you could find a pocket beach it would be too small to camp on, and because of the huge surrounding cliffs climbing out would be impossible.
Seabirds nested in the cliffs, mostly pelicans and Peruvian boobies. Large sections of the cliffs had collapsed into the ocean during the 2007 earthquake, destroying many nests in the process.
I was happy with the Epic 16X kayak I was paddling. It featured the same integrated rudder system and foot board as the 18X Ultra I had at home. It had a familiar feel, but the 16X is an inch wider and more maneuverable and playful −− a good all−around touring kayak.
The Epics are not without problems though. For one thing, the hard seats are uncomfortable and could use extra padding, especially along the sacral area. In Peru I stuffed a folded−over 3mm neoprene hood back there. At home I padded my seat with half inch minicell foam, which still isn’t enough to avoid some skin breakdown over my boney sacrum! I’m either going to have to pad it out more or replace the seat entirely.
For another, every time you adjust the foot brace for a new paddler, you need to adjust the rudder cables. It can be a frustrating procedure, but is not an issue if you are the only one who ever uses the kayak. There is also no way to lock the rudder in place in the center position. And in a rough following sea, the boat broaches. Maybe the rudder doesn't have enough “bite"?
Some of these problems are supposed to be solved by Epic’s new rudder system (scheduled to come out in 2009, and now overdue).
Finally, the foot board is slippery. I fixed this easily with a grippy adhesive padding (the kind used to keep furniture from sliding on hardwood floors).