Monday, Jan 22, 2018 | Last Update : 10:05 AM IST
The headwind kicks up waves that raise the bow of my 18-foot kayak while dipping the stern.
Back in Mumbai, a freak rainshower in February is always appreciated. Down south, at the Maharashtrian stronghold of Malwan, it’s a different story. Especially if you’re alone in a super fast and unstable kayak, 5 km out at sea. I’m kayaking from Mumbai to Goa for a pilot of my 3,000 km, 83-day west coast of India kayaking expedition. It’s day 15.
I wake at 5 am to a storm forecast. Consulting with the fishermen, they advise against launching early. I wait out as much as I can but by 9 am, I launch past slumbering tourists and amused locals. I launch well enough, the winds don’t trouble me and the cloud cover shields me from the scorching heat. It’s 10 am and I’m zipping by at 7.5 km/ hr.
As I round the edge of Tarkarli, I plot course for today’s target?— Vengurla. And it hits me. The land turns East-North, East and a strong gust kicks in. Headwinds have been part of the training I did back in Mumbai. Things turn for the worse. The headwind kicks up waves that raise the bow of my 18-foot kayak while dipping the stern. And then just as quickly as I can say ‘see-saw’, tips the bow back into the sea, killing all momentum. Very soon I’m fighting off every wave, skidding to involuntary halts.
It’s important that I take every wave head on. There’s a distant sound of thunder and I have to calculate my options. There is a beach sitting 3 km due north, and I have another 12 km to Vengurla. At my current pace though, it’s going to be another 3 hours to get there. In the last 2 hours, I’ve had no water and nothing to eat. It’s taking its toll. I maintain my course.
Stopping is death. Every second paused takes me back a metre, off course & backward. I sip water between strokes and nibble at an energy bar gripped between my teeth. Waves are sweeping water over the kayak, into the cockpit and I’m wet from head to toe. Tired strokes miss the water and jerk the kayak, almost capsizing & throwing me in. In training, I’ve only ever kayaked an hour into the wind. Now, four hours of kayaking into the wind and I’m beat. Finally, my GPS points me to the harbour for the final turn of the day. I round the rock and spot the fishermen’s boats bobbing peacefully in the sheltered bay. For the first time in the day, the wind pats me on the back as I crash into the calm beach at Vengurla.
I shudder at how close I cut it. It’s day 16 and this is Maharashtra.
(Kaustubh Khade is an IITian, Asian Silver Medalist in kayaking and a Limca Book Record holder. He recently kayaked the 3,000 km west coast of India alone)