Crash landing the F2 at Arch Cape
"Houston, we've had a problem here."

The important thing to point out here is that things didn't feel right from the beginning.   It was a beautiful morning but for a variety of reasons Leann and I were having a hard time getting our act together to get on the water.   It was 11am by the time I actually had the fishing poles strapped onto the deck of the double and Leann even asked,  "Are you feeling this?"   truthfully, I wasn't, not at all, but I wanted to go fishing and I assummed that as soon as we got onto the ocean, put up the sail and got the lines down,  the weird feelings would dissappear and we could relax and drink a beer as we drifted across the swells in the time honored tradition of stoically waiting for bites.   

The little things kept adding up:   I needed to get different hooks, then I lost those hooks ten minutes later,  we needed coffee, we were hungry,  we were crabby and for no apparrant reason suffering a general mood of unpleasantness.   An hour later our friend Mark dropped us and boat at Cannon beach where we went through the ritual motions of checking the gear, loading the boat, and finally punching out through the surf.   The swell was running about 6 feet at 9 seconds, which is a pretty meaty swell to be forcing a double through,  but honestly, I've been doing this a long time and I've developed a talent for reading the water and sneaking through the rips.   Nonetheless, punching out was a strong effort and right on the edge of what is generally possible for a tandem kayak.

We paddled two miles offshore and I set the lines while Leann paddled slowly to maintain a steady pull.  Two half-poles trailed divers and herring that spun in slow lazy loops as I let out sixty feet or so of fifty-pound test braided line from each reel.   A kayak has always seemed to me like a smart way to fish.  You unload the boat, zip on a drysuit, and paddle straight toward where the fish are, which is certainly less circuitous than loading a trailer, driving your skiff to a boat ramp, motoring across a bay, crossing a bar, and then zoomming ten miles back to where the fish are.    The kayak does require a bit of fitness, but for those willing to make the effort, it's a very efficient route to fish on the table.    That said, I deplore extended physical efforts and only maintain my current fitness level as a means to an end,  that is to say, I tolerate the torture of running, biking, and paddling, for the access to beautiful places.

The wind that day had been forecast at 10-15 knots, gusting to 25 out of the northwest,  meaning that our little blue sail should have pulled us and the significant drag of our divers, smartly along somewhere between 2 and 2.5 knots,  perfect trolling speed.    You can imagine my dismay when we arrived well offshore at 1:30 PM with nary a breath of wind across the water.   So began our slow trudge southward,  dipping wood blades into the mollasses of the ocean and pulling it past beneath a gray overcast sky.  Leann layed back and napped and I resigned myself the inevitability of my predicament.   Two hours later I was becoming quite sour.    "What the f***?"  I complained to noone in particular,  "It's freaking JULY,  I don't care if there is a southern air mass moving onshore,  it's freakin'  3:30,  there is sun behind those mountains,  the air there has to be heating up and rising, and the air out here is definately twenty degrees cooler,  so where is my onshore breeze?!"  I continued,  "Sure, sometimes the wind dies off on the north end of a headland, but Jesus, we're almost to Cape Falcon,  I can see the sun dammit,  where is the wind?"    Leann listened patiently as only someone who literally has no other choice can,  as I vented my frustrations at the lack of salmon, the developers, the polluters, the loggers, the commercial fishers, and ultimately at nature itself.     It was now 4:30 and we had traveled all of six miles with eight miles left to go and no sign of fish or wind.    Dry land to our left was starting to look mighty appealing.   I made the call.

"We're done, let's set her down at Arch Cape, maybe we can pull in a few lings off castle rock."   After ten minutes of hard paddling,  we rose and fell in significant steep waves just off the face of the rock, as I tried futilely to hook into a ling cod with the only tackle I had available,  a diver and a herring.  Needless to say this rig tangled into a hopeless snarl before it was halfway down to the bottom.    Judging the endeavor pointless we paddled safely away from the rock and prepped the boat for a surf landing, everything strapped down hard,  gear check,  and a breifing on tactics:

"So, here's the situation, the swell is starting to pulse a little harder than the forecast, and Arch Cape has nasty rips, making this less than an optimal situation.  Or choices are to paddle 4 miles to short sands beach, to a good landing but an evil carry up to the highway,  or 8 miles to Manzanita to a landing that might not be much better than this.   We're going to try to come in on the back of a set and cross the impact zone before the next set hits, catch a smaller wave on the inside and brace hard into the foam and ride it out.   Worst case scenario here is we end up getting nailed by a set wave just as it flat-walls and we get pounded.   That's going to be a long, scary, unpleasant swim, and we might lose the boat, but it's not likely to be life threatening.    We'd have to be pretty unlucky for that to happen, but it could happen."  

Leann didn't neccesarily sign off on the plan, rather she trusted me, and liked the idea of dry land as much as I did at this point.  I trusted my judgement of the situation, but as we got closer and I got a visual on the surf zone, I got a bad feeling.   I know these rips, I know the beach, and I know my skills, but nonetheless, it just didn't feel right.   So I asked myself the important question: could we die here?   Let's see, we're both is full drysuits with hoods and heavy insulation underneath,  water temps are in the low 50's today,  Leann and I are both strong swimmers,  and most importantly she is the type of person who doesn't panic in stressful situations.   Demise was highly unlikely.   So we went for it.   

We waited for a big set to pass and then paddled hard straight down the center of the main rip, avoiding the violence of eight foot waves firing off on the sand bars on either side of us.   It's a long surf break though, with both rips pulling out to sea and sideways rips between the inside and outside breaks, that themselves feed into the rips that pull out.  Leann said "I'm nervous."  to which I accidentally replied "I'm nervous too."  Which is about the least confidence inspiring response I can imagine.   I glanced back and saw the next set loading up on the horizon,  it was definately going to break through the rip.    The first set wave is always smaller so as it stacked up behind us we paddled as hard as we could to ride it in and escape from the the waves behind it.   For a moment the boat caught and started to slide, and then, the wave mushed out and it slipped beneath us, leaving us in the worst possible spot:  over a sand bar with a set wave stacking up behind us.   I saw the eleven foot set wave go flat and start to feather.  It lifted our stern and as we rode up the face I said calmly, matter-of-factly:

"We are going to get pounded by this wave."   
Leann asked, "What should I do?" 
 I replied "Just try to relax."

The kayak stood vertical and we were thrown end for end in an avalanche of white.

I should have tried to roll, but I knew given our poor success in practice sessions that it was pretty unlikely,  and I also knew we were sitting in the impact zone about 4 seconds away from the next big wave,  so while Leann held in waiting for me to try to roll, I swam out of the boat as the next wave hammered her.   She popped out on the back side of the wave and swam.    "Get away from the boat!"  I yelled.  You don't want to be anywhere near a flooded kayak in breaking waves.   Using our paddles, we both started swimming as hard as we could toward shore.   We were fighting the rip but swimming parallel in this case would probably have caused us to be swept around the corner and unpleasantly close to a few offshore rocks.    It would work as a plan B,  but I was still strongly intent on hitting the sand at Arch Cape.   The rip was slowly pushing us sideways into a line of breakers, so all we needed to do was hold position until we drifted into the breaking waves.    At one point I got ahead of Leann so I swam back out to her yelling "Paddle harder!"  and she yelled back, "I'm paddling as hard as I can!"     For about seven minutes we did nothing more than hold position about 70 yards offshore,  it was a lot of work and I was glad for every mile I forced myself to run in the last year.    The water was COLD and I was barely maintaining body temperature in my Kokatat drysuit.  Leann wasn't scared, but I was.   I have a rock solid roll in a single kayak and I'm not used to being out of my boat in the surf.   Circumstances indicated that we'd be fine, but emotionally I was pretty rattled by the feeling of helplessness.   I was very happy when we drifted sideways into the breakers and I felt that first strong shove of foamy whitewater tumbling me toward shore.  Leann followed behind me, and while we were still getting pulled back, each wave that we caught pulled us into more breakers which eventually pushed us into shore.   The whole process had taken about fifteen minutes.   Fifteen minutes is a long time to swim as hard as you can.   The boat was nowhere to be seen, but I was fine with that.  

Standing in waist deep water I saw the crowd gathering on the beach and people running out toward us in the water.  
'Uh oh.'  I thought,  and then I heard the sirens.   

A wet suited man carrying a long red board flashed past us while we jumped up and down waving our paddles.  "Hey, we're OK!"  we yelled.   We caught his eye just as he was diving into the water,  and he stopped.   I imagine it's got to suck to have that much adrenaline and nothing to do with it.   In a way I felt bad that we were ok.   I used to work EMS and regardless of what any of those guys will tell you,  they WANT to rescue somebody.    Before we could escape from the beach we were waylayed by the Fire Rescue guys and in a few moment of mutual irritability,  forced to give them our details.   I hate giving my info. to these guys because it inevitably shows up in the paper without context and makes me look like a dufus.   Honestly, you don't have to tell them anything, but I didn't feel like pressing the point.  

A nice lady offered us a ride back to Manzanita in her super-cool pimped-out 1980's camper van,  which we graciously accepted.    Back at the truck, we stripped off our gear but left on our drysuits.   "Well,"  I said sheepishly "...lets go find the boat."    We drove back to Falcon Cove,  just south and around the rocky corner from Arch Cape,  and wound our way down on residential streets to the north end of the cove.   We ultimately ended up parking in some ladies driveway that bordered on the beach and she very reluctantly agreed to let us park next to her precious Lexus SUV, while we walked 4 feet across her private property to get to the beach to look for our boat.    Beach may be a bit of a misnomer though,  the 'beach'  at Falcon Cove consists of a fifteen foot high slope of softball sized round rocks that roll endlessly up and down in the surf.    We stumbled and slid our way north for a quarter mile before we found the boat,  unceremoniously dumped onto the rocks,  the chocolate brown hull contrasting nicely with the steel grey slope.    With no apparant damage, I flipped it over and found the rudder, and fishing poles, and pretty much everything on deck mangled.  Everything external had taken a pounding that bespoke a boat full of water grinding up and down the rocks for about fifteen minutes.     Ever since I saw my first skinboat take this sort of abuse, I've had implicit faith in skin-on-frame construction, but I must say, that even I was surprised that the boat suffered no skin damage, and no frame damage.  None.   A glass boat would have been shredded.

We shouldered the twenty foot boat and carried it back, and I must say here again, the lightweight of a skinboat was a blessing.   We strapped it onto the car while I talked to the same lady about the possible Cape Falcon Marine Reserve.   Like so many people, she didn't really understand the reserve,  and didn't WANT to understand it.   Rather she echoed the sad, colloquial mistrust of conservation that has infected the American conciousness in the last century.   Perhaps it has always been this way but to me it seems like we have become a nation of empty heads,  content to replace meaningful dialogue with stupid catch phrases that serve as a weak substitute for incisive thought.   I left feeling sad and dissapointed.   A feeling that was quickly supplanted by the sheer bliss of a tall glass of porter and a glistening plate of french fries at the local pub.   We may be killing the planet, but fuck it, hey, at least we've got french fries.

Leann and I debreifed the incident.   I was surprised to find out she wasn't scared.   I was scared!   We both agreed that while a series of technically appropriate choices had been made,  risks considered and decisions made;  the major folly of the day had been in not trusting our intuition.    The day never felt right, and without any real external information validating that feeling, we pressed onward toward our eventual unpleasant outcome.   I knew in my gut when I saw the surf at Arch Cape that things would go poorly,  so much so that I almost called off the landing.   Again though, the external information told me that things would probably be fine, so I made my choice based on that weighed against the risk of the worst case scenario and the likelihood of that possibility.   My brain told me there was a 1 in 20 chance of a swim, and a 1 in 50 chance of a bad swim,  but when your gut is telling you something perhaps it would make sense to adjust those odds.

We did some things wrong,  but we also did a lot of things right.   Our kayak had full flotation in it, which is likely why we were able to recover it at all.   We were wearing the maximum amount of good immersion gear,  thousand-dollar drysuits and full body heavy fleece,  which is more important than many people realize.    Few people that haven't directly experienced such a protracted swim really understand how cold you get and how fast.   IN THESE WATER TEMPERATURES A FARMER JOHN AND A DRYTOP WILL FREEZE YOU INTO A STATE OF FEEBLENESS IN TEN MINUTES.   So if you are thinking about cold coastal paddling in that setup, you'd better damn well have a perfect roll.    Physically Leann and I are both very strong and fitness is a focus in our lives.  This gives us not only muscles and lung capacity, but a mental toughness to push and keep pushing,  in this case, against a strong rip.    Leann is new to kayaking but I've made it my life's passion and I'm grateful for my experience and intimate knowledge of our coastline to be able to make choices and predict possible outcomes.  Generally speaking I have a low tolerance for risk,  but this time I decided to roll the dice,  accepting the possibility of an unpleasant outcome in exchange for the certainty of 3 more hours of hard paddling and an uncertain landing on the other end.  In my mind neither scenario had a clear advantage, but in hindsight, my heart was telling me the right choice and I wasn't interested in listening.    One lesson here is to trust your gut even when the desire to be back on dry land calls to you.   The other, and perhaps the more important lesson is one that I try to instill in every kayaker I meet, in this case I forgot my own advice: 

It's always better to not get into trouble than to try to get out of it.  If it doesn't feel right, go hiking instead.  

My apologies to Leann for the long swim.  My thanks to the lady who gave us a ride.
To the Fire-Rescue people, we're fine, but you didn't know that.  Thanks for trying to save us!

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