Kayaking on the Hudson

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Perfect Storm Wave

Our "real" sea kayaks on the ferry to Nova Scotia
If you haven’t seen the movie The Perfect Storm, you need to go watch it now.  I’ll wait… Okay, now you’re ready.  It all started when I decided that Andrea and I needed to push the limits of our kayaking ability.  We had been kayaking for about 6 years, and we just upgraded to “real” sea kayaks.   We headed up to Nova Scotia for a two-week vacation including a 3-day kayak tour of northern Cape Breton with North River Kayak Tours.

Our first hint of trouble came when we were staying at a Bed & Breakfast in Cheticamp.  We were out on the lawn packing our kayaks—a dry run for our trip.  An old-timer, who lived next door, came over to check us out.  He told us that he had spent a few seasons as a crab fisherman in his youth.  Then he said, “None of the crab fisherman can swim you know.  It wouldn’t do no good anyhow.  If you fall into that water, you’re done for whether you can swim or not.”  Then when we told him what we were planning, he said, “You’re crazy if you’re going out THERE in THOSE!”
The rugged coast of Nova Scotia's Cape Breton Island

The first day of the tour was fantastic—the ocean was welcoming and the scenery was unbelievable.  Everything was perfect.  Then came day two.

There were 2 foot waves crashing on the beach, which worried Andrea a bit.  I reasoned that the wind and surf were amplified as they got squeezed into the cove.  All we had to do was paddle out past the neck of the cove and once we were on the open ocean everything would calm down.  It sounded good, and at the time, Andrea bought it.  Since then, Andrea has learned to ignore me anytime I come up with a “logical or technical” explanation of pretty much anything.

North River Kayak Tours

We executed a text-book surf launch and paddled out toward the open ocean.  Andrea quickly realized that my logic was “flawed” to put it nicely.  The waves were confused—random waves that don’t come in a nice orderly line—and were running 6 to 8 feet.  When you are in a kayak, an 8 foot wave looks like a skyscraper.  I kept telling her “Don’t worry, it will get better.”  I was paddling about 20 feet to the right of Andrea and a huge wave came right at her like a mountain rising out of the sea.  I watched as she climbed up The Perfect Storm Wave and I swear she was about to flip over backwards.  She didn’t, but she flew down the back of the wave like a log flume ride at a water park.  The whole way down, she was screaming “This is not better!”

We survived the rest of the trip, but the weather got so bad we had to skip the whole afternoon of paddling.  By the time we got off the water at lunchtime there were gale-force winds and the water was nothing but a sea of white caps and foam.  We arrived at the next cove soaking wet, shivering cold and completely exhausted.  We had to hitch-hike back to our cars.  Not exactly what we signed up for, but we really did push ourselves to the limit.

See you on the water,
Don Urmston
You can reach me at:

P.S.   The guides from North River Kayak Tours were great.  Can’t blame them for the weather.

1 comment:

  1. “This is not better!”
    I had to read your story off to my wife. I can SO see us in the same situation, and with me giving her some "logical" explanation to reassure...