Updated: May 15
I have been following the forecast for Saturday, and it will be no easy start. It will rain, and blow steadily at 25 miles per hour, and gust above 30. Perhaps that isn’t a bad thing; accidents happen when you're lulled into a false sense of security. At least I know that I better be prepared.
Almost two years ago I dislocated a shoulder while paddling. I was north of Key Biscayne using my sail on a broad reach. The tide was flowing in, and the waves were breaking over a shallow sandbar about a mile from shore.
Nothing seemed out of place; I wasn’t tired, nor migraning from the irradiating sun. It was an ordinary day on the water. I saw the wave coming, it was a little bigger than average, though in Biscayne Bay the average isn’t saying much; maybe a 3-footer.
I pointed the boat into the wave to punch over the crest and avoid broaching but the wave broke a little earlier than most, and with the sail deployed I couldn’t quite lean into it as much as I should. The foam pile picked up the kayak, rolled me under sail and all, and in the confusion, I bailed out.
And that’s all it took. Underwater I felt a twitching pain on my right shoulder. At first, I thought it was a muscle spasm. It didn’t worry me; those go away if you just relax. But it did not. There was a small lump near my shoulder socket, and I concluded something serious had happened.
I used my good arm to climb on the stern for a cowboy style reentry. On my first trust I was out of the water, but without any buoyancy for support, I felt extreme pain and screamed in agony. Back into the water I went for immediate relief. Two more tries convinced me that I would have to swim back to shore with the kayak in tow.
I never worried I wouldn’t make it. The wind blew onshore, and I would sooner or later drift in with the waves. I held on to the bow with my good arm and kicked with my legs. All that time my thoughts tried to process the situation. How stupid it all was.
To this day I don’t have a good answer for how it happened. Probably when the wave came, the sail forced me into a weird body position, which forced my paddle into a weird position, which then forced my shoulder into where it should have never gone.
More than the pain, what I felt the most was fear. Would my shoulder ever be good enough to paddle again? Would this accident become a disability? I was always told that breaking a bone is not a problem. When the fracture heals, it becomes stronger than before, and hardly does a bone ever break in the same place twice.
Ligaments, however, are different, once they snap, they will never be as good as new.
Not knowing what lies in my future can fill my mind with fear. The uncertainty is a haze populated by all manner of fearful monsters, like a child imagines the deep end of the pool is filled with sharks and sea snakes. The fear comes when the sharp crest of the wave rolls sideways under my hull, and roars into a foaming barrel in front of me.
I can’t see what’s on the other side of that moving boundary below me, separating tranquility from torrent, and I become conscious of my shoulder, and that time I spent in the water. I hear the water churning, and I imagine myself there, and I know that soon I’ll be in it again, very soon, but what it will be like, I don’t know.
Sea Kayak Florida Circumnavigation