Updated: May 15
It was the perfect start for the journey; the wind was mild, the ocean was calm, and the sky was slightly overcast, however, I knew that these conditions would not last for long and it was essential to get going. Yesterday’s practice setting up the kayak saved me a lot of time knowing what I wanted in each hatch and in what order. I was ready to push off by 6:00am. Unfortunately, one thing went amiss. I seem to have lost a pair of paddling gloves. I could have sworn I remember putting them inside the cockpit, but when I went to push off, they were not there. There was nobody else around, not even yesterday’s beach hobos so unless someone came around right when I went back to the hotel to fetch the gear, I cannot imagine how they disappeared. Thank goodness I had two pairs with me, but now these will have to last the whole journey. I don’t know how some paddlers manage without gloves. Once I did a 5-day trip through the Everglades without gloves, and my calluses got so bad I could barely open my hands after grabbing the paddle. I paddled out until I was beyond the breakers and then headed west with the breeze and the current. Compared to the bustle of the city, the ocean is so much quieter. Today there were no engine noises, no honking cars, no rumbling trucks. The only sound was my paddle striking the water, and when I paused for a break, no sound at all.
I reached El Morro and the mouth of San Juan Bay much more quickly than when I walked the same distance. From the water the fortress blends with the exposed granite cliff and it becomes a half natural, half man-made mountain. On the grass plain up on top of the mountain I saw a few people flying kites. They were just about noticeable, but I doubt they could ever see me unless they knew where to look, and even then the waves would have hidden me in the folds from time to time. At the entrance to t bay San Juan bay I had to take a forced 10 minute break to let a Norwegian Cruise Liner cross in front of me. I had been seeing it out in the ocean for a while heading towards the port and was wondering what to do. At sea it’s sometimes difficult to tell distances to a ship on the horizon or how fast it may be moving. Is it far enough away for me to cross in front of it, or do I have to wait? If I wait, is this the best spot to wait, or can I paddle a little further? Is the thing even moving? Maybe I am waiting for nothing. Every decision feels wrong. I decided to paddle directly towards the cruise liner and that way I would be certain to cross behind it. I had planned to paddle just 15 miles to ease myself into the journey, however, I reached the bay I planned to camp by 10:00 am, which felt too early to stop. I checked the GPS for where I had marked the next possible landing site, and it was only three and a half more miles. I decided to keep going, but soon regretted. The wind picked up, bands of rain storms started coming down hard, and like the staff at the hotel warned me, it was impossible to make it back once I was downwind of my destination. On the map the next campsite looked ideal. The bay was an arc with a decent sand strip and faced the northwest which should have meant it was protected from the swells. Unfortunately, it wasn’t quite like that when I arrived. The sea floor here must have been sloped for the waves to refract around the East headland and point straight down the middle of the arc. The water must have been deep because the rollers weren’t breaking, and I was carried on a green wave far down into the bay.
The beach was nothing like the aerial images on Google Earth. The sand strip was more like an escarpment with a very steep grade, and the green rollers were breaking rather violently and suddenly.
My landing was not as pretty as yesterday. I came in on the back of a wave and threw the paddle as far as I could up the embankment, but when I got off the boat I slipped and fell. The beach was so steep that even though I was just a few feet from the sand, I was in waist deep water. This small delay was all it took for the next wave to catch up. As I scrambled up the soft sand of the embankment against the back-rushing water the next wave crashed over the open cockpit, and it was filled with water and sand in less than a second. Thankfully I was not between the kayak and the beach, and the wave carried it about a third of the way up the embankment and I held it in place so it would not come back down. I poured the water and most of the sand out, but the leftovers will be there bothering me until I get a chance to thoroughly hose everything out. At least I survived the first day.
Sea Kayak Puerto Rico Circumnavigation