If it weren’t for our new kayak, the skipper may have become the first man to cross the River Plate in a rubber dinghy. Not that he was aiming to make it into the record books. All he was doing was rowing from the mothership to the shore, some 50 yards away to windward. Or rather, he would have been rowing, but having leapt aboard the dinghy and gaily cast off the painter he suddenly realised that the oars were not aboard.
If you’ve ever been there you’ll know about the sudden flash of panic and the wild lunge towards the guardrail; but the wind had already snatched the inflatable boat away from safety.
“Throw them to me,” he hollered, as the transom rushed past.
We did – with some misgivings, I may say, since it seemed a shame to lob such nice handmade, newly-painted oars into the oggin – and they landed about six feet short and were therefore utterly unattainable and utterly useless.
The port of Piriápolis scurried past the dinghy. La Plata looked like being our skipper’s next destination – and it was about 120 miles away on the other side of a choppy sea. What would the authorities have to say when he arrived in Argentina without a passport? Supposing that he did arrive… which, all things considered, was probably less than likely.
What does one do in these circumstances? There were no other yachts in the anchorage and there were no other vessels passing by. Thus, in the normal course of events, the only solution would have been for his shipmates aboard Mollymawk to start the engine and weigh anchor and go in pursuit. Caesar was not aboard, and by the time we girls had hauled in 40m of chain and a 55kg anchor, our lord and master would have been a tiny dot on the horizon astern; a dot bouncing about amongst the white-capped, grey-green waves. But luckily, we had the kayak.
It was unlashed and on the water within 45 seconds, and while Roxanne jumped aboard, I fetched the paddle.
The skipper, meanwhile, was hanging over the bow of the dinghy, paddling with his hands and achieving almost nothing.
Casually, as if without a care in the world, Roxanne paddled over and retrieved the oars. Luckily they were painted white, so they were still quite easy to spot. Having delivered them to her old man, she paddled gracefully home and climbed back aboard, the whole routine having been achieved without even getting her dress wet.
In 50 years of sailing, and 35 of cruising, this is only the second time that Nick has been so foolish as to cast off without checking that the oars are aboard the dinghy. Or at any rate, it’s only the second time he’s done it in a stiff breeze. I forget how I rescued him on the previous occasion. I do know that in the light of that first adventure we decided to keep a pair of paddles and a sea-anchor under the dinghy’s seat; but in the event the sea-anchor was missing, and when he got them out the paddles broke, they had been sitting there unused for so many years.
So this is the first Very Good Reason for carrying a kayak aboard your yacht. Yes, we have a number two dinghy, with which we might have gone to the rescue, but unlashing and launching it would have taken even longer than weighing anchor. I do not think there is anything which could have been launched so swiftly and with so little effort as the kayak. And it could have been used in the same way in mid-ocean to go to the aid of a man overboard, provided that the sea-state was not dangerous.
The second Jolly Good Reason for carrying a kayak is that it’s a good way to keep fit. With a quick-launch kayak in our inventory I can go for regular daily excursions. I don’t, of course, because I’m too lazy. But a more self-disciplined sailor could spend 20 minutes each morning strengthening her arm muscles and her thighs, improving the condition of her heart and circulatory system… Yeah, well – I prefer to spend my 20 minutes meditating. But perhaps, eventually, I’ll get myself into a routine of meditating while I paddle, with my mind focused on the rhythmic stroke. Maybe…
The third Excellent Reason for carrying a kayak aboard your yacht is that it enables you to get to places you couldn’t go in a dinghy. With a kayak you can paddle across water which is too shallow for an outboard motor. You can paddle amongst the mangroves, along creeks which are too narrow for a boat under oars; and you can go further and faster than you can row.
On my very first excursion aboard our super new kayak I rowed rings around the rest of the family, who were struggling upstream against a 2 knot current. With Caesar on the oars, pulling with all his might, and Nick and Roxanne paddling indian-style in the stern, they could barely make up; but I was having a lovely time shouting encouragement as I circled them.
On another, more recent outing, I explored a network of narrow creeks, travelling 4 miles in water far too shallow for the mothership. Too shallow for any other vessel, in fact, and I had the whole place to myself.
The fourth First Class Reason for carrying a kayak is that they’re a great way to get to know people. When you get into your dinghy, you’re on a mission – you’re going from A to B – but with a kayak, you’re generally just going kayaking. So, you visit the other yachts, and you check out the native fishing boats; you get chatting to someone whose little girl fancies a ride. Then maybe her dad has a go while you natter with Mum and the baby. After that you might set yourself the task of rounding up all the plastic bottles that you can find floating about in the vicinity…
And while you’re doing that you go creeping along close to the riverbank, where the herons watch and the kingfishers also stand and wait; and you discover Reason Number Five for owning a kayak. You’ll be surprised how close you can get to a bird or an animal if you just sit perfectly still and drift.
A kayak is also a fishing vessel if you’re that way inclined – that’s the sixth Jolly Good Reason.
And it’s the fastest way to take a line ashore – that’s Number Seven.
But most of all a kayak is just JOLLY GOOD FUN!
We used to have three kayaks, and the kids had a whale of a time playing a kind of nautical tag (chase, he, it) with their cruising friends. Had I been planning the activity I would probably have thought it necessary to divide them into teams and give them a ball and call the game water polo, but as it was they had endless fun tipping each other into the drink and making off with the enemies’ paddles. There were no sides – it was every boy and girl for herself – and nationality was of no consequence. Nor was age any kind of restraint. When one of the “oldies” decided to have a go at kayaking, my ten-year-old daughter dunked him with total disrespect.
In conclusion – a kayak is a useful as a dinghy, a gymnasium, a bicycle, and an MOB device all combined. It’s an excellent addition to any yacht’s inventory – and our next article will tell you which sort we recommend buying.