Nightmares of me paddling towards the island in the dark but not reaching still haunts me. I’m not sure if it’s the rocks that are calling me back or my mind not having had the satisfaction of experiencing enough of it.
I kayaked 21km in 9 hours, 40 min to reach the Rocky Island. It was scary, tough, slow and challenging. Kayaking 21 km is not new to me as I kayak around 50 km every week.
This was not the first time I attempted to kayak to the Rocky island. The first was two days prior of the said expedition. My friend Kishore Kumar, and I tried to kayak to the island but, alas - it ended up as race against the time and we had to beat a hasty retreat.
We embarked the first expedition at around 2:18 pm from Mulki, Mangalore. The goal was to reach before the sunset.
The reason why we stressed on reaching before sunset is because the large fishing boats were constantly passing through the area around the island. Our kayak and SUP were not equipped enough to signal our presence in the water. If we had continued to be in the water at night, it would have been disastrous.
The weight of the fishing boat is enough to crush my kayak, and their propellor is powerful enough to destroy both, my kayak and my body.
In our last attempt, we did everything right. We had all the required equipment, food, and gear. We estimated our speed to be an average of 4-5 km/hour. We paddled hard and strong continuously for 4 hours and 30 min.
When we glimpsed the island for the first time, it appeared to be hazy and seemed like a small structure floating in the water at a far distance.
We were relieved that we saw the island with an hour left to sunset. Though we were already tired of paddling against the wind and swell, we continued paddling vigorously in order to reach but we could not make it. We lost the race against time, and we underestimated the mighty ocean and her close friends(the swell and the wind).
The ocean consists of not just water but also wind and sea currents. If travelling in the sea is on your mind, you will have to consider the other aspects such as the ocean current and the wind apart from the compass. The wind from the opposite side can push you back and slow you down. Pausing for a minute can derail you from your path, without you realizing it. The swell can splash lots water into the kayak. You need to time the paddle right with the swell.
The island was still 6 km away while the sun had set. It was very risky to move forward between those big fishing boats. Even if we had reached the island in the dark, it could have been difficult to get up on those slippery rocks of the island. We had no option but to stop this journey right here and give it another try. After paddling back to the nearest beach, we called our friends to rescue us. We planned on repeating the expedition the next day and leaving much earlier than what we had.
Kishore and I are not new to paddling. Kishore is a SUP national champion, and one of the best surfers in India. Kishore has spent close to 15 years, surfing every morning and evening in the ocean. I am a beginner in the water, I kayak, surf, and swim for an average of 50 hours every week since the past year.
Kishore has been to this island earlier. With him on my side, I was confident in the water. He knew the island and the water around it. Although, he could not come with me the second time. He had shown me the way to the island in our last attempt.
When I started solo, he gave me tips on how to climb those rocks on reaching the island.
With my dry bags already packed and ready from the previous attempt, I left for the island from Mantra Surf Club around 10 in the morning.
The previous night, I had nightmares. I don’t usually get scared easily, but thinking about this trip gave me the creeps that I had never imagined. Something in me kept telling me to call it off.
Once I was in the water, I had other things to worry about.
Like the other day, I was paddling a three seater sit on top kayak with at least 50 kg of luggage kept on the front two seats. The center seat had an icebox filled with cold water, juice and fruits. Four other dry bags were kept on the center seat : one with more fruits, one with the snacks, one with the clothes and the first aid kit, one with all the electronic gadgets. I was also carrying 30 kilograms of dry wood, one tent and one sleeping bag, all of them wrapped in a plastic sheet on the front kayak seat.
When I started, the first challenge was to enter the sea without capsizing. A big sea wave can easily capsize the kayak. If that had happened, I could have easily injured myself, and also soaked my luggage in the process. This could have ruined the journey before starting it. I was prepared for this situation though . All food, electronics, and clothes were in the dry bags, were tied to the kayak using a rope. Wood, tents and the sleeping bag was wrapped in a plastic sheet and tied to the front seat of the kayak. I also had an extra paddle, incase I would have lost or damaged the one I had.
The tide was going up, which meant lots of water from the ocean was flowing into the river. When the tide goes up the water level in the ocean rises around 3-6 feet. When the water in the ocean rises, the water starts flowing into the river. The tide goes up and down every few hours. It also affects the waves on the beach. At this particular time, the swell coming near the mouth of the river were not breaking. One will have to cut through the waves with enough speed in order to cross it. A momentary lapse of judgment would result in being thrown around.
Paddling across the mouth of the river exhausted me. The sea near the delta is different from the rest of the beach. Due to the shallowness, lot of swells break near the delta. A Swell can break at any place in that 200 meter radius. I had no option but to paddle at a faster rate till I had reached a safe distance away from the delta.
After reaching the safe distance, I took some long deep breath and drank some cold water and butter milk from the ice-box. When I looked back towards the beach, it was just another day for my friends from Mantra Surf Club. They were having fun surfing on the beach as usual. They saw and waved at me.
I waved back the final goodbye and started paddling towards the Rocky Island - that one thing that had given me the creeps the night before.
It was going to be a long journey, a tough journey, a journey which would test my patience and my endurance. For the first 8-10 km, I had to paddle parallel to the shore line at around 2-5 km away from the land. So that I’d have the option to back out. I could always come back to land and go home like the other day.
I could still see the shore of the beach and few tall buildings. Even though Mulki is a small village situated between Mangalore and Udupi, it has many tall apartments which stand out of place compared to the small village and market located in it. The town is situated on the Kochi Panvel highway (NH-66).
I had estimated to reach the island in 6-8 hours. According to my calculation, I should have reached the island by 6pm. Even after 6pm, I estimated to have about 30 min to set up my things before it got dark. With two days to new moon, the night seemed dark and dangerous.
After sometime of paddling, it was just the ocean and me. The first thing I noticed was a shining light coming from the ocean. It seemed as if there was many small aluminium sheets floating in which were reflecting light. The first thought was that it could’ve been the garbage floating around. My curiosity was satiated when I realised that it was seagulls floating on the water.
The next thing I encountered were these massive fishing boats trawling the ocean with fishing nets. It is good to have company in the ocean. You can always signal them for help in emergency. It also gives you confidence during your journey. These fishing boats are always in pairs, moving in the same direction and same speed, parallel to each other. They also had lots of birds behind them which were to catch the small fishes poking out from the net.
I had this Samsung application that helped to track my route. The app had a feature of notifying me after covering each kilometer. It would tell me the total distance and time I had taken to cover. It was all fun and games for the first 7-8 kilometers. Then the wind picked up and the swell increased.
Soon it was 2 o'clock in the afternoon and I had to cover 10 more kilometers. I figured that I had to paddle 2.5km/hour to finish it on time. It seemed to be easy and doable at that point of time.
I kept on paddling and at around 3pm, I glimpsed the island for the first time.
From far the island was not very distinguishable from the hue of the ocean, and it easy to lose sight of it. Once I lost the track of the island, I had to find it again which took a little extra effort.
So now I could see the island, it was easier to navigate. I just had to kayak towards the island. I did the same and the big fishing boats slowly disappeared.
But, where did they disappear to?
It was at this point when I realised that I had strayed deep into the ocean. I was where the whales and dolphins swam.
I could see more of the island. Those tiny rocks became little bigger and I could see 3-4 of them close to each other. It still looked far so I kept on paddling. My energy levels had dropped down. The wind and tide were still against me. In fact the wind got much stronger. I could feel I was slowing down. I began taking more frequent water and snacks break.
I could see my destination for tonight, right in front of me. I just needed to paddle little more and I could take a long break till next morning. The island was right in front of my eyes but far from my reach. Slowly the sky was turning orange, the sun was on its course to set. The island appeared bigger and I could see the light reflecting from those rocky structures.
My friends back at Mulki were expecting me to have reached the island. They were calling me, and were worried that I was still in the water. After some time it started getting dark and my phone battery was running low. I stopped clicking pictures and receiving calls. It was very important for me to reach the island before it got dark.
I was going to step into an unknown and uninhabited place which is far into the ocean.
I paddled all I could, but I couldn’t reach before sunset. The sun had totally disappeared into the ocean, I had no time to watch the sunset. The moon was right above the place where sun set. The waning moon offered just enough light to see a big black rock in front of me. It has been 3 hours since I saw the island and I was still paddling towards it. Apart from being tiring it was frustrating. I could see it and I was paddling towards it but I was not able to reach.
My calculations had gone for a toss. The distance to the island seems to be too far.
The wind never went down, the swell never decreased. Instead it got more windy and rough. I kept thinking that when I reach the island, I will find that every hardship faced was just a test. I kept on paddling for at least one more hour in the dark. The dark rocks were too close to my eyes and too far for my paddle.
I started getting bad thoughts and I was very scared. I was hallucinating on my thoughts. I felt as If I am caught in this infinite paddling sequence in the ocean. The island is not getting any closer and I am stuck here paddling forever.
Suddenly a huge trawler brushed by my side. I realised it only when the boat had passed by me. I got very scared and realized that I am not is a safe zone. This is a no mans land here. I need to watch my back more closely.
I heard the water splashing against the rocks after a while. I was relieved and scared at the same time. Relieved that I had reached the island and scared because I climb the slippery rock in the dark that’s infested with razor sharp barnacles and coral.
The water near the island can get extremely choppy. At one point in the island, the water level rose and fell to 10ft within a few seconds. Within the blink of an eye, the waves could've rammed my kayak and broken it to pieces leaving me stranded amongst razor sharp, barnacle infested rocks.
Locals say that this island and the water surrounding it has taken few lives in past. Everything was scary and confusing in the dark.
Kishore had told me to approach the island from the northmost side. The water there was comparatively calmer and it was easy to climb. This place is not just one peice of rock, it is a cluster of many rocks of different sizes. There are 8-10 bigger ones and few dozen smaller one. The distribution of these rocks is in an area that is 800 meter long and 100 meter wide.
If I had approach the island from the wrong side, I would have paid heavily for any mistake. I cautiously approached the island and observed the water rising up and down with the swell. I spotted a small rock which was part of the island, where If I had rammed my kayak at the right time, I would have been able to get off and hold on to it. If I approached the rock when the water was going up, I could climb on top of the rock, get down quickly from the kayak, and hold back the kayak, so that that kayak does not go down with the water.
I tried it twice, but could not time it correctly. The third time I was on the rock. I got down and moved up the island, and held the kayak from its front handle. I took my time to breathe. I had to get the kayak out of the water without damaging it, and the kayak was heavy. I waited for the water to rise more than the previous time and I pulled the kayak little more up.
I was famished and exhausted. My back needed to rest. I lay on the rocky island and for the first time I saw the sky, which was brightly lit with stars.
I had never seen so many stars in the sky. I was relaxed and happy to have made it.
I took my time and started pitching the tent. It was windy. I didn't find anything to tie my tent to the ground. The wind was strong enough to blow away the tent. I took all the dry bags and the cooler and put it inside the tent. I wanted to start the bonfire immediately. I took some wood and lit it. I was also cooked some noodles for dinner.
It was amazing to sit there among the stars and the fire. I could see the cities situated on the shore. I could see the lights along the coast line. After eating the noodles I took my sleeping bags out and lied down under the sky.
I was alone but I was not afraid. I started thinking about my life. How and where it all started.
I remember the first memory of my life very clearly. It was when my mom dropped me off at my grandmother’s home. I was crying as I saw my mother leave. But was it where my life started? Was it my memories that made me what I am? Am I a box full of memories? If I could somehow erase all my memories, would I still be myself? I had just experienced the Ship of Theseus’ paradox.
From when did I started considering myself as an individual? From when did I get separated from everything else? I am no different, I am still the same star matter in a different structure. The feeling of “Aham” and “I” is separating me from everything else. If I just drop the “I”, I becomes the whole, I gets connected, I dissolves into the universe, I becomes the universe, I is universe. Aham Brahmasmi.
This feeling was wholesome and happy. The feeling of dropping “I” is bliss. I wish I could drop the “I” forever. I am still not ready yet to drop it. Maybe I don't want to. Someday, I will be the whole I, the real I, forever.
With these thoughts swirling around in my head I slept under the stars in my sleeping bag. The fire was offering some solace on the otherwise cold night. The water was splashing against the mighty rocks and spilling all over the place. I was hoping that the island would not submerge into the ocean.
I was so glad I came here, to the rock, to the ocean. Into the wild.
Next morning, I woke up before the sunrise. It was a beautiful sunrise on the west coast. I trekked the whole island, the island was full of crabs and different kinds of corals. The island also had very rough water on all the sides. I was so glad that I climbed the island from the north side. Kishore’s tip was life saving.
For hours, I watched the swell hitting the rocks. The water would come up, hit the rock, and splash everywhere. When the swell went down, all the water would trickle down like a waterfall. The sun was up, I packed my luggage, my plastic waste and paddled back home.
Now, I know mother ocean more. I understand her more, I respect her more, I want to be with her more.
Huge thanks to Mantra Surf Club and all the boys for supporting me throughout the journey. They were ready with rescue boat in case of emergency. Special thanks to Kishore, for showing me the way to the island and helping me with the preparation. Thank you Ashika Appaiah for editing. Peace.