Capt. Kuk: It has been a long progression for Nancy over the last 22 years and even though she was always capable of gaining the skills to be a Ranger, she chose to keep some separation to give Eric space. Starting with her martial arts and fancy foot work playing hacky sack, Nancy has since added the necessary kayaking skills needed to be a full Ranger. Nancy is also the keeper of the Tsunami Ranger blog started by Eric, and it continues to keep the Rangers’ stories alive.
Nancy is the first new Ranger under Captain Tortuga and she bridges the generations. There have been many stories since her first retreat and becoming a Ranger is another one. After her test the party that night was like the old days. Congratulations Nancy, it has been a long and interesting time.
Nancy Soares LTJG: Over the years I taught myself to surf and went on a couple of Tsunami Retreats. I developed fair kayaking skills, but never trained very hard until 2004 when I decided to race in the upcoming Sea Gypsy Extreme Sea Kayaking Race. After eight months going out to Pillar Point once a week regardless of conditions (gak!) by the time the race rolled around I’d developed into a pretty strong paddler. But then Eric and I moved to Oregon and Eric died and I didn’t do much paddling after that.
When Jim asked me to go on the Tsunami Retreat in 2016 I was incredibly grateful to be included. I love the Rangers; they are my Sea Tribe, and I missed the camaraderie. Plus these guys probably knew Eric best of anyone and it’s comforting to be around them. And I did well. I could tell that I was being eyeballed. Oh shit, I thought, they’re going to ask me to test.
Sure enough, next year Jim asked me to test. Of course I said yes, but 2017 was the worst year of my life health-wise. Early in the year I was hospitalized with two potentially fatal conditions. Yep. It took months to recover and then the smoke rolled into the valley and took me back down a few notches. When I headed off to the retreat for the test I felt diminished. Actually, whiny would be a good word!
I went to see my friends Connie and Andy Taylor in Elk the day before we launched. I told Connie my tale of woe and she gave me the greatest pep talk. She told me to stand up. Then she tossed me an imaginary tennis ball and said, “Slow that down!” I went into tai chi mode, dropped my weight, and put out my hand. The imaginary tennis ball slowed down. “I know you know what I mean,” Connie said smiling. “Just slow everything down, the waves, everything. You can do it.”
The first day when we embarked on the journey to our hidden spot I went into slow-mo. I don’t mean I was paddling slowly so much as focusing on my breath, my movements, the waves, my companions, willing everything to Just. Slow. Down. This helped, because when The Wave in the Cave happened I was calm, relaxed, and unafraid.
The rest of the time I continued in slow-mo. When everyone went paddling the next day I opted to stay on the beach and rest. I stayed on the beach the second day too. Jim gave me the job of setting up a target for our knife-throwing games and I slowly and thoughtfully put together a nice big target. It took a long time to find suitable boards and driftwood and construct the target but it was a fun project and when it was done someone said it was the best target they ever had. Mission accomplished!
The test wasn’t till day four of the retreat so I continued to conserve energy. When it came time to test I felt pretty good but I still slowed everything down. Jim wanted me to lead an expedition, so after clearing it with him I chose to make Cate my second-in-command. As I explained to the team, good leaders don’t lead alone – they gather the best people they can find to advise and assist. Since I didn’t really know the area and Cate knows it well, I intended to run my intentions by her before making final decisions. Jim wanted to check out pocket beaches for abalone shells, so I set our course and off we went. Michael had a minor incident with a reef, but as Jim said at the debriefing, it wasn’t my fault. It just added spice to the day and Deb got a great photo.
We landed on beaches, played with a blow hole and a pour over, messed around in some caves, and then returned to camp for lunch. I kept the group together, made sure everyone got on and off the beaches safely, and headed back when it was time. Cate was invaluable for her experience working with groups. It was probably the most boring test ever, but that’s how I wanted it. It’s not often things are that calm during a Tsunami Retreat and I was keeping Connie’s advice in mind.
After lunch it was time to perform a rescue. Jeff volunteered to be “victim”. Deb yelled, “Swimmer!” and there he was, swimming out to sea and scrambling onto a big offshore rock. I pulled my kayak down to the water, made a quick scan and launched. I paddled up to Jeff, who was doing a great imitation of a panicked paddler who’d lost his boat, and started trying to talk him off the rock. No dice. I paddled around the rock speaking calmly but he wouldn’t budge. I realized he was going to make me get drastic. We’d had a previous conversation about an incident back in the day when Eric had threatened to throw a stranded paddler off a rock and I knew Jeff was going to make me do that very thing.
I grabbed my paddle and hopped out of the boat, scrambled up onto the rock and one last time tried to talk Jeff into jumping into the water and swimming back to the beach. I even threatened him. Nope. So I punched him (lightly) in the jaw and body checked him and he fell into the water. I jumped in after him and started hauling him in to the beach. I had my arm over his chest so he started acting like I was choking him. Point taken. I grabbed onto his PFD instead and side stroked in, dragging the “unconscious” body and the paddle along.
The coolest thing (aside from the fact I got to punch Jeff in the jaw) was that my kayak followed us in. Just like a little puppy dog, there she was, a few yards away, nose pointed toward the beach. I think it was Cate who said, “Just like Trigger!” Jeff finally “woke up” and went back to being his usual self and we swam over and corralled her. Now the Pacific Princess has a new name. Even cooler was the fact that in scrambling up the rock my dive knife had got scraped off my PFD. At first I thought I’d lost it for good, but there it was, lying right in the cockpit. Trigger had brought it home!
That night there was much rejoicing. Everyone said nice stuff and it felt so good. There’s nothing like being part of a team where everyone knows you, loves you, and forgives you for being a squirming hatch-blower. As Jim said, they know what I can do.
Thanks, guys, for including me and making me a Tsunami Ranger. It’s an honor and a privilege and I will be forever grateful! I love you all!