Editor’s Note: So much happened during this retreat we’ve decide to make it a triplicity. This is Part One, The Wave in the Cave!
From the Captain’s Log: The plan was to do about a 3 mile paddle in and set up camp before dark. Scott was in the lead; close behind came Don, Steve and Nancy. It was the first day and I was trying to keep up with the Rangers ahead of me; slower than the others I was in the sweep position. This was not by choice but due to my fodder wing, an old injury that slowed me down.
Late in the day we had made a last minute decision to Go Now thanks to Steve, rather than launch the next day as we had planned. We left the beach quickly after packing our boats in speedy fashion and without a Plan B. It was late and we were stealth-fully getting off the beach so no Herberts would come and ask questions like, “Where you goin’?” To which we would have the standard reply, “Oh just going out for a paddle about and see what we can find”. But we knew where we were going… to our “Top Secret Spot” and we ain’t telling anybody. Paddling up the coast all seemed good for the first mile or so. We took a safe route around the whitewater fringed rock gardens along the exposed Mendocino coast. Heading towards the point, I could see a clear path around the outside of the rocky headlands. A safe and sunny route, but longer and less interesting than going through the tunnels.
We were cruising along well on the way when suddenly I saw Scott turn inside like something had possessed him. He took a direct line towards the dark wall in the Yosemite-like rock face. Damn, I thought, he’s going for the Black Hole. Then Don and Steve started to break course and follow Scott. Nancy hesitates for a while and looks back at me with an inquisitive eye but then turns toward the dark side. Well, alrighty then, I am going to have to follow. Solo paddlers always get separated especially when there is a glitch, which is common, so better stick with the pack. All the while I was thinking, “Shit, here we are again, paddling in late with fully laden boats headed towards the caves!” So began the start of the 32nd annual Tsunami Ranger retreat, not the plan within the plan I had in mind.
The wave models for that day showed varying conditions and it had been all over the map. In these conditions there is a lot of variation in the wave patterns and when the wave frequencies combine it can make a rogue wave or a larger set. Approaching the wall I could see Don disappear into the darkness of the worm hole and then Scott. Nancy followed nonchalantly, then Steve. I hung back. Better to wait and see I said to myself. Sure enough that larger-than-usual set came wrapping around the corner and I had to back paddle and reverse punch through the incoming waves. After that I lost sight of Nancy in the chaos and decided not to enter the dragon’s lair. Backing up I took the side passage through Tunnel B which was more protected. Arriving at the outlet on the other side of the headlands I could see Scott and then Steve. Soon Don and Nancy appeared from the cave and all looked cool. Hey no problem I thought. Then Steve came over and said there was a kerfunkle on the S turn inside the tube and he had hit the wall while avoiding Nancy who was in the water swimming. Looking at his bow I saw a crumpled eye loop which was bent over and looked like a ring hanging off the side of a broken nose.
After a few minutes surmising that all was good we paddled on casually to our destination. We made it to our secret spot in time to toast our victory in battle and set up on the beach before the sun set.
Don, Sr. Commanding Officer: After many hours on the road, we somehow arrived at usual spot – from north, northeast, and south – at nearly the same time. It wasn’t early, but it wasn’t late! After a long drive I’m always anxious to get on the water, but didn’t want to instigate. Fortunately, Steve was the instigator, and before long the decision was made to launch!
Getting launched is always a lot of work, but this particular spot is egregious. (If you survive the put-in, you’re good to go?!) Finally we were sweaty and ready, so I helped with some launches and prepared to follow as sweep. All get off the beach well and meander towards our destination. The sea was alive, but not angry. We were paddling well and fairly close together. Sensing a level of comfort, I moved up to the front with Scott. Approaching a rocky point, we angled towards some short cut tunnels. It seemed that the tunnels would be do-able. Scott and I arrived at a tunnel mouth and had a gander. I could just see the light at the other end, and didn’t sense any big waves. I paddled through and had to negotiate only some small bumps. Scott followed not too far behind. It was a few minutes before anybody else appeared.
I was being pushed about by some currents, and didn’t have a clear view into the tunnel, but sensed trouble. Backpaddling to line myself up for a view, I could see Nancy in the water with her boat. RuhRoh. Then I saw Steve careening down a wave behind her, and then BOOM! RUHROH!! Steve and Nancy are in the water, but Nancy is swimming strongly towards me, and Steve is re-mounting in the tunnel. I assist Nancy and realize she doesn’t have a paddle. Steve paddles out and looks no worse for wear, despite the scary cannon fire. Steve confirms that Jim has taken another route, so I figure it might be helpful to recover Nancy’s paddle. I paddle back into the tunnel, but no dice. Nearly all the way through, I turn back towards the group. There in the middle I see something dark in the water – the paddle!! Finding something is always fun, but a critical piece of gear is even better. We re-group, and with Jim now present, we continue just a short distance to our intended beach. From somewhere tequila appears, followed closely by an amazing sunset.
Scott, Leader of the Pack: I got lucky. I got to ride up the coast with both Jim and El Rey. Ha, to have a captive audience with two of my favorite people. And what a ride! All the way up we talked about plans to bivouac along the coast. Someplace to stage and meet up with the others planning on launching and paddling together the following day. From El Rey’s questions, observations and infectious energy, I knew it would be nearly impossible to keep him from blitzing the beach and launching that afternoon. Sure enough, as soon as we pulled to a stop and saw Don and Nancy, El Rey had me salivating to be underway. While Jim and others were barely past hugs of greetings, El Rey was looking beyond us to the sea. Things like, “We could launch now and…,” or “You know we can…,” and lots of “If we tell ’em…,” were too much for me. I was in!
Nancy arrived from Oregon recovering from an intense year and all the smoke from the fires. Concerned about her stamina she looked as though she would rather opt out of El Rey’s now late afternoon caper. But she is always a warrior and today would not be different. As soon as she said she was up there was no turning back. The paddle in was a bit bumpy but it was nice to be on the water. As we approached the point I felt alive. Off to my right was Don as he always is, smooth as butter and looking stronger than an ox. We all lined up outside the second set of caves at about the same moment. I don’t remember if we really spoke or just nodded but in he went. Nice! I thought as I followed several seconds behind him. He got through as I came to the narrow spot in the cave. Glancing back I saw the next wave was about to break and send me surfing out. It was small enough and I opted to back paddle and just ride the surge out. Paddling out of the opening I turned to get away and make room for the next paddler.
Nancy, Learning the Dark Arts of Sea Caves: This was the worst year of my life health-wise. Sick for weeks, hospitalized for five days, months of recovery, my stamina wasn’t good. Plus I’d been housebound for weeks during the post-apocalyptic nightmare that was August in the Rogue Valley. Health warnings were in place telling people to stay indoors because of the wildfire smoke. I don’t have AC so in the triple digit weather I was opening the windows at night, and the smoke was so bad I could taste it. I was weak, nauseated, and my lungs hurt when I took a deep breath. And here I was, testing to become a Tsunami Ranger. Great.
At the caves I hesitated. I wanted to follow Jim but Scott and Don were closer so I followed them. At the cave mouth I made sure to give the guys plenty of time to get through before I entered but I neglected to look behind me. It was dark in the cave because of the dog leg and because I was wearing sunglasses. As I approached the corner a wave rolled in picking up my stern. I had the interesting sensation of surfing a wave in a cave toward a wall without really being able to see. But it was kind of cool so I just rode on into the dark. I surfed smoothly around the corner and saw the light at the cave mouth and Don and Scott outside. “Hey, maybe I got this!” I thought. But just as I rounded the corner the wave swept me against the right hand cave wall. I drove my paddle blade into the rock face to right myself and get back in the middle of the tunnel. I don’t know what happened because I’ve done that move successfully a bunch of times, but the paddle shot through my hands like a rocket slicing my fingers with the blade and slamming my hand into the rocks. I think that because the cave narrows the wave became concentrated as I came around the corner and the opposing forces of the wave pushing into the wall and the paddle thrust pushing away combined to knock the paddle out of my hand.
So there I was, high-siding it along the right-hand cave wall without a paddle. The boat flipped over and I bailed out. As my head popped out of the water I heard a massive BOOM like an M-100 going off. Wondering what the hell that was, since I’d forgotten about Steve, I grabbed the rail on the boat and started swimming out of the cave, not knowing Steve had just deliberately driven his bow into the cave wall rather than spear the back of my head. It felt like the water was sucking out and pulling at my feet so I grabbed onto the rocks of the left hand cave wall with one hand and doing a grab-pull-hump-kick-repeat maneuver swam the loaded kayak out of the cave.
Don was waiting outside, and like the gentleman he is he pulled the bow of my boat up onto his deck while I took a breather and told him what had happened. I actually thought my paddle might be broken because of the force with which it flew out of my hands. Don helped me flip my kayak over and while I paddled out of the way using my hands, which worked surprisingly well, he went back into the cave and found my paddle intact with only one blade a bit chewed up and the Kevlar frayed. Yay! Paddle restored, we regrouped and continued on to the camp site. My hand was bruised and bleeding, but not badly. First blood. Yeah!
1. When in doubt, follow Jim
2. Before entering a cave, look behind you
3. When in a cave, don’t forget about what’s behind you
4. It’s good to be part of a team
5. When the shit hit the fan I forgot all about how debilitated I was and just dealt
Steve, Cave Romancer: After launching with fully loaded boats we headed to Thunder Cove. We had relatively strong winds, swells and an active ocean as we approached a series of caves and beautiful beaches. Don led the five of us toward the right cave mouth. I was wondering about that far right cave. I did not recall that it was passable as a few of these caves lead back into the rock and create loud booming percussion sounds but do not open up.
Don headed into the cave. Scott, Nancy and I were next in line behind him. Shortly after Don went in, Scott followed. There were swells and surf moving into the mouth. After Scott entered Nancy went in. I waited outside the cave for a bit before I entered. The cave had a dog leg turn to the right and after a few strokes I could see there was some light visible indicating an opening. Because of the dog leg the end of the cave was not visible. As I entered the tunnel I picked up a nice 2 to 3 foot wave that was concentrated by the cave shape. I was clear, well below the ceiling, and having a nice ride through the cave. As the mouth became visible I saw Nancy in the water in the middle of the cave, capsized holding on to her boat pretty close to the mouth. I was surfing toward her with a fair amount of momentum. She was still a good 25 yards away. Realizing I was on a collision course with the back of her head I immediately began steering away from her. I headed to her right, but with the heavily laden boat and the cave wave surge I over-corrected. My bow smashed into the cave wall with an extremely loud bammmmmm, similar in volume to a cherry bomb. The sound reverberated in the cave. Nancy did hear that! In somewhat slow motion my kayak capsized and I was swimming, still far away from Nancy and her boat.
I climbed back into the X-15 and paddled towards Nancy, who was swimming out of the cave with her boat but without her paddle. I steered around her and Scott examined my bow to assess damage. Then Don entered the cave again to search for Nancy’s paddle. He emerged a few minutes later with the paddle intact. About that time I looked over to the calmer cave system that we were familiar with and saw Capt. Kuk serenely paddling towards us.
We agreed we were ready to proceed and paddled on towards Thunder Cove, having had a bit more excitement than we had bargained for in the first 40 minutes of our retreat! A note on Tsunami X-15 integrity: even in a fully loaded boat with the bow slamming directly into a cave wall, due to the incredible strength of these vessels my bow had only a small piece of the tip scraped off and the boat was otherwise unscathed and fully operational after the impact! Thank you Capt. Kuk!
Have you ever surfed a wave in a cave? Tell us your story below! Also, if you’d like to see actual footage of waves in caves, check out the Tsunami Rangers’ Greatest Hits on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Stm5OdpKess&feature=youtu.be