Kayaking from Sweden to Africa: 1001 Ways to Fail (Part One)
The day had been quiet, but later in the afternoon the wind started to pick up. I decided to just paddle to the bridge abutment and spend the night there, leaving the crossing to Copenhagen for the next morning. But it was already too windy in Limhämnsvagen and my kayak was far too heavily laden. In the port of Limhämnsvagen I realized that I couldn’t bring all my stuff with me so I decided to turn around. By then the wind had almost turned into a storm—the wind, currents, and shallow water churned up big unpredictable waves of up to 4 meters high. I got swept out and away from the shore on my way back.
Just when I was telling myself to keep away from those waves, a wet giant came and dunked me, but I managed to right myself. Wave number two took me under and everything went green. I rolled over and sat up in my kayak, with my ass getting cold and wet from the icy water flowing in. In the blink of an eye I was underwater again; wave number three took me out of my kayak this time. I came up to take a breath. While the aggressive waves continued to toss me around, music by Goran Bregovich from the movie Underground started playing in my head. It slowly subsided and died out as the sound of roaring waves and howling wind took over. I could see that I was very far away from the shore. Will my life end now like the music? The question brought me back to reality. Ok, what do I do now? I started to prepare to get back into the kayak, methodically, by the book, and according to all the rules. Twice I managed to get into the cockpit, but with a quick flick of their thick, icy fingers, my hopes were dashed as the big waves turned my watercraft over once again.
My clothes had turned into leaden weights. I started to sink. But I cannot leave the kayak. And I had no life vest. My friend Hindsight, who normally showed up after the fact, picked that moment to berate me on my stupidity. Before I completely lost strength in my hands, I tied my arm to my kayak and started swimming with it towards land. With my body submerged in water half the time, the kayak acted as my flotation device and kept me from staying under. On the surface, chunks of ice that had broken off floated past me. A deep-seated cold started to invade my body—I lost sensation in my arms, and my legs quickly followed thereafter. Then my breathing became laborious; it felt like someone was slowly tightening a noose around my neck. But every time my head broke the surface I screamed fight, fight, fight! Underwater I yelled the same thing in my head. I continued to stroke towards the shore with my kayak. I wasn’t sure if I would make it. I was too far out. I wasn’t a pessimist, but I just could not believe that I could swim as far as the beach in less than zero degree water. Nevertheless, I screamed and yelled at myself to keep on swimming!
As I looked over towards land, I spotted two dots moving on the countryside. I saw something—someone?!—move toward a bridge but turn and walk away. No! No! I would at least like someone to know that I died. I realized that there was no help to be had; passersby would just stop, stand, and watch. Then they would go. I didn’t think they understood that right there at dusk a person was struggling and fighting for his life in the great wild waves. But it wasn’t their fault that I was out here.
After what felt like a lifetime, but in reality only about 20 minutes had passed, my feet touched bottom. It was a feeling I would never forget: the tiniest flicker of hope that maybe I would make it after all. I did not dare let go of the kayak until I knew that the shallow bottom went all the way to shore. Knowing how my luck was going lately, I might just encounter a deep trench and drown a few meters away from land.