Sep 4, 2019

Its Only An Island From The Water

Its Only An Island From The Water

Don Macdonald Ocean Voyager

After years of Hollywood fear mongering, tourism self-promotion, and social media jokes I decided to find out what all the hubbub was about on this JAWS thing and kayak between Nantucket Island and Martha's Vineyard. 

Arriving on the island I was in my usual happy go lucky beach attire, with sun screen and a pocket full of kryptonite. Pleased to see the black dog having taken over prominent advertising positions from jaws along side Quinn tee-shirts suggesting I need "a bigger kayak" which I think is code for "male inadequacy" slipped in by Steven Spielberg (but don't tell the east coasters)?

This trip was about mixing island time with fundraising time, helping a swim buddy try his hand at making a crossing to raise funds for ALS. This wasn't the first time we've tried such monolithic swims and now a very experienced ocean kayaker having logged probably as many hours in a kayak as most professionals between Molokai and Oahu, circumnavigation of Manhattan Island, trips in Lake Michigan, Florida, California in the saddle for 10 hours sometimes on a sit on top non-touring (aka non-luxurious kayak). 

So the day began like any another. Up early some breakfast walking down to the pier to meet up with the rest of the crew, no worries of what Mother Nature would throw at me in the middle of the ocean except for that nagging JAWS thing?

Launching from the western end of Nantucket at Eel Point, 7 am EST we easily made our way out to the coastal shelf north staying away from shallows, seals and sharks. The jellyfish - lions main, moons, reds were thick and troublesome for my swimmer as I heard garbled "ouch", "ugh" comments quickly made between each breathe. 

As we progressed westward off in the distance I could see seals lounging on the beach like union workers around a utility pole. Looked relaxed gathering pension sun rays of the shifting Atlantic stream. I did reflect for a moment about the global implications for humankind of warming oceans, thinking instead I'll bet they are thankful for climate change! One mammals loss is an other's gain, I mused.

Three hours later we arrived Muskeget Island by riding a nice 1.6 knot (1.84 mph) flow along the northern shallows. While 1.84 mph doesn't sound speedy in swimming or kayaking terms this is comparable to maybe running a 7 minute mile so not bad. But barely seeing the seals while disappointing was fine since I know what comes with seals and for our swimmers sake today we'll stay far away.

For these swims we use GPS trackers so while we are paddling along quiet nicely you can watch from work. Pinging every ten minutes, it makes for a less productive fun work day and let's be honest that's helpful. At some point in these events your mind wanders and for me this led me back to thinking if all those at home or work watching were too thinking of JAWS? 

I mean those at work and home never get to see the freakish encounters with glad super garbage bags that scare the crap out of you looking more like JAWS that #oceanplastics. 

 Off in the distance gathering storm clouds.

Actual GPS track Nantucket to MV

We plodded along reaching the half way point when a local guide who had joined the safety crew leaned over the gunwale (that's the side of the boat for you land lubbers) and shouted "where in it now" referring to the flood tide running at 3.9 knots (4.49 mph) heading south like a freight train washing out the sound sending seals into waiting jaws. 

Our objective was to get across this area as quickly as possible to reduce the southern drag saving many miles of additional swimming. As the weather front hit us waves at sea level turned into a jumbled mess, washing machine types. With flood tide waves channeled into the narrow sea bottom heading south and the the wind driving wave tops against, these white caps were helping brush my teeth.  Our swimmer was having non of this as I heard gasps for air like a whale blow. And from time to time we'd stop while he chocked and gagged on salt water. I'd lean over and ask how he was feeling with a usual response of OK, head back down, taking more strokes.

Nantucket Sound Tidal Flows (click for run time version)

As the flood tide freight train pulled us some 4 miles down from our most northerly point (I could see  Pogue lighthouse at one point) things for me got a bit tough. While taking a short break and grabbing a peanut butter sandwich from the support boat I miss judged the waves and they rolled me over. In classic swimmer form I held my hand with sandwich above the water protecting my lunch while I swam back to the kayak and jumped back on board. Now heading into 6 and one half hours in the kayak. Awhile later, over again. This time no sandwich to worry about but me thinking what the heck was that? I never fall over. More rain, winds, and waves and next thing you know, flip! This time wasn't so fun since I wrenched my back and needed to get out. A little embarrassed that my pride was not also eaten by jaws, I mean really!

So our swimmer continued on for a short while with our other safety kayaker and I watched from the support boat. As the minutes turned to an hour it became clear the day was not to be. Our swimmer  eventually was pulled as was our other kayaker.

These events are not for the faint of heart but neither is the reason we do them to raise funds for and awareness. 

This day Mother Nature bested me and some of the best in this business. This day I learned JAWS was a myth.