About 10 minutes later, Mother Nature unleashed a fury the likes of which I had never been on the water for. Yes, I have been in some pretty intense storms, but this was definitely the worst.
We were under the southbound bridge and the rain made the north bound bridge barely visible. The lightning was not that cloud to cloud stuff, but the crazy intense bolts that exploded when it came down. For a while it was every couple of seconds... the sound was deafening and I could feel it deep in my chest. I laid my rods down and tucked my yak behind the middle of the three pilings. I brought my body down as far as I could while still being able to paddle in place, not only because of the lightning, but to keep my body from becoming a sail. The other kayaker was two piling sets behind me and I kept looking over to make sure he was still there. When the gust slowed down, I would move up one set of pilings and he would follow. We got a little ways then the wind picked up even more. I felt my paddle push violently against me and that's when I thought "what if there's a tornado/water spout?" The rain was hitting my face so hard I couldn't keep my eyes open. I would take a peek every now and then just to make sure I was still behind the piling. Waves were crashing into my kayak from what felt like all directions. When I felt myself tipping to one side I used my paddle stroke on the same side to push back. I didn't panic or freak out. I felt confident in my ability, my body didn't feel fatigued and I knew if I stayed under the bridge, behind that piling, and hopefully I don't get airborne, I would be alright. I knew it couldn't last too much longer. I had never met the other guy before and I had no idea how much experience he's had or his ability to paddle through that type of scenario. Thus, I worried.
When I could open my eyes again, I looked over and the other kayak was gone. "Oh Crap!" Lightning bolts were still going off and we were maybe 1/3 of the way back of the 3+ miles. I knew I couldn't go looking for him in those conditions. There was no sense in getting myself screwed as well. I couldn't reach for my phone either because if I stopped paddling even for a few seconds, I would be pushed away from the bridge and safety of the pilings. I told myself I'd call for a search/rescue as soon as I get the chance. At that moment, my safety was my primary goal.
I managed to keep myself in place for a while, and then I looked over again and barely made out a shape. He was paddling furiously, trying to get back to the bridge, but it wasn't looking good. I lost sight of him again as gusts came through that rattled my nerves and lifted one of my rods from my lap (same one I almost lost to a spade earlier). I got things situated and looked back again and much to my surprise and relief, a boat pulled up and looked like it was going to pick him up. Whew! Sigh of relief. Time is hard to measure in moments like that. But it felt like a long time.
I decided to keep going since I didn't know how long they were going to be. I kept going one piling at a time and eventually, the gusts slowed down and the lightning stopped. And about a quarter mile from shore, like Keyser Söze, "...poof, he's gone". The rain stopped, the sun came out, the water flattened, and I looked back at the island and shook my head. My favorite/lucky hat was long gone, but luckily, that was all I lost.
When I got to shore, I was greeted by a wedding party setting up in front of Alexander's restaurant. It was the strangest thing. They wanted me to hurry up and get my stuff out of the way, like they had no idea what I had just been through.
The other kayaker who had been on shore for a little while now walked up and introduced himself. If you're reading this, I apologize, I forgot your name. Glad it all work out though. It turns out he tried to anchor to stay in place and it popped out. He turtled (flipped) and amazingly got back in. He lost everything except his paddle. The boat passing by might not have seen him if he wasn't able to get back in and paddle back towards the bridge. Knowing how to recover and get back in the yak was critical for him. If he had lost his paddle or didn't have a spare, he could have easily ended up way out in the bay and maybe in the newspaper.
I find this all sort of ironic because I was recently asked by several people if I could take them out to the 1st island. I felt helpless, something I rarely feel, when I couldn't help that guy out on the water. Though not often, stuff like this happens and this is exactly why I have a hard time agreeing to take people out, especially if I don't know their skill level.
I try not to exaggerate too much in my posts, so here's a wind report I found.
That's 62 mph in Virginia Beach, during the time I was out on the water. That's no joke and I felt every bit of it.
I went to Ocean's East to tell them I was alright since Kevin knew I was out there. He told me they were keeping an eye out on the radar and all they saw was a little blip that turned into a massive storm all of a sudden... there wasn't much they or I could do to predict that one.
Those of you who haven't perfected your kayak recovery, you need to remedy that. For those that want to make those long trips, work on your endurance. Anything can happen...
About the Author: Rob Choi is an avid kayak angler from the Chesapeake Bay area in Virginia and a Pro Staff Member at Yakangler.com. He has earned a reputation among the locals as the fish junkie with reckless abandon to logic, time, and societal norms in his pursuit for the "tug that is the drug". He shares his love of the sport through his blog www.angling-addict.com.