Angle to Key West: Across Tampa Bay (2/16)


Longboat Key – February 16, 2013

There is a problem when a seventeen foot kayak and a thousand-foot freighter are the only two boats in Tampa Bay and the problem is not with the freighter.

Wind rushed across the bay from the northwest, pushing up waves and sending all the little boats scurrying to their holes, but I wanted across that bay and the dark black clouds didn’t seem to have any teeth.

Sometimes you have to go stand on the edge, stand there and dangle your toes over it. It’s scary, but it makes the world feel big.

Just don’t slip over.

Three miles from shore, in six foot seas, I saw the wave. It loomed above the rest, steep and long, thick with water, rising up like a wall, and I knew it would sweep me off that edge.

I couldn’t outrun it, slip past it, or hide. I could only watch it come as blood drained out of my face and left me pale and frozen in time, the wave hanging over me for an eternity.

“Hold on,” I thought. “You’re going to flip. Stay calm.”

Then all thoughts fled as the top of the wave broke and rushed toward me. It sounded like fabric ripping apart.

I felt the boat sink low beneath me, dropping in a pool of gravity before rising sideways up the face, a sliver of yellow against a the blue-white sea. I leaned toward the foam, bracing against the water, feeling the boat slip out from under me, feeling gravity pull me down as the wave crashed over the top.

Chaos. Everything shoved sideways. Foam spilled around my waist and over the deck. The boat spun in the wake and shook off the water. I shoved myself upright somehow, bracing the paddle against the surface, clinging to that edge, fighting gravity, holding on by my fingernails in the middle of Tampa Bay.

An hour later I was across somehow, slipping into the inter-coastal, happy and alive, soaked through, watching the edge slide outward as it always does when you’ve sat there long enough for your world to expand.

11 thoughts on “Angle to Key West: Across Tampa Bay (2/16)

  1. Your description of the wave made me feel right there with you. A one hit phenomena that stays with you in all kinds of ways throughout your life. I bet you were “in the moment” when the wave embraced you…….

  2. OMG, I was scared for you then and now again reading this – giving me goosebumps. I remember waiting for your text to say you had made it across and being ever so relieved when I received it and happy when it came earlier than I thought it would. Hopefully, you’ve not had any other encounters like that, since then.

  3. Damn! You’ve got nerves of steel. After my heart started beating again, I thought was it your camera you were clinging to? ‘Cause that picture…

  4. So does this experience effect your decision to paddle from Key West to Cuba? Is that trip more than 100 miles?
    If you had to wet exit in the middle of the bay with no one else on the water and big waves, who knows… But I think you hit your roll on the first attempt. I bet your where upright before your kayak left the backside of that wave. That must have been some paddle across the bay with your nerves strung out after a close call. Hope that is your last close call until Key West.

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