Monday, January 4, 2010

Kayaking Cape Point

The alarm clock went off before sunrise, startling me from a half-sleep. All night I’d been falling into excited dreams about my day to come – a kayaking journey along the southern Cape Peninsula, all the way to the Point. Steeped in the history of sea exploration, trade and the havoc of its infamous storms, Cape Point’s powerful presence had pulled me away from any kind of restful sleep.

I contemplated turning over for just a few more minutes of sleep, but then remembered the weather forecast – a perfect window early in the morning. The swell would be small and the wind very light, but conditions would deteriorate throughout the day. Since the point is known for fickle weather conditions I decided the snooze wasn’t worth it after all, and stumbled out to the kitchen to get the coffee going.

The car was loaded just as the first morning light appeared, the sky turning purple. Driving towards the launching point at Buffelsbai via Simonstown the road followed the course of the mountains on the right and the sea on to the left, a winding cliff-side road overlooking False Bay. The sun began to rise, an orange globe reflecting across the quiet, kelp-strewn water and warming the rounded boulders lining the beach. The calmness of the scene belied the feeling of anticipation getting heavier inside me.

Finally arriving at Buffelsbai, I saw a bunch of fishing groups in motorized boats going out in the same direction as we were planning. Lots of excited banter circulated as one group of men after another slipped into the water – cheers and jeers, sizing up our craft – a basic 2-person sit-on-top kayak, and tall tales of some faraway reef that held the promise of catching the “big one.” I assured them we would not be joining them on the reef this time.

Our turn to launch, we set off and got into the rhythm of our paddling, making our way under our own steam. Birds in formation glided nearby, low, just skimming the water’s surface. I looked down as we moved over the water – it was clear and the kelp seemed to be reaching eerily towards me with greenish-brown arms from another world. As we got into deeper water my heartbeat picked up its pace and we rehearsed our no-frills safety plan, just in case we were paid a visit by a sea monster.

The plan had three parts. First, if the sea monster knocks the boat and you fall off, get back in. Second, if you are nibbled by the sea monster and lose a limb, get to shore. Third, remember the National Sea Rescue phone number and dial it when necessary. My dreamy state of mind instilled by the peaceful paddling and amazing scenery was now feeling clouded by worry. I wished we hadn’t brought up the subject.

We continued on passed Rooikrans (“red cliffs”), a famous spot where anglers risk their own sort of danger by hiking down a near vertical drop for the chance to catch a Yellowtail or other predator fish from the rocky cliff-face that dips into deep ocean. The rock is thick and has stood the test of time and the worst of storms. Passing fishermen along the shore we seemed to cause a bit of consternation and excitement, and we waved to one another and passed happy conversation.

Around the corner we found a sea cave cut by the wind so deep we dared not explore too far. The sound of the waves echoed inside and surged back out again like the place was alive and breathing.

Continuing on I could see the Point ahead and the international weather station above at the top of the mountain. Both my heart rate and the height of the swell increased, rising and dropping like a see-saw. I felt like I was entering a zone where I probably shouldn’t be. The colour of the sea was changing to a dark, deep purple and as we moved closer to our destination we passed over a lake of sea foam churned up by the crashing waves on the rocks. I could see the reef the fishermen had mentioned off in the distance and there were lots of boats sharing the action – but their presence was no comfort to me now.

The swell was so high now I felt like I was on some kind of a rodeo ride, bucking me hard and threatening to throw me but there was no way I was getting off at this stop! I took care to keep the balance, gripped my paddle, breathed deep and in this chaos tried to relax and enjoy the view of Cape Point’s rocky finger, battered yet still reaching out to the southern seas, framed by the Benguela current on the western side and the Agulhas on the eastern side. I was astonished to realize I was sitting in the place of their convergence and the height of their colliding energy. The moment felt heavy and there was an ancient presence all around me. I saw the faces of the great spirits looking down from the ridges above. Now I knew with absolute surety that I was not supposed to be here, but here I was anyway, stealing a timeless moment and seeming to get away with it!

We stayed just long enough to document the moment with a photograph, an amazing view of the lighthouse from our fragile spot floating on top of the depths of the sea. Then we began the paddle back towards False Bay where the friendlier Agulhas flows. We left as quickly as we could, taking care not to be caught and toppled by a rouge wave. We reached the zone of sea foam where the swell height seemed more manageable and I began to breathe a little easier. As we moved along the swell height continued to fall, along with my heart rate, and the grip on my paddle eased back to normal. Now in calm water the rhythm of the paddle strokes formed a quiet aftermath and I could not stop smiling at the amazing gift I had just experienced.


  1. Theresa, I was completely absorbed by this essay. What an amazing experience. Your writing is beautiful, I can't wait to read more! Michelle

  2. I liked this. Adam

  3. Thanks so much! It was incredible... really appreciate your feedback and I will definitely keep writing, it has been fun.