Field Notes: Just Going, Pt. 1

McCarty and Rynkowski out in the grey. Photo: William Gayle

McCarty and Rynkowski out in the grey. Photo: William Gayle

Field Notes: Just Going Pt. 1

On May 28, Rachel McCarty and Casi Rynkowski took to the waters off Massachusetts for a doomed two-day, 50-mile paddling adventure. This is their story.

I bobbed in the cold water, my board upside down and paddle floating away with increasing speed. Eyes wide, I struggled to flip my board over, the 30-knot wind forcing it against me. I reached to the other side, grabbed the fin and pushed down to expose a rail. The wind caught it and flipped the board like a piece of paper, despite the 50 pounds of gear strapped to it. I climbed back on and inhale deeply. Heart pounding, I searched among the three-foot swells for my paddle. My friend and constant adventure companion, Rachel McCarty, scooped it out of the water and yelled to me through the howling wind. We exchanged a knowing look. When the fishing boats start heading for the harbor, maybe you should too.

“If one of us falls in, it’s over.”

We’d said it so many times as we planned this trip, knowing that with warm air and cooler water, wearing lightweight wetsuits still meant the possibility of hypothermia.

We had solidified our pact as we strapped the gear to our boards on the beach that morning in Wareham, Massachusetts, 14 miles to the northeast. Rachel had obsessively checked the weather through the night before the launch. Cloudy skies had turned to rain, light winds turned to near gale force. Despite our concerns, we both knew we just had to go. At the beginning of the day, prevailing wisdom took a backseat. Within 20 minutes we would second-guess that decision.

In the thick of it. Photo: Gayle

In the thick of it. Photo: Gayle

I looked to Rachel as we drifted rapidly along in the stormy seas; she was already mapping our destination as the wind pushed us toward West Island, 15 miles short of our original destination.

Once we hit the beach, getting swamped in the surf in the process, I ran over the dunes to get out of the wind to change clothes. Rachel fired up camp stove and warmed up my coffee. For the first time on one of our trips, coffee had made it on board. Rachel had laughed as we packed and I took special care to secure that thermos; coffee was the most important thing in my deck bag.

The next real challenge of this trip was waiting for me: camping. It would not be a kind introduction.

In all the time I’ve spent outdoors, I always found myself in a warm bed at night. Now I had finally forsaken it in the name of adventure. I was beyond exhausted. We had been paddling, adrenaline firing, for over 5 hours. Our reserves were depleted. Rachel started a campfire, and I began setting up the tent, not an easy task with the wind still howling. With overcast skies, we found it impossible to warm up. Dinner disappeared in a flash, and we shivered until it was time to crawl into our sleeping bags and think about the next day’s paddle.
—Casi Rynkowski

Click here for Part 2.

More Field Notes.

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  • Bird Song

    Why? Why did you “just have to go? “. As a sailor I see kayakers and Paddle boarders out in conditions and places that really concern me.
    I am sure you have many people who love you and would be devastated if something happened to you. Having spent many years on the ocean I can tell you things can go bad in an instant. Choosing to go out in those conditions is very risky.
    I am.very glad you are okay but I hope you do not take that kind of risk again.
    And I hope you carry a vhf radio or phone on you to get help if you need it.
    Please know I am writing this from a place of concern and awareness of not taking the power of the ocean for granted.

  • Casi Rynkowski

    Thank you for your concern. We do not take expedition paddling lightly. We both have ocean experience as well as paddling experience. We do carry VHF radios, file float plans, and have land support following us during our trips. In the past we have moved the days of our trips for better weather – optimal winds, tides, etc. In planning this trip we debated whether we should “just go,” but ultimately we felt that paddling in whatever conditions were handed to us was a truer representation of what expedition paddling is all about.

    What we hoped to show others by sharing our story was the reality of what can happen when things don’t go according to plan, and how our experience and strengths kept us from making grave mistakes. If you read Part Two, it brings our trip full circle. We always consult with those whose experience is greater than ours and we will continue to take every precaution for our future trips. Thanks for your kind thoughts, happy paddling!

  • Pingback: Just Going, Pt. 3: The Gear | SUP Magazine

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