There were no tourists in the local pub – except Gero and me. We sat there, admiring the beautiful sunset and the hungry seagulls that were floating in the orange skies. We were so tired that we would not even opt for a drink.
– How are you? – asked Gero.
– I am fine.
– Remember what happened?
– Apostoli slowed down in the reef, and I bumped right into his boat. That is what happened.
– Did you get hurt? Are you scared?
– No. I told you I am fine.
My brain throbbed and continuously rolled the tape back, forward, and then backward again. My self-esteem had hit rock bottom. And yet I felt euphoria and some unfamiliar variety of happiness. As I was trying to analyze my condition, Gero interrupted me:
– Did you see what the kayak’s bow looks like?
– No. (Right now I would not give a damn about the kayak’s condition)
– It’s crumpled. And did you see the helmet?
– Yes. – I replied. If it wasn’t for the helmet, my head would likely have resembled a split watermelon.
– One more day to go – he said with a sigh. – Will it be like today?
In the water, under the water
Earlier today Neil McAra had demonstrated rescue and self-rescue techniques in heavy weather conditions to us. The waves were bigger than I was accustomed to. I still lacked sufficient experience. My whole being was focused on the tasks assigned to us which followed in a methodical sequence. Nothing was extra or short of; all was just in the right dose. This is precisely the training method of the BCU (British Canoe Union) instructors.
My teammate had slowed down and, as mentioned above, I bumped into his canoe, hence the drastic reduction of my speed and stability. I could not prop myself, pushing the paddle in the water. When you are at full speed and leaning, you feel the water as a solid surface. The next wave knocked me down. I managed to get back to normal position using the paddle. All was fine until I realized that it was no longer in my hands.
The wave to follow knocked me down again and I had to crawl out of the kayak. I was stuck to a rock. We were in relatively shallow waters and I was trying to get back on my feet. After four hours of exercise, this was not an easy task. The waves – one, two, three small ones, and the fourth big one – did not allow me to stand up. I am well trained physically, but at this point my legs just would not hold me. I lad lapped up a lot of salty water, too.
But after a while, everything calmed down – there was no fear, no fatigue; time was running like a slow-motion video; my brain operated in a different way – I felt tranquil and secure. I had calculated everything – the landing options, the most appropriate place to moor, the location of my teammates, the position of my boat. I even managed to catch one of the ropes and started to empty the water from the kayak... when something pulled me out of my trance.
My instructor was staying next to me and asking how I felt.
– I am all right – I responded.
He then jumped from his kayak, walked over the rocks, grabbed the two boats and helped me get into mine. He pushed me to the closest teammate to get me out of the danger zone. This had been a classic rescue technique, as he explained later, but my reaction had been too slow. He had kept an eye on me, waiting for the right moment to approach me. If I had panicked, he would not have come close to me at all. He just wanted to make sure I was calm and performing all the required moves.
– Congratulations! – Neil said. – I saw what I had to. You have your three stars now.
In Great Britain, three stars in kayaking are equivalent to having a Category B driving license! Now I know that hardships build your character, determination and skills indeed. Otherwise, we would be just vacationers with a kayak and SPF50 sunscreen...
Clients’ safety first
– Isn’t it high time that we go in? –The lady asked urgently. Her tone was definitely imperative. At the office it may be approprioate, but here ...
– No, not yet. A little later, maybe. Let the wind go down. And furthermore, you have never paddled. I do not want the kids to be scared at their first try.
– The kids want to go in, we have paid our fee! – she insisted.
Mmmm, here’s how kids sometimes miss the opportunity to get involved with something so exciting!
My name is Damyan Raychev. I am a 35 years old native Bulgarian. From the very beginning of my career as a kayak guide I have been with Water Horizon. I have completed two courses at BCU, one of them for a kayak guide. Defense of my thesis and graduation in Great Britain is ahead of me. I love nature, sensible and intelligent people, books, and my work, of course.
On our way to Ezerets
Everything is in place. Our bus is in tip top condition, the boats and vests are loaded on the trailer, smelling of spring, travel insurance is purchased for all. My stuff (luggage, equipment) is ready. The first-aid kit – oh, I forgot to check it! Then I refill it with medicines. We have organized a Black Sea kayaking event. Ezerets is one of the few remaining wild beaches along the Bulgarian Black Sea coast. No hotels and paid beach umbrellas there (fortunately); no pubs (unfortunately), a vast sand strip and no crowds (so you do not have to do the tourist’s dance when walking between bodies on the sand). The beach is quite open to the sea and usually there are waves. The Ezerets kayak trip is where it should be, seamlessly fitting into the natural environment.
In the rapids
It was the end of March. We were in the Struma River. The snow in the mountains above was melting and the water was very fast and icy cold. There were six of us in the rafting boat along with our instructor Ivan. We were bracing for the first rapids. Our eyes were wide open. Along the river there was a train line and a tunnel. Excitement was in the air.
– Do you hear the train? – asked Ivan. His voice was soothing and yet imbued with threateningly playful notes.
We shouted together:
– Yes, we can hear it...
And he chuckled:
– It’s not a train ... It’s not the train, buddies!
Then we all saw what the monster called Struma was capable of. But that’s another story.