It is a breezy day for Kayaking in Belize. The kayaks bounce and roll through the waves as we sail down to Long Caye on an all-day excursion. That's right, I did say “sail”. These double kayaks have been specially modified to take a simple sailing rig and now we are driving along with the wind.
Kayak sailing is a pretty simple matter with these rigs: you just hold onto a rope which controls the sail, lean into the wind, and don't forget to steer. That is if you are in the back seat, where you are called “Skipper”. In the front seat, “Gilligan's” job is to watch out for patch reefs, help with the leaning as necessary, and pull out the paddle once in a while if a little extra push is needed to get around the hazards. Mostly it's a lazy ride across four miles of gorgeous water, in every shade of green and blue.
After a brief Belize sailing lesson we head off the beach. The wind seems light and we get a feel for the sailing pretty quickly. We dodge easily around a maze of patch reefs, and, as we get farther from the shelter of the island, the breeze quickens, the sail fills and we are pulled along briskly. The kayak dances through a light chop, and this sailing excursion is easy and just swift enough to be exciting.
A little more than halfway across, however, the nature of the water changes a little. No longer sheltered from the big waves by the island and reefs, the sea gets a little choppier. Even these waves are nothing like the swells rolling in the open sea, but the bigger ones are getting to be over a foot high. They lift the boat and surge us forward. The trick is to stay facing straight downwind, so that if a wave lifts the rudder out of the water, it won't have time to turn us sideways to the waves and dump us in the water. We do our best, and a few times a big wave catches the boat just right, and we surf the wave at breath-taking speed. This goes on for a while, but as the water gets shallower, the size of the waves diminishes, and we are no longer surfing, but still sailing merrily.
Most of the kayaks make it to the beach unscathed, but we hear the story of one boat that flipped over. As they retell the story, they both agree that they are glad we did our wet exit exercises the day we arrived. Having flipped intentionally on that exercise, they knew what it would be like to go over, and so were much less nervous while sailing. And they also told of how quickly the support boat was alongside, helping them out. In no time they were back in their boat, bailed out and sailing again. This time they made it all the way to the beach without another unscheduled swim.
Now for a snorkel and some lunch before our next challenge: paddling back to Half Moon Caye on Lighthouse Reef.
Oh, here is a short video showing kayak sailing, too....