After computer troubles have deleted my draft three times, here is the abridged version before it crashes again!
This particular day taught us just how difficult the expedition is going to be. It is not that anything particularly bad happened, or we faced any unexpected circumstances, it is just that 30 miles is a long way to kayak in the scorching heat even with only a slight wind. I invite any readers who believe our trip to be nothing more than a glorified holiday to try for themselves - there is nothing glamorous about the monotonous strokes, blisters, salt rashes, sunburn and dehydration among strong doses of physical and mental fatigue.
On this day we set out to kayak 30 odd miles (30.4 or so according to a rough track on google earth), which we will need to average more or less every day for over 10 weeks to complete the expedition*. This makes each day an expedition in itself - in fact 30 miles is equivalent to kayaking across the the English Channel, which no one would argue is a small feat...
* We have of course factored in a margin for rest days and set backs due to adverse weather or injury.
We set off in the morning after practicing rolls in the bay and set off for the 15 mile crossing from Prapratno on the mainland to Polace on the island of Mljet. We were lucky to have calm waters and just a slight wind from the North West, which was welcome to combat the blistering heat of the Croatian sun.
After 5 hours of paddling and growing blisters we stopped for a couple of hours to ride out the hottest part of the day in the shade of Polace, where we enjoyed a pasta lunch and a restock of food for the next couple of days. Before long we set off again to cover the second half of our day - paddling around the national park (strictly no camping allowed) and out the other side to Ropa. We had no idea what to expect at Ropa, just that we had been advised there was a campsite there. We set off...
A common question we get is how do you go to the loo during the long crossings.....
Well, now you know.
Anyway the day went on, the hours went by and the miles ticked along. We made steady progress but as the afternoon rolled into the evening the wind picked up and the growing waves made the going difficult and slow. The Croatian coastline is rocky with jagged cliffs that the waves crash against with fierce force meaning there are very few places to land and alight a kayak. Eventually, although we were still a way out from Ropa, the sun started to go down. And a terrific day was looking like it might start to go horribly wrong.
What a gorgeous photo I hear you say.... not when you are stuck out to sea with no lights on the boat...
Nevertheless we battled on and with the sun falling ever closer to the horizon there was a small inkling of oh f***ing s**t w**k c**k, what have we got ourselves into! On the Golden Arc Expedition we will be prepared and on some crossing plan to spend the night at sea... on this occasion, though, we were not.
Ropa is in a small inlet atop some high cliffs that are scaled by a small path used by fishermen to get down to their boats at the bottom. As a result you cannot see it until you are right up close. The thought of padding in the pitch black with no lights was far from appealing. We were now physically knackered from a long day of tough paddling, mentally exhausted from negotiating the rough water and hungry, very hungry. As we approached the inlet where we expected to see the beckoning lights of Ropa, there was just darkness and doubt started to prope and then engulf both of us.
The sense of relief when we saw the small landing stage was overwhelming. Alas we landed the kayak at 9pm with little more than 10 minutes of light remaining. And tired and hungry made our way up to the small collection of houses that make up Ropa. No shops. No hotels. Apprehensively we knocked on the door of a house signposted 'camp' and awaited the fierce welcome of someone dragged away from their quiet evening.
Fortunately, Croatian hospitality is incredible. We were welcomed as long lost children - "MAMMA MIA" big mamma kept saying whenever we answered a question about the kayaking. She sent her husband and son - who were into their second bottle of homemade vino and slightly unimpressed (but no one argues with big mamma) - down to the cliff bottom to ensure our kayak was secure and help us with our kit. And after showing us where we could pitch our tent she prepared us a knock up dinner of soup, meats, cheese homemade bread and homemade wine. Relieved, happy, knackered...
Quite frankly big mamma saved the day.
(unfortunately I missed the chance to take any photos of the evening except for of the remnants of breakfast....)
Meanwhile, preparations are still going well. The route is almost finalised and construction of the kayak is in full swing over in Canada - it is currently being reinforced with kevlar... make it a little more challenging for them sharks, eh.