BEAT­ING THE STORM

An ex­tra-tropical cy­clone com­bined with a strong cold front pro­duced one of the most de­struc­tive storms of the last decade in the South and South­east of Brazil. It pun­ished 1,300 kilo­me­tres of coast with winds of more than 100 kilo­me­tres per hour, which p

Say Yes To Adventure - - Features - Már­cio Bor­to­lussso

IN LIFE WHAT gen­er­ates chaos for some can be the sal­va­tion of oth­ers. As the Fire De­part­ment and Civil De­fence at­tended hun­dreds of in­ci­dents, which in­cluded buried houses, land­slides and washed away cars, we (the ath­lete­doc­u­men­tarist Fer­nanda Lupo and I) de­cided to face this his­toric storm on the eve of a dar­ing ex­pe­di­tion that had al­ready con­sumed our last five years. To spice up this im­promptu train­ing, more than just go­ing out to ‘pad­dle dur­ing a storm', we took the op­por­tu­nity to hold a Rock Gar­den­ing ses­sion on the Coast of Ship­wrecks.

It's one of the most cru­cial ar­eas for nav­i­ga­tion along the Brazil­ian coast, lo­cated to the south of the Il­ha­bela Ar­chi­pel­ago, an area con­sis­tently bat­tered by pow­er­ful cold fronts and as its name sug­gests, is ill-famed for be­ing a ship's grave­yard.

White Wa­ter is well-known as the de­scent of rivers and rapids, but in the ocean, the chal­lenge is called Rock Gar­den­ing and con­sists of cre­at­ing lines through the waves, a sort of ‘rock gar­den' at sea, cross­ing nar­row pas­sages or step­ping over sharp blocks briefly cov­ered by foam. One of the most ex­treme and lesser-known forms of kayak­ing, it un­for­tu­nately also means greater risk. After a few in­vi­ta­tions and de­cli­na­tions, we fi­nally con­vinced the pad­dler Evaldo Plado, who agreed to ex­ceed his lim­its and re­in­forced the safety of our team.

To en­sure we have the skills re­quired for such de­mand­ing and tech­ni­cal ad­ven­tures, we need to prac­tise var­i­ous tech­niques in dif­fi­cult con­di­tions to pre­pare our­selves for worst-case sce­nar­ios. What may ap­pear as in­san­ity is the re­sult of years of train­ing and the use of proper equip­ment (satel­lite devices, qual­ity cloth­ing, etc.). We stud­ied me­te­o­rol­ogy and out­door sur­vival and mas­tered var­i­ous tech­niques. After all, open­ing a map and dream­ing up new chal­lenges is the easy part.

Ac­cord­ing to the Beau­fort Wind Scale, a storm is clas­si­fied as hav­ing speeds be­tween 89 and 102 kilo­me­tres per hour. On this spe­cific day, fore­cast­ers re­ported 103.7 kilo­me­tre-per-hour winds in the most shel­tered area of Il­ha­bela. As we were on the oceanic side of the ar­chi­pel­ago and more ex­posed to the se­vere south quad­rant, the wind prob­a­bly over­took these marks and gen­er­ated a de­struc­tive, vi­o­lent storm – Grade 11 – on a scale that goes up to 12 (hurricane).

It was an un­for­get­table spec­ta­cle that blended ten­sion and thrills un­der the Patag­o­nian cli­mate. Huge waves ex­ploded on the rocks like dy­na­mite, form­ing fans up to ten me­tres high and big enough to make even the most ex­pe­ri­enced sailor wor­ried. The sea seemed to be cov­ered by fu­ri­ous po­lar bears and was so cold that it was essen­tial to pad­dle with more than one ther­mal layer un­der­neath our wet­suits. Mas­sive walls of salt wa­ter were hit­ting me with full force, forc­ing me to re­peat a se­ries of ac­tions so as not to hit the rocky bot­tom or be thrown against the coast. Me­moris­ing the rocks in the area, I would pad­dle with ‘al­most' all my strength (re­serv­ing some­thing for a con­tin­gency), emerg­ing through the walls of wa­ter, us­ing my pad­dle to brace me and keep me far enough away from un­sus­pect­ing rocks. I re­peated this se­quence un­til I passed the worst waves of each ses­sion, which came ev­ery five min­utes.

Punches, hits on chest and slaps in the face were on the menu this day, with no time to rest or re­po­si­tion my­self in safe places, be­fore be­ing swal­lowed up and dragged by a new mass of foam into ar­eas so shal­low that they left scars on my boat.

Feel­ing heavy and un­co­or­di­nated, with the im­pres­sion that my hatches were full with wa­ter, I kept my fo­cus – “Don't turn, if you turn do not dare miss the roll, don't turn.” Ex­hausted from the force of na­ture and now with­out enough en­ergy for a sim­ple 180-de­gree turn, the only op­tion re­main­ing was to re­turn to the main­land.

There is a fine line that di­vides safety and risk; it was cer­tainly an ex­pe­ri­ence I will never for­get. It de­manded the ut­most of my knowl­edge and taught me more than a hun­dred trips un­der clear blue skies could ever do.

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