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
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.