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Old 04-26-2017, 10:54 PM
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Part II - 2016 Kiting Run From Harbour Island to Glass Window Bridge



There was a beautiful start to the day as is so often the case in the islands. I walked down to capture the dawn off Harbour Island that morning.






"X" still marks the spot of this adventure on this chart from the early 1700's by Johann Baptist Homann.



I came back with Dan a couple hours later for my planned roundtrip run down to Glass Window bridge and back.









Pulling away from Harbour Island in 2016 to test the wind and see how well I could tack upwind to judge whether it is worthwhile to run down to Glass Window Bridge. I was carrying three GoPro cameras shooting twice each second. This included one looking at me from the kite using a SKORD MOUNT, another looking out the back of the kite canopy for that artistic view and lastly my old standby camera on the helmet. This provided minute documentation of this run from multiple perspectives, at least until cameras were taken out of play by various steps along the way. Checking local and distant weather conditions out in the Atlantic, there were no obvious systems to propagate "rage-like" waves or more than fairly small waves in general during my session. If this weren't the case, it would provide good grounds to scrub the idea of a round winder to Glass Window Bridge.



I left the beach at Harbour Island close to high tide which allowed me to skim over a lot of the dead elkhorn reef nearshore. I was on my favorite twin tip kiteboarding which draws very little water. At a lower tide, striking and being flung off your board at speed is fairly easy to do. I was wearing my normal ragout including a helmet, NP High Hook harness for flotation and to carry signaling gear, Swiss Protection kevlar socks to keep my feet in one piece. I failed to bring gloves unlike in 2014, for the possibility of having to climb out. I was to buy an ACR ResQLink™ Personal Locator Beacon for just this sort of run, in another few months after this trip for challenging kiting and SUP runs.



Passing by some of the large isolated buildings on the way to the bridge. This area can have some particularly strong wave runup even in smaller wave activity.






The wind was both stronger and side onshore this time, lessening but not entirely removing concerns about fading wind near the rocks. I would reverse course to see how well I could make back upwind every 10 minutes or so. This was intended as insurance to help me get back to where I started. It improved with each check until the suddenly wind started to ease. The forecast had it building through the next day but in nature, things will depart from what is predicted at times. I started to try to work offshore in scissor tacks between two high cliff sections several hundred yards apart. I kept at this for over a half hour but ended up coming closer to shore rather than further off the rocks. I could have run downwind to the south needing less wind power than beating upwind would require. Unfortunately that choice would have had me landing in 50 to 80 ft. high vertical cliffs often with a large wave cut notches at the base. Like the roach hotels, I suspect you go in there but you don't come out at least not without being smashed into the rock and drowned.






The southern turning around spot, I went back and forth for a quite while failing to make to windward and ultimately back to Great Harbour. Exiting here with all the caverns, over-handing rock ceilings and 50 ft. cliffs wasn't on. This resulted in a growing sense of serious foreboding. I might have been able to exit the water in this area of cliffs in theory but it was far from a certainty.



Fortunately, I spotted one possible haul out location in 2014 and on Google Earth. It is that narrow "low-lying" area among all the cliffs. It was no accident that it was inshore of me as I centered my tacks over this small possible landing area. So, after an extented but futile effort to run offshore upwind and lacking other options I decided to land at this spot. (Photo from Panoramio.com)



A surface view of what was a narrow pan area, the goal and my salvation, in the midst of some pretty high vertical cliffs and breaking waves.



It took considerable maneuvering, a good deal more than I initially realized to pull this save off. This wasn't a viable exit area, most of the rocks looked like this or worse. My exit was south of this area.



I tried riding in as close as I could but at one point, I had to drop off the board and try to side stroke closer. I was unable to attack the kite in sining fashion to power on to the plateau without risking stalling the kite in diminished wind and looming rock. To lose the kite like that was to risk wrapping myself up in line while still trying to exit the ocean.



A lot of things start going through your head at this point and continue until you are safe on dry land, to stay. Guessing what if, analysis, weighing risks making a plan and placing things in motion. This area no doubt has a nice crop of large tiger, hammerhead and bull sharks and I'm about the only tender morsel floating along the surface for many miles. Still, this is a triage-like process, what are the greatest threats and in the order in which should they be addressed. Between waves, adverse currents, avoiding bashing into rocks, landing the kite and getting out of this bizarre reality I had dropped myself in, sharks fell off the list. Until and if sharks decided to crash this party it was just the waves, rocks and myself trying to come to a survivable accord.



The view inside an exploding wave. After getting slammed like this 29 times (each one was caught by my helmet cam), swimming continuously, you start to get a bit worn out.



Side stroking in while carrying the board along for about a half hour against a strong current outflow from water spilling off that rock shelf. I had hoped to surf on to the shelf but there was this strange stagnant node about 15 to 20 ft. off where there seemed to be no real net lateral transport of objects, i.e. balloons, boards, me. Still, with persistence things may eventually come to you or vis versa as in this case. Just remember to try to not swim against the strong current but to find a way around it. (merger of two shots)

I saw no boats anywhere throughout the entire session so help from that quarter wasn't on. I usually assume I am on my own when kiting even more so in out of the way places like this. When I concluded I would have to land within a narrow shelf close to the water I set up to make the best attempt that I could. I did some rapid learning about wave interactions and hydraulics in such a strange environment at the cost of a good deal of exertion.


Last time I did this in 2014 things worked out better with both myself and my board making the roundtrip back to Harbour Island. It wasn't easy but I wasn't forced to self-rescue either. I had just enough wind to go the distance in 2014. This time in 2016 I had to make the best landing I could or stay out there until I was washed into the cliffs.



Waves on the order of 5 to 12 ft. plus would come in occasionally bursting skyward against the rocks and flooding over the rock shelf with violence.



The water level would drop rapidly below the level of the shelf with passing waves.



An overhead view of the rock shelf and surrounding cliffs.



I wanted to drop the kite on the downwind side of where I planned to climb out of this blender, ideally with the lines and bar out of the way. It took a long time to get this close, so I was more than ready to deactivate and release the kite. The trick was for me to end up on the flat plateau of rock, ten feet or so in the air in this shot. At other times, the water might be ten or so feet above the plateau with incoming surf and filling of the plateau like a bathtub. With waves coming through with a period of about 5 to 7 seconds timing my assault on the cliff.



I had many waves explode over me confusing things a bit and making breathing more difficult. I was getting pretty tired by this point. Catch an exploding wave during a knackered inhalation and things might get particularly bad.



FINALLY, off goes the kite on to the cliff as planned! The hard, easy part over, now on to the really hard stuff, joining the kite safely out of the ocean.



I sent the kite leash right after it not wanting to have kite canopy, lines or anything else nearby to get tangled in or otherwise impede the next part of the self-rescue.



Down my 16 m Contra kite goes. I learned later, seems like a year later, once I was onshore that the kite just stayed on the rocks motionless and undamaged for me to catchup. Way to go Cabrinha, excellent gear to count on when things go south and you get flushed with it!



Now that the kite is out of the way, you can see it resting way up there on top of the cliff, I need to sort myself out. Getting out of this mess was going to take still more doing.



Slowly coming closer to the cliffs while being buried in exploding waves at regular intervals.



Getting close to the rocks, repeatedly and trying to climb out wasn't easy. I decided around this point to let go of my board as it was going to likely stop me from getting out of this place. I had that board for close to ten years and had used on great kiting adventures all over. It was a custom board dreamed up and fabricated by Lloyd Northrop III when he launched Waterboards. Lloyd was a great guy and well liked in the kiting community. He tragically passed away of natural causes in 2011 while kiting and surfing. I was heart sick to lose the board but somehow I think Lloyd would appreciate the tradeoff I was compelled to make. More at: http://fksa.org/showthread.php?p=48592



I eventually worked in close enough to grab something with bare hands, jagged dead coral is all that is available but it will do. Unfortunately, the water fell suddenly yanking my grip free and so I fell back into the churning water. This happened twice before I hung on hard enough to stay put. My hands were sliced up sliding around on all that sharp rock but my feet were intact thanks to my FYF Dyneema Protection socks, thanks guys!



Grabbing a hold of the rock and not allowing myself to be blown off by waves and dropped off when water fell between crests, at last!



Lots of wave dunkings along the way. I am grateful for all my time free diving, sometimes in waves. It really helped to avoid swallowing water during the wave battering, swimming and climbing.



In time I made it up on to the rock pan area, traversed around to the flat area and sat down away from the water to grab some much needed rest and recovery. I was exhausted, just laid back and breathed deeply, turned my helmet camera off and waited to catch my breath.



Unfortunately, I hadn't counted on a massive wave coming in, inundating the entire flat rock area to a depth of 12 to 15 ft. and vacuuming everything back over the ledge and into the sea, including me. This was a wave which had flooded in at another time but illustrates just how things filled up. I had been sitting around where the "X" is before the water ran back out over the cliff with force. The lot sucked me right out and tossed me back into the sea, right where I had started! My helmet came off in the maelstrom but was bobbing nearby on the surface when I came up. A few choice and not readily printable words and then concluding well, I got out once, I'll just do it again. That is what I did growing more tired but heavily determined to get out of this mess. It took eight minutes of fighting but I made it back up.



Once I made the shelf again, I blew off how exhausted I was to walk to the far side of the flat rock area and to climb up fifteen or so feet higher before resting. I wasn't certain that I was up for a third go at getting out of the water through all that shifting sea, sharp rocks and battering waves. Another time in the ocean with so little energy left might just see me stay out there.



A look at my predicament with some of the problems and solutions shown.



Ira Fagan was exploring the area and by pure luck for me walks towards the water and sees this bright kite and wonders what's going on. He came up at an excellent time as I had just recovered enough to tear down and pack up my kite gear.



Packing up to drive to the airport thanks to Ira's help. We both had seats out on the same flight. After all the stress of getting back on to land and staying there, it was a real relief to not have to worry about missing my flight. Thanks Ira!



Stephanie Nikita, a talented Facebook friend from Switzerland painted a scene from my escape inspired by a composite photo of the cliffs and waves shortly after I sent my kite ashore. Thank you Stephanie!


###


So, in hindsight, what to have done differently to avoid all the drama, swallowed water, lost board and potentially a great deal more?

1. Don't do the kite run.
Always an option but then there is that driving fascination with the place to deal with. Plus there was the basis of the last successful trip in 2014.

2. Have a chase boat.
This would have been the most sensible precaution. It would have taken more planning and expense but dying is not only expensive it is also quite inconvenient. The area was pretty empty while we were there but it is likely a local boat and captain might have been located to help out. So, note to self, no matter how appealing going at this sort of thing solo might be, bring a boat next time. Think of the extra photos it might provide?



So long from Eleuthera, hope to make it back soon.



© RG Iossi 2016, 2017
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transcribed by:
Rick Iossi

Last edited by RickI; 04-27-2017 at 12:50 PM.
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