The Wet Exit – Learning the basics of kayaking in Belize

The boat ride to Lighthouse Reef is an adventure in itself, but the day is not over yet. After our tour of the camp, a safety talk, and getting our luggage settled in our cabana tents, we hear the blowing of the conch-shell. This is our call to gather, and in this case we are gathering for our introduction to paddling, and to getting wet. As in Wet Exit.

When your kayak tips over, you have two choices: either roll it back up, or get out. Since the Eskimo Roll is an advanced manoeuvre, and very difficult to execute in a double kayak even by skilled paddlers, the wet exit is the more likely choice. So we have to learn how to do it. And what better place to develop your wet exit skills than the tropical waters of Belize?

The guides take us through it step by step, demonstrating the various re-entry techniques. They make it look easy and some of us have our doubts. Hanging upside-down in a kayak sounds about as sensible as jumping out of a perfectly good airplane. But when it’s our turn, we have a guide right there to calm our nerves, to guide us and assure us. So over we go…

Once your head emerges from the water, and you realize how quickly the actual exit took, you feel kind of silly for being nervous. But you are not back in the kayak yet. First you find your paddle, your boat, your partner. And then you scan around for floating objects that might have fallen out of your boat. Once all is gathered then you work together to right the boat. Then there is the bailing. Once the boat is sufficiently bailed, we get on opposite sides of the boat.

All of this activity is tiring, especially if the sea is wavy. Fortunately the Caribbean Sea is warm and so we have no reason to rush through this. My partner, being much lighter than me, will stabilize the boat while I climb in. My technique is not as smooth as the guide’s was, but I manage to scramble in and get settled. So now I hold the boat steady with my weight, and my paddle in the water, while my partner climbs aboard. Somehow she makes it look easy. And there we are, back in our boats as if nothing happened, except of course we are soaking wet, and still have a little water to bail out. But the feeling of relief, and of renewed confidence stokes our desire to do some serious paddling. And in a couple of days, when we sail our kayaks to Long Caye, the idea of a capsize shrinks from a Titanic disaster, to that of an unscheduled swim. And that makes the sail a lot more fun.

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