Drifting in a Mexican Ocean...
by Prefer to be Anonymous!
Setting the stage. I was in Puerto Progresso in the Myan Riviera, Mexico, and I had just gotten a brand new kite. It arrived in the mail the day before, and I was itching to try it out. It was about 3 pm when my girlfriend and I headed to the beach, and it was 4 by the time I made it on the water. I was excited so I was rushing through the set-up... I just wanted to get on the water. The wind was barely side-onshore (it was 99% sideshore), and the beach slowly curved into the wind (over the span of 5 km or so..) I set up my kite and hit the water.
I was riding and having a great time with the kite. I was on my final run out away from the shore when the kite suddenly went limp and fell from the sky. I tried to re-launch but the kite wouldn't hold it's shape. I eventually decided to self rescue and swim home. At this time, I was maybe 600-800m from shore, which is a long ways to swim with all that drag, and to make things worse, I wasn't wearing a lifejacket.
I began to swim, but meanwhile the wind pushed me further and further down the beach. Because the wind was almost perfectly sideshore, it was going to take 5 km of gently curving beach before I made landfall. The only problem was that by the time that happened, it was going to be 2 hours past sunset and my girlfriend was sitting on a Mexican beach without being able to speak a word of Spanish. So I swam like I've never swam before. This fact, along with the occasional thought of a hungry shark picking me off, kept me going strong for about 1 hour of hard swimming.
About 2 km downwind of where I left, and with 30 minutes of sunlight left, I finally got to shore. I quickly grabbed all my gear and started running to (hopefully) find my abandoned and quite irate girlfriend. Thankfully, she realized that if I had kite problems I would be headed downwind and decided to walk down the beach and look for me, so it only took me about 1 km before I found her. Without getting into the fine details, let's just say that she had a few words to spare.
What happened was quite stupid and very simple. Because I was in such a rush to hit the water, I didn't take the time required to fully understand my new and unfamiliar kite. When I was inflating the kite, I failed to notice that there was an elastic strap that needed to go over the velcro that closes the valves. When I was riding, one of the valves worked it's way open and it deflated the leading edge. Because of this, the kite wouldn't hold it's shape and couldn't be relaunched.
What I learned...
Some of the well-earned lessons I learned from this are:
- Always, ALWAYS, understand your equipment! Know how to properly set it up, use the safety systems, take it down...everything!
- Always leave yourself enough daylight to deal with any issues that come up, and kite accordingly.
- Never kite further from shore than you can swim (the swim was doable but was not a good idea).
- Wear a bloody lifejacket or flotation device. You have no idea how nice they are when you're on a long ocean swim nearing sunset. At the very least get a colorful shirt so someone can see you if you have to ditch your gear.
- Have another safety plan in place if needed. We didn't know anyone in the area, and we had no plan for my girlfriend to get help if needed. It was pretty much a deserted beach and we were on our own.
Ultimately, the worst that ever would have happened was that I would have ditched my kite and swam to shore. It would of cost me a few thousand dollars if I couldn't get my gear back, but it's better than the alternative. That said, a few very simple changes could have avoided the situation altogether (or made it much less frightening (i.e. a life jacket)).