The idea of the many hours that were left was a lot to bear. We were beyond thinking about that, really. The dark and the knowledge that we weren’t going to hit land until well after daylight was a heavy prospect.
So I started singing.
It helped! I sang loud and as if there was nobody around, or as if I was performing in front of a massive, appreciative audience. I had Mike, though! We took turns singing songs to help us and each other through. The singing gave me energy.
Sea shanties, folk songs, country and western. Songs I’d never heard before, songs he’d never heard before. We entertained each other for hours with the singing – through the darkest hours.
The sea got more choppy the closer to land we got. At some point the lights of Dublin started to disappear and reappear. I thought i was hallucinating. Then I realised that as the waves were passing from behind they would obscure the scene in front, which meant they were taller than our heads.
Onwards we paddled for hours. Daylight started to show. The pain in my arms was bearable but very uncomfortable. Chewing gum helped. Anything that could be used as a distraction helped. In those hours I was particularly comforted by the thought that, at each break (once an hour) I could change my leg position between two sets of ‘rungs’ in the kayak. The kayak has these foot supports so you can stabilise yourself inside and use your legs a bit in the paddling, which helps your upper body get more purchase on each stroke. Moving my legs 6 inches and then another six inches back an hour later became a thing to relish, like a reprieve from the monotony of paddling. Oh, how I looked forward to those legs position changes!
Once it got light we appeared to be on track for Dun Laoghaire. Dublin bay was right in front of us. It was choppy, though and really hard going. My rubbish technique wasn’t doing us any favours, especially since my strokes were now about 30% less efficient due too tiredness and pain. Mike would try and push me a little but the drive wouldn’t last. Howth Head and the rest of Dublin still seemed forever away. We pushed and pushed, giving ourselves more frequent breaks in those last hours (at least that’s how it felt to me) to try and gain some strength from rest.
I couldn’t work anything out though. We were looking for the concrete walls of Dun Laoghaire and to me, everything on the south side of the bay just looked like a concrete wall. I think I was hallucinating at that stage, seeing what I wanted to see but in a totally confused way. At one point it looked like there was a wall right in front of us and we were really close, but as we neared the landscape changed again and the wall wasn’t there any more. This kept happening to me as we neared.
We decided to make a push for what looked like a beach, just in from the headland at Dalkey. We really went for it. The reserves were coming into action, the pain was gone and we were pushing. After about half an hour the land appeared no closer and we regrouped again. I remember saying “what d’you reckon Mike? 45 minutes to that beach?” So we kept on going, the reserves spurring us on but again we weren’t getting any closer. Dalkey island appeared closer so Mike said “Let’s head for there”.
Looking at it now we were just desperate to make land. We had lost it a bit but we ploughed on toward Dalkey Island, putting all our strength into paddling this last short stretch. Half an hour later we were absolutely no closer to the island, after all the gruelling work we had put in on the choppy sea. Were we stuck in some kind of tidal vortex? We were running out of reserves and couldn’t work out what was going on. We pushed on for another 20 minutes or so until Mike said in a moment of clarity “there’s Dun Laoghaire harbour, let’s just go there. What are we going to do when we get to that island anyway?”
At last! One of us had regained some sanity! We stopped paddling, regrouped and pointed to the harbour.
At this point I texted my family to let them know I was still alive as we were nearly 2 hours later than our estimated landing time.
I had nothing left. I said “I’m just gonna paddle really slowly, no time limit, no expectations. It can take us an hour for all I care.”
We limped on toward to concrete wall of Dun Laoghaire harbour. Slow paddle, a few words exchanged.
We were nearly there. The water calmed, paddling got easier. We knew we’d get there soon and that was enough.
About half an hour later we hit concrete. We took that bathtub all the way.