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Jamaica by Kayak: Injury Halts Circumnavigation Attempt

The devil is in the details, or your wrist

David Munger and David Morgan spent the last few weeks attempting to complete the first ever sea kayak circumnavigation of Jamaica. Here’s the final post from their CanoeKayak.com series about the trip.

The last full day of paddling…
To land, we had to bail through the dumping surf onto a beach again today. As per usual, the landing was kind of sketchy but we made it to shore safely enough. We were five miles short of our goal for the day; the building ocean swells started breaking with the wind and it made those final miles too risky. We were on our way to the quiet town of Oracabessa–120 miles into our circumnavigation attempt–and the trade winds were killing us.

It wasn't just the conditions of the ocean that stopped us though. David's wrist was squeaking and painful. He said he couldn’t really feel his thumb. He could barely paddle by the time we got to the beach, and yesterday he couldn't brush his teeth without wincing.

Shore-bound, Day 1
We need a rest. We found shelter in Domenica's house, which rises four stories above the town looking out of place yet perfectly in character. Without other guests Dave and I have free run of the second floor of the hostel. It’s a good base to wait out the weather for the next two, maybe three, days. With a wholesale across the street, we make full use of our kitchen. It's nice to cook our own meals again. Also—they have peanut butter. Maybe this won't be so bad after all. No maps to fold, no decisions to make, only time and a good book.

The next three days…
Cereal and coffee for breakfast. Mixed nuts and dried fruit on top. (In the cereal, you weirdo, not the coffee.) At the beginning, it was nice to rest and relax. But now the days seem to drag and speed by simultaneously. Days pass in minutes but hours take decades. At least we had Clive Cussler and cards to entertain us… Our rate is up to about a book a day each. We grow tired of resting. We go on long walks despite the searing heat and cacophonous traffic. Bored? Yes. We do squats just to move and constantly discuss the possible ways the rest of the trip could go. We need around ten, maybe thirteen, days to finish, depending on our mileage. We want to be back on the water.

We don't know how David's wrist will do. He is keeping it immobilized and icing it often. Even rubbing some homeopathic ointment on it that Domenica gave us. But it is also painful to wait and do nothing.

The final attempt
The forecast is calmer today. Not calm, just calmer than yesterday. But it's not hard to beat last week’s thirty-knot winds and three-meter swells. So we try to paddle out of the mouth of the harbor. Our goal is to make it fifteen cliffed-out miles to Ocho Rios. Conditions are borderline, but after only an hour David's wrist is acting up. He won't be able to paddle anymore. Despite five days of rest it's clear the wrist is down for the count. Suddenly, we aren't on the water. We are stepping out of our boats onto a Jamaican beach knowing it's the last time.

Where do we go from here? There isn't a manual for what happens when the trip you've been obsessing over for months is derailed by an invisible injury. What do you do the morning after and the next and the next knowing that you're done and there's no going back? I guess there's no sense dwelling on the thing you can't do—you need a thing you can do. So, now we are going to share our stories. We saw beyond the stereotypes of Jamaica. There is so much more than all-inclusive resorts and cannabis smoking Rastas. We set out to meet the Jamaican people and their culture, unfiltered. That's what the trip became about. When you strip away the miles and maps, that might be what the trip was always about.

So really, we succeeded. There's no pain in that.

More from this series

Jamaica by Kayak: The 6 ½ Commandments of International Paddling Expeditions

Jamaica by Kayak: Island Bound