Sunday, March 13, 2011

Kayak For Humanity - Day 1 (17 ft waves, 6 nautical mile wind)

We have the honor of the Honourable Dato' Sri Shabery Cheek, the Youth and Sports Minister flagged off our team today, in conjunction with the Karnival Mesra Belia 1 Sarawak.
When he first came to Mukah, his first concern was our safety and asked that our expedition director briefed him thoroughly on safety measures we are taking.
When he arrived at the Mukah Waterfront for the carnival launch, the first thing we spotted - he was wearing our Kayak For Humanity corporate shirt! We felt so proud that his first concern was for us and he came to greet all paddlers!
Looking at me, he was surprised I looked different from those days in the Youth Lab. My expedition director told him about my shaved hair and I removed my head gear for him to see my new hair cut. Excited and surprised, he took an opportunity for a photo moment with me.
He was very please with our preparation, the team and very worried about our safety. we planned to steal his precious time only for a short flag off by sounding the air horn but he wanted to follow us, observing us by boat!
All of us went on our kayaks, and the minister with score of reporters were on the marine police boat. Two marine enforcement agency boats escorted us, one each in front and at the back.
We thought the minister will only flag us off on land and we will happily kayak out the estuary. But he followed us almost half the way, closely observing us. I was thinking, 'he is one concern minister - if it is possible, he'd join our whole expedition'!
We kept paddling, and when we were out towards the sea, we felt the big waves. Right in front of my eyes, HUGE collection of water was rolling towards me. In the kayak, I felt like I rode up a mountain and downhill. We all went uphill, downhill. As long as we face the waves we are safe, we should not have side waves so we positioned ourselves to face waves.
Uphill, downhill. It was difficult to paddle but we were enjoying the waves. Then suddenly the marine enforcement boat in front turned back, and shouted 'patah balik!' (Turn back). In a kayak we can slowly manoeuvre back but the strong current, high waves and many paddlers prevented us a direct u-turn.
We heard from the back 'port side!!' And we all tried to paddle to the left. I saw on my right side, huge high waves with lots of white horse kept slapping in towards the shore. Huge waves still kept rolling and I was still going uphill downhill.
I couldn't see everybody as the waves blocked our sight. When I'm going uphill, my brothers and sisters in front were going downhill. All these happened in split seconds. Sometime the waves are like humps on the roads but definitely very much higher - some are big and a little flatter so we went up and downhill, some are sharper so we went up and straight away splashing down!
I was paddling hard to the left and kept wondering what will happen if I was slapped by the huge waves on the right.
I saw the marine police boat came on my left and then Ravi, my brother who was nearest to the boat capsized. I looked around and I was nearest to him. He is well built and have a size 3 times of me. I was thinking I must save him but his weight? 'He ain't heavy, he's my brother' I convinced myself. But I must be safe first before helping others so I made myself steady.
First big wave came uphill I went. But before I even managed to get 'downhill' another big wave slapped me from the top. The next thing I knew, I was in the water, without my left slipper.
I was in the water for long, holding tight to my paddle and I grabbed my right side slipper too. And then slowly I float on water thanks to our PFD. Looked around and saw my kayak was swept far away!
I looked at the back, a huge wave is coming towards me and I quickly turned in front and the waves splashed my head. It happened a few times and Kay, my brother nearest to me asked me to calm down and wait.
Suddenly the marine police boat came, threw a float and always the lucky devil, I was the first to be saved on the boat.
The marine police were swift in their action, searching and saving us one by one. When Ravi was up - the third person, I held to him and cried! He is the person I always argued with, had the most yelling towards each other but I still love him. Next was Rahiman and then Frankie, Harris and Chong. My tears just rolled freely to see each and every of my brother being brought up.
Lastly Kay was near the coast where the boat could not reach (too shallow). I thought the marine police left him and I cried. I did not know if everyone was safe and I kept crying until someone told me most of them reached the shore safely. Now that I write my experience again, my tears still flow.
We were carried back to the jetty where we started our journey. The marine police bought us water and asked that we stay there, calmed us down and went off for another round of search and rescue.
We waited very long! The land support team tried to call and communicate with the rest at sea. All were safe. My next concern - our kayaks and paddles. We have RM47,000 kayaks, RM10,000 kayaks and UNIMAS kayaks. Many were seen floating and drifted away.
After a while we saw our kayaks heading back to the jetty - 12 of them. It was almost night but we could recognise those are not our team of paddlers! To our surprise, those were villagers paddling our kayaks back to us.
After about half an hour, the marine boat came back with another 7 of our kayaks, marine enforcement boats also ferried a few paddlers back. I hugged Asraf and cried. I was so relieved all were safe!
We went back to hostel by bus, although felt like victims of tsunami, all were in high spirit - we learnt a lot from this experience. It was a GREAT day.
After dinner, everyone shared their experience. Those at sea went to search and rescue the kayaks, tied them all and sent back to the shore where villagers nearby already gathered the whole kampung to come help.
While the paddlers were assisting and collecting all kayaks, the villagers climbed coconut trees to plucked fresh coconuts to serve the team. Then the villagers asked permission to try the kayaks which Asraf, the expedition director obliged. Those were the 12 who paddled our kayaks all the way back to jetty.
At jetty, they gathered and all we could do was to serve them water. A few villagers when reaching the jetty shouted 'wah aku anak jati nelayan!' Some said 'aku pertama kali ni, nyaman!'

In excitement we took photos so a few villagers sat on the kayak and one kayak was dented! But all is well. All came back safely, all kayaks found, even all paddles were found.
Most surprisingly, someone held high a pair of pinkish red slippers and came to me, 'nah ur slippers!' Even my Crocs came back!
Everyone is now even better equipped with experience, knowledge and what to do if we face 17 feet high waves with 6 nautical miles strong wind. Yesterday was a GREAT day for all and everyone has their own stories to relate now.
Pray for our smooth journey daily while we, too pray for the tsunami and earthquake victims in Japan and areas of Philippines and Hawaii.

things just happen, the rest is up to us to make it GREAT!

Hoong Ling

Sent from my BlackBerry® Smartphone

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