Ah jeez!


A prowl of jaguars are racing along the hillock’s crest in front of us. One after the other, heads low, muscled backs slightly arched, bodies black, all speed, sinew, and drive.


Gandalf and I are paddling the double, no one else on the water, just the two of us. We leave Bruno’s under a high, heavy gray overcast, the sun obliterated, the threat of a storm on the horizon we can’t see.


Wind’s coming from the southwest, which should eliminate Rod Reck as a destination, but there’re other considerations. The current’s currently running in Rod Reck’s direction, will reverse and head back to Bruno’s if we time it right later tonight.


Another consideration is the tide, already quite low. Tonight’s only mud-free destination is Toilet Bowl Beach on Rod Reck. We don’t hesitate, agree Rod Reck’s our best Qayassiq, “a place to go in a kayak” in the native Alaskan Yup’ik language.


Wind’s not in-your-face butting heads with us, she’s about 15-20 degrees off our bow, but she still manages to play havoc with my hat. I have a hard time keeping it on, have to cinch down the chinstrap.


Our usual approach to Rod Reck includes circumnavigating the rock before taking out on Toilet Bowl Beach. We don’t circumnavigate tonight, take out on Toilet Bowl Beach first thing. Lolly-gagging’s not in the cards, the approaching storm a concern.


We listen to the weather channel on our VHF radio. The forecast is for serious wind and rain to hit soon after midnight, but the wind’s already growing stronger, swirling smoke around our cookfire.


We hurry through our meal, fruit salad with some green followed by grilled eggplant slices topped with grilled tilapia. What we don’t hurry through is dessert, Caneles-de-Bordeaux. A fancy French pastry, we eat it slowly, savor it. That’s how you eat fancy French pastry.


We shove off Toilet Bowl Beach close to 9 PM, well before midnight and the dreaded storm. The current’s with us, both of us heading to Bruno’s. The wind’s feeling her oats, but she’s less troublesome than earlier, gusting more at our backs now.


Rain’s still a no-show. Big, rolling waves the size of small hills aren’t. Kind of surprising, the waves much larger and closer together than conditions warrant, even with the unruly wind. 


The double’s downhill slides into troughs between rolling hillocks is steep and long. Climbing up the backside of a hillock just the other side of the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge, that’s when I see them. The jaguars.


A big, white Hunter’s Moon’s up, but the thick overcast does to her what was done to the sun. The night’s pitch black with a faint background glow from the distant shore. Against that faint glow I see the jaguars’ dark, sleek silhouettes streaking along the hillock’s crests.


The prowl of jaguars in front of us is less worrisome than the leap of jaguars I imagine behind us. That this month’s full moon embodies hunting, and could inflame the jaguars’ eat-or-be-eaten instincts, drives Gandalf and me to paddle harder.


I’m aware of the phenomenon of pareidolia, seeing faces and images in random places. And I admit to having seen the faces of Laurel and Hardy in the eggplant slices grilling over the cookfire on Toilet Bowl Beach. But those jaguars are different.


Long story short, we survive the jaguars, reach Bruno’s without a scratch. Takes a lot out of us paddling hard, energy draining. 


Spent, I must’ve dozed off briefly near Bruno’s. When I open my eyes, I see we’ve drifted off course, are about to smack into the rocky breakwater outside the harbor.


Gandalf’s the double’s captain, his feet on the rudder controls. He wakes up just in time, corrects course, avoids the breakwater rocks.


We avoid the breakwater, the jaguars, the forecast storm.


A good paddle.


Stats


Date: Thurseve, 21 October 2021.

Distance: Seven point five nautical miles.

Speed: One point nine knots.

Time: Four hours.

Spray factor: Oh yes.

Dessert: Caneles-de-Bordeaux.



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