Five-minute Memoir: Cynan Jones finds himself on a beach with no way to get off


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The Independent Culture

It was flat calm when I started. Then I saw it. A broken line moving in from the North.

I felt it in the water first. A kind of filling, like a muscle tensing. The sea seemed to swell and taughten. And then the squall hit. From nothing. The sea jumped as if a great weight had dropped into it. Within moments, it was all I could do to stay in the kayak.

There was a randomness to the water. My paddle was useless, missing the surface or being thumped and sucked in. I lashed it to a cleat and held the side of the kayak, tipping it against the water, trying to keep sideways on to the waves. The suddenness had given me no time to think.

On one side of me were cliffs; on the other, a long run into deep water. The nearest tame beach was over a mile away. I didn't think anything disastrous would happen, but I knew I was in a fight. After 10 minutes, exhausted, I understood it was pointless.

I leant back, trying to keep the boat level. Then I turned the kayak at the beach. If the water picked up the back it would drive the nose under and flip me end over end. And the shoreline was rock.

Remains of fish traps laced the beach – huge arcs of stones that once caught fish in the out-going tide. The bones of the traps were a few feet high. Twice the kayak bounced on the skull of a big stone under the water. Then I hit the beach. The speed was extraordinary. All I could think was keep the nose up, keep the nose up. Somehow, I stayed in the boat.

I jumped out and dragged the kayak free of the water. The noise was incredible. The punch of waves rebounding off the cliffs and the scrape of water ripping back through the gravel. It was calm though, on the beach, bizarrely.

I gave the kayak a once over. Remarkably, it was intact. Then I freed up the dry bag and took out a flask and my coffee pump and made an espresso.

I was pretty sure the squall would blow itself out as suddenly as it had come.

But it didn't. I was miles from anywhere I could get a vehicle to. The tide was coming in and there was a chance I'd get pinned in the small indent I'd washed up on. There was no hope of getting a phone signal.

I sat on a rock drinking coffee. I was calm. There was something extraordinary about sitting on a warm rock with the heavy sea there and the noise.

This has to blow itself out, I thought. But it didn't.

It was a big sit-on-top kayak and heavy and difficult to carry, especially over the uneven stones. It would be a tough ask to walk up the two-mile beach with it.

What the hell? I thought. I can make it through the water if I stay in control.

I got things together. Swilled the coffee cup, stowed things again, retied my dry bag and hooked it to the boat. I figured if I made it out past the first hundred yards the sea would be calmer. I could cut back to where I started in the better water. It's just the first hundred yards.

I dragged the kayak to a break in the rocks and pushed myself in.

It was like working a punch bag. I lasted minutes. Then a massive gut of wave took the front of the boat and I was under the water. The kayak went. There was the cold shock and the shock of the salt but the great shock was the power of the water. It hurled me back at the beach.

I felt my legs smash against the submarine stones, trying to keep them as loose as I could so they'd take the hits, not snap. Keep your head up. Like a mantra. Don't take a hit to the head.

In the shallower water I got my feet under me. My fist had been driven into a rock and I couldn't feel it and the electric of that was travelling my arm.

The kayak came out a short way away. I dragged out my dry bag and got a jumper, ditched the wet clothes and tried to get warm. The electric shock in my arm was dimming like a volume fading out. I was bleeding but couldn't feel any of the cuts, like you don't somehow in salt water.

I had my answer. I wasn't getting off this section of beach via the water, and the tide was coming in. I hoisted the kayak and started to walk. With the dry bag and the duff arm and the uneven stones under my feet it was brutally heavy. The wind swung and zipped down the cliffs, tugging the kayak on my shoulder. I dug in. There was nothing else to do.

'Bird Blood Snow' by Cynan Jones is out now in paperback, published by Seren, and is the latest in the 'New Stories From the Mabinogion' series