Explaining rock gardening is usually a challenge, but explaining it to the medical staff as they’re preparing to sew-up a gash in your face is especially trying. Actually, it’s not so difficult: “we like to paddle among the rocks... sometimes with a wave or two coming through.” When the nurse practitioner gives you that look, it seems a little more explanation is in order. “It’s fun,” you offer, “really.” Easy to explain. The tough part is making it sound like you’re not a freakin’ idiot.
This post should have been simply labeled “The Porcupines.” It would have detailed an outing in Frenchman Bay: me, Nate and Rebecca on a day forecast to be a bit breezy and rough, but turned-out to be fairly calm with that magical amount of swell coming-in from the south. Three gargantuan cruise ships sat at anchor with a constant stream of water taxis whisking passengers back and forth. A perfect day to play among the rocks. That’s what we did. A good time was had by all, etcetera, etcetera.
(click on these photos to see them big)
On the southeast corner of Sheep Porcupine, Rebecca and I watched Nate ride into a rocky cleft and disappear through a passage in the back. Looked interesting. A minute later he emerged, pointing seaward. I tried it out, coasting in on the back of a wave and caught the fading force of the next wave as I made a sharp left turn through the rocks at the end. I found myself in a shallow pool, sheltered from the brunt of the action: plenty of room to turn around and get pointed back out.
By this time, Nate had landed and climbed atop a nearby rock. He had his camera out and I paddled back out through the slot.
I enjoyed it so much the first time, I turned around and watched the waves, waiting for my next opportunity. It’s entirely possible that having a ready photographer made another run even more attractive. I wanted to ride-in just on the back of the wave, to avoid getting surfed full-force into the rocks. So I rode-in, but... maybe my timing was off. The wave got away from me and it coasted ahead into the slot as my momentum halted and the water sucked-away beneath me and I went down, down, slipping between what were now exposed rocks.
Usually when the water gets sucked-out beneath you like that, it’s a sign that the next wave is building, probably a good bit bigger than the last one. But there’s not much you can do about it. Did I brace for impact? Maybe. I think I still expected to be pushed forward- or at least, hit from behind.
Instead, the wave hit me from the side. All I experienced was a big impact and then I was underwater, upside down. When the turmoil subsided, I felt calm. I thought to myself “that wasn’t so bad, I got through it.” I set-up for a roll and realized that half my paddle was gone. And yes, something about my face felt different. I rearranged the remaining paddle half and tried to roll with it, but another wave came-in and dragged me through some rocks. There wasn’t even room to roll. I popped-out and found myself in that vulnerable spot, sandwiched between the boat and the rocks, with more waves coming-in. I pulled my feet-up, not wanting to get stuck there, and managed to float/crawl into the slot at the end. Then Nate was there, making sure I was okay, tracking down the halves of both my paddles (the spare had come-off the back deck as well). It seemed like a good time for a break.
We dug-out the first aid kit. Nate and Rebecca tended to me. I held a pad to my face for awhile, until most of the bleeding had stopped. Nate poured me a cup of hot tea. It’s funny how those small gestures- a cup of hot tea, a bite of chocolate- can be so comforting. We went over what happened, tried to figure it out. Nate thought I’d miscalculated the wave angle all along, which is probably the case, since he saw the whole thing. I had a gash on my upper cheek and a smaller cut just beneath my eye. Turns out out I was lucky.
We continued on to Burnt Porcupine and played around a bit more. The swell had increased. We figured this out when Nate came close to getting clobbered in The Keyhole. We proceeded with a bit more caution than before.
Nate had to get back. I gazed at Long Porcupine, wanting a bit more, but we talked it over- and Nate called his wife Casey, a physician, and we received some expert medical advice- get it looked at sooner rather than later. If stitches were necessary, it would need to happen soon. We paddled back to Bar Harbor in light rain. After we’d carried the boats up from the beach, Nate and I walked to where we’d parked. This part felt a bit surreal. The waterfront sidewalks were crowded: cruise ship passengers, tour busses- just people everywhere. In our drysuits, we get plenty of funny looks, but with the oversized bandage beneath my eye, we may as well have been dressed-up as pirates. Actually, that would probably be pretty normal in Bar Harbor.
At the hospital in Ellsworth, Casey took a few minutes between appointments and took a look at my wound. She thought stitches were probably a good idea. Unfortunately, an Emergency Room visit started at $400, and, since we are uninsured, that gave me pause. We ended-up at a walk-in clinic called Primary Health, where they did a great job stitching me up.
A pricey miscalculation: a broken paddle, a lacerated face and some bruised fingers. Still, not a bad day of paddling. It was fun. Really.
Thanks to Rebecca and Nate for photos. Special thanks to Dr. Casey Hanson at Maine Coast Memorial Hospital for suggesting further treatment. And I'm especially grateful to the upbeat and entertaining staff at Primary Health for fixing me up: Lisa Grant, Ellen Pileski and Vicki Alley.