Wednesday 20 November 2019

New Year Resolutions: Getting back in the water

Two kids have turned him from a active sea-faring chap to Him Indoors, but now Pat Fitzpatrick is going to take his mouldy kayak out of the garden and back into the water.

Pat Fitzpatrick. Photo: Miki Barlok
Pat Fitzpatrick. Photo: Miki Barlok

Pat Fitzpatrick

Back in the summer of 2012, I kayaked off Sandycove pier in County Cork and around the headland into Kinsale harbour with some friends. We paddled hard into a head-wind across the harbour and pulled up at the Bulman pub in Summercove. I had a pint of Murphy's in the scorching sunshine, dangling my legs over the wall above the sea.

Stout is your only man when you've been out in a kayak. It goes very nicely with the salt on your lips. We sat there for half an hour, waiting for Tourism Ireland to come along and make a video of it all. It was that kind of day. Then it was back into the boats, the wind at our backs now as we glided across the sparkling water and around the headland to Sandycove. I haven't been kayaking since.

There are two reasons for this: my young daughter and her baby brother. They're incredible. And they have turned me from Fairly Active Sea-Faring Chap to Him Indoors. It's not good for me.

The kayak hasn't been completely redundant. Our two-year-old thinks it is a see-saw. During the scorching days of last summer, I would sit in the front of it, with her behind, and we'd rock from side to side singing, 'See-saw, see-saw, see-saw'. I remember thinking that I'd look back on this as a golden moment. I also remember thinking, "If it wasn't for her, I'd be dangling my legs over Kinsale harbour right now, with a creamy pint of plain on my lips."

The kayak is a boat out of water, going a bit mouldy out in the back garden. I catch myself looking out the window at it now and again. It's out there taunting me for letting my life slip away. That's what happens when you don't sleep properly for a couple of years. You start to think that a piece of plastic is picking on you.

Well, here's the thing, kayak: 2015 is the year when you and I are going back in the water. Not only that. The rest of the family are coming too.

About five years ago, the wife and I bought a boat each from a really nice guy in Durrus. Those were the days when we could shoot off to west Cork without a plan that made D-Day look like something they cobbled together on the back of an envelope. The boats took us into rocky gems all along the south coast. We had good times out around the Old Head of Kinsale, at Nohoval Cove, Union Hall, Tragumna, across Bantry Bay and as far west as Smerwick Harbour on the Dingle Peninsula.

You bump into all sorts when you have a kayak. An old Cavan guy in a camper van poured a few shots of Bulgarian fire-water by a remote pier and told us his tall tales. We came across Eddie Hobbs as we dragged the boats into the sea outside Glandore. He told us to stay safe, that it was choppy out beyond the point. We took his advice. (If only we'd listened to him about the property bubble. Maybe next time).

We got a colour, we got fit, we got an appetite for tea and toasted specials by the fire in any pub that would have us. We'd yap all the way back to Cork, mad with the endorphin rush that comes from a couple of hours on the sea.

That's the thing about kayaking. It's good for what ails you. Forget about chicken soup and mindfulness and happy pills. You can't fit your anxieties into a kayak. One hour paddling out along the coast and you're rebooted for the week. It's also good for a hangover. Even if sometimes I'd have the fear a bit, and think we were being stalked by a sea beastie. But you can't have everything.

It's time we got back in the water. Obviously, that's going to be tricky with two small ones. Particularly since I'm on the nervous wreck end of the scale when it comes to kids. The whole stalked-by-a-sea-beastie thing probably wasn't just about the booze. I tend to see danger where others see fun.

I need to get over that, or I'll have the kids nagged into a constant state of fear. So, here's what we might try. The first sign of heat in the air next year, we'll head west towards Skibbereen with a kayak on the roof. A left off the Baltimore Road brings you down to the shores of Lough Hyne. There's a small pier there, perfect for an easy launch. We'll throw a wetsuit on the two-year-old and take her out in the boat.

There'll be no see-saw or other messing like that. My nerves won't allow it. We might even put our young fella in and push him around the shallow bit by the wall. My guess is we won't find it easy to get them out of the water.

We'll sing songs the five miles back to Skibbereen, where the kids will fall asleep, and their parents can yak the rest of the way home. That's the dream.

I want my kids to grow up arsing around in the sea on our doorstep, just like I did, growing up in Kinsale. We were always looking at the sea, jumping into it or running back out screaming blue murder. That's a good habit to pass on to any child. That's the way I want our weekends to go from now on. It's high time we kayaked out of the baby tunnel.

Who knows, one of those summer Sundays down by Lough Hyne, we might even find time for a pint. I'm not sure if our young fella is ready for a taste of Murphy's. Although, in fairness, he's very big for a nine-month-old.

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