How To Flip A Kayak And Find A New Career

I never intended to be a photographer....

Never crossed my mind.

Sure I took pictures like everyone else. I had a Sony "point and shoot" camera. I paid nearly $100 bucks for it at Target. I took good pictures with it. Good enough at least. But then my kayak flipped... literally and figuratively!  Here's my story...

A visit to the Turks and Caicos Islands is a must for all beach enthusiasts. I found myself there soaking up a warm December sun in 2013 with my trusty Sony cybershot. Never being one for the tourist beaches, I ventured on my own to find the (nearly) hidden and breathtaking Taylor Bay. Because laying on the beach all day makes you hungry I found the only restaurant on that side of the island Las Brisas. It is located on the shore of nearby Chalk Sound Bay. After enjoying grilled grouper and fries I struck up a conversation with a lingering local over the fluorescent turquoise waters. He mentioned the sunken airplane wreckage. What? A sunken airplane? Yep, turns out a small plane crashed into the bay many years ago. The wreckage is still out there. With the waters so clear, and relatively shallow... my wheels were now spinning. My desire to "discover" the wreckage was obvious. The local mentioned the restaurant owner sometimes rents out kayaks to explore the bay. I thanked him for the insider info then headed back into the restaurant to find the owner.

"No way... not today. Not with that current out there", said the owner. Since I was only on the island 2 more days I pleaded. He insisted it was simply too dangerous. "You'll kayak out, but won't be able to get back" he said. "The current is too strong. Maybe tomorrow". With that I left clinging to the hope for calmer winds the next day.

I rose early the next morning and headed back to Las Brisas. This was my last chance. Unfortunately the winds were the same, and so was the owner's response. So I strolled back over to Taylor Bay to spend my morning. Around midday I convinced myself that the winds had calmed down. Now to just convince my kayak-owning-new-best-friend. I returned to Las Brisas around noon. Business appeared slow that day so I ordered lunch (subconsciously hoping my financial contribution to the owner's otherwise dismal day would somehow influence his decision). He rolled his eyes as I approached him. I pointed out the winds as if I was a veteran meteorologist and pleaded like I was starving and homeless. It really was an Oscar worthy performance. He gazed out toward the bay in silence. Silence was good at this point considering past attempts have been met with a quick rejection. He gazed back at me and said "I will accept no liability if something happens to you". Translation... "Hallelujah!!! I'm going!!!". To be fair he warned me again. He said it was too dangerous, but he relented to my pleading. I signed a waiver, put my Sony camera in a zip lock bag, slathered on some sun screen and set out to discover. He walked me to the shore, as if to note any final words I may have to say. My confidence in my ability paired with my desire for one last adventure drowned out his verbal concern. He pointed in the general direction of where he believed the wreckage was located. I made a visual note and bid farewell.

Seriously? I hope the owner is better at running his restaurant than he is at advising nautical explorers because this is a piece of cake. I've barely paddled for a couple of minutes, and I can hardly see the shore behind me. I must be a natural at this. I continue ahead dividing my time between looking in the general direction I want to go and admiring the crystal clear blue water below me. I estimate the depth at roughly 8 feet or so. The floor of the bay is covered in chalk-like deposits (hence the bay's name) that radiate a fluorescent glow that is hard to describe. About a half mile or so into my journey I notice the white chalky floor has a dark gray blotch on it. Wait... it just moved. And that blotch has a tail. And that blotch with a tail apparently has lots of friends, because now I see dozens of them below me. Thanks to cable and the Animal Planet I realize they are stingrays. Good thing I identified them when there were just a dozen, because now the floor is completely covered in them, impossible to distinguish body from tails. Part of me is like "cool!" Then part of me remembers that the Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin died from a single stingray. And at this point I quickly admit to myself that he was far more savvy in the ocean than I am. I'm now preparing to panic. I had only brought my camera with me. I now realize a heart monitor... or toilet paper would have served me better.

Keep calm and paddle on.

Or rather look ahead and stay focused. That's more like it. I could see blue waters ahead. Blue good, gray bad... that's all I need to remember. No more had I reached the blue waters than did my eyes notice something protruding from the waters in the distant horizon. Could it be? Only one way to find out. As I got closer I got nervous. It might as well have been the Titanic as far as I was concerned. I was closing in on my aquatic discovery. I stopped paddling and reached into my my pocket to retrieve my trusty camera. Carefully removed it from the zip lock bag and turned it on. I am 90% excited and 10% perplexed... perplexed because even though I stopped paddling I am still moving quite fast on the water. The 90% excitement takes over as I reach the wreckage. There it is!!! Clearly it had been there for many years. I wonder how many people before me have made it here. I turn the kayak to get a better angle and realize the water is choppy. I try to steady myself to get a picture. I snap it as the kayak rocked side to side. I glance at the screen to see the image then suddenly realize I should probably swap the camera for oars. What I didn't realize is that was the last picture I would ever take with a non professional camera.

I wanted to revel in my discovery, but something has changed. Or perhaps nothing has changed. Maybe it was this way all along. Not sure about that, but I am sure that the current is whipping me out to sea.

I steady my kayak and point it in the direction I came from. Off to my left is the airplane wreckage. I begin paddling hard. Really hard. The current is strong... but I'm stronger... I think. After a few minutes I look up to gauge how far I've gone. Not far apparently because the wreckage is still off to my left... pretty much in the same place it was before I began my unplanned workout. Every word the owner said to me is now replaying in my head. After several minutes of intense kayaking I feel like I've made a little progress. I need to stop and rest, but every time I do I lose ground. I'm tiring fast though. I slow down a little to pace myself... then disaster...


Free aquatic physics lesson: Apparently one has to paddle directly into a strong current, otherwise if one were to veer at the slightest angle the choppy waves will take the form of a school yard bully and flip one's kayak.  End of lesson.

I'm now somewhere between exhausted and dead. I regroup only to realize the current has pushed me further out. I'm close to the airplane wreckage again.  Frustration and desperation are sinking in.  However, I'm ok with that as long as that is the only thing sinking.

Over the next 2 hours I paddled as hard as I could, for as long as I could.  I successfully navigated over stingrays and barracudas.  I spotted the restaurant on the shore and did not take my eyes off of it. As I arrived in shallow waters I got out of my kayak (by choice this time).  I drug it up to the sand and collapsed.  I finally open my eyes to see shoes.  Huh?  Yes shoes.  Shoes that belong to the restaurant owner.  Oh, and he was wearing them too.  Then I heard the 2 words that I knew I would hear...

"Told ya"

I deserved it.  I hadn't listened to him.  I doubted an expert.  He was however a gentleman and didn't revel in his righteousness.  He simply handed me a bottle of water.  One gulp and it was gone.  I was parched.  He asked if I found the wreckage.  I was delighted to tell him that indeed I did.  I couldn't wait to show him the picture as my proof.  He knelt down by me as I pulled my camera out.  I turn it on and ...... NOTHING!

Turns out the camera had gotten wet somehow when the kayak flipped.  The camera no longer worked.  How could this be????  After all of that!  I did my best to describe it.  He smiled and said "Good job".  

I get back to my hotel and tinker with the camera some more.  Google searches on my laptop offer little hope of salvaging.  It's a goner.  My only hope is that the memory card is ok, and I can still retrieve the pictures.  Upon arriving back to the United States I am relieved to discover that I am able to put the memory card in my sister's similar camera and download the images.  

The next day I returned to work to share my harrowing tale and my lone photo.  While expressing sadness over losing my camera my colleague Sam says "Well then, now's the time".  

"Time for what?" I asked.  

"Time to get a really nice camera" he says.

"I dunno... that sounds expensive" I reply.

 "Do what you want, but you take great pictures, and you love to travel.  You'd be great at it." said Sam.

Encouraged by my colleague, I started my research.  I saw words like "aperture", "ISO", "DSLR", "f1.8" etc.  It was over my head, but I was intrigued.  After weeks of research I made my purchase.  After a few months of playing around with it on my own I met up with a professional photographer for one on one lessons.  Soon I had several lenses, editing software and most importantly, a newly found passion.  

I can't tell you how much fun I have had capturing the pictures you see here in the galleries.  People often ask me how I got into photography... and I just smile.  What seemed to be my worst day, turned out to be the beginning of something amazing.  Sometimes life is like that.  Sometimes your kayak will flip.  Embrace it... otherwise you may miss a life changing opportunity. 

Romans 8:28

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