Though my brother Brian’s birthday was last Saturday, I hoped to give him an adventure today by taking him kayaking to the mangrove tunnels of South Lido, one of my favorite places on Earth. I am glad to say that I certainly provided him with an adventure, however, we never made it to the tunnels. Although the water was choppy with one and a half foot waves, I’ve made the journey across the bay to the tunnels before in choppy water, and felt confident that we’d get there eventually. Unfortunately, I didn’t account for the fact that the last time, I used a sit-on-top kayak that doesn’t really take on water.
Paddling through the waves was fun, and we’d get splashed every now and then, but it wasn’t until after my brother said, “I didn’t think I’d get wet” that I realized how much water we were actually taking on in the sit-in kayak. Halfway to Ringling Bridge, we redirected to shore, and I emptied out my water bottle to start bailing out the water, but as the waves picked up with the southern wind, for every bottle I emptied, we were taking on two. When I realized it was most likely inevitable that we were going to capsize, I slung the bag with our cell phones, keys, and beer over my shoulder as I continued to bail out the rising water.
We were still a few hundred yards away from the shore when the water overtook the kayak.
Never in my life have I regretted not doing more cardiovascular exercise. My brother has always been a good swimmer, but it wasn’t long before I had to roll over on my back and float, kicking toward the shore instead of treading water. I regretted every cigarette I’ve ever smoked as I tried to breathe it out and keep kicking.
Seeing how far it was to shore, there were a number of times the thought of my drowning passed through my mind, and I continually redirected it to images of both of us making it to shore. Pressing my face against the bottom of the boat, I kept kicking and breathing, thinking about all of the things I have yet to do, and the irony of my recently being offered a gig on a cruise line. The threat of imminent death certainly makes you rethink your priorities.
I noticed the six-pack of Yuengling had made its way out of my bag, but I decided it wasn’t worth the effort to save it, holding fast to the kayak, the bag with our Ziplocked cellphones, and half of my paddle. My brother thought differently. He reached out and grabbed the beers, securing them along with his paddle, the other half of my paddle, and his cooler.
I had been so excited to show my brother the tunnels, that I hadn’t even realized we were the only ones stupid enough to go out in a boat today, but that seems to be the way that it is with the invincible brothers McAllister. Brian pointed out a jet ski heading toward us, and we were both heartbroken when he turned around and headed to shore. After he returned for us a few minutes later, we realized he was dropping off a passenger in order to come save us.
He picked me up first, and I crawled up onto the seat. Brian held the bar on the back of the jet ski, also holding the handle of the kayak with the other hand, and finally had to let go of the beer. As we started heading to shore, he was getting blasted in the face with exhaust and water, and the weight of the waterlogged kayak was too much for the jet ski. I told him to let go of the kayak, and he pulled himself up onto the jet ski.
When we made it to shore, our rescuer quickly asked for a push so he could get to Lido Beach, and after giving us his name, which may or not be his actual name, and letting us shake his hand and thank him, he took off before the police arrived a few minutes later. If you’re out there, thank you for saving our lives, Al, if that is your real name.
The officers asked if we needed medical attention, but we were both well enough, albeit a bit out of breath and exhausted. Officer Skinner of the Sarasota Police Department took us out to retrieve the kayak on the police boat, and we asked the officer from the Longboat Key Police Department to look for the other half of a paddle and our beer. Brian said he’d never been on a police boat before, and I said, “Happy Birthday! This was my plan all along!” It took a few attempts, and my brother falling out of the boat again, which was freaking hilarious, but we finally got the kayak to shore.
One of the officers on shore asked if he could record us talking about what we would have done differently and share it on Facebook. I said I would have brought something better to bail water with. Of course, it never occurred to me that a better option would be to just not go out on choppy water.
Officer Skinner then helped us load the kayak onto his boat, along with our gear, as we slowly made our way up the coastline to Whitaker Bayou, from where we had launched. Before we got to the inlet, the officer from Longboat Key returned in his boat, and though he wasn’t able to find the other half of the paddle, he did retrieve all six beers. Brian and I drank a couple on the dock where the officer dropped us, and had a few more in the backyard at my place.
It’s always good to catch up with my brother. I’m glad I didn’t get either of us killed. I wonder how I’m going to top this for his birthday next year.