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A Close Brush with Death

     Perhaps the worst personal risk Iíve ever taken happened more than twenty years ago, while I was canoeing on the Sechelt Inlet on BCís Sunshine Coast. My wife and I had canoed up the inlet the day before, enjoying the sunshine, gathering clams on the beach, then sleeping the night in our friendís unfinished cabin. The weekend was idyllic; its end, however, was not. Our companion canoeists had left earlier in order to take care of some business in Vancouver. That was our first mistake, which broke the cardinal rule of water travel: never canoe alone on open water. My wife and I then made a second mistake and ignored the clouds above us, indicating that wind would soon be coming our way. We, too, wanted to return to the city and a warm shower. So, we set out to cross the inlet, a full mile across open water. I should say here that we were in a 16 foot canoe, with a limited draft (distance to the water at the middle of the boat). At first, we made good time; however, about halfway across, the wind blew up enough to create whitecaps on the waves. We were soon in serious trouble. I fought to keep our line against the wind (being the stern paddler) and the waves that threatened to turn and swamp us at any moment. My wife paddled furiously in the bow, as I yelled out instructions to her with growing desperation. Then, just as suddenly as it began, it was over. We had reached the lee side of the shore and were in calm water. Spent, we floated along for awhile. Never again have I felt so happy to be alive, nor so humbled by how quickly life can end, but for one small mistake. Now, I prefer ocean travel in a kayak, much safer in the wind and the waves.

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