Canoeing in Oyster Bay

I survived the canoe disaster of 2014

Let me set the stage for you. It’s a sunny, beautiful June day in Chincoteague Island, VA. My family and I are here on our annual pilgrimage for a relaxing vacation in our favorite  beach town in the world. We’ve hauled our kayak and canoe the 5.5 hours from our home in the Shenandoah Valley in anticipation of some fun paddling adventures and decided today is the day. We’re not amateurs, mind you. My husband is an avid kayak fisherman who has spent many days on lakes, rivers and saltwater bays in his kayak. I grew up canoeing at summer camp, spent a week canoeing down the Shenandoah River when I was 13 and in college took canoe as one of my P.E. courses (seriously, Appalachian State rocks). Of course, it was during the final trip in that college course where my partner and I ended up flipping on a damn dam-controlled river, right as the waters were released, and our canoe got wedged under the rising water and we had to finish the trip sitting in the middle of classmates’ canoes. Five days later our instructor and some other people from the University went back to the river to rescue our canoe, which still had my trusty Jansport backpack tied to it. But I digress.

The point is my husband and I aren’t novices when it comes to paddling on water and we’ve taken our kids out on the lake where we live a number of times, so a day of paddling the waters of Oyster Bay seemed like a good idea. The afternoon started well enough. The house we rented is right on a little channel, so we boarded our vessels from the back yard and started our adventure. I was in the three-seater canoe with my two girls and my husband and son were in a tandem kayak. We exited the little channel that empties into Oyster Bay and, except for some very shallow areas where we skimmed bottom, we had no issues. We headed for an area across the bay called Morris Island in hopes of finding a sandy spot on the shore to dock and hunt for seashells.

Canoeing in Oyster Bay
The girls and I, before things took a turn for the worse.

As we got further out into the bay and closer to the island the wind started to pick up and so did the current. Pretty soon I was noticing the ripples in the water were looking more like small waves and the canoe was rocking pretty hard. This is is where the story starts to take a turn for the worse. As I tried to steer our canoe north (the wind was blowing south-east) I was met with serious resistance. The wind was turning us sideways, which meant the waves were hitting the side of the canoe and rocking us pretty badly. I started to get very nervous at this point and decided it was best we start heading back. But for each stroke of my paddle it felt like we were getting pushed further back in the opposite direction.

I’d like to tell you that this is the moment where I rose above it all. I stayed calm for the sake of my girls, said a silent prayer, put all my trust in God and a gentle breeze blew us across the little bay to the safety of the canal. Yep, I’d like to tell you that, but it’s not how things went down. Instead, I started to yell at my girls to paddle harder. I looked up at my husband floating in the kayak beside us; he seemed apathetic to the whole situation which totally frustrated me and so I said through gritted teeth “I don’t like this.” To which he responded “what do you want to do?” What did I want to do? I wanted to get the hell out of there, that’s what I wanted! And then a familiar thing happened, my fear turned to anger. And I directed all that anger at this man because he didn’t have the answer. I’m not sure what I expected. Maybe he would magically produce a trolling motor? I knew it was not rational, but somehow this was all his fault, I just wasn’t sure how. Maybe it was because when I suggested the current looked a little fast before we embarked he said he thought it looked fine. Maybe it was his fault because he had been kayaking in these waters before and should have known what would happen. Or maybe it was just because he was in a kayak that in that moment looked like an aerodynamic engineering marvel while I felt like I was trying to navigate in a cement block. Then I noticed he had his little Go-Pro camera on his head and I yelled at him in my you-better-not-have-the-wrong-answer voice “are you recording this?” The poor man. He said nothing, but he did press the button to stop recording.

At this point my arms were burning and I started to panic a bit. I was having visions of the Coast Guard having to come rescue us. And my voice started to crack as I yelled at my girls to keep paddling. Then my eight year old started to cry and I felt like the absolute worst mom ever. How could I let them see my fear and worry? How could I bring them out into this bay without having explored it first myself? How could I yell at these little girls to paddle harder? The wave of humility and conviction hit me so hard I could barley breath past the lump in my throat. At that point I managed to steer us to the side of a marsh area that would keep us from being pushed any further back by the current so we could rest our weary arms. I told the girls it was all going to be OK, we just needed to rest and wait for the wind to die down a bit. After about 10 minutes I said “OK girls, we can do this!” and we started again. We got a little bit further, but the wind was pushing so hard that I had to constantly steer to keep us pointed in the right direction. This meant I was doing little paddling and my poor girls just didn’t have the strength in their strokes to make much progress against the current. So my husband yelled out he was going back to the house to get a rope so he could tow us home, and he and my son took off through the channel in their kayak cutting through the water like a hot knife through butter.

Somehow my girls and I managed to paddle our Yugo-of-a-water-vessel a little further and hit a shallow area covered in oyster shells and bottomed out in another effort to give us a rest. I started to consider getting out of the canoe and pulling it back to the canal. It was low tide and the shallow waters were knee-deep at best through a good bit of the bay. But we continued on, getting stuck a little further ahead on a sand bar. Then we saw my husband and son paddling toward us like the cavalry coming to our rescue. Eventually my 11 year old, who had been dying to get out of the canoe to play in the water and shells, and my husband, pushed the canoe off the sand bar and we were able to paddle the last little bit of bay into the safety of the canal.

Needless to say, it was not my finest moment. Not as a mother, wife, or believer. I let fear take over and that turned to frustration, anger, humility, and shame. Although I channeled it at my poor husband, the person I was most angry with was myself. Angry because I felt I couldn’t get us out of this situation, frustrated that I couldn’t be that mom you read about in news articles who stays calm in the midst of a crisis for the sake of her children. And humility and shame that not once during the entire situation did I try to let go of control and give it over to God. Why do I still forget to do that? How can I have been a believer for 25 years and still not get that one essential thing right?

Pslam 91 14-15 says “‘Because he loves me,’ says the Lord, ‘I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name. He will call upon me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him.” And Proverbs 3:5, 7 says “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding…Do not be wise in your own eyes.” This is a pretty common theme throughout the Bible, and these are just two of the verses that remind us to put our faith and trust in God and not in ourselves. I know this, of course, but I still struggle with it. In so many areas of my life I try to keep it all together. Be the super-mom, perfect wife, shining-star employee, most thoughtful friend, etc., etc. But usually I’m doing those things to glorify myself and not God and as a result I almost always fall short. Today was a humbling reminder that I’m neither a super-star canoe paddler, or a model of grace-under-pressure. It was also a reminder that I can’t fix every situation. Some things (ok most things) are just out of my control and no matter how hard I paddle, if I am relying on myself, the wind and the current are going to push me back and I’ll just end up tired and frustrated.

As I finish writing this, my eight-year-old, whom I’m pretty sure I will not be able to convince to get into a canoe ever again, comes over and says “thanks for encouraging us today, mommy.” Me, with a baffled look on my face: “How did I encourage you today?” “You kept telling us we were doing a good job and to keep going.”

Next time I’m going to silent my fear and ego and listen for the Father so I can hear Him telling me I’m doing a good job, and to keep on going.

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3 thoughts on “I survived the canoe disaster of 2014”

  1. Bless our little Olivia for her final words of wisdom. Sounds like you all had quite the adventure both physically and emotionally. There was never a doubt in my mind you would persevere though.

  2. Giving up control is always hard. Trusting the Father is eays to say but difficult to do sometimes, we all want to rely on our own wisdom. I’m glad you all are safe.

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