The Squid Whisperers
Many would say the risk was too great. In hindsight, I would have to agree. But on Tuesday, June 25, my daughter and I stuffed our belongings into two plastic boats and launched into the Mediterranean Sea on the northeast coast of Ibiza. I had been assiduously tracking the weather, and things looked favorable for the next few days. All we had to do was circle counterclockwise to the north and let the breeze at our backs carry us.
Having run a kayak tour company for nearly 20 years, I have confidence in my paddle skills. My daughter has grown up paddling right beside me, and I knew that if any experience would facilitate complete presence with each other, it would be a kayak adventure around the remotest part of the island.
As we turned the northeast corner, the million-dollar villas receded, and the scenery became more rugged than anything I had seen on the island. Towering, vertical sea cliffs with horizontal cracks that formed gigantic abstract patterns. Boulders the size of buildings perched precariously on the cliffs. This sea wasn’t turquoise with perfect postcard clarity, but instead a deep cobalt abyss. We felt tiny.
The only thing we hadn’t factored in was the heat. Southern Spain summer heat. June the hottest month ever heat. “Sexy Beast” heat. Still, we were in coolest place to be—at sea—covered with rash guards, kayak skirts, wide brim hats, and a breeze at our backs. Snug as a bug in a rug.
We made land in the late afternoon, plenty of time to build camp as it doesn’t get dark until 10 p.m. And then the sweetest of rewards: just the two of us, ruminating on the big stuff, eating ramen under the stars, the Med gently lapping at our feet. Nirvana.
Camping had always been a thing for us. My daughter grew up mostly in Milan, Italy—a metro girl. I felt it important to facilitate wilderness experiences that would make her more resilient. We’ve camped in New Jersey, Maryland, Wyoming, the Colorado River, Catalina, and the Sierras. We’ve kayaked in just as many places. But we had never combined the two into a multiday adventure in sea kayaks. I had always used the more recreational sit-on-tops that have drain holes and are easy to right when capsized.
We slept well on our sleeping pads and awoke to our morning ritual: Italian espresso. Gave it a squirt of condensed milk, and of course, it was the most delicious latte ever. Everything tastes better in nature. I dove for sea urchin, which were delicious. Then we set off for the longest paddle of the trip—three separate two-hour sessions. Our second paddle was midday, and the sun was roasting. By the time we reached land we were both woozy. We found shade and rested. Then at 6 took off, and two hours later landed in a tiny, horseshoe cove called Portitxol, so perfectly splendid and pristine, with a few stone fishing huts where we could find shade.
That night the paranoia set in. This was the beginning of a coastline with no boats, no cell service, and only one place to land over the next 8 miles. “How well equipped was I to handle any kind of emergency?” I asked myself. The outfitter gave us a terse safety briefing on how to right a capsized sea kayak filled with gear, but I had never practiced. My daughter was game for anything and trusted me implicitly, but truth be told she’s not a great swimmer. And we would be launching after the heat, at 6 p.m., with only four hours of daylight ahead should we need to be seen.
I felt a pit in my stomach and tossed and turned that night, wondering if I’d made a giant mistake. But what were the alternatives? There was no paddling back against the wind. And no way to call for help.
The next afternoon we loaded our gear and paddled out. So far so good. But when we got to the only spot to land, we discovered a steep rocky spit with no flat area to pitch a tent. We despaired for a moment, but both knew instantly what to do: keep going. Fast. And that is what we did, landing close to nightfall back in civilization, never so happy to see disgustingly large super yachts, blasting house music. I felt a surge of infinite gratitude over our “veil of protection,” and my super capable daughter never flagging, complaining, or ever believing her father didn’t know exactly what he was doing.
I’ve since confessed all my fears to her. But she’s undaunted and ready to kayak the rest of the island. With a satellite radio and flare gun this time. I’m game. After all, we are the Squid Whisperers.
Billy Fried hosts “Laguna Talks” on Thursday nights at 8 p.m. on KX93.5 and can be reached at [email protected].