On April 25th, 2019 I received news of the loss of my downwind coach, Guy Ringrave, founder of Woo and host of the Guadeloupe downwind camp I attended for the past two Januarys. I want to be writing about downwind to make you excited, to try it, to do it and not once again be writing about the mortal dangers of paddling. I honestly did not think my chances of dying while paddling equaled or exceeded 20%, but now two out of ten of us who attended the 2018 camp have been swept away by the sea, our second home, in a mere six month period. To lose a respected instructor of downwind in addition to a paddler friend from camp has made me question what I’m doing on the water. And yet I keep going out. I am an addict, just like my lost friends, my Woo family members. But I am an addict who carries a VHF radio at all times and now the emergency beacon as well. And in addition I just added a phone-enabled Apple Watch.
I keep going out on the water because of incredible paddlers like Guy. Because the ocean is incredible. Because I love it.
I had already thought through what could have gone so wrong when Ali was lost, and I have thought through repeatedly now, What happened that Guy was separated from his canoe? It is now June 2019 and the U.S. Coast Guard no longer requires that PFDs be worn, only that they be on the vessel, but I am still wearing mine. Paddling will never, ever be the same for me.
Let’s leave no paddler behind.
Yesterday we paddled a heavy OC12 into two foot waves with a short length of only about 8 feet. They curled toward us, James Joycean white-maned waves, and then we churned around, and in that bulky set of canoes, we surfed. I am forever blessed by my time in the ocean and the privilege of knowing so many incredible watermen and waterwomen. I will never forget watching the whitecaps roll along the Carribean Ocean with Guy, and he knew I loved them as he did. He told me then, “You will never stop thinking about downwind.”
And thanks to Guy, I won’t.