IT WAS JUST ME and the water. I held the oar loose, letting the tide nudge the kayak along, enjoying cutting through the deep blue, the ocean my friend, buffeting me slowly along the coast. I never saw the wave coming.
It was my first time kayaking along the seashore at Amble. I'd spent months on the river and naively assumed that meant I'd be fine setting out to sea for the first time. I was wrong.
It all went smoothly enough at first. I had parked the car up at the end of the road, beside a rusty old camper van and a mountain bike, both next to the steel barrier that barred access for vehicles. Drive any further and you'd be in the sea.
I stood by the barrier, looking down at the golden sand and the sparkling light that played across the azure blue ocean. The waves were almost non existent, the wind barely enough to make the dune grass rustle at my feet. It was a perfect day for my first attempt.
I unloaded the kayak from the top of the car and hefted it onto my shoulder. Once I'd got that down to the shoreline, I returned for my bag. Inside was my phone, purse, car key, and emergency flare, not that I thought I'd need it on a day so calm.
My plan was to follow the shoreline between the mainland and Coquet Island, situated about a mile off the coast. From where I stood on the beach, I could see the island. It was barely a quarter of a mile long. There was a lighthouse with someone just visible walking out of it. Next to that was a clump of trees and a few walls. Not much to describe but beautiful to look at. I'd long said this would be my first destination when I felt brave enough to head out to sea.
I got cocky. That was why it went wrong. Afterwards, as I shivered from head to foot and tried not to pass out from the blow to my head, I ran over what had happened, the parts I could remember anyway. I shouldn't have gone so far from the shore on my first time out to sea, I shouldn't have ignored the growing wind, I should have told someone where I was going. But it had all been a bit spur of the moment.
I'd managed to land myself a new job and it was likely to be pretty full on when it began. I knew this could be my last chance for a while and with the summer coming to an end, the weather was only likely to get worse. I had reasoned that if I didn't get out to sea at least once before starting on my epic career as a conservation trust admin assistant, I might not get chance until next summer and that seemed a very long time away.
So Saturday morning, before anyone was up in my house, I was loading the car to make the drive towards Amble. By the time I got there, the sun was already bright, not a cloud in the sky. I felt blessed. I felt lucky to live in such a beautiful area. There wasn't another soul to be seen. Whoever owned the camper van and bike were presumably off doing their own thing, same as me.
The water was cold but I soon got used to it, pushing off away from the beach before turning south west, easing my way deeper out. I had the entire day free so there was no rush. I had two housemates but they were both night owls so they probably wouldn't even notice I'd gone until the afternoon. I'd left a note for them, just in case.
The lighthouse looked amazing with the sun behind it and I couldn't help but wonder if anyone still lived there. I knew that most of them had been automated, run from some central office somewhere. It seemed a shame to me, there was a romance about the place and I felt sad that it might be left empty and unloved. At least one person was there that morning though, heading down towards the tiny beach where a motor boat had been tied up to a jetty. I gave them a little wave but they didn't seem to notice me.
Once I'd been rowing for a few minutes, the island didn't seem as far away and I took that as a sign that the tide was pushing me away from the shore and towards Coquet. I made the stupid decision to try and reach the bay. Maybe the figure I'd seen would let me have a nosy inside if I was nice enough about it.
I didn't expect the waves to build, the wind funnelling down the side of the island and rocking my little kayak and me. I tried to turn but managed to get caught on the side of a wave. As I twisted away from it, I made the mistake of glancing over at the island, something had caught my eye and I lost concentration. I rocked hard over another wave, almost tipping but managing to right myself.
I caught a glimpse of someone on the shore waving at me. They were shouting something but I was too far away to make out what it was. I shifted my oar to try and hit the next wave full on but I wasn't fast enough. I went over.
I'd done plenty of Eskimo rolls in my time, I knew how to right myself. I didn't panic, at least at first.
But as I tipped, just at the point where I was ready to spin back around and emerge into the air, my head slammed into a rock jutting upwards from the sea bed. Either it was shallower than I'd thought or I was running too close to the island. I was wearing a helmet but the blow was still enough to turn my entire world dark. The last thing I saw before I passed out was a quizzical looking crab scuttling away down the side of the rock, then I saw nothing at all.