The sun is down, the starts are up – it’s time to get in the kayak!The waves were lapping up against the shoreline in that comforting rhythmic fashion that coastal living brings. The sun had already dipped below the horizon and had left a perfectly clear night sky glowing in pinkish orange and midnight blue. “It’s going to be a great night for star gazing, “ Jim said as he pulled the kayak off of the van. I hadn’t even considered the stars until now as I originally signed up for this unusual night kayak trip to see the bioluminescence in the water. I love kayaking, but kayaking at night in the chilly Atlantic waters had me a little trepidatious.
It had been a long day of driving so there was a part of me that would have rather just sat in my room at the Inchydoney Spa & Hotel and relaxed. But the adventurous part of me was excited to go out at night on the waters which I had been flirting with all day driving along the Wild Atlantic Way . And then there was Jim Kennedy, who met me in the little village near our put-in point and immediately wowed me with his laid back attitude. But don’t confuse laid back with quiet – Jim was a talker and we immediately hit it off. A world champion kayaker who competed, and now trains guides and runs a tourism business – Jim had fascinating stories to tell.
Outfitted in all the proper gear for a chilly night of kayaking Ireland, we slipped into the water and immediately the calm washed over me. There’s something about gliding so close to the water that is poetic to me. Jim showed me how to paddle in a simple motion – I felt like I barely did a thing, but we were moving along at a nice pace. His whole goal was to keep me dry, so he showed me how to take relaxed strokes and not bring the paddle up high and have water dripping down on me making me cold.
Being in the dark seemed to trigger all of my other senses. Jim led us through little narrow cliffs and keyholes as the sky turned darker and darker and my eyes adjusted to the night.
That’s when I first started to see the sparkling – not of bioluminescence, but of the stars in a perfectly clear Irish night sky. Jim seemed to switch into zen mode as we talked about life, romance, and happiness. He pointed out the international space station in the sky moving along at a steady clip. This was a first for me and for some reason was incredibly moving. I couldn’t help but think about those lucky astronauts orbiting up there looking down on us and our little red kayak on this big blue marble. I stared at it afraid to blink as it moved across the sky. I found myself daydreaming about their lives in orbit. “I want to go to space,” I said to Jim.
The Milky Way slowly showed up, a seal swam by, and little by little the bioluminescence started to appear. It was so subtle that I thought it was my brain playing light tricks on me. Long forgotten memories of ecstasy filled nights at dance clubs floated through my brain like the seal that glided through the water.
“Stop paddling and close your eyes, “Jim directed. I was intrigued and followed his instructions. “Now, just listen. Really listen. See if you can hear beyond the waves, “ he continued. With my eyes tightly closed I just bobbed along in the kayak – listening; something I seldom take the time to do. Then he told me to imagine the busiest part of New York City, what it looked like and sounded like. I was transported to Times Square with all of the light pollution and people bustling around dodging each other, pushy vendors, and traffic. I thought of the deafening 72nd Street subway with the stagnant air in August.
Then he asked me to open my eyes. I slowly flickered them open as my brain engaged with the present moment again and all I could see was darkness and stillness. I could see a vague black outline of an island. It was then I realized what I was actually looking at was quiet. I SAW quiet. Thank you Jim. Thank you, thank you.
As we started to paddle back towards the shore, the stars above and the twinkling bioluminescence below entranced me. I felt dizzy letting my imagination run wild thinking about how the sparks in the water were like twinkling stars up above. I fantasized that someone had turned our landscape upside down for a bit. My mind wandered into places that it hadn’t visited for a while. Childhood memories, feelings, thoughts, heartache, and love all seemed to be represented out there on the Atlantic under the stars.
As the waves washed up on shore the bioluminescent sparks lingered on the pebbles and rocks. You don’t get many magical nights like this I thought. And unlike the disappearing glow of the bioluminescence on the shore, this experience wouldn’t soon fade away.
An old tower
kayaking West Cork