A Cow and a Kayak

Unpublished

“What’s that in the water?” Gary pointed to a few “lumps” in the water about 20 yards out and to the right of the boat ramp. Was it just a strangely shaped log? Maybe the tide had exposed a couple of algae-covered rocks? The muddy water was oddly swirling around whatever it was-but there was no noticeable current anywhere else. It couldn’t be something stationary.

Soon it was obvious that the “object” was moving from right to left-and that it would be adjacent to the boat ramp in no time. “It’s a cow!” Gary laughed. I smiled. New Zealand has abundant livestock and earlier in the week while mountain biking along the coast I’d come face to face with a stubborn bull on the trail. It wasn’t anything too new–I’d spooked some cattle while biking on a friend’s ranch back home in Florida. But, I’d never seen a cow swimming.

Shrugging, I continued with the task at hand-situating myself in the Ruahine Ocean X. It was my last day in the country and I was anxious to get out in one of the New Zealand-designed sea kayaks specifically made for adventure racing. Just as I sealed the spray skirt a strange, rusty trailer backed noisily down the boat ramp. Two “blokes” (that’s what Gary called them) climbed out of the truck and headed down the ramp. I paddled away from the shore.

“Here girlie! Here girlie!” The gruffer-looking one called in an amplified, but gentle voice. The other ripped a handful of long grass from the side of the boat ramp and started waving it in the air while whistling. “Girlie” kept right on swimming.

I was a few yards offshore and looked at the cow swimming away from the ramp. I looked at Gary and an uncontrollably huge smile took over my face. Looking back at me, he nodded. I tapped the rudder pedal and turned the Ocean X towards “Girlie”–paddling off in fast pursuit. Gary turned to the ranchers and offered my help.

The kayak accelerated nicely and I maneuvered the bow in front of her head just as she was about to swim into a more remote and rugged cove. “Girlie” stopped and turned. At the base of the steep shoreline bluff she found some more secure footing-loping and lunging in chest-deep water. With a couple of quick sweep strokes I was paddling alongside, keeping her from swimming back into open water. The boat ramp was still a fair distance away and a number of downed trees were lying in her path.

Legs trembling “Girlie” lumbered over a large log and stopped. By this point she was more than a little tired and looking (if cows can be) frustrated. Her owners continued to coax her with whistles and grass, but “Girlie” wasn’t moving.

Looking back at Gary, I shrugged. “Give her a push!” he yelled. I hesitated. This was a young cow, but it wasn’t small. It weighed well more than the kayak and me combined. “Give her a push!” The owners quieted and looked on as I positioned the kayak perpendicular to the cow and just behind its tail end, planted my paddle and rotated my hips. “Thump.” Nothing. I tapped again. Nothing. On the fourth try “Girlie” got the message and shakily clamored back over the big log, but in the wrong direction.

Lunging along the shoreline at the base of the bluff, she was again moving fast toward the more remote cove. I paddled hard and cut her off. “Girlie” and I reached another impasse. Her eyes were focused on the cove. I wanted to herd her back the other way, but she just stood there in belly-deep water. While sitting alongside the cow with the bow of the Ocean X angled just enough to block her path, I began to have doubts about the effectiveness of my efforts.

I looked hard at “Girlie”. She turned her head-looking directly at me with her big brown eyes. I was rapt. Maybe I really could help. “Wham!” Broadsided! “Girlie” lunged, rammed, and drove me a good four feet sideways. Before I could shake off the surprise, she loped along the bluffs into the remote cove.

Upright, in one piece, and smiling large, I looked over at Gary. He waved me back to the boat ramp. “It’s three now. I’ll meet you back here at four.” I had to leave for the airport at 5:30–time to test the kayak, not the cow’s patience.

“Four,” I repeated and paddled toward the wider, wilder portion of the bay to better test the Ocean X in wind and waves.

It maneuvered well in tailwinds and was stable in some big side chop. I even managed to surf a few huge boat wakes. The boat was certainly remarkable enough to warrant a report to paddlers back home. An hour later, Gary was waiting for me at the boat ramp. “How’d you like the boat?”

I scanned the shoreline for the errant cow. She was gone.

“Impressive.” Excited as I was with the Ocean X, I couldn’t wait to get back to the US and tell the tale of Kip, the cow and the kayak.


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