Traveling to the Atlantic Ocean in a Kayak
Just get out and experience an adventure – that’s what many travel fans dream of. Like most of them, Lukas Borchers lacked the time for a long time. But when the student was able to take several months off in autumn 2019, he took the opportunity immediately: He wanted to get his kayak on a kayak rack for truck, paddle from Geneva to Gibraltar, around 2000 kilometers across the Rhône and the Mediterranean. And then everything changed.
Why the 26-year-old from Göttingen finally ended up on the Loire and the Atlantic is a long story full of setbacks and new possibilities, overturned plans and challenges, adventures and moments of happiness. Lukas told this story to the travel reporter.
Let’s go on an adventure!
At the beginning of four months of adventure and around 2000 kilometers in a kayak and on a sailing ship, there was a fixed idea and about a year of planning. Although Lukas had only paddled 1000 kilometers on the comparatively undemanding Danube to date, in September 2019 he packed his folding kayak and 70 kilos of luggage, got on the train, and drove to Geneva to cover about 600 kilometers on the Rhône and 1400 kilometers on the Mediterranean.
He had invested most of the planning in his equipment, the right boat, the right tent, and the right clothes. Because he would be on the road in autumn and winter, Southern Europe was quickly chosen as his destination. And the route was largely determined by the course of the river. So Lukas hardly thought about that during the planning. “The river goes where it flows.”
Nevertheless, in the end, he did not come out on the Mediterranean, but on the Atlantic. After only one week on the Rhône, Lukas realized: This won’t work. “The Rhône was beautiful, the landscape was mountainous with deep gorges and the water as blue as I have never seen before.” But: Unfortunately, the river was not suitable for kayaking, as Lukas discovered.
He constantly had to pass dams. So he had to hoist his vehicle out of the water, again and again, sometimes there were no ramps. And in front of the dams, of course, the water accumulated, which made paddling much more strenuous. After a week and twelve dams, Lukas decided to change the river.
For the first time, the itinerary must be changed
From Lyon, he took the train to Roanne in half an hour and continued his journey on the Loire. While he had only covered about 20 kilometers a day on the Rhône, he now managed 30 to 40 kilometers a day on the Loire. Compared to before, the landscape was quite flat – “real pampas” – but still charming and beautiful.
Sometimes Lukas didn’t meet other people for days – he had to get used to the loneliness. But he also learned to appreciate them. Especially because he could communicate with the locals anyway due to language difficulties.
Every few days he supplied himself with food in small towns. At night he camped mostly on the riverbank, only now and then he treated himself to a campsite and a shower. Only as Luke approached more and more the Atlantic, the settlement of the area became denser. Finally, after a little more than seven weeks, he reached the sea at Saint-Nazaire. And that should once again present him with completely new challenges.
Because already at the change of river Lukas had wondered if “what I’m doing is so cool”. Even the Mediterranean would have been a real challenge without experience in sea kayaking. “But I still dared to do that. The Atlantic, on the other hand, is in a completely different league.”
Lukas quickly realized that the waves and the weather were much more exhausting than the time on the Loire. Again and again, he had to wait for days on beaches before he could paddle on. But he fought his way forward. The turning point came just before La Rochelle. There he was knocked over with his kayak by a three-meter wave.
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From kayak to a sailing ship
Lukas made it back to the beach, but he also realized: It could have ended differently. For days he waited on the shore, waiting for better weather and looking for a solution. There was no question that the weather and the waves would only become more difficult. Luke had to continue his journey differently if he did not want to put himself in mortal danger again.
The solution came in the form of an 80-year-old sailing ship en route from Denmark to Brazil. Lukas found the “Labora” via a Facebook group. Before boarding, he sent his foldable canoe home and embarked on the second part of his adventure.
On the “Labora” he joined a group of like-minded people, many of whom knew as little about sailing as Lukas at the time. The crew changed frequently, and except for the captain and two crew members, there were no experienced sailors among the seven to twelve passengers, depending on the time.
That’s why a large part of Lukas’ day-to-day life was “learning by doing”. Especially during strong storms, this was sometimes a big challenge. Already on Lukas’ second day on the ship, the “Labora” got into a storm on its way to Santander with wind speeds of 40 knots (about 80 kilometers per hour) and waves up to five meters high.
Storm and five-meter-high waves: The Atlantic shows its rough side
“If you haven’t experienced anything like this before, you can’t imagine it,” explains Lukas. In the evening he had gone to bed and seen the night sky from the ceiling window of his bunk. When he looked out of the window the next morning, he saw the sea – because the ship was almost horizontally inclined. When he came to the others on board, he thought for a moment: “What the hell am I doing here?”
“At the same time, it was also a great feeling to experience something like this at all,” says Lukas. And this despite the fact that he first got seasick in the storm. “From time to time I had to cross the railing, but luckily I was still able to do something.” So Luke carried out the instructions shouted by the storm and helped to bring the ship across the stormy Bay of Biscay. A bay about which the Wikipedia entry says: “This sea area is known for bad weather, strong storms, and extreme seas.”
In addition, the “Labora” crossed the bay in October – but the season actually ends in September. This video shows how the storm must have felt for Lukas and the rest of the crew:
In addition to these challenging moments, Lukas also experienced some of the most beautiful on board the “Labora”: Almost every other day, several dolphins swam in front of the bow. Also, one night, when the ship sailed through glowing plankton and only the silhouettes of the marine mammals were illuminated.
After crossing the Bay of Biscay, however, the journey on the “Labora” did not always continue as planned. Most of the time, the ship only managed day trips along the Spanish coast, then had to wait for days in ports. Either the weather conditions were too bad or parts of the ship had to be repaired. After less than two months, Luke was still hundreds of kilometers away from Gibraltar, his original destination. But his return flight from Lisbon was getting closer.
In Camariñas in the north of Galicia, Lukas’ time on the “Labora” ended. He took the bus to Porto, explored Portugal with a rental car for three days, and then flew back home from Lisbon just in time for Christmas.
Lukas shows his great adventure in a movie
It’s been about a year since Lukas’ adventure. Whether he will make a trip like this again, he does not know yet: “I have no idea if I will ever have time for it again,” he says. The last time with the kayak or sailboat he was definitely not on the way.
For now, Lukas is concentrating on his master’s thesis – and on bringing a film about his journey to the cinema:
The student captured his adventures on camera. The film is almost finished – and if everything goes as planned, we could see the trip in selected cinemas in spring 2021. But Lukas learned on his journey at the latest that not everything goes according to plan in life. Because whether the Corona situation allows a cinema tour in April or May again, is far from foreseeable.
But no matter what obstacles life puts in Lukas’ way in the future, the biggest lesson of his adventure was a “just do it” mentality. “You should try everything,” emphasizes Lukas. “And in the end, it comes as it comes anyway.”