Could someone from Seattle be careless enough to get hypothermic in the tropics ? Yep, and that person was me. The first part of our Kauai kayak trip was a leisurely paddle up the Hanelei River with a group of about 15, like us mostly in double kayaks. But when we headed out into the bay, aiming for a nearby inaccessible beach, the wind was up, the sky offshore was getting dark, and the crossing currents had a very mean chop. As we finally nosed our kayaks into the sand, our guides looked uneasy. A squall line came in off the ocean. Most of us decided to snorkel just to get out of the rain. I stayed in for a wile exploring the corals close to shore until I noticed I felt cold, but being cold in tropical waters seemed impossible so I ignored it.
That was the first sign of trouble. When I came back to the beach the rain had let up slightly, but the wind whipped directly on shore at 30 knots and there was no shelter. My mistake was not bringing anything dry, even a T shirt, to put on. Soon, I was shivering so much I couldn’t open a water bottle. I noticed my skin looked transparent and pale. Disorientation was setting in.
I remember the guides giving the order to shove off the beach right away. We needed to get back to shore. As we paddled out through the chop around the headland, my heart began to speed up so much I was gasping for breath and could hardly hold the paddle. I remember my wife calling back from the front seat, asking why I wasn’t paddling and I said something like “I don’t feel too good”. All I could do was steer weakly while she did most of the work. When we made it back to shore, I struggled to get out but couldn’t quite lift myself out of the seat. She went to find help. The kayak came unstuck and began to drift in shallow water; someone came back out to hold onto the shell while I managed to lift myself out and get on my feet. In the bay, the wind and rain had abated. I wasn’t shaking anymore.
We went back to our place and I took a long rest, drank hot liquids. That’ll teach me – take a dry T shirt next time.