So there I was, out in the strait, paddling steady, stroke, stroke, my son paddling to port and a little astern.
It was March break and 12-year-old Alex was down to see his dad and off on his first adventure: paddling his homebuilt kayak from Schooner Cove to South Winchelsea Island.
The wind was light, but it was still a bit of a crossing to the first shelter, so we were chuffing along pretty good, working to cover the distance before any sort of squall came up.
Stroke … stroke … stroke … SPLASH!
The water erupted about five feet off my starboard bow.
Holy crap! Something big …
“Woah!” That from my son, as the multi-ton sealion, barely a paddle length away, snorted, looked us over and then dropped away under the water and out of sight — but not of mind.
The Chinese word for crisis implies both danger and opportunity, or so I’m told, and in a flash I saw an opportunity, as a dad, to take advantage of this teachable moment.
“He was coming straight for you, son,” I said, sweeping my paddle to turn my boat and face him. “He looked like a killer, too. You could see it in his eyes.”
“Oh dad …” he began, rolling his eyes in what I’ll assume was terror.
“Guess I saved your life there, Sonny Jim,” I continued. “Don’t worry about it though. I’m your dad. That’s what we do.”
“Fine,” he sighed, paddling over and rafting up beside me. “How did you save my life this time?”
“The flex,” I said and demonstrated strainingly. “The emergency flex. He was looking at you like you were an easy meal and that’s all I had time to do.”
I scanned the water dramatically.
“It’s OK though,” I said. “Looks like he’s backed off.”
Evidently, my poor son was still eye-rollingly frightened.
We didn’t see that sealion again, although we saw plenty of others, along with otters and eagles and other assorted stuff, and the incident just became another part of the overall story.
I reminded him of it as we talked on the phone Sunday.
He’s coming down for spring break and he’s pretty pumped about it.
“It’s family lore now, Alex,” I said. “Grandma and Grandpa Horner know all about it and so does Uncle Ian.”
“Oh, come on dad …” he began.
“I don’t understand your skepticism,” I interrupted. “You might as well just go with it. What the hell, add a few details of your own.”
“Well, maybe I flexed, too,” he said, proving himself his father’s son.
“No,” I corrected. “You were 12. You can’t flex at sealions at 12. You need a full-grown alpha male to do that. Besides, I’ve got dibs.”
The phone went silent as Alex thought about it for a moment.
“Well, maybe I thought you were in trouble and was paddling to help,” he suggested.
“Yup, racing to the rescue. That’s how it happened alright,” I said. “That was a close call, too. Thank you, son.”
“What a team, dad,” he said.
“What a team,” I agreed, sharing the moment.
“See you in two weeks.”
Neil Horner is the assistant editor of the Parksville Qualicum Beach News. Neil has served as a reporter in Fort St. James, Quesnel and Oceanside. He lives in Qualicum Bay.