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“I'm just watching this helplessly,” says MacKinnon, “seeing Clay rolling up, maybe 45 degrees...and then, boom! Right back under.”
“No, no, no, no, no. He's giving me credit that I don't deserve,” Armstrong insists. “The fact is, I lost my paddle. That's why I remained upside down. I had nothing to right myself with!” It was a harrowing few minutes, in which Armstrong figured out, at last, “how to get out of the damned kayak,” and the two managed to drain his boat and set him in motion again.
But there remained 10 miles to travel, with wind and waves against them. “Clay kept pushing on but was tiring,” remembers MacKinnon, 20 years Armstrong's junior. “I started looking at my watch. I'm constantly calculating things: the time, the current, the wind, hours of daylight left. We paddled up onto a beach. I told Clay we weren't going to make it.” He didn't say anything. “What I'm getting at,” MacKinnon said, “is that I'm going to tow you for a while.”
Armstrong glared at MacKinnon: “You're not going to tow me anywhere! I'll sleep here on the beach if I have to, but you're not going to tow me!”
“His insistence on towing me kind of woke me up,” Armstrong admits. He paddled with renewed vigor, and they reached Woods Hole with daylight to spare.
The ordeal “certainly reinforced my recognition of the fact that the sea can kill you,” MacKinnon says. “But it also put me in even greater awe of my friend. Clay Armstrong, for 20 years, has been teaching me—and not only about potassium ion channels!”
Armstrong, for his part, reports that he is ready for another go, this summer.