Sunday, December 13, 2009

(Sea Kayaker: Deep Trouble) Chapter 1 Drifting With the Currents

 In this chapter we are exposed to a story of how tides and the dynamics they cause on the water can reap with kayakers.  The gist of this story is that that the kayakers involved in the incident encounter some unexpected conditions and end up in the water. Again, the idea here is to read along in the book so I am not going into the whole story on the blog.  One thing that fascinated me in this story is that the paddlers involved were complete aware of the tides and were actually making good us of them to their advantage.  Matt goes into great detail and analysis of this incident.
This chapter was exceptionally interesting to me as I have only paddled on Lake Michigan and Lake Superior.  As such, tides are not an issue. Wind and weather are the main factors I tend to watch  when paddling and planning a trip.

While researching for this post I came across a very well done video by Bryant Burkhardt padding in the tides of San Francisco Bay.   Bryant has posted some great comments on this blog already and has a great blog of his own.

This chapter got me thinking about a few key questions and I would like to hear from as many people as possible on these. So please comment!

What are some resources you are aware of related to tides, water conditions, and weather?

How do you determine how to dress for paddling?

What stories do you have where something you overlooked caused a serious problem on the water?

Should you ever paddle without a PFD? Do you ever paddle sans a PFD?
Have you ever run into anyone paddling not wearing a PFD and said something to them.  How well did you know this person?  How did they react?

Look forward to hearing from you all!

Rick Isaacson

BTW: I will be posting a bit more often than weekly going forward for this title.

You can keep an eye out for new posts on the  the “Paddler Books” page on Facebook  or 
follow us at #paddlerbooks on Twitter for information on new posts.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Author Bio: George Gronseth Co-Author of Sea Kayaker: Deep Trouble

George Gronseth – Founder of the Kayak Academy / Director and Head Instructor

I've always loved the water and boating. I grew up on the shores of the Great Lakes, but back then kayaking hadn't caught on there. So my first opportunity to try kayaking came after graduating from college. Bigger water and mountains with year around snow led me to move to the Northwest -- I didn't know it was a kayaking Mecca until after I moved there. I soon bought my first kayak and was immediately hooked.
Teaching is something I was either born with or learned early by osmosis. Both my parents were educators, as were two of my grand parents. I teach kayaking: sea, river, and surf.

There's a thread to my intuition about kayak safety that begins with some of my earliest learning and boating experiences. My family has a deep and personal respect for the dangers of boating. Our branch of the family tree nearly ended one night in a storm on the North Sea when a rouge wave swept my great grandfather Lars Gronseth off the deck of a merchant sailing ship into the cold sea. That night Lars was sailing the ship single handed because the captain and rest of the crew were all below deck due to sea sickness. A big wave knocked the ship on its side, and threw Lars into the water. In the darkness he felt a rope next to him and grabbed hold of it. The ship soon righted itself, and the rope which was part of the rigging acted like a pendulum swinging Lars back aboard. He got smashed against the side of the pilot house, but holding the rope saved his life. In addition to telling that story, my parents and grandparents always taught me to "stay with the boat", and that is a concept that applies to sea kayaking too. By the time I was four I learned to row and was allowed to use my grandparent's wooden rowboat by myself on the bay in front of their summer cabin on L. Michigan. When I was a teenager, we lived on the water on that same bay, and I rescued many sailboats and powerboats that got in trouble in front of my parent's house. Seeing all these examples of boating accidents and learning what went wrong was a perfect background for my career at Boeing analyzing the failure modes and safety of airplanes. Later my engineering experience at Boeing crossed over into studying kayak safety. I started researching sea kayak accidents and analyzing what went wrong and what kayakers could learn from them in order to avoid repeating the same mistakes. From that research came insight into what kayak students really needed to learn, and in what order to prioritize the skills during lessons. I evaluated the lessons other clubs and schools offered but couldn't find a program that emphasized what I saw as the practical skills and safety training that kayakers need, so I created my own curriculum and started the Kayak Academy.

After kayaking on my own for a couple years, I got serious about learning to kayak. I joined the Washington Kayak Club (WKC) and took both their whitewater and sea kayaking courses. The year after that I started to help teach the WKC's kayaking courses, and I lead trips for them and other kayak clubs. A few years later I accepted the position of Sea Kayak Safety Chairman for the WKC. Matt Broze (kayak designer and owner of Mariner Kayaks) read my safety articles in the club's newsletters and encouraged me to take over from him as the safety columnist at Sea Kayaker magazine. In 1997 the many year's of safety column articles Matt and I published in Sea Kayaker magazine were collected into the book, "Sea Kayaker Deep Trouble". Meanwhile I wrote a multi-year series of articles on modern paddling technique and rolling for Sea Kayaker. That project made me dig deep into analyzing every stroke in detail and finding effective ways to explain how to do them.

This and other experiences lead to the development of a whole new kayaking curriculum based on the student's needs. In 1990 I left the corporate world, studied traditional kayaking in Greenland, worked as a guide in the San Juan Islands for a summer, and finished some writing projects. In 1991 I founded The Kayak Academy to fill the demand for kayak lessons of a higher caliber than those available from clubs and other schools.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Author Bio: Matt Broze Co-Author of Sea Kayaker: Deep Trouble

Matt has collected information on over 540 kayaks stolen since 1994. Since 1979 Matt has test paddled (and made notes about) over 1000 different kayak models. He and his brother designed the Mariner sea kayak line beginning in 1980 and ran a retail sea kayak speciality store in the Seattle area for many years. Matt developed outrigger paddle float rescues in 1981. He developed the method Sea Kayaker magazine uses to calculate drag on a kayak and still does all the drag calculations for their kayak reviews. He is retired and presently writing about alpine skiing techniques he has developed.

After watching aging boomers trying to reenter their kayaks by themselves in a swimming pool Matt sees a need for a foot step (or two) that can be easily attached to (and kept ready on) a kayak's back deck. If anyone wants to design, build or market such steps contact Matt for free help as to what is needed and his ideas on the subject.

(Sea Kayaker: Deep Trouble) Introduction: Kayaking Safety

The introduction of the book is a treasure trove of safety information for any paddler new or seasoned.  I found the checklists and insets rich with vital information.  This should be information should be packaged and sold with every boat.  Information includes segments on tides and currents, safety equipment and safety checklists.  Since authors would not be happy if I transcribed the entire introduction, I’ll let you read the book for the details.

I did want to pick on one issue that was mentioned in the introduction: “Rescue beacons and other communication devices”

Personal rescue beacons, cell phones and VHF radios are a sea kayakers last line of defense when everything else has failed.  When conditions or circumstances exceed skills or means calling for help is the final option.  Unfortunately, not for everyone, a recent article I read recently highlights the impact that affordable rescue beacons are having on search and rescue teams.  I know that that most people will not use these devices frivolously, but I have a deeper concern. 

Does having one of these devices extend the risks that people are willing to take?

 I am not sure that I can honestly answer that question for myself with a confident “no”.   I know that there are crossings and conditions that I would only tackle in a group.  Even then, I know that whatever could befall me could overcome the group as well and I may be on my own anyway.  Still, having a group is better than not having one.  I think the difference that having the beacon makes is that it almost seems to eliminate the risk not just mitigate it.  The false sense of security given by the thought "I have a beacon, if all else fails I can call in the cavalry" is easy to slip into.  This forgets a couple of key points. 

The first hole in this assumption is that the device will actually function when you need it to.  Four years on a nuclear submarine taught me that Murphy has a strict law and terrible sense of humor.  I will confess that on  a couple of occasions I have gone paddling and forgotten to check my VHF radio only to find that the batteries are low or even worse dead.   A beacon is susceptible to this and other failures.  Keep in mind that the laws of physics could care less about your circumstance.  If you don’t have enough juice the signal is only going to go so far.  As far as cell phones go, when the stuff hits the fan is not the time to find out how water proof your phone is and if your providers network coverage matches their advertising.

The other flaw in this thinking is that it ignores the fact that whatever conditions lead to the crisis may prevent or impede your rescue.  Bottom line there is no sure thing and there is no replacement for the right equipment, good planning, strong skills, and an honest assessment of conditions versus skills.  Accidents happen and even the most skilled and best prepared of us can be lost.

The last few weeks I have been monitoring the news reports around the world for kayaking incidents and there seems to be about one paddling incident per week that result in a search and rescue operation.  The fatalities have included paddlers of all skill levels as have the survivors.

One of my outdoor role models is Reinhold Messner, the first person to summit Mt. Everest without bottled oxygen.  In a documentary shot by Outside Magazine they asked Ed Viesturs, another accomplished Himalayan climber, what set Reinhold apart.  His response was something to that effect that he wasn't more skilled than anyone else and he wasn’t unique physically.  What made Messner the most successful climber of the 20th century was his judgment and instincts.  That when attempting to summit a certain mountain he turned around eight times before he finally reached the top. It was that sort of judgement that kept him alive and allowed him live long enough to accomplish more than any other modern climber.

Judgment seems to me to be the combination of instinct, experience, humility, and skill balanced against the desire to push past our limitations and grow.  It is our most important piece of safety equipment.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

How the book club will work

How the book will work

I will start posting my perspectives on the book a chapter at a time.  Please comment on the post to add your perspective and opinions.  My post should be at the least weekly and maybe more often if time permits.  I will always preface any spoilers with a warning.  Please do the same in your comments.

If you have any ideas on how this might work better.  Please make those known by commenting on this post.



First Title for the Paddler's Book Club

So, I though I would try to hype the book club idea and wait until there was enough interest in the idea before moving forward with a book.  Kind of the "If you come I will build it." theory.  That was wishful thing on my part, I knew better than that!  So I have decide that I will try the opposite approach.  I will build it and we will see who comes.  I will start posting on this book Monday 12/07/2009 this should give anyone who want to read along time to get a copy of the book.

The first title for the book club is "Sea Kayaker Deep Trouble: True Stories and Their Lessons from Sea Kayaker Magazine"

By Matt Broze and George Gronseth
Edited by Christopher Cunningham

When there are more folks in the book club the selection of titles will be more democratic.

I am dedicating the reading of this book to all of those that have been lost to us recently and specifically to Doug Winter.  My heart goes out to the families and friends of those we have lost.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Milwaukee Paddler Missing on Lake Superior (UPDATED)

I have read these reports on many occasions. This time it is different, this time it was someone I knew. I met Doug Winter a couple of years ago at Lacke & Joys Paddle fest where we were both working as safety boaters. This was the only time I met Doug but I remember him as a safe paddler and a great guy.
My heart goes out to Doug’s family and friends.

Link to latest like on Doug at the time of this post:

As the weather gets colder please be safe!



Friday, October 2, 2009

First Post - Why am I doing this?

When I started paddling several years ago I was lucky. I had two things going for me. The first was that I wasn't close enough to a really large body of water so it was really difficult for me to get into trouble. Second was those 4 years in the Navy drummed into me the value of wearing a PFD at all times. Other than that I had no clue about safe and enjoyable paddling. I went the local big box outdoor store and purchased a 14' boat and a cheap aluminum paddle. I had no idea about what a wet exit was or a rescue or anything. When I went out it was in a cotton tee shirt and shorts. I was lucky that I never figured out the folly of how I was dressed or why they call cotton the death fabric.

I bring up the following incidents because the first one has stuck with me over the last few years and the more recent one is unfortunately similar. I believe this is because there for either dumb luck or the grade of God there go I. 

I cannot imagine the pain that these incidents have caused family members and loved ones and my heart goes out to them.

A couple of years ago a gentleman went out on Lake Michigan in the boat he had recently purchased. From what I can gather he was just outside the break wall when he went in. Searchers would find his boat, paddle, and PFD very near the time of his disappearance however, it would be several months before his body was located. We can only guess what happened but a likely scenario was that he fell out of his boat and either wasn't wearing his PFD or was not able to re-enter his boat and removed the PFD in order to attempt a re-entry. What likely happened next was that he succumbed to hypothermia and drowned.

We now have another gentleman who has disappeared on Lake Michigan off of Door County. Details are still trickling in however some of the details are similar. The Coast Guard has located the boat but not the paddler. (See link for details)

How did I become a "safer" paddler?

I purchased my second boat through a local paddle shop and they sold me a book on paddling safety and rescue. I also started paddling with experienced paddlers who were 100% straight with me about safety and required that I know basic rescue techniques.

Why blog about this?

Easy, if it saves one life it will be worth it. Also, paddlers are some of the best people I know and getting to know more of them seems like a great proposition to me!

What does this have to do with a book club?

I believe that a book club offers a unique synergy between the knowledge contained in the many wonderful books about paddling and knowledge and experience of the club members.

I look forward to seeing what comes of this and meeting everyone!