Monday, April 26, 2010

Chapter 7: Sea Caves, Arches, and Narrow Passages

After reading this chapter, the main theme that struck me was how "familiarity can breed laxity" when it comes to safety. On this particular trip, Joel chooses to go without a PFD and fails to use any flotation bags in the kayak, the assumption being that he won't be capsizing in these conditions.

I found this video showing what happens to kayaks without adequate flotation. These girls were in calm, shallow water, not far from shore. Imagine you are in ocean swells, deep and cold water, unable to re-enter your kayak. This video approximates the position that Joel's kayak would have been in after he exited the boat without any flotation bags or gear bags to provide buoyancy.

Have you ever had to rescue a kayak that lacked buoyancy? What was the situation and what was the outcome? Have you ever tried to make your kayak sink in order to determine the weaknesses in its system of flotation? As a kayaking instructor, I've seen bulkheads, hatches, and float bags all fail in one way or another. Luckily, most were in the calm, protected waters of an organized kayaking class.

One of the sidebar articles talks about a method of rescuing a submerged kayak. Having had to perform this rescue as part of past kayak training classes, I can tell you that it is very difficult even in calm conditions. I can't imagine having to try this in any sizable waves. You can see a more complete explanation of the Curl Rescue in "The Complete Book of Sea Kayaking" by Derek Hutchinson.

Eventually, Joel and his group had to abandon the sinking kayak and get to the other side of Wouwer Island to find a safe landing area. The solution that this group chose to use when faced with having 4 kayakers and only 3 single kayaks was to squeeze the two women into one of the boats that had a larger cockpit so that Joel could get in and paddle one of the kayaks.

What do you think you would do if you suddenly found yourself in a situation short one kayak out on the water far from shore? Have you ever tried paddling with another person laying on the back deck of your kayak or sitting in your cockpit?

The weather and water are beginning to get warmer here in Wisconsin. Perhaps it's time to go out and do some experimenting with these techniques in some protected water before finding ourselves offshore on Lake Michigan with a sinking kayak. What do you think?


Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Risks Compounded

This chapter contains a lot of the mistakes that are commonly found in the accident accounts in other chapters of this book as well as in articles that continue to appear in magazines like "Sea Kayaker." In this story,we have inexperienced paddlers, paddler not wearing a PFD, underdressed for water and air temperatures, failure to get a weather forecast, paddling with unfamiliar equipment, paddling in conditions beyond the skill levels of the paddlers, etc. What caught my attention in this story was the description of the difficulties that the two men had with self-rescue as related to the kayaks that they were using.

While Matt Broze does not specifically identify the manufacturer of the two single kayaks, I'm pretty sure that these were Pacific Water Sports Sea Otters. Pacific Water Sports was a store and a kayak company owned by Lee Moyer in Seattle back in the 1980's and 90's. The kayak was a little over 16-feet long and about 25" wide making it quite stable. The main problem with the two kayaks in the story was that the flotation or buoyancy in the boats was not reliable enough, especially in the bow. The Sea Otter had only one bulkhead behind the seat. The bow required a flotation bag to maintain its buoyancy. Since this group had been camping, the bow was being used for storage of camping gear that was stored in dry bags. Bob had one float bag in the bow, as well, but it was not tied in or secured to the kayak. When Bob and Robert capsized, the items in the bow that were providing flotation easily floated out of the cockpit. Some of the items were retrieved and replaced, others were blown away by the wind and lost. When the rear hatch on Bob's boat was accidentally dislodged during his attempt to re-enter the kayak, the boat quickly lost most of its buoyancy and Bob was forced to hang on to a large drybag as flotation since the kayak had only about 18" of the stern that remained above water.

Most sea kayaks today have bulkheads in both the bow and stern which addresses some of the problems that Bob and Robert had when they capsized and found themselves trying to clean up what we sometimes refer to as a "yard sale" (loose gear floating all over and blowing away). Unfortunately, I see many "recreational kayaks" that still do not have adequate flotation in the bow and in many cases have hatch covers that would easily get knocked off in a capsize. Despite the fact that both men were able to self-rescue and climb back on to the boats, the lack of buoyancy created major problems and might easily have led to fatalities had Robert not been so fit and if emergency responders had not been able to get to Bob as quickly as they did. It seems to me that many paddlers don't give much thought to the issues of flotation and buoyancy until after they find themselves in trouble with a very heavy, swamped boat full of water.

What means of flotation do you have in your kayak?
Is the amount of buoyancy adequate for someone of your size?
Have you ever tried swamping your kayak to see?
Have you ever tried paddling a swamped kayak?
How easily do your rubber hatch covers come off if you put your elbow in the middle and lean on them as you are re-entering your kayak from the water?
How secure are your bulkheads and do you back up your hatches with any additional flotation?
Do you feel that it's better to use flotation bags or bulkheads to provide buoyancy for your kayak?
Do you consider some kayaks to be inappropriate for use in certain conditions or is it OK to use any kayak anywhere as long as it floats?

What do you think?

Monday, April 12, 2010

The Open Coast, or, All Your Eggs in One Kayak

I recommend watching this video of US Coast Guard crews doing surf drills at the mouth of the Quillayute River which is the location of the incident described in this chapter.

Paddling the open coast, especially at the mouths of rivers, requires not only excellent skills, but you really need to understand the dynamics of currents, tides, winds, swells, and breaking waves because all of these are present and interacting to create potential chaos. If you can find an old copy of the book "Waves and Beaches" by Willard Bascomb, I strongly recommend that you take the time to read it. I found it to be very helpful in understanding the physics of the surf zone before I began to venture into it myself. Matt Broze also has a very good sidebar article in this chapter talking about paddling on the open coast and addressing wind, waves, and surf specifically.

I'm wondering what experiences you might have had in wind, waves, surf, and river currents. I know that over the years, I've had waves implode my sprayskirt, wash my spare paddle off my deck, crack my paddle blades, as well as give me the most exciting rides of my life. Learning to whitewater kayak over the past nine years has also helped me a great deal with understanding currents along with improving my rough water handling skills.

What comes to your mind as you read this chapter? Please share.


Oh, BTW, I noticed that my chapter numbers did not match the chapter numbers in the book. Apparently, when Rick started this blog, he assigned chapter 1 to the "Introduction" chapter. I'm going to leave the chapter numbers off my titles for a while to avoid confusion. Then I'll pick up using the numbers and make sure that they match the chapter numbers in the book. :)

Monday, April 5, 2010

Chapter 5: A Tale of Two Rescues

Back in November 1985, Dan Corrigall and Andy Bennett attempted to make a 3-mile crossing from Eagle Harbor to Bowen Island north of Vancouver. Since the story is featured in "Sea Kayaker: Deep Trouble" it's safe to assume that the crossing was not uneventful. After reading the chapter including a sidebar article about another kayaker who found himself having to rescue a drunk power boater, I think it's a good time to discuss some important questions relating to rescues.

In the incident with Dan and Andy, both men wore wetsuits and wool sweaters. Andy carried some Skyblazer flares, a towline, and an inflatable paddle float. Both men had a reliable roll and were described in the story as being "experienced" kayakers. Unfortunately, neither Dan nor Andy were familiar with the weather patterns in the area and they didn't get a weather forecast before setting out. Extremely strong winds that developed during the crossing caused Dan to capsize and fail in his attempts to roll. Ultimately, it was the vigilance of residents on shore who saw the men launch, recognized the danger, and alerted authorities of the need for a rescue that prevented a tragedy.

I think that having a reliable roll is certainly a very good thing for any kayaker, but in this case, there appears to have been too much reliance on this one rescue method to the exclusion of any other. When Dan's roll failed because the wind was pushing his kayak back down, he seems to have exhausted his "bag of tricks". It was unclear to me whether Dan was able to roll on both sides. From the description, I would think that the roll would have been successful if performed from the other side. When you try to roll up "into" a strong wind, the winds can literally keep you down. When rolling up on the side the wind is coming from, the wind catches the deck of the kayak as it comes up out of the water and assists the completion of the roll.

Despite wearing a wetsuit, Dan became very cold and found it very difficult to assist in his own rescue. Dan was not immediately hypothermic, but he was suffering from what Dr. Gordon Giesbrecht would call "cold icapacitation". Anyone paddling in water colder than 70 degrees should take the time to become familiar with the "1-10-1 Rule". Check out

Andy was concerned about feeling unstable while trying to help Dan. The author, Matt Broze, talks about adding weight to a kayak to improve stability and to make a kayak easier to turn in the wind, something that may have prevented Dan from capsizing in the first place. The danger is in having that added weight shift unexpectedly. A friend of mine has invented a way to add weight to a kayak that is kept securely in place even during a roll. Check out www.paddling to see how this system works.

Both the incident with Dan and Andy and the other story of Gord Pincock and his rescue of a drunk powerboater emphasize the need to practice a variety of rescue techniques before they are actually needed and to pay attention to the safety and stability of the person attempting to do the rescue. There are so many possible discussion topics relating to these two incidents. I'm throwing a few questions out there to get the discussion started.

1) How many methods of rescue/recovery do you feel confident in performing?
2) What are the roughest conditions in which you have practiced your rescues?
3) What, if any, equipment do you carry to assist you in your solo or assisted rescues?
4) Do you carry a spare paddle, use a paddle leash, or both?

The other blog that I write on my company website will be addressing the topic of signalling devices this week, so I invite you to visit

Looking forward to getting some discussions started.