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.

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