Thursday, June 17, 2010

Chapter 12: Double Fatality in Prince William Sound

One of the things that I have always liked about the sport of sea kayaking is that there is so much to learn, so many skills to master and such a wide knowledge base to comprehend. Besides learning how to perform the strokes, braces, rolls, and rescues, you need to become an expert in navigation, weather forecasting, hydrology and wave formation, geography, first aid and human physiology, survival skills, group psychology, handling stressful situations, and the list could go on and on. There are a lifetime of skills to learn and improve upon.

In chapter 12, we see the tragic results of a kayaking trip that was attempted by a group of almost complete novices who were lacking adequate skills and knowledge for all but the most benign paddling conditions. They were at least cognizant of the fact that they did not have a lot of skill and experience and seemingly had planned an appropriate trip, but when the boat captain who was going to pick them up had to make changes to the plan, the group failed to realize that they were not up to the challenges that this would create.

While the list of safety gear that was carried by the group was inadequate, in my opinion, it was mostly the lack of skill paddling in following seas and the inability to anticipate the wave patterns that were likely to develop that really caused the two deaths. Having better immersion clothing may have given the two victims more time to swim to shore after their capsize, but had the group recognized the danger early they would have stayed off the water in the first place.

In a sidebar article about "Paddling in Wind", Matt Broze correctly notes that paddling in a following sea is one of the trickiest conditions that paddlers face. It is even worse for beginners who lack experience handling these conditions. Broaching is likely and the need for bracing skills is extremely high.

In this video you can see how quickly the paddler goes from surfing towards shore to being turned sideways. And because he does not quickly edge his kayak toward the wave along with a strong brace into the wave, he gets rolled over into a capsize. This particular paddler knows how to roll, but the paddlers in the story did not and so found themselves in the water once their boats went over.

In this second video, notice how the paddler leans into the wave with a brace when he gets turned sideways preventing him from getting rolled over towards the shore. The shorter surf kayak that he is using is less prone to a full broach than the longer sea kayak in the first video, but the sea kayaker could have used the same skills to avoid getting knocked over by that first wave.

Two things come to mind as I read this chapter, things that I often tell my beginning sea kayak students:
1. It's hard to know how much you don't know when you are first getting started.
2. It's better to be on shore wishing you were on the water, than to be on the water wishing you were on shore.

What thoughts do you have after reading this chapter?


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