Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Chapter 22: Carried to Safety

If I had written this chapter, I think I would have titled it, "Familiarity Breeds Contempt (or Complacency)". These two paddlers, whose names were withheld by request, should have known better than to get into this situation in the first place according to their supposed level of experience and skill. I simply can't fathom someone going out paddling in February in the Pacific Northwest without wearing a wetsuit or drysuit. And there were so many other pieces of gear that they should have had with them (tow rope, VHF radio, flares), any of which would have improved their situation. Thankfully, the outcome was positive and these two lived to paddle another day.

Since most of the lessons to be learned from this story were so seemingly obvious, I'd like to focus on one aspect that many paddlers tend to overlook when preparing for a trip. What will you do if you or another paddler loses a kayak? Have you given any thought to how you can prevent this from happening, or how you would deal with the situation if it occurs? It happens more easily than you might imagine. Short of sending out a distress message on a VHF radio, or shooting off emergency flares, I have compiled a short list of suggestions for equipment and skills that a sea kayaker should have to prevent or deal with just such an emergency.

  1. Practice wet exits to make sure you always hold on to your kayak and paddle.
  2. Consider using a paddle leash so that if you have either your kayak or paddle in hand, you are connected to both.
  3. Paddle with other people (you have fewer rescue options when you are alone).
  4. Wear a tow belt.
  5. Practice paddling with a swimmer on the back deck of your kayak.
Can you think of any other suggestions that you would add?

George Gronseth makes brief mention of using a tow rope to retrieve a kayak that has blown out of the grasp of the paddler. I can attest to how well this works in my own experience. A friend of mine capsized on a very windy day and lost contact with his kayak during the wet exit. In seconds, the boat was beyond his grasp. After checking to make sure he was OK and still had his paddle in hand, I was able to quickly paddle over to the vacant kayak and clip my tow rope to the bow before paddling back over to my friend who was calmly floating in his PFD and drysuit. Once I returned to my friend and had him grab on to my kayak, I pulled in the tow rope and retrieved his kayak in order to complete the rescue. Had I not had my tow belt, I would have most likely been paddling to shore with my friend on the back deck like "Smith" and "Jones". While tow belts may seem to be rather expensive pieces of gear, I strongly recommend that every sea kayaker invest in one and wear it on every trip!

While not as safe and convenient, even a decent length of rope would have solved the problem in this incident as "Smith" could have tied one end of the rope around the front carry handle of the loose kayak and then towed it back to where his friend was swimming. The other end of the rope could have been tied to the deck lines or bungees on Smith's kayak, Smith could have made a loop in the other end of the rope and put his arm through it, or he could have just held it in his hand on the paddle shaft as he paddled back.

This was the last chapter of the book, "Sea Kayaker: Deep Trouble". I'm sorry it took so long to complete the review and discussion of each chapter, but I hope that, like the book itself, the discussions helped encourage kayakers to think about the things that can go wrong when you go paddling and how to prevent yourself from ending up in those situations. My next post to this blog will begin a new book, "Crossing the Ditch" by James Castrission. This is the story of how James Castrission and his friend, Justin Jones, became the first kayakers to complete a crossing of the Tasman Sea from Australia to New Zealand. As their successful attempt came fairly soon after the tragic death of Andrew MacAuley while attempting the same feat, this book brings up some very interesting topics for discussion. I look forward to your thoughts.


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