Friday, February 25, 2011

Does Technology Make Kayaking Safer?

James Castrission and Justin Jones took the following items on their trip across the Tasman Sea:
  • 2 EPIRB's
  • 2 satellite phones
  • 1 laptop
  • 1 VHF radio
  • 2 handheld GPS units
  • 1 Daestra TracPlus locater beacon
  • 1 electric water desalinator
  • solar panels to recharge and power the above
Andrew McAuley took the following items on his trip across the Tasman:
  • 1 EPIRB
  • 2 satellite phones
  • 3 handheld GPS units
  • 1 Fastwave GPS tracking beacon
  • 1 VHF radio
  • solar panels to recharge and power the above
Twenty years ago, when I started kayaking, GPS was a military technology that cost thousands of dollars, assuming you could find a unit in the first place. Cell/satellite phones were likewise very rare and were bulky and heavy. There were no PLB's. EPIRB's were something that were carried on larger sea-going vessels. VHF radios were available, but you had to get a license to use one. Mostly, kayakers had to depend on their knowledge, skills, and navigation ability with a paper map and compass. If anything went wrong on a trip, you were most likely going to have to handle it on your own. On the positive side, we didn't have to depend much on electronic or battery-powered technology that has a tendency to fail in a marine environment, and focused instead on those skills that would hopefully keep us out of trouble in the first place.

Here's the $64,000 question: Is kayaking safer now with all the available tracking, navigation, and communication technologies? Or do paddlers rely too heavily on these items and put themselves into more risky situations figuring that the technology will save them when the you-know-what hits the fan?


Wednesday, February 16, 2011

What is the definition of a "kayak"?

Over the years, there have been several major crossings of oceans by people using "kayaks". However, if we look at each of the actual boats used, these "kayaks" would look quite different from each other.
Of these seven expeditions, only Ed Gillet used a totally stock sea kayak without modifications. Andrew McAuley's kayak had some modifications to increase volume so he could carry enough food and gear. Romer and Lindemann used stock folding kayaks that were only modified somewhat, but they mostly sailed their kayaks and only used paddles occasionally. Bray, Doba, and Castrission/Jones paddled, but had kayaks that included a sealed cabin for sleeping.

When McAuley and the team of Castrission/Jones were making their preparations to cross the Tasman Sea, the sea kayaking legend, Paul Caffyn, expressed his feeling that using a 29-foot kayak with a cabin was essentially "cheating". It wasn't really a "kayak" in his estimation.

How do you feel about this question? What is the definition of a "kayak" for the purposes of doing a major crossing for the record books? Does it matter? And what about all the new communication technology that is available to today's adventurer? We'll address that specific issue another time. For now, let's focus on the definition of a kayak. What do you think?


Friday, February 4, 2011

Chapter 4: "You're Going To Kill Yourself"

When James and Justin tell their parents about their plans to kayak across the Tasman Sea from Australia to New Zealand, both sets of parents are understandably upset. It was certainly not an unreasonable fear on the part of the parents that these two young men might very well die in this attempt.

This chapter brings up a larger question for everyone who participates in high-risk adventure sports. What responsibility do we have towards our family and friends, those who love and care about us and will be left to mourn if we should die or be required to care for us in the event of a crippling injury while pursuing our passion? Is there or should there be an obligation to consider the feelings of others before undertaking these kinds of trips? Is it selfish of the parents to ask their sons not to do this trip? What do you think?

My brother died in a sky-diving accident many years ago leaving a wife and small daughter. Afterwards, I have always felt a greater pressure to stay safe and make sure that nothing happens to me. At the time, I had a small son of my own and I was left as the only child to take care of my parents as they aged. Does this thought ever cross your own mind as you go kayaking?