Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Rescue Review

It is important to digest and dissect rescues. They offer great learning experiences.
The trip last Sunday offered a number of lessons.
Lesson 1: Eric Tries to Rescue Bob and Ends up Getting Rescued
I am not certain my decision to go in after Bob was the soundest decision I could have made. I say that after having been smashed, but even before that it was a questionable decision. I wasn't feeling at my best after being off the water for a few weeks, out of the Q-boat for a solid month, and not having paddled in anything more serious challenging than a salt pond for nearly six weeks. In the moment, with the adrenaline running, I felt I could do the rescue. The wave that squished me was pretty extreme.
Paul's rescue was flawless. He talked to me enough to determine I was OK, but not too long to delay the rescue. He quickly assessed the situation, made the plan clear to me, and executed the rescue. His call to toss me a line and tow me to safety was excellent. The conditions where the rescue started were big, steep swells that made maneuvering tricky. Paul's kayak could easily have whacked me if he had attempted to secure my kayak. Once he had towed me out of the rocks and swell, it was much easier to put me back in my kayak. Fortunately, I was properly dressed for being in the water and the few extra minutes were not critical. Even if I had not been properly dressed for immersion, Paul's choice to tow me out was probably still the right one. Trying to do the rescue in the swells could have taken longer or resulted in Paul's going into the drink also.
Lesson 2: Bob Plays in the Rocks and Takes a Swim
One could say that Bob should have had the sense to stay out of the rocks given the conditions. However, that was Bob's call to make. If he honestly believed he was a match for the conditions, he cannot be faulted for looking for some fun.
What happened once Bob got squished is ripe for analysis. We did some after the paddle and I have been thinking about it since. After I was dumped, Matt moved into help Bob. I'm not sure what happened while I was being rescued, but I know that Bob, his kayak, and Matt were still being bounced around in the rocks after I was safely back in my kayak. From what I heard, Bob had found his way out of the water and onto the relative safety of some rocks and was trying to drag his kayak up with him. Meanwhile, Matt was sitting just off the rocks to help. After a few minutes, Bob managed to get his kayak on the rocks with him and drag it to a section of water that was protected enough to allow or a launch.
While everything turned out OK, the whole thing took too long and left at least one kayak in needless danger. Based on what I heard, I think the root cause of the trouble was a lack of communication compounded by a lack of clear command and control. When rescuing me, Paul took charge of the situation. It sounded like neither Matt nor Bob took charge of Bob's rescue. This makes a confusing situation worse.
It looked like Matt was following standard rescue protocol. If there is a swimmer near the rocks and the swimmer is separated from his kayak, the first rescuer secures the swimmer and tows them to safety. A second rescuer gets the kayak. Once both swimmer and kayak are out of danger they are reunited.
Bob's goals and perspective were very different. He reported that felt pretty safe on the rocks. He was out of the water and felt that it would be easier to get himself and his kayak to the protected water on the far side of his little outcrop. He reported that he saw Matt's kayak as a danger to himself because it was being tossed around and could easily have whacked him.
I'm not sure if either Matt or Bob were right about how to proceed, so I'm not going to pick sides. Matt's approach is the correct one in 90% of situations. Bob made a good case for his approach given the particular circumstances.
I will say that one of them needed to take charge of the situation. Bob either needed to clearly wave Matt off, or Matt needed to just latch onto Bob and drag him out. The third option would have been for Matt to simply leave Bob on the rocks once he saw that he was OK. As it was Matt sat off the rocks, in harms way, for too long. It also took too long for the rest of the group to have a sense of what they needed to do.
Lesson 3: What to do with nervous paddlers?
While the rescues were going on, MA and Bob were sitting out in the Bay with Carole. Needless to say they were nervous. The swells where they were waiting were large and the wind was pretty strong. Carole wanted to take them closer to the end of the Bluffs where things were more settled. She figured that there were five paddlers to help out rescuing Bob and we could handle it.
While I'm not a big fan of splitting groups in general, there are times when it is appropriate. I think this was one of them. Getting the less experienced paddlers to safer conditions would have lessened the chances that one of them would have gone in the drink also.
However, the decision was made to keep the group together. This makes sense also. If there had been trouble once they moved off their lower numbers increased the danger of a rescue.
Lesson 4:Staying Warm
Becca's brush with hypothermia is a good reminder of the dangers inherent in winter paddling. In the summer what you wear is hardly a concern. Heat management is not that hard. In the winter, however, heat management is critical and difficult. Picking the right clothes to wear under a drysuit is a matter of safety as well as comfort. You need to be warm enough to keep your core temp up, even in the water, but not so warm that you sweat away the benefits of a drysuit.
Becca's situation is also a reminder that all the members of the group need to keep an eye on each other right up to the point that boats are stowed and dry clothes are donned. Hypothermia hits fast and is unforgiving. The signs to look out for are slurred speech and someone acting more spacey than is normal.
Thankfully, Ken spotted the signs and reacted quickly. To treat hypothermia you need to warm the victim. Get them into dry clothes, put them in a warm place, and give them something warm to drink. If they don't start to show signs of improvement call 911.

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