Monday, December 13, 2010

Everyday Paddler: Most of the time. It's not enough

Everyday Paddler: Most of the time. It's not enough: "I have concluded that I am at odds with most or, at the very least, much of what is put forth as sea paddling's best practices, and I'm ok w..."

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Thanks A Lot

They recently did a study showing that being grateful is good for your health and mental well being. The study also showed that while some people are naturally more grateful, ungrateful bastards like me can learn to be more grateful with practice. To be really effective, one needs to be specific.
I have a generally good life and have a lot to for which to be grateful. I am generally healthy, despite my penchant for McDonalds, lattes, and chocolate. I have good friends who accept me despite my foibles. I have been fortunate to have opportunities for interesting travel, learning experiences, and enriching hobbies. I have been blessed by having a solid upbringing by a loving mother. I was doubly blessed to meet a wonderful partner who loves me even when I'm a PTA and supports me when I need it.
This year I have a lot of extra things for which I'm grateful. During what is hopefully the worst economic conditions I will ever see, I have not only managed to stay employed, but was lucky enough to find a better job. I was given the opportunity to experience some of the best kayak instruction o the planet this summer. I was also lucky enough to be able to afford some of the most innovative and game changing products that have come out in decades.
The thing I am most grateful for is K-bug. She is a treasure. She makes the frustration of several years of infertility vanish. I am grateful to all of the people who helped us in the journey. I am grateful to her birth parents for giving us this chance and loving her enough to place her in our care. We could not have asked for a better adoption experience.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Joy of Diddling

Several of us decided that a day of practice would be in order, so we met up at Tucker Pond for a few hours. Most people had specific things they wanted to work on, but I just wanted to work on relaxing.
TM gave people pointers on forward strokes, edging, and power. I just sort of hung around the edges and soaked it all in. TM is an excellent teacher. He knows his paddling, gives clear explanations, models well, and takes time with his pupils. It was nice to watch and be able to glean a few tips.
Surprisingly, I was able to offer some tips of my own. I remembered the butter knife analogy for releasing the stern. I also managed to remember a pointer about being cognizant of how your legs apply pressure to the hull.
I also took the opportunity to muck around with other people's Euro sticks. I always enjoy short flirtations with the lollipops. The immediacy of the power is striking, but the lack of grace is jarring.
The best tip of the day: sometimes being efficient is better than being powerful.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Relaxing in the Wind

When I am off the water for more than a few weeks I start getting cagey, so H demanded that I go kayaking this weekend. Fortunately TM was looking for a playmate, so I had a partner. All that was left was decent weather, but the forecast was not cooperating. It looked like gales were going to be the dominant feature for the weekend.
Not ones to be easily daunted, we checked the weather on Saturday evening. The forecast called for fair seas with west winds of 10 to 15 and gusts up to 25. It wasn't great, but inside the safety margins. To spare us the brunt of the winds, we planned to paddled out of the Bay Campus and head along Bonnet Shores. In the shadow of the bluffs we'd be sheltered from the full force of any gales.
Sunday morning we were joined by BH. He always makes a paddle more interesting. Given the glassy sea, we were going to need help finding excitement. Fortunately, all three of us were perfectly happy doing a calm, relaxing paddle.
We got our relaxing paddle. The bluffs kept us safe from the worst of the wind. The seas were flat and even playing the rocks was tranquil.
After lunch we headed a little further south to see what adventures could be had. There wasn't much in the way of adventure. The wind was a little more brutal if you strayed away from the rocks. The sea was a little more bouncy. The rocks were a little bigger.
BH did manage to sacrifice gel coat to the rock gods. He managed to catch the only wave in the Bay at the perfectly wrong time. He was trying to slip through a slot that required some quick turning and the wave pushed him right into a rock.
The paddle home was a bit of a slog, but nothing to wing about. It was a nice workout to end a refreshing return to the water.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

A Swell Day

Last week TM e-mailed myself, PB, and JG to ask if we could help out on his BCU 4 Star Leader evaluation. Needless to say I eagerly agreed to help. TM has taught me, and many members of the club, an enormous amount about paddling and being comfortable on the ocean. TM has been working on attaining this certification for a while now and based on the leadership and skills he regularly shows on club trips, I thought he had has what it takes to pass the evaluation.
TM's plan was to lead the PB, JG, and myself from Bay Campus to Narrow River and back while John Carmody assessed. It is a good route that offers a diversity of conditions and obstacles.
As the day approached, I grew concerned about my ability to be a helpful participant. My back was a sheet of pain, my stomach was unsettled, and my energy level was in the sub-basement. Having a new baby is not good for staying in kayak shape.
When I checked the weather this morning, my concerns dissipated. I felt good and the forecast was benign: light winds and calm seas. I could tough it out in those conditions and not be a sea anchor on the group.
When I got to Bay Campus, last of course, the water was glass. Everyone was going about getting ready for an easy day on the water. When TM gathered us together for the pre-paddle briefing, I immediately realized I was missing some key information.
TM prepped us for paddling in big, powerful swells and big surf on Narragansett Beach. Everyone else knew about the condition and talked about six to eight foot swells along Bonnet Shore bluffs. I missed the part of the forecast that talked about big swells at the mouth of the bay because I'd only read the quick synopsis. I mentioned my back pains to TM and figured in for a penny in for a pound. Big swells are no big deal....
Once we got to the bluffs, the size and strength of the water was obvious. TM had me take point along the bluffs. I asked how he wanted me to run it, inside near the rocks or outside in the swells. I hoped he would say outside. The swells were breaking with hull crushing force along the rocks and I have a very limited repair budget this year. Fortunately, TM didn't see any reason to take crazy risks.
I forged a path that was close to the bluffs, but outside the breakers. TM did have to slow me down though. I was feeling pretty good and settled into a rhythm that was a little too fast for everyone.
When we got to the edge of Bonnet Cove, TM scoped out the possibility for tucking in behind the rock just off the bluffs to get some shelter. At first glance it looked possible. There was a good size window between the swells that broke along the rock. It also looked like the big refracting wave on the inside of the rock was a kayak length beyond the rock. After a observing for a few minutes, TM decided it was a no go. The inside wave was too big and closer than it initially appeared. It was possible to get between the rock and the bluff and not be crushed by the return wave, but not probable.
It was the first of many good judgement calls on TM's part. The second good call was not trying to sneak through the rocks and into the Narrow River. It was another situation where if we did everything perfectly and the ocean cooperated, we would all have landed safely on the beach with ease. It was more likely that the group would have been split up or a kayak (or two) would have needed repairs.
Instead, we paddled along the coast looking for a place where we could land without battling 6 foot dumping waves. We knew that Pier 5 was a definite safety spot if we got stuck. As we paddled we discussed options for landing in these conditions if we had no choice but land. We came up with two: 1) a very well timed surf landing where you made sure to come in on the back of a wave and quickly got out of the kayak before the next wave dumped on top of you, 2) get out of the kayak and swim it in.
As we worked our way south it became obvious that a safe landing on the beach was not in the cards. At this point John Carmody asked if we needed to land. We did not need to land. He then asked if the risk of dumping surf was worth having lunch on this beach. It was not. So, TM turned us around and we headed for our usual Outer West Passage lunch spot.
Paddling with the swell behind us was faster than paddling into the swell. However, it is just as tiring. Going into the swells you can see what they are doing. Going with the swells means they sneak up behind you. Fortunately, everyone in our group was comfortable with following seas.
PB and I were the lead kayaks between Narragansett and Bonnet. We picked a line that split the distance between the coastline and Whale Rock. The swells were breaking a good distance out from the rocks along the coast and pounding Whale Rock.
After lunch John wanted to see TM bring a group into a surf beach, so we paddled over to Bonnet Shore Beach. The surf along the beach wasn't huge, but it was enough to make landing a little tricky. TM found us a good spot along the northern end of the beach. The waves were small, predictable, and not dumpy. He then lead us all safely to shore.
John Carmody wanted to get some surfing in before heading back home, so he decided to run an impromptu surf clinic. He asked each of us what frustrated the most about surfing and gave us one thing to work on while playing. For me it was timing the wave better so that I could get up enough speed to catch the wave without getting to far in front of it. For TM it was looking at where he was on the wave once he caught the wave.
As we worked in the surf, John would give us other little pointers to polish our control. He gave us one tip that really helped: when you catch the wave make sure the stern of the kayak is sticking out the back of the wave. If the stern is buried in the wave, the wave is in control and rudder strokes become ineffective. If the stern is sticking out, the rudder strokes are more effective.
Once safely back at the beach, TM was told that he passed the assessment with flying colors. It is a well deserved achievement. TM has long been one of the best (if not the best) trip leaders and teachers in the club. We have all learned a great deal from him.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Follow the Leader

Today we took a good group from Third Beach in Newport across the river to Little Compton to paddle along the rocky coast. The trip was pleasant and relaxing. It also offered a good lesson in giving directions that are too specific.
TM gave the group a compass bearing to follow when we crossed the river. He then promptly decided not to stick with the bearing. Conditions were different enough to require adjustments.
The result was that the group drifted apart. Half the group followed TM. The other half followed TM's directions.
Once I realized what was happening, I started corralling the direction followers. Each one said the same thing: "TM said to following a bearing of 340." I couldn't argue the point, he had given the directions. So, I made some joke about TM being too old to read the tiny compass numbers and got them to slide in with the rest of the group.
It is a classic question when reality and directions don't match. Do you follow the directions or the reality? When it comes to kayaking in a group, I usually default to following the leader and not the leader's directions. Plans change for reasons that are not always obvious and on the water communication is imperfect at best.
Of course, I'm not much for following directions at the best of times. (Not even the ones I write myself.)
So, when in doubt stick with the leader unless the rest of the group has also abandoned the leader. Then stick with safety in numbers.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Rough Water Rescue Practice

Greg Paquin and Paula did a free rough water rescues session for RICKA today. It was a chance for club members to get some experience doing rescues in close to rocks and in moderately rough water.
We started the class by swimming our kayaks out to deep water and doing a self-rescue. Greg demonstrated how to do a float assisted re-enter and roll hoping that people would try it. Few did. Those paddlers who had an unassisted re-enter and roll, did them. Those who didn't did either a cowboy or a paddle float outrigger. It was too bad because I think the paddle float assisted re-enter and roll is one of the most reliable self rescues out there. It works in most conditions and leaves the paddler with an outrigger for stability.
As we paddled towards the Bonnet Shores bluffs, Paula tested how the group responded to an unplanned rescue. The group had spread out a little and Paula was toward the back of the group. The paddlers around her responded quickly and organized a good rescue. The rest of the group immediately swarmed the rescue. I was up front and decided to just hold my position. There were plenty of people near Paula to do the rescue and the current and wind were going to push the rescue toward my position. I figured that an additional body swarming would just make things worse. A few other paddlers hung back with me.
Too many paddlers in the vicinity of a rescue can make the situation more dangerous. It makes it harder for the rescuers to maneuver. Rescues are typically done in areas that can unsettle paddlers and result in extra swimmers. More people swarming means more people to manage for the rescuers. It is best for paddlers not directly involved in the rescue to stay a good distance away from the rescue in a safe location.
After doing some rescues along the bluffs, Greg decided to have us cross the Bay and lunch on Jamestown. He surprised me by telling me to lead the group across the channel. I quickly picked a visual target on the Jamestown shore and figured out a compass bearing. I communicated both to the group and admonished them to stay together because we were crossing a major channel. Then I set out in the point position.
It didn't take long for the group to start spreading out. The faster paddlers, me included, quickly started pulling away from the slower paddlers. The spread wasn't too bad, but there was a ship barreling up the channel. The faster paddlers old easily cross its path before it passed us. I wasn't so sure about the slower paddlers. After some internal debate, I stopped the group to let the ship pass us.
Once we started paddling again, I had BH take the point position so I could float around the group more easily. I wanted to be able to better monitor the whole group and particularly the paddlers near the back of the group. It wasn't a bad idea since Greg and Paula were hanging near the back. They decided to do some towing practice. Because I was in the middle of the group, I could see that there was an issue and that it was being handled.
Greg's critique of my performance was positive overall. He didn't agree with my decision to make BH the point paddler halfway into the crossing. He felt that it could confuse a group. His advice was to lead from the front. I agree that changing things up halfway into the crossing was confusing, but I'm not sure I agree that leading from the front is always a good idea. Sometimes a leader needs to be in a position to observe the whole group and the front is not a great place to do that.
After lunch we spent some time paddling in the rocks along the Jamestown shore. The conditions were pretty mild and there were no more rescues. It was fun if not challenging.
The day was fun and everyone learned new things. I think it also helped the group form a tighter bond.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Rainy Delight

Since I haven't been getting much sleep lately, I decided to skip the annual Cuttyhunk trip on Saturday. The Cuttyhunk crossing can be a flat, snooze inducing slog or a windswept death march. Neither is much fun on less than five hours of sleep. (The amount of sleep we're getting is steadily improving, but is not back to the blissful eight hours.)
Much to my surprise, TM called me Saturday afternoon when I was sure that he would be in the middle of Buzzard Bay. (Sleep deprivation clouded my memory of him telling me that he would be getting back from vacation on Saturday.) He wanted to paddle on Sunday and was looking for company.
After checking with H to see if I could go and play, I checked the weather: 90% chance of rain with fog and likely thunder.....
TM convinced me that thunder was unlikely, and we'd take a route that would give us plenty of "options" if it did thunder. H looked skeptical, but didn't push the matter. For some odd reason she still thinks that we are sensible paddlers who wouldn't purposely endanger ourselves.
As predicted, Sunday was rainy and foggy. While we were getting ready and while we were packing up the rain kept to a pleasant drizzle. While we were paddling, the rain vacillated between drizzle and downpour.
It didn't really matter much. Paddling is a wet sport and we had plenty of wet weather gear to keep our core temp up. We both wore dry tops. In fact, the rain enhanced the outing in many ways. It meant that there was less boat traffic, we wouldn't need to rinse our gear out afterwards, and we wouldn't have to deal with a large group. The otherworldly look of the Bay on a gray day with a rainy sheen hovering over the water was an added bonus.
We didn't do anything terribly interesting before lunch. We used the time to practice paddling on a compass bearing and doing dead reckoning. We chatted about life. We worked on boat control. We spent some time working with the chart and compass trying to triangulate our location. Mostly we just ambled along the Jamestown coast and made our way northward.
After lunch, we decided to cross the Bay and head back to Bay Campus along the mainland. We took a bearing for Fox Island and headed out.
The crossing started out uneventful. The wind was picking up a little and the rain turned more constant. There was a little boat traffic running along the Jamestown side of the crossing.
A quarter of the way across we noticed the high-speed ferry heading towards open water. Initially we couldn't tell if we would make it across the ferry's path. We continued on our course, but kept a close eye on the rapidly approaching ferry. It didn't take us long to realize that we couldn't get across its path, but it looked like we might be right in its path. We took our best guess, stopped, and prayed we wouldn't need to rely on the Hogan maneuver (ducking while we paddle between the pontoons). Fortunately, it passed (closely) in front of us.
Once clear of the ferry, we changed course and headed for Rome Pt. The rain turned hard and the winds picked up more strength.
The paddle back to Bay Campus seemed long. We were paddling into a beamy headwind and against the current. I'm also out of shape. Fortunately, the water had some bounce in it which kept things interesting.
Back at Bay Campus, the puddles around our cars kept growing. By the time we returned we had no dry access to either car. It shouldn't have been a big deal since we were already wet, but there was a least one spent condom floating in the puddle (I think people who don't have the sense to throw spent condoms in the trash should be forced to spend the day standing in a mud puddle that has a few spent condoms floating in it). I found the shortest path to my driver side door, hopped in my car and moved it away from the puddle. I just couldn't stand the idea of stepping in it more than once.
Even with the rain and the condom, it was a much needed refresher. I needed the paddle time to recharge and prepare to face another week of being bored in my neon closet.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Pushing It

Some paddles are made for pushing the envelope. The venue offers opportunity, the weather offers conditions, and the group offers safety. I knew that TM's Kings beach paddle usually offers opportunity, but the forecast didn't look like their would be conditions. Fortunately forecasts are frequently wrong.
From the beach, conditions looked benign. Once we paddle beyond the cove, we discovered that some good sized swells were rolling in from the Atlantic. Instead of zero foot seas we had pushy two foot seas. Perfect for playing in the rocks with a comfortable amount of risk.
The fun got started early. Ten minutes into the paddle TM was doing a rescue. One of the paddlers got surprised by a wave and took a swim. While that rescue was going down, another paddler nearly surfed into a second paddler. Fortunately, the surfer had the forethought to flip himself over before impact. The surfer recovered with an impressive combat roll.
I was feeling pretty good (it could have been a lack of sleep delusion) and wanted to play, so I donned my melon protector. With my skull covered, I got up close and personal with the rocks. It was a blast dodging rocks and trying to time the swells just right.
Before lunch, I had my first encounter with a mistimed swell. I lined up on what the paddlers before me made look easy. As I commenced my run a bigger swell wrapped around rock. It pushed me in close to rock. Before I could maneuver my bow into position and get out of the slot a second swell wrapped around and pushed me against the rock. I was trapped. The stick didn't provide enough grab to over power the swells holding me against the rocks. My only option was to use a combination of braces and reverse strokes to back my way out of the slot. I kept my cool and slipped out of the slot. Then I lined up the run again and shot through.
On the way to lunch, another paddler got tossed by a surprise set of swells. A group of us paddled through and area with barely submerged rocks and caught some nice rides on the breaking waves. As the last paddler of the group passed through the area, a big set of swells ran through the area. The paddler was surprised and got tossed. He also managed a sweet combat roll and rejoined the group.
After lunch, we returned along the same route but found more chances to get into trouble. A group of us ran a nice slot along the shore. I was the last of group to run the slot, and once again mistimed the swells. As I reached the mouth of the slot a big set of swells wrapped around the offshore rock. The first swell pushed me into the rocky shore. The second swell trapped me against the rocks. The third swell flipped me over.
I tried to set up for a roll, but there was no room. So, I bailed. Once out of the kayak, I grabbed the stern toggle, dragged the kayak off the rocks and swam into the calmer water behind the rocks.
BH was quick to respond. He assessed the situation and decided to get me into the kayak as quickly as possible. We were still fairly close to the rocks and the swells were pretty big, so he decided to forgo emptying the cockpit. He checked to make sure I could paddle a swamped kayak before executing the plan, and then had me climb into my kayak. We then parted ways before being pushed into the rocks. I paddled off shore where the swells were smaller, rafted up with CC, and pumped out my kayak.
It was a well executed rescue. The rescuer assessed the situation quickly, and decided on a course of action that got the swimmer out of the water as quickly as possible. If the swimmer couldn't manage a a loaded kayak, an anchor tow could have been used to keep the rafted kayaks off the rocks while the doing the emptying.
The paddle was one of the top paddlers of the year. It was exciting and challenging.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Chasing Two Stars

This may sound hypocritical given that I've previously said that chasing BCU stars is silly for recreational sea kayakers, but I really wanted to nail my BCU 2 Star assessment.
Last summer I took a 2 Star training with H. Greg Paquin was doing a series of 2 Star trainings and a number of the RICKA sea kayakers took the training over the course of the summer. It is a good overview of basic boat control skills. H and I can always use a brush up on basic skills.
Greg, and his partner Paula, do a great job teaching people across various levels of experience and skills. Both H and I enjoyed the class and got a lot out of it.
At the end of the day, Greg offered us the chance to assess for the 2 Star award. The RICKA paddlers who taken earlier sessions had all taken the assessment and passed, so I figured I should take it as well. I also figured it shouldn't be too difficult to pass....
Well, at the time I choked and didn't pass. I spent the winter and part of the summer smarting from that. I know that I've got the same basic skill level as the paddlers who passed the assessment, but just couldn't get my act together enough to assess. Getting the 2 Star became important As a point of personal pride.
So, I practiced the basic skills whenever I had the chance. When Greg offered me a chance to assess this past weekend, I jumped at it. I was a little worried that I'd choke again, but was willing to take the chance. One thing I had going for me was that I was too tired, babies are not conducive to sleeping, to over think things.
Greg ran me through the paces and this time I passed. One of the nice parts of the assessment is that it is more than a test. Greg pointed out areas where I can improve my skills throughout the exercise. For example, he pointed out that I don't consistently face my work.
Now that I've assessed for the 2 Star, I'm actually thinking about taking the 3 Star assessment..... After taking the training again.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Friday is for Fun

I missed the kayaking fun over the fourth of July weekend because H and I were off having a wholly different adventure. The following weekend was filled with family adventures and adjusting to the reality of having a small child.
So when BH sent an e-mail around asking if anyone was interested in playing in the lunar currents at Westport at the end of the week, I immediately asked for permission to paddle. H, knowing that I could easily go mad without regular ocean adventures, granted me a day pass with the condition that I didn't do anything stupid. (Imagine me doing something stupid.)
The weather was perfect for a paddle: hot and sunny. We met at 1:30 and took our time getting on the water. I, as usual, took more time that the others. I was in a bit of a sleep deprived fog which I hear wears off when the kids turn twenty five.
We paddled down to he mouth of the river and found things to be pretty calm. We puttered around for a bit while the current built up. BH and JS were itching for some big surf, but I was more than happy to putter for a bit. I just enjoyed the freedom of being on the water.
The race never built up any good standing waves, but it did offer some nice conditions for practicing skills. We played with leaning the kayak when crossing eddy lines. TM and I did some rolling in the current. I practiced some basic boat control stuff.
It was enough to ease back in after a two week hiatus. Also, my head was not fully in the game. Half of my mind was thinking about the bug. It was strange and wonderful at the same time. This will take some adjustment time.
I enjoyed my time on the water and returned home recharged. Paddling, while not as important or as enriching as family, plays a big part in maintaining my sanity. Still going home was extra nice.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Long Two

When a paddled is listed as a 2/3 you can never tell what you are going to get. When it leaves from the Bay Campus the possibilities are limitlessly good.
The possibilities were reflected in the number of paddlers who showed up. For the first time in a while a RICKA paddle have twenty plus paddlers. The group ran the gamut from old hats to new faces.
The large group size and open ended trip description was exciting. However, I was very glad that I was not on the hook for coordinating the trip. Any group of paddlers presents coordination problems (there is a reason it is called herding cats). A large, diverse group exacerbates the issues. Balancing the desires of the advanced paddlers with the needs of newer paddlers, ensuring that everyone enjoys themselves, maintaining safety, communicating plans across twenty kayaks..... Not an easy task. CC and RB managed to pull it off with aplomb by staying firm, but flexible.
We started out by crossing from the Bay Campus to Ft. Getty and then working our way south along Jamestown. The light winds and small swell meant that the newer paddlers could comfortably get some open water feel. The rocky shore line offered the more adventurous paddlers a chance to play.
I took it easy and just worked on my forward stroke and edge control. I needed some calming Zen time. Life has been stressful lately and many of the stresses are outside my sphere of control. Kayaking offers a nice balance between control and no control. It happens in real time. The ocean is beyond control, but how the kayak responds to the ocean is controlled. The awareness helps me bring the rest of life back into perspective.
We lunched on a low tide beach before reaching Beavertail.
After lunch we turned north and returned up the coast following our original path. Once we reached Ft. Getty, we continued on to circle Dutch Island. We hoped that we could catch a glimpse of the air show from the northern tip of Dutch Island.
We stopped at the northern beach on Dutch Island. Most of us got out of the kayaks and lounged on the beach and watched for planes. I decided to perform stupid kayak tricks along with a few others. I tried and, somehow, pulled off a forward finishing pry roll. I nearly did a butterfly roll. My regular roll was in fine form.
The return to Bay Campus was the only real challenge of the day. The wind had picked up and was blowing west to east-in our face. The wind was not blowing fierce, but it was blowing consistently. With a large group wind makes sticking together requires the advanced paddlers to ramp down to the pace of the slower paddlers. If the advanced paddlers take off, the slower paddlers struggle to keep up, tire out quickly, and start making mistakes. All in all we did a good job keeping it together.
Back at the beach, I tried a few more pry rolls. None of them were successful, but they were close. I need to spend some more time working on the technique. You cannot power a pry roll, it is all about getting your body to move through the right positions and using its buoyancy to roll the kayak.
To finish the day on a positive note, I did a few regular sweep rolls. They were perfect.
Not a bad way to spend a day.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Safety Practice 2010

I like the annual safety practice. It is valuable to get the the group of people you paddle with together to practice rescues. It is also good to teach newer paddlers basic rescues.
One of the things I learned at the RWS is that when the poop hits the fan knowing how the people with you react is invaluable. It helps when deciding what options are open. It makes it easier to coordinate. It also helps your general confidence.
Paddlers who know how to do rescue and how to be rescued are generally calmer in emergency situations.
The one rescue I never liked was using a stirrup. I know it can help a swimmer get back in their boat, but it also leaves them encircled by a loop of rope. I'd much rather just use a scoop to stuff the swimmer in the cockpit or find some other way to get them to climb out of the water.
Speaking of the scoop... It is hard to manage with a heavier paddler. TM demoed the scoop using H as his rescue dummy and made it look easy. When I tried stuffing him back in his kayak I nearly busted a gut. It took a while to find that sweet spot on his hull where I could get the leverage I needed to right his kayak.
One nice trick TM showed us was leaving the paddler face down on the deck when doing the scoop. It makes keeping the swimmer low to their deck. It also means you don't have to risk damaging a possibly injured back as much.
You can always learn new tricks!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

RWS Day Three

H, who did a girl's paddle with CC and MA, snuck into the campground Saturday night to get some snuggle time. Unfortunately, what she got, was sleeping in the car. There were thunder storms in the area, and, as I discovered using a quick Google search, tents offer zero protection in thunder storms. In fact, you may be safer outside the tent than inside the tent. So, we repaired to the car to wait the storm out, and spent the night there.
Fortunately for me, I can sleep just about anywhere and managed to get enough sleep to be ready for a third day of hard paddling. The lack of sleep may have dulled the ache from my overworked muscles. I was a little more stiff and my back was beginning to hurt, but all in all I felt pretty good.
Turner and Cherri were still around, so I intended to learn as much as possible. My plan was to work on my forward finishing roll, and, possibly, sneak in some stroke work.
The venue for the day was once again the Narrow River mouth. With the new tide rip that forms at max ebb, the mouth of the Narrow River is a one stop shop for the gamut of kayaking conditions. It has currents, a tide race, surf, and rocks a plenty. Even the Brits were impressed with it.
Cherri and Turner used the morning for rolling work. They started off with Cherri demoing the basic rolls. Her rolls are things of beauty. They are effortless and graceful.
After the demonstration, the split us up into teams of two and had us start practicing. They worked through he group offering tips and pointers to everyone. It worked out well. They got a chance to see where people needed help, and we got to simply practice and integrate their comments.
The basic forward finishing roll is a pry roll that looks a lot like a low brace. The foundation skill is a chest scull where you scull face into he water. While it sounds counterintuitive, it actually provides a lot of power. The trickiest part for me is getting my shoulders square to the water without pulling the kayak on top of me. From the chest scull, you roll up by prying the blade across the front deck and driving your knee up to right the kayak. It takes a lot of stomach strength and body control.
The first lesson for me was taking the time to make sure the kayak side of the blade was deep and my shoulders were square. The blade points out of the water away from the kayak so that when you pry the blade across the deck, it provides leverage. Once you begin the pry, you need to keep your face down and sweep your nose across your knee as your knee finishes righting the kayak. It is a little like an upside down twisting crunch. I managed to do a few, but I tired out quickly. It is something I will need to practice at the pond over the summer.
After lunch we started off doing basic strokes in the river. It was a nice warm up, but not terribly rewarding. Apparently, my strokes are pretty good. I did practice my draws and other strokes in the hopes of polishing them up enough to pass the two star this summer.
Once Turner and Cherri were comfortable that everyone in the group could handle the race, we headed out the mouth of the river. The race was mayhem. There were close to twenty kayakers trying to work the race and they were not well coordinated. Turner was insistent that we follow a clear pattern of running the race and pealing off to the side to retune to the head of the race. We were not to paddle up the center of the race because we would get in the way of someone playing in the waves. I did see one accident where a kayaker surfed into a pair trying to return up the middle of the race. The surfer dumped before there was a collision, but it was close. It also meant that a rescue needed to be done in the middle of the race.
After trying to get a few runs in the race and being frustrated by not being able to find any clear paths, I moved south down the beach to join a group that was surfing in the shore break. The conditions were small, but good. The waves were predictable and breaking a nice distance off shore. I caught a few sweet rides. One in particular was near perfect. It was a long smooth ride where I was in total control of the kayak. I should have called it a day after that, but was in the grip of surf fever.
The surfing was an perfect end to a challenging and educational weekend on the water.
The coaches and organizers did a great job of putting the event together. If they do it again next year, I highly recommend it.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

RWS Day Two

I was pleasantly surprised about how my body felt on Saturday morning. I haven't paddled as hard as I did on Friday in a long time, so I expected to be stiff to the point that even thinking about squeezing into the Q-boat would trigger back spasms. I was a little sore and stiff, but more than ready for a second day on the water.
The big question for the day was what to do on the water. I initially planned on taking a strokes clinic with Jen Kleck and Phil Kleg, but it looked like half of the paddlers at the symposium had the same idea. The Greenland Paddling with Turner and Cherri also looked to be bulging at the seams. TM beckoned me over to the Incident Management class with Peter Jones and Ciro de la Vega. There were only four other paddlers in the group and Pete is a renowned for his incident management coaching. Since all three of the classes I was interested in were going to the Narrow River, I stayed on the fence until the very last minute.
I decided to stick with TM for incident management. We were joined by BH and RB as well.
In the morning we did a lot of towing exercises in the new Narrow River tide race. All of the tows were easiest if you could get into the eddy along the rocks. When you got sucked into the race proper things got tougher. Maneuvering a contact tow is tricky enough in clam water, in a tidal race it is a whole lot tougher. When doing long tows the danger is that the kayak in the tow is more likely to dump in rough water and towing a raft is just that much more demanding.
One thing I learned was that when using a long tow, you really (really) need to plan your route when maneuvering. I was towing RB into the race on my long tow and ran him into the rocks. My plan was to get in tight to the rocks to capitalize on the eddy and cut the turn tight. What I forgot was that the kayak on the end of my tow would end up cutting the corner even tighter and end up on the rock. What I should have done was taken the corner wider and picked a line that would bring me and the tow into the eddy straight on.
The contact tow through the race was interesting because it is a lot more stable than I thought it would be. The two kayaks together are more stable than a solo kayak.
The craziest thing we did was a five paddler tandem tow through the race. It worked surprisingly well except for the other classes trying to work the race as we came through. BH, who was behind me in the chain, got caught up with another couple who were practicing contact tows. When I felt the yank on my tow belt, I immediately pulled my quick release and dropped him from the tow. Once I cleared the race and was clipped out of the tow, I circled around to make sure BH and the coaches, who were the raft at the end of the tow, were OK (and to get my tow belt). Once I saw that they were good (and had my tow belt back) I went off the play in the race. Meanwhile, the rest of the class was hiding behind the rocks in the eddy working very hard to ignore BH as he finished towing the coaches out of the race....
After playing in the race for a bit and eating lunch we headed towards Whale Rock to do some rescue practice. We did a few rescues near rocks which was fun.
We also learned a fun new way to empty a kayak on the water. You have the victim climb behind the rescuer motorcycle style. While the victim sits on the back deck, the rescuer, empties out the swamped kayak. Then the victim climbs back into their nice dry kayak. If the rescuer has a firm grip on the swamped kayak before the victim climbs on the back deck, it is surprisingly stable. The victim is out of the water which is always good.
The afternoon dose of crazy was supplied by having the whole group land on a rock. Getting on the rock was surprisingly easy. One at a time, a kayaker would get out of their kayak, clip their tow line to their kayak, a second kayaker would clip their tow line into the swimmer's kayak, and the swimmer would swim into the rock. Once on the rock, the swimmer would haul into the rock and disconnect the second kayaker's tow line. The second tow line is used to keep the kayak from surfing into the rock and the swimmer.
The only tricky bit is getting the last kayaker on the rock since there is nobody else to keep their kayak from crashing into them. We solved this problem by having the last kayaker, who happened to be BH, surf up onto the rock where we snagged his kayak and stabilized it while he climbed out. I thought that somebody was going to die pulling it off, but it worked surprisingly well.
Getting off the rock didn't go so well. Getting off the rock involves hooking your tow belt to your kayak, tossing the kayak into the water, and jumping in after it. Once in the water, you use the tow line to reign in your kayak and renter it.
Our plan was to have BH go in the water first because his kayak was in the best spot for getting back in the water. Since he cannot re-enter and roll, the second person in the water would do an all-in rescue with him. BH got in the water without a hitch, but the second person in the water forgot to clip his kayak to the tow line and it floated away. Things were still OK because TM was queued up to quickly get in the water, capture the run away kayak, and pop BH back into his kayak. However, the second kayaker decided he would swim for his kayak which is where the whole endeavor went from not pretty to downright ugly. We now had three out of five kayakers in the water and a run away kayak. TM managed to get the run away kayak back and BH did managed to get back into his kayak. I'm not entirely sure how because I was busy getting back into my kayak.
Peter pointed out that the biggest reason things went completely pear shaped was lack of communication and planning. He stressed that planning and communication were the best tools for managing incidents. He reviewed CLAP(Communication, Line of sight, Avoidance, Position) with us as well. The best way to manage an incident is to avoid them. Before taking a group into a situation be sure they can handle it and communicate the plan to the whole group.
One other helpful hint Pete gave us was to take your time. If you blow your first roll, stop and collect your wits before rushing to try the second roll. If you end up in a situation, take the time to figure out a plan before simply acting.

Friday, June 11, 2010

RWS Day One

We started off at 8am with a review of the conditions and the chance to pick our poison. I was signed up for Surf & Rescue, but there was a chance that Turner and Cherri would only be here for one day. Since getting some instruction on sticks in rough water was more important than surfing, I chose to go with Turner and Cherri.
They were using Narrow River as their venue. It gave them calm water for teaching rolling and moving water for teaching other stuff. I was looking to do the other stuff.
The conditions at the mouth of the river were fun. The tide created a nice little race near the first set of rocks and the surf was decent. We spent a good amount of the morning playing in the race. I caught a number of good runs. It was tiring at first, but as the day wore on I loosened up.
Turner found a consistent standing wave right next to the big rock and kept telling me to run it. I was pulling right all morning, so I didn't think my chances of staying to the left of the rock were good. The chances of me folding the Q-boat on the rock was pretty good though. I did not try the run.
After playing in the race we worked south down the beach looking for some surf. We found a pretty good spot with 5ft breakers. I got several ni e rides there as well.
While we were in the surf Turner asked if I had a forward finishing roll. I don't. So he showed me the building block skill for the front finishing roll: chest sculling. You scull while face down in the water. It is unerving and completely counter intuitive. It also has a lot of power when done properly. To really do it right you need to turn your shoulders flat to the water (Turner said to think of your shoulders like a paddle, if there at an angle they will dive.) I'm not the most flexble guy, so rotating that much was tricky. I also locked my off water leg on the combing, so when I really cranked my shoulders around I pulled the boat right on top of myself. It took a few tries before I got the gist of it. A couple of hours in a pond and I just might get it to work.
After lunch we paddled up the north coast a ways to get a feel for how water moves near rocks. Since I paddle that area on a regular basis there were no surprises. It was nice and bumpy though.
I cannot say I learned a lot today, but I did learn a few things. I did get to watch Turner paddle. He is amazingly fliud in the water. He has impecable control and never appears to be wasting energy. It is amazing to watch. I also got to play in some fun water. It sure beats working.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Waterproof IPad Cases?

I've been wondering the same thing.... Waterproof IPad Cases?

Saturday, May 22, 2010

3-Star Redux

Greg Paquin, owner of Kayak Waveology, ran a BCU 3-star training this weekend in Stonington, CT. I've known Greg for a number of years and think he is a great coach, so I was thrilled to have the opportunity to take the training with him. My only concern was that I'm in piss poor physical condition.
I knew PB was taking the course, so I decided I'd be able to tough it out. I need the time on the water to get ready for the symposium in a few weeks. Getting some coaching was an added bonus.
3-star training takes the basics learned in the 2-star training and begins focusing them on sea kayaking. Paddlers learn to use strokes in typical sea conditions and moderate wind. They also begin learning navigation, how to monitor sea and weather conditions, and basic group management. There is also a focus on more advanced rescue skills like towing and rough water rescues. There is less focus on technical perfection and more focus on managing yourself on the sea.
Greg started us off with a land based review of basic trip planning and navigation. We mapped out our course for the morning, reviewed the prevailing conditions, and learned a good deal about how the currents in and around Stonington work. The navigation work was a welcome refresher. I know the basics, but since I don't use them regularly, it can take me a bit before I dig the skills out of the basement. The current information was fascinating.
Once on the water we headed from Stonington to Napatree Point. On the way we did some basic skill drills, but mostly we just paddled.
At Napatree we spent sometime doing boat control work in the pylons of an old dock. We used all of the strokes to maneuver through the maze. I managed to ram a pylon by mistiming a bow rudder.
Greg also had us try maneuvering through pylons by paddling on one side of the kayak. This is one of those areas were a stick doesn't shine. Everyone had some trouble, but found that if they paddled on the leeward side of their kayak it would work. I just couldn't get enough purchase to make anything work. It could also just be that I simply didn't get the skill.
After the pylons, we headed around the point to find a lunch spot. Greg used the conditions at the point to talk about "silent leadership". The idea is that newer, or weaker, paddlers will always follow a stronger paddler. So in a situation where the group needs to avoid a danger spot, the leader will paddle at the front of the group on a path that will keep the group out of trouble. If it is a long route, the leader would do this in hops-paddle part way and wait, then paddle to another spot on the route and wait.
Before landing for lunch we played beach tag. You catch a wave to surf into the beach, but you do not land on the beach. Instead, just before beaching, you back off of the wave and reverse paddle back to the edge of the surf zone. It is hard work for a number of reasons. Timing the wave properly is tricky and backing through a wave is physically hard. The hardest part is resisting the urge to keep the ride going.
After lunch we worked on rescues. Initially we talked about different towing situations: contact tows, anchor tows, assisted tows, etc. It was a good review of stuff TM makes us practice all the time.
While we were reviewing the towing, we spotted a kayaker out of his kayak in some nearby rocks. I raced in to do the rescue figuring it would be pretty simple. What I discovered was that Greg had arranged this to be a scenario where the swimmer had a head injury. I had RC anchoring the rescue. Once I realized the swimmer was not going to be much help getting himself back into the kayak, I decided to go for the scoop rescue. All was going well until I couldn't get his kayak righted. I was out of position and didn't have the leverage. There was a paddler off to my side and I asked him to assist by having the swimmer rest on his bow to relieve some of the weight and help me right the kayak. I didn't know that the other kayak couldn't help because he was busy pulling off my back hatch. Eventually, I dumped the swimmer back in the water and talked him through climbing over the deck of his and my kayak so I could guide him into his cockpit. With the swimmer in his kayak I got RC to switch the tow so he could get us to shore.
As RC towed us to shore, I kept talking to the swimmer to monitor his condition. Then the swimmer flopped backwards and into the water. At this point I asked Greg, who was the nearest kayaker, to assist getting the swimmer out of the water. I was stuck in a tow trying to handle my waterlogged kayak and the swimmer's kayak. We got the swimmer out of the water and draped across the stern of the three kayaks before Greg called an end to the scenario.
Once freed from the tow, I started making my way, shakily, back to shore. I needed to empty out my hatch. Greg had a different plan. He had me use the stern of his kayak as leverage to essentially flip my kayak over while he lifted the stern out of the water. Once the hatch was mostly empty, we resealed it and started back to Stonington.
Along the way we practiced self-rescues and Eskimo rescues. It was fun and my roll held up well. The only problem was that my dry suit leaks and I got cold quickly.
At the end of the day, I had Greg show me how to do a scoop rescue. It turns out that you need to put most of your weight in front of the swimmer's cockpit and keep the swimmer against their back deck. He also showed me that if you use the deck lines in front of the cockpit as handholds in a regular rescue, you get a lot more leverage.
By the time we landed, the students were exhausted. It was a great day of learning on the water.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Mondays are Made for Paddling

The few glimmers of summer have got everyone antsy and looking for excuses to paddle. On Saturday, TM began lobbying for a Monday outing and before we left the Java Madness we were all on board. The plan was to paddle out the Westport River from the town boat launch and explore the coast - a favorite plan of ours.
The plan counted on the currents flowing out of the river in the morning and turning around noon to carry us back up the river. We checked the NOAA site from the deck of Java Madness using my iPhone and everything seemed to line up. BH checked the currents on Sunday evening and found them to be basically the opposite of what I found on Saturday. He thought I had just gotten them reversed (which I do regularly). It was actually much more stupid: I had read the currents for January 17th.
Fortunately, Westport offers a number of good put ins. After some discussion on Monday morning we decided to simply drive down the road to Gooseberry Neck and paddle east towards the Slocum River and a pond entrance that can offer some interesting conditions on the right tides. I didn't really care about the possible conditions; I just wanted to get some time in the kayak.
The weather cooperated with my needs. The wind was light and the seas calm. On the way to the pond we found some rocks to play in, but mostly we just paddled. It was nice to stretch out and work the forward stroke.
The pond entrance had a little current and a little surf, but nothing to get excited about. We spent ten minutes attempting to entertain ourselves before setting out in search of a lunch spot.
After lunch the weather stopped cooperating. The winds picked up and we had to paddle home in a headwind.
I've paddled into heavier winds before, but today this wind wore me down. I am in the worst condition I've been in for a very long time and my forty one year old body does not take kindly to being thrown into the fire. It is a reminder that I need to work at keeping my body fit if I want to continue participating in sports.
When we got back to the beach I did a few rolls to build my confidence. They were smooth and relatively painless. I still have the mojo, I just need to recondition my body to use it.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Time to Get a Little Crazy

There are weekends where the club has a nice, but easy, paddle planned when the more adventurous (crazy) paddlers are looking for some action. This weekend happened to be one of those weekends. The club paddle was a level two paddle in the upper Bay. It is a pleasant area and it offered a chance to just zone out. That just was not what I needed in a weekend paddle.
I wanted something with a little more distance and a lot more challenge, so I contacted TM to try and organize a trip to fit my needs. He was more than accommodating. We settled on doing some rough water practice along the rocks between Narragansett and Whale Rock. It would be a good warm up for the symposium in June. We also roped in BH, PB,and RB. Five is a better number than two when planning to bounce around near rocks.
We launched under the Rt. 1a bridge and paddled out to the Bay. The put-in provides easy access to the surf off of the beach and the rocks. Since the plan was to practice in rough water, we didn't need a lot of additional distance.
The day started off inauspiciously. The air temp was in the 70s and I was encased in "breathable" nylon and a hard plastic melon case. The sweat was pouring off me before we even started moving. By the time we got to the beach my eyes were full of sweat and sunblock. I tried to just ride it out and let my eyes flush themselves. That is never a good idea. I was bobbing in surf, small surf, essentially blind. It didn't take long before I gave up the ghost and landed so I could flush my eyes with fresh water.
Once I could see again, we started doing rescue practice. TM wanted to practice doing rescues near the rocks. His scenario was one swimmer, one rescuer, and one tower. The rescuer gets the swimmer back into their kayak while the tower keeps them from washing into the rocks. It is effective when the rescuer and tower can perform their roles without endangering themselves or the swimmer.
We ran through the drill nine or ten times. We each did a rescue and a tow. I don't think we did it perfectly once. Most of the time we ran through the drill everything went smoothly, but not text book. For example, the rescuer is supposed to manage the swimmer's kayak by its bow. I managed it by the stern because maneuvering to get the bow would have wasted time. There were a few times where the tower hooked into the rescuer's bow instead of their stern. None of these things stop the rescue from working, they just make it a little less efficient. In the moment, the most efficient rescue is the one that gets the swimmer in their kayak and away from the hazard.
After the rescues, we played in the rocks. The conditions were tame. The swells were small with a long period. It was fine for me. I'm not in good enough shape to battle big swells with any fine grained control. The little swells gave me a chance to break in the old muscles.
Before heading into the river for the slog back to bridge, we played in the wee surf at the beach. While doing low braces outside the surf zone, I missed one and then missed my roll. Mortified, I decided to do some more rolls to get my mojo back. It wasn't the best idea.
I did manage one ugly roll. Then I blew another roll. I gave it the old college try and reset before bailing. The second attempt didn't go much better. TM was close by and saved me from having to wet exit. I grabbed his bow and did an Eskimo rescue.
The paddle up river was a world class slog. There was a steady head wind and the current was pouring out of the river. I'm not a fan of paddling into head winds or currents. My aching, out of shape muscles were finished after the short slog.
I was thrilled to get out on the water and do some challenging paddling. I was not thrilled at how much my conditioning slid this winter. I'm going to need to do a lot more paddling to get in shape for the symposium next month. Four weeks is a lot of paddling.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Spring Warm-up

This weekend was an embarrassment of riches. The weather was lovely both days and there were two opportunities to paddle. Saturday offered a potentially challenging paddle along the Newport beaches. Sunday offered an easy paddle on the Narrow River.
I needed to finish the Spring yard work (1st Mow, fertilizing, mulching, etc.) on one of the days, so I had to choose. Since I have not been on the water much this year, I choose the calmer of the two trips.
I figured that there was no need to push things this early in the year. I'll have plenty of opportunities for that latter. I wanted something easy to loosen the joints and give me some space to practice.
The Narrow River trip is TM's spring warm up paddle (although he has broken with tradition this year and started paddling early). It is always a nice way to work back into the boat. The trip offers a little distance and, typically, a chance to fight current and wind. The river is never rough, so one can practice all sorts of crazy boat control tricks with little fear. One can also work the forward stroke.
It was a small group of five since most of the RICKA regulars paddled on Saturday. Nobody was in much of a hurry or wanted to push the limits, so it looked like it would be a leisurely trip.
The journey up river was with the current and the wind. We made good time and expended minimal energy. I took the time getting the feel of my new paddle and practicing boat control strokes. Every so often, I'd do a hanging draw or a bow rudder. I played with stern rudders and cross-deck strokes as well. I enjoyed the practice.
Just before lunch TM wanted to switch paddles. He took the mighty stick and left me with his crank shaft Lendal Kinetic Touring. I have a similar paddle as a back up and think it is the best Euro blade I've used (sadly, it is no longer in production). TM's paddle is longer than mine, but it felt good. I immediately slipped into the circle of power and dashed across the water. The mighty stick is mighty, but the Kinetic Touring is powerful. The Kinetic Touring is not as graceful though.
We lunched on a shaded beach at the end of the river. Lounging on the beach eating left over pizza started melting away the winter crust. It was relaxing enough to mask the building wind.
After a stirring defense of government's role in society, we headed back down the river. I expected the trip down river to be as relaxing as the trip up river. I forgot that we hadn't been out long enough for the current to turn and that the afternoon invariably has an onshore wind. It didn't take long to realize that we'd have to work to get home.
TM eased some of the work by using me as a towing dummy. He wanted to practice different towing scenarios. He hooked me into two different contact tow positions (me facing him and me facing forward). Then he did the long tow.
I wanted to give the contact tows a tries as well, so TM loaned me his short tow rope.
I first hooked TM up in a tow so that he was in front of me and facing me. The short tow rope kept his bow tight to my boat and he draped over my bow. This position works really well. The kayaks stay tight together and are reasonably maneuverable. The rescuer can also see and talk to the other paddler.
The second position I tried was hooking the bow of TM's boat to a a point just in front of my cockpit and TM draped over the stern of my boat. TM was facing forward, but was positioned behind me. The two kayaks were slightly easier to paddle, but I didn't like not being able to see the person I was assisting. If the person being assisted was in distress the rescuer wouldn't have an easy way to monitor their condition.
We slowly made our way back to the cars. It is easy to forget that in wind fast paddlers can quickly out pace slower paddlers. The natural inclination is paddle harder, so fast paddlers go faster while slower paddlers don't. A group spreads out fast. It takes practice and a conscious effort to slow down, but it must be done. Not only does not slowing down spread the group out, it also wears out the slower paddlers. They struggle to keep up, wear down, and the chances of trouble go up.
Our group never had to worry about the potential for trouble. It was a short, calm paddle. The group was strong, but there was speed differences. Practicing when a skill isn't needed is the best way to make sure it is there when it is needed.
Today's paddled was a nice warm-up. Now I'm ready to get into some trouble...

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Recreational Adventure Liability

We had the spring RICKA sea kayaking pot luck on Saturday evening. It was as usual, a good time. It is always fun to see people after a long winter break and plan summer time fun.
As is typical at this gathering, the conversation trended towards liability. The sad fact of the matter is that one of the risks a trip leader (or coordinator) faces, in addition to the plethora of seafaring risks, is the the risk of being sued if something goes wrong and a paddler is injured. None of us are payed and, as far as I know, wealthy enough to shrug off being sued.
Our groups approach to the issue has always been to dance around it. We make sure the guidelines for joining a club trip and the expectations of paddlers on a trip on the Web site. Before leaving the beach, most leaders review the float plan, the predicted weather conditions and sea state, and the expectations of the participants. We are also very clear that we are volunteers and not paid guides. I usually point out that I don't have any credentials or certifications as well.
The idea is that if we are clear that we are amateurs, people will be less likely to sue and it would be less likely that a lawsuit would stick. It leaves leaders who do have professional certifications and/or credentials in a tricky spot since they are not really amateurs even if they are volunteering to lead or just along for a recreational paddle. That, however, is not a problem the club can really solve. Paddler's with professional credentials need to be aware of the risks of joining a club paddle and decide for themselves if they are willing to risk it. I doubt the club could protect them in a lawsuit if it tried.
Interestingly, two people at the meeting had spent Friday at an all day liability seminar for outdoor recreational clubs and shared their impressions. It was informative.
Everything from here out is just my rehashing of their rehashing of information gleaned from the conference on Friday. The people who went to the conference are not lawyers. I am not a lawyer. What follows should not be taken as legal guidance.
The biggest take away, and the most obvious, is that anyone can sue anyone for just about anything. Nothing you can do can shield you from being sued. If I broke a toenail on a flatwater trip, I could sue the coordinator for not ensuring my toenails were safe. (A judge would most definitely toss such a suit, but I could still bring it.)
The good news is that, according to our reps at the conference, there is no case law about clubs, or volunteers leading club trips, being sued. That means that nobody has ever actually been sued for this kind of activity.
Of course there is always a first time.... So what can one do to protect themselves in the case of being sued? It sounds like the best thing to do is due diligence. Inform trip participants of the known risks involved in the planned activity and the expectations for participation. To really CYA, make the participants sign a statement acknowledging the inherent risk of the activity. If a participant sues, you can prove that they knew there was a risk of injury and knowing accepted that risk. This will go along way towards making you look like you should not be held responsible (as long as you were not grossly negligent.)
People asked about waivers that state the participants waive their right to sue the leader or the club. It sounded like they were less than useless. A waiver won't stop someone from suing, and judges apparently don't like it when you ask someone to sign away a right to sue. It makes you look guilty....
The acknowledgment of risk form, on the other hand, doesn't try to absolve anyone of guilt before hand. It just states that participants are aware of the inherent risks involved in an activity.
The other thing that was mentioned as a possible way to shield coordinators and the club from liability was adopting what is called the "common adventure" model. In the "common adventure" model there is no coordinator or leader. A trip participants are merely doing an activity in proximity to one another and if coordination is required, it is done as a democracy. The problem with the "common adventure" model, from a liability stand point (I have a host of problems with it from a club standpoint), is that is very easy to slip outside the bounds of the model. According to the conference attendees, any activity that is done on the auspices of a club is not a common adventure. Also, as soon as one member of the group takes what can be reasonably assumed as a leadership role, the adventure is no longer a "common adventure". Also, it does not shield you from liability. If someone wanted to sue, they still could.
The one thing the "common adventure" model does do, and what RICKA's use of coordinator and repeated statements that we are uncertified volunteers does, is, in theory, make us look like people who don't have a strong organization with lots of money behind us. It makes us less likely to be targets of a law suit because there is no big purse we can dip into. Why sue a yahoo sea kayaker whose only likely asset is 18' of fiberglass and a rusted out car to transport the fiberglass? It would cost more in lawyer fees than you'd hope to win.
Nothing was decided about how the club would proceed. We may have a sign-up sheet for trips. I do not think it is a bad idea. I prefer to have a paddle in dangerous seas. Or we may not. Some people feel like a sign-up sheet with an acknowledgment of risk statement would make us look like better targets for a lawsuit.
Either way, the risk of a lawsuit is omnipresent. If someone gets seriously hurt on a club trip, there is always the chance that they will come looking for someone to blame or simply to help defray the medical costs incurred to recover.
The best things to do are be honest and clear about what is expected, keep an eye on the group, paddle smart, and if there is an emergency handle it as best as possible. Kayaking on the ocean is a risky hobby. People and gear can be broken. People, unlike gear, can also sue.
The risk is part of the reward.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Sneaking Out

Work seems to be absolutely crazy lately and less interesting than is ideal. The crazy rains and springish intervals add to the itch to paddle. Thursday night I called TM to see if I could talk him into doing a low key, spring paddle. I figured he'd suggest a pond for some practice. I didn't really care what the venue was, I just wanted to kayak.
TM thought Bay Campus to Rome Point would make a good trip. It has distance, some rocks, and plenty of space to practice boat handling skills without the potential dangers of heading out of the Bay. We also agreed that we would not post the paddle on the message board because we really wanted a calm paddle. (My feelings are that if you post the trip, you make it a group trip and have to be willing to satisfy the needs of the group. I was not willing to do so this time around. I had specific ideas and was not really looking to compromise them.)
The weather on Saturday was not as pristine as the weekday weather promised. It was cooler and windier. It was still better than freezing gales, rain, or snow. A little wind is to be expected.
We actually wound up as a threesome. TM had run into CC at yoga and invited her along. CC is a great person to paddle with. She is skilled, laid back, and rarely looking for new ways to get into to trouble. On top of that, she is just nice to talk to.
We paddled north into a reasonable headwind and against the current. It is always smart to start into the wind so that the return trip is easier....
We stuck close to the shore to get some protection from the wind and to catch the counter current. It didn't help much, but we didn't need much help. The wind was just enough to feel and kick up little bumps in the water.
We took a leisurely lunch on the south side of Rome Point. The trees sheltered us from the wind nicely and the sun kept us toasty.
The return trip was more tricky. The wind picked up and shifted while we ate. Instead of a tailwind, we had a quartering wind that occasionally gusted. I enjoyed the challenge. I re-familiarized myself with the Q-Boat's crazy weather cocking. Practiced countering it both with and without the skeg.
We also discussed the possibility of TM joining us for some ME camping this summer. We almost had him convinced it was a good idea until he learned that part of leaving no trace meant leaving no poop.... Having to bag up your poop and carry it out is a little gross at first. After the first time, it is no big deal. It's not that different from picking up doggy poop.
Back at the beach I considered a roll, but decided against it. Why risk tarnishing a good paddle with a failed roll?
At the post-paddle coffee TM got his first look at an iPad. He declared that it was the computer he had been dreaming of for years (and he calls himself a technophobe). The iPad was fun to play with, but I don't think it would do well on a kayaking trip....

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Its Spring!!

This is the first year in a while where I haven't been on the water before March. Somehow life has conspired to keep me from the kayak. So when PB asked if H and I wanted to do an easy paddle this weekend, I was more than ready!! The forecast was for lovely Spring weather and very little wind. H was not quite as psyched. She really doesn't like wearing all the crazy cold water garb (the water is still in the 40s). She did relent though - as a favor to PB.
We decided on the salt pond because it is flat, protected, and PB had never paddled there. We were hoping for a TM appearance with out luck. TM's kayak is the shop for a preseason tune up...
We launched with a group of five:, H, PB, CC, KP, and myself. Our plan was for a leisurely stroll towards the breechway, a long lunch, and a leisurely stroll back for coffee. I was so happy to be back on the water, however, that I sped off from the group. I found settling into the group's pace difficult. It wasn't that they were paddling slow. My body just wanted to paddle fast.
The salt pond was perfect for the day. There wasn't much wind or waves. We meandered along and chatted here and there.
We did have a long lunch. PB spotted a nice beach just west of the boat yard. As we approached we noticed a couple on the beach, so we paddled to the opposite end of the beach to give them some privacy. We didn't want to interrupt any moment they were attempting to have. Sadly, by the time we had broken out lunch, they had packed up and scadoodled. Oddly they were soon replaced by a group with several kids. A few jokes were made about "and five years later...".
While we lounged in the sun on the beach, the wind picked up. By the time we got on the water there was a good 10+ knt breeze. We crossed the pond and headed back up the eastern side to take advantage of the shelter from the islands that split the lake.
The last bit of the paddle before making the turn into the narrows and the upper pond were fun. The breeze had just enough fetch to kick up a small following sea. The Q-boat's tail wanted to wag, but I dropped the skeg quickly. I was not prepared to fight the kayak. I wasn't completely pooped, but it was early in the season and I am not in the best shape...
After the paddle we were joined by TM for coffee at Java Madness. TM discussed the benefits of Yoga with us among other ranging topics. It is always nice to relax at Java Madness after a nice day on the water. Does life get better than hanging out with friends on a deck, sipping beverages after a day of outdoor fun?

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Training Toys

I've been really unmotivated this winter. The idea of sitting in the basement pedaling my bike on the hamster wheel listening to sci-fi podcasts makes me snuggle under the covers. I just cannot seem to find the will power to get on the bike.
One of the issues is that the cycle computer on the bike is broken and I cannot watch my speed or cadence. I've got no way to challenge myself if I don't have any data.
So I decided to get a new computer. I wanted to get one with both cadence and heart rate. I also wanted one that would be easy to switch to my primary bike in the spring. The last feature I wanted was that it read speed from the rear wheel because the front wheel doesn't move in the trainer.
To get features I wanted, I was looking at dropping a minimum of two bills. Cat Eye makes a nice unit. Garmin also makes a new unit that does everything, but it costs about three bills. The advantage of the Garmin is that it keeps the history over time. You can watch your progress.
While I was doing research at REI one of the sales people suggested a Forerunner. They are a GPS enabled wrist computer that does heart rate, cadence, and speed from the rear wheel. They also store history. The big advantage over a bike computer is that you can use them for more than just biking. For example, I can use it when doing training walks with H.
There are a bunch of models ranging from two to four bills. I chose the cheapest model. It had all the features I needed. The biggest differences were size, auto synching with a computer, and the calorie computation algorithm. The unit is a big red brick. It must be plugged into the computer with a USB cord. The newer models use a heart rate based calorie computation algorithm.
After a week of using it, I like it. It definitely makes riding the bike more interesting. I can watch the speed and my heart rate. I can also set up different work outs.
For the most part it is accurate. The cadence meter drops out every now and then, but that isn't too big a deal. It's not like I am training for a serious event. I used it on a walk and the pace monitoring occasionally spiked.
Despite the minor glitches, the data is fun. Being able to track my progress keeps things interesting.
It is a little sad that I need a toy to keep me motivated, but such is life in the modern plugged in world. What is important is that I'm back in the saddle.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Charity Paddles

H decided to do the Avon Walk this year. It got me thinking about other types of charity events I might be interested in doing. I found a bunch of cycling events, but I couldn't find any kayaking events. In 2002, I participated in a very well organized event in Hilton Head. Other than that I don't know of any other events.
I'm sure there are kayaking for charity events. Please add events in the comments. I'll post them on my club's Web site.
If there are not any kayak for charity events, there should be. I'm sure there are plenty of people interested in participating.