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.