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.