Saturday, April 19, 2008

The Season’s warming up

It had been a few weeks since my last paddle. I was itching to get out in the boat and the weather was perfect. In fact it was too perfect. The air was warm enough that it is difficult to dress for the water.

The plan was the Jamestown dock on Saturday morning. I was itching to go somewhere different but the Jewish holiday had a few of us on a tight time schedule. As conciliation we hoped that the outgoing tide and the full moon would combine to spice things up at the dumplings. Seven of us arrived ready to paddle. It was a crew comprised largely of very experienced boaters.

There was very little wind as we were dressing and packing our boats. We were all feeling pretty hot. I wore a very light layer under my drysuit. I knew I would cool off quickly if I spent any significant time in the water but the conditions were benign and I had confidence in my partners. Plus the air was warm enough that I’d warm back up once out of the water. This is in contrast to a typical winter paddle where once you cool off it’s very difficult to warm up, especially your extremities.

Once on the water I did some sculling to get my body in the water. It cooled me down quickly. Surprisingly quickly I might add. As we started paddling a breeze did pick up. It was just enough breeze over the cold water to balance the heat I was generating internally. On the water, I was very comfortable.
Bob and I headed to the East side of the dumplings to look for some fun. The current was running but not too strong and without an opposing wind it was fairly tame. Carleen, Carole, Tony, Rich, and Becca all went along the shore.
Carleen was suggesting Beavertail. Others wanted to head towards Brenton point so as to head up wind and not have to fight it heading back. We agreed on BP and made a long diagonal crossing in that direction. This is a crossing we would do as a perpendicular beeline in summer to avoid boat traffic. This day we were largely on our own.

We paddled along the shore and did some easy rock gardening. Carleen was suggesting helmets but no-one was biting. When we got to the jetty there was some wave action coming over the shallows. Bob and I headed across and we were greeted by waves approaching simultaneously at 90 degree angles. Tony, with helmet started surfing them. We all followed suit and put ours on also. Bob and Carleen were paired up. The rest of us were more timid and discussing if we really wanted to go over. Becca was concerned that she was out of practice. I knew that I was dressed a little too light to deliberately put myself in the water.

The next thing I knew I could see Bob retrieving Carleen’s kayak. We were not at all alarmed. It was not very rough. B and C would be fine. But things weren’t proceeding as quickly as expected so we wandered over in that general direction. It was then we saw that C was separated from her boat. But Tony had her hanging off the back of his big double kayak so we weren’t too concerned. It would be no time before T had her back to her boat. But again things were taking longer than expected. T couldn’t pull her along nearly as fast as I expected.

So I headed over and met up with them about the same time as they were all meeting up. Tony dropped off C, B started the rescue, and I pulled up along B’s boat for extra support. We were away from the surf so it all seemed like no big deal.
But about this time I was realizing things were not all going as easy as I expected. C was very tired from being towed along by T’s boat. She was struggling to lift herself onto the boat. I was recalling a rescue last fall where the swimmer was very tired just from holding on to his boat. Somewhere in this process C became separated from one of her boots and Tony recovered it.

Once C had some of her body on the boat she was struggling to get her feet up at the surface and continue the slide on. We were starting to think about the sling. I had mine right in my vest pocket but I was thinking to myself “Do I really remember how Tim showed me to use this thing? Do I really want to add the rope to this situation to get tangled in?” Besides, give C a minute to rest and she’ll just pop herself in. Then once C was on her boat her vest became caught on the combing on her cockpit. We finally got her all the way on but now her vest was caught in the hole that is her cockpit. Slowly, we got her unstuck from the cockpit and she could slide into the seat. It was all very strange.

We all decided to head over to the beach and get Carleen re-connected with her boot and give her a rest. At the beach it became clear that she had about a gallon of water in each leg of her drysuit. The neoprene neck seal of the Tropos drysuit had let in a significant amount of water while Tony was towing her through the water. It was only a day later that Carole and Bob realized that during the rescue Carleen had brought her body over the cockpit of her boat instead of over the back decks of her and Bob’s kayaks. That explained the very strange tangle of vest and combing but it didn’t even occur to us on the water.

What a lesson this was. Bob, Paul and Tony with Carleen in the water in relatively tame conditions is a rescue you would expect to go quickly and easily. But it didn’t. I know personally I was so lulled into the belief that it would go easy that never got involved with the intensity I should have. It makes me think about the way the kids used to practice soccer when I was coaching. I’d try to get them to practice with the intensity as if it was a game day but they never really took it too seriously. It’s exactly what I did in this situation. And in hindsight it is very obvious to us what went wrong but at the time we weren’t seeing it.

There was nothing dangerous about this situation. But it reinforces how important practice is. These things need to go smoothly when the conditions are difficult. They have to be mindless and flawless in benign conditions if this is going to happen. I often let others do the rescue in practice sessions thinking I’m all set and I want others to learn. Maybe I should do some more of them? And I for one want to practice more in difficult (but safe) conditions.

So back to the paddle…. we ate lunch on the beach and then headed out to Brenton Point. With the tight schedule and Carleen already wet on the inside of her drysuit we just went out to have a look and then headed back. At the beach Carole, Becca and I worked on our rolls. In the process Carole realized her latex neck seal was too worn and was letting water in also. Another thing to fix!

4/19/2008 Air upper 60s, water 50s, wind light