This past Sunday, I was coordinating a paddle for the R.I. Canoe / Kayak Association (RICKA) out of the U.R.I. Bay Campus in Narragansett, R.I. The Marine forecast was within the limits of what we call a Level 4 paddle (20kt wind max.). I had scouted out Bonnet Pt. around 9am, and it looked reasonable, with some smooth swells. The plan was to head south from the Bay Campus, to the mouth of the Narrow River. There were eight of us when we took off around 10:20am. We fought a not-too-strong headwind southward. As we approached the Cliffs of Bonnet, it started getting rougher. The furthur south we advanced, the larger the swells became. I stayed closest to the rocks, paddling my Tsunami double as a single, from the rear cockpit. I was beginning to wonder how the others were feeling about the conditions, and was looking for signs of anxiety or lack of appropriate manoevering for the conditions. Waves were now up to 9' high, and it was like paddling up mountains and down valleys. I was surprised that no one had said anything about feeling uncomfortable, but as the group leader, I was starting to feel uncomfortable about the possibility of having to rescue someone in such conditions, with just surf-battered rocks to land on. Shortly after we had passed Bonnet Rock, I blew my whistle, and gathered everyone together. I announced that we were well beyond the scope of a level 4 paddle due to the large, almost breaking swells, and it would get even worse if we headed further south, with possibly no safe landing point until Narrow River, and even there, a risky surf landing with large, possibly closing out waves. We turned around and headed back, but I kept a close watch on everyone, knowing that paddling in following seas takes more skill than paddling into it. Everyone made it back to calmer waters without incident, and we decided on a less dangerous trip out to Dutch Island, then to Ft Getty and beyond. My instincts proved to be correct when most of those in the group thanked me for turning back. Some were quite anxious, others were downright frightened. It amazed me that none of them had spoken up (and three were women, who usually are a lot more sensible than us macho men, always trying to prove something). I guess there is that thing about not wanting to spoil it for the rest, and sticking it out. Add to this the fact that I was not familiar with several of these paddlers as far as skill goes, but the fact that they all made it back indicates a good skill level. A couple of years ago, I went on a paddle in the same area, with similar conditions, except much higher winds (gale warning)...however, these people I knew were excellent, skillful paddlers, and I wasn't the leader. Even so, we landed at Bonnet Beach (it was off season) and had a shortened trip.<br />
I learned from this that you have to watch for signs of anxiety, and respond accordingly. I had previously thought that someone would speak up, but no one did this time, whether out of fear or out of not wanting to be the party pooper. At the time of my decision to turn back, I was not then certain that it was the right decision (I thought, maybe it’s just me, being a nervous Nellie leader), but as I spoke with the other paddlers, I knew I had made the correct decision.