Early Hot Temps,Cold Water,=Bad Outcome


Nicholas Anast came out of his kayak and eventually drowned in the north part of Tomales Bay (north of San Francisco, CA) Wednesday afternoon, in spite of efforts of his companion to get him out of the water, then both ended up swimming towards shore, but Anast didn’t make it. His body was eventually recovered by the Coast Guard.

There are some news stories which did not go into detail about this and are misleading, implying he wasn’t wearing a pfd (which apparently came off in the rough waves/rocks) so I linked this one.

The south part of Tomales Bay is sheltered from the coast, not deep near the shores, and usually not unruly in wave action, easy kayaking, can be muddy, but the northern end, Dillon Beach, where it meets the Pacific in a narrower outlet, can be very, very treacherous because of big tidal and wave action. Professor Anast and friend put in at Nick’s Cove to the south, on the mainland (east) side of the bay, and went north to Dillon’s, and then turned around, and that is where they got into trouble.

The problem we have been having is that our unusually warm, sunny California low- rain “spring” this year has made incredibly, deceptively warm mornings and afternoons, but the water is still winter- temperature deadly in the 50’s. It’s difficult to dress for this, exert yourself, and get it right, no matter what outdoor activity right now. Plus their is at least a small wind front coming through the San Francisco Bay/Delta area most afternoons. Except lately, some days, there hasn’t been.

I looked at the temperatures for yesterday, and the sudden increase in wind speed that afternoon at lunchtime from negligible to gusts up to +25mph, and the tidal charts (it was a big tide, about in the middle of outgoing, so they would have been fighting the current on the return loop), and that was the perfect intersection of bad timing and luck, after the morning weather seemed so perfectly, pleasantly springtime.

We usually don’t “get” spring here in Northern CA, it seems most years to go from winter rain/fog/wind here inland, to suddenly it just stops raining some day, doesn’t rain anymore, and it is too hot. And March can be some of the most rotten weather of the year (great for necessary moisture, but bad for being outdoors).

So this was just another seductively, deceptively nice March day. The high in San Francisco yesterday was a balmy 69ºF degrees. But it’s still 57ºF water.

Be careful out there. Check those weather forecasts for the afternoon weather shift. Check the tide charts. Don’t assume anything. Because if this can happen to this guy, it can happen to the rest of us.


More to the story?
What was the kayak he was paddling?

Did he have experience in surf and breaking waves?

What brand/model of PFD came off in “heavy current.”

“He fell into the water” - was this a cardiac event?

No doubt the water can be rough at the point at the inlet and the water is in the low to mid 50s, but not unusual or extreme conditions for Northern California paddlers. I’m suspecting there is more to the story.


– Last Updated: Mar-20-15 11:19 AM EST –

This describes paddling in Maine offshore for the bulk of the best paddling season - air temps in the 70's and water temperatures in the higher 50's, and an afternoon offshore breeze of at least 10-15 knots.

It is not a rare news story for someone much younger than this person to end up in the water and succumbing to hypothermia before anyone finds them. At least, where the body is ever found. I can think of a couple over the last several years where the body never showed up. Usually people paddling alone, usually under-dressed for the water because of the warmer air or sheer overconfidence.

But the bottom line is that based on stories I have seen over the years about paddling deaths in very similar temperatures, while there may have been other factors here it is not a lock. A tired 55 year old in water in the 50's, even with a PFD, is at real risk in those water temperatures unless they are quite well dressed.

As to hitting the water in the first place, from the additional information they had to be tired. That's when shit happens. The fact that they were trying to swim rather than attached to the boats is a pretty clear signal that things got beyond what the paddlers could easily manage.

Clearly these guys were over the head
It said “who didn’t appear to be in peril, and realized Anast’s kayak was filling up, Pittman said. The friend tried to get Anast onto his own kayak, but both men ended up in the water.”

So it almost sounds like the kayak didn’t have bulkheads and was sinking but not sure. Then the friend gets dumped into the water and they leave the kayaks which again sounds like Rec kayaks with no flotation.

50F water and no wet suit at a minimum. This is a tragedy waiting to happen.

Here in NY May is the dangerous month as water is in the 40F to 50F and air temp can get into the mid to high 70F range. I have been out wearing a drysuit and come up to people with shorts and T–shirt. they look at me like iam crazy and I can roll in the toughest of conditions.

Its too bad and iam sure more like this will be coming along soon.

hopefully get more info, but likely not
Hopefully we will get more info, but likely we never will. It has been checked to see if this person was part of any of the local groups, to see if anyone knew his paddling style (preferred gear and the like). Unfortunately not, though a lot of people knew him as a teacher.

Did a quick search too.

– Last Updated: Mar-20-15 1:45 PM EST –

While most experienced ocean paddlers in California don't always know each other personally , most of us have friends or groups in common in local areas, and at the least common facebook friends.

The one law enforcement report says conclusions will be drawn after an autopsy, so I am suspecting this was a cardiac event or hypothermia/gasp reflex etc if he really wasn't wearing a wetsuit/drysuit.The law enforcement report says no PFD, but does not mention wetsuit or drysuit.

You get it
My premise is that they were properly dressed for short term cold water immersion/self rescue, for “normal” conditions on Tomales Bay, but the weather changed up hard and suddenly, and wave action got them because they were overheated and it fatigued them. Assume 2 adult males are going to weigh total aprox. ± 300 lbs and that is going to be right at the load capacity for most casual use sea kayaks assuming that the load is balanced - but not getting tossed around like a seaweed salad while trying to put somebody else on either end.

Witnesses (including fishing boats, as Dillon area has a launch) claim he had the pfd on when he was last spotted, but it was gone by the time the Coast Guard recovered the body with a helicopter later - the surf was so bad the boats couldn’t get close enough, and the wind would have been driving the waves towards the rocks on the shore to which they were trying to escape to, having finally capsized both kayaks.

It turns out Mr Anast was an anatomy instructor for fire and rescue people, so I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, pending the autopsy, that he understood the effects of cold water! Not a newbie dinking around without his pfd. People should take this as a caution. It is difficult to be ready for the dramatic conditions of temperature contrast we’re having now. Your kayak CAN hit something, like a floating log, or a big subsurface rock, or get hit by a “sneaker wave” (larger than average waves, more common in the winter) flip, leak or swamp, and surprise you. Can you swim to shore and dodge the rocks, in big waves, after being thermally shocked ?

You could not pay me to go out there on the north part of Tomales, that close to the Pacific in 20 mph winds with gusts up over 25 mph, with those winds going one way and the tides going the other. There are plenty of stories of people getting into trouble and struggling at that part of the bay on regular days because the tide changes are so dramatic. But this unusually “nice” weather during a dry year can lull one into behaving as if it is not March.

Additional information

A few more details are given on pp 2-3 of the article.

I hope there are no more paddling related tragedies.

Can’t assume rec boats

– Last Updated: Mar-21-15 10:11 AM EST –

In fact I would be surprised if they didn't have bulkheads in their boats given the post that Rookie put up. The man who didn't make it was a bright guy and paddled in an area where bulkheaded boats would have been the norm for the kind of trips they were doing.

It appears they did miss the weather, but I bet a lot of people on this board made the same mistake but gotten away with it. I know I have. The only reason the four of us weren't a story on the evening news near Beaver Tail on the Narragansett one time was a lucky direction of the wind that blew us onto a shore. The wrong one but we got a lift to the cars. One of our group was a 4 star BCU person who had gone thru a 5 star training, by the way, whose judgement my husband and I hesitated to oppose. Wrong move.

As to this poor guy - all it would take for a boat to fill with water in the conditions described would be use of a nylon skirt rather than a neoprene one. And to the guy's credit, he had not actually capsized at the point his companion tried to transfer him.

Whether they didn't empty his cockpit because the other person didn't know how or because the conditions were too severe for it to seem doable is not described. But even with a full out sea kayak, a large guy with a lot of strength would be challenged to dump out the water and get the other person back in by themselves in the conditions described.

The fact that the other paddler tried to put him on his own boat suggests to me that they may have had some rescue training. The conditions might have just been bad enough that it would have taken two people to securely do the usual assisted rescue. Or maybe they didn't have good training - but the conditions were still too much for one person doing the rescue rather than having two boats to help stabilize the third.

Basically, I am seeing a story here that could probably have happened to a lot of people who got a little lazy about preparation on a given day. In the case of my dumb-assed day, the other crucial factor was that the person who ended up in the water was wearing a dry suit. He was somewhat hypothermic when we all got onto land, but mild enough that we could go with the hot-tea and extra layer solution. It would have been a different story if he had not been what many here would consider to be over-dressed.

I have looked at these stories the same way as some of the responses here - it could never be me because I am better dressed, better equipped, better prepared etc. But when I see this happen to someone who obviously had phenomenal physical skills and time on the water, I am reminded of the times it could have been me but for some piece of dumb luck. I can't be alone on this.

I believe you are right…
this could certainly happen to a lot of people. It is pretty clear that a cascading series of events was at work here and that, as a team, they were unable to compensate with each one individually.

Before I start analyzing things that went wrong, I’d like to offer my condolences. It is always a horrible thing when someone dies and I feel for those affected.

That said, there are things we can learn from this accident. Though, I don’t want to seem as though I’m blaming the victim here, there were several areas of safety that were not addressed.

Judgement was an issue. Tides/currents and weather are strong in the area and quite capricious. Certainly, any time you are near the mouth of Tomales bay, which often has some of the worst conditions on the northern coast, a degree of circumspection is necessary. Not paddling with the tides and being seemingly unaware of afternoon winds, which are a given as the land/sea temperature imbalances there can be severe on warm days, shows a poor understanding of the conditions.

Gear (float bags or secured dry bags) could have solved the flooding problem. Bulkheads fail (surprisingly often) and are not designed to hold the weight of the water in a full cockpit for any length of time. It is often a good idea to augment the bow and stern with float bags, even if you think your bulkheads are secure. Plastic boats, in particular, may change shape and are more likely to suffer bulkhead failures, so if paddling in same, one should be aware of this.

The PFD coming off suggests that it was not worn properly. Hot days often lead us to make decisions based upon comfort over safety and this is a likely, though not certain, element for him losing his PFD - more likely than a failure of the device (which isn’t impossible).

Alternate floatation (such as a paddle float) can be used even if a boat sinks. Such devices should be a feature of all boats outfitted for ocean touring. It would seem that this was a piece of gear available to them.

The paddle can be used to augment swimming. I saw this diagrammed in Dowd’s book and have tried it. One can effectively paddle oneself as a boat and it is remarkably easy to do (and faster than swimming, especially in a current). I’m not sure if these paddlers tried this, but it is an interesting tool to have in the skill box.

The buddy system failed. A decent paddling PFD can keep the heads of two swimmers above water. I’ve done this many times and assisted many swimmers by sharing the flotation or alternating with the PFD. A lack of swimming skill could also have been a factor (for one or both of these men).

Again, I’m sorry this happened. My condolences to all affected by this tragedy. I only hope we can learn from the experience to lower the odds of something like this happening again.


kayak iq
Dress for immersion.

I agree
I know I have.