On my second day of skiing I participated in a series of bad decisions that nearly cost me and my friends our lives. Being in high school at the time when bad ideas and bad decisions were a way of life the only thing that is surprising to me is that we survived. Without belaboring details let me just say that we had gotten lost and were suffering from hypothermia. We were rescued by three remarkable men, two of whom told me years later that when they found us, we had maybe 2 hours to live. Two of those men were very kind but the third was a beast.
The beast was a German expat named Marcel Schuster who had served on the Russian Front in WWII as a Nazi Mountain Trooper. He had been captured and spent three years in a POW camp which didn’t improve his outlook on life. He was entirely unpleasant and totally unsympathetic to our situation. During our rescue the only six words he uttered to us in his strong German accent were “You Stoopid Boyzzz” and “Learn or Die” followed by another “You Stoopid Boyzzz”. After eight years I was reunited with the three men that I owed my life to but Marcel didn’t smile and wouldn’t shake my hand. All he said while looking at me with a cold and bitter stare was “You Stoopid Boyzzz”.
I’m going to get to the kayaking part in a minute but before I do I want to mention what a strong influence Marcel’s message has had on my life choices. Though I have met no one who knew him who would describe him as a nice guy he spoke to me in a way that got my attention and that I understood.
I think that many of us choose our activities, boating or otherwise, where we accommodate objective risks and plan for what subjective risk / rewards we may or may not want to consider. Since that cold Winter night in my 17th year when I had 2 hours to live but was snatched from death by two nice men and one acerbic ex-Nazi with a short temper and no tolerance for the dumb-assery of youth I have heard Marcel speak to me a number of times. When he speaks I listen.
Skip ahead to 2017…
I was 2 days into a planned 3 week solo kayaking trip on the BC coast when my weather radio told me of an intense ridge setting up over Haida Gwaii and that it would bring 40 kt winds to the area. That made my intended route and my current location untenable. I had two days to seek a sheltered route, which was doable, but I didn’t want to go where the easy and safe routes would take me. There was a 6 mile stretch of coastline on Athlone Island that I wanted to see and if I hurried, I could paddle it and get into the lee of the Bardswell Group before the winds arrived, but just barely. Once sheltered by the Bardswells I could carefully scurry from here to there like a mouse evading a hungry cat, safe as long as I didn’t get caught in the open. So, for 2 days I monitored weather and hustled towards safety.
On my last “safe” day I left Dallas Island around 8:30 AM. I knew I that I was cutting things pretty tight and that I really should have gotten out of camp an hour earlier but I wanted a second cup of coffee. My bad. Conditions were smooth until I reached Blair Inlet near Ivory Island and things started to change. The wind had increased to W @ 10 kt countering the building ebb at Blair. Friendly swell became more evident as I started across Seaforth Channel. Textured patches began to show the effects of mixing currents and from mid-channel to Cape Swaine the ebb was on with swell being bent and disturbed, gaining height as windwaves were tickled to attention by interaction with the opposing current. I ducked into the gap behind the island that terminates Cape Swaine for a brief rest. Looking at conditions to the south they appeared to be somewhat sporting and it was clear that there would be no place to take another break until I made the cover of Wurtele Island so I took the opportunity to fuel on a ProBar, checked my chart and tried to interpret the sea bottom profile that my GPS displayed on its magnificent 1.5” x 2.25” big-screen. Maybe I could have seen it better if I had covered one eye and taken out my contact lenses. I changed out the Cypress for my Ikelos in anticipation of conditions.
Those 3 miles to Wurtele Island presented intensifying conditions that were ragged and snotty but still manageable. Achieving Rage Reef at the north end of the island I sheltered in the lee of the boomers to reassess conditions. Looking south and then scanning back north the way I had come the thin layer of haze clinging to the water told of froth being torn from breaking waves. I really wanted that next 3 miles. It had been a failed objective since 2012 and I really wanted it. The outside of the island would be rough, though, and probably getting more so and it would only be another hour to Cape Mark. I can do that.
And then Marcel spoke to me as loudly and as clearly as he ever has since that cold night in the snow and he said “You stoopid boyz!
That was all it took and I ducked behind Wertele island without further discussion.