Near miss...

I went kayaking yesterday and encountered a storm, the expedition leader, an experienced yachtmaster with lots of water time thought we could out paddle an approaching storm and reach a beach on the other side of narrow channel before the storm hit.

So off we went and 5min later, BAM! the storm came, waves were 2m high, wind was moving so fast the paddle felt like it was being ripped out of your hand, yachts with 1 ton keels lowered their sails and switched on their engines and the rain came down so hard it hurt. Visibility was so low I could not see anything more than 50 metres away.

Only 3 paddlers made it to the beach on the other side, the others turned back or capsized.

When I was on the beach on the deserted island, I realised I was screwed if the storm didnt stop anytime soon. All I had was 300ml of water, my survival kit and paddling gear. My survival kit only had a box of matches, a Leatherman Micra, a whistle, 2 puri-tabs, a mirror and a keychain LED light.

Luckily, nobody drowned from this incident and it certainly calls for an After Action Review to see what we could have done better. A good learning experience and a once in a life time log book entry.

Nobody drowned. Good. What happened to the capsized paddler(s)? Swimmers? How did they get back in boat or get on land?


"It was a dark and stormy night!"
Watch out for those “expedition leaders”.

Lots of times they are college kids who have had less time in a yak than you have.

No offense to you career guys, but I have seen a lot of the others over the years that have not got a clue when it comes to common sense.



gotta agree with JackL
Did a small tour on a large river on the east coast with my non-paddling wife…our “guide” was a college kid who got the job because no one else applied. He paddled without a rear hatch cover. Wow!

Older Guys are Dumb - Too
I once watched a guy in a narrow British boat capsize in some cliff cave. Luckily, there was a small beach and he got back in okay.

Afterwards I found out it was the “leader’s” kayak, so I asked the guy if he’d missed his brace.

“Brace?” he says…


Yachts are bigger…
The guy could simply have been thinking in terms of yacht speed and size - if he was in a good sized boat with a motor odds are he could have outrun the storm. And of course even a small yacht is going to feel a lot safer in those conditions than a skinny little kayak.

Everyone gets caught in some damn fool situation, in fact a group of us who knew better got into some unnecessary mess on a paddle just this season. We realized later we are at a new kind of dangerous stage - better enough than we were to be able to handle some pretty challenging stuff but not adept and well-practiced for when conditions hit extremes. Got out of it OK but a little red-faced and had a very “constructive” debrief. I suspect that your leader is feeling a little sheepish.

Same question as above - how’d the capsizes get to a safe place?

The expedition leader is a qualified Yachtmaster and kayaking instructor. He is also a friend of mine.

We went pass Outward Bound School and some of the guys from OBS saw us getting caught in the storm, they came out in powerboats to rescue those of us that capsized and brought them towards the nearest beach. The choppy sea and wind made it difficult to perform rescues for those that did a wet exit.

liberal use of word "experienced"
I noticed that a lot of “close call” stories start with one or more people in the group being experienced but for some cosmic reason unprepared to handle small anoyances like big surf, tide or approaching storm.

Weird, ha?

Not that gear is the only point…

– Last Updated: Dec-02-05 10:11 AM EST –

... but others have responded to the other issues. So, let me tackle gear, since you brought it up as a problem.

I hope it's obvious by now that you should carry a lot more safety gear and spare water (and food!) than you did. Besides food and water, the one most essential item is probably shelter of some sort. That can be as simple as a good space blanket, or best a multi-person emergency shelter.

But most important -- IMHO -- after getting a good survival kit together, is to ~take it with you~. I can't tell you how many times people have asked me -- even instructors who should know better -- why are you taking all that stuff on a simple day paddle?

My answer -- I really don't want to get into the game of deciding, for each trip out, exactly what I should take and what I should leave home. Really, a day trip can quickly turn into an emergency that needs good gear as much as the third day of an expedition (except, of course, that the weather on a day trip is presumably more predictable, but still...). And, the one item I decide I "don't need" may turn out to be crucial -- I've seen it happen. After all, I put it on my list for a good reason that has little to do with the number of days I am out on the trip.

Anyway, if it's a day trip, there's plenty of room in my hatches and car for the full kit, so why not? The only downside is suffering the taunts of those who say you should always travel as light as you can. I like that rule, I say, but not for ~this~ kind of "travel".

Besides, it's less mental energy just to take the whole darn kit, which presumably resides in a couple of dry bags and boxes.

So, get a good list of stuff together -- many sources for that. Build the kit (kits, really). And, just throw it in pretty much whenever you plan to venture significantly out of sight of your put-in.


PS: Anybdoy who fancies themsleves a leader should especially observe this rule, and in fact, bring a lot extra for those who don't.

Sounds like a bivy bag in you kit
might have come in handy. You can get ones that pack down so tiny these days.

~take it with you~.
I am strongly seconding David’s advice.

We too are often questioned or teased about the amount of gear we take on a day or short evening paddle.

The one time recently I did not take full gear on a short day paddle, I regretted not having it.

Conditions can change very quickly. At the very least always have reliable communications (VHF and/or cell phone)and carry enough to protect and sustain until the next day.

Yah, Gear…
Actually there aren’t enough details of the trip plan to make any assumptions. But, nevertheless, it was a “day trip” despite the use of the term, “expedition leader.”

Paddlers encounter a storm on a day trip. Anyone check the forecast?

They were caught crossing a “narrow channel.” How narrow and thus far from “civilization.”

A “deserted” island… There are bunch of deserted islands on the Androscoggin river in Errol, NH. Generally no one is on them but it’s clearly visible from the road, across a fast moving 25’ channel.

No mention of immersion gear but I assume that they have the appropriate gear on.

Capsized kayakers… What’s the assisted and self rescue skills in that bunch? All the gear in the boat ain’t gonna make difference if they can’t get back into their boats.

Frankly, putting my own assumptions into his scenario, I would feel perfectly fine sitting on that “deserted island” with the gear he mentioned for several hours or a day, until the storm blew over. No biggie to paddle across a narrow channel when things die down.


PS. I would have had a VHF with me, though I wouldn’t have used it for myself if I were on the island. However, swimmers in the water, I would have called a MayDay.

David said it best!! I don’t have a single piece of equipment that has’nt ben used at one time or another and also needed but I had left it at home thinking I did not need to take it on this trip(see cell phone thread)…lol…Many people have ssues with gear heads over packing etc. Not me I don’t care what they say. g…Over pack, alway’s carry basic survival gear(more than you think you will need). and enjoy the extra piece of mind…kim

and fourth.
It’s sooo easy to throw a couple drybags in the hatches, with exra clothes etc. I’ve had to use some gear in “combat” situations a few times, and it sure made life easier.

I Would Love To Read The Report

– Last Updated: Dec-02-05 12:19 PM EST –

summary and analysis.

The predominant response seem to be locked on "gear." I have nothing against gear but I don't think the was necessarily the overriding consideration in this situation. But, I won't jump ahead with assumptions either.


PS. The converse of gearheads thinking that they get "taunted" is folks like me who travel with what I think I need for the trip on I am on and get BS from folks who think I am "underprepared" and thus somehow not as "skilled" or as "knowledgeable" as them. This is my personal perspective -- skills, endurance and judgement are just as important if not more so than having a lot gear. I have yet to find a time out there, in some interesting conditions, where I felt I was missing a piece of vital, life and death gear.

I’m not a gearhead…

– Last Updated: Dec-02-05 12:42 PM EST –

... though I sometimes seem to play one on ;-))

Seriously, I resisted it for a long time, and generally add items to my kit only after due consideration, especially bulky and/or heavy ones. And, I must say that luck (and maybe a bit of judgement) have kept me from ever needing the most serious stuff. But I've heard too many stories of a piece of gear that made (or would have) the difference between dicey and merely uncomfortable.

But yes, gear is not the ~only~ point. When it comes to survival, however, it's up there near skills, IMHO, if not altogether equal. (Of course, ya gotta know what to do with the gear.)

Also, I always take at least two quarts of water for a day trip, and on a hotter day three or more, though I rarely use anywhere near that myself. On one trip where I was not the leader, it went longer than expected and several people ran out of water. I was able to split my spare water among a few of us and keep us from a thirsty paddle home. Not life threatening, by any means, but it makes the point.

Anyway, what's the big deal with throwing it in, especially on a day trip where there's plenty of room. It's not like you carry it on your back (yes, backpackers have a much tougher gear decision process, especially for multi-day hikes.)


Seems it all applied
The guy on the island wished he had more stuff - he may be someone like me who, as I get older, seem to get cold a little easier than many. The swimmers, given that it seems they were dressed well enough to avoid hypothermia, probably were wishing that they’d spent a lot more time practicing bracing, rolling, ferrying across eddies.

The issue when a sudden blow comes is often about the numbers. Because paddlers can get separated in a heartbeat in wind and current, at times from their boat if they aren’t prudent, and accounting for varying skill levels, it can start taking two or three others to get a paddler rescued and back into their boat. So, what seemed at first like a decent ratio of upright to not-upright paddlers turns out to be insufficient.

Granted if the channel is skinny enough, the islands prevalent, and everyone keeps thinking, there is usually going to be a way to get to landfall if you are patient. But I’ve been in situations that got kinda complicated, and it becomes a lot harder to figure out what is the best thing to do next. Multiple swimmers in current and storm seems to be a messy situation.

Also, The Forecast…

– Last Updated: Dec-02-05 1:36 PM EST –

what were the conditions forecasted, the tides and how do these interact with the area in which the trip was conducted.

As a surf paddler, I try to assimilate a bunch of info about the weather systems and timing of arrival, anticipated wind speeds, directions, and tides, etc, because these make all the difference in figuring what is likely going to happen out there and whether I should head out in the first place. The same really applies to touring folks.

So, possibly, if I knew a serious front/system were going to blow through, I would take a real hard look at who is on the list for the trip. I would plan out how long and far out I would want to go with them, if at all, and be back before a front arrives.

It could be said that just anticipating the above, the range of issues pertaining to folks' gears, skills, etc. could have been avoided altogether.

When there serious conditions out there (relative term), I don't post openly where I am going. I get much more selective about who I want to go out with me. Frankly, when you get into serious conditions, it can sometimes devolve very quickly to every person for him/herself. I wouldn't want to be out there with someone I don't think can take care of him/herself in that scenario.


my view- learn to paddle faster to shore
Most of my paddling is for flatwater racing and I am guilty of not being handy at surviving big,bad weather because I quickly head to shore with the big turbo wing cranking out 6 or 7 mph. Late oct weather turned bad on st lawrence so I headed to shore and had to walk back to boat launch to get car. In your gear kit may I suggest a pair of $5 bills to hire someone to give you a ride, and tyvek(PLASTIC) coveralls are disposable and light to pack and include a hood. Around my neck I often have a fuzzy rubber hood that I would pull up when immersed or rain. Paddelrs are dumb to wear columbia goretex rain coat because they are no good for swimming. Dress to swim aND EVERY YEAR GOOD PADDLERS DIE IN COLD WATER ON A WARM DAY. i GO FOR A HIKE IN COLD WEATHER. I am a very incomplete paddler because I am bad at doing rolls and reentry but paddle 1000 miles a year without a problem because I have learned to paddle fast to shore. Many paddlers can paddle 4 mph against a strong wind trying to get to shore and get nowhere. I would paddle 7 mph and get to shore at a rate of 3 mph. As Dad would say,“My feet cannot stand to see my body get hurt.” No when to hold them and know when to run to shore at first hint of trouble. Heard of excellent teacher who planned a trip for months with friends to island in great lakes but they cancelled because of weather.

Hey Dave…
When you are a couple miles out and that storm is coming at you from land at 15 mph, that 7mph isn’t going to help you much.

Some good bracing strokes might be in order rather than some racing strokes.

I am a 6 MPH racer and have been caught where I couldn’t outrun the storm.