Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Sunday weather

Sunday weather was challenging all round, in this part of the world. The paddle group didn't have an outing set, so Bernie went out for a solo paddle. I carried some of his gear down to the beach (we live a stone's throw from the water in Cadboro Bay) and saw him off, saying "Paddle safely!"
That's the same advice other paddlers were giving each other in Howe Sound that day.
Bernie didn't paddle all that safely. Not all that bad, of course, as he did return. But two of the other paddlers in Howe Sound didn't make it.
Bernie went out across Baynes Channel to Chatham, and coming back, he got caught in the freight train, as our neighbour calls it. The current in that channel runs like a river, and makes a series of standing waves.
The good news is that Bernie now knows his new wooden kayak can handle metre and a half waves. (That's something I can't see over when standing, let alone sitting in a kayak!)
The bad news is that the paddlers in Howe Sound must have made mistakes, by the definition of our black-humoured joke: "It isn't a mistake if nobody dies."
Go to the following URL for CBC's story about the two who died, the two who went to hospital, and the other four on that adventure:
It seems like these were extremely fit, healthy and adventurous paddlers and sports enthusiasts. But even all their experience and strength wasn't enough when the wind crested to 80 klicks or more, and the waves reached seven feet or so. The group were wearing only sports tights instead of wetsuits or drysuits, and nobody wore a PFD. Apparently they didn't have cell phones or a marine radio, as the call for help didn't go out till one of the double kayaks got to shore.
Yes, I feel like a harping auntie and a coward on our own groups' outings. And it's so easy to second-guess someone else's mistakes. But part of why we talk about our outings on this blog is to second-guess our own mistakes, laugh at them where we can, and learn from them.
We have been so lucky on our own outings. Part of that is absolute luck when the weather changed or we mis-read the currents.
But a big dollop of that luck is being prepared.
Safety gear (ropes, pumps, paddle floats, spare paddle, lights, whistles, air horn). Cold water clothing. Drybag with clothes, food & mini-stove for a hot drink. Cell phones and marine radios. Compasses. Look back through our posts since this blog began, and it shows that we gradually got all this gear together, as we gradually began paddling in more challenging places than a small, sheltered lake.
Looking at Bernie when he returned from the freight train, still shaken, was not a heart-warming experience. But he came back, and an hour later was already making light of the challenge he'd faced.
Two of those paddlers in Howe Sound didn't make it. Two went to hospital for hypothermia. And four did the best they thought they could.
I don't want the same thing to happen for our paddle group -- for anyone else, frankly -- and I'm trying to figure how it would be less likely. The big one that comes to mind (after ensuring each paddler has cold water clothing, PFD, safety gear and a drybag) is not setting out from Anvil Island into rough weather. Camping on the island overnight should be an option, even if only with space blankets, granola bars and hot drinks.
Our group talks about how each of us is feeling, and we try to admit our fears. The conditions probably became abruptly worse for the paddlers in Howe Sound. When luck is a factor, you have to bring all the best luck with you.
My paddle partner brought planning preparation and strength to his challenge. He came back.

1 comment:

  1. 3:30pm update to story, they were wearing PFDs. No wetsuits. Such a sad incident, and avoidable.