— Brinestorm

Tag "rescue"

towingTales2Towing is one of the least-practiced skills in sea kayaking. People seem to think deploying a tow line is a rare and serious occurrence. While deploying lines always complicates things, towing is an essential skill that has some uses of which many paddlers aren’t aware. Towing needn’t be only used in dire straits or emergencies!

I never, ever paddle without both a full tow line and a cowtail/short tow. Here are two short examples of why I think this is a best practice for all paddlers, and how towing can often mean what you least expect.

The Psych Tow

I once towed a paddler in a skin-on-frame boat with neither skeg nor rudder. We were in strong crosswinds abeam crossing a strait, and the paddler couldn’t hold a course, even with what she thought were aggressive edges and strong corrective strokes. I volunteered to give her a “directional tow,” just to keep her kayak on the right course. We paddled across and the towing was effortless. We rafted up so I could unhook, and that’s when someone pointed out why it had been so easy.

The rope was slack and in the water the whole time.

The paddler made it across all by herself. What she needed was a visible connection between the boats and she edged more aggressively and took better corrective strokes, as she could focus on a shorter-term goal of just aligning herself to my boat, not to a distant shore or less-visible goal. It wasn’t a directional tow after all: It was a psychological tow. She was thrilled and rightfully proud when this was pointed out to her!

Sometimes a visible link and even perceived assistance can make a big difference. In my case it was a tow line, but in other cases it can be an extra cookie at lunchtime, a drink from your water bottle on the water, or some other small gesture to demonstrate a sense of camaraderie and trust amongst paddlers.

The Urban Tow

We took a pair of friends paddling who had never been in kayaks before. We gave them some instruction and planned to do an incredibly mellow, flat-water paddle. While they surprised us with their fitness and ability, within the first 5 minutes one of them capsized. He was doing a good thing, exploring the edge of stability, but in a way that was overzealous, and FLIP! In he went. Dressed for immersion and a former surfer, he was embarrassed but comfortable. Ms. Brinestorm proceeded to provide a T-rescue.

Then a weird thing happened: A scenario we had in a class actually came to pass.

In a class with Helen Wilson and Bryant Burkhardt, we had a scenario involving towing two boats while a rescue was underway, to prevent the rescue boats from drifting into rocks along the coast. However, here there were no rocks, nor coast: Instead, there was a fishing pier. Of course, the first time a t-rescue is done with someone who is unfamiliar with it, it takes a while, and a strong ebb current was pulling the rescuer and the swimmer towards the pilings.

Since they couldn’t take action to get away from the pier due to the activity of the rescue, I simply paddled over, clipped my short-line cowtail onto the rescuer’s boat, and paddled backwards to move them away from the pier. Decidedly undramatic, incredibly easy, and took basically no time and little effort. But not having done so would have caused complicated situation, especially for the swimmer, especially with many fishing lines cast into the water in their path. Drunken, angry fishermen are bad.

Now, certainly, with newbie kayakers a tow line makes good sense. But I had no way of guessing that I’d be applying it to my own significant other’s kayak during a rescue. And while we’d practiced this before, I certainly didn’t expect to use it within 20 meters of the beach. But I was ready, equipped, and it came naturally…as a direct result of practice.

I’ll Have Your Back if You Have Mine

So there we have it: Two really mellow, non-drama situations in which towing was incredibly helpful. Towing isn’t just for complex extractions and injured paddlers and lassoing orcas. It’s flexible and handy, but only good if you know how and have practiced it. As stated earlier, practice also breeds better judgement about the use of ropes and lines in the water, which can cause their own problems.

But while I’m willing to practice towing and always wear my towing gear in order to help my paddling pals, I would rather strongly prefer that my paddling pals have their own tow ropes and also know how and when to properly use them. It could be me that’s in trouble for any number of reasons, and knowing that I can be ably assisted – and that I can ably assist – is a major foundation for trust between kayakers…and, in fact, in almost any human endeavor.

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Here in the San Francsico Bay Area, the Pyranha Fusion is an increasingly popular rock gardening kayak: It’s about 10′ long, intended for self-supported river running, but it has a skeg for tracking well in flat water. After trying one on the Mendocino coast (which you can see in an earlier blog post and video), its responsiveness and stability was awe-inspiring in ocean whitewater conditions. I knew I had to have one!

But, being a sea kayaker, I was struck by its total lack of perimeter lines. I’ve never seen a river kayak with perimeter lines, but nearly every serious sea kayak has them. When you need or practice rescues and recoveries as much as I do, they are absolutely essential for maintaining contact with your boat should you wet exit…or for someone else trying to recover your boat for you. In fact, a recent pool session revealed that a friend almost couldn’t even lift if after a capsize to do a T-rescue, as the front grab loop was the only place to get purchase.

So, I decided to add some perimeter lines to my brand new boat!

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Kayaks are pretty much the only way to board the USS Thompson. or what’s left of it.

Modern ruins are just plain rad. I’m a huge fan of post-apocalyptic fiction and love exploring disused spaces. Many people don’t realize that a kayak buys you admission to many such places.

The San Francisco Bay Area has a rich naval history. The most visible artifacts of this history are the once-mighty shipyards at Mare Island, Vallejo, and the infamous Mothball Fleet rusting away like ghosts in Suisun Bay. A lesser known artifact is the South Bay Wreck, better known as the USS Thompson, is located in the southern part of the bay, halfway between Redwood City and Fremont, but unlike these other sites, it can really only be reached via kayak, given the shallow waters. Heck, we had a floating picnic right on – well, over – its deck.

The Thompson is a wrecked hulk, covered in amazing textures and slowly being overtaken by algae, barnacles, and rust. However, the salty waters of the bay didn’t make it this way: It was purposefully sunk and used for bombing practice (with dummy warheads, luckily).

Local paddlers can put in at Redwood City near Corkscrew Slough and head pretty much due west. You can’t quite see it from the sloughs, but keep your eyes peeled and what remains of its superstructure is hard to miss.

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Wayne Horodowich published a guest post on the Tsunami Rangers blog about being a kayak escort or safety boater for swim races or triathlons. Wayne asserted that kayakers are often untrained and unprepared to serve as escorts, at least in a way that can make a difference and not make the kayaker him/herself a liability to the race organizers. I agree. I’d also like to address the problem by helping paddlers understand what’s involved, what can go wrong, and how prepared you need to be.

I’ve done several escorts for full swim races and triathlons, and have enjoyed every one. The intense gratitude shown by the swimmers afterwards is powerful. They can be cakewalks, or filled with drama, so are as variable as any other kind of paddle you might take. However, if you’re considering doing so – or if you’re a race organizer who wants to optimize the escorts you’ve assembled on race day – here are some observations and tips based on doing escorting in and around the San Francisco Bay.

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When it comes to gear, I’m of the “Buy Once, Cry Once” or “Buy Nice or Buy Twice” school of thought. Every time I’ve ever tried to cheap out, I wind up either buying a replacement, a backup, or something better. Carabiners happen to be a great example, and so after years of struggling with cheap carabiners, I’ve opted to standardize on massive, chunky, stainless steel rescue carabiners from CMC Rescue. [And, of course, how can I resist when they come in a luscious anodized color that matches the Brinestorm Corporate Color And Branding Guidelines?]

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Photo simply stolen from People Magazine. Because I don’t care.

I’m super stoked that Russel Crowe is a kayaker, but apparently he needs some speed and navigational training. Because he needed the Coast Guard to help him out.

Now, the Coast Guard exists to help us paddlers out. Seriously happens to the best of us. But man, what kind of cheap-ass, rec-boat barge is that?!? Lookit that arm paddling in the photo. An embarassment. Mr. Crowe, call me, baby. Stroke instruction comes cheap.

Full story here.

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