Last Sunday our intrepid trio decided to visit Little Sand Bay in the Apostles. A large crew from the Inland Sea Kayak group was there and some SKOAC cronies, many of whom had not been spotted over the winter, were camped at the group site on Sand Island, roughly a 4 mile paddle away. We ran into the 'long paddle' group from ISK, including PeggyO, whose fine blog is now linked in the lineup to the right. They had been heading toward Devils but a combination of incoming fog and a 40% chance of thunderstorms made the decision to turn around at Bear Island a pretty easy one. Contrast this decision making and risk analysis with what is to follow. We crossed over to Sand, after checking the radar with RangerSue and determining that the thunderstorms had passed to the north, and encountered a combination of 2' northeast swells with chop on top of them from the northwest wind switch after the thunderstorms had blown through to the north. Pretty easy stuff to deal with but the VOR only had one foot on her foot pegs, since the left one is broken, and we proceeded 'gingerly'.
We made a spectacular surf arrival at the group camp with the VOR performing a superb half roll when the wrong paddle blade wound up in the water when she started to broach. Big smiles all around however and we were happy to see our crew, including SilenceoftheLambChops and the CurrituckQueen. We saw a couple of unfamiliar faces and I was soon asked to take a walk on the beach by KleanDeckKate. She told me that the two unfamiliar faces were a couple that had crossed over on Saturday in 12' rec boats with no spray skirts or front bulkheads, and in shorts and T shirts. The female half of the couple had confided to KDK that she was cold, wet, and scared. Her companion was insiting on crossing back that night since, of course, they had no extra supplies. The SKOAC crew insisted that they stay and agreed to feed them if they did, and offered an escorted crossing the next morning. It took some persuasion to convince Mr. Macho and even more to dissuade him from visiting the sea caves in a 2' swell in a rec boat with no spray skirt. I was also told that the woman was lent a wetsuit for the crossing the next morning and was ridciuled by you-know-who for wearing it.
The VOR was, predictably, ready to meet the guy on the shore with torches, pitchforks, and a rope thrown over the big tree on the LSB lawn. It made me think of the conscious/competent matrix that we discussed in our instructor training. This guy was very obviously an unconscious incompetent, neither aware of the danger or equipped to deal with it. His lady friend had progressed to the conscious competent quadrant and was aware of the danger and realized she did not have the tools to deal with it properly. KDK and I discussed the remarkable similarities between this incident and the two fellows, one of whom lost his life, in the sea caves a few years back. By sheer luck nothing happened this time but it was only due to luck.
Monday found us at Bark Bay Slough, encountering another pair of 12' rec boats with no bulkheads. The situation here was 180 degrees opposite however. The couple were in the process of blowing up their bow and stern flotation bags as we drove up. I chatted with them and they said that they were just going to paddle the slough and then check out the lake at the mouth of the Bark River. If they thought it looked OK they would venture out, wearing their spray skirts and life jackets. A couple of 'conscious competents', aware of both the potential dangers and the limitations of their skills and equipment. I told them the story from Sunday and congratulated them on their planning and preparation. They both smiled and paddled off to explore the slough.
So, to quote Vladimir Illych Lenin once again, 'What is to be Done?". Leaving the guy hanging in the LSB yard, like the crucified Roman slaves lining the Appian Way, with a sign that read "dumb ass pseudo-kayaker" pinned on his chest seems a bit extreme, no matter how satisfied it would make the VOR feel. Plus my guess is that the view might disturb RangerSue. Had I been on the Monday morning crossing, I may have 'accidentally' knocked the guy over. "Oh man, sorry dude! Water pretty cold? Can you still feel your fingers? I'll bet your weiner is about the size of a golf pencil stub, right? How are you getting back in your boat? Too bad that wetsuit is folded up on our back deck, eh? Just tell me how to help you get back in and I'll get right on it!". What actually happened is actually much more constructive and positive. The guy confessed to knowing an extremely competent paddler that we all know in the northern part of the state. KDK emailed him with the story and suggested that when he next talked to Mr.Macho that he gently steer the subject to proper gear and risk management. Our zenlike buddy from the north agreed to take Kate's words "to heart and try to do something positive with them". I guess that and Mr.M's awareness of his companions feelings and concerns, which she hopefully expressed both forcefully and clearly on the ride home, would move this fellow into that conscious incompetent mode and move him toward the conscious competent quadrant that we would like all Lake Superior sea kayakers to be in. I would also hope that this cautionary tale might be passed on to those seen off loading the 10' rec boat at Little Sand Bay for a 'trip to the Apostle Islands'. The National Park Service can't prohibit anyone from going out on the lake no matter how ill prepared they are or how shaky their gear looks. They just get to pick up the pieces, along with the Coast Guard, and that's the very last way they want to spend their time. As our buddy Silb's would say, paddle safe!