While we were all celebrating with the paddling community at Canoecopia in Madison on Saturday, a young man lost his life off Port Washington on Lake Michigan. His kayak has still not been recovered. The media described Peter Dougherty as an 'experienced kayaker' and 'kayak instructor'. As word of the accident got out and emails and posts begin to circulate among Milwaukee paddlers and, more specifically, the paddlers who routinely paddled out of Port Washington, a different picture began to emerge. Keith Wikle, a Michigan paddler and one of the organizers of the 'Gales' event in Marquette last year, did a bit of digging, talked with the Port Washington authorities, and put together a much clearer and more accurate picture of the incident than the mainstream media. Other than the solo aspect of the accident, it sounds disturbingly similar to the death last June off Little Sand Bay in the Apostles.
I can feel the urge to get preachy, an urge that tends to rise to the surface every time something like this happens. Read Keiths post and I suspect you may have the same feelings. Sadness, frustration, and fact that the accident was completely preventable means that once again I'm writing pretty much the same stuff that I write when I hear of a kayaking fatality. The key, as always, is moving people off that unconscious/incompetent matrix square to that first step of conscious/incompetent. Admitting that one has an idea of the dangers of cold water kayaking and realizing that they don't have the skills to cope with it is the criticial first step. That step can lead to not paddling or seeking out instruction to develop the needed skills. Not making that step can be fatal. I have a friend who was a prosecutor in Jefferson County, WI. A deer hunter was killed when a group of hunters surrounded a small patch of woods and then all walked toward the middle, a 'circle drive'. When my buddy was questioning the surviving members of the party and unsuccessfully hiding his opinion on the insanity of the practice, one of the hunters indignantly told him, "Hell, we've been doing this for 25 years with no problems". Not knowing the dangers is part one of the problem. Part two is the reinforcement of having successfully completed or watched others complete what knowledgeable participants would consider to be a stupid dangerous activity.
As usual with this type of post I have no magical prescription, no panacea that will make this problem go away. As long as there are young males, and every single one of the victims can be considered a young male, there will be this 'don't hassle me, I know what I'm doing' dilemma. My buddy, Mr. EngineerGear is working on an economic model for launch decisions with factors such as Opportunity Cost and Captured Value. Its thought provoking stuff and I don't want to give away the entire premise but Danny Mongo alluded to it in a session last Saturday when he said that 'when the wind and waves reach a certain point calories expended paddling plummets and the bar tab skyrockets'.
I guess that once again we need to go with Keiths 'one person at a time' recommendation. I really liked the DNR magazine article that I mentioned in a previous post and think that it reached a lot more people than any kayak specific publication would. But once again, and especially with young males ( I actually was one for several years), you can lead a horse to water but you can't make 'em drink. They are especially reluctant to drink when they have successfully completed the sketchy activity two, four, or a dozen times in the past. One person at a time I guess, nothing else seems workable.