Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Hypothermia season: "I know what I'm doing"

Last weekend was the Wisconsin Fishing Opener, which triggers the Bark Bay Fishing Invitational, an event I've written about annually since this blog began.  It is pretty much a 'Groundhog Day' type of thing with almost exactly the same activities and even the same food menu (which we heartily approve of) from year to year.  The attendee list varies yearly with some new blood every year.  Old blood tends to check in at some point and this year we received a call from RonO and Elmer, who were settled in at the Salty Dawg Saloon in Homer, AK.  One event that was only held for the second time was the 'Get Lost with Phil' event.  New attendees and some veterans that haven't been paying attention agree to walk around the lake with RawhidePhil and somehow he always comes back without them.  They usually stagger into camp about an hour and a half later, soaked from trudging through swamps with their tongues hanging out.  It's kind of the Gilligan's Island 'three hour tour.....a three hour tour' syndrome.  One of the new guys smart enough to stay in camp was a fellow from Ironwood, MI who had just purchased a couple of 13' rec boats with bulkheads for him and his wife.  They had tested a number of boats at a demo and these two Jackson kayaks, they sounded like Journey's from his description, fit them the best.  He said they paddled around the inland lakes mostly and then asked the question that we Gitchee Gumee paddlers like to hear: "What do we do to take the next step to do some day paddles out on the big lake?

When I got back last night I read Bryan Hansel's post in Paddling Light.  The age old dilemma, as 'Groundhog Day' as the Bark Bay event, of what to do when we spot the woefully unprepared person heading out in dangerous conditions.  Be advised people, it is the absolute peak of hypothermia season on Superior.  Balmy days and sub 40F water in many cases.  I thought Bryan handled it well and speaking from experience I think the outcome was as good as could be expected.  But will anything be learned from the experience?  Will she do the same thing tomorrow?  Will the fact that she had a decent outcome create the belief that she now knows what she is doing? One key issue is whether we come off as Cliff Claven's or as concerned paddlers trying to help and educate.  I've written about a fellow preparing to venture out to the mainland sea caves in the Apostles, the spot where a couple of people have paid for their unpreparedness with their lives in the past few years.  I had on a drysuit and he was wearing shorts and flip flops.  What caused the danger finally sunk in was when I invited him to continue the discussion while standing in Lake Superior.  It was a very short 30 second discussion before I helped him carry his 12' rec boat  back up the steps, directions to Bark Slough scribbled on the back of an envelope.  Many, many other times I've been told, "Don't worry, I know what I'm doing".  I've not perfected the ideal response to that yet because its usually patently obvious that they have no idea what the hell they are doing.  What can also fuel this unwarranted confidence is benign neglect from the people who rent these boats to people.  As Bryan pointed out there are a couple of outfitters in Grand Marais that are less than forthcoming with their rental clients.  There is an outfitter in the Apostles that rents sit on tops.  I've seen firsthand the results of that policy with some poor college aged guys freezing their asses off on Oak Island, both them and their gear soaked to the bone.  In the AINL there are now people at the Little Sand Bay launch during the busy season, Coast Guard Auxiliary volunteers I believe, that gently instruct people about safety.  Same thing at Meyers Beach.  The fact that becomes very clear to these volunteers however, is many people have the attitude that they indeed 'know what they are doing' and don't have to listen.

Enough of that.  We all know the story and it's like a broken record.  Just keep on keeping on with the gentle hints, advice, and creative ways to illustrate them, and maybe we will make a difference.  I was lucky enough this weekend to sit and talk to a guy who knew very well he was in the 'conscious incompetent' quadrant of the famous matrix and wanted answers to some well thought out questions.  What is the next piece of gear I should buy and how do you dress for immersion were a couple great ones.  Fortunately the three of us that paddled Lake O, RangerMark, the KingOfIronwoodIsland, and I, had wetsuits and drysuits to illustrate the discussion. Poker losses had weakened TheKing mentally and physically so it was good that he had that wetsuit on.  As you can see from the above image the lake was placid but after a bit of rolling I was really glad the sauna was close by and stoked hard.  Lets keep up the feedback and the thoughtfully presented advice when we see a disaster waiting to happen.  Even if the response rate to the advice is the same as a good glove/no hit shortstop, .224, it is still another person, albeit one out of four, who has moved into that conscious incompetent quadrant, the first and essential step to safe paddling on North America's largest lake.

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