Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Launch or stay put? Another riff on the subject

I ended yesterdays post with my demoralizing tale of the two young women headed to the sea caves, woefully unprepared if virtually anything other than blue skies and light breezes occurred.  An email exchange with the Grand Duke, VytautasOfTheMidway himself on the post, reminded me of another part of the story. ( As an aside, 'OfTheMidway' refers to the old nickname of the Chicago Bears, the Monsters of the Midway. For some reason, sea kayaking and pro football just don't overlap much). One factor that I neglected to stress enough in the decision making process was water temperature.  The other that I failed to mention at all was false confidence born of either excellent physical conditioning or competence in a complementary activity. 

Warm water can make up for a lot of mistakes and omissions in sea kayaking.  Dressing for immersion lately has involved a pair of shorts and a long sleeved spf 50 Hydroskin top or similar.  The lake has been unseasonably warm and part of the decision making process of the group on Devils involved the practiced skills of the paddlers in getting each other back in the boats plus the fact that the meter would not be running as it would be in cold water.  Once again however, the lake is indeed the boss.  Just yesterday I chastised the GurneyGranny for not being out more in her kayak, my old beloved Gulfstream, in these balmy conditions.  She informed me that she had been over in Herbster on the other side of the Bayfield peninsula and balmy water was nowhere to be found after the northeast blow earlier in the week.  Sure as hell I checked the surface water temp link and there was 56F water that had welled up from the deep water reserve of 40F water.  The motto would be never to leave the neoprene at home on Lake Superior.  The 70F water that RangerMark and I were playing in on Sunday near Washburn was twelve crucial degrees colder 25 miles away as the crow flies. 

Part two of the decision making reprise is the 'I'm in great shape and can deal with anything' or the 'I'm an expert canoeist/whitewater paddler/swimmer and know what I'm doing'.  Both are dead wrong and attitudes that can get you in serious trouble or worse.  The young fellow that died in the mainland sea caves a few years back was a super physically fit soccer player at my alma mater UW-EC.  He capsized, was pushed into the sea caves by a northwest wind, and was hypothermic by the time help arrived. In August.  The very first time I took a Lake Superior trip was with son, CptO, when he was in high school.  We went out to Sand Island with Trek & Trail and had an orientation paddle,  strokes, wet exits, etc., in two foot waves at T&T beach in Bayfield.  Two 'expert' canoeists, a married couple with dozens of BWCA trips under their belt, jumped into a double after giving a cursory and rather disdainful listen to instructions from our guide.  Very shortly they were hammered into the sea wall next to the ferry landing and when they got back to the beach they demanded their money back.  That was not going to happen back when Greg Sweval was running the joint and I'm not sure it should have.  The point is that in order to develop sea kayaking skills you need to sea kayak and train for that particular activity.

Fast forward to the Bear Spit nine days ago.  As the VytautasOTM group set up camp and prepared to hunker down for the evening, a double and a single kayak paddled up.  Rather than me paraphrasing it, here is the first hand account from the Grand Duke himself:

Interestingly, we ran into a group headed to Devils on the SE spit of Bear.  It was a 14' single and a double.  Catalina I think was the name of the boat.  The double had about 1.5' of gear on top of the decks between the two paddlers and none of the people had any idea about paddling sea kayaks.  There was a lady in a single and a couple in the double.  The lady in a single looked like she had a lot of paddling under her belt but she was a WW paddler.  The gentleman in the double also said that he had 10 years of WW experience but when I asked him about his experience paddling in the following seas he hadn't had much to offer. I advised them strongly to reconsider the downwind crossing: they had to hit a 40' target in the mouth of the harbor on Devils and, if they blew it, it was either the meeting with the rocks on Devils or Canada on the other side.  I did not feel they could rescue each other in the case of a very likely capsize.

Here's the ticker!  I had a chance to use Aras' wisdom.  I very emphatically painted to this group a romantic picture of the bucolic beach on the NE side of bear with plentiful cliffs and caves around it and a 1/4 mile of pristine brownsand beach!  The ladies, at least, totally heard the message and were extra keen to capitalize on the alternative to the crossing to Devils.  The man thanked me for the safetymindedness and insisted that he is very capable of making a judgement himself. 

Two things come to mind here.  The overconfidence in skills that just don't translate well and the very dangerous attitude of 'I know what I'm doing' when its apparent to someone who actually knows what they are doing that you couldn't find your ass with either hand in regard to the situation you are so confident about.  Park Rangers encounter this situation all the time.  If a person was to sit Ranger Bob and RangerMark down and put a pint in front of them, they would not run out of 'leave me alone, I know what I'm doing' stories until they had to be carried out of the bar. 
So kids, look at the damn water surface temperature map and don't leave the neoprene in the car trunk.  Also, keep an open mind, especially we bullheaded and testosterone addled males, when you speak with someone who pretty obviously has their 'feces in a group' to use the polite euphemism.  Two more factors to load into the mental computer when we decide whether to paddle or not paddle.


gurneygranny said...

Good post, Olson. But I am trying to envision RangerMark being carried out of the bar . .

DaveO said...

I don't want to mention any particular incidents but mention 'Selks Real Margaritas' to both RangerMark and the GreenThumbChef (who was very weak one morning in Christmas) and see what type of reaction you get.

YooperPaddler said...

I heard from fishermen yesterday that there was radio traffic about two kayakers in distress Saturday off Oak Island, with rescuers enroute. Have you heard what that was about? Just another sordid tale of inexperience...or arrogance? Suppose I should withhold judgment without facts.