Thursday, June 6, 2013
Paddle Float or No?
Last Saturday found me at Long Lake, about ten miles west of Washburn, working with the Scouts again on 'real' water. The now defunct Inland Sea Symposium used Long Lake as a rolling venue on years when the waters of Chequamagon Bay forgot to heat up properly by mid June. It was a threatening day but the wind and rain spared us and we got in a nice 90 minute session. We worked on getting in and out of the boats, proper adjustment of foot pegs and fit, moving the boat with various strokes, and we even did a T-Rescue. What I didn't do, either at the pool or on Long Lake, was teach the venerable paddle float rescue (gasp!).
One of my favorite paddle float self rescue stories took place at the Great Lakes Sea Kayak Symposium, an event that you should sign up for right now. Justine Curgenven, accomplished This is the Sea series film maker and all round wonderful human being, was in attendance and working with folks on the beach. When asked if she would demonstrate a paddle float rescue her comment was to the effect of 'A what? I don't believe I've ever done one'. Apparently the BCU didn't, and perhaps still doesn't, require teaching the paddle float rescue. BCU paddlers can weigh in with the current skinny on the topic. When we teach the rescue to beginning students, it is invariably on flat water, there is invariably a 'yellow rainbow' or two, and there is invariably a student asking, 'how the hell would I ever do this in rough water?'. The latter is the question that I have always had. If the water is rough enough to go over in the first place, the act of emptying the kayak and righting it, getting the float inflated and on the paddle, and then clambering up on the boat, which has likely refilled with water, and successfully snapping on the spray skirt can be a dicey proposition at best. It is almost easier to teach the reentry and roll because the quirk that causes most rolling students to initially fail, muscling the paddle rather than working the lower body, actually works with a big yellow balloon stuck on the end of the paddle. The boat is full of water but if you are attempting a paddle float reentry in rough water, chances are good your boat will be full of water in that scenario as well.
Will I wind up teaching the paddle float reentry to the Scouts in subsequent sessions? Are you going to report me to the ACA? Will there be fines and suspensions if I don't? I honestly don't know whether I will work on the paddle float rentry with the boys. If they have the other skills that they will need to utilize dialed in, then I will consider it. Part of it is risk management and its close companion, failure mode evaluation and analysis. We will be paddling as a group out to whichever island we manage to secure a campsite on. We will not paddle if the wind is over around 10mph and group discipline will be ruthlessly maintained, much more than in the equivalent adult group where self esteem issues are much more of a concern than with the Scouts. We will play with some cowboy reentries as these guys are supple and athletic with a marvelous sense of balance. We will most certainly do an 'all in' and let them figure out how to deal with it. Since the Scout motto is Be Prepared I guess I have to at least demo the damn thing and see if any of em want to try it.
Even though I have a jaundiced view of the paddle float reentry, that is not to say a paddle float is worthless. It's excellent to mark where your beer is cooling in the lake, demonstrated above by the BessemerConvivialist, and can make a fine emergency pillow or lower back support in a pinch. It can also be a stabilization device. On a crossing from Oak Island to Red Cliff Point a few years back a beginner paddler became freaked at the rebound waves coming off the point, freaked to the point of being frozen and unable to paddle. His resourceful and more experienced companions inflated two paddle floats, stuck one on each paddle blade for bombproof stability, and clipped on a tow line until they cleared the cliffs. Given the small space it requires, a paddle float is essential equipment along with the bilge pump. I just have my doubts about its effectiveness in getting a beginning paddler back into the boat in anything other than small wind waves and fairly calm seas. To teach the paddle float or not teach the paddle float, that is the question.