Thursday, June 12, 2008

I left my cell phone in San Francisco

The ever vigilant RangerBob sent me the attached article (link below) on a kayak 'rescue' by the Coast Guard in San Francisco Bay. In a nutshell, two guys went for a day paddle to watch the Escape from Alcatraz triathalon, the weather got a bit nasty, and they decided to spend the night on Angel Island in San Francisco Bay. The problem was that they didn't notify anyone about this change of plans and about midnight one of the wives called the Coast Guard and the search began. The next morning they were found paddling toward shore near Alcatraz, both by the Coast Guard and also by a news crew who wanted to hear the story. It's at this point the routine rescue effort becomes a news story. In my opinion and in the opinion of the majority of folks who commented on the story in the San Francisco Chronicle, these two guy acted like a couple of self centered, smug jerks. Take a look a the video here and see what you think. It seems like they just can't be bothered to tell the reporter the story and are far too busy stowing gear and getting their boats squared away. The comment that the rescue attempt, "was disturbing a beautiful sunrise." was the clincher for me.

I've interacted with the US Coast Guard a number of times over the years, one of which involved an evacuation of one of our paddle group from Oak Island in the Apostles. They are unfailingly professional, helpful, well trained, and efficient. And they refused the case of beer I delivered as a thank you for their efforts; now that's professional! I'm sure our fellow bloggers from the Swanage RNLI lifeboat are cut from the same cloth. These two yahoos were apparently more concerned with the 'lovely moonrise' than letting anyone know they were OK. The one guy even told a radio reporter, I would imagine disdainfully, that he didn't even own a cell phone. They had been on Angel Island since 11am on Sunday, likely walking by dozens of visitors as well as park buildings, all of which would have some way to contact the mainland. Irresponsible, self centered behavior; it would have been so damn easy to call home. But I'm not the only one that has this opinion. Check out the comments following the story. "Kayaking Klowns","ungrateful idiots", "send these jackasses the bill", and "sweet little Brokeback getaway" were just a few of the milder opinions expressed by readers.

Stuff like this, as well as the article a couple months back in USA Today do absolutely nothing to help the image of kayakers in the public perception or in the eyes of the Coasties and other folks who may have to haul us out of the water. The comment by the coroner in the recent Chicago kayaker drowning and the statement in the USA Today article, "
it's putting a strain on Coast Guard and other marine search-and-rescue crews and prompting calls for new laws requiring kayakers to take boating safety courses" does not bode well for the sport. I know I'm preaching to the choir in this post since most readers of a kayaking blog are interested enough in the sport to get training and try to improve their skills. Clubs and individuals need to redouble their efforts to educate the general kayaking public. A lot of times this needs to be done one person at a time. I few years back I tried to talk a guy out of paddling out to the Meyers Beach sea caves in the Apostles, the site of a couple fatalities in past years. He had a 12' rec boat, no spray skirt, paddle float or pump, and was not dressed for immersion. I was getting nowhere with him until I suggested that we continue the conversation while standing knee deep in Lake Superior. As his lower legs quickly became blue and numb he realized the dangers if he went over a half mile off shore. If I was lucky, he mentioned this episode to a few of his rec boat buddies and maybe the word was spread. We just need to be relentless with the message, even if its one person at a time, and maybe we can avoid or forestall the inevitable government regulation. In the meantime, shoving a camera in the face of a couple of 'kayaking klowns' does not help the cause at all.


Ranger Bob said...

I've resisted getting a cell phone myself, so I can sympathize with the guy there, but that's as far as it goes.

Failing to make any effort to communicate with the folks on the mainland, then copping an attitude the way they did.... it's no wonder so many of the comments run along the lines of, "They ought to be billed for the SAR costs."

And I love that, "Let's continue this conversation knee-deep in the lake" gambit, Dave!

Robert Bell said...

As a kayaker (former instructor) and a Coast Guardsman who has worked search and rescue, all I can say is that those 2 guys are some very irresponsible and unappreciative jerks.

Anytime you plan on going off shore, especially in a place like SF Bay you should make alternative plans to others.

I initially thought that they were just embarrassed and didn't want to talk to the cameras until the one paddler got defensive and said that they made the best decision. They made far from the best decision. I don't know what our cost for running helos/boats for SAR are now with fuel costs but I know when I was actively coordinating SAR our helos were about $3,000 per hour to run.

This was nobodies fault but theirs. I do want to say though, this kind of action should not discourage anyone of seeking assistance in some way just understand that we as rescuers have no clue as to the condition of the possible victim until we find them. Do Not play it off as a joke and Do Not be mad because it ruined your beautiful sunrise.

Robert Bell, OSC, USCGR

DaveO said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
DaveO said...

Great comments gents. Always good to hear from a Coastie. I'd have accepted that case of beer but I guess thats just me.
Heres the rough cost of the S&R for the two jerks:
3 hr helicopter @ $3700 per hr, 3 hr cutter @ $1,550 per hr, 3 hr zodiac boat @ $350 per hr - Total cost to US taxpayers = $16,800. I got this from the USCG website,

Silbs said...

A most excellent post. On top of it all, these fellows give us all a black eye in the press and, as you pointed out, we don't need that sort of thing.

kykr13 said...

You're absolutely right on with this post. Since that CASKA blog post that you linked, the club has written an open letter to the coroner but I haven't heard of a response from them as of yet. Still, many normal people (as in non-kayakers) may be one step closer to forming a strong opinion.

I also love the "continue the conversation knee-deep in the lake"! Might have to borrow that one...

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