Darwinism in Shilshole Bay

Summer on the water in Seattle is usually a circus. Most wait for those warm sunny days to get out so imagine how few days those are giving our reputation for rain.  That said, most get so excited of a sunny they skip the paddle lesson refresher and dust off that old canoe or kayak and head for the beach.

Problem is, everyone else is doing the same thing.  When they get to the beach every type of boat is trying to launch or floating in some format offshore.  Power boats end up throwing off large wakes as paddle boarders, kayakers and inflatable rafts bob over the wave crests, some falling in.  Not a big issue on the lakes as the water has warmed up by August to the upper 60's or low 70's.  Puget Sound stays in hte 50's due to several tides a day flushing out it's bays and open water areas. There are warm pockets of water such as Hood Canal and the South Sound but most sections feel like an ice pack on your legs after about a minute.

Today while waiting about 100' offshore for a series of freighter waves which could potential get up to chest high (standing), two sea kayakers came towards me.  Timing would have it they would pass between me and the shore just as the waves came in.  One passed by just as a few 2-3' waves came in. I said howdy! but no answer.  The second guy approached just as a nice set of steep faced 4-5' waves came in.  I put up my hand to signify 'stop' so I could surf through.  He kept going preventing me from taking a wave and then as the set hit him - he froze while taking mini strokes with no power and the blade mostly out of the water.  I instructed him to keep paddling, "keep strokes short, paddle hard!" He continued to freeze and then as most beginners in surf do, he leaned away from a wave as it approached him and capsized.

Before he capsized, I noticed a few things about this paddler.  He had a belly and his PFD was unclipped in the 2 lower clips, overall it wasn't on very well.  No sprayskirt, probably a good thing, and the classic laid back stroke as if sitting in a lounge chair. His paddle had a slim width blade face and seemed really short for his size.  He seemed to struggle to get in the water, probably his buddy's gear.

Luckily he wet exited quickly.  I asked if he could get back in, no answer.  I approached and asked his buddy who was just sitting 20' away if he knew the T-Rescue.  He mumbled "I can't get back into that narrow cockpit." No answer as he continued to sit there. I asked again and think I heard a 'yes'.  I said I could do one on my SUP (it works!) but no interest. The first paddler found a tow rope of some sort and towed his buddy towards shore.  The capsized kayaker was holding on to the back of his kayak but was in the water. They took about 20 minutes to get to shore, only about 50'.  Where he capsized it would've become shallow in 15' but his buddy took the long route going at an angle to shore and into deeper water.  Eventually while near shore, about 10' off I saw pumping of water going on, other dude still in the water.

About 30 minutes later they were off again. This time they went about 3/4 mile offshore into open water just as 2 freighters going over 20kts sped past.  One was throwing off a 5' face in the shipping channel.  I watched the guys but they were too far out to see any details.  Hopefully they made it back, as a second capsize in 300' of water that far offshore with no rescue skills might gurantee a spot on the evening news.

Lessons Learned..
- Sea kayaking with close deck kayaks requires a class.  Learn how to wet exit and re-enter your boat and only go out with someone who can gurantee getting you back in your boat.
- Paddle boats which fit you.  You can easily enter, exit and wet exit with out any problem.
- Get a PFD (lifejacket) that fits you and learn how to wear it properly.
- Dress for immersion - the water temperature.  Kayaks also can carry a ton of gear easily.
- Study the location you plan to paddle in. What are the hazards? Is the location ideal for your skill level?  And know when to cancel if conditions rise above your level.
- If you see a set of overhead waves (4-5' are overhead for kayaks) avoid the area if you can't surf.
- Want to learn to paddle in rough water?  Take a kayak surf class or similar.
- Only go with friends who can rescue you.
- If a passerby paddler offers help consider taking their assistance.  Drop the ego which is common in rescues. Often victims won't let go of their gear valueing it over their own survival. Or will turn down assistance despite being in considerable danger.  I could've pulled his boat over my SUP, dumped the water in a few seconds, then helped in back in - overall rescue, less than 3-4 minutes.  

Comments

Ian Berger said…
We had a windsurfer die about ten years ago in lower Connecticut because he wouldn't abandon his gear. He was one of the Hudson River crew. He was kiting in January and got blown down in a gust. His drysuit then sprung a leak. He was close to shore and could have swam in, abandoning his kite, but instead he stayed with his kit. They found his body the next day. Wife and two kids.

Equipment can be replaced. Stuff can be bought. Lives cannot be.