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A Rescue!

Posted: Tue Aug 12, 2014 11:48 am
by PJohanson
One day in July put all my paddle group's rescue practices into actual practice. The weather was great on Beaver Lake. I was out in my AE Dragonfly inflatable kayak (a 7-year-old version of Lagoon), and my friend Heather was rowing her inflatable Seahawk 2. These are awesome little boats for commando kayaking -- portable, stable, easy to take on the bus, and way way tougher than the cheap little pool toys sold for ten bucks in chain stores.
Big crowds were at a festival, where we chatted with a fireman in a big white truck. Then Heather and I set up our boats and launched.
After some relaxed drifting and chatting, Heather said suddenly, "What's that red thing in the water?" We paddled closer to an island to investigate what turned out to be someone's red t-shirt. Someone was swimming among the weeds around the bushy shoreline of the island. He called hello, and asked for a tow.
That's how we met Rob: a young guy in his twenties, tired and tangled in weeds. He took hold of the stern of my kayak and let me tow him out to clear water. There we re-assessed his situation. He was looking for the red canoe he and his dad brought to the island, with a six-pack of beer and a bottle of vodka. Could we please tow him around the island to look for the canoe? He was just too tired to swim through the weeds any more, and his backpack was getting heavy.
"Oh! You have a nice big boat!" he said to Heather. "I'll just get in and ride." He let go of my boat and grabbed for hers. There were weeds wrapped all around his legs and an arm. When we warned him not to flip us, he didn't inspire us with confidence that he could follow orders. It was hard enough for him to take off his backpack when we said so, because it was holding him down in the water. "Man, my electronics are all gonna be soaked," he said unhappily.
Meanwhile, Heather tied her float rope to her seat cushion. With that floating support, Rob was much happier; and with him floating ten feet away, we were much happier. After several tries, I rolled his insanely-heavy pack onto my front deck.
Was it time to push the emergency button on my SPOT beacon and call for rescue? Not quite. Rob could still talk coherently, and held on to his floating cushion fine. Warm day, good weather, and a beach on the lakeshore closer than whatever rock on the other side of the island where his dad and/or red canoe might or might not be, with whatever was left of the beer and vodka.
"Let's get him to shore," said Heather, tying the tow rope to my kayak's stern handle.
"You go ahead," I told her, "And get that nice young man we talked to with the big white truck." She nodded, realizing that if we said the words Emergency Services, Rob might get all upset at the notion of us calling the cops on him. Then he'd be even harder to deal with. Heather rowed to Beaver Beach, while I paddled to North Beach with Rob twenty feet behind me.
Towing a tired swimmer is much harder than towing a friend while playing or safety practise! Rob was doing an excellent imitation of a sea anchor.
Meanwhile, Heather had reached the shore only to find that the Emergency Services people had left -- called out to another problem with some kids. She borrowed a phone to call 911. Then she rowed back to the island, where she couldn't see the canoe but could hear Rob's father shouting. Good enough! He could stay there for now.
I pushed the OK button on my SPOT beacon to celebrate when I got to shore. Rob staggered ashore and shook my hand. He sat at a picnic table, pulled his jeans and shoes out of his pack, and eventually struggled into them. "It's gonna take me an hour and a half to walk home," he said, and off he went. He wouldn't wait for his dad. Heather met me at North Beach, and we traded stories.

Heather and I went back to Beaver Beach, where a police car was pulled up on the grass close to shore nearly an hour and a half after the 911 call. Officer Brad needed some explanations, and used his radio to tell Fire Rescue to get a boat on the lake to pick up Rob's father. Brad set off to meet them at the Elk Lake end of the lake, and asked us to hang around in case Fire Rescue came to launch here instead. Meanwhile, Heather and I unlocked the Nature Centre. Never been so glad to have the key to that little building!
We folded up our boats, replaced various soggy clothes with dry, and re-fueled with cookies and water. We called my mom for a ride. Just before she got there, Officer Brad came back to tell us that Rob had been found walking along the road. And his father had been found in Elk Lake with a canoe part-way to shore  and been rescued because he tipped over just as the Fire Rescue boat reached him. It was 6:45pm.

Rescue of a Mentally-Challenged Boater

Posted: Thu Aug 14, 2014 7:55 am
by lee johnson
Paula, that is quite the story of a rescue of a person who does not make it easy to be rescued! I note that you tried, at first, to have this clown hold onto the stern of your kayak but eventually had him out on a rope. Another method advised by Canadian rescue classes is to have the person hang onto the bow of your kayak, floating on his or her back with body and legs along the side of your kayak. This should decrease drag. I could not do this kind of rescue in the wind and waves I faced on English Bay a couple of years ago because the kite-boarder I was trying to help needed to lift herself up at the stern of my AFX to keep her head above oncoming whitecaps. And I could not use my rope because she would have gone under too often. Well, one does what one can. On the Salton Sea last March, we used a tow-rope to rescue a young gal who was too tired to paddle any more. Towing her kayak worked fine. Moral: one must think of solutions that suit the conditions. You have told a good story, but maybe that young man should have been left to receive a Darwin Award as he took himself out of the gene pool!

Posted: Fri Aug 15, 2014 3:08 pm
by PJohanson
Your suggestion to let someone ride the bow of my kayak is a good one, Lee -- I've done that during safety practise and it does work. Even letting someone hold onto the stern works IF the swimmer lies flat and floats. But alas, this young man Rob was too impaired to cooperate fully.
I didn't feel safe with his hand on my boat's stern, and rejected the idea of letting him hold onto the bow. He was wiggly, if that make sense to you -- I was alarmed that he would put a hand on the side of my kayak and flip it, then flip my friend's inflatable dinghy. Letting him hold my kayak's stern felt EXACTLY like the safety practise day with my husband in the same position saying "Hey! I can hang on at the back and still reach the side. Ready? I'll flip you over. One, two three, GO!" A fun flip at a sandy beach with my husband and three friends is one thing. It would be NO FUN in deep water, weeds and rocks with a drunk trying to climb on my head.

This young man kept moving his arms till he got that seat cushion. Once he got that floating seat cushion, he held onto it with a grip like grim death and didn't let go. He also didn't understand when I asked him to lift his legs and float flat. It was a real reminder that a person can be impaired by alcohol, or cold, or pain, and become unreliable.

Yep, he was a candidate for a Darwin Award but y'know, it was a reasonable amount of effort to rescue him, and we were careful not to put ourselves in too much risk.