Busy, busy, busy!

I keep meaning to write this post before it gets too stale, and I keep being too busy to get to it. But today, I seem to have found myself with a little bit of slack time.

getting ready to tow

Last week, we ran two leadership scenario days for our guides at Columbia River Kayaking. The task was given to two or three guides to plan and lead a kayaking day trip. We invite along an assortment of paddlers, and then as the day progresses, Ginni and I come up with scenarios of different kinds for the paddlers to put into play and for the guides to respond to. These can range from wandering away from the group, unzipping PFDs, capsizing or needing to be towed.

The first day was with Josh, Katie and James as the leaders, the second day was a harder day, with Matthew and Levi leading. They have a year or two of experience over the other guides so we gave them some harder tasks to deal with.

The first day we ran through an assortment of capsize drills, including this one out in the middle of the river. My job as the “client” was to get unstable, capsize and then be too seasick to stay in my kayak, requiring a long tow to sheltered water. Here’s Josh, emptying the water out of my kayak with a T-rescue.

kayak T-rescue

The next leadership day was set up to be a little longer and harder. The night before, we loosened some of the hardware on the guides’ kayaks: the skeg control and a deck line fitting on Levi’s, and a foot peg track and seat back strap on Matthew’s. If this sounds underhanded (it sure seemed that way to Matthew!), I should point out that we created no scenario for our guides that has not already happened in real life at some point. Hardware does fail!

I also set up my kayak with a bunch of loose, float-able gear in my front hatch. More later!

We set out downriver to Brookfield with our little group, and spent the morning spreading out, not listening to our guides, unzipping our PFDs and generally making pests of ourselves. At one point, I capsized, let my kayak, paddle and PFD float away and when one of the other “clients” came over to help, I capsized him as well. Things were starting to get interesting!

At lunch, we debriefed some of the issues from the morning, and then Ginni pulled out an exercise I had not seen before. “OK guys, your paddle is starting to get hypothermic and has a minor head laceration. Pull out your kit and deal with it.” As guides, we need to be able to deal with almost any contingency that might come up on the water, and hypothermia is certainly common enough, as are minor injuries. This is a great exercise for seeing right away how well equipped the guide’s kit is. Here’s Levi’s paddle, dressed in warm clothes, with a thermos of hot tea, and a bandaid on the head injury. Nicely done!

Levi's paddle, dressed warmly

After lunch, the plan was to cross the river just upstream from Jim Crow Point. At this point in the day, the wind and tide had combined to create some very choppy and confused water near the point. I set out with my front hatch cover loose, got ahead of the group and promptly capsized in the rough water. I pulled all the loose gear out of the hatch and spread it around and flooded the front compartment before anyone caught up to me. Now things were really exciting! My kayak was half sunken, with gear floating everywhere in the rough water. Another paddler had taken off straight across the river, and when Levi went to deal with that, he found that his skeg control didn’t work. Whoops!

Rescuing a needled kayak

Rescuing a needled kayak

Matthew took on the task of rescuing me, which takes more time and effort when one hatch has been flooded. Levi gathered everyone up again and retreated back behind the point, while Matthew towed me and my partially flooded boat back to safety.

Plans were changed now and we headed back upriver to look for a better place to cross, as the wind, which was supposed to be light, instead continued to build, setting up wind waves and whitecaps over the whole river.

kayak portage train

We ended up landing on Fitzpatrick Island for a rest and regroup session. There were still two miles to go to get back to Skamokawa, and some people were tired and others were not comfortable in the waves. We ended up portaging across the island to launch on a more hospitable beach. In the middle of the portage, Matthew suddenly stopped and set his boat down for a closer look. It seems that his foot peg track had fallen out! That certainly could have happened in a worse place…

Something is wrong with Matthew's kayak

We finally reached Skamokawa, remarkably close to the time that our guides had been aiming for, but not before a few more bothersome “scenarios” popped up.

I love doing these leadership scenario training days. Of course, I have a lot of fun capsizing and causing trouble for the guides, but I also get a lot out of watching how things develop and learning different ways of dealing with trouble. Thanks to the guides for enduring it and thanks especially to the folks who came along as “clients”. We couldn’t have done it without you!

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