Once again, I find myself a little surprised at how long it’s been since I updated this blog. I’ve been meaning to, but things have been busy, and I find what usually happens is that I write a post in my head, but before I get around to publishing it, I decide that it’s not worth publishing, and then more weeks and months pass. In the meantime, the last entry on the blog is titled, “Death.” Not exactly representative of my life right now!

Anyway, here’s an update that is long overdue.

From yesterday

I came home from Michigan in the fall of 2014, took my NREMT test, and over the course of the next few months, did a lot of paperwork and more testing until finally the state of Washington DOH got tired of me bugging them, and gave me an EMT license. I’m now a volunteer EMT with both Skamokawa VFD and Cathlamet FD, which is what I needed to move on to the next step in my changing career plans, becoming an instructor for Wilderness Medical Associates.

Rig check and OTEP tonight

I went to the WMA instructor training in March of 2015, and got hired at the end of the course, but I wasn’t able to work that spring, because of my other conflicting work schedules. I finally started teaching for WMA last December, and by the end of the spring season, I had worked as an instructor for 51 days, all over the place. I’ve been to the LA area, SE Ohio, SE Missouri, Gettysburg, PA, northern Wisconsin and northern Minnesota.

Widjiwagan dining hall

Besides learning a lot about teaching, which I will be learning about for the rest of my life, I also learned that I like traveling. I’ve rarely done much more traveling than west coast road trips before. Until I went to Michigan, I had only ever been on commercial aircraft twice in my life, in 1991. Now I’ve been through a dozen different airports this year, some more than once.

Everyone told me I was going to hate it, but I found that I actually like flying. Don’t get me wrong, I’m no fan of the long TSA lines, or the ridiculous security theater that that entails. I’ve learned to dislike at least a couple of the nation’s largest airports, O’Hare and Dulles. But I’ve also found that I really like some of the smaller ones, like Duluth and Traverse City, and I really liked Denver, too, although I’ve only been through there once so far.

Headed home

I like the people watching, I like the amazing level of complexity that goes into a working airport, and I like airplanes, too. I love machines of all kinds, and a commercial jet is a pretty amazing piece of machinery. I like taking off and landing, and the complexity of the wings working to do the job of lifting all those tons of loaded airplane into the sky, and then bringing the whole thing gently back onto the ground. I’m not a huge fan of the long, boring hours in between, which is why I usually try to get a window seat, so there’s something to look at. I’m slowly learning various tips and tricks for more comfortable and practical air travel, and the very beginnings of how to use mileage points accounts. The Points Guy has been helpful.


I loved seeing all kinds of new places, most of which turned out to be more interesting and pleasing than I had thought they would be. Gettysburg touched me on a level that I did not expect. SE Ohio was more beautiful and interesting than I thought it would be, and the Great Lakes region is a place I plan to go back to as often as I can manage it. I love Duluth, and Lake Superior. I love smoked whitefish. I even learned to tolerate a level of biting insects that I never would have imagined getting used to.

More lake views...

In between all of this travel and activity and life changes, I finally shot a deer, bought a Brittany spaniel puppy and started learning about upland bird hunting, put a brand new logging winch on the tractor and started actively thinning my woodlot, started remodeling my barn and trying to get a handle on my messy shop, and also spent much more time than I ever anticipated dealing with my aging parents, and working on helping them sell off some assets and remodeling my dad’s office building. I caught a few fish, and took a few pictures, too.

Excited pup

Coming soon, some pics and words about a short canoe trip in the Boundary Waters.

Canoeing on Burntside Lake

You know you’ve really fallen out of the blogging habit when your teenager actually notices that you haven’t posted in a long time. Sigh.


Between my gawdawful internet service and the fact that Flickr, where I host all my photography, went to a bandwidth-gobbling “magazine” format, dealing with pictures got a lot less fun last year, and therefore, blogging held a lot less appeal, too.

tug and barge

But here it is, a year later, and I’ve got hundreds more good photos than I had last year, and I’ve been feeling the urge to get back to this, so I’m just going to bite the bullet and deal with it.


So, what has happened since last year? Well, last year at Lumpy Waters, Sean and I let a perfectly safe and sane, incident free long boat surfing class on Friday afternoon. The rest of my Lumpy Waters 2012 was safe and sane, too, although a bit cold and windy.

Long boat surfing class, Whalen Island/Sand Lake, OR

After Lumpy Waters was over, I moved right into hunting season. I saw a lot of animals this year, and watched one group of elk off and on throughout the season, but could never catch the legal bull out in the open during elk season.


I went to a couple of Appleseed shoots, and learned a LOT about shooting accuracy that I did not know. I even shot a qualifying Rifleman score on one target.

Appleseed shoot, Feb 24th, 2013, Ariel, WA

I went to Seattle with the family and my brother, and we saw the King Tut exhibit, which I had seen many years ago, the last time it was in Seattle.

Pacific Science Center


We moved the shop for CRK from the building behind the Skamokawa Store into the Skamokawa Landing building around the corner, and had a pretty busy kayaking season. Ginni and I got out for some coastal recon for a trip we are putting on the calendar for next year. And we paddled through fields of flowers…

paddling through flowers

Oregon Coast paddling

I got the sawmill running again for the first time in over two years, and milled some lumber for Brian down in Nehalem. We tried fishing for kings one evening, but to no avail. We did see over 50 silvers jumping, of course…


fishing with Brian

Back home, though, this was the year I finally figured out how to catch fall kings in the river near Skamokawa, and I managed to keep a couple of them.

cat and fish

I did a lot of other stuff, too, and took a lot more pictures from the deck at the new shop, like this one:


I’ll try to get back here again before another year goes by…

Santiago and cityscape

I recently got totally fed up with iPhoto as a photo managing tool, and decided to switch to Adobe Lightroom instead. Unfortunately, as is the case with most software upgrades and changes, there was something of a steep learning curve involved, and it took a while to figure out how to make it work, and, more importantly, how to make it export photos to Flickr. I think I have a handle on it now, and spent this morning sorting through my pics from GGSKS a couple of weeks ago. All my decent GGSKS pics can be seen here at my Flickr page.


Until the incident at Netarts Bay last fall, I hadn’t given much thought to going after the BCU five star award. After the ass-kicking that was handed to me at Netarts, I decided I needed to rethink that. So when I saw that a five star training was being offered at Golden Gate Sea Kayaking Symposium this year, I decided I needed to go.

paddling back

The regular symposium ran Friday through Sunday, and the five star training ran Monday through Wednesday. I couldn’t afford to be away for the whole time, so I arrived Sunday morning, and Santiago and Morag Brown and I went for a nice paddle out to Point Bonita and back, and got a little taste of what an ebbing tide at Golden Gate feels like. Paddling back around Lime Point under the bridge was a bit of a workout, and we were only dealing with about half of the max current for that day. We filed that one away for future worrying.

bridge and kayakers

Monday morning we met in the class room and talked about what we were hoping to get out of the class, and then we geared up and got on the water.

We paddled up into the bay towards Angel Island, initially hoping to go up through Raccoon Strait and around the island, but by the time we got there there was a pretty solid ebb flowing out of the channel, so we ferry glided across and landed on the south facing side of Angel Island for lunch.

paddling around Alcatrez

After lunch we headed on south towards Alcatrez Island, and around it. I think we had a cooler view of the island than the tourists on the boat were getting.

prison structures, Alcatrez Island

prison structures, Alcatrez Island

We finally got back to the marina and spent a little time in the classroom again, and then headed back out after dark for some night navigation exercises. All told, it turned out to be about a 12 hour day. I got home to where I was staying in Fairfax around 10:30. I was so happy to find a working hot tub out behind the house!

Night Navigation

The next day we started out talking about and practicing towing, and then headed out under the bridge for some rescue and towing practice in amongst the rocks.

paddling under

Then we headed over to the nearby beach to practice landing an incapacitated paddler in the surf, something I had never tried. I don’t have any good pictures of me getting yanked out of my kayak in the impact zone by a too-short tow rope, sorry…

looking west

After lunch, and some group photos, we saddled up again and headed back upstream. I knew that our timing was such that we were going to end up going around Lime Point against the full strength of a 4.75 knot ebb current, so I was starting to play it safe and conserve my energy. I had seen it at about half that level of current on Sunday, and wasn’t really sure what to expect today, at max ebb, except harder work.

BCU Five Star training course

On the way back we stopped to do some more rock garden play, and to practice landing and launching ourselves on and of the rocks, another thing that I had never really done before.

landing on rocks exercise

landing on rocks exercise

landing on rocks exercise

landing on rocks exercise

After we were done swimming around and climbing on the rocks, we headed back towards home, stopping at Lime Point just long enough to get tasked with one more exercise for the day: towing an incapacitated paddler around the point, into the current. My group initially tried a rafted tow with two people towing it, but we got all tangled up and pushed up against the rocks, and had to break it all apart and wash back out to try again. This time they broke us up into two simple tows, and with a hell of a lot of work, I finally made it around with my tow, trying as hard as I could to stay right on the rip line the whole way. And so ended day two…

headed home

The last day we spent on land, working on navigation problems with UK charts and current data, and going over kit and scenarios. Eventually I’m sure the UK tidal data will become something I’m comfortable with, but so far, it doesn’t make intuitive sense to me yet. I need to get some books and practice more.

end of the day

Since I had driven all this way, and hadn’t been to SF in many, many years, I took an extra day after the course to drive over the bridge, instead of just paddling around underneath it, and spend a little time in the city. My mission was to find some of the wild conures that live there, and that the wonderful documentary “The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill” was made about. I had heard that they had expanded in numbers, and no longer were primarily seen in the Telegraph Hill area. I didn’t know anyone personally who had succeeded in finding them, but I figured it was worth a try, so I parked just outside the Presidio and started walking into it. I saw a small group of them almost immediately, but flying far off in the distance. Forty five minutes later, I found a pair hanging out near the YMCA, and watched them for a while until they flew off. I followed in the direction they had gone, and a few minutes later I caught up to them, and sat like a bird-nerd tourist for a half hour or so, watching them with binoculars. And no, I was not able to get a single decent picture of them. What I would have given for a good telephoto lens on the Canon!

I did drive over to the Coit Tower, just to see if there might be some over there, but no luck. And with that, my SF trip was over, and I headed home, stopping in Sacramento to visit some friends.

As soon as I got home, I registered for a San Juan Currents class with Body Boat Blade on Orcas Island. I need to get out more!


The year is nearly over now, so here’s another lengthy blog post to catch up.


There was still a weekend of classes left at the Lumpy Waters Symposium after the Friday surf class that my previous blog post covered. On Saturday, Karl and I taught a class for beginners to get used to rock gardening, and rescuing each other in that environment, and we got to play in a little surf at the end of the day, too. The mouth of the Salmon River in Oregon is a really, really beautiful place. I will definitely go back there again sometime.

getting out

On Sunday, Amanda I and I led a small group of beginners on a trip to the Three Arches Rocks at Oceanside. There was a strong northwest swell and a building north wind, so we stayed on the south side of the rocks, but we did get to check out the largest arch, and get a little taste of the swell and wind.

checking out the big arch

Once the last Road Scholar trip of the year was over, I moved into the early deer season and started hunting every afternoon. I actually took a shot at a deer this year, for the first time ever, but missed. Mostly, what I brought home every day was chanterelles, which were plenty tasty, but not venison!


I also hunted all eleven days of elk season this year, and got close to elk a few times, but not close enough to see my way to a good shot, and I ended the elk season empty handed, too, except for some great pictures and more chanterelles.


Next year, for elk season, I’m putting together a small posse, instead of going it alone again. It’s nearly impossible to push an elk towards you, when you’re hunting alone.

Devil's Club

busy beavers were here

I hunted all four days of late deer season, too, but got faked out by an older, smarter buck, who waited for me to sneak past him, and then doubled back around behind me and vanished. I guess that’s why he’s a four point now.


Looking down at Skamokawa valleys

smoked turkey

We went to Seattle again for Thanksgiving, and for fun, we took the ferry over to Bremerton on the way home.

downtown Seattle

The weekend after Thanksgiving is when the Solstice Forge Hammer-In is every year, with good food, beer and coal fired fun.

Solstice Forge Hammer-In, November 26, 2011

The timber company that owns the land behind me sent a crew in this fall to clean ditches and maintain roads. They took out a bunch of alder along the road where it passes through my land, so I borrowed the Farmi logging winch from my neighbor Krist and spent a few afternoons bucking and skidding firewood logs into a pile in the pasture. I think I may have about four or five cords of firewood there when I get it all split and stacked. I sure love the Farmi winch. Someday I need to own one of these.

Tractor Logging with the Farmi winch


Tractor and Farmi logging winch

Way back last February, when Alice and I were on our way back from visiting colleges, my beloved, well-worn Subaru started making horrible engine noises, and when I got home, I parked it with the suspicion that it had a timing belt pulley going bad.

I ended up driving the Mercedes all summer, and putting the Subaru on the back burner, but then in early November, Shannon flipped and totaled her Toyota when she hit some black ice on KM Mountain. I ended up giving her the Mercedes to get back and forth to town, and finally was forced into dealing with the Subaru.

Bad bearing

It turned out I was right about the timing belt, and a couple of days and $300 later, I had my Subaru back on the road again. I am so happy to have this car back, with its ipod capable stereo, heavy duty roof rack, working cruise control and all wheel drive. Yay!

new timing belt

OK, so by now, much of the PNW kayaking community has probably heard the news that “something” happened this past weekend at the Lumpy Waters Symposium. What follows is my incident report for what happened Friday, October 14th at the mouth of Netarts Bay.

First off, this is by no means a comprehensive incident report. There were four instructors, twelve students, and countless first responders from multiple agencies, and each one of those people will have their own perspective on this incident. This is simply the clearest picture I can put together, based on what I remember about that day. I’m aware that my memories are not going to be perfect. Far from it, in fact. My perceptions of what was going on at any moment were filtered by adrenaline and whatever kinds of psychological phenomena are common to an event like this. Time, for example, got bent all out of shape. If you had asked me when I landed how long I had been out there, I would have said maybe a half an hour or forty minutes, when, in reality, it was nearly two hours from the time things started going bad to the time I landed on the beach again.

Please feel free to comment, especially if you were there. All comments on this blog are moderated by me, so if I get one of those “what a bunch of idiots” type of comments, it will never see the light of day, so don’t bother. But if you have anything useful or illuminating to add, please feel free to do so. If you have any photos of this event that you’re willing to share here, email me and I’ll add them to this entry.


I arrived at Lumpy Waters HQ at noon on Friday, just in time to slap together a sandwich and make it to the coaches’ meeting, where we got the basic layout for the weekend, and were shown a variety of available venues on Google Earth on the overhead projector. As soon as the meeting was over, Sean, the other lead instructor for the class that I was to be teaching that afternoon, introduced himself, and said that we were going to take our Long Boat Surfing class to the mouth of Netarts Bay, a venue I had never been to before.

I had never met Sean before, but Sean and one of the other assistants, Jamie, are well known names in the world of kayak surfing, and I have only been teaching beginners to surf kayaks for a couple of years. Even so, I asked why we would drive so far when there was a nice surf beach right out in front of the resort where the event was based. He told me that he and the other coaches had already checked it out, and that beach was “dumpy” right then, meaning the waves were not particularly well suited to surfing, and especially not conducive to long rides, which Sean was hoping to be able to offer the students in our class. Since it was brought up in the coaches’ meeting that the tide was going to be ebbing that afternoon, I was concerned, since river mouths are known to be unfriendly places to be on an ebb tide, but I assumed that these guys must have known something about this particular situation and venue that I didn’t and so I didn’t challenge the choice of venue any further. This was a huge mistake on my part. I should have realized that I didn’t need to be an expert kayak surfer to know that the mouth of a river or bay is a dangerous place to be on an ebb.

Even though I didn’t speak up out loud, in my head I was already getting concerned, and I went and picked up the laminated charts and satellite photos of the venue that Alder Creek provided for the coaches, and brought them along to look at. What I saw wasn’t making me feel any better.

We met up with our students, and got everyone oriented to the plan, and started getting kayaks and people sorted out and loaded on trailers and roof racks. There were two students in their own van who already had their kayaks loaded up, and were going to wait out by the highway for us. What I didn’t realize until later is that they then asked if they could go on ahead and meet us at Netarts, and they were told that would be OK. After a bit, we had a trailer loaded up with kayaks, but people were scattered about in personal cars, and it was very hard to get an accurate sense of whether or not everyone who needed a ride for themselves or their kayaks had one. Eventually, I had to just assume that people would take care of themselves in that way, and we hit the road, but now I was starting to feel kind of edgy. I guess I’m just more of a control freak than that, and I was not comfortable with the feeling that we were only very loosely organized, and kind of rushing off towards a venue that I had never seen before and wasn’t even sure how to get to.

That said, I was trying to keep an open mind about it. I know that there are many different ways of teaching and organizing and leading groups, and since I had not worked with this particular group of coaches before, I wanted to stay as open to learning new things as I could, and tried to keep my edgy, inner control freak in check. After all, out of the four of us, I was pretty sure I was the least experienced in big surf conditions.

We arrived at the beach at Happy Camp, near the town of Netarts somewhat before 2 PM. I had to deal with some gear that I had not had time to put on before we left, and get the trailer and van parked, and I wanted to spend a few minutes watching the surf on the spit across the water from where we were parked. I would have rather spent a lot longer doing that, but it seemed like people were eager to get going, since it was the afternoon, and the first session of the weekend. I’m used to getting out of the vehicles as a group, observing conditions for a while, and then making a decision about the venue before even unloading the trailer, but the two guys who had left ahead of us were already unloaded and geared up and ready to go when we arrived, and that added to the feeling that I needed to hurry up and get this class started. I did look at the tide book, though, since nobody seemed sure exactly when high tide would be. To my dismay, I realized that we would be starting our class just after the tide had turned and was starting to ebb.

By the time I got down to the beach, the groups had already been split into two, and I met up with my group of five students, and Richard, my assistant, who, as it turned out, was the only one of the four coaches who had been to that venue before. I did the usual introductions, checking on prior experience and medical issues with the students, but didn’t get to do the whole pre-trip protocol that I am used to doing.

I reiterated the risks of the ebb tide, and laid out the plan for our group. We would stay in close to the bay, at the north end of the spit, surfing into the bay right up by the spit, and using the deeper green water to return back to a starting position to surf again, always being aware of position and what the ebb was doing to us. The plan for any wet exits and swimmers was to wash up on the spit, sort one’s self out and start out again, as is usually the plan at more “normal” surf venues where I have taught classes before. I did state that it was likely that we would be ending the class session somewhere near the peak of the ebb current, and it would be very important to be mindful of that. October 14th was shortly after the full moon, so the tides would be especially strong.

With that, we got on the water, and as I got in my kayak, I had a very clear, bad feeling about this place, and reminded myself that I would have to be VERY careful to keep everyone as tight to the end of the spit as possible, and to keep very close tabs on the group. We got on the water right around 2:15 PM.

As soon as we crossed the deep channel and arrived on the “surfy” side, I realized that I had my work cut out for me. Richard and a couple of the students caught a couple of rides, and I positioned myself about in the middle of the area we were going to surf, but just to the north, along the edge of the deep water, where I hoped I could keep an eye on things and catch anyone who was getting drifted out towards the sea, and the much larger surf break on the outside.

It was obvious right away that this was going to be a very hard job to do. I was doing head counts repeatedly, and often having a hard time seeing many of the students as they were hidden on the fronts of waves that I was looking at the backs of. The conditions were a little bigger, even where we were towards the inside, than many of the students were able to manage well. It was around this time, maybe near 2:30 or so, that Sean’s group got on the water, and headed towards the bigger waves outside of us, to the west of our position.

One of my students went upstream, into the bay, around this time, and I saw Richard go after her to see what was up. Another student had a minor capsize nearby, his second already, and I went to rescue him. I had just gotten him sorted out when Richard came by and said that the upstream student, Setsuko, had gone over there to pump some water out of her cockpit that had sloshed in when she launched. She was fine. I turned around to see that two of my students, Dave and Steve, had moved pretty far to the west while I was doing the rescue. One seemed to be headed that way intentionally, so Richard said that he would go out and bring them back inside. He headed out that way, and I was trying to do a head count of my group. I realized that we were all drifting to the west much faster than I had expected, and I turned around to see if I could see Richard, Dave and Steve behind me, when I saw a much larger set of waves come through and capsize multiple students from both classes all at once.

I’m not sure how many people ended up in the water at that time, but I remember thinking that it looked like a lot of loose boats and swimmers, and I could no longer see many of the students from either group, including Steve and Dave, or Richard. I started heading out to see if I could pick up any swimmers and bring them back to the east, and hopefully land them on the spit. I saw Shay and Donna’s boats go surfing past me, empty. Donna’s boat was closer to me, so I headed in that direction, hoping to find her. She still had her paddle and was waving it in the air, and I found her pretty quickly.

Donna was actively swimming with her paddle towards shore, and I picked her up and started towing her, with her hanging onto my end toggle. This was the beginning of a long, hard pile of work for me that wouldn’t end for nearly two hours.

Donna and I were working our way east, trying to get back to the smaller surf, and the north end of the spit, but by now we were well outside of where we had intended to stay, and the waves were bigger out there. I did what I could to back off of the waves and not surf them, but every now and then I would get caught on one and surf down it at high speed, either right side up, or often upside down after getting broached. Donna would let go and I would eventually get to the end of the ride, roll up if I was upside down, and go back to find her and start it over again. These upside down sessions were frequent, and I often had to stay under for much longer than I am used to, and it was hard to stay put and not panic. But I always managed to stay in and roll back up. One particularly big wave surprised me and as I surfed away the end toggle on my stern broke away and stayed in Donna’s hand. Now I had no good way for her to hang on and be towed, so I asked her if she was comfortable climbing on the back deck of my kayak, but she didn’t seem too keen on that, and given how often I was already getting knocked down, I didn’t force the issue, and we kept plodding on, with her now just holding onto my rear perimeter lines.

Somewhere around this time, I thought that a mayday call to the Coast Guard was in order. I had no idea how many, if any, students had made it to dry land, but I knew that those of us who were still out here were probably going to need outside assistance. I pulled out my radio a couple of times, but immediately had to drop it again to paddle or brace, and after a couple of tries I gave it up and put it away again. I knew that if I did make contact with the Coast Guard, they would want to keep talking to me, and I knew that was not going to work in the situation I was in.

By now, I could see Jamie off to the north a little ways, carrying Shay on his back deck, and also getting thrashed and surfed and frequently capsized. He was trying to make it back to the beach on the north side of the river, paddling a steep ferry angle to the ENE, a path that hopefully would get us out of the surf zone and into deeper water. I tried that for a while, too, but we were near a crab buoy that showed us the unhappy fact that for a long time, we were making no headway at all. So I decided to go back to trying to paddle to the end of the spit, a path that took us back into heavy breakers, where Donna and I took more heavy beatings from the sea, and I repeatedly spent untold long seconds upside down wishing desperately for air to breathe. But, I could see that we were slowly pulling away from the crab buoy at last and actually starting to make some forward progress towards dry land, so I kept at it. Sometime in this time frame, I heard sirens over by Netarts and eventually saw flashing lights approaching the beach.

Somewhere around this time, Sean appeared from somewhere to the southwest, towing Shay’s empty kayak. We were pretty far from Shay and Jamie now and he offered Donna the empty kayak. She was only too happy to accept. I warned her that Shay’s kayak was an LV model, meaning lower volume and smaller cockpit opening, but she said something to the effect of “I don’t care, at least it’s a kayak!”. I carefully brought her alongside, and left her in Sean’s care, while he helped her into the kayak, and I went back in the direction of where I had last seen Jamie and Shay, hoping to help them.

I found them pretty close to where I had left them, but a little further west, and in some much, much larger breakers than before. I was trying to figure out how to help, and if it would even be possible to tow them, when a very large wave broke on them, capsizing Jamie and burying Shay in a mountain of water. Jamie came up pretty far down the wave, and so I went to Shay to pick her up and try to keep her moving towards the beach. She was exhausted and sounded scared, so I tried to sound calm myself, although I doubt that I did a very good job of it. Because by now, I was pretty scared too. I had never been in this kind of large, heavy and unfriendly surf for so long before, and had never had to rescue anyone out of conditions like that, and I was not really sure what to do now except for “keep trying”, so that’s what I did.

Shay couldn’t climb on my back deck anymore. She said her legs were cramped, and that her drysuit had leaked somewhere and had water inside of it. She has a lean build, and I knew that if her suit had leaked, she was not likely to be able to weather that kind of cold and wet very well, for very long. So I paddled and towed her, and pretty soon Jamie was back and clipped a tow line onto my kayak and we started to make a little better progress. But we were still getting thrashed pretty regularly, and Shay came loose several times. Then I saw Jamie get surfed away, felt a lurch and then there was no more tow line attached. He had clipped into my front toggle, and not the perimeter lines, and now my front toggle was gone as well.

I kept on paddling, and soon Jamie was back, and was getting into position to clip on again, when large wave picked me up pretty high, and the last thing I saw before I was broached and capsized, was the bow of my boat pointing down the wave, right at Jamie’s back. I didn’t have time to yell before I was upside down, and felt myself sliding down the wave, and then I felt my boat stop for a second, before going on. This was one of the most horrible moments of the day for me. I knew that I had hit Jamie, or his kayak, and I was hoping that I had not badly injured him, or worse. This also was one of my longest rides upside down, and I had to fight the urge to panic and come out really, really hard. Eventually I was able to brace up enough to grab a mouthful of salty, foamy air, which let me hang on until I could roll all the way up. I saw Jamie upright and felt a wave of relief, although I could tell that he was hurting. I knew I must have hit his body somewhere.

This time, he was closer to Shay, and he picked her up and continued paddling, and I stayed close, but not too close, as a backup. I was getting really tired by this point, and my throat was burning from the salt water that I had been swallowing and breathing in. By now, I had been capsized by large surf waves at least a dozen or more times, and had had to force myself to stay in, ride it out and roll, and not become another swimmer without a kayak. I knew that if I could stay in my kayak, I would be able to take care of myself, and still possibly be able to help other people, but if I flinched and came out, I would be useless, and in big trouble myself. So I just kept staying in.

It was around this time that I had the second awful moment of the day. Off to the south a little ways, I saw Sean’s green kayak floating upside down. This meant that Sean was also now a swimmer, and possibly Donna, too, who he was with when I had last seen him. I didn’t see them anywhere. But, awful feelings aside, I saw his kayak as something I could maybe use to help Shay and Jamie, so I flipped it upright, clipped into and towed it back towards them. I was really hoping we could put Shay in this boat, hand her my spare paddle, which was miraculously still on my front deck, and we could all get the hell out of there. I don’t know what I was thinking, honestly. I got back to them and realized right away that Shay was in no condition to even sit upright in a kayak anymore, let alone paddle one in these waves.

As I was sitting there for a moment, trying to decide how to be the most useful I could be, a large wave came up under me and I instinctively backed off of it, but of course the empty, now-capsized kayak that I was clipped into couldn’t do that, and it was instantly caught and surfed by this large wave, which instantly capsized me, since the line was wrapped under my kayak and now I was upside down and being dragged sideways underwater. This, of course, is EXACTLY why you’re not supposed to tow a kayak in the surf. I knew this, intellectually. Now I know it for real. Fortunately, I’ve actually practiced releasing a tow while upside down, and I popped my tow belt loose and rolled back up. Jamie, Shay and the green kayak were all nowhere to be seen for a few long moments.

After clearing my head a little, I saw Jamie and Shay back behind me, and I started back to help, or at least be a backup if she fell off again. The green kayak came into view again, too, with my towline attached, but now I was very reluctant to get anywhere near it if it wasn’t going to be an asset somehow. Sometime around now, Sean suddenly appeared again, from the southwest, paddling Shay’s kayak. He asked me how I was doing, and I told him I was tired. He told me to head for the beach and he would go with me. I told him I was fine to make the beach alone, and that he should try to help Jamie and Shay instead. So he headed back towards them, and I headed for the beach, on the north side of the river, to the west of where we launched. As I got clear of the breakers and into deeper water, I could finally see the scene on the beach, and I was very much relieved to see many kayaks there, and many people at the water’s edge in kayaking gear. And sheriff’s vehicles. And flashing lights.

I landed on the beach a hundred yards or more to the west of where everyone was, as the current was really strong by now, and I miscalculated my ferry angle. I got out, stood up and nearly fell back down again. My boat had about four or five inches of water in it by now, and I had a hard time lifting it up to dump it out. People came running at me, and now I had a different set of leadership problems. There were ten students on the beach, but there were differing opinions as to how many people we had in our class, all told. I insisted it was sixteen, and in the end, it turned out I was right, but not for the reasons I thought. Our original roster had twelve students and four instructors, but what I didn’t know is that one of the students was a no-show, and someone else had come along to take pictures. Much confusion ensued while that discrepancy was sorted out. I knew we had a written roster, but I had handed it to Sean before we launched and didn’t know where it had ended up. It turned out he had tucked it under the wiper blades of his truck, which was not a bad place for it to be, but none of us knew that. And, as far as I know, it still had the no-show student listed on it, and not the photographer.

It turned out that everyone but all four coaches, Donna and Shay had arrived safely at the beach, pretty early on. Sean had told Fred the photographer to make the call for outside help, which he did when he landed, with a borrowed cell phone. Donna and Richard had managed to make it to the spit, but Donna had been unable to fit in Shay’s kayak, so she swam the whole way in with Richard’s help and he stayed with her there until it was all over. Dave was standing on top of the sheriff’s truck with binoculars, spotting for the rescuers. He later told me that even from that vantage point, if he didn’t have the binoculars pointed right at us when we crested the waves occasionally, he never would have known for sure where we were.

Soon after I landed, the jetskis from the Netarts Fire and Rescue went zooming past, and in short order they delivered a very wobbly and cold Shay safely to the beach, where she was taken away in an ambulance to warm up. They retrieved Donna from the spit, and managed to recover her kayak, too. But Shay’s kayak was not recovered. From what I heard, it had been holed somewhere along the way, and was swamped when Sean paddled it up to us near the end. He ended up switching back into his green kayak to return to the beach, and let Shay’s kayak go.

We eventually were all together again on the beach, the rescuers wrapped up their affairs and departed, all the remaining kayaks were carried back up to the parking lot and loaded up, and we had a short debriefing session in the parking lot, minus Shay, who was in an ambulance somewhere. We returned to Lumpy Waters HQ just before 7 PM where everyone was merrily drinking beer and people started asking me how my day had gone. Obviously, very few people had heard about it yet.


I’ve already debriefed this with many of the participants, in a group and individually. The most important thing I have to say is still, “I’m sorry! We NEVER should have taken you there!” And of course, this apology extends as well to the people who trained me as a leader and coach. I was trained better than this. I know better than this. But I ended up second guessing my own knowledge and experience, and automatically deferring to people of a higher skill level than I thought myself to be. I should have challenged this plan, based only on the simple fact that the mouth of a river or bay is a dangerous place to be on a strong ebb tide. I shouldn’t have needed to say anything more than that.

Ironically, when I sat down that evening for a few minutes with Sean, I brought this up to him. He told me that as we were driving north towards Netarts, past McPhillips beach, he was looking down there and thinking, “that looks like a pretty nice spot, maybe we should have gone there instead,” but since we had already let some of the students go on ahead, we had no way to recall them and change plans. I told him that I had looked at that same beach as we drove past, and thought the same thing, but just assumed that there must be some kind of good reason we weren’t going there, and just kept driving.

Donna and Shay are both fine, although Shay took a little while to warm up and return to the event. Donna was back in her kayak the next day with the kayak fishing class, successfully tending crab traps. Shay showed up later Friday night, and was far more forgiving of our serious lapse in judgement than I was, and grateful for our efforts on her behalf. Shay had been a star pupil in our beginning “Fear to Fun” classes the previous year, and I wince inside a little bit when I remember that the very next time I was on the water with her it was not very much Fun and instead a lot more about Fear. Jamie DID get hit in the back, just below the PFD, by the bow of my kayak. By some miracle he was not seriously injured, but he was sore for days. Friday night, I felt pretty good physically, but was very tired. The next morning, though, I felt like I had been run over by a truck. I was sore all over, and stayed sore for a few days afterwards.

Today, I was back on the water with Elderhostel clients, paddling in a quiet slough, when the sound of a siren on the adjacent highway made me jump, and I was instantly back in the surf trying to rescue Donna and Shay, and hearing sirens on shore. I think I’ve got a tiny little inkling now of what PTSD actually means.

Ever since the infamous “Eco-Chicks” trip of 2008, I’ve repeatedly said that the lesson I took away from that fiasco was that I should never lead a trip that I didn’t get to plan. For whatever boneheaded reason, I ignored that rule last Friday. We were very lucky that the outcome was not worse than it was.


It’s been a very busy summer this year, and I’ve fallen far out of the habit of updating this blog. But as fall and winter hours are approaching, I’ve been thinking more about it. Then when an Elderhostel client mentioned last week that she had actually read my blog, I decided I’d better update it. When I logged in, I realized that my long out of date WordPress software was now rendering unsightly error messages, so this morning I finally sat down and installed the latest version, and now all is well again.

Some updates:

Alice is off to college. She finally chose Lewis and Clark College in Portland. We took her over there in August and set her up in her dorm along with about 700 other new freshmen moving in all at once. What excitement! We’ve already been to see the first theater production, only a month after school started.

Shannon and Opal moved out of the house in town after all this time, and moved back in here in Skamokawa. Some remodeling was in order and honestly, this worn out old mobile home could use a LOT more. But, it is what it is. All this change got me to get back out into the shop again and start cleaning and remodeling that space, so I have an office and “man-cave” again.


I bought a tractor! After all these years of borrowing tractors, I finally had to admit that I had an ongoing and frequent need for a tractor in my life, so we applied for a loan at the credit union and I went out and bought this awesome Yanmar 3220D diesel 4WD tractor, and a couple of mowers. I still need to find a tiller, though.

Buoy 14

I had a decent summer salmon season this year, keeping several kings and silvers, and catching fish nearly every time I went out. I also went to Brian’s “MAN-TITS” event down in Oregon, where we launched our kayaks into the ocean and fog at daybreak and spent hours trying to catch king salmon from the kayaks. Two were actually hooked and lost, but not by me. No, instead of a salmon, what I hooked, and finally released, was a very annoyed sea lion. Wish I had some pics, but I was a little busy at the time…



This year was the fifth and final Lower Columbia Kayak Roundup, here on Puget Island. It was the biggest and best yet, and according to some, the most jam packed BCU symposium that has ever been held in North America. I finally got my L2 Coach assessment done, passed the Moderate Water Endorsement and took my first Five Star prerequisite, the Open Water Navigation class. I also got to co-teach the three day Sea Paddler Training course at Ilwaco and Seaside.

Sea Paddler Training, Loco Roundup 2011

Sea Paddler Training, Loco Roundup 2011


The weekend after all of that BCU stuff and assessments was over, I led a short coastal play trip back at Ilwaco. It was pretty choppy and fun, and we ended up not traveling a great distance, instead just playing around the base of the cliffs at Cape Disappointment, under the lighthouse. Taking video in these conditions was a bit challenging…

In other kayaking news, Ginni and I are importing and selling Flat Earth kayak sails, and I’ve been playing with them on the river every chance I get. Super fun, and catching and surfing wind waves got way easier when I put a sail on the kayak!

Sailing kayaks on the Columbia River

Not only have I fallen behind in the world of blogging, but I have also gotten pretty backed up in processing and posting photography on my Flickr page. For one thing, my Pentax W60 is finally starting to give me troubles, after three years of nearly continuous, hard use. It seems that I’ve worn out the shutter button, so now I’m scraping together some dough to replace it. What did keep me taking pictures for a while this summer, though, was my new iPhone. Silly, I know. I got the phone so that we could charge credit cards using the new Square app, saving us a lot of money in bank fees with the old merchant account. What I hadn’t counted on was how big the world of cool and useful apps was. The Hipstamatic camera app has been super fun to play around with, and I’ve been surprised at the quality of pictures I’ve been able to take with it.




fish head


I have a few more days left of paid kayaking work in the next couple of weeks, and then hunting season will be here, and I’ll be out crawling around in the woods in the rain, looking for deer and then elk. Stay tuned for that adventure, maybe this will be the year that I finally get some meat in the freezer.

The Powwow at the End of the World
By Sherman Alexie

I am told by many of you that I must forgive and so I shall after an Indian woman puts her shoulder to the Grand Coulee Dam and topples it.

I am told by many of you that I must forgive and so I shall after the floodwaters burst each successive dam downriver from the Grand Coulee.

I am told by many of you that I must forgive and so I shall after the floodwaters find their way to the mouth of the Columbia River as it enters the Pacific and causes all of it to rise.

I am told by many of you that I must forgive and so I shall after the first drop of floodwater is swallowed by that salmon waiting in the Pacific.

I am told by many of you that I must forgive and so I shall after that salmon swims upstream, through the mouth of the Columbia and then past the flooded cities, broken dams and abandoned reactors of Hanford.

I am told by many of you that I must forgive and so I shall after that salmon swims through the mouth of the Spokane River as it meets the Columbia, then upstream, until it arrives in the shallows of a secret bay on the reservation where I wait alone.

I am told by many of you that I must forgive and so I shall after that salmon leaps into the night air above the water, throws a lightning bolt at the brush near my feet, and starts the fire which will lead all of the lost Indians home.

I am told by many of you that I must forgive and so I shall after we Indians have gathered around the fire with that salmon who has three stories it must tell before sunrise: one story will teach us how to pray; another story will make us laugh for hours; the third story will give us reason to dance.

I am told by many of you that I must forgive and so I shall when I am dancing with my tribe during the powwow at the end of the world.

Sherman Alexie, “The Powwow at the End of the World” from The Summer of Black Widows. Copyright © 1996 by Sherman Alexie.
Source: The Summer of Black Widows (Story Line Press, 1996)


Every year, the Saturday after Thanksgiving, Karen and David Curl in Naselle host a Hammer In party at their shop, Solstice Forge. I think this is the fourth or fifth year that I’ve gone. Sometimes I bring along something to work on, or just fool around making something out of scraps that Dave has laying around. This year, when I arrived, there was already a lot of people there, and three different projects being worked on out of two fires, so I just hung out, ate some great food and took a lot of pictures.

Riley watching the fire

coal and tongs

hands working


coal fire

hammer and anvil


hot metal


Well, here it is, almost Halloween and more than three months since I last posted anything! It has been a busy season, and I just haven’t felt very organized about blogging and posting pictures to Flickr. I have to admit, Facebook has absorbed a good deal of the time and energy I have for blogging and social interaction on the computer, but I am not ready to give up the blog just yet. So here’s a somewhat long update.

Pelicans at Buoy Ten

Salmon fishing this year was incredible. Almost every time I went out, everyone on the boat limited. One day Brian and Lisa and I went out in the ocean and kept six fish in under an hour, and put back five natives. It was about as hot as I have ever seen it. I smoked and froze a bunch of fish and when it got to be too much fish to have time to smoke it all, I vacuum packed and froze fillets instead.


In August, we held the Loco Roundup kayak symposium on Puget Island again. After a whole lot of last minute wrangling and logging approved training hours, I took the BCU four star sea kayak assessment, and passed. This is something I have been trying to get done for almost a year and a half, and it finally came together this summer. It was a two day, on the water assessment, leading a group of paddlers near Cape Disappointment at the mouth of the Columbia River. I was so focused on the task at hand, that it was only later I realized that I hadn’t taken a single picture for two days. But I did take pictures during the training sessions, and that’s where this picture is from.

Cape D

I also passed the three star canoe assessment, and took the new Level Two coaching class. With luck, a lot of hours practicing, and piles of paperwork, I might be ready to take that assessment next spring. I helped Ginni with two BCU assessments this year, one of them was a new two star with canoes and one was a three star assessment with candidates from three countries, speaking two different languages.

Canoe fun

navigation project

At the end of August, Shannon and I went to see Al Green at the Edgefield. Does Al Green still have it goin’ on? Yes, he certainly does…

Al Green at the Edgefield, August 28, 2009

Near the beginning of September, Columbia River Kayaking got the news that we will be allowed to run our own Elderhostel programs here next year, without the need for a middleman like we had this year. This will allow us more direct control over our interaction with Elderhostel and we will keep more money in the bank at the end of the day as well.

pilings and kayaks

Oh, and Elderhostel, for reasons I cannot fathom, decided this year to change the name that it has spent 25 years building brand recognition around. Apparently there is a sizable piece of the over-55 demographic that found the word “elder” to be offensive. The new name, which I might never get used to, is Exploritas. I’m sure there were many interesting committee meetings involved in that decision…

smooth water

Skamokawa Center continues to languish in limbo, though. There had been a foreclosure auction scheduled for October 2nd, but the day before, Greg and his LLCs filed for bankruptcy, which automatically shielded him from the foreclosure action. The auction was rescheduled for Friday, November 13th. Heh, heh, heh….

Sunrise in Port Townsend

The well ran dry this year. There was not enough August rain to keep it full for the whole dry season. I carried water for about three weeks, which isn’t too bad compared to other years. One year I hauled water for something like 80 days. Unfortunately, it always runs out just at the time that there are fish to clean and process…

the well

It was a great year for food preservation. For the first time in a long time, I was very organized and persistent in keeping on top of all the food that was showing up this year. Besides fish, berries were also in abundance and I made a lot of jam. And when Ginni left for Mexico, we had a big garden gleaning day at the farm and hauled away bags and boxes of produce, including an IKEA bag half full of jalapenos. I pickled a bunch of those, and Shannon and I made some jalapeno relish, and I have a big tray of roasted ones sitting here that I need to finish putting in jars tonight. I still have to get in the rest of the apples from here and Ginni’s place.


All of that food, plus the fact that I’ve been really broke this year led me to break ground on a new garden. I haven’t been willing to go all out with gardening here, since the water is not all that reliable, but I have been reading Steve Solomon’s “Gardening When it Counts” and setting this garden up with his minimalist irrigation plan in mind. Basically, you give each plant more space, and then relentlessly weed out any competitors for the water. I borrowed Krist’s tractor and tiller attachment and tilled up a space about 40×60 feet, and then made nine, five foot wide beds out of it. I planted three beds to garlic and the rest to cover crops for now. Fencing is next.

new garden

This will be the biggest garden I’ve grown since I lived in Salmon Creek, in 2000.

garden beds

This is also the first year I have purchased a hunting license. I didn’t grow up with hunting, so I never really learned anything about it, but I have had deer and bear in my yard this fall, and there are always elk around here, too. Last year, we bought a quarter of a local steer for the freezer, and spent several hundred dollars on that. It was delicious, and it’s nice to support local folk who are growing local meat. We bought a half a hog this year from Crippen Creek Farm. But I sure would like to put an elk or a bear in the freezer, too. We’ll see how that goes. With hunting season in mind, I’ve been sifting through the armory here, looking for an adequate elk rifle. I’ve been shooting my brother’s Dragunov rifle, but I haven’t been able to set it up on a bench and sight it in properly yet. It seems to shoot a little low and to the left. My practically new Browning shotgun might actually get put to use this year, too, since grouse are abundant around the land here and they are open until the end of December.

Dragunov SVD Tiger

I should have put up more firewood this year. I did a lot of work in the woods here this summer, making tractor trails so I can access the stands of trees there. But what I pulled out in that process is still only a cord or so, and three cords is more like what I use in a season here. No doubt I will actually end up purchasing a cord or two this year. I’ll get back in there in the spring to pull out another batch of logs to inoculate with Shiitake mushrooms.

alder logs


We just got back from SSTIKS 2009 last night, and both Alice and I slept late today. It was a great weekend, made even more amazing by the fact that for the first time in a couple of years, it did not rain! It was mostly sunny and warm, and the water was warmer than I remember it ever being at SSTIKS. Warm water, though, means happy algae and we had to contend with some really yucky masses of smelly, orange algae blooms, especially when the tide got low.

John Pederson

The big highlight for SSTIKS this year was the presence of John Pederson and his son Lars, from Ilulissat, Greenland. John actually hunts seals from a kayak, which is what they were intended for in the first place, and anyone who got to take one of his strokes classes got to practice silent paddling and sneaking up on seals, which showed up as if on cue. His son Lars joined the kids’ games, and was an aggressive dead fish polo player.

Alice and her new kayak

Alice finally got to paddle her new kayak for the first time, too. It looks nice! Only a few people were able to fit in it though, and I will be loosening up the fit a little to make it more comfortable. It is a pretty snug fit, even on Alice.

kid's games

As usual, I spent a good deal if time with the kids’ sessions, playing games and getting all wet. Also, as usual, my drysuit started its annual summer leakage this weekend as well, but this time, I am going to try to repair it myself, rather than send it in. Wish me luck!

kid's games

We held an informal rolling competition, too, and although I’ve been feeling sore and inflexible and out of practice lately, I was talked into competing by Mckinley and Dubside. I missed several that I normally hit every time, but I was surprised to find myself not at the bottom of the points spread after all. I really need to do more yoga, and spend more time in tight fitting kayaks, though. Sadly, none of the pictures I took of the rolling came out very well; the lens was covered with water on almost every one.

kid's games

A couple of kayaks that Maligiaq Padilla built were there for a little while on Saturday, and I got a chance to scope out some construction details on those.


qajaq frame detail

And Brian from Cape Falcon brought a beautiful East Greenland replica frame to donate to the fundraising auction. A lengthy bidding war ensued….

Evan trying on the East Greenland frame

auctioning the kayak frame

The salmon for the Saturday night dinner came fresh from the Copper River this year, and was delicious.


Unfortunately for me, I came to SSTIKS without any spare camera batteries and my Pentax battery was almost dead when I got there, so I did not get nearly as many pictures as I would have hoped for, but there are more on my Flickr page here.

Every year I am reminded again how lucky I am to live near this event; I can hardly wait until next year!

Michael in Alice's kayak