Rescues, Rolls and Group Gropes [11]

By Peter Meredith

Manly. 10 a.m. 22.2.92. Whitecaps driven by a strong sou’easter were marching along from left to right, and the forecast was for stronger conditions to come. Great weather for a training day.

I joined Ken McDonald and several others who’d paddled across from Rose Bay and we headed out into the chop towards a cove on the eastern side of North Head. There, in sheltered waters overlooked by lush national park vegetation, 10 of us prepared to train.

Ken announced the plan: we would practise rescues and maybe later some rolls. However, the plan was flexible, he said, and if anyone else had some things they wanted to practice, such as basic paddle strokes, he was happy to accommodate. Well, yes, some of us did want to get down to basics, e.g. how to hold a paddle properly or how to wield a pen to sign a cheque for a new kayak, and so on.

After basics such as these, we paired off and took turns getting wet and rescuing one another We practised two types of rescue, both involving the rescuer coming alongside the patient’s upturned craft bow to stern, righting it and helping the patient to re-enter.

By the time we’d finished this, we were ready for lunch. But no, Ken was worried we might die of cold, so, to warm us up, he organised a race that would involve teams of three competing to tow one of their number over a distance of about 200 m. The idea was to teach us how to attach a tow-line correctly to the kayak of someone who has been incapacitated by sea-sickness or lack of lunch.

As mentioned, the idea was to warm us up, but since the only person who seemed to be shivering was Ken himself, and since he was the only person not taking part in the race, this aspect of the exercise was not entirely successful.

For 20 minutes we raced back and forth between the beach and a yacht whose occupants were all older couple who’d anchored in the bay for a quiet lunch far from crowds of yelling water-sporters. Some kids in an inflatable paddled over to ask us if we were greenies from Greenpeace, wondering, no doubt if we were practising emergency escapes from toxic-waste dumpers or whaling ships. We pointed out that Greenpeace usually uses inflatables.

At last it was lunchtime. On such occasions people usually stand a short distance from their kayaks and admire them as they munch on their wholemeal bread and beansprout sandwiches. They only pretend to look at other people’s kayaks; secretly they’ve got eyes for only their own. Even if they’re talking to someone, they shoot quick glances towards their craft.

After we’d finished mentally groping our boats, Ken gave some instruction on how to roll. Ever since I had rolling lessons in a swimming pool I’ve had an aversion to this form of self-inflicted water-torture. There are few things worse than having salt water forced up your nose while hanging upside down. It took me a month to get all the water out of my head after that pool session. So it was with some trepidation that I volunteered to be first victim on this occasion.

The big difference between this time and the last was that I was now wearing a face mask. This meant not only that the water was not getting up my nose while I was hanging below the kayak, but also that I could closely inspect the seabed while trying to get my paddle into position. Another difference was that I was learning the Pawlata roll instead of the screw roll, which I had failed miserably at. Now, with the greater leverage provided by the Pawlata method, rolling came easily.

By now it was thundering and squalling. Time to head for home. While the others set off for South Head and Rose Bay, I dodged the ferries and the Jetcats on the crossing to Balmoral.

Apart from myself, those who trained with Ken were: Gwen Chance, Desma Carter, Ron Arias, Gary Steer, Peter Ingleby, Graham Munch, Ferdinand Puchner and Alan Smith.