Once Upon a Time [12]

By Ken McDonald

A group of paddlers sets off to explore a new section of coast, the chart shows no landing places on the cliff-bound shore for over 10 km, with seas running at 2 to 3 metres and a 20 knot southerly blowing the tops off the swell it promises to be an exciting trip.

After heading north with the swell for half an hour some of the more adventurous canoeists move in close to the rocky shore to enjoy the backwash from the cliffs and pass through a narrow channel between an island and the coast.

Meanwhile the the rest of the group continues around the outside of the island, surfing before the steep southerly swells, they round the northern tip just in time to witness a near disaster as 2 huge waves are forced through the channel on a collision course with another set which has refracted around the island from the north. Three unfortunate paddlers from the group passing through the channel are caught between the approaching walls of water and in the ensuing clapotis they are hurled like children’s toys high in the air to crash down into the turbulent foam streaked waters. Two manage to stay in their boats and after repeated attempts are able to roll up, however the third is left clutching his paddle and swimming for his life after being separated from the kayak.

The main body of paddlers watch helplessly as one of his companions attempts first to push then tow the capsized kayak to safety, but as he fumbles with a tangled mass of rope (which was stuffed down his buoyancy vest), he too is in danger of being swept onto the rocks at ‘the base of the cliffs. The third paddler is better prepared, quickly clipping her tow rope to the deck lines of the swamped kayak, she tows it clear of the channel while the owner lies prone on the rear deck. Sheltering in the lee of the island the swimmer is helped to clamber back into his boat and pump out the cockpit, rejoining the main group they continue to their destination still some 5 km up the coast.

This little story could have a rather different ending. Just what would happen if no one had a tow rope, or the swamped kayak did not have deck lines? Ours is a “risk” sport, chances are you will be caught one day with a sea sick or injured paddling companion. What will you do?

The moral of this story is, if you paddle on the ocean you must carry the necessary safety gear, and practice using it in as many situations as possible, to be ready when called upon in a rescue.

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