Friday, October 03, 2008

The Domino Effect
In kayaking, as in most "at risk" sports, when things go wrong things tend to go from bad to worse. I have frequently written about my pet peeve: recreational boaters with out pfd's who go out on Lake Michigan in cotton shorts and T-shirts. Most of the time the guardian angels of kayakers bring them back safely. But it only takes one seemingly minor mishap to start a cascade of big time trouble.

Imagine, for instance, that one of these inexperienced paddlers dumps his boat a few hundred yards off shore. If the air and water are warm, and if the wind is blowing on shore, a red face and temporary chill may be the only consequence he suffers. But what happens if we change just one little factor in this scenario? What if the wind is blowing off shore?

Let's also give the fool in the water the benefit of the doubt and say he is able to hang onto his boat (Forget the paddle. What would he do with it?). Still in pretty good shape, our unprepared erstwhile paddler and his boat will begin to drift offshore with our paddler clinging to it...sans a life jacket. He is "lucky' inasmuch as the water temp is 62F, warm for this lake.

But alas, he had launched from Bradford Beach where there is no break water, so he has about an 85 mile fetch of water in which to drift before washing up on the Michigan side. The possible horror of his "minor" mishap begins to take on an ugly look.

Even if the wind is mild and warm, he may drift as slowly as 2-4 knots. Let's say he makes 4 miles per hour. All he has to do is hold on for about 20 hours before his feet touch bottom and he walks ashore. Thing is, and we all know this, that he will die of hypothermia before his ETA.

A man in a kayak is a small object when out on the lake. Even radar generally won't see him. Tip the boat over and put the man in the water and you have an even smaller target which is even less likely to be spotted by other boaters. Our just-out-for-a-paddle-guy is doomed. And that, my friends, is the domino effect.

Paddle safe...


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