Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Such a Simple Thing...

It was a few years ago, during an instructor training or exam, and I was leading a scenario. I was to take the group along the shore to point x, gather them up, then lead them out through the gap in the break wall and onto the open waters of Lake Michigan. When we were all gathered, I asked the group, "Which side of the opening should we go through?" A simple question.

Some said the middle and most said on the right because we are supposed to keep right. I was surprised at their responses as it was clear to me that we needed to go along the left (north) side of the opening since the northerly wind that was blowing would , at worst, blow us into the center of the gap. Their methods carried the risk of being blown onto the rocks on the south side of the gap. Why hadn't that occurred to them?
This came to mind as I read Carl White's letter to the editor in the current issue of Sea Kayaker Magazine (October, 2011). In evaluating another incident previously reported in the magazine, Carl writes: "Without immersing themselves in the essentials of seamanship, of being mariners, eager sea kayakers seeking 'adventure' on open water thus fail to match their expansive goals to their limited means."

Before ever getting into a kayak I had some 3 decades of experience in big boats, that is 40-50 foot sailboats and pilot house trawlers. It was especially in sailboats that I learned not to get my craft in a situation where I might be forced to tack into danger and to anticipate, anticipate, anticipate what the wind would do to my position a I moved forward. I took great pride in how I handled my Hans Christian 42 (often single-handed) and was always eager to learn more from other skippers. We all considered ourselves first and foremost to be mariners, individuals who understood the local waters and the way the wind made our boats behave. It translated well when I got into kayaks.

So often I see a paddler making a short crossing directly toward a point without allowing for the leeway that the cross wind is sure to cause. Without realizing it, they paddle a "great circle" route, never noticing the constant change in their compass heading (if they have a compass on deck).

I still read basic seamanship books that I've saved over the years. That, and the exercises in navigation I get from JB, serve me well on the water. Sooner or later the fog envelopes us all or the wind suddenly freshens, and that's when we each need to exhibit some seamanship. Heck, it even helps get us through a gap in the break wall.

Paddle safe...


Alan said...

Dick, I like your admonition: anticipate, anticipate, anticipate. I suspect that your students were weighing the risk of a collision with an incoming vessel and being blown onto the rocks by the north wind. When I took my instructor training, Sam Crawly left me with the following aphorism: judgment comes from experience, good judgment comes from bad experiences (I hope I remembered it right)

Silbs said...

I think it's good judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgment.

JohnB said...

It all boils down to: Learning from mistakes, our own as well as those of others, which is why reading--and learning--as much as one can about incidents is so important.