We suited up to work on doing open water rescues. We headed out of the channel with around 8 students. We teamed up to do t-rescues. The swells were gentle and slow, but fairly sizeable for the Great Lakes 3-5 feet. Only sizeable in that they weren’t breaking. I teamed up with Louis from Montreal. He had a beautiful Skin on Frame kayak he built. The kayak had flotation fore and aft. Louis exited and he and I worked together to empty it, and get him back in. Louis aided me by holding on to my boat and helping to pull it over my lap. From there I emptied the kayak by rotating the kayak towards me. After that it was a pretty standard re-entry. We rafted up with the group and I taught Louis to rescue me. His job was substantially easier with my hardshell Silhouette. As a surf kayaker I don’t have any particular problem with craft that have no bulkheads. Sometimes they just don’t make sense. A skin on frame kayak is a very elegant craft that can be very sea worthy when paddled by a very competent paddler. Swimming doesn’t have to be catastrophic. If the paddler is skilled and stays in the kayak really there is no problem other than holing the kayak. But some of the same problems exist for a hardshell kayak when it is holed. However it is easier and quicker to rescue a hardshell boat with bulkheads.
This is when things got interesting. One of the students became sea sick while we were bobbing up and down on the swell. Doug quickly made the decision to tow her in. Bonnie rafted up with the victim and Doug started to paddle for the channel. I was ignorant of whether or not this was a real emergency or an exercise so luckily I treated it as if it was real. I was left to guide six students through the surf in the channel. I would be lying if I said I was completely calm in guiding students through a surf landing. There were several students who felt very uneasy coming through the channel. One was to my left and the rest were to my right. I was firmly indicating to the one on my left to keep off the rocks as the waves rolled in. She hadn’t developed the coordination to look over her shoulder and brace at the same time yet. So I was giving her the signal on when to backpedal and when to sprint to avoid getting munched. The other students were perilously close to the crib light and it’s rock. Waves were coming in that could have swallowed them whole. I gave some simple guidance to paddle hard, back paddle, or change direction to avoid the crib light dumpers. One student should never know how close he came to getting swallowed whole. I saw his stern lift, and I shouted for him to back paddle. He dug in and came off the crest and onto the back beautifully. I gave him some encouragement to paddle for all he was worth. He sprinted ahead and the next wave washed him into the channel, thankfully upright and intact.
Afterwards we found out that it was indeed a real rescue with a sea sick victim. While Doug and Bonnie got the heroic high fives for performing the assisted tow, I thought about the ducklings I just brought through the jaws of the beast. It is great to see students developing the skills they need to work up to navigating open water and surf. I certainly would have done things a little differently in retrospect. I probably would have gone through first to show them the line, and then given them signals to paddle left or right, backwards, forwards. Instead of having them go through all at once. If nothing else then for my nerves.
We then went through a few more rescues before everyone started to pack up. Again this is where things get really interesting. Louis wanted to go back out. We paddled back to the mouth and discussed which way to go. I voiced the option to go for the deep water between the crib light and the rocks and to stay off the spilling surf over the sand bar. It seemed everyone agreed. We all started paddling and then I looked over and I was the only one going through the deep water. I look over and Louis is over and out of his kayak. I paddle over and Doug is getting him back in. I have my towline ready to clip in and tow Doug and Louis out of the spilling surf. Suddenly my kayak is lifted and almost parked on top of Doug’s Valkyrie. I back off and then come back in. By this time Bonnie has them towed to deeper water. This is when I notice Doug’s nose bleeding. I was terrified that I had clipped him with my boat. As it turns out that same wave punched Louis bow into his nose as he tried to empty the boat. Doug put Louis back in in short order. Bonnie gave Doug a sterile bandage from her life vest first aid kit, (endlessly useful item as it turns out). We agree to head back in. This time we agree to let me pick a line and we will all follow me in. I pick the deep water channel again and jet through. Louis makes his run beautifully, but in the turbulent water on the inside he misses a low brace and goes over. We are literally 300 yards from flat water. I put Louis at my bow empty his boat as much as I can and tell him to climb on. Bonnie clipped and begins towing me. Louis is on his back deck. Doug then clips in for a linked tow and we are moving pretty well. Unfortunately this is where that useless OPP boat comes into the story again. The OPP patrol boat comes through at twenty knots and forces Doug further in towards the rocks. Louis gets washed up on the rocks and it looks like I am going to be next. His bow is wedged. I tell Louis to let go so I can grab is bow and free him. He doesn’t know what’s on my mind though and gives me a panicky, “Please don’t let go!” I tell him it’s ok “I won’t leave you”. It was all very cinematic and could have been a line from the terrible Into Thin Air made for TV Movie. Luckily he let go, I jetted forward, and grabbed his bow and pulled him off. Bonnie and Doug towed us back into the beach.
Doug got an icepack for his face. I still haven’t found out how bad the injury was. He didn’t break his glasses, but he might have gotten a couple of black eyes. We had a good laugh over lunch. All in all this was the most fun I’ve ever had at a symposium! Action packed baby! I can’t wait to go back next year!!! The kids and Laura had great time watching the band playing in the river and Lake Superior. Vince in addition to rescuing fisherman also made a horde of delicious food. I hope the surf is up next year. Gabe even got a Wawa Salmon Derby Baseball Cap from the Search and Rescue team!!