Memorial Day

I’m a Canadian, (Ok, I’m technically a triple citizen of Canada, the UK and the US, but in my heart I’m a Canadian.) I served in the Canadian military (Lorne Scots, Peel Dufferin and Halton Regiment, protecting downtown Brampton from the perfidious hordes of the The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders of Canada (ASH CANs) and the Toronto Scottish Regiment (TORSCOTS)). It wasn’t much, but I feel like I can claim some small kinship with the men and women that this day, Memorial Day, is supposed to honour. Remembrance Day (11 November) means more to me, but this is the US and they do things differently here.

So keeping in mind I think of this as the US version of Remembrance Day, please remember this: more important than your day off work, more important than watching all the Memorial Day specials on tv, more important than the fireworks and parades, even more important than thanking the soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen you know individually and personally, you owe them one thing above all others. And that’s to demand that their political leaders do not waste their lives. They stand willing to give their lives to defend you and your way of life, and when their commanders order them to do so, they will not stop and ask questions, they will do what they are ordered and pay whatever price comes from it. So it is us who must stop and ask the questions. Not to ask why they did what they were ordered, because that is what a soldier must do, but why the person giving the orders did so, and did they do the right thing by doing so?

So while US and Canadian (and other NATO) soldiers are dying in Afghanistan, while US tries to extricate itself from Iraq, and while some are beating drums about Iran or worrying about North Korea’s latest batshit insane move, we have to ask “did our leaders do the right thing getting us into these wars” and “can we finish what we started out to do there, or get out of them while accomplishing enough to make it worth while” and “if we get into the next one, what will be the result and what will be the cost”? Remember those questions, and not just on Memorial Day.

Second time in the ski, not as much of a success

Jim, Stephen and I met at Seabreeze to paddle on the bay. In early afternoon, on a hot sunny day in a holiday weekend. To nobody’s great surprise, every boat in the entire universe was cruising up and down the bay, making waves. Waves were hitting us from every direction at once. I was having real problems doing anything but bracing most of the time – yeah, the boat is fine if you put it over on its side, but you’ve got to keep your body and head upright, or you’re going to go over.

I ended up into a place that has been a problem in every boat I’ve been in. There is a long stretch of break-wall with some docks and boat lifts, and the break walls act as perfect reflectors, making sure that you’re getting every boat wake at least twice with very little attenuation. I dumped of course. No worries, Stephen had already dumped several times, and he gets back into his boat in no time at all. But I’ve only remounted twice, and those were in calm conditions where I could touch the ground if I needed to. So it took me a few attempts, and a little help from Jim, but I got back in. And paddled a few metres until I got hit by another nasty set of wakes and dumped again.

This time, as I was kicking to get in, one of my knees went pop. This is a particular type of pop I’m all too familiar with. It means that the normal level of pain in my knees, which is bad enough, is about to get 100 times worse, and it’s going to be sensitive to kicking and pushing and weight bearing. I got in, but I immediately dumped again at least partly because I couldn’t push easily with that leg, and this time I didn’t want to get back in. Instead, I climbed out on one of the docks and crashed a pool party next door to borrow a phone to call Vicki.

I feel bad about quitting for the second time in two days. And I worry about whether I’ve got what it takes to paddle in the surf. But I had problems last year in a much more stable boat and got better with it, so I’m hoping I’ll get used to the ski as well.

First time in the waves with the ski, a mixed success

This morning I met up with Mike, Paul D and Frank for a paddle. I had my “new” ski, an Epic V10 Sport that used to belong to Dennis Mike, and which was Baycreek’s demo boat before that. Everybody else had V10 Sports as well.

First thing we did, at my request, was to practice some remounts. As Mike had suggested ahead of time, I found the “side saddle” method much easier than the “straddle” method (see this link for demonstrations of the two methods) because of the way my weight is distributed. The only problem is that I forgot to buy a leash, so after mounting I had to hand-paddle over to my paddle. Obviously not a good idea in real waves and winds, where I’d probably need the paddle to brace while bringing in my legs.

When we started off towards the far jetty, it was almost dead calm – the only swell was inches high and barely registered. But the further we went, the stronger the wind was blowing in our face and the higher the waves were getting. A few times we had to circle back to make sure we didn’t get too far separated, and I found it a bit difficult when cross ways to the waves, especially when turning from downwind to upwind because you couldn’t see the waves coming. I was definitely a bit nervous and highly concentrated, but I never actually felt scared. Quite a change from last week, and I primarily attribute that to my feeling that I might be able to remount before I froze to death. We kept getting slower and slower, and Mike kept saying it would be so great when we headed back.

When we turned, it got a bit worse. The surf was angling towards Durand-Eastman beach, but we wanted to go back to Irondequoit outlet where we’d started, which was about 30 degrees to the left of that. I kept trying to kept pointed at the outlet, but the waves were pushing me towards the beach. The heavy surf was filling the boat right up to the top, and the next wave would come in and fill it back up again before I could get going fast enough for the venturi to work. With it full of water, it was wallowing and hard to accelerate. And because I was new in the boat, I was finding it hard to judge the proper way to time the acceleration to catch a wave like I can do in the Thunderbolt or Looksha. I was finding it very tiring, even though I was still not scared. I was also well ahead of everybody and I couldn’t relax my cooperation enough to look around. So I said “to hell with it” and surfed with the waves into shore. I jumped out of the boat to look around and I could see Mike and Frank about a quarter mile behind me, also on the beach. Paul D was about half way between us, but struggling in the surf zone.

I decided to paddle straight into the wind to get back out of the surf zone and see what was going on. Paul yelled to me that Frank was having trouble and was going to get out and wait for the guys to come back and pick him up in the car. That sounded like a great idea to me, and I decided I could quit now while I was still in control, and wait it out with Frank, or I could struggle on and get more and more tired and more and more out of control. So I landed again, and walked up to where Frank was waiting. We had a nice long stand around and chat for the time it took Paul to get back to the finish and come pick us up. It worked out nicely, and I got home just in time for the party Vicki and I went to this afternoon.

So I think it worked out very nicely. I wish I could have finished the whole distance, but I think I quit at a good point. I like the ski, and it’s going to get better, especially when the water is warmer. When you’re as heavy as me, you’re never dry in a ski. I definitely need a leash, and I want to work out a GPS mount like Mike and Frank have.

Lessons Learned, Mistakes Made, Where To Next?

After a day to think about what happened, and to talk to Mike F, I realize that didn’t have the full picture. That isn’t so surprising, because my ability to look around isn’t all that great at the best of times and when I’m scared shitless I can’t even turn my head to one side or the other for fear of it changing my balance. It turns out that Dan and the rest of the team wasn’t far behind me, and were looking out for me even if I couldn’t see them. Apparently Paul D had dumped in his ski and was having problems getting back in, and Frank was having some sort of difficulty as well. Even Dennis had dumped at some point. So I guess it wasn’t just me, the conditions really were semi hard.

As I mentioned in yesterday’s report, I think the root of my problems started with the dump right at the beginning. While I was near shore so I could get out of the water and dump the water out of the boat, and I dried off pretty quickly in the warm air, I also knew I wasn’t dressed for an extended swim. And dumping out in the distance we were away from shore during the paddle would have meant an extended swim. I also know I can’t get back in that boat in water. Without any bulkheads, the boat fills up with water and even if I could get back in the boat would be too unstable to stay upright.

So what should I have done differently? Obviously I knew I was nervous after the initial dump and felt even worse when Dan said to set course for the light house 5 miles away and almost directly across the swells. But should I have stopped then? I didn’t think so at the time, and I still don’t think it would have been the right decision. Dan has dragged me out of my comfort zone on several occasions, and I’ve learned a lot from it. I can attribute much of my improvement in paddling from some of those sessions. Yesterday, I persevered as best I could, but I just never relaxed. We passed a beach on the way up, and I was honestly thinking of going in there and hitch hiking back to my car. Maybe what I should have done was gone there and just practiced paddling up and down the swells for a while until I felt comfortable enough to try going across them again? Maybe in retrospect I should have stayed back at the original beach doing that. But I didn’t, and it’s too late to change it.

So what should I do differently in the future? First thing first, I need a new paddle shaft. I don’t know how long that’s going to take – that probably depends on whether Lars, the guy who used to be the Brasca rep in the US has any left over inventory. So before that, I need to find a paddle I can borrow without tearing my elbows apart. Secondly, I want to get a surf ski. I was the only guy out there yesterday who wasn’t in one, and Paul D’s troubles notwithstanding, it’s a lot easier to remount a ski than a Thunderbolt – and as Mike pointed out, sometimes just the confidence in your ability to remount it is enough to get you to relax and enjoy the conditions. Baycreek has Dennis’s old V10Sport for sale nice and cheap, but I really think I’m good enough to learn how to paddle a regular V10 (which is skinnier and faster), or at the very least the Ultra layup of the V10Sport (which is lighter than the Value). I actually went for a short paddle in a V10Sport today, and it didn’t feel any less stable than the Thunderbolt. Another thing I need to do is start carrying my paddle float and pump when I’m in the Thunderbolt on the lake. Maybe they won’t help, but they might make me feel more comfortable. I probably should dress warmer in cold water, although I hate being over warm when I’m paddling. I’m not sure what’s the correct clothing option for hot air and cold water, but I need to find something – possibly my Hydroskin shirt, with a pre-emptive dunk in the water before I start so I’m not overheating. Another thing I think I need to invest in is one of those rear-view mirrors you can attach to your hat brim that cyclists use. Being able to see what was going on behind me out of sight might have been a comfort to me when I was freaking out. Another thing is practice, practice, practice. I felt pretty uncomfortable out on the lake in the Looksha in the past, but with practice it got easier and easier. I know that I’m going to get there with the Thunderbolt, and the sooner I can get back out there practicing, the sooner it will come. And the most important thing, though, is to have more confidence in the people around me. I know Dan can get distracted when he’s busy with the other guys, but I should have known that Dan and Mike and the other guys weren’t too far away and would have come quickly if they’d seen me dump. I was pretty hard on Dan yesterday, and now that I’ve had some time to calm down, reflect, and talk to others, I feel bad about that. So Dan, I know you read my blog, and I just want to say I’m sorry for saying you abandoned me.

Not my best day paddling

Today the team met for our first paddle on the lake. Originally Stephen had said I might be able to paddle his v10 sport surf ski, while he used his new v12. But it was too rough, so he took the sport, leaving me in the Thunderbolt. This is my first time on the lake in it, and probably only my second time in waves – the race being the first.

I was moderately nervous as I went out a few hundred metres into the swell. I waited for a small lull and turned down, and actually got a few nice runs. But as I attempted to turn up swell again, I dumped leaving me cold, wet, and even more nervous about the swell.

Dan immediately set course to a lighthouse which is about 5 miles away, but of course it was exactly 90 degrees to the swell, which is the worst. I was determined to give it a chance, hoping my nervousness would abate. I told several people how nervous I was and Mike and Paul kept fairly close to reassure me.

Dennis, a paddler I know through Facebook whom I’ve never met in person before, showed up. He was test paddling a new v10 sport to see if the cockpit was easier on his back than his old v10 sport. He, like everybody else except me, was showing every sign of enjoying the swells.

After half an hour of slow paddling, I realized that I wasn’t getting any less nervous, and the fear was making me more tired than hard paddling would. I was thirsty as hell, but couldnt grab a drink because i didnt dare take a hand off my paddle I knew I was never going to survive another hour of this. So I told Dan I needed to turn back and I needed somebody to go with me. He turned the whole group around. He paddled with me and said he’d stay with me. I was grateful because I’d already dumped once, in shore, and now we were hundreds of metres off shore and a long way from where we’d started. I knew that a dump out here would require a long, cold swim to shore, abandoning my boat and paddle since I am unable to remount this boat, and then a several mile walk back to the parking lot.

So it was with more than a little consternation that not more than five minutes later I realized that Dan wasn’t anywhere around. Mike was still with me, so that wasn’t too bad. He stayed with me until we were about a mile and a half from the start, but then he disappeared as well. Not sure where he went, but he’s not the one who promised that he’d never abandon me. Dennis came up beside me and talked to me. I was getting more and more tired, and the fear and the tiredness was making me less and less in control of the boat.

Dennis disappeared for some reason, and I just about freaked out. I was shaking, and on the verge of tears. I was sure my only hope was to swim for it. I screamed for help, and Dennis showed up – I think he’d just dropped behind. I was even less able to think straight or paddle straight. I was barely moving at all, and doing more bracing than anything else.

As I got parallel to the beach where I’d launched, I was able to turn down swell and pick up the pace. I didn’t quite get a ride from the waves, but at least I wasn’t fighting them. But as I was getting out of the boat, a wave hit me and I fell on my paddle shaft, snapping it in two. What a perfectly horrible way to end a perfectly horrible day.

At this point, I’m not even sure I want to replace the paddle. This was supposed to be fun. Maybe I’ll feel better tomorrow, but right now I don’t want to paddle and I definitely don’t want to see or talk to Dan.