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.

2 thoughts on “Lessons Learned, Mistakes Made, Where To Next?”

  1. Paul,

    I think you’re remarkably on target in your assessments. Yesterday, the discomfort you felt was totally reasonable. You were in a very dangerous situation: in poor clothing for the water temperature, in a boat that would fill with water (and crack in two if you emptied it incorrectly) several hundred yards from shore. There’s be something wrong with you if you weren’t scared. As you pointed out yesterday, scared means tight in the cockpit, which means you’re LESS able to deal with rough water. Actually, you were lucky only to break a paddle shaft.

    I was thinking about your situation while I was paddling today, 20 miles on the Niagara. As was the case yesterday, I was in the V10S and wearing a full drysuit. I know a drysuit is considered whimpy amoung racers, and I know that the air temperature is really warm (mid-70’s today), but, as far as I’m concerned, this combination is liberating. Let me explain.

    If you’re in a surf ski, you don’t have to worry about the boat filling up with water and you don’t need to even know how to roll (because, obviously, you can’t roll a surf ski). You just need to be able to remount, which takes part of an afternoon (and some subsequent practice) to learn. Because of this, IF YOU GET TOO WARM IN THE DRY SUIT, YOU CAN JUST HOP OUT OF THE BOAT! I did this several times yesterday. While the air temperature is really warm, the water temperature is cold enough to cool you off beautifully — you just stay in the water until you’re comfortable, and do a remount (which you need to practice anyway). In my mind, the beauty of this is that you relax in the boat because you know that nothing bad is going to happen to you, even if you fall in. At one point today, two jet skiers (assholes) “stradled” me at high speed, creating hellacious conflicting waves, really messy stuff. If I had tightened up in the cockpit, I would have capsized — period. However, because I knew that nothing bad could happen even if I DID capsize, I stayed loose in the boat and DIDN’T capsize.

    This time of year is hard to dress for because the water temperature is so much cooler than the air temperature. However whimpy it may be, I reiterate — I think it makes better sense to dress for the water temperature. If you get too hot, you’re surrounded by cold water — no problem. You don’t even have to leave the boat if you don’t want to — just splashing yourself liberally gets the job done. I would suggest a breathable fabric. My drysuit is Goretex. Now that Gortex is off patent, other companies are doing knockoffs that are (finally) just as good. NRS has a Triton (sp?) fabric that breathes very well and is cheaper than Gortex.

    I hope I haven’t hijacked your blog or insulted you by offering unsolicited advice. To tell the truth, nobody in Buffalo does this kind of paddling and I don’t have anybody to talk to about this stuff. I’d be interested in your response.


  2. PT, I’m glad things work out fine and the writing is very thoughtful particularly after the initial emotions settled down. If I may, I’d like to throw in a couple of cents for others who might stumble across your blog. First, paddling open water in a fragile unbulkheaded boat is a risky proposition right from the start. Not recommended for anyone. Secondly, if you do so, then definitely dress for long term immersion. There is no self-rescue other than a roll. Third, while help from others is usually welcomed, it should not be counted on, particularly for a racer. One should not get into situations where he can not extricate himself unaided. Sometimes this happens, but responsibility falls on the individual. Unfortunately, the more experienced the paddler, the better he is at anticipating what could go wrong. Take for example the group of open solo canoeist who plan to cross Lk. O this summer. I worry that they won’t make it and I worry that they will (thereby reinforcing a rather stupid idea).

    Finally, good news. Your new paddle shaft should be here in a couple of days. Lars felt overnight would be very expensive, so we opted for ground.

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