Today, I had the most exciting rescue of the year. In the morning, I left the harbor with someone who had kayaked before. We went out on the lake into about 1.5 feet of chop and swung around a point into a protected bay where we paddled around for an hour or so. During our time paddling, the wind picked up slightly to about 10 knots with gusts to 15 knots. On our way back, we had a choice to make. We could either portage from the bay back into the harbor which would avoid the rough water or we could paddle back around the point and into the choppy lake. After some discussion and my judgement that the other kayaker would do fine in larger waves, we swung around the corner into two to four foot waves.
And he did fine in the larger waves. We stayed offshore and away from any rebounding waves until we got to the harbor mouth. There we turned and started to head in. A sailboat was coming out so we moved out the the center and towards the closest breakwater. Waves always pile up there and get larger. Soon we were in three to four foot waves as the sailboat came even with us. We were also about three waves from the calm water behind the breakwater when the other kayaker capsized.
He wet exited in the harbor mouth and I had to quickly decided how to rescue him. My initial ideas were to tow him in the water around the breakwater to calm water where I’d t-rescue him or t-rescue him and go on our way. While I was making the decision, I was closing the distance between my kayak and his bow and asking how he was. I choose the later after he said he wanted to give it a try. It took him two tries to get into the boat and by that time we were drifting towards the other breakwater. At that point, he wanted just to start paddling, but I wasn’t sure that he could stay upright being as tired as he was, so I had him lean over on my kayak and contact towed him behind the breakwater. We rested, had a good laugh and celebrated a successful rescue — the first one he had ever done in rough water. Practice pays off.
This situation could have turned into a disaster had the decision making gone wrong. Of the many factors that I consider before going out on a trip are these three:
- Skills, fitness and other human considerations
- Environmental conditions
You have to have the right equipment for the conditions and the right skill set, too. In this case, he was in a wetsuit in 68F water, had practiced rescues before, we had sea kayaks and everything you need to travel on the Great Lakes. The conditions were holding steady and well within my personal skill set to accomplish a rescue if needed.
When the rescue occurred, all my planning, everything that I had considered on shore and every judgement I made to get to that point came together in one moment. At that moment, you no longer have the luxury of time. You just have to make the right decision and carry out the plan. Here I had the luxury of allowing him to try and get back into the boat with a t-rescue instead of just towing him and his boat into the calm water behind the breakwater. Had the conditions been different, had there been stronger wind, boat traffic, if he failed the second time, the water colder, etc… the choice I would have made would have been different.
If you’re going to paddle out there, you have to be able to make the right decision at the right time. If you don’t have that skill yet, then paddle with someone that does until you develop it.