Sea kayak Capsize -

Sea kayak Capsize: too much help.

One particular capsizing experience comes to mind, I recall it now with bemusement but I remember being a little annoyed at the time.

I was out with a friend who is a very occasional (once or twice a year) paddler, but otherwise a fit enough guy who is a keen cyclist and hiker. He was in one of my boats, (a CLC West-river 180). I was in my North Star. We were in deep water about 20 yards off an island in the middle of the bay which has a small lagoon bisecting it that a local diving outfit use as a teaching venue. The local sea-state was perhaps a one foot chop with a bit of counter-surge from a long swell bouncing off the island and kicking up the occasional larger lump.

My friend suffering from "rogue wave syndrome" went over, as it happened, just as the dive-boat emerged from the lagoon to witness the event.

Of course the good Samaritan impulse took over and, hey presto, along comes the dive-boat, a large RIB with eight people aboard and a 70Hp motor at the back, triumphant to the rescue, barging onto the scene.

My friend (who has never capsized before) is dragged aboard the Zodiac, which is now jam packed, with nine people aboard, and the Laurel and Hardy act begins of trying to salvage the kayak.

Of course the first thing that is done is the kayak is turned over so that it takes on water and they can't lift it aboard. the paddle is being swung about and has already brained the skipper and a student diver because they are unaware that it is tied on to the kayak. At this point the boat has been dropped back in the water and is being pounded under the bow flare of the dive-boat. While I, a big frown on my dial, am watching this all going on, the dive-boat skipper (actually a friend of mine) is giving me the jaundiced eye... He is privately censuring me: "That damned Etienne, he brings an inexperienced paddler out into deep water and I have to pick up the (apparently awkward) pieces."

By this time we are three or four minutes into the debacle. They are trying to drag the swamped kayak aboard again by lifting on the cockpit rim and I am becoming fed up myself. I have to yell, "Oy!" in vehement New York tones, to stop the carnage and get their attention, and then insist, with an air of unbecoming authority, "Give me that boat, just let it go!"

I'm looking quite cross, so they let it go, 14 seconds later I have turned the swamped kayak over again and emptied it out, much to the astonishment of the onlookers who had been thinking me so irresponsible. Now the expectation is that I should push the boat over to the Zodiac once more so that they can tow it ashore (the wrong shore, we want to be on the other side of the bay from their home pier) and deliver my kayaking buddy safely to land after his horrible capsizing ordeal.

To make a point I should have made him abandon the "rescue boat" and reenter from the water, but in the interest of seafaring goodwill I found the graciousness to allow him to climb back into the kayak from the boat.

We had a further hour or so on the water without incident, apart from sighting four dolphins.

At a social gathering some months afterward I clued the dive leader into the arcana of open water rescue possibilities for kayakers and he admitted that he, in retrospect, should have assumed less and communicated more before rushing to the rescue.

In fact I think the error was mine. The lesson to be taken from this is that, if you are not expecting it, it is very easy to have control of a situation usurped by other well-meaning and otherwise quite able water users. My kayaking friend, incorrectly assuming that the Rib would offer the easiest platform for relaunching, accepted the help. Unwilling to be impolite to a the dive-boat skipper (a friend and fellow boatman), I curbed my assertiveness and allowed the situation to develop. In the end impatience forced me to intervene. I should have anticipated the impulse to help, and waived the RIB off with total authority and insistence before they could become involved at all. The divers may have learned something about kayaking, and about overhasty intervention, and my kayaking buddy would have been able to practice a proper rescue.

Etienne Muller