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The “experienced” kayaker

How many times have we read the phrase, “They were an experienced kayaker/paddler”? This seems to be a term used by reporters posthumously as they write an article of a paddler who was involved in an incident. The authors of the media release tend to receive this information from family members, onlookers, or perhaps the paddling partner who was also involved in the incident. Majority of these stories we read recount the tragic events which took place. The details seem to be constant, wrong boat for the conditions, improperly dressed for the elements, and not prepared for what they encountered.  The ripples of comments which go through respective paddlers and kayak instructors are endless. For most, we feel accountable – could we have made a difference? What can we do to in the future to educate the general public?

Social media stages numerous postings, pictures, and comments from the “Average Joe”, which display a large percentage of people who paddle incorrectly. These pictures show not wearing a PFD, paddles upside down, disregarding nautical rules, and improperly dress for the water conditions.  Those new to the sport, view these with eyes wide open and may use these as their reference tools for learning. What’s the harm in that, right? Well, many things. In the past years, I have joined many social media sites which focus on kayaking. My primary reason for joining these sites was to use these as informational resources for future paddle destinations. I am selective on becoming a member on some of the sites out there. Much like fact checking fake news reports, one should also ask pertinent questions when seeking specific paddling related topics. Manage to do a bit of research of the person posting, or even the main topic.

Let’s define the term, experience and then experienced:

Experience – as a noun, 1) practical contact with and observation of facts or events. 2) the knowledge or skill acquired by experience over a period of time, especially that gained in a particular profession. 3) an event or occurrence that leaves an impression on someone. As a verb – 1) encounter or undergo. 2) a feeling.

Experienced – 1) having knowledge or skill in a particular field, especially a profession or job, gained over a period of time.

What makes a person experienced, in this particular discussion – an experienced kayaker? An experienced kayaker is one who has logged many countless hundreds or thousands of hours in the seat. Paddled in conditions relative to the surroundings – in all aspects (paddling in winds existing from different directions, waves, various wave heights, wave direction, currents) and waters (open water, inland lakes, rivers, creeks, and rapids). They know limitations of both their kayak and themselves. There is apparent risk when undergoing any form of kayaking, and for majority of people in this sport, they understand this. Implementation of a risk assessment for your paddle adventure is a means in which those skilled in the sport, do not place themselves within a hazardous environment. A risk assessment focuses on many different aspects: paddler skill level, weather, type of water, known area of paddle, knowing your paddle group, and health conditions (just to name a few). Paddlers take these aspects and make sound and reasonable decisions for the destination in mind. This a continuous and ever-changing assessment during the paddle – as kayaking is never a static experience. For those who don’t understand this, should not call themselves, “Experienced paddlers”.

Understanding what limitations both you, your gear, and your kayak possess is a characteristic in experience. First timers in the kayak have many different ways in which they learn:

1) There is the hands-on approach – and just try (Doers)

2) The watch others/read procedures – and adapt to what needs to be done (Watchers)

3) Those who get ‘lessons’ from others – who may not be very proficient (Seers)

4) Then those who seek out professional training from a qualified individual.

Numerous times, I have been on the water and witnessed a variety of simple disregard to personal safety while on the water. I primarily paddle the open waters of Lake Michigan – and I have my go-to places I fully enjoy. As this body of water has its challenges, it also has many hidden factors which at times goes overlooked to the novice paddler. There are currents, [at times] rip current, various changes of water temperatures, off-shore winds, just to name a few. Encountering paddlers in this body of water without PFD’s physically on their body, kayaks ill-suited for large open bodies of water (lack of bulkheads, or float bags) which could quickly take on massive amounts of water from the waves, improperly dressed individuals who don’t understand about hypothermia, and lack of communication to others – should there be a need. I find myself conversing with as many of these individuals as I can. Attempting to plant a seed of knowledge, and hopefully make them think about their actions – and hopefully change their future paddling endeavors. Sometimes, this works – other times, I get shrugged off by the individual. One notable occasion happened this year. The air was around mid-70’s, water temp was 61, light off shore winds, waves about a foot. My buddy and I were dressed for immersion (had splash top, neoprene bottoms and boots), plus our usual open water gear – VHF, flares, first aid kit, cell phone in a water tight box, food/water, etc). We were playing with rescues (solo and assisted), and he notices a kayaker in the far distance – well off shore about a mile out. I suggested we go out and say hello. As we were getting closer, my buddy stated, “I don’t think he is wearing a PFD” – I commented, “Well maybe it is flesh colored.” The closer we get, my buddy then stated, “Actually, I don’t think he is wearing a shirt either.” We eventually intercept this guy about ¾ of a mile off shore. He was in a rec boat, no skirt, no PFD and wearing only shorts. He was in his early 20’s and muscularly built – as apparent from his arm paddling technique. We chatted to him for a long time, and almost blocked him from advancing anywhere on the water (not-intentionally – but reflecting back, guess we did). After a few minutes talking about safety on the open water, he was open to conversation. I had offered we paddle back to shore with him (as escort) and he generously agreed. Along the way, he reflected on his decision to paddle that far away from the shore, and realized that probably wasn’t the best idea – as he never really looked back behind him and see how far away he was from the shore. He also noted the off shore winds actually shoved him further out than he ideally wanted to go.

Instructors offer professional training and share their experience to those willing to seek out better techniques, increase their skills, and learn how to become a safer paddler. The good ones will be able to provide you many different techniques and approaches which offer a safe, effective, and efficient outcome. They understand you may not have the talent on day #1 to take on something way above your capacity – and they will not place you in apparent harm, or make you do something you are not willing to attempt. Understandably, some of the things instructors have you to practice/demonstrate are for your well-being. An example of one of these would be a wet-exit with a skirt. This is can be a freighting experience for the first time. Having a veteran instructor by your side as one does this offers a massive advantage for the first-timer.  The instructor has many methods in which they can act upon if events turn south. Should one attempt a wet-exit without someone knowledgeable at the ready, there may be a terrible end result. Same can be said with paddling dynamic waters. Having a person who understands the water trail, it’s complexity and features; offers guidance, first-hand knowledge, and safety to the adventure.

Experienced paddlers are those who have taken precautions to ensure their life, and the lives of others are not placed in immediate danger, or that of the unseen. Prior to the adventure on the water – they plan. Information is gathered well before even leaving the house. Weather reports from several sites is collected, to ensure there is no surprise. The location for the paddle, if not known, had been researched fully. Water temperature reports and conditions are reviewed to ensure proper clothing will be worn and wave height or cfs is not beyond one’s capabilities. Upon location, the paddler surveys conditions, and if doing a river, will scout the entire river (or make planned stops to get out and visually scout). If new people have joined them in the paddling outing – they ask many questions about their paddling abilities. They ensure everyone has proper safety items needed for the trip. A paddle float plan will be constructed and initiated, and communication to loved ones has been made. While on the water, they collect data continuously and ensure all participants are comfortable. Communication while on the water is paramount – both to each other and others not in your group. If an event happens while on the water, participants understand and are competent for reacting and acting upon anything which may happen (capsize, medical issues, or needing to be rescued by USCG). After the paddling adventure, they ensure everyone is safe and sound, and all gear is accounted.

Yes, even with the best planning, and precautions taken to ensure a safe paddling environment – things do happen. Everyone can experience a bad outcome – no matter what your experience is. However, statically speaking, the person who did not take precautions, went well beyond their comfort level or didn’t seek additional training tends to be those mentioned in a posthumous news report. Before you claim to be an “Expert” or “Experienced”, be prepared to follow up your claims.

Pike Lake Essentials class

Join us as we provide training for the Pike Lake State Park. This is a joint venture event, as we are delighted to partake in Smoky the Bear’s 75th birthday.  We will gather on the north end of the beach – just look for the kayaks.

 

Intended for the amateur paddler (one who has paddled a few times in the past) and would like to increase their knowledge and expertise on the water. Kayaking is more than just moving your kayaking in a straight line. This 3 to 4 hour session will provide skills to maneuver your kayak around obstacles, using simple body moves to maximize turns, and paddle control.

 

Prerequisite for this class is a basic understanding about kayaking (getting in/out – how to paddle forward/stop/reverse, and stability in a kayak). For complete topics covered, please refer to the essentials skills page.

 

Class size will be limited to 12. Training will take place on Pike Lake, a quiet, protected inland lake. Please dress for the cooler water temperatures, have a change of clothes/towel in your car. Should you need to borrow- the use of Kayak, paddle and PFD are included in the price (please indicate this on the registration page. There are kayaks and gear for the first 8 who require these items.

 

Please also register for this to ensure there is availability. Cost $60.

Whether liked or not, weather will be a factor .

 

As paddlers, we must have a basic understanding of weather and weather patterns. Knowledge of simple weather predictions and forecasting will provide a safe and memorable paddle. Before heading out, it is always a good idea to obtain the local weather report – so there are no unexpected surprises. Where do you get this information? Local morning news, newspaper, internet, phone apps, and with some training, one can view nature’s signs. In today’s blog I will cover some basic cloud structures, weather patterns, and lore.

Let’s take a look at a weather map.

Here we see many different items which make up our weather. There are frontal systems, pressures, isobars and precipitation. I will explain what these mean, and how you can use these to your advantage.

Fronts – What exactly are fronts? These are boundaries between large air masses of different temperatures. These are represented on weather maps by colored lines – blue =cold, red=warm. A cold front is a high density air mass which moves towards and under a warm air mass. The warm air mass is pushed upward at a sharp angle causing moisture to condense rapidly. Heavy precipitation is often the end result. A warm front mass of air moves towards and passes over a dense cold air mass at a moderate angle, usually resulting in light perception.

Pressures – There are two different types, a high and low.

When forecasters say a low pressure area or storm is moving toward your region, this usually means cloudy weather and precipitation are on the way Low pressure systems have different intensities with some producing a gentle rain while others produce hurricane force winds and a massive deluge. The centers of all storms are areas of low air pressure. Air rises near low pressure areas. As air rises, it cools and often condenses into clouds and precipitation. If the low pressure area is the center of a Northern Hemisphere extratropical storm, a steady rain or snow can fall to the north of the warm front as warm moist air from the south rises up and over the cold air ahead of the warm front. Showers and thunderstorms often fire up ahead of the cold front in the warm, unstable air. Usually, showers and thunderstorms ahead of the cold front don’t last long as the precipitation is ahead of the warm front. Due to the counterclockwise circulation around low pressure areas in the Northern Hemisphere, cold air will likely be found to the north and west of low pressure areas while warm air is most often found to the south and east of low pressure areas. Often, you hear a weather forecaster say that an area of high pressure will dominate the weather. This usually means your region has several partly to mostly sunny days in store with little or no precipitation. Air tends to sink near high-pressure centers, which inhibits precipitation and cloud formation. This is why high-pressure systems tend to bring bright, sunny days with calm weather. Air flows clockwise around a high-pressure system in the northern hemisphere. As a result, regions to the east of a high-pressure center often have northerly winds bringing in relatively cold air while regions to the west have southerly winds bringing in relatively warm air. Sometimes, high-pressure systems stall over a particular region for long periods of time and bring several days of sunny, calm weather with little or no precipitation. High pressure systems usually form where the air converges aloft. As the air converges in the upper-levels of the atmosphere, it forms an area of higher pressure and is forced to sink. The sinking air spirals outward, clockwise in the Northern Hemisphere, counterclockwise south of the Equator.

Winds on the Great Lakes – On this map, the wind is measured with the use of barbs. A short barb is 5 knots, a long barb, 10 knots. If no barb and just a circle present, winds are calm. Wind barbs point in the direction “from” which the wind is blowing. On this particular map, the majority of wind is coming from a western direction at a speed of around 15 knots.

Isobars –These provide indication on the amount of wind to be expected.

 

Isobars are lines that connect points of equal atmospheric pressure on weather maps. Isobars are similar to height lines on a geographical map, and they are drawn so that they can never cross each other. Meteorologists use isobars on weather maps to depict atmospheric pressure changes over an area and to make predictions concerning wind flow. The term “isobar” originates from the Greek, isos (equal) and baros (weight). Wind is a direct consequence of air pressure differences. The greater the pressure contrast over an area, the shorter the distance between isobars on a weather map depicting the area. Wind blows from areas of high to low pressure. The greater the contrast in pressure difference between two areas, the faster the wind will blow, so closer isobars on a weather map predict higher velocity winds.

Precipitation – (non winter months will be described) range from light green to purple – describes the intensity of the precipitation; light green relates to light rain – purple relates to intense storms

Some basic weather predictions are from the clouds which are present. Each type of cloud pattern provides indication of future conditions in the hours or days ahead. I will mention a few simple examples.

Good clouds vs the Bad clouds

Let’s look at a perfectly clear day. Little to no clouds in the sky and sunny. This would indicate no change of conditions.  On a partly cloudy, or partly sunny day, the clouds present are loose, fluffy, cotton ball clouds, which would indicate fair weather. These are called, Cumulus.  These are formed usually under 10,000 feet , or low clouds. If these clouds bunch up, form firm edges with definite shapes, this would indicate heavy showers will soon arrive.

One of the higher clouds (over 20,000 feet) is called Cirrocumulus. They look like rippled sand or fish scales. They are nicknamed ‘Mackerel sky”, they are considered an omen of bad weather (usually rain).

A Cirrus cloud is a high, wispy white cloud composed of ice crystals – which indicate short term good weather – often called, “mares tails”. These commonly bring winds the following day.

Some towering clouds which swell up to 60,000 feet – one called a swelling Cumulus – These are flat bottomed which have a growing, cauliflower-like towers, they often form Mid-day and precede the next type of cloud which will be covered, the Cumulonimbus.

The Cumulonimbus are towering storm clouds, which bring rain, sleet, hail, thunder, lighting and tornadoes. The top of the cloud is usually anvil-shaped. One should really pay attention to these and seek shelter when needed.

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Fog – Fog can be considered a cloud at ground level. The processes forming it, however, are usually different from those that form clouds.  Like clouds, fog is made up of condensed water droplets which are the result of the air being cooled to the point (actually, the dew point) where it can no longer hold all of the water vapor it contains

 

Now, there are some dangers in which we should be aware- 

Thunderstorms. At no time should a paddlers be on the water during a storm. If a storm arrives suddenly, get off the water and seek shelter. Thunderstorms occur when large air masses rise quickly into the atmosphere, forming huge cumulonimbus clouds. Severe air currents inside the clouds cause water droplets and ice crystals to crash into one another, the friction between the particles creates static electricity within the cloud. Over time, opposite charges build between the top and bottom of the cloud, and the bottom of the cloud and the earth. When these opposing charges become intense, a gigantic spark occurs (lighting).

Winds – another potential danger to the paddlers. Winds is caused when air moves from an area of high pressure to one of low pressure. The greater the difference between the areas, the stronger the wind. Gentle breezes are usually dealt with, however, strong gusts and/or excessive winds may cause one to be pushed off course and into dangerous rocks or obstructions, and be exhausting to the paddlers. There are a few types of winds:

Head winds – these are winds coming directly at the paddlers – which equals resistance during a paddle

Tail winds – these are directly behind the paddlers, makes it easier to paddle.

Cross winds – these will come from either side and push one off course.

Fog– Usually is caused by warm air moving and cooling over water. This can disorientate the paddlers, obstruct recognition of coastal features, and placing the paddlers in harms way with larger vessels. Best to paddle close to shore , close to your paddle partner, turn on lights, and use either a fog horn, or a whistle to announce your location to other boaters – avoiding near misses. When paddling with a smaller group and seeking out a solo paddler, one can form a line. The basic principle with this: one paddler paddles near shore, the next in line paddles just far enough either to the left or right to the shoreline paddler to see them, the next in line continues this positioning. (much like walking hand in hand).

 

Forecast and Reports –

In order for a safe paddle, know what the forecast is for the venue. Obtain the local weather report by either TV, radio, or the paper. While on the water, tune into a 24 hour NOAA weather report on a VHF radio. Or, if you do not have one, listen to the weather station on the radio. There are smart phone apps in which may be helpful to plan the day. NOAA web page has information for digital graphic water conditions and advisories, which include water temp, wind speed and direction, and wave heights

 

Weather Lore:

A Logger was preparing for a fall town meeting and called the National Weather Service (NWS) to find out about the weather. He was told that the winter was going to be cold, so he included this in his report to the counsel. The logger began gathering fire wood.

The logger called back a couple of weeks later to make sure that his camp was prepared and was told that it looked like it was going to be a harder winter than usual. He passed the word to his people to gather more wood.

A couple of weeks later, he was finalizing his winter plans and called the NWS again, and was told that it was going to be terrible. When he asked why they thought that, the man told him, “We’re not exactly sure, but the local logging camp is gathering wood like crazy!”

The moral of the story? Don’t depend solely on somebody else to make your preparations! We have a few signs that can help you determine what the weather will be, and here they are:

 

Here are some sayings which may hold some truth:

When morning fog clears quickly away, expect a sunny day.

A sun-shiny shower, won’t last half an hour

Mackerel sky and mares tails make tall ships carry low sails.  (certain clouds are often followed by high winds) As mentioned in explanation of types of clouds.

Christmas day on the balcony means Easter in the embers

Squirrels tail fluffy, winter will be blustery

Onion’s skin very thin, mild winter coming in. onions skin thick and tough, coming winter cold and rough.

Red Skies and Rainbows

You’ve probably heard the old sailors’ poem of “red skies at night, sailors delight; red skies in morning, sailors take warning.” This is actually a good indicator of what’s coming. If the sunset is beautifully pink, the sun is shining on dust particles being pushed by a high-pressure system, which brings warm, dry air. If the sunrise is red, a low-pressure system is often pushing moisture toward you. Not always accurate but something to pay attention to.

Rainbows follow the same pattern: if you see one in the eastern sky in the morning, there’s a good chance that you’re going to get rain. The rainbow is caused by the sun reflecting off of moisture and most storms in the northern hemisphere move east to west.

Squirrels and Birds

Are the squirrels having knock-down drag-outs in your yard over the dwindling supply of nuts? Are the birds attacking your feeders like they haven’t eaten in weeks? If so, there’s a good chance that a substantial storm is on the way. This is another great way to read nature’s signs to predict weather. Similarly, if you notice that birds are migrating early, you should follow their lead and be ready to bunk in early for winter too. Winter is coming early.

In the shorter term, if birds are flying high, you’re probably going to have a good couple of days. When the pressure drops, indicating an upcoming storm, it hurts birds’ ears and they fly lower to alleviate that. Animals sense changes in barometric pressure well in advance of weather events so pay attention.

Look to the Moon: If the moon has a circle (halo) around it, this is almost a sure sign that there’s inclement weather heading your way in the next 3 days or so.The closer the ring is to the moon, the sooner participation will occur.  If it’s clear and bright, you may also be getting some moisture because a low-pressure system has moved in and cleared the dust from the air.

If the moon has an orange hue or pale, there’s dust in the air so you’re probably going to see some good weather the next day.

Watch Your Cat Take a Bath

Cats typically lick their paws and swipe their eyes but they usually leave their ears alone. They’re finicky like that. However, cats’ ears are particularly sensitive to changes in pressure so if he’s swiping his ears, there’s a good chance that bad weather is imminent in the next couple of days.

Herd Animals Unite

Animals such as cows, deer and horses are pretty good at telling you bad weather is coming if you just pay attention. Cows in particular are good at predicting drought; you’ll notice a drop in fertility rate if the next year is going to be tough. In the short term, watch for herd animals to group together, typically facing the same direction. If you see that, a storm is likely near, they also tend to lay down just before a rain. .

Also, horses and cows have ears that are sensitive, similar to a cat. If you notice them trying to scratch an ear with a hoof more often than usual, the pressure may be changing and bring a change in weather with it.

Good Fishing, Bad Storm

If you have an absolutely spectacular fishing day, where your line gets hit every time it hits the water, you may want to plan your fish bake for inside instead of out. Fish are great at sensing changes in pressure and will feed heavily before a storm so that they can go deep to weather it out.

Watch Your Campfire for Rain

If the smoke from your fire rises without any significant swirls, you’re probably in for good weather the next day. If the smoke blows back down or escapes in swirls, there’s low pressure in effect, which means bad weather is imminent.

Get to know your local environment; when you do, you’ll start noticing patterns in the local animals and plants that are linked to the weather. Being able to read nature’s signs to predict weather can be an invaluable skill that may very well save your life, or at least your paddle trip!  Remember, you aren’t going to melt if you get a little rain on ya, no matter how sweet you think you are. Enjoy!

For the Paddler Within….

Kickstart your Kayak

This is intended for the very first-time paddler – or someone who may have paddled once or twice before. Uncertain about how to stay upright in a kayak, or how to paddle correctly and efficiently? This is the session for you! This stress free and entertaining lesson will provide you the confidence to stay upright and navigate your kayak successfully.

The location is situated on a quiet and protected inland lake. The perfect setting for a safe training experience. The topics for the training are located on the kickstart your kayak skills page.

If you have your own kayak, this would be a great opportunity to become more familiar with its handling and stability. Or, if you need a kayak and paddle gear, we will provide this as part of the training. Please ensure you annotate this on the registration page.

Class size will be limited to 5 participants. Please dress for the cooler water – and have a change of clothing and a towel in your car.

Please also register for this to ensure there is availability.Cost $60.

Kayak Essentials class

Intended for the amateur paddler (one who has paddled a few times in the past) and would like to increase their knowledge and expertise on the water. Kayaking is more than just moving your kayaking in a straight line. This 3-hour session will provide skills to maneuver your kayak around obstacles, using simple body moves to maximize turns, and paddle control.

Prerequisite for this class is a basic understanding about kayaking (getting in/out – how to paddle forward/stop/reverse, and stability in a kayak). For complete topics covered, please refer to the essentials skills page.

Class size will be limited to 5. Training will take place at a local, quiet, protected inland lake. Please dress for the cooler water temperatures, have a change of clothes/towel in your car. Should you need to borrow- the use of Kayak, paddle and PFD are included in the price (please indicate this on the registration page.

Please also register for this to ensure there is availability. Cost $60.