Travels with Paddles

a sea kayaking journal

Axel Schoevers (Photo: A. de Krook) Name:
Axel Schoevers
Rijswijk, Zuid-Holland, Netherlands

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Incident

Many years ago my role model Dutch sea kayaking coach, achieved expedition paddler and friend gave me his copy of Sea Kayaker's Deep Trouble. He had read it and passed the book along to me with the remark: "lots of stupid paddlers!".

Reading about sea kayaking incidents allow us to learn from the mistakes of others, so that we can be more informed and safer paddlers and not make those mistakes ourselves.

An incident rarely occurs 'out of the blue' Most of the time it is a chain of events that lead to an incident. Sometimes we are 'lucky': an incident could have happened, but did not.

On Sunday June 13 2010 I was part of group that was involved in a sea kayaking incident that required a major rescue operation by the KNRM lifeboats out of Den Helder.

A few days ago the group published its comprehensive report of the incident. I hope we can shortly make available an English version of the report. Until then I give you the English translation of the short announcement to the Dutch sea kayaking community the day after the incident.

Kayakers in trouble near 'Razende Bol'

On Sunday June 13 a group of nine (very) experienced trip leaders of the Coastal Kayaking Committee of the national kayaking organisation Peddelpraat (Paddle Talk) planned a trip around Noorderhaaks sand spit.
The goal of the day was a social paddle with the Peddelpraat sea kayaking trip leaders.

On the northern coast and towards the west of Noorderhaaks the group encountered 2-3 meter high breaking and increasingly dumping waves over sandbars. After two x-rescues of one paddler the decision was made for an escape route towards Texel in the east. During the execution of the escape route contact was lost with three paddlers.

Two of the missing paddlers ended-up swimming and rescued each other with one solo re-entry followed by an assisted re-entry. One of the two paddlers got seriously nauseated and had the beginnings of hypothermia. One thus incapable of paddling, the two rafted-up and called-out to the coast guard on VHF-radio for help.

The third missing paddler informed the coast guard on VHF that he landed safely on the east side of Noorderhaaks. He had lost sight of the group after a solo re-entry and had continued and brought himself to safety.

In the meantime, the raft of two had drifted with the tide and wind more than a mile to the north where they where the lifeboat took them aboard. The fully conscious hypothermic paddler was taken to hospital for check-up.

The group of six that had landed safely on Texel communicated with the coast guard and, after all were accounted for, picked-up the one paddler that landed on Noorderhaaks and returned to Den Helder as a group of seven.

All paddlers are safe and well. Now is not the right time to write an extensive report of the course of events and evaluation. More time is needed for that. Through knowledge and training, all have made it back to safety. However, there have definitively been shortcomings from which we must learn. The incident received national press coverage. We find it important to give you this early first report with more information to follow.

Upcoming first week of August I am again at our annual Peddelpraat club sea kayaking week. It was Peddelpraat that introduced safe sea kayaking in the Netherlands back in the seventies by inviting BCU coaches from the UK to set up the Dutch sea kayaking scheme that continues to closely follow that of the BCU through the Dutch Canoe Union (NKB).

Four, consecutive, organizers of this instruction week were part of the group on the day of the incident. Among the four of us there was an unbroken 30+ years of heading-up coaching safe sea kayaking and sea leadership. All nine are coaching during the upcoming week...

Have we lost all our reputation and credibility? We were stupid, definitively! I am glad we are allowed to learn from it. And maybe when others read about our incident they won't make the same mistakes or recognize some aspects and will appreciate that many of us sometimes are indeed 'lucky'.

I hope we can shortly make available a full English version of the report that does a much better job than the horribly bad Google translation of it.


eurion said...

Thank you Axel for your posting. I'm glad that the group was 'lucky' and escaped serious mishap. Although I am sure a large element of experience/training helped to avoid a worse outcome. Will be very interested to learn from the chain of events once it's been digested. I expect it may make humbling reading. Happy you all made it ashore.

René said...

Hi Axel,

I am also happy that all you made it safe to shore.

I have read the 18 pages of your (Dutch) report and I admire the group of experienced paddlers having written it all down to make it possible that everybody can learn from it.

Your trip and conditions made me think of a trip I made many years ago with Gerard Hoitink: Same conditions with quiet weather after a stormy week.
We rounded Ameland and above the Bornrif we came in similar trouble in waves up to 2-3 meter, oft with a turbo on the top.
Almost all capsized and while trying to perform X-rescues all kind of accidents happened: a broken nose, a perforated seakayak, one person almost got hypothermic.
I also helped paddlers back into their kayak but did not take the time to empty cockpits to prevent accidents. All around I saw pairs of 2 kayaks tumbling over each other in breaking waves, while trying to empty cockpits.
Apart from this, the ending of the event was also good: we let us wash ashore and were brought to the camping by Staatsbosbeheer who arranged a tractor with wagon for our transport.

I also learned very much from that event: it kept me busy for a few months while thinking it over and over.

About your trip:
I think the conclusions and recommendations of the accident at Noorderhaaks are very good.
I only would like to add a few comments/additions to the conclusions and recommendations in your Dutch report:

- never try to paddle up a high wave (having a turbo on top) at a perpendicular angle. If you paddle perpendicular and don't make it to the top the most likely thing to happen is that you will flip backwards.
A better way to stay in control is to paddle the wave at an angle of 30-45° making it possible to make a low or high brace when you eventually get caught in the turbo.
Ok, you will end up bongoing with the wave sideways, but you stay upright and in control (lots of practise in surf are necessary to reach the stage of not to capsize in such a bongo-wave).

- The same practise in situation with following waves, preventing a forward loop.

- when waves are as big that there is a risk of a wet-exit, or feeling that you are not in full control, clip your towline to you kayak to be able to prevent separation from your kayak and get back to your kayak in case you was not able to hold on the kayak due to the forces of the wave. I realise you must be careful not to get the rope around your neck.
Ok this is a risk, but probably the risk after being separated from your kayak is even bigger because you are almost invisible for rescuers and exposed to cold water. Besides that you are alone, very alone in a wide sea.

- don't perform X-rescues in braking waves.


Anonymous said...

Glad you're all ok.