Inland Sea Kayakers : “As If Challenge” – October 26, 2013
The wind had been blowing hard all night, but my alarm had just gone off and it was time to get up. I was wondering what we were in for, since today was the semi-annual “As If” challenge organized by the Inland Sea Kayakers club. This event brings together club members for an all-day paddle. Various challenges (group dynamics, navigation, rescues, medical emergencies) are tossed at them by “observers”. The goal is to have fun, but learn a few things while doing it.
Winds were forecast in the 18+ mph range. Given the expected high for the day was in the low 40s, today had the potential to be a very interesting day.
Starting time for the event was 8am at Carson’s Bay on the southern part of Lake Minnetonka. I am not a morning person, so this was my first challenge – getting there and being ready to go on time. Fortunately, I was able to limit my wrong turns to one, and arrived at 7:30. Many club members were already there, and our coaches (Jeff Forseth, Michelle Forseth, Pete Kuhn) were set up and ready to go. Others were in the process of unloading their boats, getting things packed up and realizing that key items had been left at home. The spirit is very much supportive, so things one person might have left at home were quickly offered up by someone else.
Our briefing began around 8. We reviewed the rules for the day, and received our list of rules and the sequence of challenges we were going to do. The rules were pretty straightforward, with an emphasis on having fun. The challenges were designed to review and challenge us in various ways. There were 10 participants, so we broke up into two groups to make the groups a bit easier to manage.
After selecting the Trip Leader for our group and doing a few other pre-trip activities, we launched and headed out to our first challenge. We needed to find a specific spot via triangulation. The winds were blowing hard, and the local sailing club had set up a race course in the area we were going to paddle through. We pulled up, and realized that one of the buoys the sailboats were using for their course was right about where we wanted to go. As we tried to discuss what we should do next, we were being blown into the sailing area. About that time, one of the sailboats flipped, causing more chaos. The assertive and clear advice offered up by our coaches helped us realize that it was time to exit the area and move on to the next challenge. Lesson learned – sometimes it’s good to talk about the next step, but sometimes you just have to move on to the next step.
As we practiced our navigation skills, we crossed over to Big Island. While there, we did the “oops” exercise. The “oops” in this case was dropping your paddle. Most of our group discovered that they could not reach their spare paddles. In the one case where the spare paddle was accessible, the paddler realized that he could not re-stow the paddle after retrieving his primary paddle. These are things that can be easily fixed at home, but are much harder to address at the time of the incident.
Paddling on, it was time for a quick snack break. One of our party became hypothermic” and had to be treated. Warm drinks and a tarp wrapped around his body were enough to allow a fast “recover” within a few minutes. We practiced signaling a paddler about ½ mile away, and realized the only non-pyrotechnical means that worked involved reflecting the sun (mirrors, paddle flashes). Seeing our coach waving her paddle back at us helped reinforce how invisible a kayaker is when sitting in the water.
It was time for more paddling and navigation. We successfully located a key channel, then turned around. As we did so, one of our paddlers realized she had a one inch “hole” in her boat right underneath her seat. We practiced doing an on-water patch with some duct tape. The area was clearly a dangerous one, as we saw the other group was busy repairing two “holes” in their boats. Warning signs should be posted to warn kayakers of these hazards!
As we paddled back to the lunch spot, our coach was suddenly taken “ill” and needed to be towed. Another coach rafted up with her, and we quickly set up a chained two with three paddlers. This was going well, except that the “ill” coach somehow became detached from the tow rope. Eventually the coach that was still attached pointed out that we were short a boat. Apparently our mantra of “bring most of the paddlers back” was insufficient – we were expected to bring everyone home. We discussed the need to keep your head on a swivel, and always look around to see what was going on with all of the other paddlers in your group. The BCU guideline is to glance back every 5 paddle strokes, which is easy to remember but a bit tricky to actually do.
Both groups joined up at lunch, and had fun talking about what we had done during the day. Although the themes were similar, the actual exercises varied slightly. The last leg back to the put-in was a social paddle.
The on-water portion was complete, but there was still much to be learned from the post-exercise debriefing. Everyone headed over to the Forseth’s house for same tasty soup and discussion. Jeff and Michelle did a nice job of leading the group through each exercise, and making sure we had learned what we were supposed to learn (while still having fun). We discussed our “aha” moments, and what we most enjoyed about the day.
As evening set in, we were all a tired but happy about having spent a fun and educational day paddling on Lake Minnetonka. It was a great way to reinforce things we may have read about, but often do not get the chance to actually practice. As with many kayaking lessons, it’s much better to learn them in a controlled environment than in conditions, when the alternatives are slim and unattractive.