Tragic story out of NZ

11 months 3 weeks ago #32485 by Scode
Tragic story out of NZ was created by Scode
This is a recap of a tragic story out of NZ just a couple of weeks ago.

Worth a read for everybody that paddles alone.

Timeline of events
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11 months 3 weeks ago #32486 by zachhandler
Replied by zachhandler on topic Tragic story out of NZ
Thanks for posting that. Very sad. Cold water kills. Even cool water kills.

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11 months 3 weeks ago #32490 by LaPerouseBay
Replied by LaPerouseBay on topic Tragic story out of NZ
Agree with what Zach says about cool water.

Here on Maui, we had a paddler swim for about an hour - very experienced ski guy. Not too smart in the common sense department though - no flotation or bright colors. He lost his ski and crawled up on the sand after about an hour, near death. They hauled him off in the ambulance. His pals said he looked terrible.

The north shore was crammed with paddlers doing maliko runs. Windsurfers zooming all around. Slightly overcast, but great visibility. Big wind and a bit of winter swell mixing things up. Good fun that day, very exciting.

So, the ski guy shoots the reef and gets torn from his boat, maybe 1/4 mile from shore. Starts swimming in. The current at that spot is notorious for doing a big circle. He gets close, goes back out. So, his pals call 911 and the helicopter and lifeguards start looking for him. Did several passes right over his head. They never saw him, no bright colors.

Like Zach said, cool water kills. One more go round would have killed this guy for sure.

downwind dilettante

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11 months 3 weeks ago #32492 by zachhandler
Replied by zachhandler on topic Tragic story out of NZ
The article hypothesizes that this guy was out in conditions that were too big for him to have a reliable remount. That might be the case. On the other hand, something unpredictable like having a shoulder dislocate or having a disk in your back suddenly herniate could leave even the best of us unable to remount. There is always the tension between dressing for hard aerobic activity vs dressing for prolonged immersion. I come out of the boat sometimes not once in a season, and my remount feels bombproof. But the unexpected could happen to me too. As far as I can tell, if you get separated from your boat in big waves off shore you might as well be on the far side of the moon because of how unlikely it is for someone to spot your bobbing head. Stay humble, hug your loved ones, and be thankful that you are here to enjoy another day.
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11 months 3 weeks ago - 11 months 3 weeks ago #32496 by feeny
Replied by feeny on topic Tragic story out of NZ
I'm so sorry and sad to read this story. My thoughts and condolences are with those that knew John.

What also upsets me about this story is that I'm not sure exactly how much I can learn from it.

From reading the timeline, the paddler was competent, on a familiar/regular route, had the necessary safety equipment.

Emergency services were activated, unclear if via PLB, or telephone calls from on-shore observers, or both. Emergency services arrived within 30-45 mins or so. I've never activated emergency services, but to get to a paddler on a downwind in around 30 mins or so from being notified to me sounds pretty fast..?

So what can I learn here?

I don't go on downwind alone. But, I also know that if I'm with another paddler(s) and one of us can't remount, it's going to almost certainly be because the conditions are making things difficult, combined perhaps with injury, perhaps panic... that then runs the risk of not one, but two+ people in trouble - as in big conditions it can be tough enough to look after oneself.

Dressing for the cold is tough too, I dress for the downwind, but not for too much extra. Recently I had to double back into the wind to help others, resulted in an extra hour on (not in) the water and I was seriously cold when I got to the end of the run. Maybe that's a lesson, dress for a longer ride in the cold, but, where to draw the line? Dress for extended time in the water? That's not really practical/possible on a downwind is it?

Never let go of the boat is a good lesson. I hope I never, ever have to. But it does sound like the paddler was about to hit rocks (after time in the water) and detached. Goodness me, what would I have done?

We can only be so prepared. I go out on downwinds with exactly the same preparation. I carry a PLB rather than a VHF. Everything is tied to me and I'm leashed to the boat. I'm dressed nice and bright. If I don't feel up to it, I don't go out. I never go alone.... but, it all comes undone if I get hurt out there, if anything at all prevents me from getting back in the boat I'm in trouble. If the water is cold (it's 10C right now) I'm in big trouble. If a pal gets into trouble, then we could both be in trouble..

Any suggestions of what lessons to learn?

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11 months 3 weeks ago #32497 by MCImes
Replied by MCImes on topic Tragic story out of NZ
Sad Story. I take away from this; this is my fall time reminder to dress warmer than I think I need to be on big days. Better to sweat than shiver when you're in the shit.

When I first read the recap and saw 60* water I thought 'that's not that cold', but after googling cold water immersion times, 2 hours is the exact estimated time-until-unconscious with 3-6 hour overall survival time (assuming head is above water). It sounds like he was likely already somewhat fatigued before he took the swims which probably didnt help either. Also he looked physically fit, which probably doesnt help with heat retention.

To me, this is personally a good reminder that safety preparation, immersion preparedness, (and tolerance for temporary discomfort from wet or dry suit) need to be proportionally increased as the risk of capsize, cold water danger, and time to rescue increase.

at the end of summer on the west coast, the water is now ~70 and its nice to paddle with little more than a life jacket and leash. I think its easy to become complacent with risk when you're in the shoulder season and might not "need" the extra gear. I was fairly casual with cold water in years past but luckily never suffered consequences from it. Now I am fully equipped, but this is a reminder that nothing matters if you're not prepared for whatever you're dealing with in the moment.

Currently - Swordfish S in Southern California's ocean waters
Past Boats: Epic V10 g0, Stellar SR g1, Fenn XT g1
"When you've done something right, they wont know you've done anything at all"

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11 months 3 weeks ago - 11 months 3 weeks ago #32501 by Impala
Replied by Impala on topic Tragic story out of NZ
"Any suggestions of what lessons to learn?"

Here are some:

1. When alone, restrict your distance to 10 km or so. I am reasonably fit, but what always strikes me is the fatigue that grips me after one hour. This is particularly relevant as most of us are around 50 or older.

2. When alone, use a safe boat. This does not mean changing your Elite S for a Swordfish. No, I mean a really safe boat which is defined by a noticeable positive righting moment - which most intermediate skis still do not have. => V8 or similar. It is much more likely to be able to remount such a boat in rough conditions, and there is no less fun.

3. Clothing: in my experience, when water is below 20 degrees, 3mm neoprene on the legs plus a watertight paddling jacket do not heat you up excessively at all. The neoprene has the positive feature of cooling you in the air, but warming you in the water.

4. Life vest: for winter I have a life vest with 100N buoyancy. It is cheap and does the job, also re ergonomics, and when floating in the water, the 40N+ make a huge difference. What these things usually are missing are pockets. So if you find a way to store your emergency stuff nevertheless, this could be something that could prolong your survival time beyond the said 2 hours.

5. Just a provocative suggestion: if your region allows for it, try to view surfski as a summer sport. Do not go out alone when water is below 20 degrees, and do not go out at all below 15 degrees. Get over your addiction and try to do something else when conditions are dangerous. I know that for the more Northern locations this advice is not practicable, but pals living there might still try the other options.
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11 months 3 weeks ago #32504 by robin.mousley
Oh man, I just saw this, it's horrible. Condolences to his family and friends.

It's particularly troubling because we had an incident on Saturday when a paddler came off and couldn't remount. Happily in our case he was rescued by a couple in a double... I don't have full details because I wasn't there and whoever it was is keeping a very low profile and I haven't been able to track them down. Our shore party saw some of the drama unfold - the paddler was in cold (for us - 14C?) water for about 20min, being circled by another paddler who didn't seem to know what to do. Eventually a couple went out in a double and somehow they all got back. The conditions at the time weren't particularly difficult - but the forecast was for hectic conditions and someone who couldn't remount should not have been out.

In my experience there's no one system that provides 100% coverage. We've had PLBs fail, I've been in a situation where my calls on VHF went unanswered, etc, etc. So my mantra (aside from the basics of PFD, fitness, remount practise, etc) is to have as many backup systems as is practical.

So I have:
  • SafeTRX on my mobile phone in a pouch on a lanyard attached to me
  • Waterproof, floating VHF on a lanyard attached to me
  • Set of 3 pencil flares on a lanyard attached to me
  • Whistle, on a lanyard
  • belt leash to the boat
  • paddle leash to the boat

I've used every single one of these things, happily mostly to help other people.

And it sounds like a nightmare tangle of shit all attached to me. But I've been using them for a decade and in spite of getting dumped at sea and in the surf, I've never become entangled; most of the stuff sits securely in the front pocket of my Mocke PFD.

And I'm thoroughly familiar with all the kit - I've fired the flares, I've used the mobile at sea; I've used the VHF and I've even summoned help in the middle of a race using the whistle. I've come off in strong winds and waves and had to roll the boat to unwrap my paddle leash. Staying calm is a vital skill.

In my experience the buddy system only works in conditions that it's unlikely that you'll need a buddy anyway - in truly hectic conditions, you can lose sight of your buddy extremely quickly and in a gale you're not going to paddle upwind in any case. So you have to be prepared to take care of yourself - you're essentially on your own, no matter how many other people are on the water.

We're lucky here in Cape Town (at least on the Miller's Run) because the water seldom gets below 16C.

One critical aspect is that you need to be prepared to call for help early - you need to recognise that you're in trouble early and you need to call for help early. Trying for too long to remount can leave you so cold that you can't call for help.

And it's fundamental that you have to have communication system(s) - not only long distance to call for help, but short-range too - because it's so difficult to see a surfski/swimmer from a boat, especially if it's speeding upwind into waves - spray can make visibility near-zero.

Sorry for the rambling stream of consciousness...

Rob

Currently Fenn Swordfish S, Epic V10 Double.
Previously: Think Evo II, Carbonology Zest, Fenn Swordfish, Epic V10, Fenn Elite, Red7 Surf70 Pro, Epic V10 Sport, Genius Blu, Kayak Centre Zeplin, Fenn Mako6, Custom Kayaks ICON, Brian's Kayaks Molokai, Brian's Kayaks Wedge and several others...
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11 months 3 weeks ago #32505 by Henning DK
Replied by Henning DK on topic Tragic story out of NZ
Whatever safety equipment you have, most essential advice is dress for the water, not for the air temperature. And if it's a long swim to the coast, dress for that!

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11 months 3 weeks ago #32506 by [email protected]
One other piece of kit I always have in my PFD is a bright orange inflatable plastic sock.
About 2m long and 200mm diameter. I can fill it with wind, seal it and tie it to me.
It is way more visible than a head in the water or an upside down white ski on a windy day.
Packs up to the size of a toilet roll.

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11 months 3 weeks ago #32507 by sski
Replied by sski on topic Tragic story out of NZ
Such a tragic story. Things can go so wrong in a hurry, and could happen to any of us.

Would you pls post a link to the orange sock? Amazon had a few close hits, but no winner. I carry a reflective shiny 'emergency blanket' which acts like a giant mirror- our pilot friend said it worked very well-under the right conditions :) It is the size of a pack of cards, well, until you attempt to repack it.
I would keep this sock on my rear webbing.

I am new to this sport but have a tremendous respect for the hazards. I have done many other adventure sports, but until we grow gills, this one really scares me as you are always minutes away from serious danger. When I competed in long open water swims, i would occasionally swim hazard practice, goggles broken, cramps, 20 min no arms or no legs etc. But i pulled a buoy w/ phone etc...same stuff. My swim mates thought i was daft!
I have been trying to figure out how I'd get back in the boat with a limb incapacitated (dislocation, etc)- can't do it.

Was in the military in Alaska years ago and did some aircraft accident investigations and other mishap inquiries (usually deaths). This is more general /philosophical, but has shaped my adventures ever since. A couple of things seemed to always repeat themselves.
1. Almost every incident fit the 'Swiss cheese' model of accidents. Multiple (bad) things came together. So my approach is to think of worst case scenarios. My wife makes fun of this, but it has kept me alive and well. Yes, I will fall in , yes the leash will snap, yes my damn battery will be dead. I go through it all. I carry tools to fix my rudder which some made light of at a recent event. I'm always looking for ideas/'hacks' as the kids say. :)
2. In AK survival training, they emphasized (with past death anecdotes) how many people 'died of embarrassment'. What they meant was that people are embarrassed to call for help, often seeking help too late. Sooo many stories of someone who died who was seen by other hikers, climbers, boaters/aircraft earlier and didn't ask for help or even declined it. Better to be the stooge who pulls the trigger too early. Embarrassment is short lived-death is final.

Condolences to his friends and family.
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11 months 3 weeks ago #32508 by MCImes
Replied by MCImes on topic Tragic story out of NZ
Good reading on this site for anyone who hasnt read it. It may save your life.
www.coldwatersafety.org/nccwsRules3.html

For those of you not in truly cold areas, something interesting I just re-read is cold shock reaches maximum intensity at 50*F, which is cold but not freezing by any means. Just a reminder that cool water is still quite dangerous if you cant escape it quickly and easily.

The first attachment is from O'Neill wetsuits and is probably for casual swimming, as O'neill is geared towards the surfing crowd.
I choose my cold protection fairly closely to their chart except when air or water temp goes below ~50F, I go to my Kokatat drysuit just because I find it more comfortable than cold wet neoprene, it retains heat better once you are wet and out of the water, and its easier to paddle in a drysuit than 5mm+ neoprene.

The 2nd attachment is from a kayak club in the Northland, and although they are somewhat conservative in their layering advice, I do love their note at the bottom in bold:
"If water/weather conditions are rough and/or paddlers are inexperienced, (or paddling solo), clothing 1 to 2 levels more protective should be strongly considered"

Good things to remember

Currently - Swordfish S in Southern California's ocean waters
Past Boats: Epic V10 g0, Stellar SR g1, Fenn XT g1
"When you've done something right, they wont know you've done anything at all"
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11 months 3 weeks ago #32511 by Scode
Replied by Scode on topic Tragic story out of NZ
I think Robs point about calling for help earlier than what you may think is VERY sage advice. Once hypothermia sets in your judgement becomes increasingly clouded.

One question I would like answered though is, why do race organisers insist on non inflatable life jackets? Most PFDs that are sold for racing purposes and, indeed, targeted at ski paddlers are N50.

Could this poor lads life been saved by wearing an inflatable N150 SOLAS PFD? These are designed, once inflated, to keep the head out of the water when things get critical. It may of given him a few more precious minutes to potentially have been rescued.

Obviously once inflated you are next to no chance of getting back on your ski as they are super bulky but they are designed to save lives at sea.

I find remounting harder and more taxing in the non inflatable jackets because of the added bulk they present. Its for this reason, if Im paddling alone, I wear an inflatable SOLAS jacket.

I haven't had to pull the inflation cord to date and hope that day never comes, however if it does, I know I may have a few more minutes up my sleeve even if Im unconscious.

Matt Bowman is a high profile paddler who is an advocate of the inflatable jackets and has strong views on the subject.

What do others think?

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11 months 3 weeks ago #32512 by Wombat661
Replied by Wombat661 on topic Tragic story out of NZ
The link to coldwatersafety.org said you can acclimate to cold water. Is not popular, but one advice I read for cold water swimmer is to take cold showers, and get use to cold water. Is amazing how your body can adopt to different conditions.
It will help you get over the cold shock, and might buy you some time to think clearly.

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11 months 3 weeks ago #32515 by SpaceSputnik
Replied by SpaceSputnik on topic Tragic story out of NZ
I am also finding that the buddy system is tricky in conditions. 2-3 ft waves reduce your visibility and I see even seasoned safety conscious paddlers getting wrapped up in what they are doinf and not keeping track of others. When your buddy is behind you it's an effort to keep them in sight. Cause I am not an owl my neck doesn't rotate 180 degrees and if I change course every few min to look at a partner behind I am losing precious momentum. It's a struggle and an effort.

Current: Think Evo II
Past: Epic V7

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11 months 3 weeks ago - 11 months 3 weeks ago #32517 by Watto
Replied by Watto on topic Tragic story out of NZ
Rob Mousely above, not rambling, particularly coherent. Good words all, cheers

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11 months 3 weeks ago #32518 by manta
Replied by manta on topic Tragic story out of NZ
This has been an eye opener for me. Since I started paddling it has been mostly on my own.
My first downwinder I did I went out with other paddlers but no one took any notice of me. I fell out 5 times and almost was unable to get in. Thankfully I made it.

Fast forward 8 months and I have improved a great deal. However about 2 weeks ago I went out in a really scary DW all on my own and it was a miracle I made it. That was a wake up call, coupled with this story and that is it, no more solo downwinding. I have all the safety stuff with me but I have never tried using any of it in the middle of a dw with the usual chaos.

This has been a sobering thread. Personally I have been way to complacent and there is no excuse for that. If only one person reads this thread and is better prepared in future it will have been worth it (the thread, not the tragedy).

M

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11 months 3 weeks ago #32519 by danes
Replied by danes on topic Tragic story out of NZ
You could bring a wetsuit with you even though you may not ever wear it. I try to bring a wetsuit with me on the long paddling trips. I insisted on someone bringing one with them on a long paddle once and I believe it saved his life. He didn't put on the wetsuit until he was waiting to get rescued by the coast guard. Once you become exhausted hypothermia can set in within minutes even if you are not in the water. I believe it the number one cause of death of kayakers, even when they say the cause of death is drowning the drowning is caused by hypothermia much of the time.

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11 months 3 weeks ago #32520 by zachhandler
Replied by zachhandler on topic Tragic story out of NZ
It is good to think outside the box, but I don’t think you can put a wetsuit on in the water. Especially bobbing in big waves. Gotta get the pfd off. Unleash. Not get separated from the ski. I don’t think that would work.

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11 months 3 weeks ago - 11 months 3 weeks ago #32521 by SpaceSputnik
Replied by SpaceSputnik on topic Tragic story out of NZ
You guys probably heard of a death of Douglas Tompkins a co-founder of North Face clothing company? I read somehwere that he tried exactly that, downing a wetsiut in water.

Immersion gear and pfd should be on you. Just putting on a pfd while immersed in colder water will be hard if not impossible.

I personally dislike neoprene while on a ski so would go with a drysuit if needed. If the water is still rather warm, then layer it extremely lightly.

Current: Think Evo II
Past: Epic V7

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