Gordon's Survival Tips

Saturday, 09 June 2007 18:49 | Written by  Gordon Laing
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ImageGordon Laing shares some valuable lessons he learned the hard way, read about Gordon's ordeal in Miller's Run - without the fun...

You probably are aware that I was recently “lost” at sea – this according to News reports. Whilst I always knew exactly where I was I did come off and was unable to get back onto my ski in conditions that weren’t the greatest while doing a late afternoon Millers Run. This resulted in a full search being initiated and a whole lot of concern generated for my paddling friends and family. In the end I managed to reach the shore after a 3 hour swim which went on into full darkness. I thought that it would be useful to use this “adventure” as a learning experience for others – hopefully it never happens to you but here goes.

A brief background :

1. There was a group of 5 – all experienced paddlers and all of us had done a number of Millers Runs,

2. We all had PFD’s and leashes,

3. The conditions, although strong, were ok at the slipway but the wind and chop were not great once we had got to outside of Bakoven Rock and worsened while I was in the water,

4. Even if you are an experienced paddler things can go wrong very quickly. Plan for contingencies.

Conditions worsened...
Lessons Learned:

There were a number of things that helped me through this but probably the most important is that the water temperature wasn’t too bad and I was able to “Help Myself”.

Getting back onto your ski and getting going again is obviously the best thing to do – but that didn’t happen so here goes.

1. There is a difference between being excited and truly nervous about doing a paddle - listen to your instincts – 99 times out of 100 they are right. I was excited and a little nervous about the paddle - new ski (an Epic V10) and not having paddled on the sea for a while - but on looking at the conditions felt that they would be ok given that I had trained for the PE-EL in worse conditions on a V10.

2. In “biggish wind” conditions it is very difficult to stay together especially if you separate at the start – have a quick chat about the game plan before you start off (call it a briefing session if you want) but make sure everybody is in the discussion together, decide on rendezvous points and times as well as who will be paddling with whom in the group if it likely that you will be paddling at different speeds,

3. Dress appropriately – obviously always wear at least a PFD, a thermal top and pants even if conditions seem warm and benign. A cap also helps to keep your head warm. If you are paddling on the cold side – consider taking a windbreaker with you – they weigh next to nothing and will help keep you warm if needed,

4. Take flares with you – and be able to use the flares in bad conditions – ideally you should be able to reach and fire the flares with one hand – you may need the other to hold onto your ski – or even worse what if you have dislocated a shoulder? Some of the flare packs that I have seen would have been almost impossible to use in the conditions that I was in. Tie the flare canister / holder onto your PFD. Make sure the flares are in date. Practice loading the flare holder out of the water with either hand. If you decide that you have to fire your flares – spread this over a long period and always keep one in reserve for when the rescue team arrives so that they can get a bearing on you,

5. Make sure your PFD has a whistle tied to it and also consider taking a small mirror with you. The mirror should not be made of glass but metal – usually polished stainless steel,

6. Cellphone / radio – whilst I don’t think I would have been able to use one under the conditions I could possibly have answered a call. If you have one save the emergency number in it as the first speed dial,

7. Always have at least one leash and make sure that it is tied to your ski and yourself or your paddle – having your paddle tied to you doesn’t make any sense if your ski is gone,

8. If you are paddling towards evening make sure that you have enough time to finish your paddle well before it gets dark but also have a strobe light attached to your PFD,

9. Never paddle alone and always have prearranged times to let people know that you have arrived safely – make sure someone ashore is aware of this and has contact numbers – both yours and the emergency services,

10. If you do happen to get into a situation don’t panic – consider your situation and think about you need to do to help yourself get out of trouble. “What is the next step for me here?” What may be useful here is to think like your own buddy and if you were him / her what would you advise yourself to do? If you sense that you are starting to panic just breathe deeply a few times – and concentrate on getting the breath in slowly – you will find that this settles you down very quickly,

11. Rather than rushing do things at a measured pace – do this deliberately as it helps in 2 aspects – it keeps you calm and whilst keeping you warm it also conserves energy,

12. Unless the wind conditions are such that you are getting blown offshore very quickly stay with your ski – it is much easier for rescuers to spot than a head in the water and it gives a much bigger profile for that dreaded taxman – you look less like a struggling seal. Even if you are getting blown offshore stay with consider staying with your ski – and if you are going to stay with your ski tie it to you,

13. If you cannot get back onto your ski to paddle it sitting up, it is easier to lie on it lengthwise with your body over the cockpit area and use your arms to paddle it. You can use your legs to balance if needed but in order to move quicker you can cross your ankles on the deck – this creates less drag in the water,

14. Keep your paddle with you during daylight hours so that you can stick it in the air as a signal to rescuers. You can lie it skew across the ski underneath yourself (fore & aft from your cheek on one side under the armpit on your other side) to keep it out of the water and limit its drag,

15. Don’t fight the conditions unless you absolutely have to – rather edge across any drift (current or wind) i.e. paddle / swim across the drift towards where you want to end up. This way you will save energy for later,

16. Finally, if you have had an episode once you are ashore make sure that you contact the emergency services to let them know that you are safe. (That is, of course, if you haven’t been rescued by them!!)

I am sure that there are a number of other tips that people could give and would appreciate any comments / suggestions that would help somebody else in a situation like this.

See you on the water


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