Friday, February 01, 2008

Learning to kayak smart and safe...Loss of a paddler

I recieved the email below as a forward(thanks G) from the Sound Rowers and thought it was worthwhile to include as a post for other kayakers to learn from, the last thing anyone needs is another avoidable loss. The questions asked at the end of the write up really strike home...ask these questions before you head might save your life.

Forwarded from Sound Rowers:

As some of you heardthrough the grapevine, the paddling community in Bellingham, Washington suffered a loss this last November. Out ofrespect for the family and friends, we refrained from releasing thestory right away. It's time that the story be told so that others maybenefit from this incident.An unfortunate accident….It is with much regret that I write this posting because seldom dowe hear of an incident that the paddler does not just walk away afterthe event.

On Thursday, Nov. 15th, Lanny `Bip' Sokol, a local paddlerhere in Bellingham WA, headed out onto Bellingham Bay just beforedark by himself in order to exercise. Bip was a local emergency roomphysician and a devoted father. He had been paddling a surfski foralmost 4 years but was unable to join us on most of our scheduledevents because of his work and his family. Instead, he often paddledalone and periodically; one or more of us would bump into him on thewater and paddle with him. Bip was 48 years old but he looked morelike he was 35. He was very lean and very fit. I was fortunate enoughto work with Bip at our local hospital so I probably knew him as wellor better than most of the local paddlers.

When Bip headed out, the wind was about 10 knots or less from thesouth. The sky was heavily overcast. Just before sunset, Bipencountered another surfski paddler and the two of them headed southtowards Post Point Buoy. Before they made it all the way to thePoint, the wind went from a steady 10 mph to 30-35 mph with nowarning. The water turned choppy and steep, with high winds againstan ebbing tide, and it started to rain. Bip let the other paddlerknow that he was out of his comfort range and that he was turningaround. Bip turned and headed north. The other paddler also turnedand was following him by about 100 feet. Bip either fell from hisboat or was blown off by a strong gust of wind. The other paddler sawhim in the water with one hand on his paddle and the other on hisboat; but only a second or two later, Bip's boat was tumbling across the water.

The other paddler dashed for Bip's boat and caught it, butthe high winds rolled Bip's boat over his and knocked him into thewater also. It took him 5 or 6 attempts to remount because of thewind and steep waves. After being in the water for 5 – 10 minutes, hehad been blown far enough away from Bip and it was now dark, so hecouldn't see where Bip was. The second paddler couldn't take hishands off his paddle to use his VHF and still stay upright. He choseto paddle the ½ mile to shore and get the Coast Guard to initiate arescue mission for Bip. The last time that Bip was seen was about 5pm and was recovered by the Coast Guard approximately 8 pm.Bip was wearing a headlamp, a dry suit and a PFD when he headedout that evening. His headlamp was knocked off when he fell in (thepolice said it was detached from his battery pack which was insidethe drysuit).

He had lightweight polypro clothing under his dry suitso he wouldn't overheat while exercising, but the protection it gavehim was only good as long as he was above water. When the Coast Guardfound him, he was face down in the water with no pulse. They beganCPR and rushed him to the local hospital. Never have I seen suchheroic efforts to revive someone. The cardio-thoracic team wasalerted before Bip was off the water and was standing by to put himon cardiac bypass to warm his core. He was cold without a pulse sothere was a chance that he could be revived. Despite the best effortsput forth by the numerous persons involved in the rescue and resuscitation, Bip was not able to survive this incident.As they say, hindsight is 20/20, but in this instance, there aremore than a couple of factors that led to Bip's death. First, thelack of a leash (there was no evidence of one on the body, boat, orpaddle which were recovered); here in the northwest, most all of ususe them. With these colder water temperatures, it's important tokeep your boat leashed to your body. Another factor was the time ofday; a search after dark is much harder to do than during daylight.Bip was wearing a headlamp so he obviously was expecting to be outafter dark. The wind was blowing north against an ebbing tide: thiswould inhibit even the strongest swimmer from making it to shore.

These facts, plus the lack of insulation under the dry suit, probablyamounted to Bip succumbing to the cold water and becominghypothermic. It was hard for me to fathom that someone wearing a drysuit and a PFD could die in our local waters in only a few hours.Bip was a swimmer, a cross country skier, and a triathete. His leanbody offered little or no protection against the elements.Bip will be missed by many people besides those in the heath careand paddling communities. His death is an opportunity for all of usto focus on our safety and determine if we are truly safe or if wejust have the perception of safety.

If you call for help, can theCoast Guard or private vessel get to you within an hour? Can they see you if it's dark or stormy? How good is your leash? How good are your skills if the winds kick up above your comfort zone? Are you dressedwell enough to spend up to an hour in the water? Can you actually be rescued by another surfski in rough weather if you are separated fromyour boat?Paddle on and be safe. Larry Goolsby


Gary Robbins said...

It sounds eerily familiar to what we suffered through here in B.C. in early October.
I know that experience forced me to address my lack of proper water skills and hopefully this will do the same for many other paddlers in the A.R. and adventure scene.
Thanks for posting RVG, and my condolences to friends and family.

DARTvg said...

Yeah, I thought it sounded too familiar. You can never have too many skills. Paddle on!