Why Do We Test New Rangers?

by Nancy Soares on June 5, 2017

by Captain Jim Kakuk

Why do we test new Rangers?

I remember as a young scruffy kid hanging out with my friends down by the river in a tree fort. We were always coming up with big plans and scheming on who would get to join in our gang as there was always a need for enlisting new recruits for various nefarious endeavors.

Commander Eric Soares administers the TR test for candidate Misha Dynniikov

Commander Eric Soares administers the TR test for candidate Misha Dynniikov

Later in life, as young braves on a remote beach wrapped in tatty clothes, sitting around a smoky campfire staring into the fading flames, Eric and I shared our plans for a kayaking gang. Smoking cigars and passing a jar of whisky, we wondered if there were other people like us and talked about building a team of kayaking adventure companions. So late in the night, lying in the dirt, we laid out our plans for the Tsunami Rangers ranking system.

Candidate Steve El Rey King on a pourover under guidance of the camera

Candidate Steve El Rey King on a pour over under guidance of the camera

We started by giving ourselves rank and it was arbitrary to begin with. Eric wanted to be Commander Soares, because he identified with Commander James Bond, 007. I claimed the title of captain because I identified with the explorer Captain Cook. Eric suggested we qualify new “recruits” by evaluating their skills before giving them rank starting at the entry level of Lieutenant JG.

Jeff takes the role of leader when discussing The Plan for the day

Jeff takes the role of leader when discussing The Plan for the day

Eric then structured and ran the first tests on willing friends. Eric’s background in the US Navy was instrumental in why we started to use the Naval ranking system and he developed a testing procedure to establish rank for the new members of our team. Later, Commander Eric Soares and I initiated the testing procedure with our first recruit, Glenn Gilchrist.

Candidates El Rey and Scott Becklund display their prowess as foragers as part of their test

Candidates El Rey and Scott Becklund display their prowess as foragers as part of their test

Rank is necessary to determine where you fit in the command structure and decision making when on the water with team Tsunami Rangers (note: your TR rank does not transfer into personal relationship situations). The ranking structure works by using diverse skill sets to keep the team together, especially when in difficult conditions. Decisions are made by the senior officers and relayed to the rest of the team. It is not a group decision or a democracy. 

Navigating a departure route into the sea

Navigating a departure route into the sea

Rank is determined by your knowledge of your equipment, handling your boat, interaction with others on the water, understanding the sea conditions and leadership ability. The highest rank we give new Rangers is lieutenant and they can increase in rank over the following years. The ranking system we use is based on the centuries’ old Naval system developed by merchant and military seaman.

It's all about the food...

It’s all about the food…

We also take into consideration courage, initiative, compatibility, self sufficiency, camping skills, what he/she can add to the team and what emoji’s they bring. After the first few tests we started to require that lunch be provided; we wanted to see if a candidate could pack food, keep it dry and feed a group of people. This was useful to know what their culinary tastes were, and of course the bonus of getting a free lunch for our work.

Celebratory lunch during Paula Renouf's test - she did a great job!

Celebratory lunch during Paula Renouf’s test – look at that table cloth! Elegance!

To clarify something…we only invite people we recognize as being the same in spirit and ability, and we discuss the new prospect over a period of time. After many outings together and several camping trips we make cogent observations of their skills and what they would add to the team before we talk to them about joining the Tsunami Rangers. The test is set to showcase their skills, knowledge of the ocean and environment; it is not a hazing ritual and no one fails.

Paula navigates a pourover on her TR test

Paula navigates a pour over on her TR test

The invite is usually formal (around a campfire or walking on the beach) and if they accept our invitation we then discuss time and location. Usually the test is in about a year, but in some cases can be the next day. Senior officers suggest who should administer and assist with the test. 

Seal landing - check!

Cate’s seal landing – check!

On water discussions happen during the test and on the way back to camp. After landing, there is a wrap up with the testing squad and senior officers wherein rank is determined.

Cate received a shiny new knife as part of her TR swag

Cate received a shiny new knife as part of her TR swag

At night there is a ceremonial banquet with lots of food, gifts to the new Ranger and story telling of the high tales from that day. The party follows late into the night, with drinking, smoking cigars, reveling in the day’s adventures and telling more stories from when we were kids.  

And there was much rejoicing...

And there was much rejoicing…

What we look for is what all ocean white water kayakers should be able to do. The following is most but not all of what we cover in a test.

BASIC TESTING POINTS:

  1. Equipment used and why, a quiz on conditions, use of vocal and hand signals. 
  2. Strategy for the day – they lead a mission with us through a field of operations.
  3. Initiate launching, landings and keeping the team together throughout the day.
  4. Negotiate complex rock gardens, caves and evaluation of the course.
  5. Seal landings on a rock, running pour overs or blow holes.
  6. Surf landing, launches, surfing, surf zone etiquette and ability to self rescue.
  7. LUNCH and a story from their past kayaking experiences.
  8. Rescues – the usual things that you should know plus swimming survival skills. 
  9. Meandering back to camp we look for play spots, do stunts, go fishing, diving, foraging, and see what  comes up for photo ops; a good sport is always a good show off. 
Jeff rocks the rocks as part of his TR test

Jeff rocks the rocks as part of his TR test

Scott’s Two Cents: The obvious is that new inductees will be given an entry level rank regardless of their skill set. This rule seems to never have been as glaring as having both Cate and Jeff become Rangers. Their individual and team skills are above and beyond what anyone could expect in a leader in any group. My other comment brings me back to a time with Jim and Eric. The rank system was designed to work on the water, whether in an extreme situation or not. Both totally accepted that they would follow it. To the point, as Eric said, ” If a superior officer gives a command (can’t remember his exact word here) you follow it OR then live or die by your decision. But it’s yours!” And he said that the ranking system stays ON THE WATER. On land we become The Tribe. 

Welcome to the Tribe!

Welcome to the Tribe!

For more on recent Tsunami Ranger tests, check out the reports on Paula Renouf, Jeff Laxier, and Cate Hawthorne! The Rangers have been busy! Also, don’t miss Eric’s post on How to Become a Tsunami Ranger

Questions? Comments? Let us know below!


 

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Kakaying flat water on a beautiful day to watch birds can be super cool!

Kakaying flat water on a beautiful day to watch birds can be super cool!

I recently paddled around Princeton Harbor for the first time. I know it sounds crazy, but even after living and kayaking there for 12 years I never did that. I was always en route to the outside, to the swells along the jetty, to the surf in and around the lagoon, to Mushroom Rock, to Flat Rock, to Ross’s Cove. Never had I just lazied around the harbor. When I lived in El Granada across the highway I always wanted to take a bird book and some binoculars and go over to the harbor and the marsh at the mouth of the creek and bird watch. Never did. This spring I finally got my chance, and boy, am I glad I did!

Rotted pilings make this pier unsafe

Rotted pilings make this pier unsafe

I met my friend Barbara Kossy at the yacht club and we launched about 9 am. It was a perfect day, sunny and calm. We headed toward the pier. I wanted to go under it, but Barbara and TR John Lull, who joined us for a few minutes before heading outside, warned me it was unstable. How bad was it? The photo tells it all. Wow. That old pier, scheduled for demolition. I used to practice paddling through the piles to refine my skills but I guess those days are gone for good. I also wanted to photograph all the marine life that lived on the piles, particularly the orange and purple starfish, but apparently the starfish are gone, victims of the disease that killed them off in recent years.

This grove of Monterey cypress is a nesting and roosting spot for herons and other birds.

This grove of Monterey cypress is a nesting and roosting spot for herons and other birds.

We did spot a Canada goose resting on the roof of one of the shacks on the pier and then paddled on in search of more birds. It was a banner day. We sighted 22 types of birds and found all kinds of other cool stuff to check out. Here are the birds we saw: a swallow (cliff or barn); a surf scoter; Canada geese; a Brant’s goose; a couple of snowy egrets; many Western gulls including 2 mating pairs; a horned grebe, an eared grebe, and a Western grebe; a common loon in beautiful breeding plumage; a flock of Caspian terns; some buffleheads (a kind of duck); some pigeon guillemots including 2 couples, one of which was singing to each other (or arguing); many Brown pelicans; a Red-breasted merganser (another type of duck); an American coot; some little sandpipers; lots of cormorants of which Barbara says there were 3 types including double-crested, Brandt’s, and pelagic; a belted kingfisher; and a black turnstone.

On the island breakwater inside the harbor we saw a lot of birds. Here are brown pelicans, a Western gull, and at least 2 types of cormorant. You can see the double crests of the cormorants.

On the island breakwater inside the harbor we saw a lot of birds. Here are brown pelicans, a Western gull, and at least 2 types of cormorant. You can see the double crests of one of the cormorants.

Occasionally, rarities such as the Ross’s gull from Siberia, the Northern gannet, and the brown booby are sighted here. These three species all showed up this last winter to the excitement of local birders. Some of the birds we didn’t see were the great blue herons, the black-crowned night herons, the peregrine hawks and the red-tailed hawks we know are there because we‘ve seen them in the past. We also saw a lea lion porpoising around, but only one which is surprising as they are often lounging on the floating docks along with the harbor seals near the yacht club. We did see red bat stars, tons of crabs, and mating olive snails. We poked around the inside of the jetty and saw tons of shells, anenomes, hermit crabs, chitons, and many kinds of seaweed, some of which was beautifully iridescent and shone like jewels in the sun. Also fun to see are the leopard sharks and the bat rays which sometimes enter the harbor, but which were unfortunately absent this trip.

Common loon in breeding plumage

Common loon in breeding plumage

I ‘m so glad I finally slowed down enough to mosey around the harbor. It was a very rewarding day. I got to connect with Barbara, something that happens all too rarely, and see a rich bounty of wildlife. After about 2 hours or so we had circumnavigated the entire harbor and after a quick trip home to shower and change we met again at Barbara’s Fish Trap on the water for an awesome lunch of fish, calamari, chips, coleslaw, and beer. What a great adventure!

Ah, Spring! Gull porn for your viewing pleasure.

Ah, Spring! Gull porn for your viewing pleasure.

For those who are interested, here are the best times to see birds in breeding plumage in North America. This information was gleaned from Audubon, Spring 2017. Warblers: March through August. Sandpipers: Mid-April through early August. Ducks: Mid-October through mid-June. Loons: March through mid-October. Terns: April through early September. Wading Birds: December through May. For more advice on spring plumage, go to audubon.org/photography.

We hope you have enjoyed this post! Please share below any thoughts you have on wildlife, particularly birds, and kayaking. Thanks!

   

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