SCRS – The Sea Conditions Rating System

by Nancy Soares on October 2, 2017

My good friend Moulton Avery of the National Center for Cold Water Safety mentioned recently that perhaps it was time to revisit the Sea Conditions Rating System (SCRS) on this website. Since the sea is dangerous and unpredictable, I think he’s right, so here’s a post introducing the Sea Conditions Rating System.

Rate These Conditions! TR Misha Dynnikov working a cascade.

Rate these conditions! TR Misha Dynnikov working a cascade.

River kayakers have the River Difficulty System which rates rivers from Class I (moving water with a few riffles) all the way up to Class VI which is extreme conditions with violent rapids requiring an expert team. Sailors have the Beaufort Scale, but neither of these rating systems apply to a small kayak in surf, caves, or rock gardens. To remedy this, Eric came up with a rating system for sea kayakers, and it works really well. You can access his article about this system in the link entitled “Articles” at the top of our website.

The most important thing to know about this system is that its primary function is to encourage kayakers to take time before setting out. Eric recommends accounting for the worst case scenario when using the scale. It’s worth pointing out that while your put in may be calm and mild, around the corner there could be big winds and/or seas. Or your take out may have breaking waves. This is what happened to us when we went on retreat last year. One should also account for the passage of time. For example, the tide ebbs and flows, and winds and swells typically, but not always, pick up in the afternoon. Fog can roll in, and if you’re out for a long time, fatigue can become a factor.  

There are ten factors to consider when using the SCRS. The first is water temperature. You add one point for each degree below 72 degrees Fahrenheit up to a maximum of 40 points. Water temperature starts at 72 degrees because that is a temperature most people are comfortable swimming in. Cold water is the number one killer of paddlers, so it receives a lot of weight in the algorithm. You also automatically add twenty points if you’re paddling in rocks.

This scenario is rated Class according to the SCRS

This scenario is rated Class 5.9 according to the SCRS. Looks really benign, but there are a lot of factors to consider: the water is cold, there are no breaking waves in the photo but there will be at the beach take-out, they are paddling through rock gardens and caves, their boats are fully laden, and swim distance to safety could be up to a mile if they’re where I think they are.   

Each factor should be addressed thoughtfully if you’re solo; if you’re in a group the factors should be discussed as a team till consensus is reached. When you’ve totaled the points for each factor, add them up and divide by twenty to get the class level.

In the SCRS article, Eric offers a detailed exploration of each factor. He gives a sample scenario so you can see how the system works, and he also uses the scale to assess his own experience kayaking across San Francisco Bay in storm sea conditions. When all the factors are considered those conditions rated a Class 6! He probably shouldn’t have been out there that day. But he lived, and went on to create the SCRS so others can avoid preventable life or death experiences.

Hobuck Beach in September, 2017. This beach would be rated Class 3.7. The three factors bringing it up from Class 2 are: breaking waves up to 4', cold water at 52 degrees F, and the presence of other surfers.  

Hobuck Beach in September, 2017. This beach would be rated Class 3.7. The three factors bringing it up from Class 2 are: breaking waves up to 4′, cold water at 52 degrees F, and the presence of other surfers.

Eric winds up the article with some caveats and encourages people to take the time and effort to assess the complex factors which affect us on the unpredictable sea. It’s true that we are often eager (nervous?) before we launch and it’s easy to look out and go, oh yeah, great day, let’s go! But maybe you were scouting from a bluff, and things look a lot different, i.e. bigger, from the beach. Or maybe you just watched the ocean for five minutes or so and you didn’t see the gynormous set that came in right after you turned your back.

Please check out the SCRS. Share it with your friends. You’ll enjoy this article!

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Extreme Smoke – The Getaway

by Nancy Soares on September 4, 2017

Normally you can see the Cascades from here but all we've got now is a Wall of Smoke

Normally you can see the Cascades from here but all we’ve got now is a Wall of Smoke

As many of you know, Southern Oregon is on fire. For nearly the entire month of August, the Rogue Valley has been filled with smoke from multiple forest fires in the surrounding areas. Even the coast has been smoky because of the fire in Brookings. And like many of my fellow Oregonians, I don’t have air conditioning which requires me to open windows at night to cool the house down. That means I’m breathing that crud all night long. Gah! We’ve also been having triple digit temps. Hella hot, and we can hardly breathe. Many people out and about are wearing various masks and filters to protect their lungs. It pretty much sucks. 

Fires to the left of us; fires to the right of us...

Fires to the right of us; fires to the left of us…

I wanted to go to Crescent City but thinking it was probably smoky I decided to go up to the Mountain Lakes to see if I could get out of the heat and smoke and get a little lake time in the X-O. It turned into another one of my sagas. Here’s the story.

Mt. McLoughlin

Mt. McLoughlin

The Mountain Lakes are Lake of the Woods, Fish Lake, and Fourmile Lake. To the east is the Mountain Lakes Wilderness and to the north is the Sky Lakes Wilderness. The Sky Lakes are a lot of lovely little lakes accessible to backpackers and horse packers. The Pacific Crest Trail runs through it from north to south. Each of the Mountain Lakes has its own flavor. Lake of the Woods is developed, with some really nice campgrounds right on the lake, vacation homes, and the Lake of the Woods resort, where there is a boat ramp, lodge, cabins, and a small store. A nice family place. There’s a $5 day use fee which covers all the campgrounds.  

Peaceful and relatively smoke-free

Peaceful and relatively smoke-free

I put in at Sunset campground boat ramp because it’s small and comparatively unused. As soon as I was on the water I was treated to great views of Brown Mountain and Mt. McLoughlin, two of our local volcanos. Brown Mountain is a small cinder cone on top of a shield volcano. It is 7,311 feet (2,228 m) above sea level, but is overshadowed by nearby 9,495-foot (2,894 m) Mt. McLoughlin. There are trails up both mountains. Even though Mt. McLoughlin is the more impressive volcano, I’ve heard that Brown Mountain is the one we need to worry about as far as eruptions (it’s the newer one), but both are inactive as far as I know. 

Brown Mountain

Brown Mountain

It was really nice to be out of the smoke. It was still kind of hazy, as you can see in the photos, but nothing like down in the valley. And the water was delightful, cool and refreshing, the perfect temperature! Very clear as well. I paddled along the shore and took some pictures and then practiced falling out of my boat and getting back in again. Since I still haven’t learned to roll, that’s what I do, and I can do it pretty fast in all conditions.

Interesting scenery

Interesting scenery

After messing around a bit I put the boat back on the rack and drove to Fourmile Lake. I’d never been there before. It was up a 6 mile gravel washboard road and when I got there I wasn’t very impressed. It’s actually a reservoir, and it looks like it. I decided not to put in, but parked near a trail head to read the information sign. When I got back in the truck, it wouldn’t start. When I turned the key in the ignition, all I got was a bunch of flashing idiot lights and a clicking sound. 

Great Meadow, a 500 acre prairie on the edge of Lake of the Woods

Great Meadow, a 500 acre prairie on the edge of Lake of the Woods

I looked at the manual to see if there was anything I could do in the way of troubleshooting. It was obviously something electrical, but the symptoms didn’t correspond to any of the dead battery scenarios listed, so I called my insurance company for a tow. Then I called Toyota to see if they could tell me what might be the problem. The service guy confirmed that it was probably a dead battery, so I went looking for someone to give me a jump.  

Small natural lake on the way to Fourmile

Small natural lake on the way to Fourmile

Luckily I found some campers who helped me out. First we tried jumping the battery but it didn’t work. The battery was 9 years old and apparently had come to the end of its life. But one of the campers had a trick up his sleeve. He took the battery out of their car, put it into my truck, had me start the truck, and then swapped out the batteries after telling me not to turn the engine off or it probably wouldn’t start again. After thanking my helpers and cancelling the tow I hightailed it down to Medford to the Toyota dealership where I got a new battery installed just before closing time. Whew!

Rustic campsite

Rustic campsite

Several good things came out of this trip. One, even though I broke down out in the middle of nowhere and had to get a new battery, it was better than having it happen on the retreat which is coming up next week or at Burning Man, where I would have been had I not bagged out this year. Either of those scenarios would have been worse. Two, I got to experience once again the kindness and competence of the local gentry. This is not the first time little elves have come out of the woods so to speak to help me out of a jam. Remind me to tell you the saga of how I ran into my Volvo with my truck on an icy mountain road some time. It’s quite a story. And finally, I got to get out of the smoke, check out some of the Mountain Lakes, and learn more about the beauty and the splendor and the wonder of my Southern Oregon back yard. All’s well that ends well. Now if it would just rain and clear away all this smoke!

Have you ever depended on the kindness of strangers? Share your story below!

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