Sea Kayaker’s More Deep Trouble – Gotta Have It or Make It Stop!?

by Nancy Soares on December 2, 2013

More Deep Trouble is another collection of death and disaster stories featuring sea kayakers, compiled by Sea Kayaker editor Chris Cunningham. More Deep Trouble is a follow up to Deep Trouble, and like the previous book includes the Lessons Learned from each event.

I mentioned More Deep Trouble to Tsunami Ranger John Lull. John has years of sea kayaking and instructing under his belt. He is the author of Sea Kayaking Safety and Rescue and has a keen, scientific mind (he is, in fact, a scientist). “I remember that book,” he remarked (referring to the first Deep Trouble). “It was all about a bunch of dumb people doing dumb stuff.” I’m paraphrasing, but that’s the gist.

Interestingly, Deep Trouble was referenced on this website recently in a comment which suggested that such stories stymie rational discussion of sea kayaking risks. The writer of the comment also seemed to suggest that people might be put off the sport of sea kayaking altogether by reading stories like those in Deep Trouble.

What is the merit of Deep Trouble and More Deep Trouble? Aren’t they just kayak-specific versions of the Darwin Awards? It does say on the back cover of More Deep Trouble that “thousands heeded Deep Trouble’s tales of tragedy” but how do we know? Moreover, is it possible that exposure to the dark side of sea kayaking could prevent people from taking up the sport in the first place?

Cautionary tales do have value. Consider this quote from Bismarck: “Fools learn from experience. I prefer to learn from the experience of others”. When we study how bad things happen on the water we can benefit. For example, we can examine how we prepare for our own excursions in light of what we’ve read: what equipment we bring along, and who our paddling partners are. Most important, we can learn to think about what we’ll do when something goes wrong. A lot of kayakers never take that into consideration, like the young men in The Fifth Paddler, a story in More Deep Trouble about kayakers in Baja.

In the introduction to More Deep Trouble, Chris refers multiple times to the quality of being human. It is, after all, human to screw the pooch. Beginners err, but seasoned kayakers do too. Consider Sean Morley’s story in When It All Goes Wrong. Labeling ourselves as “beginning” or “advanced” kayakers is probably counterproductive. All these bad things happened to people who thought they knew what they were doing. Forget about what you know, or think you know. Humanity, vulnerable and prone to error, is the common denominator in all these kayaking debacles.

Reading More Deep Trouble we see how the all-too-human frailties of overconfidence, under-preparedness, and just plain thoughtlessness lead to disaster with monotonous regularity. What I’d like to hear now is how one of these stories prevented a tragedy, for example if someone wrote in to say, “Because I read More Deep Trouble, I bought and brought a VHS radio along on my last kayak trip and it saved my life when (blank) happened”. That would lighten the gloom and justify all the brave and selfless people who allow their stories to be told in the hopes that someone might heed the warning.

There’s more to More Deep Trouble than tragedy, though. In these stories we also learn about sea kayaking (and sea kayakers) in a variety of well-written tales. We learn about equipment we may be unfamiliar with but that could save our lives; each story is extensively analyzed in the Lessons Learned sections. We learn about destinations we may never visit and people we will never meet but with whom we share a love of adventure and of the sea. We vicariously experience exciting events like bear attacks, sudden storms, and heroic rescues. And if we read with compassion and impartiality we are reminded to check our egos at the put-in when embarking on our kayaking ventures.

Whether you’re a kayaker or not More Deep Trouble makes for entertaining, instructive, and in some cases riveting reading. Check it out! You can order More Deep Trouble by going to http://www.seakayakermag.com/miva/merchant.mvc?Screen=PROD&Store_Code=SKMOS&Product_Code=BK-96&Category_Code=B.SS

 

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{ 39 comments… read them below or add one }

Carl White December 2, 2013 at 8:17 am

Nancy, thanks for posting about the Deep Trouble books…..

My remarks that follow may be found not to be in the mainstream of thinking about sea kayaking, and that may well be because I have never been seriously associated with any entity seeking to popularize sea kayaking, for whatever reasons. There are several peculiarities about sea kayaking that distinguish it from other sorts of marine boating but have never (or very, very rarely) been pointed out to those seeking to become involved in it:

First, as I have stated on numerous occasions, sea kayaking is a form of marine boating using the most primitive and rudimentary equipment. We bring the least amount of beam, freeboard, power, shelter, etc. to open water and hence have the slimmest margin of safety of any craft on the water.

Second, as I have also stated, the paddler of a standard single sea kayak must remain continuously awake, alert, and able in turbulent water, or, if not rescued, he or she dies. Unlike any other craft one can visualize on open water, there is no provision to lie ahull in a sea kayak, hunkered down below decks and at least hope to survive.

Third–and this is true of any sort of boating, and is what separates especially sea kayaking from hill walking, bicycling, cross-country skiing or some other sort of falsely analogous outdoor activity to which sea kayaking is sometimes compared–if you fall out of your kayak or climb out of your kayak, the substrate will try almost immediately to kill you. If you fall off your skis, or off your bike, or just flop down on the ground while walking, you will likely not find yourself in danger of drowning, cold shock or hypothermia.

For these reasons, I have always been critical of the efforts of those seeking to make sea kayaking a mass or popular form of “outdoor recreation”, appropriate for large numbers of people not necessarily aware at all of the special hazards of the marine environment, especially as negotiated in a tiny, narrow, “tippy” sea kayak. Sea kayaking, like caving or free diving or serious rock or mountain climbing, is an activity best pursued by a “natural constituency” of mariners drawn to the activity by their own interest in it, rather than the product of a hothouse effort to drum up business for kayaks and equipment.

But dealing with the situation as we find it, I urge that the industry be much more candid about the special responsibilities that devolve upon the sea kayaking mariner to know as much as he or she can about the marine environment, about the limitations of the sea kayaker’s strength and skills out on open water, and therefore about the need for great circumspection before setting out on any open-water journey. Also, and just as important, the need to pretend that none of the signalling devices with which we hope to arm ourselves against being “lost at sea” will work when required.

Sea Kayaker Magazine, under Chris Cunningham’s editorship, assured itself a place in marine publishing heaven by printing the two blockbuster Cold Shock articles, thus partially peeling away the cloud of misinformation and nonsense that previously surrounded the subject of cold-water paddling. The two Deep Trouble books further ensured SK’s memory by holding up to public scrutiny the consequences of failure to properly assess the special risks of sea kayaking. Sea kayakers, because of the fragility of our strength and gear, have always needed to be the wisest and best-informed boaters on the water. Thanks in part to the Deep Trouble books, the materials for that wisdom are available.

Carl White

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Nancy Soares December 2, 2013 at 9:46 am

Carl, thanks so much for your insightful comment. You really hit the nail on the head. I’ve done a lot of thinking while reading “More Deep Trouble” and writing this review. It was interesting to me when the writer I referenced above suggested that potential kayakers might be put off by these stories, but my first reaction was “Actually, I don’t think that’s a problem.”

Several of your points bear repeating: “if you fall out of your kayak or climb out of your kayak, the substrate will try almost immediately to kill you.” People don’t seem to get that. Often, beginners will but give them a some practice and they get comfortable and forget their initial caution. A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing.

Secondly, I wholeheartedly agree with you that sea kayaking “is an activity best pursued by a ‘natural constituency’ of mariners drawn to the activity by their own interest in it, rather than the product of a hothouse effort to drum up business for kayaks and equipment.” The only reason I became a kayaker was that Eric knew what a good swimmer I am and provided me with a super custom-made wetsuit so I could spend a long time in the water without being bothered. In fact, swimming in my wetsuit is one of the joys of kayaking for me.

Lastly, I love what you said about the reality that “none of the signalling devices with which we hope to arm ourselves against being ‘lost at sea’ will work when required.” Occasionally they do work, but as we see, it’s really a crap shoot. To allow one’s reliance on technology to lull one into thinking one is safe is crazy. You’ve got to have Plan B, and frequently Plans C, D and E as well.

I could add a lot more, but you said it better. Thanks again, Carl. It’s good to hear from you.

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Doug Lloyd December 2, 2013 at 10:15 am

Those of us who have contributed to these hopefully pedagogical venues do so in the hopes that others will learn from these anecdotal accounts and that the inclusion of these stories give access to a wider audience than the readership of the magazine alone. That the publisher makes grandiose claims of the book’s effectiveness has nothing to do with the writers and editors and those who were or were not paid to retell their cautionary stories. Climbing magazines and other risky activities have their mechanisms for learning outcomes for those not involved on the incident and SKM fulfilled that role fairly well. That thousands paddle every day without incident suggests the dangers are less severe than this latest collection of horror stories suggest, but then it is a distillation of many years…obviously. While Carl’s assertion is true and good seamanship critical, at the end of the day, safe sea kayaking is all in one’s brain. More Deep Trouble does help inform that brain. Read it or don’t, be safe or don’t. No one is suggesting the two sentences are related. I for one am greatfull for those who take the time to write. The world would be bereft without the inclusion of writers like John Lull, et al. But not unsafe.

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Scott becklund December 2, 2013 at 5:11 pm

Thanks Nancy, I will look for it (though hopefully used) . Someone passed a copy of Deep Trouble to me and I truly enjoyed it. Whether it was the fascination of “watching a train wreck” , visiting “destinations we may never visit and people we will never meet ” or a combination or both. I think there is value in telling and re telling the mistakes we make if nothing more than as a reminder to ourselves of our own place in and on the water.
Carl, I bet you would get lots of grief over your claim we kayakers need to be better mariners or our sport is more life threatening than say helicopter skiing .
But I agree that kayakers taking the step to open ocean, rock garden, storm or open water crossing have a tremendous respect for and skill on the ocean.

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Nancy Soares December 2, 2013 at 5:24 pm

Scott, I think you can find a used one on Amazon (or maybe that’s Deep Trouble I’m thinking of). At any rate you shouldn’t have any problem if you give it some time.

You make a good point about telling and retelling our mistakes – I know a lot of the conversations I have had with people about kayaking revolve around “mistakes we have made”, sometimes with hilarious consequences and everyone gets a good laugh, sometimes with some pretty hairy consequences. Whether we’re laughing or quaking in our boots we’re still learning about all the crazy stuff that can happen on the water. I think about how people learned before the Internet, heck even before books when people were out in little boats for hunting and gathering purposes – I’ll bet the stories that were told around the fire of an evening were crucial in the learning process.

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Carl White December 2, 2013 at 5:46 pm

Scott, I’m not sure I fully understand your comment. I certainly assert that, because of the nature of the craft we paddle, we sea kayakers need to be the best-informed, wisest mariners on the water. I’d like to see the argument, if there is one, against this view. I have no knowledge of helicopter skiing, but the name suggests that it appeals only to a “natural constituency”, rather than to a larger general or mass population of wannabe skiers. And I didn’t anywhere state that kayakers taking the step to open ocean, rock garden, storm or open water crossing have a tremendous respect for and skill on the ocean. They certainly ought to–maybe that is what you intended to say. Obviously some do and some don’t. The Deep Trouble books make that plain enough.

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Doug Lloyd December 2, 2013 at 6:05 pm

Carl, I think the Coast Guard world wide would agree with your perspective. Just remember that some water pursuits done easily fall into the saavy well heeled mariner profile though they have their own dogma of risk mitigation. Around my neck of the woods of you are on a vessel no matter the size/draft/displacement, once you are on the water, you fall under the purview of boating rules and regulations. Interestingly enough we had a Power Squadron facilitator bail from his kayak a few week ago off the Victoria waterfront; he was on the water for three hours. He should have know the waterway was tidal and rough, he should have known to tether his waterproof VHF, he should have known to case his Cell phone, he should have known to carry distress signal equipment (effective in our waters) as he was a mariner and an instructor. He did not have self rescue skills but did have some immersion apparel and did tether himself to the kayak and did file a float plan. The later saved him.

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Doug Lloyd December 2, 2013 at 6:11 pm

In the water not on sorry texting on bus here

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PeterD December 2, 2013 at 11:03 pm

I have the book and read it cover to cover as soon as I got it. Much better than the first book, as the first book had a lot of incidences related to lack of floatation, which is less of an issue now that most sea kayaks come with sealed bulkheads.

Unfortunately, this likely will be the last version of Deep trouble. The book was built around the stories from the magazine, but the magazine is shutting down. No more source for the stories for the book.

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Nancy Soares December 3, 2013 at 8:32 am

Oh Peter, say it ain’t so! I’m really sorry to hear that the magazine is shutting down. Do you know why? Lack of readership? People just moving on to other ventures?

I will say that I’ve noticed that most of the stories in the Deep Trouble series (if you can call 2 books a series) seem to take place around Alaska, Vancouver Island and BC Canada. I just read More Deep Trouble and I can only remember one story about a warm water incident. There was one about Baja, but cold water was a factor in that story. So I’m wondering if we shined a spotlight on kayakers around the globe, especially in other cold water areas like Patagonia and Scandinavia what we would find. How many kayakers are there world wide? How many drown or die of hypothermia every year? If someone were interested there’s a lot of research to be done, and probably another book to be written.

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PeterD December 3, 2013 at 12:36 pm

Here is some details, including the dates for the last 2 issues.
http://www.seakayakermag.com/miva/merchant.mvc?Screen=CTGY&Category_Code=S

I think part of the reason there are less sea kayaking incidences in warm water is that sea kayaks are less popular there. In warmer weather and waters, it is possible to be too warm to be comfortable in a sea kayak. Easier to stay cool with a SOT or SUP. That, and Sea Kayaker Mag being based out of Seattle means they have easier access to stores from there…

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Nancy Soares December 3, 2013 at 3:07 pm

Thanks for the link Peter. I’ll check it out.

I hear what you’re saying I don’t know if there are truly fewer kayakers in warm water areas. I would think that kayaks, whether they’re SOT’s or not, would be popular in warmer water worldwide for the very reason that you don’t need to go to all the expense of buying wet- or drysuits. That makes the sport a lot less expensive and consequently more accessible to the masses. And if you’re too warm you just roll, right? I’ve even seen TR Deb Volturno do an elegant little side brace, tip herself over 90 degrees to dip herself in the water to cool off, and come right back up effortlessly. The whole maneuver took about 2 seconds. And people can get into trouble for other reasons than cold water…

I had considered Sea Kayaker’s location as you suggest, but that just makes me wonder if they were located somewhere else that had a fairly large population and cold water what the stories would look like and how many there’d be.

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PeterD December 3, 2013 at 3:20 pm

Just to be clear, I am talking “sea kayaking” (which is specified in the name of the book), not just kayaking. For example, in Florida there is plenty of kayaking, just not much sea kayaking. Many think the risk on a SOT, which are more popular as the kayak of choice in warmer areas, are less (though an argument could be made that they are just different, not less) as you can just scramble back up on it. And the risk of exposure is generally less in these warmer areas (and it seemed to me like most of the chapter in the More Deep Trouble book involved exposure as a major issue).

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Fat Paddler December 3, 2013 at 12:22 am

There are some mighty big claims being made without presenting data to back them up. I’d argue that you have more chance of dying riding a bike down the street than you would sea kayaking. Of course there are incidents, but if you think of them statistically against every time a kayaker sets off from the shore, every hour of every day, is it really statistically as dangerous as suggested here?

I would put it to you that it is far more dangerous to sit on the couch and eat McDonalds watching TV than it is to get out onto the sea to play, and I’m pretty sure the mortality statistics would support me in that. :)

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Carl White December 3, 2013 at 7:29 am

FP, please specifically quote the mighty big claims you are referring to. Are you referring to claims being made in the Deep Trouble books? To claims I’ve made? Please advise; not sure how one is to respond to your post.

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Nancy Soares December 3, 2013 at 9:45 am

Carl, I think FP may have come to the same conclusion that the guy who thought Deep Trouble put people off kayaking did: there is a tendency when reading story after story of disaster to start feeling like the author is saying that kayaking is inherently unsafe. (Correct me if I’m wrong, Sean.) In fact your own statements above, particularly about the substrate, would tend to reinforce that concept. I myself couldn’t shake the feeling when reading that the PNW is populated by men in their 50′s who go out in kayaks and drown, but I’m sure that’s a gross simplification. In fact, the Deep Trouble books don’t go in much for stats, and we can only guess at the real picture. For this post I wanted to cull the pages of both Deep Trouble books to see how many of the incidents took place around Vancouver Island and how many victims were men in their 50′s but in the end it seemed like too much trouble. Life is uncertain and the end is always near (thank you, Jim Morrison). Whether you die on the water, on the road, on the slopes, or on your couch there are always many contributing factors. I think we can all agree that keeping life’s uncertainty and our own vulnerability in mind is the first step to safety in any activity.

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Doug Lloyd December 3, 2013 at 9:13 am

FB, there are some regional disparities and here in the PNW cold water really ups the ante. I’m with Carl on the cold water shock comments, as are many easy coast paddlers. Regardless of the relative risks with respect to sea kayak touring and cold water play, by dressing for immersion by default, one is substantially safer but that of course, would appear to be a matter of opinion as is everything on our sport. That the message about cold water safety appears to have been aided and abetted by print media, retrospective incident reporting, and efforts at the club level and forefront promotion from guys like Carl, then indeed the sport is pretty safe. Carl may hammer away but I am thankful for his ilk. May his tribe increase!

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Doug Lloyd December 3, 2013 at 9:13 am

East coast paddlers…

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Carl White December 3, 2013 at 3:01 pm

Doug Lloyd offers much the best evidence for a point that is a direct consequence of my concern that sea kayakers need to be the best-informed, wisest mariners on the water, and that is the notion that sea kayaking has been imprudently oversold to a mass, general public as suitable recreation for all and sundry. His report of the Power Squadron facilitator tells of someone who cast aside all he knew or should have known about water safety, and essentially installed a brand-new brain when he got into a sea kayak–how hard or dangerous, he thinks, can this be–it’s like riding a bike or cross-country skiing–I’ll be just fine! Who got to this man??

Back in the 1950s, I briefly took up SCUBA. Then, there were no rules, no regulations–you just went to a dive shop, bought gear, filled your tank, went diving. No certification, no insurance worries. Got married, put it aside, etc. Thought I’d try it again, but found all sorts of strictures on getting your tank filled, getting certified, etc., WTF?? Too many people, it seems, out in and under the water who couldn’t absorb the few simple rules that you need to follow in order to dive safely, repeatedly.

I’ve written nothing about the relatively safety of sea kayaking vs. eating hamburgers or riding in cars. I know that tens of millions of people drive their cars every day and come home safe and sound. Only two shuttle flights blew up out of hundreds–one could go on and on. My ongoing question is whether sea kayaking, as it is presented by those interested in popularizing it and selling people stuff, is being accurately described, depicted, outlined to that larger public that entrepreneurial enthusiasts have always visualized as stroking happily out there on open waters, cold waters, choppy waters, windy waters? And will this failure to advise that sea kayaking is not for everyone and failure to place sea kayaking within the context of responsible marine boating come back to haunt us all by interfering with our ability to paddle when, where, and as we choose?

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Nancy Soares December 3, 2013 at 3:38 pm

Sea kayaking is definitely not being accurately described by those interested in popularizing it and selling people stuff. The story about kayakers in Baja is a prime example. Also, I remember a few years back when a second kayak rental outfit opened up at Princeton Harbor there was a pretty big squawk that they weren’t adequately preparing their clients for Reality on the water and Kenny Howell and CCK got into the mix. I’ve only rented a kayak once (from our guide in Sardinia) and I will say he seemed very prepared, plus he went with us everywhere but even then the “experienced” sea kayakers from BASK disregarded his advice, requests, and cautions, much to my surprise. At one point he even said to me, “I like you, Nancy.” “Why?” I asked. “Because you do what I say,” he said. “Dude, you’re the guide,” I replied. “That’s why I’m paying you the big bucks.” Go figure.

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Doug Lloyd December 3, 2013 at 3:52 pm

Carl the paddler in question was rescued by the coast guard at night very hard to find the victim but they did and we are grateful for the CG because their dedication is the differential to our easy believism that there isn’t much to taking a kayak to sea. The PNW has a two fold issue here namely cold water and tidal water and that has been the consistent theme with environmental aspects to the incidents here. No shark bites, no heat prostration though. Personally I could care less what FB thinks or does no think or even you Carl or Nancy’s take on things. All opinions are welcome. All perspectives have facets that are true or partially true. But the water we negotiate our craft upon will indifferently respond to one’s individual indifference’s in ways that apparently, you can sometimes read about. I did my part to help. And I strive to be a better mariner all the time. Right around the time I hit 50!

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Tony Moore December 5, 2013 at 8:59 am

I’ve always considered it as part of being a “waterperson”, to be familiar with what can go wrong while out on the sea. And if there’s any place where Murphy’s Law applies, the marine environment has to be right up there at the top of the list. For example, a couple of weeks ago, I was out paddling in gale conditions. I had a strap that I used as a paddle leash, and I had tied one end to the kayak with a tight triple overhand knot. Hard to believe, but the spray and wind eventually undid that knot…just an example of how easily the waves and wind can get their way. What Carl said about pretending that none of our devices will work ( whether flairs, VHF radios, etc) is spot-on, and all too often, we are not pretending. A waterperson is one who has a plan B, C, D, etc, as Nancy stated. But I know that even though I have spent several decades out on the ocean, (whether diving or kayaking), there is still room to learn. And the “Deep Trouble” series is just one more resource that can be taken advantage of, in the category of learning from the mistakes of others.

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Carl White December 5, 2013 at 10:29 am

In partial reply to Sean of Fat Paddler and to those others who also might infer from my remarks that sea kayaking is inherently unsafe–

I think we get nowhere in bringing up whether or not sea kayaking or any other activity engaged in on a fairly regular basis is inherently unsafe: just ask yourself, “Is driving a car safe? Is riding a bicycle safe? Is having an operation safe?” Maybe we can agree that there are some things that are inherently unsafe: handling poisonous snakes while nude; having unprotected sex with total strangers……you get the drift. What is far more important is the overall context within which the activity is pursued. Eric Soares knew all about this–if you go under “Articles” on this site, the first and only title that comes up is Eric’s “Rating Sea Conditions”, where he s to quantifies on a rational basis the marine context. He does a great job! We each could probably add a few other criteria of our own; I also would suggest that what the kayaker brings to the equation is key–judgment, sea knowledge, skills set, strength and alertness, boat and clothing and equipment completeness and conditions–it goes on and on.

Eric’s path is certainly the correct path, as one would expect from someone with his intimacy with rough, open water, and his desire to understand and to explain. But I also urge that sea kayaking is best understood within the larger parameters that I’ve outlined in my first post in this thread:

A) Sea kayaking is marine boating using the most primitive, limited, basic equipment. We must be the best-informed, wisest boaters on the water.

B) A paddler in a standard single must remain awake, alert, and able in turbulent water or, unless rescued, he or she dies.

C) The mariner’s substrate will almost immediately try to kill anyone who finds him or herself immersed in it, by drowning, cold shock, or hypothermia.

I again repeat that I would like to see reasoned arguments against the truth of any of these three assertions.

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Carl White December 5, 2013 at 10:38 am

My apologies for the multiple posts. I attempted to slightly edit–and this is what happened! The final post is the definitive one.

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Nancy Soares December 5, 2013 at 10:55 am

I’m on it, Carl! Luckily I was checking email just as your multiple posts came through so I trashed the extras. And thanks again for your comments.

I am interested in what everyone thinks. Whether or not I agree isn’t really the point. Knowledge is power and my policy has always been to listen to everyone who’s got something to say. I’m always willing to allow myself to be educated.

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Moulton Avery December 20, 2013 at 8:44 pm

A great post and interesting discussion. Good to see Carl White and Doug Lloyd weighing in on the subject. I think there’s tremendous value in becoming aware of the errors, both fatal and non-fatal, that individuals make in any activity. I’ve written and said on numerous occasions that there are a whole lot of things that you really don’t want to learn by direct personal experience. The virtue of books like More Deep Trouble and Deep Survival is that they permit us to learn vicariously from the mistakes that others make so that we can avoid making them ourselves. They also give us insight into the process by which mistakes are made by both novices and experts alike. As Nancy points out, we’re all human and none of us is born with a natural immunity to screwing up. Anyone who thinks otherwise is sadly mistaken.

As Bismark’s sage comments indicate, this process of examination is very valuable and worthwhile – which is why you will find it undertaken to good effect in activities as diverse as commercial aviation, mountain climbing, construction, sky diving, manufacturing, and sea kayaking. Without it, Risk Assessment would be a far more tenuous and less valuable undertaking. That’s the reason we currently have 19 detailed case histories with lessons learned in the Golden Rules section of the National Center for Cold Water Safety web site. You can read them for free, by the way.

As to the notion that telling the truth about the subjective and objective hazards inherent in an outdoor sport may frighten the customers away, my experience over the past 40+ years leads me to the conclusion that those who seek to whitewash the hazards generally have a financial stake in the activity. I also think the idea that awareness of risk = lost sales is completely bogus, paranoid, and unsupported by the facts.

Here’s a interesting case in point: In the 1970’s, the American Red Cross produced three of the finest safety films that have ever been made about whitewater canoeing. The first film, The Uncalculated Risk, was particularly hard-hitting and opened with a gripping and emotional depiction of a classic foot entrapment drowning. It went on to highlight the handful of major killers – things like hydraulics, low-head dams, sweepers, strainers, cold water and so forth.

I showed that film on the opening night of every canoeing class I taught whether it was flatwater or whitewater, and it gave me goosebumps every time I saw it. Yes, it was that good. Oddly enough, not a single one of my hundreds of students ever dropped the class or the sport after seeing it. The popularity and attractiveness of canoeing was in no way diminished by the film. In fact, my students said they found it reassuring to be told in a straightforward manner what the dangers were and how to avoid them – go figure.

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Nancy Soares December 21, 2013 at 10:53 am

Hi Moulton, it’s good to hear from you. Thanks for sharing your story about The Uncalculated Risk film – it’s good to know it didn’t put people off and interesting and reassuring to know that the students appreciated the message. For those who would like, you can check out the Natl. Center for Cold Water Safety at http://www.coldwatersafety.org This information is especially valuable as it seems from both Deep Trouble books that cold water is a HUGE factor in Bad Things Happening to sea kayakers. Thanks again for your comment, Moulton. Woof!

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John Lull February 15, 2014 at 10:12 am

Hey I just noticed this thread. Not sure how I missed it first time around. Nancy, I don’t really recall saying this:

“I remember that book,” he remarked (referring to the first Deep Trouble). “It was all about a bunch of dumb people doing dumb stuff.”

You said you were paraphrasing, but I guess I might have said something like that. If so, I wasn’t referring to all the stories (in the first book, I haven’t read this one), but I remember one or two stories that featured unbelievably poor judgment, to put it nicely.

Anyway, I’m all for books like this. People do need to be made aware of the risks. I think one thing that differentiates sea kayaking from other ‘risk activities’ like riding a bike in traffic or driving a car or mountain climbing or skiing, etc, is that the risks of sea kayaking are not quite so obvious to the average person. Any true mariner knows what can happen at sea, but to the landlubber, the dangers are somewhat hidden. Trouble on the water has a way of sneaking up on you and then going downhill from there. One bad decision can lead to more bad decisions and things can then unravel quickly. So preparation, training, skill development, and good judgment are all key. Safety equipment is only part of the solution.

I could go on and get more specific, but a lot has already been covered in the posts above and I wrote a whole book on these topics. I just don’t want anyone thinking I have a cavalier attitude about the stories in “Deep Trouble.” They provide valuable lessons.

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Nancy Soares February 15, 2014 at 11:44 am

I agree with you 100% John. And I’m for these books too. And I agree that trouble on the water is usually the result of a cascade of effects. One thing goes wrong, and then another, and another. You did use the word “dumb” when we spoke about these books, and yes, some of the people in the stories used unimaginably poor judgment, but there’s an upside. Sometimes people don’t understand what poor judgment really is until they hear stories like these. Then it becomes obvious what went wrong. Thus readers can learn valuable lessons in the comfort of their armchairs and plan accordingly instead of being the victims of poor judgment themselves. And although dumb is dumb and I agree with you on that too I’m sure no one thinks you have a cavalier attitude about the stories. None of us do.

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Doug Lloyd February 15, 2014 at 11:45 am

The following is the abstract for: Whitewater River Accident Analysis by Ron Watters, Professor Emeritus of Outdoor. Not sure why other sports welcome incident review but some sea kayakers find the notion pointless. Thanks for clarifying your position John. I have used your safety book as a framework for helping me desicpher my own feeling regarding the complexity of the “safer with more gear conundrum” for years. You have always show balance and dis tain for anything that smacks of blind ideology.

Quote: Critical decision making on a whitewater trip goes beyond simply having knowledge of safety practices. Rather, prudent decisions are arrived at through a complex interplay of a diverse variety of factors. The question is: how can we as outdoor educators prepare ourselves and our staff to make the “right” decision when faced with a potentially dangerous situation? Experience is always the best teacher, but short of being involved or being on-hand during actual river accidents, the next best way of preparing ourselves is through the study of river accidents. This paper looks at the sources of information on whitewater accident case studies and how accident information can be used as a teaching tool. Additionally, the 1995 whitewater season is reviewed and one case study is examined in detail.

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John Lull February 15, 2014 at 4:09 pm

I also have to add that I’ve acted pretty “dumb” (and maybe even a stronger term would apply) on the water myself. Certainly my first whitewater experience, many years ago, in a cheap inflatable on a class 4 river with NO previous experience or training, would qualify as exceedingly foolish, foolhardy, and dumb. I was lucky to survive in one piece! But I did learn from it….

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Nancy Soares February 15, 2014 at 5:42 pm

Oh please, if we’re going to go into dumb things we did many years ago…I have a ton of stories about trips down the American River stoned off my butt involving canoes, rafts, inner tubes (I remember one time we had 3 people on one giant inner tube – all of us just clinging on) and even swimming down the rapids in orange kapok life jackets when we couldn’t rustle up anything else. We’d do these five and six hour floats. I don’t know what our parents were thinking – this was back in the days before I could even drive…But that’s how I became a good whitewater swimmer.

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John Lull February 15, 2014 at 6:15 pm

Life jackets? What are those?

Yeah, the phrase ‘young & dumb’ didn’t come from nowhere.

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Moulton Avery February 16, 2014 at 11:13 am

I’ve said many times that the only reason I’m alive and writing this is that every time I unknowingly did something really dumb in the great outdoors, I was lucky – sometimes very lucky. I almost died of hypothermia on my first backpacking trip, came within an inch of getting pinned and drowned on my first kayaking trip, and also came with in a whisker of falling 300 feet to my death on my first rappel. Like John, I learned from those experiences, and perhaps the strongest lesson learned was that I and no one else was ultimately responsible for my own personal safety – not the trip leader or the more experienced members of the group. It made me cautious and safety-conscious, and as a result, I’ve been able to do some pretty exciting stuff over the years – the kind of stuff that doesn’t favor a just-do-it mentality.

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Nancy Soares February 16, 2014 at 3:15 pm

And this is why stories are good. When Eric and I first got together he and I went down to Monterey so he could present a lecture on how to teach through story-telling. It was a great presentation. Stories are assuredly one of the best ways to get a point across, and one of the reasons he was such a good teacher was his great ability to tell stories, even if he did exaggerate the hell out of things from time to time. When he was teaching me to kayak he reinforced every lesson with a story, sometimes several stories. There was none of this “do this because I say so”. It was always “do this because if you don’t that will happen, as it did the time when…”

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Kurt Thiel February 18, 2014 at 9:33 pm

Hi Nancy, It has been a bit of time since the Naval Aviator now Lifeguard once more has comented. The name has changed over the years and it has slowly been distilled from the wisdom of many I have known but in a nutshell it all comes down to this:

Risk Management

1. Recognition the ability to distinguish between the real–immediate and apparent or future risk; that a chain of events has been set in motion which will result in an undesirable outcome.

2. Assessment the ability to judge the significance of events you have recognized and gauge their severity. To be able to determine the rank of their significance in the temporal sense.

3. Action the ability to respond successfully to events before, during and after they unfold and to minimize error through skill, knowledge and planning. To know which is the most pressing and to deal with it first, move on to the next most pressing and so forth.

Sound risk management means having backup plans for all eventualities, including the improbable.

It has kept me alive for 65 years; although I must admit I didn’t start out with this as my Weltanshaung!

Swim for LIFE!
Kurt

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John Lull February 19, 2014 at 9:18 am

Kurt wrote: “Sound risk management means having backup plans for all eventualities, including the improbable.”

This especially applies to sea kayaking, in all sorts of ways, ranging from backup skills (braces, rolls, rescues) to backup/alternate trip plans.

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Nancy Soares February 19, 2014 at 10:39 am

Hi Kurt! Good to hear from you. I like what you said: “the ability to recognize the significance of events”. That’s a subtle and crucial necessity.

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Carl White February 19, 2014 at 5:38 pm

The best book I ever read on risk management is Roland Huntford’s classic study of the race to the South Pole between Roald Amundsen and Robert Falcon Scott: “The Last Place on Earth”. A skilled writer of fiction could not have come up with a better contrast of attitudes and skill sets than that presented by Amundsen and Scott as they prepared for what they knew would be a very difficult venture. And we know how it all turned out. Highly recommended.

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