Pinned on the Moodna

Don’t be lulled into thinking that it’s only the crazy class 5 stuff that Wayne likes that can cause problems. I was out with 3 friends last March, and after having a good line through the one class 4 and no problems on the class 3 stuff I got to the last “rapid”. It was really just a short wave train that was fast, but really not even class 2. The very first wave was a small breaking wave, and as I hit it I got quickly displaced about 4 feet to the left, and probably pointed a bit left as well. That left me lined up to go through a couple of small branches from a small tree that was hanging out over the left bank, instead of skirting the end of it. That  wasn’t a problem by itself, but it cheated me out of at least one good stroke, and that’s what I now needed to miss the pair of logs along the bank another 20 feet downstream.

Strainer on the Moodna

Luckily, my instincts were good, and I leaned on to the top log as I broached on it, holding my upstream edge nice and high. The log was at about a 45º angle to the current, with the upstream end against the bank, and the bottom of the log just slightly in the water. The top of the bottom log was just a few inches below the top log, and that log pointed a bit more downstream, so the two logs made a bit of an X shape, with the center of the X at about the back of my cockpit. My boat was bouncing a bit in the current, but I felt pretty stable. While I waited for my friends to come help I first tried shimmying towards the downstream end of the log. I only need to go about 3 feet, but after moving a foot and looking at things I decided there was too much risk that the front of my boat might drop under the top log before I was far enough past it. That offered a chance of flushing past things, but several ways of being pinned and probably underwater, and maybe even trapped in the boat. For some reason that didn’t seem very appealing, so I shimmed back the other way. That took perhaps 30 seconds, which is when my first friend got there.
A closer look

He started by wading out on the downstream side of the logs to grab hold of me, but it was too deep for him to get a good angle reaching over the top of the log. That was good news, because it mean that if I did go under the logs I’d probably go all the way under instead of being pinned against them or between the logs and the bottom. At that point the other two got there, and I told them to clip a rope to my stern grab loop and pull me backwards and just slightly upstream. What I should have told them was to clip to the safety bar behind the cockpit, on the right side. That would have  helped to keep the boat rolled towards the log as they pulled, but by pulling from the grab loop the boat rolled upstream as they pulled back. I forget if that actually put my head in the water right away, but it seemed like a very good time to get out of the boat.
I pulled the skirt and got out, while keeping a very good grip on the rim of the cockpit, since the current now wanted to push me into or under the logs without the boat. I got my legs on the bottom log and one arm over the top log, then let go of the rim and got the other arm on the log and put one leg over the top log. I could feel a bit of a projection on the bottom log, but couldn’t quite get my foot on it, which would have made it easy to push up and climb over the top log. Instead I just held on a for a few seconds while my friend got downstream and gave me a better hand hold. That made it easy to climb up on the log and  then off the end and onto the bank. Start to finish we figure it lasted about 2 minutes, and I’m pretty sure my friends were a lot more scared than I was. That’s because they couldn’t immediately tell that it was a pretty stable pin, and I was too busy thinking about solving the problem to be very worried.
So here are a few things to take away from the experience:

  • I was following the fun wave train instead of the boring water towards the inside of the slight bend. I knew the sweeper was there, but I’m not sure I really saw the logs. Either way, it’s easy to be complacent when things aren’t especially difficult, but the rocks are just as hard and the current can be fast even in class 1 or 2.
  • Always lean on to anything you’re about to broach on. If my upstream edge hadn’t been out of the water I would have been upside down, and somewhere under the top log almost immediately. As above, I might have just flushed completely under, but there are a number of ways I might have been stuck in a very bad place.
  • Keep the group close together. If I’d been last in line I would have waited longer for help. There’s not much you can do about that, but I was close enough to have hollered for help if I had been last. With somebody close behind me I only waited while he got out downstream of the logs and came back up to me. With more separation it’s easy to miss a problem with the last paddler, and in almost all situations it will increase response time. In this case my friend was just behind me (and following the same line until he saw me get shifted left).
  • Be very mindful of what will happen when you start doing things. There’s a potentially huge difference between acting quickly and acting hastily. You may need to hurry when things go wrong, but taking 10 or 15 seconds to think things through may be much better than starting a little bit sooner. Here are a couple of related things from my cave rescue classes: STOP! – Stop, Think, Observe, Plan. “Don’t just do something, stand there”.
  • Be prepared. Carry a throw rope and other safety gear and know how to use it. Take a swiftwater rescue class, or at the very least, read a book or two. “Whitewater Rescue Manual” by Walbridge and Sundmacher is a good one, as is “River Rescue” by Les Bechdel and Slim Ray.

Do You Have What it Takes?

lead a tripIf you are reading this, then it is probably because you became a member of the KCCNY, presumably for the number of things that the Club has to offer. Maybe you had not paddled at all before taking one of the Club’s beginner classes, or maybe you had paddled a bit and were looking for some instruction on easier rivers. Maybe you were already comfortable with your abilities and progress and were looking for other people to paddle with. Maybe it is because you wanted to go to some pool sessions and work on your roll.
Maybe it is because of the extraordinary number of river trips schedule on the KCCNY site, making it that much easier for all levels of paddlers to be out on a river. Again, these trips do cover a wide range of levels. There are the follow-up instruction trips on easy rivers for those who are fresh out of a beginner class, to the intermediate level river run. There is also a number of more challenging trips on more difficult rivers. Unfortunately, what does not have a wide of range is the small number of people leading these trips! The KCCNY can only maintain the number of choices on the schedule if we have Trip Leaders. As it stands now, this schedule is run by a handful of our members. If you have not volunteered as a Trip Leader then maybe it is because you don’t know if you have what it takes to run a trip. If so, please let me explain.
The fact is we don’t really have Trip Leaders; it is more of being a Trip Coordinator. Even if Andrea isn’t there with her picnic basket of wine, cheese, and crackers, it’s still a lot like planning a picnic. All you need to do is choose a suitable place, announce the trip, and handle the logistics of getting a few people to meet you at the put in. Of course every trip should be made up of a group that is strong enough to fend for themselves, including chasing any swimmers and their gear, but you do not have to be the strongest paddler on the trip to be the Trip Coordinator. Trips where the coordinator is the best or strongest paddler are actually few and far between. If you would be willing to lead a trip, but are not sure that you are ready, or you may have any other concerns than please ask any of us what we think! All you need is to be a competent paddler on at least one river and organize a trip on that river. Example, if you are comfortable paddling the lower, lower Lehigh or the Lackawaxen when someone else is leading the trip, then YOU can probably lead a trip on those rivers!
There is a small amount of paperwork (a couple of short emails, really), and some emails or phone calls with people interested in the trip. One of the big plus’s to volunteering as a Trip Coordinator is that it guarantees that you will be on a river that you presumably wanted to go on, anyway. You can simply find a link to the full details at the top of the trip schedule page or you can go directly to: Responsibilities of Coordinator
Again, whatever your reasons were for joining the KCCNY you had to have figured out the Club had something to offer you that was more valuable than the paltry annual membership dues.
If you love this sport as much as I do and have found a home with the KCCNY then you have to realize it is largely due to the efforts of our volunteers. It is because of the Trip Coordinator that continue to make it possible for you and your fellow paddlers to be out on a river enjoying one of life’s most wonderful experiences.
I will look forward to seeing YOU this season and encourage you to – Step up to the river bank as a Trip Coordinator!
Steve M.