I have been paddling for just over a year (mostly flatwater and lakes). I have been diligent about trying to learn techniques, but there is just so much you can pick up from the internet, and thank God it is there.
Anyway...my friend Tim invited me to paddle Black Creek near Middleburg FL. Tim is a canoeist, while I prefer a recreational Kayak. I have a 10 footer which is a charm; plastic with a wide cockpit. I have loads of space to put "Stuff" and this day was no exception. I have never had to do a wet exit before, so out of complacency I generally just toss my gear into the boat and go.
My PFD is usually, proudly tucked, onto my bow (this will change). We put in at the headwaters of a usually calm meandering stream. Recent rains had raised the water level and created a brisk 5-10 mph flow with nice ripples encircling submerged trees. This was the liveliest water I had seen, and I was exhilarated at the chance to try the current.
All my Internet instructions were paying off; I was Bracing and Banking with each sharp turn, I was floating across eddy's that would have had me spinning before. I was back paddling and stopping in the middle of class 1 to class 2 water by Internet definition. Tim, my canoe buddy, stayed behind me. I noticed he was having a time of it maneuvering the sharp bends and the trees. I, as the Rookie, would ask frequently, "Are You OK ?"
The trees were bent over the Black Water creating a carwash effect, so my paddle was busy protecting my face as well as swatting giant spiders, while trying to steer. I felt so in control and proudly would brag that I had never fallen out of my kayak to which my Buddy would reply, "Ya look like ya know what yer' doing"....Awww Shucks....I learned a lot of this stuff on the Web...
As fate would have it, I was about to learn something even more important. The current seemed to be easing up a bit as we came around a turn and there was a tree across the entire span of the river. I was looking for a spot to go around this nice beautiful tree, the current brought me head-on into the side of the tree. As I attempted to back paddle a bit, the stream brought my stern around so now I was alongside the tree... my arms instinctively grabbed the trunk and I felt the water push down on my kayak. Before I could react my kayak was sucked under the tree sideways. I took a breath and went under as well...all I could do was hold the tree while my kayak was removed from me. With my head above water I managed to pull up on the tree and felt my foot still holding the kayak by the cockpit underwater.
Tim was nearby but could not get as close. As I held on, he circled the tree to the other side. By now I had found my footing on the tree and was holding my kayak by my PFD which was strapped to the front of the boat. I watched all my un-tethered gear float or sink away...my paddle lazily floated downstream.
I was able to creep my way onto the bank and haul my boat....errr....bucket, up and pour the water out of my now empty kayak. So, here I am, soaked to the gills...heart pounding...panting and exhausted. I thanked God for sparing me and I thanked GOD for allowing me to experience this near tragedy. I could now see that I had made several errors both with my skill levels and my attitude. What an awesome power water has, I thought.
I managed to get back in my boat. Tim (!) had a spare paddle that I used clumsily to keep up until I found the most valuable possession of the day...my own paddle. I of course, was now wearing my PFD like a bulletproof vest. Everything else was expendable...I couldn't have cared less about my other equipment at this point. We finished the trip 2 hrs later and all in all it was a beautiful trip.
My lessons for the day:
Now I want to do it again.....WHEEEEEEEE....(without that whole dunking part).
- Wear that PFD
- Tether my paddle....and all other valuables
- Respect the Water
- and Thank God before and after each excursion
Submitted by Ken Holmes - Jacksonville, FL
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