Anatomy of a Capsize!

It has been said that you are not a true paddler (canoeist or kayaker) unless you have capsized at least once.  Up until today, I guess I was perpetrating a fraud.  Not that I didn’t do stupid things to turn my boat over.  Fighting an incoming tidal current on the Mattaponi River, fighting a large stingray in Horn Harbor, trying to round New Point Comfort just before a small craft advisory went into effect; skating on thin ice has been a bad habit of mine early in my career.  But, common sense and wisdom settled in allowing me to avoid such risk.

Today, I was guiding a group of Girl Scouts back into Taskinas Creek after paddling the York River in canoes.  One pair was getting stuck on a sandbar trying to fight an unexpectedly strong south west wind gust.  Paddling solo, I was sitting at the rear of the canoe and was trying to make a sweep to the right to turn around.  Despite the size of the Old Town Discovery, the wind tossed my boat around like it was paper.  My first attempt of re-entry was unsuccessful as I couldn’t get any good footing.  The bottom was a muddy mess.  I did get in on my second attempt and began pumping the water out of the canoe.  I started my way to the young ladies to pull them off the sand bar and get them back to the entrance of the creek when another ranger came to help get us back to the dock.

Where did I go wrong?  First, I misjudged the wind speed on the open water.  The York is very broad and there is nothng to stop nor slow down an unexpected gust.   Kayaks, which would have cut through the wind with less effort, are the best boats for large rivers.  I’ll only take canoe groups on the York in dead calm conditions.  Other than that, the creek is the best place for canoes.

Secondly, my position on the boat contributed to my swim.  I should have been kneeling in the center of the boat.  This would have kept more of the boat in the water.  Sitting on the end of the canoe made me look like I was doing a wheelie on the water.  That’s cool for a bicycle which will quickly come back down.  A cross wind will use a so tilted canoe like a sail.

Why am I admitting this on my blog?  I am not the first ranger, guide, volunteer, professional (read Canoe & Kayak or Sea Kayaker Magazine and see how many of their writters  took an unexpected dunking), or any other person that is supposed to know what their doing to capsize.  Every once in a blue moon, these things happen due to our own complacency or things we didn’t see coming.  Okay, I got caught.  But, my guest were safe and enjoyed the trip.  I was very appologetic and they respected that.  Whenever I mess up anything, reviewing and learning from my mistakes keeps me from making them again (90% of the time).  Hopefully, you can learn from my misfortune today and keep dry.

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