For some time now I have been waiting for this sort of thing to happen - which is why a penned the article ‘Rescued should pay'.
What did happen? You’ll have to look at their website and read the articles, or talk to one of their members - but basically it seems they took a group of about 50 paddlers out on the water for a flare exercise at 6.00am. A lot of them were not up to the conditions, and the group split up into many different groups who all headed in different directions, landing on a widely scattered number of beaches. This is a re-run of incidents in the past (see A Scary Weekend) - but they are getting bigger and better at it. Rescue craft and at least one plane were involved in searching for missing paddlers (although I suppose this is slightly better than having 3 warships standing by to search, like the last time they initiated a search). It wasn’t till 7.00pm that they accounted for everyone.
When are they going to learn.?
I endeavoured to tell them some years ago that 10 or 12 should be an absolute maximum number of paddlers on any one trip (see my Philosophy on canoeing). It is absolutely impossible to keep an eye on more than that. The leader should be constantly looking round every few minutes and counting them all, so that at any one minute he/she knows exactly where everyone is. And with that number of paddlers, you can tell when some of them may be starting to get tired, or seasick etc. 50 paddlers is just bloody ridiculous.
I’ve also insisted on a regular basis that if you start out with a group, you stay with the group at all times. This is NOT an individual sport where everyone just goes off at a moments notice in whatever direction they see fit. If you start out with a group - you remain with that group till you all land together - no exceptions. You do this for no other reason than the leader will want to know where you are - he/she is responsible for you. No matter what silly forms may be signed before a trip, these are not worth the paper they are written on if negligence is involved. And negligence is in the eye of the coroner. As far as I’m concerned, taking a paddler of unknown quality out is negligence. I almost never go on a serious trip without first paddling with ALL participants beforehand. (Unless it is one to an area that I consider totally safe.) Awards are also not worth the paper they are written on.
Let me give a couple of examples:
Some years ago Cecily and I were paddling on an overseas trip with a Senior Sea Instructor (BCU qualified in England). We paddled with him for a few weeks, and at one time Cec said, “If he came to Tasmania I wouldn’t take him to Maatsuyker Island - he’s not good enough.”
Not long after that another Senior Sea Instructor (BCU qualified in England) came to work in Tasmania. We got her out with us on a fairly simple trip, thinking we may learn something. Her inexperience was quite obvious. Later on she confessed that she’d been working in one of the outdoor centres in England, helping the Senior Instructor. HE then left the centre, and apparently they could not take paddlers out on the water without a Senior Instructor. This girl was ‘made’ a Senior Instructor so the outdoor centre could continue with their activities.
These are not isolated examples - we have seen many examples of paddlers coming to Tasmania, and falling short of their implied image. One such paddler was a white water instructor, doing the Franklin River, in a low buoyancy slalom kayak. He didn’t have room for all his gear, and was seen sitting in his kayak, pushing gear in round his legs - jamming him in there. He was asked, “What happens if you capsize?” “Don’t worry, I always roll up.” His body was found, still in his kayak several day later. How a person like this ever passed the Instructors exam is a mystery to me - the handbook in those days quite clearly said that examiners had to be satisfied with the mental outlook of the examinee.
In 1997 I attended the AGM of the NSWSKC, at Honeymoon Bay, and came away with the opinion that until they got rid of their current executive they were never going to be a force in sea kayaking. The first night in NSW we stayed at the home of the training officer, and it was quite obvious immediately that we had opposing views on most things - further born out later on during a trip down the coast from Eden - where he couldn’t even wait for an exhausted mate of his
At the AGM I had been expecting to be able to speak to the club, and had brought a lot of photocopied material to hand out - but the training officer obviously didn’t want his club to hear a different opinion to his - so time was not made available. Other than giving a slide show one evening.
Over the past few years there have been numerous articles in their magazine, from paddlers who felt they were left behind on trips - and generally given a hard time. The same magazine always had an answering letter from the ‘leader’ concerned, basically telling the novice that if they can’t keep up they shouldn’t be out there spoiling the leaders enjoyment - and I never read one of these without the term ‘alcoholic’ springing to mind.
It is well known that alcoholics will never be cured - UNTIL THEY ADMIT THEY HAVE A PROBLEM.
A few years ago in the USA a commercial operator took some novices out and killed a couple of them - weather turned bad and they died of hypothermia. After this the leader came out and said that they had adhered to all the guidelines and that they wouldn’t be changing anything in the future - tough titty if any more died in the future.
Trip numbers MUST be small, and they MUST be lead by competent leaders - and I don't necessarily consider Instructors are automatically Leaders, far from it.
The NSW club are still headed for trouble - as long as they adhere to their stupid grading system, and emphasis on SELF ASSESSMENT. This is crazy. A novice doesn’t have the slightest idea of what conditions can be like on the open sea. The sea cannot be graded. They have had this system for some years now - I assume that in this recent debacle people self assessed themselves. When I take people out, I tell THEM whether they can do it or not - not the other way round.
This is taken from the 'NEW' paddler grading system:
Where an individual fails to meet the required minimum standard of equipment or competence for a particular grading and yet chooses to continue, the Trip Coordinators, Leaders, experienced paddlers or Instructors can assume no responsibility for that action. The individual is most familiar with their own gear and ability. Emphasis is upon SELF-REGULATION.
It would seem rather obvious that many people in the recent debacle fell into this category, otherwise they wouldn't have got into trouble - and what the Club is actually saying to them is - TOUGH TITTY. Exactly as all their ('alcoholic') leaders have said in the past
There were two reasonable articles in the latest magazine - one by Larry Gray explaining that he believes in starting people out on the sea - not in swimming pools or other sheltered environments. I’m a great believer in this.
The other article was on nutrition, by Sharon Trueman - at last somebody
recognises the value of SAO biscuits and peanut butter.
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