Here is the crew from the Big Bay IDW (instructor development workshop), a hardworking dedicated one. Having the workshop in May once again helped to produce great teaching conditions that they were able to experience and the staff could teach in. Having it in May had every person there being a professional as all were working either for outfitters to guide trips and/or teach classes. Needless to say, after three days of long hours and work in taking advantage of teaching moments offered by the weather and other events, I am still pretty worn out.
One of the participants related how he told friends he was going to Michigan in May to do a kayaking workshop. Why don’t you go to Florida where it is warmer they asked. He laughed and said Lake Superior is the place for him.
Thinking about that comment, it made me realize how much kayaking on the Great Lakes is different. Hypothermia from immersion in the cold water is the biggest danger in northern climates, yet many people don’t know how to safely address that risk.
A New Years Day paddle downstate ended with an ambulance ride to the hospital because of a capsize and a botched rescue. Instead of getting the paddler back into their boat, the rescuer towed her through the water for 20+ minutes to reach shore. Even with a drysuit, she became hypothermic enough to go to the hospital.
Teaching an instructor workshop on an inland lake in June down south, people said the water was cold (it was hard not to laugh). Despite this nobody wore a wetsuit. Nobody was in a hurry either when doing a rescue.
An expedition to Alaska by two drysuit wearing southerners nearly turns fatal as hypothermia induced by the cold environment slowly clouds their judgment. They paddle into a significant tidal race and get separated. One of them ends up rolling 6-8 times. It takes 12+ hours before they meet up with each other.
Cold water is not pleasant but it is a reality Great Lake paddlers face if we capsize. Doing rescues during the summer reminds me of that. But what is the purpose of the gear so many obsess over? Having the right gear, using it properly and knowing how it works is a key piece to being safe. Doing a quick rescue is also key. I learned that while wearing a 3 mil neoprene wetsuit in my IDW in Bayfield in May ’95, a week after the ice went out.
The best thing in all of this was the people in this weeks IDW. They came away with a first hand experience of cold water, how their gear works in it and why it is important to quickly do a rescue.
Who would you want to learn from, one of them or some Floridian?