Navigating the Green River without a partner or a decent paddle
In July, Tee and I are heading to Canada for an eight day canoe trip. We'll be canoeing a world-renown canoe circuit with twelve other people, backcountry camping, and sometimes hiking with our boats in tow(portaging). We've been officially preparing for this trip for about nine months, including occasional shakedown cruises(to "shake out" people who can't, or don't want to, handle the activities); I've been preparing (working on strength and endurance) for over a year, on my own.
On Saturday, we canoed the Green River, which runs through western King County. The plan was to canoe 15 river miles with our group, and another group going on the circuit. During the outing, we were supposed to learn some new strokes, figure out what the water looks like when there's a hazard in it and how to avoid deadheads and sweepers (more about those later).
Last Wednesday, our group leader emailed instructions about our day on the river with this ominious ending: NEVER ALLOW YOUR CANOE TO GET SIDEWAYS TO THE RIVER CURRENT!!! Considering that Tee and I spent almost the whole time sideways when we canoed Lake Washington, I was a bit worried. Okay, that's a lie. I was freaked---FREAKED---out. I sent a speed-of-light email back to our leader stating just that.He replied saying to take a chill pill, and that he would be our boat buddy. When you're out on the water in a canoe, I guess it's prudent to have another canoe you travel with.
So, Saturday was gorgeous. Sunshine, unseasonably warm, we couldn't have ordered a better day to go on a canoe trip. Our fearless leader (from this point on, L.), his son J., Tee and I were paired up to be the first two boats out on the river. Before we embarked, the group received some instruction on strokes to use in the river, what to look for on the water's surface, and if we start to get sideways to the current, to let it turn our boats 180 degrees. Then we could work at righting ourselves without tipping. Sounds fair enough.
Tee and I pushed off from the shore; he was in the bow and I was sitting stern, so that made him the muscle, and I was the steering committee. I was stiff. Because I was so afraid, I wouldn't look behind me, to make sure my paddle was horizontal to the canoe, which provides rudder-like steering capabilities. L. kept shouting commands, and we'd try to fulfill them. He pulled his canoe next to ours and gave me a pep talk. "Loosen up-- it's okay. You have to turn and move around. The canoe won't tip over." I tried to take his advice, and began to look at my paddle more.
After spinning backward and righting ourselves several times, I realized it was okay to look around and move. This would not rock the canoe. Tee and I communicated strokes to each other and pointed out hazards. We ran into several sweepers-- tree branches and brush hanging over the river-- but we avoided the big, gnarly ones. We still didn't have stellar control of our canoe, but it was definitely better than when we started out.
L. let us take the lead boat position, so he could watch us paddle. J. sat in the bow, and the bowman is supposed to take the initiative to look for water hazards. L. pulled out his camera to snap some photos. As he was putting away his camera, their boat hit a deadhead--logs that are partially, or totally, submerged in the river-- and started to capsize. They tried to right their canoe, but couldn't. Their boat flipped over, plunging them into the icy river water.
Everything happened so dang fast. We were ahead of them, and heard the splash. When we looked behind us, they were bobbing along, grasping their overturned canoe. Flotsam coursed down the river. Tee and I shouted, "What do we do to help you?" L. shouted back, "Get us to the shore!" We started to to do a backwater stroke, to slow our progress, and then a draw type stroke to pull closer to his boat. Another canoe team, C. and D., pulled up on the other side of the capsized pair, and J. panicked. He pulled himself up into their canoe; they grabbed the free floating paddles, and the current swiftly carried their canoe downstream. L. yelled out for J.; he couldn't hear him any more, and the position he was at, latching on to his canoe, prevented him from seeing J. getting into C. and D.'s canoe. We assuered L. that J. was fine, that he was heading down river in the other canoe. "I lost my partner; I have to do this alone," he shouted. The grimace on L.'s face shimmered with defeat.
L. latched on to our canoe as we drew near, and we maneuvered toward the shore. Once we were close enough, I lunged at a thicker branch, to stop our momentum down the river. The river flowed on; I planted my feet firmly onto the bottom of the canoe and leaned back as far as I could. I ended up bending the metal frame of my seat all out of shape. While I clung to the branch, L. and Tee tied up our canoes to tree branches with the painters (the rope connected to the bow for securing it to a dock). Another canoe from our group caught up with us, and headed for shore to help out.
L. asked us to just talk to him while he pulled of his soaked jacket and shirt. He was trying to regain his composure. His whole body convulsed in large shivers as he rung them out. I offered him my sweat jacket, and at first he said no. I brought my work out jacket along with me, which is kind of cropped and obviously womens' clothing. Everything in his canoe was soaked. J. had opened up their dry sack and hadn't closed it back up properly. After a few minutes of convulsing from biting cold, L. changed his mind and put on my sweat jacket.
Once he got his canoe bailed out, L. had to canoe alone, kneeling in the middle section of his boat. Both his paddle and J.'s were picked up by C. and D., so he had to use the spare paddle he had tied to his bow- to- stern line. We all gingerly pushed away from the shore, wondering how this trip would end.
~~ I started to type up my entry earlier today, and I thought I'd finish it up this evening. It's too much to tell in one sitting, so I'll finish up tomorrow. Good night.~~