This past weekend I had the opportunity to instruct some amazing folks in the art of paddling alongside some of my favorite ERA instructor friends. After a fantastic day of paddling on the Ocoee we were headed to our usual apr�s-paddling BBQ food destination when our plans abruptly changed. There was an emergency situation on the river and we needed to help!
At the end of the day, we were headed upstream when just past Staging Eddy we all noticed a paddler stuck firmly pinned on a log. In disbelief we piled out of the vehicle, grabbed our ropes and started running at full speed. We reached the side of the river, placing us parallel to the situation but realized that we could not be of help from shore. In a situation like the one we were in the middle of, it would be easy for everyone to pause, wondering what to do. It seems to be out of almost modesty that no one feels like they are in a position to be able to call the shots. But someone has to take the bull by the horns. From river left side, a guide had already come back upstream, was roped in and had swum out to near the pinned kayaker. He was able to throw a rope to the kayaker, but could not directly reach him. A kayaker paddled down and had eddied out below the situation. Assessing the situation, we identified that we needed boats and needed to get out to the pinned boater. Our personal boats were on top of our vehicle, so we approached the first concerned on lookers we came to and borrowed their boats and essential gear.
On the way over, I already had a plan formulated to paddle to the log and jump out onto it to help the pinned boater. As I approached the log the realization set in that that option was not very smart. One of the mantras most repeated in any type of swift water rescue is �don�t make the situation worse.� I needed to go to a Plan B. I had seen a very small eddy just downstream of the rock that the log was stuck on, so I committed to catching that eddy in order to make the move to� let�s just say to grab the person on the log. Catching what was a deep and tiny eddy, I pulled my sprayskirt and jettisoned the boat and paddle (thank you Joe Jacobi, I hope you got all your stuff back!). At the same time, Whitney came in behind me and eddied out to provide back up. After scrambling up the rocks that the log was pinned upon, I was able to reach the boater who already had the rope attached to him and was able to release pressure from the boat and pull him onto the log. From there I was able to help lower him into the water after he initially caught his breath. From there Whitney was waiting in a second borrowed kayak to catch him and help get him to shore. After that the situation was pretty much resolved.
To borrow a quote from an old paddling buddy � act little, but when you do act–do so with much conviction.� Not that there was not enough conviction from the other folks around�it was an incredible group that gathered along shore ready to help; but don�t hesitate–look at what is available for an opportunity and consequence, and then do what you would expect the people that you paddle with on a regular basis to do for you.
With that said, keep getting out there and paddling and loving the time you can spend on the river with your friends, and do not take a single bit of it for granted.