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Old June 8th 04, 11:27 AM
Posts: n/a
Default Along with Chuck's story, here's another one where things went wrong...

Hey Wilko;
Feedback thoughts interejected. Of course, they range between '20-20
hindsight', meaning things you would have known to do IF you had known
beforehand how the day was going to turn out, and '20-20 foresight', meaning
things you should probably have done beforehand, or differently. I'll label
them HS and FS. The FS's are the important ones.

During my recent paddling trip in Slovenia, I got to run a new (to me)
river, the Sava Bohinka. Normally a nice technical class III/IV run,
with not a lot of water and some boulders creating tight lines through
rapids, it was flooded now.

As we put in, in the pouring rain at the put in beach, Cornelis pointed
out that there was normally a six metre (20ft) wide beach here.

We decided to take things slowly, and since Cornelis was the only one
who had ever paddled this creek before (a dozen or so times), and
because it had a portage where several Czech paddlers had already died,
I agreed.(*)

HS: Normally, the TL is a combination of the person with the most experience
AND the most experience on that river. Did you ever discuss with Cornelius
if he was comfortable leading the lines at this level?

We went from eddy to eddy, Cornelis leading, me and klara following. At
first the waves were pretty big, but there were relatively few holes,
and despite the boils and swirling eddies, it wasn't very difficult (to
Klara and me).

Then the rapids became longer and steeper, and I could see Cornelis
picking some lines that made me cringe. I deliberately picked the
easiest line, and Klara followed me without a problem.

FS! Whenever I find that the TL is choosing lines that are not what I would
choose in their situation, I always find the opportunity to ask them how its
going. At this point, you should have had red lights going on in the back of
your brain indicating that maybe all was not well with Cornelius.

As we got closer to the "Czech rock" rapid, Cornelis took the careful
approach and landed us on river left. We portaged around the badly
undercut rock (with a big red cross on top of it), and put in again.

FS: and here was a perfect opportunity to check in with him. Since the river
did not have many eddys, you missed out on much river conversation, so you
should have specifically been looking for an opportunity to converse to
present itself.

Here the river seemed to pick up speed, and the rapids were a little
closer. Still, nothing that would usually bother me.

As we made it down a couple more rapids, I noticed Cornelis heading
straight for a big breaking wave. As I looked at him, I more or less
expected him to punch through it. Unfortunately, I saw the bow come up
diagonally, then it disappeared, then the boat popped up straight in the
air like a wet bar of soap.

Now I knew something was wrong and I accelerated towards him. As I got
closer, I saw his head next to the boat. I hoped he was still in, but
alas, he had bailed out. What also bothered me was that I didn't see his

As I got closer I noticed that his Prijon helmet had completely lost the
outer shell, revealing only the black foam liner underneath still
strapped to Cornelis' head. Oops! (**)

BIG FS! From your description, I would have been instantly suspect of a head
injury. Someone who just came through a big breaking wave, came out of their
boat and came up with a shattered helmet... from this moment on, I think
your top priority should have been to rescue him and assess if he had any
head injuries. That would have dictated your next actions.

I turned my boat and offered him the stern, as he grabbed it, he let go
of his boat (***).

That seems fine to me. Gear is cheap.

I got him to shore, asked him if he was okay, and
told him that I would get his boat before the Lake at Bled! Then I
looked upstream to see Klara and quickly went after his boat, signalling
"Stop! Stop! Stop!" to Klara, hoping that she wouldn't follow me.(****)

Sorry, friend, but this was a major error. Assuming the potential of head
injury, you should never leave him unattended. Even without the potential of
injury, you should have *ensured* that Klara had stopped so that your party
did not get separated. (I say 'your', since the HB is now out of service and
you're the next most experienced.) Then, you should have agreed upon a plan:
even as quickly as shouting to Klara "I'm going after the boat, you and
Cornelius make your way down to me!" It seems like, from this moment on, the
three of you had no idea what each one was doing.

It took me some time to catch the boat, turn it and clip the cowtail to
it (*****). As I started pulling it to shore, I saw Cornelis' footbrace
float by. I guessed the distance to the next rapid, and went after the
footbrace (******).

Fair enough.

As I finally got to shore, I emptied Cornelis's boat, and I noticed that
he had a dry bag in the back of his boat. Thinking it would only contain
his wallet, I took it out and clicked it around my PFD for safekeeping.
I wondered about the difficulty of moving around on shore, thought about
how he had responded when I last saw him, and then decided to get his
boat to the nearest road, considering from his response that our day of
paddling was over. (*******)

I don't understand this. He is upriver, she is upriver with him (hopefully,
if she got your signal), and you decide to leave and go somewhere else? I
would think the priority, now that you have stopped the situation from
deteriorating (*), would be to regroup.

(*) I look at river emergency situations like this: first, you stop the
situation from deteriorating. Then you regroup and assess the damage, and
last, you start the recovery. You do this first for health-related issues,
then you do it again for materials-related issues.

When the situation was that he was swimming and might have had a head
injury, his boat was going downstream, Klara was upstream and you were
chasing him down a large wave train, your first priority would have been to
stop the health situation from deteriorating by getting to HIM, and getting
him out of harm's way. Once you assessed that he was not suffering an injury
(assess damage), tell Klara where you are going (regroup, make a plan) then
go after the boat. Once you got to the boat and gear (stop deterioration of
material goods), you needed to assess what was lost or needed, and regroup.
It feels to me at this point that you started off a solo recovery journey to
get off river without letting your comrades know what was going on.

I quickly picked up some white rocks and branches and created an arrow
pointing up the slope, before grabbing Cornelis' kayak (********) and
starting my climb up the hill. That was not easy, and I slipped and fell
a couple of times before making it up to the road maybe 150 metres
higher. All the time I was thinking about what I would do if I was Klara
and Cornelis.

Ahh, there it is. You were wondering what you would do if you were them, and
they were wondering what you would do if they were one knew what
anyone else was doing. Best bet would have been to wait for them, or work
your way back upstream on foot to meet them coming down.

I'll skip the blow by blow from here out, because its all just a compounding
of the error already committed. When you took off after gear without
checking in with Klara, you set up a situation where your trip was divided.
When you left the river without regrouping, you made the liklihood of
getting regrouped even more remote. All your experiences after that were
just damage control.

Had I been in your situation (for the hundredth time, as I've been in that
situation lots...) I would have towed him to shore, waited with him until I
could have made voice contact with Klara (and assessed him for injury at the
same time), told her (or asked her, but being another type A river
personality, I probably would have just told her) to work their way down the
shore and I was going to chase gear. Once I got the boat and footpeg, I
would have dragged it all to shore, left my boat with that gear, and walked
back upstream towards them. Then, we would have come back down together,
inventoried all the gear, and helped each other off- or down-river.

If walking upstream was impossible, then I would have gone up the cliff and
looked along the clifftop for the first place they would have emerged,
assuming that they also would have found the shore impassible. If I never
found them, and daylight was still strong, I would have gone back down to
the river and looked for them. If daylight was fading, then I would have
started 'rescue' procedures, because now plan A and plan B, which were
tacitly agreed upon, had failed and I would have suspected that they were
lost, or trapped onriver.

As long as all parties stay along the shoreline, then they can find each
other. If anyone goes inland, its pretty much guaranteed that every person
is on a self-rescue mission, with an outside hope that they will meet up
somewhere. And any group, especially one dealing with an incident, is
stronger as a group.

My 2 kronen.


As I arrived at the road, I looked around to get a bearing on where I
was. I guessed that we had maybe paddled down between half and two
thirds of the distance to Cornelis' car, which meant that we should be
able to get to his car in maybe half an hour to an hour.

After catching my breath, I noticed a car with Dutch registration plates
driving on the road. They stopped and asked me if I needed help. I asked
them if they would be so kind as to drive upstream and look for a lone
(Dutch speaking) paddler whose boat I had here. They did so, and they
asked me to wait there. After a while they came driving back: nobody
seen. I thanked them and went down to pick up my own boat.

As I arrived there, I noticed Klara's kayak and paddle lying next to
mine. I was puzzled. I shouted Klara's name, but I got no response. Then
I went back to my original plan and started carrying Klara's boat and
paddle up, if only to make sure she didn't paddle any more of this water
on her own.(**********)

As I climbed up with her boat and paddle, I thought I heard a tune, but
the sound of the water drowned out the sounds too much. It wasn't untill
later that I realized that Cornelis' phone was in the dry bag I was
carrying. It was easier to make it up this time, in part because of the
paddle and because I had scouted sideways a bit when I came down to find
an easier line up. Putting the boat on my head instead of pulling it up
behind me also helped a lot. I shouted Klara a couple more times, but to
no avail.

As I came down the second time, for my own boat, I kept shouting every
once in a while. As I got close to my boat, I heard a reply. It was
Klara, who came racing down the slope.
I shouted to her to go up, to the road, but she protested quite a bit
about wanting to paddle, before moving up again.(***********)

As I neared the road, she was already up for some time. She explained
how she found my boat, and how she went looking for me. I figured out
that we both knew what was going on and that his oh so important bag was
safe, but that Cornelis probably didn't know what the situation was. She
told me that some Slovenian kayakers were going downriver trying to find
the boat. I asked Klara to stay with the boats, telling her that I would
walk to the car and go find Cornelis.(************)

I walked to the east, trying to figure out how to get to the little
bridge at the take out point. As I noticed an old lady in the pouring
rain, I approached her and asked her in my best Slovenian :"Dobre dan.
Male most, Sava Bohinka?" (good day, Little bridge Sava Bohinka?). She
spread her eyes wide open and hurried away. (I guess my outfit does look
a bit scary at times. :-) ) A little later I tried it again, this time
with a woman who stood safely out of reach of my claws on a balcony. She
was very helpful by pointing me to the right road. I thanked here in
mixed Slovenian/Czech: "Hwala Moc!" (thank you (slo) a lot (cz))

About an hour after leaving Klara I reached the car. Cornelis' paddle
lay next to it, so I knew he had been here. I ran downstream a bit,
yelling his name, no result. I thought that if Cornelis had been so far
ahead of me, that I would never catch up on foot. the only tactic that
might work was to get ahead of him and then make my way

So I put a couple of bags on his seat and his paddle inside and started
to drive downstream. The first times I got close to the river, I got out
of the car, had a quick look and shouted Cornelis' name. Then I drove
close to the river, shut the engine down and honked the horn a couple of
times, listening through the open door if there was any response.

Then I did some quick calculations and took the main road to Bled. In
Bled, I started to look for the river (that I thought ended in the lake:
not so :-( ). I had to drive down some dirt roads, every time picking
the one leading down the most, untill I finally hit the river again.
Then I just started to make my way upstream carefully (with my own car I
don't mind a bit of rallye driving, but this car wasn't mine, didn't
have as much ground clearance nor four wheel drive). After a while I
noticed a kayaker's vehicle with roofrack *and* Cornelis standing near a
little bridge. The smile that suddenly appeared on his face was
priceless! As I opened the door, Cornelis rushed towards me and gave me
a big kiss (blush ;-)). I quickly explain the situation, with Klara
waiting for us, and he thanks the Slovenians and exchanges cards (for a
later thank you drink with them).

We rush back to Klara, who has started to carry all the boats and stuff
to a much better loading and changing spot (smart girl :-)). After
loading up and changing, we go pick up my car.
As I tie up our boats on my car, he calls his girlfriend, excitingly
telling her what has happened that day. She calls all of us crazy for
paddling at all. :-D

That evening Cornelis buys us dinner in Bled, and during the meal all of
our ideas and plans are discussed. We definately learned a lot from this
day on the river, despite having paddled together for maybe eight or
nine years.

When it comes to communication, agreeing about rules and standard rescue
situation behaviour for ourselves, we definately learned a lot about how
each of us thinks in a situation like that. Hopefully that will be very
useful in the future.


Some of my thoughts and ideas about he points below:

(*) In retrospect, I should have known that Cornelis doesn't like big
volume water, and that I have a lot more experience than him running and
leading on that kind of water. The creek and the "normal rapids" were
not recognisable any more, the lines were completely different, and
Cornelis' previous experience paddling it didn't give us as much of an

(**) I had bugged him about the lack of safety of that helmet for years,
now he finally has to buy a new one! :-)

(***) Although he probably did the right thing from his perspective,
being tired and shaken, I knew I could get him and his boat to shore in
time before the next bigger rapid. Nothing bad, but a pity and (as I
found out *after* getting the boat to shore), an extra complication
considering his cell phone, wallet with credit cards and money and his
car key were in the back of his boat.

(****)I'm sometimes an absolute dombo: I don't want anyone to go down a
river on their own, I don't want someone to risk themselves for a stupid
piece of gear that can be replaced and I definately don't want my
girlfriend to follow me down some flooded river that neither of us has
paddled before.
Again in retrospect, I should have talked to her about that, because she
loves me too much and therefore wanted to follow me down, no matter
what. Since I'm quite a bit better paddler than she is, that approach
has gotten her hurt on the river before, when she found herself running
a class V rapid blindly (making me worry even more!).

(*****)A Flip Stick is not a good rescue platform, and it's really slow.
Although had I planned to take my Salto on this holiday as well, I
ditched that idea just before I left home. I would have been more
prepared for swimmers and rescue situations (especially on big water!),
and still be able to play enough in the Flip Stick on the lower volume
creeks and rivers in the area.

(******)I thought that Cornelis might have to run another part of the
river before being able to get out (the shores are steep walls and full
of mud and loose rubble, with trees and plants covering most of them),
and I didn't want him to do so without his foot brace. I also guessed
(correctly) that I could catch up with it before the next difficult part.
Doing so did make me move downriver maybe another couple of hundred
metres (think yards), making it a lot harder for him to reach me on
shore. Also, I should have anticipated that he didn't want to paddle any
more, and I shouldn't take a risk with a swamped boat hanging from my
cowtail so that this piece of foam made it to shore.

(*******)Although I guessed correctly that Cornelis had had enough, I
didn't guess right when I thought that it was difficult to move around
on shore. Cornelis made his way down to where I had gotten his boat out
in roughly the time it took me to get to the nearest road. (big mistake
on my account!)

(********)I anticipated Cornelis not paddling any more, and I
deliberately left my kayak and paddle down in case I needed to get out
on the water again. Unfortunately that meant that when Klara and
Cornelis arrived at my kayak, they thought that I had not caught his
kayak and that I had given up the chase(*********). This big mistake of
anticipation of mine essentially caused Cornelis to rush down after his
beloved kayak and cause the whole aftermath. Klara and Cornelis figured
that I thought it to be too dangerous to paddle after the swamped boat,
and that I had decided to try to keep up with it from shore (Which I
considered not very likely, considering the speed of the river and the
fact that they found my boat at the beginning of a quieter stretch of

(*********)I don't usually give up easily, as Cornelis and Klara know,
having seen me paddle down a flooded river in the dusk for an hour or
two to catch Cornelis' lost throwline (I retrieved that one). I also
drove down all the roads we had been on before, a week before, to find
three lost shoes that had fallen off my roof in rush hour traffic. They
were still drying on my roof when we drove away. I finally found them
all, despite Cornelis giving up hope after a while.

(**********)Yeah I know, hear who's talking. :-) She's a good paddler
and she could deal with this river no problem, but I guess I find it
difficult when it's about someone that I care about so much to let her
take unnecessary risks.

(***********)I should learn to listen better to my fellow paddlers in
those kinds of situations. My idea to solve a problem is not always the
most practical or the smartest, besides I could get more info than I had
before. The problem is also that I'm so used to taking control because I
tend to paddle with people having little or no experience in rescue
situations, that the idea of asking others about their plan rarely
enters my mind. :-(

(************)Similar to the previous point: if I had let her tell her
whole story, she would have told me that they had already been all the
way to the car, and that Cornelis was rushing down with the Slovenians
trying to catch the boat. Also, that Cornelis had gone ahead, each time
scouting the rapids from shore before giving Klara the thumbs up to run


(*************)It's important to know a little bit more than just the
basic terms in the local language if you get lost in some foreign
country. I don't get lost easily, having a good sense of direction and
decent navigational skills, but I might have walked a couple of
kilometres more if I hadn't been able to ask for the little bridge. Next
time I get to a foreign country to paddle I want to know a few words
more so that this kind of thing goes easier...

(**************)I did consider the possibility that he might have been
trying to hitch a ride back to his car, but I figured that I should try
to locate him and show him his precious belongings instead of just
waiting there for him to maybe show up at his own car again. Besides,
Klara was waiting for us.

If I had left his boat down near the river while carrying mine up, Klara
and Cornelis would have found it and known that I had caught it. Then
the rest of the story wouldn't have been necessary. :-(

Wilko van den Bergh Wilkoa t)dse(d o tnl
Eindhoven The Netherlands Europe
Look at the possibilities, don't worry about the limitations.