Whitney Point kayaking

    Every so often an event occurs that spices up weekly write-ups. More often than not it’s something we can make light of and laugh about later, but it’s not always the case. The paddle on Whitney Point Reservoir was eventful, but not in a good way. It ended with the arrival of emergency crews. Several police cars, an ambulance, and a pickup truck with a motorboat in tow rushed in with blaring red and blue lights and a familiar wailing of sirens. They said they received a phone call from a kayaker in distress and asked if we were all accounted for. No, we were not. I had just reported to Rick that Peter was left behind.
    The paddle started great. A convoy of kayakers trickled into the parking lot to enjoy an afternoon on the water. The weather couldn’t have been nicer for an early May weekend with one glitch: it was windier than expected. Twenty one paddlers launched off a grassy shore: Walt, Rick and Cindy, Peter, Tim, Nina, Kim, Sue, Pam, Bob, Hugh, Patti, Jim, Roger, Tish and Gene, Christine and Phil, Jeff, Robert and I. We surfed along the east shoreline at moderately high speed. After a few turns and nearly three miles we crossed under a bridge and entered a serene creek. We meandered for about two more miles and turned around once it started to get too shallow. Since there was no official club break and some of us desperately needed to stretch our legs and backs, Robert, Jeff, Hugh, Peter, and I decided to stop for lunch. We ate, rested, and had a close bare-legged encounter with thickly growing nettles. Predictably, our spontaneous break separated us from the group.

The West Side Story

    Bob recommended using the west shoreline of the reservoir to paddle back in order to avoid strong wind. The main group took this route. Below is Kim’s account of the west side paddle:
“Our side of the ‘pool’ was ten times as hard to paddle!!!  We had plenty of time for conversation because it took a smidgen longer to go against the 2-1/2 foot waves (like Lake Ontario), the washing machine waves (like Owasco Lake), the banging waves (like Cayuga Lake) and the ‘where did that side blast come from’ wave (like Oneida Lake). The frogs were louder on our side, because they were cheering us on. A large variety of birds also appeared to entertain on the voyage, almost like cheerleaders. A sympathetic stranger on the shore handed an obviously ‘much needed’ can of brew to a thirsty kayaker. They are now nameless BFFs!! We crossed right through the middle of the town’s rowing buoys. They looked like candles with LED lights in them. We took some sneak peeks at the tiny islands.  Our sore bottoms and arms were happy to find relief on shore with the rest of the crazy gang who judiciously ignored all severe storm warnings.”

The East Side Story

    Not everybody in our group knew about Bob’s recommendation regarding the course for the return trip, and there was no discussion on the subject: we simply followed the same route back. Once we re-entered the reservoir, the wind was horrendous. Despite of slow pace and doubled effort to keep moving forward, we truly enjoyed the challenge. It was a fun ride, however exhausting. Hugh, Robert, Jeff, and I paddled abreast, while Peter was ahead of us and much closer to the shoreline. We caught up to him when he stopped and got out onto the shore. We asked if he was okay, and he said he was fine but tired. He took only a minute and was soon back in his boat paddling some ways behind us. We kept checking on him repeatedly until strong and persistent gusts of wind forced us to fight for our own safety. We were now scattered about and by the time the wind subsided and we turned back to look, we could no longer see him. We assumed he took another break or was hidden from sight behind a bend. Thus, we arrived at Dorchester Park and let Rick know he was missing. Just then the emergency vehicles drove in.
    The emergency crew brought Peter and his kayak back to safety. He didn’t need medical treatment but was soaking wet. I estimate he must have spent at least 40 minutes in the water. He capsized right behind us while still in sight, but we could neither see him nor hear his whistle. Despite of his close proximity to shore, the wind pushed him away and prevented him from swimming to safety. Despite of him owning a whistle and a paddle float, he was unable to summon help or re-enter his kayak in such windy conditions. Despite of being with a group, he was on his own. Luckily for him and those involved, he carried a cell phone that enabled him to make the emergency call.
    Bad weather conditions, unfamiliar tippy kayak, and some wrong assumptions on the part of our group contributed to this perilous situation. Had we had better safety procedures in place or reliable means of communication like a handheld marine radio recommended by Bob, the danger would have been diminished.

Kim’s Dinner Report

    There were 15 dry or still-wet paddlers who surrounded 2 tables at Aiello's Italian Restaurant. The best dishes were the pasta ones drenched with tasty sauce. The more experienced diners sported huge bibs to collect the drippings. We looked at the dessert menu and were tempted, but alas no stomachs had room, even after expending all those calories on the paddle.  It was a great time catching up on what everyone did for excitement over the winter break.    

Bob and Marine Radios

A VERY important lesson to be taken from the events of Sunday...

    We all have many hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars wrapped up in boats, paddles, accessories, and gas every week. We should ALL have a handheld waterproof Marine radio. The situation could have easily been defused if EVERYONE had a Marine radio on board to radio to other paddlers for assistance, or at least alert everyone to the unfolding situation. I ALWAYS carry mine. They are very inexpensive at under $100 for a basic, but adequate unit, up to $200 for a very good unit. Key is WATERPROOF. It should be kept on your person so it goes with you even if your boat does not! And not in a waterproof bag that makes using the controls difficult if not impossible. Feel free to call me (315-361-5280) or email me with any questions or if you just need advice. I researched these units extensively before purchasing mine so I am very familiar with many brands and models. Here is a link to a business that sells many brands at very competitive prices. Is your life worth $200??? Mine sure as hell is. So save your pennies and smarten up. A radio is NOT a luxury. A high end kevlar or fiberglass boat, or carbon paddle is. If you have any of those items you damn sure should have a marine radio. You or someone you paddle with may be saved in an emergency situation if you have one. I even mentioned to our group on the west shore Sunday while watching the group struggle up the east shore that I wished someone in the group that included Peter had a radio so I could have told them the conditions were MUCH better on the west side of the lake. Sunday ended well... it could well have had a much different outcome.

Purchase a Radio

    Everyone, and anyone!

    It is so awesome to be a member of a group that can recognize a problem and take immediate and certain steps to alleviate that problem. This club will be so much safer from here on out! Here are 2 links to sites that I found very helpful when I first got my VHF.

Helpful Link 1

Helpful Link 2

    Have fun, it ain't rocket science. I propose that we as a club have a designated channel for club communication... Channel 69 is a general non-commercial communication channel. Let's use it.


CNY Kayakers Syracuse NY

If you wish to comment on this trip or another trip you have done or maybe a kayaking experience you wish to share, please register and use Kayaking Blog.

Images