Summer Adventure

I had planned to post this morning about the refresh that I am giving The Agora,  but that will have to wait till some other time.

Instead, I will write about my capsize, getting hypothermia, getting rescued by the police, and how that affects my fall plans.

I’ve previously posted about how I am preparing for a 500 mile canoe trip this September.  My last post was about acquiring a canoe and generally preparing for the trip.

Yesterday I took the canoe out for its maiden voyage along with my housemate Steve.  We went to the nearest fresh water which is San Pablo Reservoir, part of the East Bay Municipal Utility District (EB MUD).  The reservoir has 14 miles of shoreline and is just under 900 acres.  We spent a few hours canoeing from one end to the other and exploring some of its hidden coves.  About the time that we decided to head back to the docks a pretty good wind came up and the water got a little choppy.  We fought against the wind out of an inlet and then across the reservoir.  When we got to the edge we had to go crosswise to the wind to get back to the dock.

I’m not sure how it happened–as up to this point the canoe seemed very stable–but the combination of the waves and wind tipped us over.  So, no big deal, upright the canoe, bail it out, and continue on our journey…no, nope, and not happening.  The canoe, a Madriver Adventure 14 will not float upright when full of water.  It has enough buoyancy to keep a couple people’s heads above water when it is upside down, but tip it upright and it will not float enough to get the gunwales out of the water.  When we tipped we were already exhausted from fighting the wind, so we clutched the upturned canoe and rested a bit, then started working to get it upright, which just was not possible.  We were near the Western shore when we tipped, after struggling for a bit we found we were being pushed back out to the center.

After something like half an hour I started to get cold and tired; remember I am in a coat, heavy clothes and shoes.  Eventually two Contra Costa Sheriff deputies arrived in a boston whaler to pull us out of the water.  They had me by the arms and were struggling to pull me and my water logged clothes up out of the water.  “Throw your leg over the rail” one said, this is when I discovered my legs wouldn’t work, they were as wood.  I just had no strength to pull my legs anywhere, so they dragged me out of the water and onto the boat.  I tried to get up to help them fish Steve out, but I had no strength to do so.  So I sat shivering as they pulled him out and towed the canoe to shore where it was hoisted onto a pontoon boat for the trip back to the docks.  Once at the docks, my legs still wouldn’t function, they burned like I had run to far to fast and I was shivering with my teeth clickity clacking.

The police had already called an ambulance before fishing us out, so we sat on the dock waiting for the ambulance to find the correct park entrance.  Steve had dry clothes in the van so he went and changed and found a wool blanket that I had in there (which had last been used to get my dad’s truck unstuck in the desert.)

The ambulance arrived, got me out of my wet clothes, took my vitals and hooked me up to an EKG.  They wanted to transfer me to the hospital but I said it wasn’t necessary, I just needed to get warm.  They stuck hot packs in my armpits and groin, and had me sit in the ambulance until I quit shivering.

During this time, the rescue workers had loaded the canoe onto my van and tied it down.  Steve drove us home and another house mate fixed me some dinner.

As I write this, some 14 hours have passed and I don’t feel nearly as bad as I expected to.  My arms are sore from paddling and I have some blisters on my hands are the only physical effects, I feel somewhat worn down, but am otherwise fine (if still embarrassed).

Five weeks from now I am supposed to take the canoe (and Smokey) on a 500 mile trek down the Missouri–that is still on.  In the meantime, I learned what I need to do to make the canoe more seaworthy, mainly add some buoyancy and wear smarter clothes.  Not this coming week, but the following week, I am heading up to the Sierra’s to Icehouse Reservoir to get some practice in with the dogs.  By that time I hope to add some buoyancy to the canoe and make some other structural changes to make the whole thing more sea worthy.

Considering how this could have ended, I find that I have learned some pretty cheap lessons…stay tuned for more travails in getting ready to canoe the Missouri.

Edit: I’ve decided to solve the buoyancy issue by adding a pair of out riggers to the canoe.  This will add buoyancy and prevent it from tipping.  Not a very elegant solution, but a solution that should help deal with having a hyperactive dog along for the ride.


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