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2024 Cold Water Workshop


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Trip Report 4_13_2024 Cold Water Workshop. 10:30am-4:00pm. Shari G, Bob L, Sue R, Barb R, Jody H, Rainer K, Ben R, Janice C. Beverly Farms Library Conrad Room 10:30am-1:00pm, Manchester Harbor Skills Session, 1:30pm-3:30pm. 50F air, 42F water, SW 10-15 kts sustained, >20kts gusts, HT 4:50pm, Tide range 9.8ft. On-the-water participants, Shari G, Bob L, Sue R, Barb R, Jody H, Ben R. 

The session started with a discussion of some major topics related to paddling in the winter, although it was emphasized that all of New England paddles are “cold water”. Topics included the benefits of winter paddling, and cold water parameters to consider including conditions, route, time frame, and participants. It was emphasized that the parameters that define a cold water paddle are personal to each individual and determined by experience. 

It was also emphasized that hypothermia is the key issue and can sneak up on a paddler. Modes of heat loss; convection, evaporation, and radiation were noted. This led to a detailed “medical” review of hypothermia including prevention, recognition of hypothermia stages, and treatment. Each of the stages; mild, moderate, and severe, required different levels of intervention that were discussed. 

The next topic focused on where one is likely to cool down rapidly, namely outside of the boat. Staging the car, clothes, and gear for launch/landing procedures was mentioned, as well as the importance of choosing a wind-sheltered and sunny spot for lunch. It was noted that on particularly cold days, simply eating lunch in the boat (the warmest location) is always an option. The importance of fast, easy access to hats, gloves, and food/water was emphasized. The benefit of a mat or removable kayak seat for use at lunch was noted. 

The next section was a detailed review of gear, including the drysuit, pogies, hoodies, neck warmers, socks and boots, thermos, and easily accessible quick carbs. The Bothy Bag was introduced and tested (see pictures below). Further it was noted that normal paddling gear, such as the PFD, spray skirt, and helmet are warming and should not be taken off during a cold trip. A hypo kit was emptied onto the table including hand warmers, silvered medical blanket, oversized coat, extra pogies, extra gloves, hat, and dry clothes. 

A discussion of special topics and tips followed. It started with an interesting back and forth on “hand strategies”. Everyone had experienced cold hands, and various types of pogies, mitts, and gloves were related. Tips included using the thermos or lunch bag itself to warm hands, gloves without fingers for dexterity, and large wool mittens in the lunch bag. Hyperthermia was also noted as an issue, and it was suggested to wear exterior clothing that can be removed in layers or dipping one's head in the water. Layers of wicking undergarments were also discussed. 

During an in-house lunch we discussed the on-the-water segment of the session which focused on rescues. The timeline of hypothermia - gasp reflex (second), loss of hands (minutes) and exhaustion/core hypothermia (tens of minutes) was noted. In addition to the gasp reflex it was noted that another involuntary response can be the rapid onset of vertigo from cold water being in direct contact with the “eardrum” (tympanic membrane).  It was emphasized that the overall goal of either self- or assisted- cold water rescues is to get the swimmer out of the water. Speed is critical. For assisted rescues, it was noted that the cold-water T-rescue in which the swimmer climbs onto the rescuers boat while the boat is being drained is an option. It was emphasized that in that case the T-configuration is critical to stabilize the climb up. It is sometimes preferable to simply have the swimmer directly heel-hook into a flooded boat and sort out the drain later (either by pumping or having the swimmer climb further onto the rescuers boat for a T-rescue). If there is a group of paddlers, it was noted that a quick raft can be used for the swimmer to climb on while his/her boat is being retrieved or drained. Self-rescue is a serious situation. It was noted that re-enter and roll can be difficult as it involves the swimmers head and body re-submerging into the cold water for the set-up. Cowboys are preferable but can be difficult in conditions. If unable to self-rescue, various options are available. One key point is to stay with your boat, as it is very easy to underestimate the time to swim to shore. A swimmer can climb up onto the stern of the boat to get a large part of their torso out of the water. It may be possible then kick to work the boat towards the shore. With practice, a swimmer can swim a boat to shore (or a safer location for a cowboy) as fast or faster than direct swimming. Again, with practice, the paddle and a tow belt can further speed up the swim. 

Due to predicted conditions, we decided to move the session to Tucks Point in Manchester Harbor (town restrictions were not enforced due to the off season).  Shari and I partnered up and the four other participants rotated as pairs. The goal was to have everyone practice assisted cold water rescues in various scenarios in which the swimmer had to get out of the water as quickly as possible. In turn everyone swam and performed a rescue of a swimmer. Rescues included cold water T-rescues, rafted rescues, and flooded cockpit rescues with subsequent pumping or climbing onto the rescuers boat. There was a lost boat rescue in which a raft was used for the swimmer while the boat was retrieved. This one was particularly interesting as the raft had to be bulldogged because of separation due to the flood current and winds. As it turned out, it was necessary to continually adjust the site for rescues due to high winds on the harbor - a good exercise in situational awareness. Shari and I demo-ed a scoop rescue of a swimmer unable to climb into the boat. As for self-rescues, people were able to do cowboys. We ended the session, by noting we could see the four-foot swells bursting out on the Ram Islands. A lone paddler could easily round the corner into unexpected waves and capsize relatively close to shore, but in conditions impossible for re-entry. This motivated the need for swimming a boat back to an area where self-rescue or landing was possible. Accordingly, Shari demo-ed swimming in her boat without a tow belt, and I swam mine in with the tow belt. Thanks to our enthusiastic participants.  It was a great day all around!

Bothy Bag Exercise at Beverly Farms Library



On the Water Session, Tucks Point 


Edited by rylevine
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