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Talking to the Coast Guard


Adam Bolonsky

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So it comes time for three of us, including a transplant from Washington State who's spent time in Deception Pass, to cross Woods Hole at near max tide near dusk after working our way up the west side of the Elizabeths in some pretty stiff northeast winds.

We'd thought of crossing higher in Woods Hole, more to the southeast, but the East Gutter had already lowered its level below sea level and was pumping too hard to punch through.

The current in the hole is running fast, the standing waves are up, and what isn't fast-moving and slick is quite rough. The red nun and green can nav buoys are leaning over on their ears, dropping their foreheads into the water and all pointed at Buzzards Bay. We cross the first 2/3's of Woods Hole and duck in behind the riprap at the daybeacon to regroup when we realize there is no way one of us has the mental or physical energy to cross the last third: the fastest and most constricted part of Woods Hole with the most consquential runout, to the west, into the Channel. Two of us are willing to go for it, the third absolutely is not, and now we are in a pickle.

We debate a tandem tow and nix it: the ferry angle will be too hard for all three boats to maintain stimultaneously, and never having towed before in fast current where a capsize is highly likely, we scotch the idea, fearful of rescue ropes in the water and then all three of us capsizing ass-over-teakettle into and all over one another.

Then we debate crossing back over to the Elizabeths and riding the eddy east, to cross higher in Woods Hole, but this means recrossing water that unnerved the third of us now scared, wide-eyed, and paralyzed with fright.

So it's time to call the Coast Guard. Up to the top of the daybeacon riprap to make the call to the station at Woods Hole. The call takes about fifteen minutes to make, much of the time taken up by the watchstander on standby (we're now on VHF 22A) as he works out with the officer in charge whether we have life and limb in immediate danger. Once we tell them we are all wearing pfd's and drysuits they become less interested. But by now we have about half an hour of daylight left.

The Coast Guard asks if there is a tow service they can call for us. We're about to answer No when two fishermen in a center-consoler upstream jigging for striped bass drop back in the current, duck in behind the riprap and pluck the scared paddler from the water, loading onboard the kayak she's in after quickly discovering there's no way to tow from their stern or alongside without its capsizing.

So on the VHF we have to cut the Coast Guard short even as they're asking for a description of the boat that has done the rescue: the two of us still in the water haven't got much time to make it back into Woods Hole. So with a quick "sea kayaks Woods Hole OUT", we pack up the gear, get into the cockpits, secure the skirts and slingshot wobble across the Hole to Devils Foot and finally into the anchorage. A bunch of grad students from the MLB have lit a campfire on the shores of the island and are grilling burgers in the lee of a cluster of rocks and boulders.

Dumb luck. Of the three of us, I was cold enough not to have sufficient hand strength left to open a day hatch and retrieve some gear. Likely the Coast Guard would have come for us, but I think not until after dark, when we all three would have been a lot colder. This was at the time a Pan-Pan that would have only become a Mayday once we started getting hypothermic.

Running down the west side of the Elizabeths to Weepecket from Woods Hole in a brisk northeasterly can be a hell of a lot of fun (big steep swell!), and working back upwind a workout, but at that point that job's barely done: that crossing when you're spent and cold is pretty tough. Woods Hole sure can be a fun place, but when you're not looking for fun and merely want to get back to the put in, it can be a nemesis.

After we packed the cars we took a drive over to station Woods Hole to knock on the door and says thanks to the Coast Guard. But the place was locked up like a zoo: high fences, spotlights, razor wire, the guard shack dark, the boathouses themselves presenting a wall to the road. So on to pasta dinner lakeside in Falmouth, and the debrief of what went wrong where and when.

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So it comes time for three of us, including a transplant from Washington State who's spent time in Deception Pass, to cross Woods Hole at near max tide near dusk after working our way up the west side of the Elizabeths in some pretty stiff northeast winds.

We'd thought of crossing higher in Woods Hole, more to the southeast, but the East Gutter had already lowered its level below sea level and was pumping too hard to punch through.

The current in the hole is running fast, the standing waves are up, and what isn't fast-moving and slick is quite rough. The red nun and green can nav buoys are leaning over on their ears, dropping their foreheads into the water and all pointed at Buzzards Bay. We cross the first 2/3's of Woods Hole and duck in behind the riprap at the daybeacon to regroup when we realize there is no way one of us has the mental or physical energy to cross the last third: the fastest and most constricted part of Woods Hole with the most consquential runout, to the west, into the Channel. Two of us are willing to go for it, the third absolutely is not, and now we are in a pickle.

We debate a tandem tow and nix it: the ferry angle will be too hard for all three boats to maintain stimultaneously, and never having towed before in fast current where a capsize is highly likely, we scotch the idea, fearful of rescue ropes in the water and then all three of us capsizing ass-over-teakettle into and all over one another.

Then we debate crossing back over to the Elizabeths and riding the eddy east, to cross higher in Woods Hole, but this means recrossing water that unnerved the third of us now scared, wide-eyed, and paralyzed with fright.

So it's time to call the Coast Guard. Up to the top of the daybeacon riprap to make the call to the station at Woods Hole. The call takes about fifteen minutes to make, much of the time taken up by the watchstander on standby (we're now on VHF 22A) as he works out with the officer in charge whether we have life and limb in immediate danger. Once we tell them we are all wearing pfd's and drysuits they become less interested. But by now we have about half an hour of daylight left.

The Coast Guard asks if there is a tow service they can call for us. We're about to answer No when two fishermen in a center-consoler upstream jigging for striped bass drop back in the current, duck in behind the riprap and pluck the scared paddler from the water, loading onboard the kayak she's in after quickly discovering there's no way to tow from their stern or alongside without its capsizing.

So on the VHF we have to cut the Coast Guard short even as they're asking for a description of the boat that has done the rescue: the two of us still in the water haven't got much time to make it back into Woods Hole. So with a quick "sea kayaks Woods Hole OUT", we pack up the gear, get into the cockpits, secure the skirts and slingshot wobble across the Hole to Devils Foot and finally into the anchorage. A bunch of grad students from the MLB have lit a campfire on the shores of the island and are grilling burgers in the lee of a cluster of rocks and boulders.

Dumb luck. Of the three of us, I was cold enough not to have sufficient hand strength left to open a day hatch and retrieve some gear. Likely the Coast Guard would have come for us, but I think not until after dark, when we all three would have been a lot colder. This was at the time a Pan-Pan that would have only become a Mayday once we started getting hypothermic.

Running down the west side of the Elizabeths to Weepecket from Woods Hole in a brisk northeasterly can be a hell of a lot of fun (big steep swell!), and working back upwind a workout, but at that point that job's barely done: that crossing when you're spent and cold is pretty tough. Woods Hole sure can be a fun place, but when you're not looking for fun and merely want to get back to the put in, it can be a nemesis.

After we packed the cars we took a drive over to station Woods Hole to knock on the door and says thanks to the Coast Guard. But the place was locked up like a zoo: high fences, spotlights, razor wire, the guard shack dark, the boathouses themselves presenting a wall to the road. So on to pasta dinner lakeside in Falmouth, and the debrief of what went wrong where and when.

73 views and no responses. Well, certainly glad that all three of you made it back safe and sound. I wonder though if you are posting this just to let people know that the coast guard won't always respond or so that people can discuss the "what went wrong".

As for the coast guard, I think that they were right in their suggestion of a tow company being called. They probably use a certain model to determine if they should respond to an emergency and while all three boaters were upright, in intact boats, with pfd's on and properly dressed, it wasn't within their responsibility.

Once one of you ended up in the water and separated from the boat, that becomes the emergency and they will then respond. Asking them to respond prior is a bit like calling the fire department when I am about to cook dinner because the conditions are right for a fire.

As for what went wrong, I will leave that to others.

Suz

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I wonder though if you are posting this just to let people know that the coast guard won't always respond or so that people can discuss the "what went wrong".

Another cautionary tale and follow-up comments can be found at:

http://www.qajaqusa.org/cgi-bin/GreenlandT...g.pl?read=78573

Lest folks think Brian Shulz's comments sound a bit conservative and/or reflect not being accustomed to "real" conditions, consider the fact he routinely paddles in surf that exceeds what NE folks would consider large surf to say nothing of rather robust coastal paddling.

Obviously it is the season for "interesting" paddles though my timidity wishes otherwise.

Ed Lawson

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Another cautionary tale and follow-up comments can be found at:

http://www.qajaqusa.org/cgi-bin/GreenlandT...g.pl?read=78573

Lest folks think Brian Shulz's comments sound a bit conservative and/or reflect not being accustomed to "real" conditions, consider the fact he routinely paddles in surf that exceeds what NE folks would consider large surf to say nothing of rather robust coastal paddling, and t.

Obviously it is the season for "interesting" paddles though my timidity wishes otherwise.

Ed Lawson

Thanks for the post and link, Ed.

There were a lot of factors at play that day for us in Woods Hole: a decade's-plus paddling experience, on my part, leading to a cavalier attitude about Woods Hole, for one, plus the group dynamics of no one really wanting to take charge all day (hey, where's the fun in that, unless you're a control freak?)

We made the right decision to make that pan-pan call, as far as I'm concerned: the late hour, the dropping air temps, my Reynaud's crippling my hands, and the stark fear of our one paddler who felt that she couldn't manage the final crossing, and then, understandably, refused to leave the eddy cover of the daybeacon riprap.

I've always held that a pan-pan call is legit based on your subjective take on your situation at the moment. The Coast Guard always responds, though perhaps not with onwater resources.

What got to me the most was our group's collective inexperience using towing methods in fast tidal rips. The standing waves downstream were large, the runout was fast and worse and far west, and the ferry angle for the three of us to maintain with a tandem tow would have been dangerous to test and discover, I think.

Anyone have towing experience, tandem or otherwise, in fast rips? Standard procedure in rips when visited for trainings, I've heard, is to preposition rescuers well downstream to rescue those who dump.

But what to do when crossing the rip as a group is not an option, and yet you have to cross nonetheless.

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While I'm in some agreement with Suz's interpretation of the USCG's response and responsibility, I wonder why they didn't take the next step and broadcast an alert to boaters in the vicinity who could lend assistance, not to mention the harbor master. The separation between Pan Pan and May Day sometimes is more a state of mind than the actual physical event. An experienced cool headed paddler in the water may be content with Pan Pan. An inexperienced or panicked paddler, perhaps paralysed with fear, unable to make decisions about their situation, other than "Get me the f--- out of here.", seems a lot more like a May Day call. Particularly given the conditions, temperature and falling daylight. The USCG is not going to panic, even if their caller does. I had a situation two seasons ago on Labor Day in EssexBay. 20k winds and higher gusts, my wife a less experienced paddler lost control of her boat and was swept between two anchored pleasure crafts where she became wedged. Losing sight of her and not hearing her calls for help because of the howling winds after paddling frantically in the area where she had last been seen, looking for her boat overturned or not, I promptly issued a May Day call to the CG. After receiving all the relevant information for identification they proceeded to call the harbor master who was in the Essex river at the time. End of story, she was finally heard by the boaters who encased her craft and rendered assistance. All's well that ended well. Point being, while I would have them call out whatever resources they had, the CG proceeded conservatively and correctly. Knowing what I know now in retrospect, my call would have been more conservative.

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<...End of story, she was finally heard by the boaters who encased her craft and rendered assistance. All's well that ended well. Point being, while I would have them call out whatever resources they had, the CG proceeded conservatively and correctly. Knowing what I know now in retrospect, my call would have been more conservative>

Gene, there is something missing from here that you forget to point out to less-experienced paddlers: the necessity <to finish> communications regarding the declared situation (an emergency, since it was a Mayday call). Either the USCG or that Harbormaster needed to be told that the situation was now resolved -- which I am guessing you immediately did; but it needs to be mentioned here (it's very important). Had I been talking to the Harbormaster, in fact, I would have asked him quite pointedly to advise CG.

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<...End of story, she was finally heard by the boaters who encased her craft and rendered assistance. All's well that ended well. Point being, while I would have them call out whatever resources they had, the CG proceeded conservatively and correctly. Knowing what I know now in retrospect, my call would have been more conservative>

Gene, there is something missing from here that you forget to point out to less-experienced paddlers: the necessity <to finish> communications regarding the declared situation (an emergency, since it was a Mayday call). Either the USCG or that Harbormaster needed to be told that the situation was now resolved -- which I am guessing you immediately did; but it needs to be mentioned here (it's very important). Had I been talking to the Harbormaster, in fact, I would have asked him quite pointedly to advise CG.

Yes in fact you're correct. I was still in communication with the CG on Ch 22 when I saw she'd been rescued and brought to shore. They were told this and our communication ended appropriately.

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  • 1 month later...

I'm not familiar with the area (only been to Cape Cod once in my life)--but I'm curious as to whether you could have paddled down stream with the current to a spot where it would have disapated or would that have put you too far out at sea?

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  • 2 weeks later...

Next stop......Vineyard Sound

I'm not familiar with the area (only been to Cape Cod once in my life)--but I'm curious as to whether you could have paddled down stream with the current to a spot where it would have disapated or would that have put you too far out at sea?
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  • 1 month later...
So it comes time for three of us, including a transplant from Washington State who's spent time in Deception Pass, to cross Woods Hole at near max tide near dusk after working our way up the west side of the Elizabeths in some pretty stiff northeast winds.

We'd thought of crossing higher in Woods Hole, more to the southeast, but the East Gutter had already lowered its level below sea level and was pumping too hard to punch through.

The current in the hole is running fast, the standing waves are up, and what isn't fast-moving and slick is quite rough. The red nun and green can nav buoys are leaning over on their ears, dropping their foreheads into the water and all pointed at Buzzards Bay. We cross the first 2/3's of Woods Hole and duck in behind the riprap at the daybeacon to regroup when we realize there is no way one of us has the mental or physical energy to cross the last third: the fastest and most constricted part of Woods Hole with the most consquential runout, to the west, into the Channel. Two of us are willing to go for it, the third absolutely is not, and now we are in a pickle.

We debate a tandem tow and nix it: the ferry angle will be too hard for all three boats to maintain stimultaneously, and never having towed before in fast current where a capsize is highly likely, we scotch the idea, fearful of rescue ropes in the water and then all three of us capsizing ass-over-teakettle into and all over one another.

Then we debate crossing back over to the Elizabeths and riding the eddy east, to cross higher in Woods Hole, but this means recrossing water that unnerved the third of us now scared, wide-eyed, and paralyzed with fright.

So it's time to call the Coast Guard. Up to the top of the daybeacon riprap to make the call to the station at Woods Hole. The call takes about fifteen minutes to make, much of the time taken up by the watchstander on standby (we're now on VHF 22A) as he works out with the officer in charge whether we have life and limb in immediate danger. Once we tell them we are all wearing pfd's and drysuits they become less interested. But by now we have about half an hour of daylight left.

The Coast Guard asks if there is a tow service they can call for us. We're about to answer No when two fishermen in a center-consoler upstream jigging for striped bass drop back in the current, duck in behind the riprap and pluck the scared paddler from the water, loading onboard the kayak she's in after quickly discovering there's no way to tow from their stern or alongside without its capsizing.

So on the VHF we have to cut the Coast Guard short even as they're asking for a description of the boat that has done the rescue: the two of us still in the water haven't got much time to make it back into Woods Hole. So with a quick "sea kayaks Woods Hole OUT", we pack up the gear, get into the cockpits, secure the skirts and slingshot wobble across the Hole to Devils Foot and finally into the anchorage. A bunch of grad students from the MLB have lit a campfire on the shores of the island and are grilling burgers in the lee of a cluster of rocks and boulders.

Dumb luck. Of the three of us, I was cold enough not to have sufficient hand strength left to open a day hatch and retrieve some gear. Likely the Coast Guard would have come for us, but I think not until after dark, when we all three would have been a lot colder. This was at the time a Pan-Pan that would have only become a Mayday once we started getting hypothermic.

Running down the west side of the Elizabeths to Weepecket from Woods Hole in a brisk northeasterly can be a hell of a lot of fun (big steep swell!), and working back upwind a workout, but at that point that job's barely done: that crossing when you're spent and cold is pretty tough. Woods Hole sure can be a fun place, but when you're not looking for fun and merely want to get back to the put in, it can be a nemesis.

After we packed the cars we took a drive over to station Woods Hole to knock on the door and says thanks to the Coast Guard. But the place was locked up like a zoo: high fences, spotlights, razor wire, the guard shack dark, the boathouses themselves presenting a wall to the road. So on to pasta dinner lakeside in Falmouth, and the debrief of what went wrong where and when.

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ah yes. this happened last fall.

this paddler had been doing great all day against 20 knot wind, 3 foot wind waves, occasionally higher. There had been no sign of difficulty. So it was a real shock when the panic attack came in the race, a race this person had been in before, but maybe not when it was running 2 foot standing waves. We had pow-wowed before making the crossing, and all of us decided to do it. Even then, in our powwow ,there was no hint of what was to come. No words of trepidation, no looks of terror.

We practice t rescues in races in the NW, so that wouldn't have been a problem. But dealing with a panicked paddler was new, and a helpless feeling, especially when an offer of an assisted tow was flatly refused.

We were very lucky we were where we were-- it was a narrow crossing, boats were around, and the CG was nearby, even they didn't come out to us. If we had hung out on those rocks to the point of hypothermia setting in, they were there. What would have happened if we had not been in those circumstances?

any ideas on dealing with panic on the water?

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ah yes. this happened last fall.

this paddler had been doing great all day against 20 knot wind, 3 foot wind waves, occasionally higher. There had been no sign of difficulty. So it was a real shock when the panic attack came in the race, a race this person had been in before, but maybe not when it was running 2 foot standing waves. We had pow-wowed before making the crossing, and all of us decided to do it. Even then, in our powwow ,there was no hint of what was to come. No words of trepidation, no looks of terror.

We practice t rescues in races in the NW, so that wouldn't have been a problem. But dealing with a panicked paddler was new, and a helpless feeling, especially when an offer of an assisted tow was flatly refused.

We were very lucky we were where we were-- it was a narrow crossing, boats were around, and the CG was nearby, even they didn't come out to us. If we had hung out on those rocks to the point of hypothermia setting in, they were there. What would have happened if we had not been in those circumstances?

any ideas on dealing with panic on the water?

Looks like you did the right thing , which was get off the water and on land as as possible, even if that bit of land was not an ideal place.

Which is a good argument for having bivvy stuff even on day outings. Since dealing with an incident on land is always better than on water, if you have the means to remain comfortable(warm and dry) there, your options expand greatly: wait for help, wait out a tidal current, a storm, a panic attack, the whole night if need be, whatever.

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  • 3 weeks later...
Anyone have towing experience, tandem or otherwise, in fast rips? Standard procedure in rips when visited for trainings, I've heard, is to preposition rescuers well downstream to rescue those who dump.

Adam, the closest I've come to this is on the outflow at Plum Island. I was there last summer with a friend who outweighs me 2.5:1 . We were having a grand time playing in the standing waves until he flipped. He missed his roll and punched out. We got him back in but almost immediately he was over again. This happened several times. As soon as I let go, he wobbled and flipped. Before long he had no energy left to roll or even to re-enter if he were to flip again, we both knew he couldn't stay upright in the conditions, and there was nothing for it but to tow him in the midst of this strong current.

We tried several ways to do this but what worked out was for him to lean over and hold onto my boat while I paddled for both of us, as if we were lashed together. (After this, we both bought a tow system that is used just for lashing 2 boats together like this.) We took turns paddling or holding the other boat. It took awhile and it was exhausting, but we made the ferry across with no mishaps.

Don't know if this would have helped in your situation.

Kate

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Adam, the closest I've come to this is on the outflow at Plum Island. I was there last summer with a friend who outweighs me 2.5:1 . We were having a grand time playing in the standing waves until he flipped. He missed his roll and punched out. We got him back in but almost immediately he was over again. This happened several times. As soon as I let go, he wobbled and flipped. Before long he had no energy left to roll or even to re-enter if he were to flip again, we both knew he couldn't stay upright in the conditions, and there was nothing for it but to tow him in the midst of this strong current.

We tried several ways to do this but what worked out was for him to lean over and hold onto my boat while I paddled for both of us, as if we were lashed together. (After this, we both bought a tow system that is used just for lashing 2 boats together like this.) We took turns paddling or holding the other boat. It took awhile and it was exhausting, but we made the ferry across with no mishaps.

Don't know if this would have helped in your situation.

Kate

Hi - new to paddling, but experienced at winter hiking which leads to this thought: Is it possible the surprising and uncharacteristic panic was related to oncoming hypothermia? Fatigue from a hard day, maybe a little dehydration, cool temperatures - blood moving to the core, less available to the brain, which can lead to behavior change or fuzzy mental faculties. Just a thought from a different angle. Thanks for the interesting & educational discussion - Florrie

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