tofino kayak: time well wasted

Time Well Wasted

by Dan Lewis, Tofino


While I was in Japan last fall, my longtime friend, Takehiro Shibata, organised a fundraiser for us through his kayak company, AlgaForest. It was great to get out of Tokyo for a day and go paddling.

Twenty-five people showed up! Typically we limit group size to ten or twelve people with two leaders, so a little bell went off. But we weren’t going far, conditions were light, and most in the group were experienced paddlers—only two were beginners.

Off we went. Ken, an experienced leader, was our guide. I tend to worry more about the folks who can’t keep up than the speed freaks up front, so I dallied at the back, offering tips in my broken Japanese to the newcomers. At one point we grouped up to wait while several people landed. One man was feeling seasick and opted to park his kayak and walk on to our planned picnic site.

Shortly thereafter, I noticed that someone had capsized up front. I paddled up and kept an eye on the rescue, even though the situation was clearly under control, with plenty of competent paddlers already on the scene. The kayak did not have neoprene hatch covers, so the compartments were swamped, and the boat was beginning to sink. They had removed the fiberglass hatch covers, and were about to lift the bow to dump the water out. I knew this would completely fill the stern, which would then sink, causing a Cleopatra’s needle scenario (one end submerged). Over the years I have done a lot of training and practice of what are basically some pretty stupid scenarios—stuff that you know you will never, ever have to do in real life, but which you are just supposed to practice so you’re ready for anything. On this day, I was glad I had. I decided to intervene before things got out of hand. The rescue I had to perform is called “The Curl”. Basically, when a kayak is completely swamped, you simply cannot lift it to dump the water out. What you have to do is turn the kayak on its edge, and slowly lift it as the water drains out. The trick is to keep the kayak level as you lift.

Unfortunately, at the end of my Curl, the boat still had a fair bit of water in it. It seemed the only quick way we could finish emptying it would be a “HI Rescue”. This is an old-school rescue that is often dismissed as being totally impractical in a real life setting. However, thank goodness I had wasted several hours of my paddling career practicing the HI Rescue in varied conditions. (When I started paddling, all we had were the old-school rescues!) Take and I laid our paddles across the decks of our kayaks, right behind the cockpits. Our two kayaks and the paddles formed an “H”. We then pulled the swamped boat upside down up over our paddles (the third kayak is the “I”). We then rocked it back and forth, as in a canoe-overcanoe rescue, draining both the cockpit and the fore and aft compartments. We didn’t have much further to paddle, so I decided to wait until after lunch to improvise hatch covers to keep the water out, using plastic bags and some pirated deck bungies. We put the hard covers back in place for appearances, knowing full well they would not prevent the boat from sinking were the paddler to capsize again. A couple of people volunteered to tow the kayak back to the victim, who was perched on a boulder about 200 feet from shore. Again, I tagged along, some sort of mother hen complex stemming from (or maybe the cause of!) many years of leading. I asked Take to send a competent paddler with me who spoke a bit of English, just in case. The rest of the group carried on toward our picnic destination. By the time we caught up to the boat under tow, they had the victim swimming towards shore so he could get back in the kayak. I quickly took charge, grabbed the cockpit of the towed kayak, and had the swimmer do a deepwater re-entry, the standard finale of any rescue. The towers then took off. It turned out they were not even part of our group! Meanwhile, our shoreline hiker had reached a section of cliffs, and was not sure what to do. I asked my assistant to keep an eye on the recent swimmer, and headed for shore. It quickly became apparent that the hiker was going to need an assist to get past the cliffs. So, I looked in my quiver of rescues, and found another one of those stupid skills that I had practiced over and over. In this case I used a stern carry.

Here, the swimmer climbs onto the back deck of the rescuer’s kayak, keeping his weight low as you taxi him about. This was all communicated to our disbelieving hiker, who realised it was this, or swim, or miss lunch. I deposited him back on shore beyond the cliffs, and turned my attention back to the capsize victim—who was nowhere to be seen. When I asked my assistant what had happened, he told me he didn’t know either. We took off to catch up with our group and found them waiting around the corner. I asked Take where the capsize victim was and we eventually determined he wasn’t part of our group either! I had been meaning to ask Take about why he had failed to check the hatch-covers of every kayak, a standard pre-departure procedure that eliminates most of the craziness we had just endured. He laughed and said that he would never forget to do that, as I had always been so adamant about that. So, in just one day I had to use three rescue techniques which I had practiced countless times, but never actually needed before in twenty-five years of paddling. It reminded me that unexpected things happen, whether you are ready for them or not. You might even encounter other paddlers who are in dire straits. Practice as many rescue and towing techniques as you can, and be ready to adapt to the myriad of situations in which you might one day find yourself.

Tofino Kayaking Articles

Dan Lewis and Bonny Glambeck operate Rainforest Kayak Adventures, a sea kayak company in Tofino and Clayoquot Sound. Visit their website at

Tofino Kayaking Articles

Tofino Time Magazine August 2004

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Tofino sea kayak expert Dan Lewis writes about an experience while kayaking in Tokyo in this article from Tofino Time magazine.

Tofino sea kayak expert Dan Lewis writes about an experience while kayaking in Tokyo in this article from Tofino Time magazine.

tofino time august 2004


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