Monday, July 23, 2012

Great Lakes skills meet ocean conditions

Seth and Sharon in a tidal race in the San Juan Channel.
Paddling on the Great Lakes can be challenging at times. Strong winds generate large, steep waves; hard break walls produce chaotic clapotis. But we don't have tides, so many ocean features are less familiar to us: massive eddy lines, whirlpools, overfalls, and the complications of navigating in current.

Current creates fun features on the ocean.
We've enjoyed seeking out challenging water on the Great Lakes as well as on rivers, and we've trusted that the skills we've developed would translate well to the ocean environment. But there was only one way to be sure: get out to the coast and paddle.

Alec prepares to "speed launch" off a barnacle-encrusted rock.
It works as well here as anywhere.
Over the past two weeks, we've practiced doing self and assisted rescues in strong current, rolling in whirlpools, maneuvering around rocks and ledges, extracting swimmers from craggy slots, and surfing in tide races.

Leon and Alec control their boats in a slot.
Dynamic water definitely puts skills to the test. As we tell our students, everything we do -- from strokes to rescues -- has to be executed in a manner that will work as well in wind, waves and current as it does on flat water because we need them most in more complex conditions. Pool-proof rolls and sloppy rescues are of no use in Deception Pass. Let go of a boat or a paddle, and it will be swept away. Every skill needs to work when conditions are exciting or it is of no use. Except, of course, standing on your boat. (At least for now.)

Sharon demonstrates an essential flat-water skill.

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