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Sunday, September 1, 2013

Bail out/Infil training with kayak

What if something totally unexpected happened near you or your family and you needed to travel 20 kilometers over water, in a hurry and all you had was a kayak and a paddle?  Do you know for certain you could make it or how long it would take to paddle that far?  If you had little time to pack, what would you take?

Time for some amphibious bail out/infil testing.  On a recent Sunday afternoon I gave myself an hour to plan an afternoon paddle mission to find out the answers to the above questions. 

I did a quick map study and measured out a route that was just short of 20 Kilometers on the nearby Northwest River (Northwest River Park) in Chesapeake, VA.

I packed quickly, and very light.  The goal was to move as fast as possible, so I took what I needed for a long day on the water, but purposely left behind over night gear.  The load out was:
  • 1 small water proof bag
  • 1 Small Arc Teryx Hydration pack (w/ 100z water bladder)
  • 1 Nalgene Bottle (filled)
  • water filter (straw)
  • Food (1 sandwich, 1 orange, 2 caffeinated Gu packs)
  • 1 Garmin GPS (new batteries)
  • 1 cell phone (fully charged)
  • Survival kit (assorted first aid and trauma bandages, 1 tourniquet, assorted fire making supplies, 1 chocolate bar, 25 ft 550 cord)
  • 1 knife
  • 1 Black Diamond Head Lamp
  • Wallet (ID, Credit Cards, no cash)
  • Boonie Hat
  • 1 pair of boots (w/ socks)
  • PFD 
Packing for fast and light travel

The boat was a pretty standard 14 ft sit on top, self bailing type.  A stable, but slow design capable of hauling a decent amount of gear if needed.  For this trip, I kept things pretty light, but wanted to bring enough to last if the trip went longer than expected.

Kayaks are simple and effective tools for bailing out and covering long distances on water
Remember I said I packed quickly, the point was to put myself under a little time stress and pack as if I had to move out in a hurry.  Yes, I left tons of things behind that I should have taken, including a map or anything to make shelter with in case I got stuck overnight.

It was 3pm when we headed to the put in. After a few stops along the way and a few minutes to stow the gear, it was 4:15 PM by the time I was finally in the boat and paddling away.  There was just over 3 hours of daylight left, and I had to cover slightly more than 11 miles along a route I had never been on before with no map and no true idea of how long this would take, though I was guessing and hoping around 3 hours. 

Fast and Light.  Easy to grab bags close at hand

After a few early map checks (performed with GPS and cell phone) I was moving out and paddling aggressively along the river route I had mostly committed to memory.  The route followed the NW River south and crossed the VA/NC border.  Although heavily traveled by boaters, the surrounding terrain was mostly uninhabited and rural.  Traveling over water always presents unique navigational challenges that are not found on land.  For instance, maps generally only show major tributaries in and out of major bodies of water, but often there are numerous "false" rivers and creeks that can fool those unfamiliar with the surrounding areas and present you with choices if you are looking for the right turn or bend in the river for a landmark.  Fishing boats and pleasure boats generally travel at high speeds and although most boaters are responsible and observant to hazards in the water, people using kayaks to traverse waterways where there are high speed boats have to pay constant attention to their position relative to main avenues of travel.  It's always tempting to change sides of the river to cut down on as much distance as possible, but don't get stuck mid stream around blind corners when fast boats are approaching. Current speed and direction, especially in tidal waterways can have a major impact on the time it takes to travel so always check the tide charts. 

Be observant for anything that aids in navigation or time/distance/speed calculations
I kept a steady pace for the entire route.  I was in good paddling shape, although I had not been paddling recently and couldn't remember the last time I paddled over 11 miles.  Part of this route was a section of a local trail system that was marked with mile markers.  I recorded my per mile pace for 5 miles of the total trip.  For those 5 miles my pace ranged from 12:42 to 14:58/mile.  It seemed that I was paddling about the same pace as I would be moving over land with a heavy ruck.  The total number of paddle strokes per mile ranged from 765-800.  Paddling speed can vary significantly based upon paddler skill, boat design, weight of gear, wind and current and whether or not you are traveling solo. 

In total, I paused for three quick breaks to drink water and eat a Gu pack.  I slowed once to observe a Water Moccasin (a little too close) attempting to climb out of the water onto a tree limb.  I also paused briefly just after a fish jumped out of the water and hit my paddle (just to see if anyone else saw it) but other than those brief breaks I pushed myself steadily to keep a quick pace.

I finished the route in just over 3 hours and had about 30 minutes of daylight left.  I felt strong enough at the end that I could have easily kept paddling.  Over the whole 3 hours I only drank about 12 ounces of water, and ate one Gu pack, so my water/fuel intake was not enough and had I been required to keep paddling for another 11 miles, or to return back to the start point with a heavier load, I would have started to crash quickly.  Forcing yourself to drink, and keeping your calories up while paddling takes a little more discipline that when running, rucking or biking (or at least it does for me), so that's something to be conscious of and work on.

This was a fast and light bail out paddle mission that worked well for a quick emergency scenario.  I had just enough gear to feel comfortable on the water for a long day.  I had a pair of boots in case I had to bail on foot and move through the swamp, make it to a road and ruck home.  I had a little food, plenty of water for the 3 hour trip and the ability to filter more water w/ a straw.  I had a headlamp in case I got stuck after the sun went down.  I had the ability to make fire and a GPS/Cell phone for navigation and emergencies. 

Variations of this type of training course can and should include experimenting with heavier loads, longer distances, different paddle types and overnight stops to cover the widest range of scenarios.

Contact ADVENTURE OPERATIONS GROUP if you would like to plan a half day or full day  paddle course near you.  Kayak and gear selection, proper paddling techniques, water/river safety, moving fast and light, situational awareness and bail out/short term survival techniques are covered.  The course is suitable for beginners to advanced paddlers, but all participants should be able to paddle continuously for a minimum of 3 hours. 


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