Whether at work or play, I’m an adrenaline junkie. Taking risk is required to push the envelope. But managing risk is a better description of how to think right: shaking out problems before they get serious, planning alternatives, and always being ready for worst-case scenarios. As I like to say, “I’m crazy but not stupid.”
As already seen in the pictures of past posts, almost everything requires some consideration of safety. For example, quickly dowsing the sail, even if only 1 sqm, is critical for when winds and waves suddently kick up. The akas also hold a backup paddle, a Werner Camano, in addition to my main use of an Epic Mid Wing Paddle. I don’t like keeping a paddle leash on the wing paddle I use all the time, but leashes (one for each half) keep the Camano tied to the akas. More importantly, I would strap one to myself for sure if I needed the second paddle to go get the first!
The Water Tribe forum is full of the safety advice I am following. The bright red Barracuda head warmer (I am wearing it in the picture of me in my first post) is one element I added after hearing the suggestion to carry an extra silicon cap – preferably bright – to help another triber if stuck in the water. Hypothermia seems to be one of the greatest concerns for tribers, even in South Florida challenges or the North Carolina Challenge in late summer. In his book Without a Paddle: Racing Twelve Hundred Miles Around Florida by Sea Kayak, triber “Sharkchow” (aka Warren Richey) hilariously recounts his concerns for the dangers of sharks, snakes, alligators, and other Floridians in the Ultimate Florida Challenge. But hypothermia is more likely to get you on events. Giving a head warmer to a fellow triber stuck in the water will help keep him warm, and the color makes her easier to find. I opted for a more comfortable thermal-lined Barracuda rather than silicon cap, for myself when cold or for sharing when needed.
Another shared experience on the Water Tribe forum led me to mount 3 flares for immediate access. One triber reported a situation where she ultimately needed to be rescued by the USCG. Tough, she was in good shape to return to the Everglades Challenge. However, before sending the SOS, she saw another boat in the far distance and wished she had quicker access to her flares when still swimming in the Gulf on Mexico with her equipment in an upside down kayak. A picture in one of my earlier posts shows one Orion flair mounted to the front of my cockpit (on an aluminum tube crossmember mounted to the track of the foot brace). I’ve placed two more, port and starboard, on the akas. This makes three for USCG!
Of course, keeping safety equipment on my body is even better. A Kokatak Paddling Suit keeps me warm, in the water and in the boat, since a surfski paddler remains very exposed to the elements on such a sit-on-top. It is matched with Kokatat Seeker Booties, size 13 over foot-size 11 to give room to athletic socks and the dry-suit socks. The blue sack behind the cockpit stores a pair of Glacier Gloves (among other things) when it gets colder.
A Stohlquit TREKKer keeps me floating. Its high-back design is intended for sit-on-tops and its two bellowing pockets are good for stuffing 4-6 hours of food (snack bars, power gels, fruit leather, beef jerky, etc). In addition to a handy NRS Co-pilot Kayak Knife (tethered), the jacket holds my worst-case rescue kit: An ACR ResQLink+ Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) is my greatest comfort to have on the front of my shoulder strap. A Spot Connect is mounted on the forward hatch as required equipment for OK messages and continuous tracking during a Water Tribe challenge, and the Spot has an SOS button. I mounted it in front of me so I can keep an eye on its activity lights, especially to make sure it keeps its Bluetooth pairing with the iPhone on me. The SOS signal is self-contained in the Spot itself, but its reliability doesn’t match a dedicated PLB, always on me. It’s good to have both.
The backs of my shoulder straps carry a See-Me LED Strobe on one side and a pack with two Orion Dye Markers and a Coghland’s Emergency Survival Signaling Mirror on the other. Although a bit extravagant, an Atwood Whistle is fine-built piece of stainless steel to round out this kit. An ICOM M36 VHF handheld radio, which floats, is mounted behind me on the akas frame, and also has a Mini Gear Tether with Lanyard (West Marine) to keep attached to the boat – or to re-attach to me if I need to ditch.
Aside from the case of sinking, I want to stay connected to the boat! Surfskis are notorious for how their light weight can have them blown away from the paddler, never able to swim fast enough to catch. A leash is an absolute safety MUST. Again, this has been a topic in the Water Tribe forum, reporting the recent demise of a paddler in Michigan, even with an ankle leash – which failed. An ankle leash is typical, but I have opted for an extra heavy-duty XM Power Clip knee leash designed for stand up paddling (SUP). Furthermore, I connect the leash to the boat with a Dyneema loop rather than a more standard cord. As with the evolution of kiteboarding safety, surfski safety is also evolving, and I am waiting to see what manufactures have in the works for new leash systems.
Rudder control and repair is another issue. Given the challenge “filters”, which often include shallow passages to ensure that “small craft” remain small, I have the option of a standard 9” rudder for open water or a 5” rudder for the shallows. Having a backup rudder, either for either, is also good. The second rudder is in a mount I constructed on the stern. Both rudders have their own hand knob with a stop nut so that I don’t need to go hunting for a wrench to take the rudder on and off. Similar to the light reflectors on the bow lights, I also added reflective sheets on both sides of the rudder holder.
A bungee loop is mounted to the back of the carrying frame, one end of which can be quickly disconnected and used to recover from a broken rudder control line. By keeping this constant pressure on the side of the broken line, the peddle on the other side can still be used to steer back to land for a proper repair. Loops in both Spectra control lines are tied and good to go.
Spare control lines, the ubiquitous applicability of duct tape, various hypothermia and all other medical equipment are right behind me in an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink ditch bag. I also carry a Stohlquist Re-traxt Tow Tether with 25’ of towrope. It sits in the cockpit just in front of the foot brace, which is wasted space otherwise. And then there are running lights, headlamps, an illuminated compass and other ways to know where you are going and avoid things that go bump in the night. Lighting is an entire subject itself on the Water Tribe forum to stay safe out there, which I plan to do.