Saturday, December 15, 2007

Little surprises...

Sometimes things turn out a bit different than expected. So did the little wintry kayak expedition in the German Bight.

The first surprise was on the radio on Thursday when I was driving north, heading to Horumersiel. I thought Astrid was the "Glücksfee", but the meteorologists on German radio were speaking about the "Bernhilde-high pressure zone". What's in a name? It didn't make a big difference though, the weather was perfect.

The second surprise had a bigger impact. I was invited to this kayak trip that was announced as a "challenging seakayaktrip": winter conditions, open bivouacs on remote places, night paddling, long distances. The organizer had clearly stated this trip was meant for well prepared, advanced paddlers with a good physical and mental condition. It surprised me highly that, ready for departure late Thursday-evening in the darkness, one of the participants told this was his first paddle out on sea ever. He paddled a traditional skin-on-frame low volume Greenland qayaq, in which he couldn't pack a decent winter outfit -no cooker and tent for instance... The organizer decided nevertheless to depart with the complete group: (1) the novice could use some equipment of the 3 other paddlers, (2) tide was coming in so we had to hurry to get away and (3) it was only a short distance under sheltered conditions till the first stop. We paddled two hours out, made camp as planned at midnight. Because everyone used tiny 1 person-shelters, the novice sea kayaker could only sleep under my tarp. That's better than nothing, but not comfortable in winter! We got up at half past four in the morning - time to get ready for the big crossing of over 25 nautical miles. At six in the morning, after breaking down the camp and stowing the gear in the kayaks, the organizer made the only reasonable decision: to paddle back to the harbour in order to bring the novice back. Because we had to wait some hours until tide was running in, this gave us enough time to make a walk and to explore the island in darkness. Sun came up after 8 o'clock. Back in the harbour I felt no desire anymore to paddle. Strange, that rarely happens to me! I decided the trip was over for me.

This may sound as if I am very disappointed and didn't have a good time. That's not the case. I had two wonderful days in company of good friends which formed a strong team together. The night-paddle on Thursday-evening was spectacular, I enjoyed sliding down the mud in the harbour (we left near low tide), paddling under a starry sky, a fun midnight picnic under open sky, exploring one of the hidden treasures of the German Wadden-region in the early morning and midwinter rolling exercises out at sea and many more nice moments. Of course I am a bit disappointed I didn't paddle along the promised historic lighthouses in the German Bight (the Lighthouse "Roter Sand" is a absolute highlight). But: "things happen". I'll be back soon, and I picked up some new ideas for future paddles.

Everyone had his own lessons from this experiences. The organizer realized it was a mistake to accept a new unknown paddler on a trip like this. The novice seakayaker learned that good skills and condition are not enough - good practice and equipment are also essential. (Our novice seakayaker isn't a novice in kayaking: he is an advanced white-water paddler and an expert in greenland style rolling, but new to seakayaking. He had dramatically underestimated winter-paddling and wasn't familiar the habits and (safety- and group-) procedures of of seakayaking).
Driving back to the Netherlands I had plenty of time to reflect on the reason behind my feeling the trip was over for me at the moment we returned in the harbour. Was I tired, was it the temptation of the warm comfortable car, were it all the duties waiting for me at home or... ? This may all have contributed a bit, but what affected me most was the feeling I lost control...

PS: given English is not my native language, I found it hard to put my refections on this trip into the right words: it's difficult to bring in the nuances. I sure don't intend to make anyone black! Being smart afterwards is always to easy...


COBBER said...

Morning Hans,

Seems there is nothing wrong with you. You are focused and concentrated on the job (the Trip). And when there are elements that are taking you out of balance, it can be hard to get focused again. Can you expect that other people also have high aim to achieve something?? I will answer yes. Not meaning the difference in style, speed etc. But they should be prepared for the basics.
I did do Martial arts for many years. And I learned that Karate-do is not only in the Dojo!
When you are home you pack your bag and are already focussing on the trip. During the hours you spent in the car to Germany you are focussed on the trip. Just like the others…..
When there are elements that do not focus it will affect the team. They are not prepared and have to wait for another time.

To me it seems you were much focussed. Nothing wrong with that. But how come such a (small) incident, did have such a big impact on you??
It has to do with the level.

DaveO said...

Hans, I thought you communicated your point perfectly. I've had that same feeling many times. Many of the kayak symposiums I've attended have tours that you can join at beginner, intermediate, or advanced levels. There are always folks who overestimate their skills and ability and as a result impede the progress of the group. Great post!

Hans said...

Hi Jörgen-Cobber and Daveo!

Thanks for the nice words. Indeed it's about focus and mind-setting. Don't dramatize the impact of this little incident. It just took my good feelings about "paddling on" for a moment away. A pity from one perspective. Fascinating from the other side. That's it.
The two kayakers that continued had two more great paddling days: 60 km paddling on a sunny Sunday. That's my kind of day also! But as things went: I had a good time with other activities.


bonnie said...

"Being smart afterwards is always to easy..." -

One of my mom's favorite expressions is:

"Hindsight is always 20/20".

Good trip writeup. Tough call for the organizer. It's hard to just say no to somebody. Good they were eventually ready to say "This isn't working".

Anonymous said...

In Dutch day say "Beter ten halve gekeerd dan ten hele gedwaald".
Sounds like the Kayak event in Ireland at the beginning of December.


Hans said...

Hi Bonnie and JB!
It's indeed hard to say no. We all like to make people enthusiast for paddling..