Pin on a bad log sieve; no injury, but it folded and cracked the boat.
Close Call on the Savage (pinned my kayak on a log sieve) This past Sunday, May 28, I ran the Savage River in western MD during the 800 cfs dam release. This is a very fast narrow stream with almost continuous class 3-4 rapids and few eddies. I had never run it before but felt I had the needed skills. Our group leader was Lee Thonus. Our third paddler was John Guetter, an experienced paddler who had done the run several times previously. The plan was for all three of us to run it once fairly slowly, Lee in his C1, John in his kayak, and me in my OC1. Lee would then head home and John and I would do a second run with me switching to my kayak, a Pirouette S.
The first run went fine. Lee described all the major rapids as they came up and led the way down. I shipped some water here and there, once quite a lot, but was always able to eddy out and dump or bail. On the second run we went a lot faster, since we were now both familiar with the river, my kayak did not need to be bailed, and we were concerned about getting off before the water was shut off.
We ran everything without problems until about 1/2 mile above the takeout. At this point there is an island, with neither channel completely visible from the top. When we got there, I thought I remembered that we should go down the left, and asked John if that was correct. He also did not clearly remember, and headed down the left channel with me following. As we came to the bend we saw a pile of wood on the left, but it was still not obvious that the channel was completely blocked. When John saw that it was blocked he quickly landed on the right, on the island. I was further left in a longer kayak and ran directly into the wood pile on the left, wedging my bow between two logs. The kayak was still on the surface and not in danger of being forced under, but it was securely stuck, with the bow wedged and the current pushing the left side from behind.
Without really thinking about it, I pulled my spray skirt and climbed onto the logs in front of me. Once I was safely out of the kayak, we thought about what to do next. The kayak now had some water in it but was still mostly afloat. I managed to climb down and get my throw rope from where I had clipped it in behind my seat. I then tied the free end to my bow grab loop and threw the bag across to John. He was in a good position to try to pull the kayak straight back out of the logs, but when he tried this it did not budge at all. By this time the kayak had been forced completely under water.
Our next idea was to flag down another group for help. Several guys landed below us and climbed up. They set up a vector pull but even with three of us, this had no effect. Between us we had several pulleys and lots of rope, but there was nothing solid to tie onto to set up a z-drag, just bushes and loose wood. They suggested we just wait for the water to drop, and then they headed down. (Whoever you were, thanks for stopping and trying to help.)
We were not sure how long it would take for the water to come down, so we decided to go out to the takeout and come back later. We tried to paddle with me sitting on the back John's kayak, but this did not work well. I then tried just swimming down, but that was also not great, so I crashed through the bushes on shore, came out to an industrial yard, and walked out.
We met up back at the parking lot. We had only my car, and the keys were inside a drybag tied inside the pinned kayak, so there was no way to get into the car. After a short rest, we decided to walk down and see if the water had dropped. It had, so we walked down to the industrial yard, crashed through the bushes, and waded upstream to the kayak.
When we got there, the kayak was partly out of the water and we realized why we had been unable to move it earlier. The bow was partly folded about 2 feet back from the tip. The force of the water holding the kayak down had wedged the tip very securely. Even with lower water, we had to kick and pry on the kayak and logs to get it free. Once it was loose, we tied another rope to the bow, pulled it out, and dumped it. I then went upstream about 200 feet to find a good place to wade across to the island to get my rope. We then dragged and carried the kayak through the bushes back to the car, packed up, and headed back to Teters.
In the end we had no injuries or lost or damaged gear. I was lucky to have gotten out of such a close call without paying a price. Lessons learned (aka what we did wrong and right): 1. Wrong: The big error of course was running the left channel without being sure it was the correct one. When I told my wife this story, her immediate comment was something like "If we were were running a river up north, we would never run a rapid down a blind channel without getting out and scouting." I at least gotten complacent and was not thinking enough about potential hazards other than the rapids themselves. Our first run had gone well, the hardest part of the second run was behind us, and we were in a rush to finish. On the first run Lee had mentioned to look for the island just after seeing a blue building on the left, and to make sure to take the right channel. In focusing on the whitewater action, however, I had forgotten this by the time we got back down to that spot. We should have stopped and either scouted or waited for another group to come along. 2. Right: As mentioned, I really did not think before getting out of the kayak. John said later that less than 10 seconds elapsed between when I hit the wood pile and when I was out and on top of the logs. I still think this was the right thing to do, even though it led to the pin. The kayak was jammed solidly, on the surface, and fairly stable, but staying in it would still have meant some risk of being flipped and likely pinned in the seive underwater and killed. (There was no room to roll.) This would have been even more likely if we had been able to get the kayak loose with me still in it. 3. Wrong: Tying my keys inside the kayak meant that we would have had to hitchhike out if we could not have gotten the kayak out. Luckily it was a dam release and not natural flow. I don't tie my keys to my pfd because my remote control isn't waterproof, but I am planning to have a spare key cut and attach it to my pfd. I also need to get a waist-belt type throw rope. 4. Right: Waiting for the level to drop was the best solution. Trying to get more people and equipment to try to pull the kayak out at 800 cfs would have been difficult, dangerous, and likely futile. John has reviewed this and added the following: My lessons learned: A down side of usually following others down a river is that I don't always internalize the "must make moves."
Now I will remember to go right at the blue building, but I need a better way of learning and remembering from the instruction of others, and not simply from my own close calls. As I went down the left channel, I proceeded cautiously, always looking for places to eddy out if I needed them. When I saw the completeness of the jam, I landed on the island. I should have told Mike to wait until I could give him the "all clear" signal, or make sure he could find an eddy for his longer boat instead of having him follow me so closely.