Accident Database

Report ID# 1151

  • Pinned in Boat against Rock or Sieve
  • Near Drowning
  • Other

Accident Description

Pinned on the Upper Gauley

            The fun-looking twisting slot on river left in the first rapid downstream of Insignificant ( Upper Gauley , WV) is not a good place to be at 2,350 cfs. This is a lower than normal fall release. I’ve run this slot before without trouble at 2,800 cfs, but when I came around the corner on September 27, 1998, I noticed a little ridge of rock just under the surface. It ended with a little knob that stuck up in the middle of the channel. If I’d cut my turn sharply, as I’d planned, I’d have been to the right of the knob in the deepest part of the channel. Instead, I was off my line and headed right for it. Rather than work to the right, I changed my line 1-2 feet to scrape over a shallow spot on the left. This turned out to be a mistake. The shallow spot was a ridge of rock that deflected a lot of water into a sieve. The current was feeding under a large flat rock that I thought was part of the shore. Bouncing over the shallow spot lifted my bow, and my RPM’s tail caught enough current to squirt me against the large flat rock. The stern then settled into the sieve, and I was stuck! It didn’t feel too stable, but at least I was heads-up. My boat was pinned at about a 45-degree angle against the flat rock with the current pushing back into what I still didn’t know was a sieve.

            I tossed my paddle onto the flat rock. I decided, rather than pop my sprayskirt and risk folding my boat or flipping into a heads-down pin, I’d wait for the other people in my party to help me. Within seconds I found that the situation was more precarious than I thought! The boat began to settle, then got sucked into the sieve. I’m not clear what happened next because I was under water and a rock, but I remember feeling tightly wedged in my boat with a lot of water pushing me into rock.

            I started to push against he current with all my might. When nothing happened I thought about my nine month-old daughter and how much I wanted to see her again. The boat moved a little, and my upper body eased into the main current flowing through the sieve. This current sucked me most of the way out of my boat. I would have come out faster except for a knee brace I’ve worn since surgery last spring. I’d pulled the thigh braces out of my kayak to make it easier to get in and out, but it still hung up somewhere. So now I was caught by the knee, underwater, in the dark. But after a little wriggling  my  knee came free at last. I was moving! It was dark and for the first time I wondered how much longer I could hold my breath. Then I saw a little patch of yellow and began to swim for it. Was I pleased when I popped to the surface!

Source: Chris Bell, posting to

Analysis: ( Bell ) 1.Low volume scooped sterns like the RPM’S are really fun but significantly increase the risk of stern pins. In my Freefall or Gradient, I probably would have bumped right over that ridge of rock and never known what was below the water’s surface. This isn’t “blaming the boat,” but I needed a creek boat for running that twisting slot.

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