Doin’ the Right Thing
Back in the late 1970s, I was a weekend safety boater for a rafting outfitter on West Virginia’s Cheat River. It was Memorial Day, and a lot of hard boaters were out. The water was low, so I volunteered to guide in a raft and spare my C-1. My friend Chip Quietzsch was boat-guiding as we entered Coliseum, which before the ’85 flood contained a nasty pinning boulder called Trap Rock. His job was to sit in an eddy by the rock and help release any rafts that pinned. We all knew it was there; I’d seen several people caught over the years, but nothing really serious.
Sitting in an upstream eddy, I heard Chip screaming for help. He’s a pretty controlled guy and doesn’t excite easily. I jumped on shore, grabbed a rescue bag, and sprinted toward his voice. About 30 yards downstream, a fairly large crowd of boaters had gathered. Pushing my way to the front, I saw that a kayaker had wrapped completely around Trap Rock no more than 30 feet from shore. Chip was standing in the downstream eddy, shoulder-deep in the water, holding the guy’s head up.
We shouted back and forth. Chip could support the guy, but couldn’t do anything else. One man in the crowd asked if he could help. I handed him my throw bag, entered the water, and swam out into the eddy. The kayaker was incoherent with pain. Chip and I talked for a minute, planning our next move. I signaled for the throw line and tied it to the far side grab loop. Then the volunteer and I, working together, slowly peeled the boat off the rock. As we did this, Chip somehow got the guy out of his kayak and into the eddy. By this time several other guides had arrived, and we used another throw line to swing ourselves and the kayaker into shore. I later learned that Chip had jumped out of his C-1 to make the rescue, letting it float downstream. We recovered it in an eddy a half-mile below.
The kayak was trashed and the kayaker was hurting, so he rode out in one of the rafts. His legs were bruised, but nothing was broken. He was able to limp over to his car under his own power, dragging the remains of his boat behind him. He owed his life to Chip’s quick thinking and to the fact that others on the scene were ready to help.
Will you be a spectator or a doer when trouble strikes? Many paddlers, like the folks in the crowd, expect others to handle rescues. But preparation is everything. As guides, Chip and I were expected to handle any problem we might encounter. With the right preparation, you can be ready too.