Near Miss at a Strainer on the Oconto River, WI
On April 14th a paddler was pinned in a strainer on on the North Branch Oconto River, WI. It happened where the river splits into two channels about 300 yards above a rapid know as S-turn near the Bagley Rapid Campground, which is the normal put in for the "short Bagley rapid section of Oconto". The river splits is shown below on a screen shot of google maps. Water levels were high. The air temp was in the high 30s & low 40s and there was about 6 to 8 inches of snow cover on the ground. The river was mostly clear of ice in moving water areas, but some flat water had ice.
Here is a description from Jay Stahl, the pinned paddler
We were a group of 7 paddlers near the end of 7 mile paddle and I was a bit cold and tired.I was paddling third.
At lower water, the river right channel is full of wood and basically not passable, as can be seen from google Maps sat. view, but at the level we paddled the channel was mostly clear except for one river wide strainer further down the channel; most of the,the strainers seen on on google maps were submerged.
The strainer itself is depicted in the video, so I will avoid a long description and let the video do the talking.. Sandra and Jeff say they noticed the strainers and chose the left, but I did not notice the strainers until the time at the start of the video, but had already gone 50 yards down the .channel.
I was considering a portage around the strainer since attainment seemed difficult given the current, and it was pretty cold. Jim Johnson came down behind me and decided to cross the strainer, and it was successful crossing. When I attempted to cross the the river wide strainer, I got stuck on the log, the stern of my boat caught the current and I flipped. I was driven down stream upside down into a large brush pile. I pulled my spray skirt and escaped by climbing out the middle of the strainer.
Dave Hiller and Brian Wathen saw me flip. Bryan and Dave Hiller rushed in to the area for a rescue. When I was upside down entering the strainer, I was not so sure I would make it out alive. Dave Hiller told me a few weeks later, that he, "was not optimistic we would have a positive outcome when my boat capsized." Bryan said he had a rush of Adrenalin and went for the rescue. From the video, I looks like I was under water for about 2.5 seconds, I did not attempt to roll and needed three attempts to pull my cheap neoprene snap dragon skirt, because of an air pocket pushing into my cockpit. My paddle flushed through the strainer.
The right bank of the right channel was a steep rocky slope that rose 30 ft above the water, making rescue and boat recovery difficult. A 2" branch had gotten inside the bow of my boat and up against the bulk head. It took 4 of us about 40 minutes to unpin the boat.
I paddled the rest of the day and paddled section 3 of the wolf at 1300 the next day. I did swim Gilmore\'s and very not very confident for the rest of the trip in general.
First off, I have tried to make some jokes about what happened, but I really feel terrible about the incident for the following reasons:
1) I knew better and went in there when I was planning and attainment of a portage to avoid the situation, but ultimately I made the decision to go near that strainer.
2) I put Bryan Wathen and Dave Hiller in a bad (hazard filled) spot because they went into a dangerous area of the river to rescue me and my boat.
3) The whole thing got into my head and it took 7 days on the water (About a Month) until I started to feel confident again. My wife and I had a long discussion about selling my gear and giving up whitewater, but we decided I should learn from the mistake an keep improving my skills. My wife still fully supports my whitewater hobby despite the incident.