Monday, March 30, 2015

Sunday Afternoon Paddle - And a Visit From The Water Rescue Team

I finally managed to take advantage of the warm weather and get out for a paddle on the South Saskatchewan River yesterday afternoon. The air temperature was a high of 11°C (cooler on the water I expect) and there was a fair south breeze as a headwind for the first half of the distance I paddled. The water was ice cold, literally since I was paddling among chunks of ice. Most of the river was ice-free (excepting many small bits and occasional larger chunks) in the section that I paddled since the weir breaks up the ice.

View upriver shortly after launching.

As I set out, I was passed on the river by a fellow in a kayak (Dagger Alchemy 14) wearing only a tank top & combat pants - no PFD, no wet suit, no protection from the water of any sort. He had launched a few hundred metres farther downriver from me. I launched at the north end of the city and paddled upriver towards the weir.

Fellow paddler visible along the on-shore ice across the river. 

View upriver while underway.

It is still March, after all.

As I approached the area downriver of the railroad bridge and the weir, there were suddenly a huge number of sirens all around. I was across the river and noticed firetrucks at the weir on the west side, then driving slowly along the road on that side of the river (Spadina). I paddled across to see what the fuss was and was hailed by fire-folk in drysuits. They told me they had a report of a kayaker in the water in distress and asked if I'd seen a blue-green kayak or paddler - someone spotted something as they were driving over a bridge and called 911.

The only person I'd seen was the fellow who went past me in the blue kayak - but he was still in his kayak since I could see him just upriver a couple hundred meters from me. They launched their water-rescue boat just upriver from where I was and roared off downriver to look for the person in distress. Meanwhile I hailed the other paddler and asked if he'd seen anyone else in or on the water (he hadn't). We then paddled together back toward the place I had launched, and I also gently advised him on more appropriate paddling attire. I told him that if nothing else please wear a PFD to make the body recovery much easier for the rescue folks. As we paddled back the rescue team pulled up on their return upriver to again ask us if we'd "seen any bodies". We hadn't.

My theory is that someone saw a floating chunk of ice in the river which could have had a blue-green look and could have been kayak shaped. Maybe they linked that with the fellow in the blue kayak and thought that he ended up in the water. It's not a very good theory, but I'm not sure what else might have happened.

At the end of my paddle I did a roll and even went for a swim. I can confirm that the water is very cold, and the drysuit works very well. Drysuits cost a fair bit, but they are a great investment in comfort and safety. A used or clearance drysuit can be a great way to greatly enhance your safety on the water and to extend your safe paddling season.

Nice day for a swim, as long as you are wearing a drysuit and plenty of insulating layers. 
By the way, here is what I wore for my paddle. I was warm above the water (not hot) and comfortable in the water for several minutes.

Here is a Google Earth estimation of my paddle. 6.5 km paddled. The weir is marked at the south end (bottom) of the image. You can see where I looped back to chat with the firefighters hailing me from shore, and where I paddled back to join up with the fellow in the blue kayak.

Fairly approximate representation of my paddle path. The blue dots represent the very approximate path of the fellow in the blue kayak.