Thursday, July 22, 2010

Watch Out for That ___ !

I've seen this neat trick, where a person gets into a kayak on an elevated dock, and slides it into the water.  It seems like a really fast way to get a boat into the water, and maybe the only way off of a dock more then a few feet up.

Today I volunteered at The Downtown Boat House, a volunteer based organization that helps people build a connection with the river by offering free kayaking.

As I arrived in my boat the woman working the dock called out to me “Hey Dov!” and set me to work helping people get into and out of the sit-on-top kayaks.

I gave people assistance by holding their boats, providing them kayaking instructions, and giving them the rules.  The principal rule was that they must stay upstream of the dock for fear that they would get caught up in the current.  This almost never happens.

People were there to have fun, and when people gather to have fun, they're usually friendly.  One tall quiet fellow and a little boy in his company were there to get into a tandem kayak.  I sat the little boy in the front and then the big guy in the back.

“Have you been kayaking before?”

In a soft voice “no.”  Gentle grin.

I gave him the usual list of rules which I followed with “Paddle on the opposite side you want to go.  To go right, paddle on the left side and to go left paddle on the right side.  To stop, paddle backwards.”  He didn't seem sure of himself.  Maybe he didn't know right and left so I tried explaining it to him again only this time instead of saying right and left I pointed and said “this side” and “that side” .

I pushed him off as I do everybody.

His paddling was timid as though the water needed to be handled very softly.  Soon the current was rushing him under the bridge that connected the floating dock to Riverside Park.  People were shouting out to him which side of the boat he needed to paddle on in order to get away.  Unfortunately as the current whisked him along he was to close to the sea wall to put the paddle in the water, and perhaps it seemed wrong to him to use the paddle to push against the wall directly.

Not losing a moment, I moved my life jacket and spray skirt aside and sat in my boat attempting to launch it off the low dock while I was sitting in it to be away as fast as I could.  This didn't work.  I had to put my hands down on either side of kayak to lift my weight off the boat and try to shift the whole thing back a very little bit at at time.

After my failed attempt at fast and cool, I was off as quick as I could be to catch up with the tandem kayak as it rapidly slipped away, neither of the passengers able to bring it under control.  Finally I caught up with them.  I instructed them calmly as we both floated downstream boats side by side.

Finally, my words started getting through to them and, with a little nudging of their bow from my paddle, they were making steady progress against the current in the right direction.  I stayed with them for a bit and then, convinced that they had got it,  moved ahead on my own with the intention of getting back to my previous work.

Then the spectators started screaming at me.  Without processing the content of the shouts, which where probably not complimentary, I twisted my head around to see what had become of the pair.  Somehow, their boat had become turned around and was now facing the wrong direction.  They seemed completely helpless to do anything at all as they where once again in the grip of the river.

As quickly as I could I was back around and tying the rope I keep attached to the front of my boat for just such occasions to the front of the tandem.  I towed them back and one of the other volunteers helped them to the dock.

It was good that there were other experienced action people there aside from myself.  Had I not been in the water, one of the other volunteers would have been there in my place and was in fact only a moment behind me in a boat of her own.

The man apologized to me for the commotion he created.  He seemed to me to have a gentle soul that was not ready for the vigors of playing in the Hudson.

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