03 January 2008

Why do we paddle?

On Monday I went paddling again for the third time in three days. Some of the canoe club were up in Coniston at a camping barn to see the New Year in so we chanced a trip up there in the hope of making a descent of the Crake, which flows out of the lake, with a few of the paddlers staying up there for the festivities. We had a brief chat in the camping barn over a cup of coffee before kitting up and setting off down to where we would put on the lake. The drivers headed off to Spark Bridge to leave two cars before returning to us on the lake to head south for the mouth of the river.

Paddling across Lake Coniston to the mouth of the Crake.

Waiting for the rest of the group to catch up before setting off down the river.

We were paddling with a group of seven. Each of us had paddled the river at least once before and many of us were very experienced paddlers who have attended many courses on white water safety and rescue. We were carrying all the kit you could think of; probably too much. Most of us had throwlines as well as equipment to deal with most incidents that can occur on the river. On heading off downstream not much was said as the group had paddled together on many occasions so we knew each other's style really well. Eddy's were caught and we maintained line of sight for most of the trip. When we came to the first difficult rapid we followed the usual measures. Send a couple of the better paddlers off downstream. One eddied out half way down and got out with a line, I headed to the bottom so I could see all the way back upstream and watch each member of the group descend the rapid and be ready for anything that occurred. It all went well and we moved on.

My dad descending the first main rapid on the Crake.

We carried on downstream doing what we loved doing - being out on the water, in good company, having fun escaping from everyday life for that short period. It was all going well and nothing unexpected had occurred.

Successfully paddling the weir somewhere on the Crake.

We eventually had one paddler swim and automatically things were put in motion by the other paddlers. One paddler got the swimmer on the front of his boat and made his way to a suitable eddy to get the paddler to the bank. Meanwhile the paddle was recovered and I dealt with the boat with another member of the group. I emptied the boat upstream of the rest of the group and then made my way down with the boat on a sling held between my teeth so if anything went wrong I could easily get away from the empty boat. Things were sorted and we moved on down river doing what we loved doing - being out on the water, in good company, having fun escaping from everyday life for that short period.

Packing away after a successful rescue just above Bobbin Mill Rapids.

Then we had another swimmer, my dad this time. This wasn't the first time he had swum on the river, and that was dealt with promptly as was the previous swim. On this occasion we could not get the boat to the same side as my dad so a throwline was used to recover the boat. Whilst the equipment was being packed away from this rescue one paddler headed on down Bobbin Mill Rapids, which was just downstream to prepare some safety cover for the rest of the group. I followed on down and made my way to the eddy right at the bottom of the rapid to wait for the remainder of the group. Then it all happened again. Another swim.
My dad swam at the entrance to the rapids just below the weir, but because of where I was positioned at the bottom of the rapids I was unaware of this until I saw the boat and him swimming under the bridge half way down the rapid. There was an attempt at this point to get him out on a line, but unfortunately it just fell short. From here my dad carried on down the river bouncing off the rocks in the middle. At one point he managed to stop on these rocks, close enough for me to attempt to get him on a line. Unfortunately the line I threw missed and before I could re-throw it he had moved on downstream, in the main flow onto a submerged rock.

He was now pinned, but his head was above water and I could communicate with him whilst I tried to reorganise throwlines to get something over to him. I think it took me two attempts to get a line to him and on one occasion I got swept off downstream, but managed to regain an eddy and get back to my original position. When my dad eventually received a line I tried, on my own, to free him, but the force of the water was to much for any successful solo rescue attempt. At this point I think the force of the water caused him to collapse over the rock pinning him so now his head was under the water.

Three more of the group descended the rapids, unaware of what was really happening. I now ditched the throwline in the hope of swimming over to my dad and pulling him free. I missed on the first occasion, but manged to swim to the other side of the river, get out and try on several more occasions. At one point I managed to get myself on the rock which was pinning him and tried pulling him off. All this resulted in was his PFD and cag riding up his body. I eventually had to let go and swim to the side of the river and get out to try again. One of our group had now made his way back upstream with a rope and we now tried lowering him down to my dad. This didn't work and we repeated this over and over again until another member of the party descended the rapid and made the eddy in the middle of the river, where my boat was tethered. We now had two lines attached to a paddler and we tried lowering him down onto my dad, but the current of the water didn't let us get to him. The paddler in the water pulled their harness and swam off downstream and got out to rejoin the rescue effort.

The paddler in the middle of the river tried using the rope, now across the river as a handrail to get to my dad, but this again failed. At this point, I think, the emergency services arrived and started making their own plans whilst we still tried getting to my dad using the rope in the hope of cutting free his spraydeck, which we think was trapping him under the water. On realising this was not working we now tried floating a rope underneath him and again this failed. I now moved away from the river, as did the two other paddlers, and we let the Swift Water Rescue Team free him, which they thankfully did. From here he was flown to Furness Hospital in Barrow where they worked on him for over four hours trying to bring his core temperature up before trying to start his heart. This didn't work and unfortunately he was pronounced dead soon after.

My heartfelt thanks go out to all the Fire Services, Ambulance Crews, Police Officers, the crew of the RAF Sea King helicopter, locals of Spark Bridge, the doctors and nurses of Furness Hospital who worked continuously for four hours on my dad as well as the two paddlers, and my friends, Tony Morgan and Martin Russell who continuously jumped into the river to try and free my dad without considering the danger they were putting themselves in.
I now am really struggling to think why we go paddling? Yes it's something I loved doing, and something my dad and mum loved to do, but really can I say that anymore after what has happened and what I have seen. We both accepted the risks involved in what we did for ‘fun’ and the people we paddled with as well as ourselves always treated each others safety as a major concern. So much so that I never really expected anything like the events of New Years Eve to happen to my friends, me or my father. Unfortunately they did, but this does not mean paddling is gone from my life, like it has done for my father. He would have wanted me to carry on what I love to do and I think it may be one of the best ways in which I can come to terms with what has happened. Paddling in the past has provided me with much solace when things in other areas of my life have not gone to plan. Let’s just hope it helps when I need it the most.

Some people may think that it is weird, disrespectful or wrong of me to be so vocal in what I have written so close to the tragic events of only four days ago, but it has, in some strange way help start healing wounds, that will be left unhealed for a long time. I think it has prevented any speculation or gossip being created by imaginitive minds that may feel that in the same situation they could have done something different, when deep down, even though at times I don't think it, I know I, and everyone else involved did what they could to help a man who got into trouble doing something he always looked forward to.

He will always be with me on the river and I am sure we will meet up in an eddy somewhere one day and he’ll just ask where I’ve been and what have I've been up to. I’m sure I will have a long answer for him.

Messages of condolense can be found here and they have helped greatly in this hard time.

More pictures can be found here.

Good lines, stay safe and see you on the wet stuff...


Wenley said...

My sincere respects to your father and you, Ian.

Craig Jones said...


For what its worth I think you're an incredibly brave guy.