A couple of weeks before the ice set in, but after PBC’s winter rowing rules went into effect, senior member Nick Holland and his single had a run in with a log. Upstream without a personal flotation device (pfd), with a water temperature below 45F, Nick would be the first to tell you that he was lucky to make it back to the dock alive. Below is his story. Sharing it with you is his penance for breaking the rules.
Before we get to Nick’s story, at the bottom of this post you will find links to Hypothermia and Cold Water Immersion – Information for Rowing and Coaches and Clubs by Jane Blockley of the Leo Blockley Memorial Campaign. Leo Blockley drowned on December 29, 2000, in the River Ebro while rowing with the Oxford University Lightweight Rowing Club during winter training camp in Amposta, Spain. About fifty meters from the dock, Leo disappeared as he attempted to swim back to the boat. He was 21.
Please visit the Leo Blockley Memorial Campaign web site linked here for information that could save your life.
And now, a few words from Mr. Holland ….
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As many of you know, I had what can only be called a lucky escape a few weeks ago when my single hit a large submerged log up river near the Hens and Chicks. Had it not been for some fortuitous circumstances, I might have ended up with a very cold swim to the Virginia shore. I want to let you know what happened and hopefully draw out some valuable lessons for you all.
Following the collision, my boat was still afloat, so I elected to try to get back as close to PBC as I could. Assisted by wind and stream, I started to row with one eye on my bow as the boat took on water. When I could see that the bow ball was about to sink below water level, I spun the boat around and continued down river by backing down at the compressed catch position in order to keep the bow up as much as possible and to keep my weight as close to the stern as possible. As I passed Three Sisters, the water came pouring over the gunwales and I was no longer able to row.
Knowing I could get very cold and wet – or worse – I took out my feet and got as far to the back of the boat as possible. After a second or two, I realized that maybe I could surf paddle the hull closer to PBC. I wedged my scull handles under my stomach with the blades flat to hopefully steady the boat a bit more. At that point, only my legs and lower torso were wet.
Straddling the hull with one leg on either side and lying forward on the tracks and foot stretcher, I was able to paddle the boat okay, but the wind blowing against the stern made it difficult for me to get to shore. I headed to a point up river of the Canoe Club, so that if I passed out, the wind and current might move my boat down onto the Canoe Club dock. As it turned out, I remained conscious and was able to paddle the hull all the way to the PBC dock, where some very nice people got me and my boat out of the water.
The lessons I learned are as follows:
1. It doesn’t matter how good I think I am, ACCIDENTS CAN AND WILL HAPPEN, when I least expect them.
2. DRESS APPROPRIATELY FOR THE CONDITIONS. I had on decent clothes which helped to minimize my heat loss a bit, especially the superb under armor beanie, which looks stupid, but certainly kept my head warm. Pogies kept my hands warm, but eventually they were lost in the ordeal. In retrospect, I should have had on a pfd or wetsuit, or both. I would have increased my buoyancy, retained more body heat, and bought myself a little more time should I have needed it. And you never know when you’re going to need it.
3. DON’T PANIC. Assess the situation and make a decision. Obviously, the best decision is the one that will get you out of the water and on shore soonest. My boat was still afloat and rowable for most of the time, but every situation will be different. Try to have a plan before you go out. If it comes down to saving the boat or you, just make sure you do what it takes to save yourself. You can always replace a boat.
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So, folks, once the ice has melted and those of us who simply must row – no matter what – are back on the water, please remember to follow the winter rowing rules and take basic precautions. Cold water rowing is an inherently dangerous activity. We don’t want you to do it, but if you do, don’t make us have to explain to your spouse/parents/kids that you didn’t make it back to shore because you were simply too stubborn to wear a pfd or wetsuit.