Kayak silhouetted on river mist


River Ramblings

Cold-Weather Rowing and Paddling

When we move into the annual Cold Season there is no reason to give up paddling - winter is another season in which to enjoy our river's many moods - but it does call for more preparation and forethought. The lowered temperatures of both air and water leave much less room for error.

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Columbia River water temperatures near Wenatchee during the winter months are typically 45 degrees F or below. The period of time that a person has available for rescue when immersed in water this cold is 30 minutes or less before hypothermia causes immobility. This calls for increased precautions on the River during the winter months.

Wear a PFD!
While some object to wearing a Personal Flotation Device, particularly when rowing, it can make the difference between survival and drowning in a cold water capsize. A PFD keeps your head above water, allowing you to concentrate on getting back into your boat or making it to shore on your own.

Do NOT wear cotton clothing!
Try this experiment: collect three socks, one each made from cotton, wool, and synthetic fiber. Weigh each when dry. Dunk them in water and allow them to drain. Now weigh them. Which gained the most weight by percentage? Touch them. Which feels coolest? Warmest? Which do you think would provide you with the best protection in a cold, wet environment?

Strength in numbers
For wintertime paddling, three is the minimum safe number of boats. If one boat were to capsize, two would be available to assist the victim(s). If the victim was unable to get back in his or her boat, one of the remaining two could guide the victim to shore while the other would collect the capsized boat and gear and pull or carry them to shore. The group should stick together at all times so that emergencies can be quickly recognized and acted upon.

Safety Gear
Equipment that should be standard year-round becomes imperative in the winter environment. In addition the PFD mentioned above, they are:

  1. Whistle - used by someone in distress to alert other paddlers, and should be attached to your PFD and easily accessible. While the old standard "referee's whistle" is inexpensive, is has limited sound projection capability. Survival whistles are designed for higher performance and are not that much more expensive.
  2. Water rescue throw line - used to assist a capsized paddler or to tow an abandoned boat to shore.
  3. Space blanket - inexpensive and compact, it uses a reflective liner to redirect infrared energy back to the body. It is also wind- and waterproof, and could be a life-saving permanent addition to your boat kit.
  4. Cell phone - enclosed in a waterproof container, used to contact rescuers in an emergency. Even better is one having a GPS capability so that you can give accurate location coordinates to rescuers.


Have a plan
Frequently ask yourself, "What would I do if I or one of my companions capsized here?" Think of your distance from shore, wind and water conditions, and location of the nearest assistance. How long would it take to get out of the water? To get to a place where treatment for hypothermia could take place?

What if???
Get the victim out of the water as quickly as possible. Water has higher thermal conductivity than air, so submersion is water chills a victim much faster than does air of a comparable temperature.

Once safe on land, assess the victim's condition. Is he conscious? Is she able to walk? Are you within walking distance of the Lindston Barn? Walking helps the body to generate heat. Paddling back to the dock is discouraged; since the chilled victim will now more susceptible to a repeat capsize.

There is a hypothermia kit in the curtained-off changing room on the second floor of the Barn. It contains towels, warm clothing, a space blanket, heat packs, and a chart describing hypothermia symptoms and treatments. All wet clothing should be removed and replaced with dry clothing before transport to a warmer environment. Shivering is a good sign - it’s the body's natural response to cold, and uses involuntary muscle activity to generate heat. If shivering stops, the patient requires medical attention ASAP.

If out of walking range of the Barn, or the victim is not ambulatory, you need assistance. If the victim is ambulatory and can reach a road, call a dependable friend who lives close by to come and get you. If you can't reach a friend quickly, or if the victim is not ambulatory, use your cellphone to call 911. Be prepared to give the dispatcher a brief description of what happened, the victim's physical condition as best you can determine, and your location (here's where the GPS function comes in - exact latitude and longitude greatly speeds up the search process).

Keep the now-patient insulated from the ground and air with whatever is available - clothing, grass, leaves, cardboard - anything to slow additional heat loss. Do not remove the patient's clothing in the field. Even wet, if it's not cotton, it will provide some protection.

A body loses heat through three mechanisms - Conduction, Convection, and Radiation.

  1. Conduction is the transfer of heat through direct contact of a warmer surface with a cooler surface. Put insulation between the patient and the ground.
  2. Convection is the transfer of heat from a warm surface to cooler surrounding air - the basis of Wind Chill ratings. Get the patient out of the wind and/or into a windproof cover.
  3. Radiation is heat loss through infrared radiation from a body into space. A space blanket addresses both the Convection and Radiation problems


After the patient has been treated and is safe, the Club requests that a member of the party complete an Incident Report, found in https://www.wenatcheepaddle.org/documents/HandbookandSafetyPolicy.pdf, while participants' memories are still fresh. Submit the completed report to the WRPC Board. The purpose of an incident report is not to assign blame, but for the Club to use as an informational tool for improving policies and procedures related to safety on the water.

Your comments, corrections and suggestions are welcome. Please address them to Info@WenatcheePaddle.org.

Happy Rowing and Paddling!

For further reading

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Tom Cushing
Winter 2017-18


A Different Columbia This Spring?

I have been a regular paddler on the Columbia River for a dozen years, but paddling conditions this spring have raised the bar on challenges. With reservoir level lower at Rock Island Dam, the current is much faster. Typically in the spring, the water is up in to the trees, and unless it is extremely high it is not a big deal to experienced paddlers. Recently I got a taste of what it is going to be like this year, when low reservoir level coincides with higher flows.

On April 19 the river was up a bit into the trees at the Boat Barn. At the dock, the river was going by faster than I had ever seen it, though it was only modestly high. Eric thorson and I headed up river, he in a sea kayak and me in a sixteen foot Wenonah Advantage solo canoe. Approaching Walla Walla Point, I shifted paddling position from sitting to the more stable kneeling position. The incline at the point could clearly be seen and the water was fairly well ripping by. With a burst of effort we managed to paddle around the first point with the boats close to the bank, and duck into the refuge of the eddy. A short ways further we encountered the concrete fishing platform. The water was not quite cresting it on the upstream side. Eric did the smart thing and paddled thirty feet away from the shore, where the speed of the current is a little less. I took crossing the eddy-line and powering up the fast water as a challenge, which turned out to be foolish.

No sooner had my bow crossed the line, than I found myself with the canoe leaned up on edge and water surging over the gunwale. I had leaned the boat downstream before crossing the eddy line and dug my paddle in, which is the only reason I did not capsize. For several moments the boat and I hung on edge. Eric had a view of the bottom of the hull. I was working hard to right the boat by drawing the paddle toward me in a high brace. Suddenly I gained the upper hand, and the boat careened over the other way. I nearly capsized a second time, but made a last minute save by laying the paddle flat on the water and pressing my weight on it in a low brace. A bit un-nerved I went to shore and emptied out the water. Returning to the task of getting past the fishing platform, I followed Eric's example staying well to the outside and made it.

It's going to be an exciting year for paddling, but one that requires more caution. We need to expect the un-expected.


John Marshall
April 19, 2014

Oh No! Collision!!

These we want to avoid. I know because I have had two of them - three actually - over the course of about 25 years rowing single shells here in the Wenatchee area.

In the first one I t-boned a fishing boat up near the confluence launch. It did not occur to the guy in the fishing boat to yell a warning until I was just a few feet away. And it did not occur to me to look behind me until then either. The bow ball on the rowing shell kept both boats from damage but it was certainly startling and I have made a habit of keeping an eye out in the vicinity of launch ramps since then.

Some time later I was rowing up the side of the river between the confluence and the swim area and was suddenly in a collision with another single rowing shell coming down the side of the river. This was pretty bad. The other rower's oar struck me in the kidney area and broke part of the rigger on the boat. I was able to limp back down the river but I had considerable pain for a long time and favored that side of my body for about a year. This event caused me to think we should have a traffic pattern: row up the side of the river and down the middle. Many clubs have strict rules about traffic patterns to avoid this kind of thing. Also, we should not assume there is no one there. We should periodically check.

The latest, and I hope, last collision I have experienced occurred on a rather cold day this winter when I assumed I was alone on the river. (You know what they say about assumptions.) I was coming back down the river and was passing Walla Walla Point when suddenly I was colliding with another boat. It turned out to be the "four", i.e. the four man rowing shell which, that day, did not have a coxswain. Their bowman had actually seen me coming down the river but then neglected to keep track of me as they proceeded up the river while I was coming down. I had not stopped to check.

At this point I might mention that some of us older rower types have a lot of trouble turning around enough to scan the area ahead of the boat. We don't have that kind of flexibility so we have to stop and turn the boat to see ahead, but so be it.

Anyway, the big boat's oar hit my bow and my oar hit theirs. The damage was not serious and we did not capsize but it could have been much worse.
Again a traffic pattern up the side and down the middle and/or keeping an eye out would have avoided the collision.


Larry Tobiska

February 14, 2014

Ed. note: Perhaps an eyeglass bicycle mirror might help?


Nothing Beats Tuesday

Season in and season out there is a group of dedicated paddlers who meet each and every Tuesday for some shared time on the Columbia River here in the Wenatchee area. This is year number three or four or ... well, time doesn't really matter ... the group has been meeting up for awhile now!

Our personalities are as diverse as the colors of our boats and yet we have so
much in common.

The routine of getting gear organized and boats to the river can be a bit hurried and hectic and yet we enjoy every minute of it. Once booty and boat connect, we leave it all at the dock and life just slows down. It becomes a laid-back, go-with-the-flow type of a morning.

A member's request for paddling partners when she joined the club was the origin for this weekly adventure. The need of a support group, with the goal of slowing down to a pace that works for each individual, was addressed. I think we were a mere three boats that first time out. Now, during the warmer months of summer, we might be as many as 10. Nothing is routine or typical, always there is variation in the mix of people, the weather and river conditions and the focus of the day. Photography, bird watching, technique talk and simple socializing are a few common elements.

Once a year, usually in August, we fold a picnic into the day's paddle. With our lunches safely stowed and a paddle board in tow, we head upriver to our designated beach. This also is our annual practice of wet exits and re-entries. We experiment with different strategies and reward ourselves with good food and just plain play time, trying out each other's boats and soaking in that unique warmth that only sun on sand can create.

The bug to load boats on cars and find a different body of water to paddle on bites us periodically. It's a smart option when the spring runoff can be intimidating. Lake Chelan, Lake Wenatchee, Big Bow Pond in Rock Island and Lincoln Rock Park are always good alternatives. We don't necessarily limit ourselves to day trips. Currently there is discussion of a summer kayak camping trip on the upper part of Lake Chelan being tossed around. Last November, six of us joined up for a fabulous 10-day paddling trip in Mexico, circumnavigating Santo Espiritu Island, which is located off the Mexican State of Baha California Sur.

Being on the river can churn up some creative ideas that transpire into meaningful life experiences. Being on the river in a group can foster friendships that might not otherwise have a chance to sprout. If words can describe us, this is the Tuesday paddle group and everyone is welcome. We paddle year round, we paddle for ourselves and we paddle for each other.


Kim George

March 19, 2013


The Little Duck Story

One morning in the early summer, I was sculling up the Columbia River along the West shore just above the confluence of the Wenatchee and Columbia Rivers. It was a storybook morning with calm conditions and golden light of the new sun on the river. Geese and ducks swam cautiously away or occasionally took to flight as I approached. I felt I was part of the scene as the craft responded to my pull on the oars.

Moving along about fifty feet from the shore I noticed a duck that seemed to swim away and then dive beneath the surface. As I approached, the duck reappeared and again seemed to dive; but something was wrong. The duck appeared to be tangled in something and as the rowing shell passed by, the sunlight reflected from a thin line running from the beak of the duck to the water.

The creature was somehow caught on a fishing line. It was in serious trouble. It was instantly clear that if help was not provided the young creature was doomed.

The situation was immediately difficult, however, because the rowing shell was narrow and I knew that if I did not hold both oars the boat would capsize. I was also afraid that the duck would drown if I approached it. The problem was to manage the tipsy boat in the current of the river, pick up the duck, disentangle it and release it without capsizing. To ignore the problem would be to allow the unfortunate animal to cruelly drown.

Approaching the duck by backing the boat downstream, I saw the duck disappear repeatedly and bob back to the surface. The boat moved directly over where the duck last dove and I heard a bump on the underside of the boat.

Holding both oars with one hand, I reached around and found the wet feathers of the duck and brought it up. As I did so I saw in horror that the fishing line not only wrapped around the duck, it went through its bill and a large fishing hook was caught on part of its webbed foot which was torn from its struggles.

Suddenly the line tightened and squeezed the duck as if to cut through it. I realized that as the boat drifted downstream the line was tightening around the desperate bird because the line was caught on the bottom of the river. The duck was being constricted and dragged out of the boat and back into the river.

Quickly, I rowed a few strokes upstream and attempted to maintain my position off the bank and over the place where the line was embedded while I tried to disentangle the struggling young duck. I lifted it and bit the fishing line with my teeth while holding the boat steady with one hand on both oars.

Finally I was able to bite through the line. Now the duck lay wrapped in the line and temporarily exhausted on the bottom of the boat. Hastily, I rowed toward shore and lowered one leg to the bottom so the boat was stable and both hands were available.

Then I could see how totally impossible the predicament of the hapless creature was without help. The strong, nearly invisible line, trussed the animal completely, passing around and through its bill, around its wings and legs and ended in the barbed rusty hook caught in its foot. As I unthreaded the line from its bill, the head and neck straightened up and the duck regarded its savior with fear and doubt from one eye. But as the line was released from the rest of its body and the grotesque hook was removed, the creature seemed to relax.

I held the small duck down to the water and it began to run across the water, flapping its wings. It still had the strength to survive. It was free to live again and it did not stop moving until it reached the other side of the river.

I began to row again. I reached the bridge pier which was my turning point and came back down the middle of the river across which the duck had flown. I felt that I had been given a special gift. I had been permitted to contribute to the beauty of the morning.


Larry Tobiska

Sept 9, 2012


Rowing in Current

The Columbia River moves. This bothers rowers who are accustomed to rowing in lakes or other waters that have little or no current; but with care and some practice, current is not only manageable but can be a real help in getting where you want to go.

Three Early Morning Scullers on the Columbia River

A single scull will move at a speed of six to 10 miles per hour and the top racing crews can move a boat at up to 15 miles per hour. So you have the capacity of handling a lot of current and still keep moving forward. Your blades simply need to move faster through the water than the current is moving past your boat to make progress.

One aspect of currents is the unexpected eddy line or current line encountered while rowing going backwards. Here the trick is to expect it and approach it in a manner that is most manageable. So experience with the portion of the river on which you are traveling is best; and, if you don't have such experience and are approaching an area with a current line (eddy line) swing around and study it before crossing it.

Eddies can be a big help. By "eddy" I mean a place where the normal current has slowed a lot or actually swirled around to be opposite of the downstream flow. There may be an eddy both upstream and downstream from a point. This is true at Walla Walla Point. Going up the river, you can use the eddy downstream from the point to get you partly around the point, row strongly to get around and then slip into the eddy that is above the point to help carry you on up the river. Upstream current or reduced current is found at numerous other places as well.

In any case if a person is unexpectedly moved in a direction not intended and the boat feels unstable, feather the oars and let them rest on the surface. They are tremendous braces and you will be very safe just going with the current until you can turn into it and recommence rowing with strength.

Hugging the shore while going up river is a virtue because it gets you out of most of the current. The downstream trip can be in the midst of the current where you take advantage of its power to move you along at a great rate.

Another way to use the current is to "ferry" across the river with the help of the current. This is done by simply pointing at about a 45 degree angle upstream and towards the shore to which you want to go. You may make little or no progress upstream in this attitude but the current will vector you across the river anyway.

In short, rowing on the Columbia is fun and the current actually makes it more interesting. It is safe as long as you keep both oars under control and work a bit at getting to know the river. Never let go of one of the oars and use the current to your advantage whenever possible.


Larry Tobiska

June 30, 2012