Sunday, March 30, 2008

Toggle Maddness

After my British Canoe Union three star training I returned home a disciple and started to preach the words of wisdom as given to me by BCU coaches Shawna Franklin and Leon Somme'.

Imagine my disappointment when people ignored those enlightened words. Turns out most people find the self righteous to be bores.

The, “words of wisdom”, were fine but I'm no Leon and certainly no Shawna. And while my ego was coming to grips with my inability to pass on all this wonderful knowledge reality jumped up and snatched a tiny bit of my knuckle right from the end of my left ring finger. Ouch!

Leon and Shawna had advised me to cut the looped grab lines and toggles hanging from the ends of my kayak and tie the toggle on with a single line. The reason being if you come out of your boat in rough water, such as surf, and the kayak starts to spin or “window shade,” your hand or fingers won't be entrapped in an ever tightening loop of line; if as a last resort you've grasped the grab line. Wise words which I followed.

Alas my friends choose to ignore this advice. Then one day while carrying a friends kayak up a log strewn beach, I had the stern my friend the bow. Neither of us were carrying the kayak by the grab lines, however when my friend stumbled the kayak started to slip from my grasp.

Instinctively my hand went for the grab line, my finger through the loop, and as the kayak fell the finger was trapped and crushed by the ever tightening line. The unladen kayak only dropped about two feet but the fall was enough to knock a chip off the finial knuckle of my left hand ring finger.

After I calmed down. It occurred to me that maybe the message was being delivered to the wrong group. Instead of telling kayakers to cut these looped grab lines why not ask manufactures not to install them in the first place.

Using the kayak chat line Paddlewise I asked for feed back from kayakers who had been injured by these lines. Within a week I'd had 14 responses. Three were on topic the rest were admonishments not to carry your kayak by the end grab lines. As they like to say on American TV, "Well duh!"

Here's one account from an instructor:

I am an ACA instructor and to be honest, when I first heard about being careful not to get your fingers caught inside the loop, I thought it was just another “over the top” concern of kayak instructors who have a tendency to over analyze everything. However, one time I was out with another instructor practicing rescues in 3 – 4 foot chop on Lake Michigan.
I made the mistake of letting my fingers get in the loop… the boat jerked around and my finger was caught…nothing serious happened, but boy did it bring home the point that other’s had made.”

This is from a renowned guide who leads trips on the west coast of Vancouver Island, the Galapagos and South East Asia.

“I broke my left middle finger by holding on to the grab loop of a surf kayak in good sized January surf 10 years ago at Jordan River on Vancouver Island, BC. I did exactly what my guide had told me not to do - try to hold onto the kayak! The last phalangeal bone was broken into 3 pieces which had to be pinned together.”

Finally John Kirk Anderson from New Zealand supplied a detailed incident report he'd written about a kayak who was caught in an off shore wind and large surf.

“he awoke in the Emergency Department of Christchurch Hospital. He remained in the hospital overnight for observation, and apart from hypothermia he lost some skin from between the fingers of one hand, caused by holding onto the bow toggle. This wound, which he didn't notice at the time, involved the web between the index and middle finger's and one week later was still very raw.”

The British Canoe Union Handbook, 1981 edition, on page 111 states, .... "Adapting equipment is not difficult and both instructors and manufacturers will be keen to advise and help you. There are two particular traps with regard to safety. One is to beware of loops through the ends of boats. They can crush fingers if the boat spins whilst you are holding on.”

Twenty seven years have past since those words were written. Yet kayakers can still get their fingers trapped. Instead of telling people to change the loops would it not be easier if the manufactures simply stopped adding them in the first place. There are only a few manufactures but tens of thousands of kayakers. It's human nature to look upon our new purchases as perfect. Telling the new kayaker that they should cut something off their perfect boat may in fact be futile.

Twenty seven years ago no one would think that identifying a problem then failing to adequately correct it would be a problem. That is why we now have risk assessment management. Simply stated it works like this...This practice is a risk to my kayak manufacturing business. Some one could sue and I'd loose my company. So I will stop adding looped lines to the ends of my kayaks. If we don't make this change it's only a matter of time before some nefarious characters launch a suit.

Paddle Canada prefers to influence paddlers one at a time. Ah, 100's of manufactures, thousands of paddlers, that's the work hard rather then smart approach.

The Trade Association of Paddle Sports (TAPS),the good people behind the excellent West Coast Sea Kayak Symposium held in Port Townsend every September, promised to discuss the issue amongst the members, but where not optimistic.

Cautiously they pointed to the long hard struggle to get kayak manufactures to add deck lines. In fact that struggle goes on as there are still manufactures who do not do this.

The British Canoe Union/North America wanted a short account of my discoveries and musings for publication in a coaches newsletter. The account must be gathering dust in some in basket.

If you are so inclined you can simply cut the loop. Tie a figure of eight knot in one end of the line so it won't pull through the hole in the kayak. Then tie a second knot and let it slip inside the toggle.

Or if the loop is long enough you may be able to whip the line together with waxed or nylon thread. Doing it this way means your bow toggle will set up a neat tattoo on the hull when you're surfing waves. Very cool.

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