2017-10-10 Sea Kayaking Cornwall Incident Management – Day 2

Funky Chaos

Having set various alarms the night before, I found I didn’t need them. I had been awake since about 5 o’clock. My head was throbbing and I really wasn’t feeling good. I manage a small bowl of muesli for breakfast and headed up to the marquee for day 2 of Incident Management Training.

To be totally honest I  really cannot remember exactly what happened in the marquee. I remember Chris Reed needing help manoeuvring his REED Chillcheater trailer/shop up to his camper van. But after that, I think we recapped the day before’s lectures; I am really not sure. In fact we must have done, as I do remember Jeff Allen handling out the incident management Leadership through Crisis document at the end of the classroom session.

Anyway after that, we went off to Portreath on Cornwall’s north coast. I followed the crowd into the one pound per hour car park, which was a mistake as there was plenty of parking on the street. I also was short of change and the machine was coins only.

A gloomy looking Portreath
A gloomy looking Portreath

On the beach we waited for the group to assemble. I have to say in the gloomy weather Portreath looked very grey and gloomy indeed. I suspect it is one of those places that is totally transformed when sunny. Would I, could I, want to live here? No probably not.


We took turns surfing in pairs; whilst one surfed the other directed the surfer using signals from the beach. Then we headed around the coast with Jeff setting up various incidents along the way. The sea was fairly bouncy with a nice swell and wind.

Rescues - photo doesn't show the swell coming through
Rescues – photo doesn’t show the swell coming through

Later on I took a swim whilst trying to manoeuvre into a protected gully. I was caught out badly when some swell came though. I remember seeing the swell building towards me, but then I heard shouts of “Bow up”, “Bow up” and I hesitated thinking its all very well shouting “Bow up” but there is a f’ing rock in front of me! Then as the wave came over the rock, I accelerated and tried to straighten, or I should say I tried to (a weak pathetic effort), the wave broke on me and I was well and truly caught out and capsized. I tried to roll but I was already out of my seat, doh! In the water I tried to grab my boat, but there was once again lots of shouting, “do this”, “do this” etc etc…  but I was now getting hit by subsequent swells. I was getting very frustrated at the shouting. For me all I wanted to do was to pick up the pieces, sort myself out and carry on. But from the shouting this was not going to happen and eventually I had to become a victim. It seemed to me the rescuers were flapping far more than I was. In the end I had to let my boat go to the fate of the rocks, and eventually Jeff got me onto the back of his boat and onto a rock, from where I was able to clamber back into my boat. The Sea gods had been kind to my boat, with no holes and maybe a scratch or two to the gel coat. I was very pissed off though, not so much about the swim, but at my naff paddling and the way the incident occurred and was subsequently dealt with. Later I heard my swim being described as a bad swim. Hmmm… I guess it wasn’t ideal. As for me I had no bruises, not even a scratch. I guess I was lucky.

Group mayhem in the swell
Group mayhem in the swell

Thinking back over this incident, as I have many time since, I know I was not paddling at all well, but then I know I wasn’t at all well. So I guess I was an incident waiting to happen. My will to carry on far outweighed my abilities on the day. Something to remember not only for myself, but for when leading groups. There could well be someone in your group who is in the same situation. An incident waiting to happen. I suppose I should mention we had discussed in the classroom sessions, the Chimp paradox, from which and I could draw lots of references to the incident above. But to be honest I am still not entirely sure I like this terminology “inner chimp”. If it works for you then great, but for me I need to read the book. Perhaps then I will accept its concepts.

Now you see me now you don't swell
Now you see me now you don’t swell

After this, I stayed with the group bobbing up and down with the swell, trying to maintain my position, with the wind and swell pushing the groups across the bay. Jeff had decided to jump onto  a rock and to get others on there with him. But at this point there was lots of mayhem, with too many boats in close proximity to the rocks. Subsequently, there was much banging of boats every time the swell came through. I found myself a less congested spot and stayed out of the way. Speaking with some of the coaches it was clear they too were not entirely sure what was happening. It was not long after this I started being sick again. So I had a word with one of the coaches and we headed back to Portreath.

OK -So what's happening now...
OK -So what’s happening now…

Having loaded my boat back on the van, whilst being sick every now and again, I eventually managed to get some change and get out of the car park. At least I was able to get rid off my soon to be ex-legal tender old £1 coins I’d been given as change. It took me 2.5 hours to get back to the campsite. I really wasn’t feeling well, took a few wrong turns and had to keep stopping for “Hughie and Ralph”. Back at the campsite I phoned home and went to bed. I think at this point I had already decided not to carry on. I just had to let it sink in and accept the fact that I really wasn’t well enough to continue. Not only that, I realised that if I did force myself to continue, I would be putting others at risk. The next morning, as I was still no better, I found Jeff to let him know I was dropping out and heading home.

Interesting colours
Interesting colours

The drive home on Wednesday was ok, I think. Truth is apart from stopping in Exeter I don’t really remember much about the drive. I stayed with the lorries and took it easy. I also made other stops at other services, but they seem to have morphed into a general blur. As for going through Bristol on the M5 nothing, Birmingham M42 errr nothing… It was good to get home. Thursday I thought I would get my kit sorted out, but it didn’t happen. I slept pretty much all day. By Friday I was feeling much better and dealt with my by now very smelly kit. Typical, a week off and I am ill! And it had to be this week of all weeks!

Incident Management must be a really hard topic to teach. As kayakers we all practice avoidance, to ensure we do not get into any nasty incidents. But on an Incident management course you have to switch off all that avoidance training and actually create incidents. The only way to learn to deal with incidents is by practicing them and being prepared for them. As Jeff Allen says “Neptune can and will throw you an occasional swerve ball. If you are not prepared, you and your group will be left vulnerable, and potentially unable to deal with serious situations as they unfold”.

Many Thanks to Jeff Allen and his many helpers at Sea Kayaking Cornwall.

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