Trip Report Netarts Bay- An Introduction to Moving Water with OOPS
Netarts August 2, 2015
Some Netarts considerations
Netarts Bay Oregon is a great area to experience dynamic conditions in a contained environment. That said, there are a few things to keep in mind:
Tide -You cannot paddle safely with a led group on Netarts on the ebb.
Wind – Netarts, like all the coast, can get high winds. Winds can make it difficult for a group to stay together, more likely that a less-skilled paddler will capsize in already dynamic conditions, can separate swimmers from their boats and makes it difficult for leaders to communicate.
Attendee Skills – Whilst relatively safe, the water at Netarts can be very rough. Consider carefully the skill-set of attendees and how they will cope with it. Can they brace? Can they do a wet exit when unexpectedly in the water. Can they assist in a rescue safely? Even more importantly – Can you and your trip leaders cope when the answer to some or all of these is “no.” 🙂
August 2 looked like a good weekend to lead a trip for Oregon Ocean Paddling Society (OOPS). The tide was flooding all day. Wind was forecast to be reasonable 3-10 knots from the N. A flooding tide and onshore wind would mean that a paddler out of their boat would tend to be pushed inshore and not out to sea. There was a large tidal exchange which I hoped would yield interesting water.
My goals for this proposed trip would be Safety, Fun and Learning – in that order.
I contacted Charles Congdon, our Netarts trip guru, to solicit advice. Charles was kind enough to offer me his best known methods:
- Get on at low tide, get off promptly before it starts to go out again.
- Stay as close to the mouth as you can; it’s difficult to paddle back out in the current, especially if there is an onshore wind.
- Midway through the flood the sandbar floods and becomes great for advanced paddlers. Nice eddy behind it for the people with less experience.
- Easy to get separated in the current and wind.
- Beginners can get separated from their boat in an unexpected capsize; this can easily tie up at least 3 organizers just getting everyone floating again.
- Shoot for 2-3 attendees per organizer, plus an organizer or 2 free-floating looking at the global picture.
In order to help gauge attendees skill-sets, I set up a mini trip site where I asked attendees to self-assess three components that would help me plan the event:
- Can you do a roll in real-world conditions?
- Can you do a T-rescue?
- Have you any rough water experience?
Most attendees reported no or weak roll, but at least some abilities on questions 2 & 3.
One potential attendee answered negatively to all three and subsequently told me she thought she was not ready. I believe these questions helped her to make the (probably correct) decision to withdraw.
For this trip, I had two very good co-leaders: Denise Harrington who lives on the coast and paddles these waters constantly, and Jay Hutchins -a 15 year paddler with solid skills. Jay has a keen interest in paddling dynamics and strokes and loves teaching.
Interest was high for this trip from its announcement. I had twelve slots available and they filled up within hours. We maintained a waiting list and updated it over time.
With twelve people, as per Charles’ metrics and my own estimates, I would need at least 5 co-leaders (plus myself) in these conditions to keep everyone in the water safe at the same time.
I had only two and needed more. Unfortunately, I was not able to find any more co-leaders. Once it became clear it was just the three of us, I had to make a decision -cancel the trip due to inadequate number of instructors or change the plan to make it safer.
I opted to pursue the latter course – I reduced the number of attendees to ten and moreover made plans to spilt the group into two. Half would remain near shore working on strokes with Jay, whilst half would venture out with Denise and myself to the active zone. In this fashion, I felt we could keep the trip, give everyone at least some time on the water and maintain a safe ratio of instructors to students.
Revised Plan of Day
1. Assemble near Schooner, conduct safety briefing and launch together.
2. Shakedown cruise to assess attendees. Practice rescues near spit. Ensure everyone can handle themselves in and out of their boats. Paddle to Happy Camp.
3. Split group . 1/2 receive instruction near shore.
4. 1/2 move to surf zone. Groups then swap.
Narrative of Day
All ten registered paddlers showed up. One had only a 1/2 wetsuit with a loose neoprene shirt. I was just in process of telling her she could not come, when Denise produced an extra dry-suit that fit her. One paddler had an skin-on-frame F1 with no bulkheads. He had float bags, but even so, these beasts take on quite a bit of water. I requested that he not participate in rescue practices as a swimmer. Everyone else had adequate gear. We held a briefing on shore – safety rules, paddle signals introductions and plan of the day. We launched without incident and paddled to Spot 2 on map.
At this location, we practiced T-rescues. Except for the skin on frame paddler, all attendees spent time as both rescuer and rescuee. Some attendees also practiced paddling flooded boats. This is an often neglected skill. Early in my paddling career, lack of this skill led to some difficulties.
After the rescue practice, we made our way to Happy Camp. I divided the group into two based on my perception of skills. I wanted each group to have roughly the same number of more skilled and less skilled paddlers. This was not really popular as some felt that they were being left behind. I too felt bad; I wanted to give people a good time and I felt like I was letting them down a bit. Still, safety needs come first. Even with a reduced ratio of five paddlers to two instructors, we were thin, so there was really no choice.
I had earmarked two paddlers with the least experience in rougher water. I chose one and asked Denise to shadow the second. We stuck by them closely, whilst keeping our eyes on the other three as well.
Conditions were very mild and everyone had fun experiencing a bit of chop. Some of the more skilled paddlers caught a few rides on the waves (>1 foot faces).
At the beginning of the flood, small waves come into the Bay and rise up when the reach the sand bar. The seafloor slope is gentle which results in gently spilling waves. The water is quite shallow at this point. This is good in that you can literally get out of your boat and walk if you need to. It is problematic in that if you tip over, you may find yourself touching the bottom which can be disconcerting.
I briefed “my paddler” on riding waves and explained the typical dynamic – ride in straight and cope with the inevitable broach by bracing into the wave and side-surfing. I knew she probably would not be able to put this into practice, but it is good to start understanding dynamics.
She rode a wave in, surfed beautifully, then rolled over on the broach.
Unfortunately, she was not able to pull her spray-skirt. Despite having practiced earlier in the day, a real-world experience is different. The shallow water had introduced a variable we had not practiced. I had positioned myself nearby and was able to hop out of my boat and pull her skirt within seconds.
We came back in and swapped places with the group working with Jay near shore. We kept the same plan and finished without incident.
Coming back, we broke for lunch. A number of folks were getting cold, a problem with the swapping scenario which entailed people not paddling for large chunks of time.
Many folks were ready to leave after lunch. We decided to call it a day and made our way back to the put-in.
It was a successful trip, but not a great one. The dynamic water at Netarts demands a very high instructor to student ratio. We did not have that. We tried to mitigate the problem by splitting the group up. This allowed us to conduct the trip safely but resulted in some frustrated and cold attendees. I had set my goals as safety, fun & learning. We hit 1 and 3 but fell short on 2.
In times past, I was very active in club and attended many meetings etc. I do not doubt I could have buttonholed helpers. Now, I am less active day-to-day and had to rely on email. Unfortunately, I was not able to find the requisite number of helpers. I think this may point to an area of opportunity for the club in the way we handle trip leader requests.
Interestingly, while I thought the large tidal exchange would yield lumpy conditions on the bars, they turned out to be very mild. Perhaps the higher tide covered up the shoals too quickly and dampened the clapotis and confused waters. Of course, the North wind did not help either and it could have just been the configuration of the shoals that day as well.
Whilst I have described conditions at Netarts this day as mild, that is a relative term. For me, it was mild, for many on the trip, it was not. This is something to keep in mind when planning for this area. It does not take much to disorient a kayaker new to lumpy water conditions w/in a larger ocean environment.
I would lead another class here, in fact, I would like to, but only with a larger group of instructor/leaders. 6-8 helpers would not be at all excessive for a class of twelve. That does introduce high overhead for a class of this sort
Some nice feedback from attendees 🙂
- Thanks everyone! I enjoyed the day and appreciate these trips. Yay oops. Yay great trip leaders.
- Thanks especially for an introduction to such a dynamic section of the coast and a range of pertinent activities.
- Yes! Thanks to You all for the excellent instruction, rescue practice, and the opportunity to get out in some bouncy water safely. It was a nice way to start inching toward coastal conditions without getting terrified. And it was nice reconnecting with some familiar faces.
- Big thanks to our fearless leaders through the fog, currents and soup. I hope to see you all out on the water again.
- Thank you so much for the excellent instruction at Netarts Bay yesterday. And Denise, a special thanks to you for outfitting me!