An intermediate to advanced Great Lakes sea kayaking event
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Initial Gales Incident Synopsis

10/10/2016

On Friday Oct 7 at 10:00 AM, a coaching journey consisting of three groups launched from Au Train Bay on Lake Superior with the intent of travelling around the peninsula to Bay Furnace (approximately 10 miles). Group 1 turned back at roughly noon, and headed back into Au Train Bay and landed at their launch site. Groups 2 and 3 initially paddled as a single combined group but decided to split into two independent groups yet still paddling in proximity to each other. Group 2 ran into issues just southwest of Au Train point, and then decided to exit the water near the point. Group 3 continued around Au Train point, but then had trouble due to increasing winds and seas around the headland and the shoals. Group 3 rounded the headland, where they encountered larger than average waves over the shoals that caused all but the lead coach and one participant to capsize and swim. During this incident, one paddler was directed to head into shore in advance of the rest of the group. He landed on a low cliff face. The rest of the group rescued themselves, but did not attempt to land and instead proceeded around the point into more sheltered waters. The lone paddler issued a Mayday call on his marine radio. This Mayday call was received by both local rescue services, the National Park Service, and the Coast Guard. The local rescue services made contact from land with the stranded paddler and offered to extract him, but simultaneously the USCG helicopter with a rescue swimmer arrived on scene. The USCG ordered the lone participant to stay put and not rejoin his group around the point. The USCG also made the decision to not use local rescue services, and used their aircraft and rescue swimmer. Our participant was extracted by the USCG from the water just off shore. The rest of Group 3 proceeded to Bay Furnace which was their pre-arranged take out spot without incident. The lone rescued participant was transferred to Marquette via USCG helicopter. We retrieved him @ 4:30 PM. He declined medical treatment. We also retrieved his lost kayak from the waters of Lake Superior on the last day of the event. 

We have a far more detailed account that we are working diligently to create with a post incident analysis with the coaches and participants involved. The Gales is committed to safety and careful risk assessment, as well as learning from this incident.

Answers to FAQs:

  • All participants were dressed for immersion and wearing lifejackets
  • All participants were wearing helmets to deal with the rocky environment
  • All participants were in sea kayaks with at least two bulkheads and hatches
  • There were multiple marine radios within the group
  • There were multiple tow belts
  • There were British Canoeing, American Canoe Association and Paddle Canada certified instructors leading the groups
  • The forecast was winds south west 10-15 rising to 20-25 knots and veering west. This forecast is posted each day at our event and is widely distributed.
  • No one was injured in this incident or received medical treatment.
  • Our coach to student ratio is 1:4.

We know that there will be many questions surrounding this incident. We want to provide a detailed outline of the events and this will require time and consideration to construct the analysis. But we wanted to provide a brief synopsis to ensure that the facts were presented as soon as possible from the Gales organizers and coaches.

Best, Keith Wikle

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