TopKayaker.Net: Articles About Interesting Kayakers

AudreyAudrey Sutherland (1921 - 2015)
... on Preparation: The Key For Going It Alone Or In A Group

First published in "Lifeline." Revised by Audrey Sutherland Spring 2000 for TopKayaker.net

Many of us take off on the "inspiration" Audrey Sutherland offers and leave behind the "preparation." This article is a reminder that whether it be the rocky tropical coasts of Moloka'I or the icy waters of Alaska even Audrey Sutherland doesn't venture out on any paddle with out thoroughly researching and studying all the resources available on the area. This is just one of many shelves in Audrey's home showing the books available for the novice as well as the pro on kayaklng and proper survival techniques in the outdoors. What follows are her comments: Audrey BC

I've paddled over 8,000 miles in Alaska, ...every summer for the past 20 years.

An inflatable is my preference ... something I can take with me instead of having to ship a boat over or leave a boat up there. It has to be a weight I can carry, because I go solo.

My boat weighs 30 lbs. and folds up to one and a half cubic feet. A new, lighter, faster boat is being designed in New Zealand. Audrey at Port Hardy, B.C. handmade spray deck Photo by Eiko Jones

Audrey's Housefront, Photo by Mike WaggonerPeople need to develop their skills. In preparation, I put on my boots and foul weather gear...all the stuff that I would be wearing in Alaska, and put all my equipment in the boat: tent, tarps, sleeping bag, food .... everything just as I would for Alaska, and took it out here (her ocean front home) in some surf with strong winds, dumped the boat, righted it, climbed back in, and came ashore.

Took it out again, dumped it, righted it, climbed back in ...until I could do it ten times out of ten; until I could realize which systems were working and which ones weren't. Audrey in front of her home in Hawaii, Photo by Mike Waggoner

Then, when I went to Alaska in 1981, a fishing boat dumped me on my second trip there. I didn't capsize again until 1984, because of wave conditions and surf. The boat had a load on it which made it top heavy, but through the routine that I taught myself in my own familiar waters, I was back in the boat in 23 seconds, paddled ashore, got into some dry clothes, and drank my thermos of hot tea.

It's practice and preparation. They are the key.

I think I am safer going alone because I know what I can do and I don't exceed it. I don't have to rescue anybody else. I go at my Own pace. Before I head out, this is specifically in Alaska, which supposedly is more dangerous, I've got the (ocean) charts and I know three different places where I might come in and camp that night. So the first one may be only five miles, the next one may be ten miles, and the third 25 miles; so I at least have some alternatives; but I know that I can come ashore if things get bad, or I can turn back.

Sometimes when I'm going on a big crossing, say twelve miles, I go out for one half hour and see what the situation looks like. The night before, I study the currents. When I look at the charts I see that the tide will be moving this way and I want to land over here, so do all my homework ahead of time.

In Alaska I often paddle every other day so that if I come in late I can get a good night sleep and get up late the next morning. I spend that day patching, repairing, studying the chart, writing in a journal; then I can go to bed early and be ready to paddle the next day. Get prepared as well as you can. If possible at all do a little bit, the first mile of it, and come back and say: 'Oh is that what it's like.'

Moloka'i Sea Bird, Photo by Tom HolteyOn the first Molokai trip (Hawaii) I got into more than I planned because the maps were inadequate at the time and I didn't know a lot about reading maps either.

The only map available in 1962 was a 1928 map. It was neither accurate nor was it at a very big scale to see what was really happening...what it was going to be like. But I knew I could swim five miles with fins, mask and snorkel. I don't think it was stupid to try, I think I was uninformed, but as prepared as I could be with the information that was available at the time. Photo: Moloka'i sea bird warns kayakers not to get too close by Tom Holtey

After each trip I was able to add more. In Molokai, because the current and the wind blow west, you can't go back. It's the coast of no return. Very rarely can you go back up against the wind and the current. Photo below: North Moloka'i shoreline by Tom Holtey


I could not afford a boat then, so I swam. But before I attempted Molokai, I had been a beach lifeguard for ten years or so and taught swimming and water safety instruction courses for a national aquatic school in California. I taught swimming and life guarding at Catalina Island and taught at a national aquatic school out in Lake Elsinor.

When I came over here I was used to swimming in the ocean in California. I was a lifeguard, came here and in the warm water it was much easier to learn the skills. You could go out and would not get cold and it was easier to surf and body board. Being at ease in the water, I think, makes a big difference.

The reason Kayaking was appealing was because I was totally at ease in the water swimming. Therefore I knew that here in Hawaii where you weren't going to die of hypothermia (unless you're in the water for many hours) if nothing else, you could always swim to shore. However, the water in Hawaii is 74 degrees. If you are sitting up in your boat or you are on your surfboard wet, a 25-knot wind will bring the wind chill factor down to 51 degrees and you can die. And there are wind and currents out there. Incase you dump you want to be wearing fins. I am often wearing them while I paddle in Hawaii.

Two lifelinesAnother thing I use is what I call my 'lifeline.' It is a line permanently looped for my size over one shoulder and under the opposite arm then clipped onto a D ring on the side of the boat. The wind can blow your boat away faster than you can swim so you want to make sure that you and your boat stay together. Photo left: Two sizes of Lifeline

In surf if you capsize you do not want to be attached to your boat because then you are going to get dragged. Both you and your boat are going to come to shore because the surf is pushing you both in so you are not likely to lose it totally. And you don't want to be in a situation where you could have your hard shell boat hit you.

People need to develop their skills. In a club they should give some practical instruction. I taught kayaking at the University of Hawaii for 16 years. I had 22 classes, a total of 500 students. The teaching was in all types of kayaks. I was teaching more about kayaking to go some place to travel. Others have taught it for racing or technique: we all teach safety.

The first field day was out at Eve Anderson's house in Waimanalo where all the people who manufacture boats brought them. So we had 30 people in the class and 30 different kayaks. We had inflatables, racing boats, surf skis, and open tops.

In the beginning we had a good cross section of all the kayaks and so people got to take out and try them. They would take a boat out, paddle it up wind, down wind, cross wind, dump it, right it, climb back in, come back and get another one; so it was musical chairs with different boats.

At the last class I assigned them into about five teams. They had to get their team out to Mokuauea Island, set up a shelter, and make a meal out of at least one thing from the islands. If they did all that, then they got a certificate that said they completed the course, not that they were competent.

It's pretty hard to guarantee somebody's competence. In six classes they learned everything for a beginners trip. In my classes we would talk about how to read a map...what all the lines mean. I'd pass maps out and ask them, On your particular map where would you launch and where would you land...where is the surf...what side of the island are you on?

Often on club paddles everyone spreads out. They should make sure that they have a lead paddler and a sweep paddler and that you stay within talking distance, even if they have to have radios so you can talk back and forth.

The commercial outfitters insist on safety because they're legally responsible, whereas the purpose of the club is just to enjoy it. But I do think a club often has too big a group. If you're going to have more then ten people you should divide it up and let each group have its own lead and sweep or its own agenda... fast group, slow group...etc. As far as learning to paddle, the best way is one on one. Get a series of lessons from one then move on to another instructor.

I took a water safety instructors' class from ten different teachers. The first time I learned 90% more than I knew. The next class I learned 80% more than I knew.. By the last class I was only learning 10% but that was still 10% new stuff.

Ann & AudreyExperience leaves little cracks for instruction to fall into. ~ END
Photo left: Ann McLaren getting tips on reading ocean charts

Audrey passed away at age 94 in 2015. See "Audrey Aloha" for details.

Many of us who were privildged to know her in our kayak club, Hui Wa'a Kaukahi, also lost our dear friend Ann McClaren, who made this particular interview possible, the following week to a sudden, terminal illness. We like to think this picture shows them planning an adventure to paddle off into the sunset together.

Safe journey, fair winds and following seas, Audrey & Ann.


Further Reading:

Read Clay's complete review of Paddling North by Audrey Sutherland

Books By Audrey Sutherland:

Audrey Alaska Paddling North: A compilation of her first two trips to Alaska when she was 60 years old, it was written after she had completed about 20 more so there are references to later adventures to flesh out the story. Paddle My Own Canoe Audrey's popular book Paddling My Own Canoe, about her Moloka'i adventures inspired critics nation wide with reviews such as: "...a splendid adventure story, proof that the thrills of surging seas, dangerous cliffs, unknown terrain and isolation can be found in Hawaii. Paddling Hawaii Paddling Hawaii is the guide book of how and where for kayaking Hawaii. click on the books to go to Tom's TopKayaker Shop to purchase.

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