(3/16/08 photo from Doug and Anne, originally published here that night)
On March 16, we brought you breaking news about a West Seattle kayaker who got into trouble off Brace Point. The photo above was shared by local residents, as the ferry crew that helped get Scott Redfern out of the water returned their small vessel to the Issaquah. Today, we received Scott’s story, told firsthand. He also provided all the photos in the story below.
By Scott Redfern
Special to West Seattle Blog
I would like to extend a heartfelt thank you to the rescue crew of the Washington State Ferry, the Seattle Fire and Police Departments, and Gaye Hewson, who opened her home to me. I would also like to thank my friends who have held me close to them and for their love and caring. I feel embraced by this community of West Seattle that is where I make my home. For those of you that know me but are not in touch: I am grateful, healthy and whole. I love you all.
These days are hard as winter slowly recedes. It leaves me wanting for warm and sunny days. With heart-felt sighs and grey, dreary skies, I force myself out to exercise between storm breaks, in this case in the wake of a storm.
Before I took the kayak out I went for about an hour run in Lincoln Park. I chugged up the wet, muddy slippery hills carrying the burden of my extra winter weight. Upon return from my run I look out from my apartment at the wind blown water and the white caps. My endorphins are coursing and I feel like more work. I want to push back against the depressing weather. I’ve been out there on days like this before. It seems every other day it changes direction. Today the winds and swells are moving from south to north.
I empty my bladder, grab my wet suit and pull it on. It fits like a tight glove and because of my winter thickness closing the zipper is not easy, especially with a t-shirt on. I managed to zip it all the way up today. Good thing! I put on two things I don’t normally wear, a pair of smartwool socks and gortex ski bibs. The last time I came in after a paddle both my legs and feet were cold. Enough of that, I thought. I zip on my neoprene booties. Far from waterproof, they provide traction on the beach rocks and limited warmth. Next I put on my gortex ski jacket with hood and a life vest fully secured, zipped and snug. I put on my purple Saint Thomas cap from my alma mater in St. Paul, Minnesota and a pair of ski gloves.
It’s not pretty out there and I don’t care. My thinking is I’ll just go out for a half hour. Invariably, though, I return one hour or more later. I fail to check the weather report – a mistake I won’t make again. I trudge out into the front yard like a creature from the black lagoon and grab the purple Dagger kayak. Strapped to the top are a pump, water bottle and self-rescue set up. As I take my normal path through the yard and down the uneven steps of the sea wall, I have no idea what I’m in for. The wind is out of the southwest and it’s rolling out there.
My launch spot is a quarter mile north of Lowman Park on Beach Drive. I plop the kayak into the water, standing in water to mid calf. I bend over into full flexion for one last stretch for my back and do my awkward little acrobatic entry into the kayak. I lean forward and launch myself into the wind and waves coming in at about one foot tall. Paddling in waves and wind demands devout attention. It is the quintessential present-moment consciousness exercise. Not far off shore the paddle becomes rigorous, demanding balance and enough speed to move through the waves. At this point I’m only 200 yards off shore. It begins to rain and I think, “This is lovely.” I pause my paddling to pull my hood up, pull the drawstrings down and secure the chinstrap. Out of necessity, this is a quick maneuver. My eyes, nose and mouth are now my only body parts exposed; this limits my peripheral vision. I feel like a workhorse with no lateral distractions and I like it. I correct my course and dig back in.
I pass the point of Lincoln Park where Colman Pool resides. It sits protected by its winter plywood walls. I, on the other hand, am fully exposed. The waves and wind have now grown more tall and stiff. The waves are now 2-3 feet tall, a palpable shift from 1-2 feet. The waters out there move in crazy ways as the tide ebbs out, pushed by wind. I paddle through a set of three waves into water that is shifting up and down, churning and twisting like the water in an open top washing machine. The waves dance and push their own agenda.
The opening of the kayak sits only four inches above the water line. The water was slapping me as I dodged and pushed my way through. Water can wash in from the side; a side swat will knock you over. Taking on water is highly undesirable, but inevitable in these conditions.
I now approach the path of the Fauntleroy Ferry to Vashon Island. I thought to myself, “should I cross that line”? One ferry was docked and appeared unloaded, the other one was at Vashon so I pressed on. Within a short distance the waves grew to 3-4 feet. The sets were more frequent and the churning between them more aggressive. Maybe I should have turned around I thought. No time for supposition. The wind was pushing me off shore by force. I paddled fiercely, my arms fatiguing, my mind in high focus. There was little margin for error here. In order to cross the waves and not get flooded or pushed over I had to take them head on. I thought I have to turn around and it’s going to be hairy. I pushed into the next set and went right into a 4-plus foot wave that washed over the entire boat and me up to my chest. Woo Daddy. It’s time to turn around. I am concerned and scared. I paddled hard right to make my turn left; I pushed and dug in, no time to waste. One hit from the side and I’m over and in. I did not want to go there. The situation felt ominous. I had two inches of water on the floor and knew balancing with that was an issue. The rear dagger of the kayak was stuck in its usual up position, something I hadn’t considered. The down wind ride began.
Bear in mind that I have made downwind runs in 3-foot waves in high winds and it was tenuous at best. I’m not a novice and I’m no expert, but this was larger than I’d ever seen. I’m now paddling down wind pushed by 3-4 foot waves and winds of 30-40 miles per hour. It felt like a combination of white water rafting, surfing and trying to steer a toboggan down a steep, icy, snowy slope.
Within seconds I knew I was in a state of severe compromise. The tide, wind and waves pushed me mercilessly. I was rocking from side to side like an acrobat on a tight wire. I felt myself panic deep inside as I restored temporary balance. Then the waves pushed me sideways pointed off shore. I was pointed towards Blake Island. I drove my paddle in hard left 7 or 8 strokes, steering right in between strokes. My vessel did not respond. The turbulent, uncaring water pushed me from the left, I teetered, balance alluded me and I spilled out of the kayak like a pet goldfish being transferred to a jar so my bowl could be cleaned.
The buoyancy of my wetsuit and my life jacket kept my head out of the 42-degree water. I quickly grabbed the paddle, pushed the nose of the boat out of the water to drain it (as much as possible) and flipped it over upright. I then realized that my gortex bibs were down around my ankles and that pulling them up and fastening them was not an option. I pushed my face into the bracing cold water, pulled my knees up towards my chest and stripped my pants off over my boots.
I took in a mouth full of salt water as I pushed the pants that weighed a ton into the kayak and thought I might have to let these go. The next step was to self inflate the small buoy that sleeves one end of the paddle. This acts as ballast as you attempt to reenter the kayak. My hands are now cold and wet and so are my feet. These were low concerns on the totem pole. I had never self-rescued alone. I knew what I had to do. I had to keep it together and try hard to get back up and in. I swam with the paddle to the upwind side, keeping contact with the kayak.
I took a few deep breaths knowing that if I tried too hard I would be fighting the process and not working at it in the slow deliberate process that it required. I created a lever between the buoyed end on my paddle and the kayak. I lunged and pushed myself out of the water facing the stern and face down on the kayak. My left foot was still in the water, I balanced, clinging, slowly wiggling. The next step was right leg in the hole, right knee on the seat. The next step was left leg in the hole knee on the seat. I was teetering, kneeling facing backwards, and not even looking at the water. Slow and deliberate is the only way. Now I have to rotate my entire body. I start my turn and sploosh I’m back in the water down wind, kayak upside down.
I thought to myself, “Good effort, it’s unreasonable to think I could recover in these conditions on the first try.” I was encouraged. I made fists to wring the water out of the gloves and fell the degree of frozenness in my fingers. I’m from Minnesota and had endured much worse cold. Time to regroup and make another attempt. No time to waste. I repeated the process. Dump the water, flip it, get upwind, create the lever, breath, relax and center before my leap, crawl and cling methodology. I launch myself, stabilize, shift and move into the hole. One leg, then not quite two, and I’m over and in again. I’m not angry, I’m not in fear of drowning; in fact I’m very much aliv,e and I embrace it.
I start to think, how much time do I have out here, the ferryboat is in sight and at dock. I’m preparing for my third attempt and I hear sirens in the distance. I think, “sh*t, those are for me”. I stop thinking and make attempt number three; I wanted to succeed even though it was unlikely. Attempt number three was quick and unsuccessful. I’m out there floating like a bobber in 3-4 foot waves. My arms are fatigued and the muscle fibers that control fine movement were slowing. I’m a doctor, I think; I know what’s happening. I’m back in the water and now I’m thinking O…K…this sucks, and now it’s time to try again.
(that photo’s by WSB photojournalist Christopher Boffoli)
Now the sirens are closer. I glance toward shore and see intermittent red flashing lights above churning, rising and falling white-water chop. My back to the wind and waves, I see what looks like people moving in the lifeboat hoisted three tiers up on the side of the ferry. My next thought is, this is going to be embarrassing. I wasn’t thinking, please come and get me, I’m dying out here. My ego and my internal fortitude were still pressing on. I prepare to make another attempt. I feel my body slowing. I lunge again, determined, teetering, and clinging. I realize the futility; I’m helpless against these forces of nature. Mother Nature says, not today, my son, not now.
At other times the water has been more merciful, kinder. I’ve come in from other paddles on the sound feeling downright lucky, even blessed. I’ve almost gone in, but not quite. Close escapes from teetering on the wire and not sliding out into the cold water like a clam cut and untethered from its shell. In fact, I often tip over close to shore so I can slide out of the shell. I like feeling the cold-water seep into my wetsuit like a cold slow flush, the chill of it cooling me down while I’m warm and strong at depth. From there I can trudge out of the water on the slippery stones and shells beneath me. The kayak bottom pressed against my thighs I carry the boat out letting my legs do the work. My arms hang, holding on like over-laden coat hangers.
The ferry has left the dock and I regroup for one more try. I don’t know where I think I’m going. The tide had me in her grips, her wind and waves beating me. I look up to see the ferryboat like a giant football linebacker making a J hook pattern to catch a pass. I cling to my kayak bobbing, kicking my legs to keep the circulation up. The ferry lowers their Zodiac lifeboat and I have to laugh. I don’t know why, except for the thought that this is my crazy life and here I am being rescued. Who would have thought?
A helicopter is hovering above, probably shooting film for the evening news. I’ll definitely make the evening news, I think, and chuckle again. [KING5 clip] I hadn’t freaked out and died, I hadn’t been a fool. I laugh at the unpredictability of life.
Shortly after that they pulled me out of the water and brought me to shore where I was taken to a house and a hot shower and bath. It took a while to get warm and for my blood pressure to come down. I was kindly cared for by the fire department staff and the police. They took me and my kayak home. I hunkered down for a couple of days and I did get cold easily and craved warmth regularly. The muscles in my arms ached deeply for a couple of days and felt weak.
A special thanks to: Jada Wood, the massage therapists at Seattle Athletic Club, and Catherine Sparks, my Chiropractor.
Dr. Redfern (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a semi-retired Sports Medicine Chiropractor and resides in West Seattle. He added this note: All photos were zoomed, so the shore appears closer than the actual distance of 1000 ft.