In order to be allowed to paddle on the canoes with outriggers called the OC1 (1 man) and OC6 (2 man) this winter, we had to pass the “huli” (capsize) drill”.
Teamwork is needed to right the larger canoe so by preparing for a capsizing we learn what to do to avoid hitting the panic button.
As the sun set behind the mountains surrounding the lake six of us paddled out to deeper water. By now it was quite dark but the bright yellow canoe was still visible against the warm but murky water. Paddling out to deep water with overcast skies is not the most inviting sensation so I was grateful to have our instructor George with us who had generously given his seat to a team member. He swam alongside the boat as we headed out of shallow water.
Once George explained what we were to do we were ungraciously overturned into the water. Holding onto the port side gunwale helped keep us from being thrust out towards the outrigger. Surfacing quickly thanks to the life jackets, we immediately set our minds to survival mode.
The brain raced to work out how to make the body respond quickly to the drastically changed circumstances. This is an adventure unto itself and we do this more naturally as children. As adults we’ve distanced ourselves from these impromptu moments so our responses are slower. Many of us have temporarily lost the range of motion that we had as kids.
We executed two hulis swapping paddling positions and responsibilities. For the second capsize I was instructed to step up on the butt end of the outrigger strut that would help to right the boat.
Earlier, I’d removed my rubber paddling shoes just in case they slipped off my feet. But stepping onto the short piece of wood with a sharp metal plate on it hurt and I regretted having taken my shoe off in the first place. I couldn’t get a firm footing in order to hoist myself over the bottom of the hull. A new problem had added itself to the one already at hand.
I appreciate the immense value in drills, whatever they are. In the event of an unplanned capsizing, you have worked the kinks out of the swamping drill long ago.
As I tread water I took in the scenario. I was struck by how quickly our underlying fundamental archetypes surfaced when removed from the predictable. In a typical dragonboat training scenario we would be sitting one behind the other taking instructions either from the caller at the bow or the helmsman at the stern. Bobbing in the water, we had assumed non-linear positions close to the overturned canoe and had to recall the instructions right away.
The person from thwart nr 1 was assigned to gather and hold all the paddles while two girls from the center thwarts got on board first and started bailing water out of the canoe. The remaining girls hoisted themselves into the boat to resume paddling towards the shore.
If there ever was an environment where you get to know someone fast, it’s on the water. The primordial instinct for survival lies not far beneath the surface and it’s up to each of us to decide if we want to get to know it or not. Maybe that’s why some of us are drawn to doing stuff like this. As our everyday world becomes increasingly “virtual”, a good old fashioned reality check from time to time helps keep us better balanced.
(Below is an example of a huli drill. It was too dark for us to be taking any pictures at Cultus Lake.)