Book Review - Deep Trouble: True Stories and Their Lessons

Sunday, 26 November 2006
This book review was generously donated by Andrew Elizage at The Dash Pointe Pirate. You can view his blog here. 

Seakayaker's Deep TroubleOne of my favorite kayaking books, and one of the books I highly recommend to any sea kayaker, is Deep Trouble: True Stories and Their Lessons, by Matt Broze and George Gronseth. It's a compilation of incident reports published in Sea Kayaker magazine, harrowing stories of death and near death by blunt force injury, drowning, and hypothermia, especially interesting for me because so many of the cases occurred right here in the Pacific Northwest. Thumbing through it now I realize that a lot of what I first learned about sea kayaking safety probably came from that book. Nothing teaches a lesson like a gripping story of a trip gone horribly wrong. I’d like to see more of these incident report compilations. Isn’t anyone out there ready to write Deep Trouble 2?
It's probably not easy to collect these stories. Understandably, people are reluctant to talk about lapses in their judgment and report near misses, injuries and deaths. The situation that our 4-star class found itself in last April, dealing with an acute coronary event on the water, would have made an exemplary incident management story worthy of Sea Kayaker Magazine. I haven’t heard of any plans to write it up though.

Early in my private practice I wrote a case report describing a very rare life threatening malfunction of oxygen supply lines that occurred in our community hospital. It was actually a classic anesthesia complication with a new twist. The premier anesthesia journal immediately accepted it. I received my issue in the mail just before a department meeting and I proudly arrived with the copy in hand. "Look, guys!" I said. "We're famous!" Well, the word got around to the hospital CEO and he wasn't thrilled. He called my partner and coauthor into his office that day for a good thrashing that was also meant for me. Corporate boneheads! They have no appreciation for scientific publication or for promoting the safety of medicine. All they care about is the bottom line and liability. Civilization does not advance on greed and fear, fools!

I wonder if there is a certain profile for kayakers who get into incidents. Is it beginners who lack basic instruction, intermediate paddlers who know just enough to get themselves into trouble, or advanced paddlers who pursue it? Chris Cunningham wrote an editorial in Sea Kayaker a while back describing the Risk Homeostasis Theory which seems to be making rounds in the kayak literature, yet is not much more than a controversial unproven hypothesis. The theory basically states that individuals have an inbuilt target level of acceptable risk which does not change. The consequence is that as your kayak training advances, you will paddle in more challenging conditions so that the level of risk you are exposed to remains the same. It’s hard to believe that as I learn more, a feedback mechanism kicks in which encourages riskier behavior. And as I understand it, the theory applies to one’s entire life activities, so as I become a safer kayaker, I might take greater risks using the tablesaw or something like that. Maybe the theory is plausible because it actually applies to the small segment of highly skilled kayakers who train solely for purpose of pushing their limits in extreme conditions. If you're on the water primarily because you like touring, camping, photography, birdwatching, fishing, racing, or boatbuilding, and actually stay home during Small Craft Advisories, don’t worry - the theory doesn’t apply to you.

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