Confounded by the Unknown: Without a Paddle

Kayaking on Sunday bought an unwelcome surprise: i capsized in rougher than usual seas. Whilst the shock of the cold water always takes your breath away, i managed to quickly extract myself, grab the paddle and turn the kayak back over. From here, it’s a simple process of hauling yourself over it, like a beached whale, then carefully climbing back in, without capsizing it again.

Knowledge, Experience and the Unknown

Except this time, things didn’t go my way: i got straight back on, but as i manoeuvred, the bows slipped under the waves again, then i got swept off. The boat was totally swamped. With the swell significant, i could manage to right it, but couldn’t empty it. I’d never been in such a swell before, and this was a far from perfect time to be faced by my limitations: what had worked before, failed to work now.

I did what we always do in these circumstances: tried the same thing again, three or four times, with the same result. Then, rapidly chilling, called my two friends over in their kayaks. We tried to lift mine over their bows, so we could get it clear of the water and empty before righting it, which we substantially achieved, but by the time i tried to get in, i was tiring: the cold shortens the muscles, draining your strength fast and our efforts hadn’t been perfect. In the swell, the boat was still half full, and the current kept pushing it over me.

CapsizedAt this point, the need for maximum innovation, i came up short: my actions were stuck within a frame, i’d tried the things i knew how to do, and the things i knew about, but had never done. But the unknown had confounded me. Knowledge gives a frame: experience gives us rehearsal and practice within that frame, but ignorance bounds us.

When things go wrong, the trouble is that they tend to continue to get worse: my main concern was that, if we continued trying to lift the boat, one of the other two would capsize: one person in the water isn’t a particular issue: two is worse, especially if the inability to get back in wasn’t just limited to me. I knew that one of them could easily tow my empty but swamped kayak, and the other could easily tow me, in the water, but if we all ended up in the sea, we’d be in a more complex situation.

Discretion being the better part of valour, we realised that the only option was to try to head to shore, although as we started, a considerate boat, seeing our struggles, headed over to help. My twelve minutes in the water had felt like a lot longer.

Back home, and after the longest, hottest and most welcome shower of the year, i just Googled it: ‘how to get back in a kayak‘, and three minutes later had two approaches i could have tried on the day, and two that i could try in the future if i had a little extra kit (using some webbing to make a foothold, or a floatation bag on a paddle that you can rig as an outlier). Indeed, my dry bag, which was floating next to me all the time, would have served the same purpose: lashing it to the paddle and lashing the paddle at 90 degrees to the kayak would have given me some welcome stability. But it was unknown and untried. Now, at least, it’s known, though still unrehearsed.

Our frames of knowledge are limited: our frames of experience even more so: sometimes we do things and learn from them (experience into knowledge) and sometimes we learn things and then do them, either now or later (knowledge into experience, or banked knowledge ready for the time). But somethings are just unknown: outside our knowledge and experience, outside, indeed, of any frame we have to understand them.

That’s a key to agility: changing your perspective, exposing yourself to knowledge and experience outside your frames, in readiness for the time you need it.

About julianstodd

Author, Artist, Researcher, and Founder of Sea Salt Learning. My work explores the context of the Social Age and the intersection of formal and social systems.
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9 Responses to Confounded by the Unknown: Without a Paddle

  1. fev27c says:

    Woauuuu! What an experience! At least you are safe! Well related!

  2. Toby Klayman says:

    The aging process comes to mind as I read your blog today
    Re uncharted territory
    Humbling of the unknown

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