Fools like us

Kayaking to ButeLast weekend, Alan and I were on our own, our usual paddling pals having better other things to do. We decided to go somewhere not too far away, largely due to the fact that I’d had a cold the previous week. The cold itself was quite mild, but all the sneezing involved had aggravated my shoulder/back injury of old, being as the original muscle and tissue damage  is situated right next to my left lung. I read somewhere recently about just how extreme an act sneezing is – all bodily functions stop apparently, including the heart. Anyway, it was nothing that a couple of ibuprofen pills couldn’t sort out and we were soon putting in at Toward.

The weather had continued its warming trend and felt quite balmy as we made our way across to Bute. Until the sun went in at least … and then it turned frosty again, encouraging us to make haste to the tea room at Craigmore. Conditions were remarkably calm and it was difficult not to be mesmerised by the blending of sky and sea as the latter reflected the former like the proverbial mirror. It was with some disappointment that we discovered that the tea room was closed for refurbishment. And so, we paddled on to Rothesay, dodging the ferry before finding sustenance at a shore-side tea-stop.

Behind you!

Behind you!

As we consumed our tea on the beach, we were approached by a person displaying interest in our kayaks. This often happens when out paddling, and many times we have heard from people expressing a desire to take up the activity. This individual, however, informed us that he was already the proud owner of a TideRace kayak and we soon established that he was a fully fledged member of the kayaking community, being a Bute Kayak Club member. And so followed an interesting chat on matters paddling. It’s always good to make new friends and, being that the world of kayaking is a small one, I am sure we will bump into one another again on the waters of Cowal and Bute (or beyond).

All the clouds

All the clouds were out

Alan and I then headed back to Toward, where we bumped into our kayaking neighbours and had yet another interesting chat about matters paddling. It’s heartening to see so many people enjoying getting out on the water, especially in such a low-impact way. However, not everyone would agree – which brings me to the controversial part of this post.

Recently, any paddler in the Dunoon and Cowal area has become accustomed to being greeted with the question, “That wasn’t you that got rescued off the West Bay the other day, was it?”.   To explain, there was a bit of an incident a couple of weeks ago. Not much information is known about the paddler, except that they were in a Canadian canoe and, word has it, that they were quite experienced. It’s remarkable that they withstood so much time in the water, and fortunate that they were spotted by a local worker who called the rescue services. This has prompted a letter from an anonymous person in the local paper this week, from which I quote:

“I write with anger as I note that a lone canoeist was rescued from the Clyde last week.

Has he been sent the bill for the rescue?

It was nobody’s fault but his own that he chose to go canoeing on  his own in February weather. Why should the tax-payer have to pay for this man’s folly?

When the search and rescue services are privatised … in 2011, do you think that people who choose to put themselves in danger will be rescued without receiving a hefty bill?”

The Anonymous Person goes on to say,

“Helicopters can only be in one place at a time and, while they are engaged in the rescue of an idiot, they cannot be available to rescue people who are in difficulty through no fault of their own.”

Oooh, not feelin’ the love here at all.

Various metaphors spring to mind, mostly involving cans and worms, hornets and nests and slippery slopes. I won’t get into the associated controversy of the privatisation of the search and rescue services (and the inherent utility fees that will be paid to the companies involved), that’s for another day perhaps. But I would like to raise a few points for Anonymous Person (AP) to consider:

  • Who will pass the moral judgement on whether someone’s actions can be classified as idiotic or accidental and, if the former, worthy of a “hefty bill”? Whose code of standards will prevail? The rescue services’? The private companies’? The Anonymous Person’s?
  • Who can afford to pay said “hefty bill”? And who will administer these bills and pursue their payment? Who will fund the administration? In keeping with the privatised model, maybe it would be easier if the rescue services just billed everyone? Should this be extended to other emergency services?  (I’m sure insurance companies would be all in favour of this potential new line of business).
  • What are the implications for calling in your own rescue if you know there’s a possibility that you will be presented with a “hefty bill”?
  • Dependent on whose standards are adopted, how would the rescue of a hugely respected, capable and experienced kayaker be assessed? Is he too an “idiot” who must be billed?
  • According to AP, the rescued person should not have gone out on their own in February weather.  So the discussion has not even proceeded on to how prepared they were in terms of equipment and clothing (which is unknown), the actual conditions of the day (which were not inclement) etc before they are dismissed as an “idiot”.  By this standard, no-one should “put themselves in danger” and go out in a canoe on their own in February. I suppose, therefore, one might conclude that it is safer to stay indoors watching television, say. Ah, but what if, in our little cocoon of safety, we lack exercise and eat a few too many cakes? What if we gain a little weight and become a bit short of breath? What if we have a heart attack?! It could hardly be said that it occurred through no fault of our own – so should the NHS present us with a “hefty bill” for resuscitating us?

You see where I’m going here.

Self-rescue practice

Self-rescue practice

Rather than advocate for invoicing rescuees, a better approach might be to strongly foster safety consciousness in all outdoor activities. This can occur via the funding of organisations that engage in and assist with such activities. It is hoped that AP would not have an issue with taxpayers’ money being used to bolster organisations such as the MCA and, indeed, the local Cowal Kayak Club, whose first AGM this week included plenty of reference to safety training.

There will always be “idiots” in all walks of life – and one person’s idiot might be another person’s hero. It is impossible not to put oneself in danger – life is dangerous. Anything could happen, any day. As my mother used to say, “There but for the grace of God go I”, and I certainly wouldn’t like to be the one playing God.


  1. Hello Pam well said! Presumably AP partakes of no risky behaviours like driving or breathing. :o)

  2. pamf says:

    Indeed, Douglas. Let’s take a little look at those driving statistics – much, much more dangerous than kayaking!

  3. Terry says:

    A very well considered post Pam 🙂 I taught medical ethics at Paisley Uni for 4 years and realise life is never just black and white ! As always a little knowlwdge which might or usually is not even based on fact can lead to a very black opinion not even a hint of greyness 🙂 Terry

  4. pamf says:

    Thank you, Terry. Interesting to hear from someone who has studied such matters.

  5. Pam, As always you hit it right on the head of the nail!(Maybe someone should hit “AP” in the head with something) might make “AP” a little more compasionate. Rescues usually are caused by 1 or more mistakes, usually more adding up to trouble. We all can have a bad day, no matter how prepared we are. Thats why accidents are named appropriately– they ‘re ACCIDENTS! Thank You as Always! Great Reading!!!! AWESOME points made!!!!

  6. pamf says:

    Thanks, Sean. That was the quality essentially absent from AP’s letter and made it so disturbing, wasn’t it? Compassion.

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