You’re probably wondering about that story that began on this blog back in early May- when we began training to be Maine Sea Kayak Guides. It has been a longer story than I anticipated. We took the class, as well as the first aid classes, finally scheduling the exam in mid-July. We’d studied plenty- we thought- and left at five one morning to make the two and a half-hour drive to Augusta. It didn’t go as well as we’d hoped. We both did well on the hour and a half written test, but failed the oral exam. On the navigation section, Rebecca neglected to mention one word- magnetic, and wasn’t allowed to proceed further. I didn’t cover enough material on my pre-trip briefing.
We didn’t feel too bad about it- plenty of people fail the first time or two. It’s supposed to be tough. It should be tough. We scheduled a re-take and continued studying. We practiced the pre-trip briefing again and again, which could take over twenty minutes if they don’t cut you off. This time, we scheduled the exam for an afternoon. We felt ready.
Hypothetical scenarios make up much of the exam. You’re essentially role-playing with the examiners. We stare at the chart as they throw us into these situations where things go wrong, and they’re waiting to hear what they think is the right answer, and how we go about problem-solving. They interrupt us frequently, asking questions, often incredulously: you’d do what? It’s hard to tell if they’re just trying to make you doubt yourself and not stand your ground, or if there’s really some other thing you should be telling them.
As far as we can tell, the examiners may have never been in a sea kayak in their lives. They’re Marine Patrol and Inland Fish & Game people. So it seems they’re waiting to hear very particular things from us that qualify as correct answers. Theoretically, the candidate has plenty of paddling experience and can actually perform these rescues that we demonstrate with model boats, but there is no practical, on the water part of the exam, and it is possible to lie about your experience, talk the talk and sound convincing enough without ever having paddled a kayak.
We’ve paddled a good deal more than a lot of other candidates, and we had a difficult time. In the end though, we both passed. We have our licenses- even patches and decals that identify us as Maine Guides. For now, mine are magneted to the refrigerator door.
But maybe the real test came two days later when I had my first chance to guide a trip out of Old Quarry. A detailed description would sound pretty much like one of the scenarios from the exam: a group of nineteen clients in ten boats led by a co-guide and me, wind & waves, a client’s broken paddle... For a few moments, as the events seemed to unfold in slow motion, I could almost hear the scenario in my head, like a hypothetical exercise devised by a sadistic examiner... the tandem with the broken paddle lolling in the surf zone off the point. And I could hear my response. I clipped on and towed them away from shore, gave them my spare paddle, blew my whistle to round-up the others. This scene may have inspired half the group to re-think their desire to head out into the waves off the point, and the other guide took them back while I took four tandems out to Russ Island. As conditions grew worse, Old Quarry’s power boat, The Nigh Duck, arrived and took us back. As far as I could tell, the clients didn’t seem to think any of this was out of the ordinary, and had not only a good time, but an adventure. It’s certainly a new adventure for me.