Greenland Week 2010: Interview with Kiliii Yu
Belize: Glover's Reef

Belize: Dangriga

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On my first night in Belize I found myself having dinner with about a dozen college girls on the beach in Dangriga. They had just returned from the Island Expedition's “Ultimate Adventure”, a 9 day journey sea kayaking along the barrier reef, exploring caves inland and floating down the Moho River through a lush rainforest in inflatable kayaks. Since bathing wasn’t an option for much of the trip, half of them had had their long hair fixed in cornrows during the first couple days on the cays. They all seemed quite happy to have finally showered that evening. Many were wearing newly−purchased Island Expeditions t−shirts, because nothing else they owned was either clean or dry. I spoke with their professor: they were actually getting college credit for this! They were all flying back tomorrow to Wilson, a small liberal arts women’s college in Pennsylvania, known for its veterinary medical technician and equestrian programs, and its Fulton Center for Sustainable Living, which operates a organic farm.

We stood in line while one of the local guides passed us chicken and pork from the grill. There was plenty of tropical fruit, pasta salads and of beer on ice −− Belikin, "The Only Beer worth drinking".

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I started talking with the American guide who accompanied the women on their Ultimate Adventure and was delighted to discover that he was a fellow Washingtonian. It seems that wherever there is good sea kayaking, you’ll find a Pacific Northwest native! Bob had been traveling to Belize for a couple years, accompanying student groups from one of the Seattle colleges. He had recently retired from teaching physiology and had moved to Anacortes when he was offered a job as a guide for Island Expeditions.

Among the swaying palm trees on that warm, tropical night, we talked about a favorite topic of PNW paddlers: cold water immersion. It turned out that Bob had done research with none other than George Gronseth on "cold water shock", a study which was funded by Kokatat. His study basically involved placing volunteers into a water-filled tank of varying coldness and measuring their physiologic responses during immersion. There were three study groups: subjects wearing full drysuits, a splash jackets, or just rashguards. The subjects were wired to measure vital signs and placed on a kayak in the tank. The water varied in temperature from 70 degrees F to a low of 58 degrees. They were made to do a wet exit and paddle float self−rescue. Bob said that no matter how much ice he used, he could never get the temperature below 58 degrees F, which I think is unfortunate, because that is the typical temperature of Puget Sound during a hot day in August.

Three phases can be described in cold−water shock. During the first phase, which occurs in the first 3 minutes, the victim experiences tachycardia, hypertension, a remarkably decreased ability to hold one’s breath, and involuntary gasping and hyperventilation. The victim feels like he can’t breathe. It's because exhalation is not complete and victims are trying to breathe with full lungs. In the second phase, between 3 to 30 minutes, the victim experiences neuromuscular dysfunction, impaired coordination, weakness and difficulty with fine motor control. In the third phase of cold water shock, core hypothermia sets in. A tolerance to cold water shock can develop over repeated exposure.

Bob found that there was considerable interindividual variability in his subjects’ susceptibility to cold water shock over all temperatures. He also found that the act of going through the paddle float rescue eliminated a lot of the adverse physiologic effects of cold water immersion.

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There was rumor of rain for the next day. After the party broke up I returned to my room at Pal’s Guesthouse across the street. There was hot running water, and a TV, but hardly enough room to "swing a cat." I went to sleep to the sound of the oscillating fan and barking dogs on the street.

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