A death in the kayaking family – Timothy Gutmann, 1967 – 2007

As 2007 draws to a close, we can take stock of the year in many ways, and thinking about those no longer with us is one piece. There have, of course been many in our little sphere of interest to think about, and I won’t try to go back. I will call out one, though: I recently learned that the brother of a good friend of mine from college died while kayaking off the coast of Maine last May. I was able to find an article about the incident, as well as a letter from his companion and some chatter in a discussion board. I never met Tim and I knew of him only distantly. I can’t really count myself as one he touched. He was family of a friend, though, so for that alone I will remember him.

Tim was also a kayaker, though, and was thus a brother of sorts to all of us who, to crib from the Gloucester (MA) Fisherman’s Memorial (and therefore from Psalm 107), “go down to the sea in [little] ships.” As I suspected, there seems to have been an ample bit of Monday morning quarterbacking around the accident – they were unprepared, showed poor judgment, etc. As many pointed out, however, the “mistakes” the two paddlers made were common, especially for one with many years of experience. It strikes me that it is pretty easy to pick off things that would have been helpful after-the-fact, but how many of us routinely do not bother considering every possible case before setting out on a quick paddle? There are some things I would have done differently, sure, but I have done, and will continue to do, other things that would receive frowns if I ever suffered misfortune (e.g., I prefer paddling alone). I don’t dismiss the “should / oughts,” but I think they are a bit cheap.

The fact is that whatever spirit one chooses to identify with as master of the seas can basically take you whenever he/she/it deems fit. We all go forth onto the water we love knowing this, and I see no evidence Tim did not set out with similar understanding. There is, in fact, much to suggest things suddenly got hairier than they had been. The distinction of how we tend to view these kind of events was driven home last night as I began reading Frank and Margaret Dye’s Ocean Crossing Wayfarer, one of my Christmas presents (more on this in another post). Even in the first chapter, and I believe the Dyes’ would support this statement, it is clear that Frank Dye was, in many cases, incredibly damned lucky. The book cover touts his seamanship and courage, praise which IS much deserved, but for all his preparation, I already see many cases where if things had gone only slightly differently, he would have gone down in history as another unfortunate example of someone being ‘a bit arrogant in the face of nature.’

In the spirit of messing about in boats, therefore, let us plan, prepare, and be mindful of the ocean’s (or lake’s or river’s) power in the year ahead, but let us not, in the name of caution, squeeze out all the fun and adventure that makes our time on the water so special. Tim, I hope those who knew you will remember you for how you lived and I hope, wherever you are, you paddle continues taking you forward.

2 Comments for “A death in the kayaking family – Timothy Gutmann, 1967 – 2007”

Scott Laflamme


Mr. Shaw, thank you so much for writing this. Tim and I were really close friends. He was my mentor of sorts and will forever hold a place in my mind and heart. Tim was my professor in algebra. I struggled with his course, but he went the extra mile to help me. We became close friends. We learned to alpine ski together and spent many hours enjoying each others company, either watching Monty Python or just enjoying the outdoors at his parents second home in Jackson.

I find it so hard to believe that Tim was not prepared. Tim was a perfectionist in everything he did. Some might think that such is a bad quality; but I knew Tim, and he was not the least bit pretentious about his need and desire to do things right. He always regarded it as his duty to ensure he did not inconvenience others, something I thought was odd at first, but later grew to understand and admire.

I miss Tim and fondly look back on the short time we spent together. Again, I thank you for writing such kind words.

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