Thank you for your generous comments about my writing, Nordkappman. I feel much the same way about what you've written on this Forum, and I always read what you have to say with great interest. Insightful, intelligent, eloquent, and well-considered, your opinion is a real contribution to the conversation.
I echo your praise of the really fine job Matt Broze did in his analysis of the incident. I'll repeat what Eric Soares said of my Cold Shock article 20 years ago: What Matt has to say in this article “should be stapled to the forehead of every sea kayaker”.
Damasio's hypothesis goes a long way toward explaining some the group's flawed decision making, and I agree that emotional bookmarks likely played a very significant role in this incident. I've always found the classical economic notion of exclusive cognitive rationality laughable. Any ad agency in the country can give you countless examples of the non-cognitive emotional decision making process in action. As you point out, that process is particularly evident and noteworthy in their decision to deviate from their planned route, attempt the more exposed crossing of Queen Charlotte Strait, and get to Port Hardy “a day earlier”; thereby lessening by one day the physical beating and discomfort they were enduring. It was a big, ripe, juicy plum they simply couldn't resist picking.
Poor decision making illuminates only part of the story, however, and I think you're right on target in citing variables like common sense, intelligence, cooperation, forthrightness, and openness as really important components in this kind of incident. I was practically leaping out of my chair shouting Yes! Yes! Yes! when you called attention to the La Nina all-female paddling expedition's wise and sensitive policy of deference to the least confident among them. That's a perfect example of group dynamics being informed and guided by a protocol established well before the trip begins. I've been a proponent of establishing pre-trip ground rules or agreements since my wilderness school days in the 70's. It's a standard of practice that proved its worth time and again in the field, and it never let me down.
This was a trio of skilled and experienced paddlers who got into trouble, and while there were more than enough errors, omissions, and oversights in the whole trip to keep critical wags busy, what really fascinates me is that virtually all of the major problems and mistakes could have been averted by better group dynamics, communication, situational awareness and attention to gear. That's the good news I see emerging from a careful review of these sorts of incidents, because it suggests that by placing greater emphasis on a few key concepts and ground rules, paddlers can greatly increase the safety and enjoyment of any trip.