Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Chapter 15: Saved by a Drysuit

I can't stress enough the importance of wearing a drysuit when paddling in cooler water temperatures. I wear mine pretty much any time the water is less than 60 degrees Fahrenheit, when the air temperatures are cold as well, or when I know I'm going to be spending a lot of time in the water getting wet like when teaching rolling or playing in the surf.

I think it is pretty obvious that the two men in this incident had no business being out paddling in this environment with the level of inexperience that they both had. George Gronseth pulls no punches when he recounts all the mistakes that were made by this pair of novices. These two racked up many more mistakes in this story than most of the chapters in this book that end in fatalities, and yet. . . they both survived. Why? Saul was lucky enough to make it to shore, but Larry survived several hours in the water and a cold night marooned on an island thanks to the drysuit he was wearing.

A drysuit is no substitute for developing the kayaking skills, knowledge, and experience needed for paddling in a marine (or Great Lakes) environment. However, skills, knowledge, and experience may not be enough if you end up getting dumped into cold water. A drysuit may seem like a very expensive piece of gear, but it can be really cheap life insurance in the event of an unexpected capsize and swim. I've taken an extended swim in an arctic river and gone swimming in the surf in January on Lake Michigan. I know the value of a drysuit from personal experience.

I'm sharing a couple more YouTube videos that I found showing the difference that wearing a drysuit can make when immersed in very cold water. Do you disagree? Have you ever worn a drysuit? Do you have any personal experiences to share?


Thursday, July 15, 2010

Chapter 14: Surf Zone Accidents

A common theme in the two kayak surfing incidents at Kalaloch Beach related in this chapter relate to swimming in through the surf. This is a skill that I don't see very many kayakers practicing, myself included. I have had to do it a couple of times for certification courses and have taken a couple short swims in through the surf over the years, but I have also seen some otherwise very skilled paddlers struggle while trying to swim in to shore in moderate conditions.

This video shows one method for swimming with your boat and paddle, but this would be a dangerous method to use when swimming in towards shore through breaking surf. The kayak should be kept in front of you (closer to shore than you are). A waterlogged kayak being rolled around in the surf can cause lethal injuries if it is slammed into your head or body. I'm not sure a back-stroke such as that being demonstrated would be very effective in the surf even if you weren't towing a kayak. George Gronseth talks about using a feathered paddle to perform a backstroke. In other words, you need to aggressively use your arms (or paddle) to make headway in rough conditions. Also, practicing in a calm pool does not prepare you for swimming in through surf. This video is only useful for showing a recreational kayaker how to swim to shore after capsizing a rec kayak on a calm lake.

Have you tried swimming in through surf? Did you swim with your paddle or did you ditch the paddle? Was this an intentional practice run, or was it after an unintentional capsize and failed re-entry attempt? What are your thoughts on the chapter?


Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Chapter 13: Happy Endings

Not every incident related in the book, "Sea Kayaker: Deep Trouble" results in a death or serious injury. In this chapter, a whitewater kayaker goes out to assist a sea kayaker in trouble. Although the whitewater paddler was unable to complete the rescue on his own, he was able to signal for help to his wife on shore who contacted the Coast Guard. A nearby fisherman heard the request for assistance that was broadcast by the Coast Guard and came to pick up the swimming sea kayaker. In the second incident related in this chapter, the sea kayakers were able to successfully complete an assisted rescue following a capsize in the clapotis along a breakwall. A third assisted rescue was completed successfully despite the lack of deck lines which made it harder for the swimmer to get back up on the deck of the kayak.

Practically any kayaker who has been paddling for a number of years can relate personal stories of capsizes and rescues that occurred and were successfully completed. Most of these incidents make for interesting story telling later and provide experiences that we can learn from as we move forward. In my twenty-two years of paddling, I have had many such experiences. A capsize into ice cold water ended without serious injury because my son was dressed for the water temperature, nearby paddlers performed a quick rescue, and spare dry clothing and fire-starting materials were close at hand on shore. Many years later, I learned how useful a tow rope can be for retrieving a kayak that blew away from my friend following a capsize. Although it was winter on Lake Michigan, my friend was in a drysuit and was wearing his PFD. Kayak and paddler were quickly reunited without further incident. On a sunny warm day, a paddle snapped in half while a teenager was making a crossing between island on Lake Huron in one-foot swells. We grabbed the spare paddle and quickly continued the crossing.

What experiences have you had on the water that ended happily? What did you learn from them? Did you make any changes as a result of the experience?