Sunday, June 26, 2011

First Roll of the Season

There are times when it seems like a pretty stupid idea to put yourself upside down in the water with sixty pounds of boat overhead, like right before the first roll of the year. I wondered if my muscle memory would return, or if I would wind up bailing out. And thinking of that I looked down at my skirt. Sometimes we bring our best equipment to roll with, other times older, spare pfds and spray skirts. This time we had older equipment, the skirt is tighter than I like and tough to free from the Vaag’s coaming. I practiced freeing the skirt, grabbing the ring and pulling forward and up. It was as sticky as I remembered. As I refastened the skirt, I realized my roll is half mental; I had to believe it before I could do it. And I knew I could, I thought back to paddles in August, rolling every mile to cool down, back to first paddles of prior years, one in the Pocomoke river of Maryland; no mask – just celebrating water warm enough to roll in. I reminded myself this was my best rolling boat, my best paddle, and I had a mask and a nearby spotter. Over I went, and up I came, half way anyway, enough to get a breathe. That was very comforting, I really enjoy breathing, and as long as I’m convinced air will be getting to my lungs soon, I’m pretty happy. Upside down in the water I immediately moved to increase my odds, lengthening the paddle by shifting my right hand closer to the blade(this is a left hand roll), and taking a bit of time to really lie back on the deck, thinking shoulders to the air, knowing my head would follow. And with that attempt up I came! Yeah! An auspicious start! From there I went back to shore, and dug in the equipment bag a bit more, coming up with a looser skirt. Then back to the water, out for a paddle to warm up, leans and sculling practice, and more rolls, mostly left rolls and a few right, a some sloppy but most pretty good. And a few rolls with no skirt at all. No trick rolls, but those will come later.

And no cameras, so I'll make do with a video from 2008. I tried another rescue, cowboy scramble rescue. I’m not very good at that, the extra weight which provides ballast to rolling, does less well crawling across the deck. Eventually I succeeded, but only by deploying a paddle float.
Next, T-rescue (with Mark) and the classic paddle float rescue.

I made an attempt to swim the boat (as talked about by Wayne Horodowitch in the June Atlantic Coastal Kayaker magazine.) A side stroke should move me and the boat a short distance to safety. Not much luck with that. I felt I was doing a lot of flailing and breathing in water with air when I could get above the surface. Maybe next time.

I hope, now that the weather is warm, that everyone will try some experiments with their boats. One thing I think everyone should try is walking their boat out to about shoulder depth, tipping it so it fills with water and then trying to get in the boat without using their feet on the bottom of the pond for leverage. Some boats, like this Keowee, have so little floatation that they float below the surface of the water. That boat can never be pumped dry, it can never be self rescued.
That doesn’t mean it’s a bad boat, it sees use every summer, especially with guests who want a very stable boat. But it should be used accordingly, never more than swimming distance from shore. Other boats, like the Vaag, float higher, but tip readily when someone tries to climb back in. Better to know what your boat does before you get too far from shore.


  1. Congrats on your first roll of the season.

    I so hear you on all points!

    The Maelstrom boats are awesome rolling boats (Vaag and Vital), but a too tight skirt is no fun! I've been there and returned a skirt that made me nervous.

    Is there such a thing as a skirt that doesn't leak?

    The first roll of the season is awesome for people who can roll but haven't after a long winter out of their boats - like us in Canada.

    I know, by watching others who try it for the first time in late spring in a lake as they wonder if they can still do it after 6 months off! "Hey, I remembered my hip flick and my sweep was good, and I didn't dive my paddle! Yep, I can still roll."

    I can't wait for mine (I mean my first full roll).

    I'm not a fan of upside down in water myself.


  2. Finding a good skirt for a Greenland style paddler is a challenge. Mark has gone with the Seals Inlander 1.7, a coated nylon that he seems happy with. I have a Harmony neoprene and nylon, which leaks some at the waist. But I have the European paddle, so there's not as much water on the skirt. And with a loose fit on the coaming, there is leakage on leans and rolls. But I'm more comfortable with that leakage, than a tighter seal which doesn't come off as easily. Sometimes compromises must be made.
    Best wishes on your roll! As thin as you are, I suspect hip pads would help.