Monday, October 17, 2011

Drysuit Rescue Practice

Going out is optional, coming back is mandatory – US Coast Guard saying

The most critical part of kayak paddling is making it back to shore. So we like to test a few things regularly:
First, if we capsize, can we get out of our boats easily?
Second, after dumping, can we get back into our kayaks quickly?
Finally, based on the ease of the rescue, under what circumstances are we likely to be successful?
With rain and wind due Thursday, it was time for our long-delayed drysuit rescue practice. We headed out to a nearby pond, suited up, acclimated ourselves to the water and attempted rolls and rescues.
Mark wanted to see if the ash paddle moved quickly enough for a successful roll. Good news, it did!

I wanted to try exiting from my Vaag and see if my baggy drysuit caught on anything. It didn’t, this time anyway.
And it was time to practice rescues, specifically a rescue we’d read about in the Spetember issue of Atlantic Coastal Kayaker, the Leg Hook Re-entry After a Capsize. This article was written by Wayne Horodowich. The leg hook rescue is much like the standard T-rescue, only rather than have the rescuee scramble onto the back of her kayak, she lifts one leg into the cockpit and leverages herself up from that. Here’s a video of the rescue.
My attempt was probably just as smooth ; ) One thing I discovered was that though the instructions noted the need to hook the leg in the cockpit as far as the knee, to leverage myself in I needed to push more leg into the boat first. But after that it was easy, and I appreciated that I didn’t need to climb over the spare paddles and pump I store on the back deck of the Vaag.
However we had trouble when I worked as the rescuer. It was hard for me to stabilize Mark’s boat enough for him to slide into the cockpit. I had my boat on its side, and draped myself over Mark’s boat. Still, I was not able, to keep water completely out of his cockpit. Fortunately, we have other rescues to fall back on.
Wayne, and others have written up many rescues for His philosophy, like ours, is if something doesn’t work for you, find what does. Ray Wirth, Water Walker Sea Kayak, has several rescue videos; others can generally be found on youtube by typing in the names.
Roll and rescue practice, certainly made me more comfortable when I headed out into the wind on the Penobscot River Saturday. I think my comfort level was not so much from the practice, but from the experience of being immersed in autumn water. I knew that the wet suit I was wearing was warm enough that I had lots of time to attempt rescues, and even enough time to swim to shore.
AN IMPORTANT NOTE: The water certainly wasn’t as cold as it will soon become. I didn’t have a thermometer, but after we’d finished the rescues and paddling I was hot so I tried swimming in just my under-layers. Based on how comfortable my un-gloved hands were, I would guess that the water was about 60 degrees. It was a 51 degree day, and after my swim I felt comfortable staying in my damp clothes while loading the kayaks back onto the car. Granted, the promised wind was missing, but it was nice to know that the fleece turtleneck and Coldpruf long underwear was warm when wet. Your comfort zones may vary. I have a pretty good tolerance for cold water, which is certainly aided by an internal wet suit I’ve built up over the years.

We probably won’t do any more rescue practices this year. Frankly it’s just too easy for me to imagine a cold water immersion practice going wrong. Just check out Chuck Sutherland’s site for some of the dangers. So as the water gets colder we’ll have fewer paddles, keep closer to shore on quieter waters, as well as beefing up our clothing. After all, like you, we have people counting on us making it back safely.

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