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Incident Report

Whatís the one skill every kayaker needs to master? Or, put another way, whatís the first thing youíd teach a rank beginner whoís climbing into a kayak for the very first time? Easy, right? Well I failed at that skill this past weekend and I came damn close to paying the full price for my error(s).

It was a club trip, four days of surfing at Hobuck Beach on the Olympic Peninsula. I brought my Gliss (a plastic whitewater playboat) which Iíve owned for five years and surfed many times. The surf wasnít huge Memorial weekend, but it could get difficult (steep, dumping) when the tide was out. On the third morning of the trip, I had a fantastic session and was feeling great. I like to spin the boat a lot and I had several rides with two or three 360ís, plus lots of back-surfing and enders. When you play aggressively in the surf or on a river, you roll a lot and sometimes you go for a swim. My roll has become pretty reliable and I havenít swum in three years despite many days of Class III and IV white water paddling. That said, I truly believe itís only a matter of time between swims if you push your limits.

After surfing for a couple of hours, I paddled in for a break and found A., a friend and fellow club member, also taking a breather. On the beach was his new Spyder, a surf-specific playboat with hard rails and fins. I have to say this is the most beautiful boat Iíve ever seen and I REALLY wanted to try it out. A. wanted to keep surfing, too, but he gave in to my begging and said, ďOkay, but be back in five minutes.Ē

As I moved his boat out into the soup (so I wouldnít break the fins when I climbed in), I asked A. if my skirt was going to fit. He said that he was using the same skirt that heíd used for his old Gliss, so chances were good my skirt would probably work, too. My skirt slipped on easily and I paddled out.

At first, I intended to stay inside the impact zone because the waves were growing steep with the ebbing tide, but just like that, a path opened up for me and I paddled out beyond the break. Once I was outside the break, I realized I was the only one there even though there were probably a dozen boats in the water at the time. I made three quick tries to catch a ride (once straight ahead with my back on the rear deck, once with a hard diagonal angle, and once with a soft diagonal angle) and every time I got trashed. Rolling the boat was no problem but obviously, I wasnít figuring out what I needed to do to catch these steep waves. I know what I would have done with my Gliss, but I couldnít figure out what to do with the Spyder.

After getting stuffed three times in quick succession, I was breathing fairly hard and feeling frustrated with myself. The only thing I wanted to do right then was to get back to the soup for a breather and a chance to regroup. Just after starting in, I got hit from behind by a large, broken wave which immediately flipped me and surfed me upside down for a while. When the wave finally released me, I made two roll attempts and failed both times. Time to swim.

Just as Iíve done so many times in the river (for real) and in the ocean (for practice), I held my paddle in one hand and pulled on the grab loop with the other. It didnít budge. I let go of my paddle (with the shaft still held in the crook of my arm) and pushed and pulled on the grab loop now using both hands. Still, it wouldnít release. I worked on it furiously but nothing happened. Not even close. It seemed like my skirt was glued to the coaming. By now, I was really hurting for air and thatís when I began to panic.

At this point, I think I actually pushed my paddle away from me so I could attack the grab loop completely unhindered. It didnít help. With each passing second my panic grew more intense and my thinking less logical. I wasnít thinking about why my skirt wasnít coming free. I wasnít thinking about trying to roll again. I was just struggling with the last of my strength. (Actually, I remember having two very clear thoughts. The first was an image of myself, floating upside down in the boat, dead, my arms and body waving back and forth with each passing wave. The second thought was, ďA. is going to be so pissed that I died in his new boat!Ē)

Anyhow, I was so desperate for air at this point that I let go of the grab loop and attempted to get my head up for air by dog paddling toward the surface. Amazingly, I gulped a mouthful of air before I went back under. (In retrospect, Iím not sure how I did this. Iíve practiced hand rolls (unsuccessfully) but this was no hand roll.) Then I pulled on the grab loop some more, but Iíd pretty much accepted the idea that the skirt wasnít coming off no matter how hard I pulled on it or in what direction.

Iím not really sure what happened next since I was in a state of extreme panic, not to mention hypoxia. I think what happened is that I grabbed the sides of the boat with both hands (not the coaming) and pushed down as hard as I could. That lifted my butt off the seat and I think it allowed me to get my feet slightly under me instead of tucked forward. With the help of my legs pushing against the floor or inner sides of the boat, I blew out of the cockpit and came up for air. (Iím pretty sure the skirt released from the right side of the coaming, not in the front by the grab loop.) What I do know for certain, is that I was very close to blacking out when I finally came free. After I was up, I saw a woman (not from my group) paddling toward me. She was still 30 or 40 feet away at that time so thereís a very good chance I would have passed out before she reached me for a bow rescue. If I had already passed out, I sincerely wonder how she could have possibly executed any sort of rescue. I was locked into my boat, upside down, and we were still a good ways from the beach.

Lessons: My, oh, my! Where do I begin?

Over-confidence was the root of it all. I was blinded by my ability to surf in my Gliss and also by my ability to roll. Because of this over-confidence, I failed to take even the simplest precaution when testing a new piece of equipment. I failed to appreciate the true hazard of the situation. I knew that if my roll failed, it was no big deal to go for a swim, but I didnít stop to consider that the process of exiting this new boat was going to be different in any way from what I was used to. It was this attitude that led to a very dangerous level of complacency.

First, I was complacent in that I didnít test the skirt to see if I could release it. That was critical. Iíve used the same skirt (a full neoprene Snapdragon, size L spray deck) for plastic boats by Necky, Wave Sport, and Prijon and it always works the same way. Grab the loop with one hand and pull out (forward) a little and then up. I have a very similar Snapdragon skirt for my fiberglass sea kayak, and it takes exactly the same motion and force to release the skirt from the coaming.

My skirt seemed to fit just fine when I pulled it over the coaming of the Spyder. In fact, I can barely pull my skirt into place on my Gliss with two hands but I can release it with just one hand. The Spyder turned out to be just the opposite. My skirt went on it easily, but getting it off was another matter altogether. Also, because of the fins, I couldnít try the boat out on land before I got in it. I had to climb into the cockpit in the soup and that isnít easy to do in a small playboat with waves washing in. Once I had the skirt on, I didnít want to pop it off and risk a lapful of water from a wave. (Not because Iím afraid of water, but because I didnít want to look stupid.) And finally, I felt a sense of hurry. I wanted to honor my promise to be back in five minutes. For these reasons (and an unhealthy dose of confidence), I completely dropped my guard and failed to determine whether I could release the skirt once Iíd put it in place.

Apparently, Iíve also grown complacent (sloppy) in my skirt release technique. As it turns out, the coaming on the Spyder is much deeper than on my Gliss; roughly two inches deep by my estimation, versus ĺ to 1 inch deep in my Gliss and other plastic boats Iíve paddled. Itís also deeper than on my fiberglass sea kayak. Moreover, plastic boats (like my Gliss) also have very rounded edges around the coaming which means the skirt slips off if enough force is applied upward on the grab loop. Even my fiberglass sea kayak has a bit of flare to help the skirt slip off with upward force. Iím not sure, but I wouldnít be surprised if the coaming on the Spyder was specifically designed the way it is in order to keep your skirt from blowing out even under the most extreme force. That only makes sense given how rough it gets in the surf. (It also makes sense because Iím sitting upright and sucking in breath after breath of wonderful air!) Anyhow, the only way to get my skirt off the Spyder is to pull forward until the elastic band fully clears the narrow edge of the coaming. If it doesnít do that, no amount of upward force on the grab loop is going to make it pop. (In my efforts to release the skirt while capsized, I actually cracked the epoxy which glues the coaming onto the deck. However, I donít think this was the reason I finally got the skirt to release.)

Later that day on the beach, I retested my skirt on the Spyder and discovered that it takes extreme forward force to pop it from the coaming. So much forward force, in fact, that I donít think I would have gone out in the Spyder using my skirt even if Iíd practiced releasing it several times on land. Itís just too tight for my strength even under the best conditions. By contrast, my friendís skirt (made by Seals) seemed to come off with a normal (to me) amount of force. This may be because the Seals skirts are much flatter in design and itís easier to get the elastic band out and away from the coaming. I donít know. This is just conjecture on my part. I want to make it clear that Iím not knocking Snapdragon in any way. Their skirts are well-made and they work well. I like Ďem and I will continue to use them. Also, I have nothing bad to say about the Spyder. What a beautiful boat! It would be fun to try one again, this time with due respect for safety.

Finally, I donít place any blame for this near accident on anyone but me. All the mistakes were mine alone, and it certainly wasnít due to the conditions. What happened to me could have happened on a mirror calm lake. It could have happened on a river. The fact that it happened in the surf was inconsequential. As for my roll, it worked great the rest of the day. Yep, I went back out that afternoon and played just as aggressively as before, but you better bet I tested my skirt several times before I left the soup. Never mind that Iíve popped it off my Gliss hundreds of times before.

I offer myself as the poster child of bad examples and I feel very lucky to be alive. Hopefully, this story will be of some value as a learning tool and I look forward to your comments. John Montgomery

Messages In This Thread

Incident Report
Re: Incident Report
Re: Incident Report
Re: Incident Report
Re: Incident Report
What band? What song? *NM*
Re: What band? What song?
Saved by my Right Knee
Re: Saved by my Right Knee
Re: Saved by my Right Knee
Re: Saved by my Right Knee
Roll Dammit!
Roll or Die!
Re: Roll or Die!
Spyder!!
Re: Spyder!!
Clarification on Spyder coaming
Re: Clarification on Spyder coaming
Re: Clarification on Spyder coaming
Shawn / John
Fact vs Fiction
Re: Fact vs Fiction
Re: Fact vs Fiction
rescue help
Re: rescue help
Terminology clarification
Helping Hand for Fat Boats *LINK*
Re: Terminology clarification
Re: Helping Hand on conscious victim
Re: Terminology clarification
Re: Terminology clarification
Re: Terminology clarification
Re: Terminology clarification
Re: Terminology clarification
Re: Terminology clarification
Re: Terminology clarification
flailing vs inert
Good point
Re: Incident Report
VERY Humbling
Re: VERY Humbling
do you mean a ww yak?
Re: VERY Humbling
Re: VERY Humbling
Re: VERY Humbling *LINK*
Re: Incident Report
Other extreme
Re: Incident Report
Fear vs Panic
side release
already covered before, above - NT
The knife
Re: The knife
Re: The knife
Re: The knife
Re: The knife
The Knife: A bad idea
The Knife:A bad idea
Re: The knife *Pic*
Re: The knife
hook knife *Pic*
where?
Re: where? *Pic*
Re: hook knife *Pic*
Re: The knife
Re: The knife
Re: Fear vs Panic
New Techiques
Combining WW and Ocean technique
Why my roll failed
Re: Why my roll failed
Different backgrounds
Re: sculling
Re: sculling
Re: sculling
Re: sculling
Re: sculling with a Euro paddle
Re: sculling with a Euro paddle
Re: sculling with a Euro paddle
I have to agree with Shawn
Re: I have to agree with Shawn
Re: flat vs. positive shaped paddles
Re: flat vs. positive shaped paddles
Additionally
Re: Additionally
Thank you!
Re: Thank you!
learning theory
Hmm...
Re: Thank you!
Re: Thank you!
Re: Thank you! *Pic*
Re: Additionally
Greenland is AN answer but not the only answer . .
Re: Greenland is AN answer but not the only answer
Re: sculling with a Euro paddle
Re: sculling