Monday, June 13, 2011

Farewell, My L'Ocean

You were a great, great lifejacket. I'll miss you, but when a lifejacket's usable life is over, it's over.

I can't just let you go without some sort of tribute here, though - you were one fine piece of gear. Best design, highest quality.

You were my oldest piece of gear, the last survivor from my very first trip to buy stuff from Randy, the owner of New York Kayak. It was my first year of kayaking, I loved the sport, I had found myself a couple of excellent coaches at Manhattan Kayak Company, and I'd come to the conclusion that I was going to be doing this for a while. I wasn't ready for a boat, for a lot of reasons; like most neophyte paddlers - at least in NYC - my first big purchase consisted of a carbon-fiber paddle (MKC had decent paddles for customers, Werners, but eventually somebody would let you try a carbon-fiber paddle & that would get an itch going) and a lifejacket (a better-fitting, more comfortable one than the ones MKC had for customers).

The paddle was an Epic - lasted a few seasons before it broke (OK, before I broke it - it didn't just break, I stepped on it), but the Werner Camano I have now is my second main paddle. I've been through two main boats, three sprayskirts, two wetsuits, four drysuits (including one warranty replacement), and an uncountable number of booties, nose clips, hoods and other sundry accessories.

But the Lotus L'Ocean that I bought from Randy that day in 1998, bright-yellow, shiny and new from the North Carolina factory floor - that's the only lifejacket I've ever owned.

Randy took the time to make sure that he was selling me a lifejacket that fit me well. I suspect that people who complain about their lifejackets being uncomfortable didn't go to a good outfitter to buy, just grabbed the first one that caught their eye. Lifejacket fit is more like shoe fit than t-shirt fit - you could grab a t-shirt off a shelf, look at the tag & more or less know that it's going to fit, but would you be terribly surprised if you bought a pair of shoes that way & found out they were uncomfortable? I wouldn't. I tried on a whole bunch, and the L'Ocean extra-small was IT (that I needed an extra-small was a bit of a surprise to both me and Randy, because I am not a particularly petite person, but he brought it down because the next size up was close-but-not-quite, and sure enough, extra-small was JUST RIGHT).

And it kept me safe (and completely comfy) for many, many, many miles.

No other piece of gear that I own gets used on every single paddle. I switch boats between the Romany, the surfski, and whatever boat I rent or borrow when I'm paddling somewhere else. I switch paddles - sometimes it's the Werner, sometimes it's Greenland, and if I'm on the surfski, the wing is the paddle of choice. But wherever I am, whatever I'm doing, the L'Ocean almost always came along.

New York. Connecticut. New Jersey. Massachusetts. Florida. North Carolina. California. Hawaii. Canada (Georgian Bay)...everywhere I've gone, the L'Ocean came along.

I've known the end was coming for a while. Lifejackets - especially a lifejacket that's used as heavily as mine - only have a certain number of years in them. I kept an eye on the seams and the buckles. The bright yellow has faded and gotten splotchy-looking. The embroidered mandala that was the Lotus trademark has worn away to a ghost of the original bright-green design. I stitched up a few minor tears and mouse-chews, I washed it, I swam in it on a regular enough basis that I knew the flotation was still good and floaty, it was always stored inside when not in use, and in March, it actually passed Coast Guard Auxiliary inspection.

But the Memorial Day trip that TQ and I took proved to be the end of the line. It was a long paddle, we were moving fast, and when we got back to the club at the end of the day and I went to wash it, I found myself staring at my poor old lifejacket's innards - not the seams, but 2 matching wear-throughs, one under each arm.

I had one moment of wishful thinking. "Maybe I could get some wide seam tape, and patch it" - but I knew the thought for wishful thinking as I thought it. Further inspection quickly confirmed that this was, indeed the end - there were several other areas where the fabric was clearly wearing too thin to trust, the worst being right along the neckline (where the floatation would just float right out the minute the fabric gave way).

So long, L'Ocean. I wish I could've gotten another L'Ocean as a replacement, but Lotus is long gone - purchased and then run into the ground and shut down by Patagonia. BOO.

Went to Randy on Friday & we had another good thorough fitting session. I think he got down five different vests. By the 3rd one or so, we had something that would work. 5th was the charm, though. Not quite as perfect as the old one, but pretty darned good, pretty darned good indeed.

End result:

Hello, Sea-02.


Pandabonium said...

I'm glad the L'Ocean served so well, but the Sea-02 looks great. Something to be said for fashion that is functional.

bonnie said...

Oh, the L'Ocean was a lot prettier 12.5 odd years ago!

The Sea 0-1 is a hybrid, which cuts down the bulk a good bit - it has 7 1/2 pounds of flotation uninflated, 22 when blown up.

I'm going to have to play with it some. I'm not sure I can leave the pull tag sticking out the way it came - I can just see that getting hung up & activating during rescue practice. It's going to make emptying my own boat a little bit harder. I also have some slight reservations about the doo-hickiness of it all, I expect this one is going to have a shorter lifespan, once the air bladder springs a leak, it's done.

Still. none of the Type III's that I tried on seemed to do as good a job at distributing enough flotation on my shortish torso as the L'Ocean three-panel design had done, and this solves that issue by simply losing some of the flotation - while keeping enough that if a motorboat hits me & knocks me loopy (or worse) I will still float (that's my biggest concern in J-Bay, I wouldn't consider the suspender type for that reason).

Tillerman said...

RIP old friend!

I think you mentioned before that the L'Ocean was a version of the Lotus Lola only with bigger pockets. My Lola is still going strong after 5 years of use. I can well believe that it might last 12 years too. I didn't know Lotus had gone out of business. That's a shame. They made great PFDs.

bonnie said...

That's right, bigger pockets and maybe a few extra attachment points.

The founder of Lotus signed a non-competition agreement when he sold Lotus to Patagonia. As soon as that ended, he got back to work. His new company is called Astral Buoyancy and it was actually one of the Astral designs that was the first of the vests I tried on on Friday and said "Yes, this would do". But the vest was only available in subdued, fashion-y colors of lavender and gray, while I like my PFD to be bright yellow (all my other clothing is dark and I want to be wearing at least one high-visibility item), and the fit of the Sea 02 was also just a shade better.

I'd first seen the Astral designs at Paddlesports, back in April, and I'd taken the picture of my vest with the intent of publishing a post titled "An Open Letter To Phil Curry". It was basically going to be a plea along the lines of "Dear Mr. Curry: Once upon a time you made the best life jacket ever. Your new designs are nice, but please - bring back the L'Ocean!"

O Docker said...

We're using non-automatic inflatables now on our (cruising) sailboat.

When the cannisters were due for replacement, I thought it would make a funny video of us both pulling the inflation cords at the same time while staring into the camera.

Way funnier than I thought, though.

My wife's vest didn't inflate!

Turns out it wasn't defective, but instead of yanking the cord down, you need to yank it out, to the side! Who knew?

I think it should be mandatory with inflatables that you do a practice inflate before you use it for real, even if it does cost you one of those pricey cannisters. And I guess it's a good idea to practice with the manual inflator hose, too.

bonnie said...

The Sea-02 came with 2 canisters, and believe it or not, I was actually thinking I might use one to do just that - a test inflation, in the water. For a kayaker, I think that's even more important - aside from knowing how hard to yank and in which direction, you need to know how much larger the vest is going to be and (key) how much it's going to get in your way if you go to get back into your boat. Need to know that to know whether inflation is a good thing to do right off the bat, or the court of last resort.

I'm suspecting the latter but I won't know unless I try it.

Sounds like it might be a really good idea to do so.

I'll see if I can get somebody to videotape when I do. Could be interesting, right?

bonnie said...

BTW, I did already try the inflation tube. I had a potentially embarassing moment at my certification exam - my old paddlefloat rescue device had sprung a slow leak, so I'd gotten a new one. Forgot to test it and the first time I was using it ended up being under my examiner's eagle eye. I got it blown up OK but then I didn't quite get it closed. I realized that I was losing buoyancy fairly quickly - fortunately my old one was much smaller, and I'd gotten the valve most of the way closed, so I just picked up the pace & had myself back in my boat well before the float stopped floating me enough.

The PFD valve is simpler - it's just a spring-loaded, closes off automatically when you stop blowing. Good design.

Baydog said...

If you have too much L'Ocean on your hands, you may not be able to grip the cord on the Sea O2. There's always the good old Mais Ouest.

bonnie said...

Mais whee!

Tillerman said...

Oh Lo Lah!