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.