Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Inflated Self-Rescue - or Why You Need to Test Your Gear, Part 4.

Like the title says - rescuing my inflated self! And HA HA HA, first total geek-out of 2012!

An explanation of why I'm coming back to a topic I really thought I was done with will be forthcoming at the end.

This is actually the 4th (and almost definitely the last) of a set of posts involving the testing of a somewhat new hybrid lifejacket, the Kokatat Sea-O2 that I bought early last summer when my late, lamented Lotus L'ocean finally gave up the ghost after over a decade of faithful service. I'd gone to Randy at New York Kayak and tried on a good half-dozen lifejackets - none of 'em fit well (my torso seems to be shorter than most lifejacket manufacturers think torsos are supposed to be), and just as I was about to settle on the best of a not-so-hot set of options, Randy thought of the Sea-02 hybrid, which strikes a perfectly nice balance of less bulk without giving up ALL flotation (which I wouldn't do because paddling the busy urban waterways I do, my all-to-easily-imaginable worse case scenario involves getting hit by a motorboat, in which case I want to float without having to do something, y'know?). I'd been meaning to test it out for ages (Kokatat included an extra C02 cartridge specifically for that purpose) and I finally got around to it in mid-December.

The first post on the topic was of course a video of that test, which was a complete failure because some knucklehead (that would be me) had completely failed to read the instruction. For anyone who missed that:

Part 2 was of course one of my worst geek-outs in ages a photo-essay on how it was supposed to work and how I'd managed to screw up the setup of the completely straightforward doohickey that inflates the jacket when it's set up properly (scroll down to December 24th if you missed it). Part 3, a quick post after the successful test of the then properly-armed lifejacket, was "Va Va Voom" - I just couldn't resist it. Mae West is right -- as I said in that post, when that jacket inflates off the cartridge, it REALLY inflates! I mean, seriously, the thing stuck out a good five or six inches past my, er, normal profile.

I'd also mentioned that the test wasn't just about inflating the vest - I'd also wanted to see how it would affect my movements as I did normal things like get back in my boat, roll, and paddle.

The verdict? I'm definitely glad I tried 'em first under calm conditions! TQ got the self-rescue on video, and as you can see, it didn't go all that well!

I'm pretty sure this is the first time in YEARS that I've re-flipped my boat during a cowgirl rescue - and I do them VERY regularly (aside from demonstrating it for classes & practicing it for fun on hot days, in the warmer months of the year, my personal answer to the age-old question of "how does a woman take a leak when she can't get to shore" involves reversing the above manuever - I get out of the boat, I do what I have to do in the water, I get back in the boat, no trouble at all)!

The emptying and righting the boat actually went great - I love my Romany but for a smallish boat, it's a pretty heavy beast, and when I go to the bow and lift to empty it, the bow goes up but I also obey the laws of physics and go under. This was true of my L'Ocean, with 15.5 pounds of flotation, and it's of course even MORE true of the new one with 7.5 pounds uninflated (yes, I also did a number of activities to test the new vest uninflated to see how it worked that way, too - it does make a difference in a number of ways, none terribly alarming but all good to know about). The cockpit ends up empty enough to paddle but there's alway enough water left in there to be annoying. With the full 22 pounds of buoyancy - woohoo! I could hold up the bow & get every drop out.

The first moment when things got interesting was right around 0:19 - having righted the boat, I went aft to do the next manuever, which is to do a nice swimmer's kick that gets your chest up on the back deck. I went right to the point where I would usually get on the boat, went to jump up, and instantly discovered that this wasn't going to work so well with the equivalent of a small beach ball strapped to my front! I didn't want to put a lot of weight on it, either - it's probably built pretty sturdy, but I am not exactly a delicate flower myself, and that would be a pretty expensive beach ball to replace if I happened to puncture it. Instead, I went further back towards the stern - the skinnier the kayak gets, the less flotation it has, the easier it is to get it underneath you, but as you get better and better leverage, more and more of the boat actually raises up out of the water, and the less hull you have in the water, the less stability you've got. I quite literally went past the tipping point and whoops, over she went and there I was back at Square One - and although you can't really see it, i actually fairly startled at having had the boat go rolling over right in my hands and end up upside down again!

The second time, I went farther back on the boat than I usually would, but maybe not QUITE as far back as before, and paid a little more attention as I jumped on, and that worked better. The sidling forward was also a little weird - usually when I do this I'm pretty much flat on the deck, shoulders only high enough to allow the arms free play - again, with this suddenly enormous front, I had to sit up a lot more, raising my center of gravity, which once again does a bit of a number on your stability. Worked OK on a nice calm day, but I am not sure things would go so well in rougher conditions & that's a good thing to know. TQ and I reached pretty much the same conclusion after all of this, and that's that it's good to know that the extra flotation is there & works, but it makes normal operations just enough more difficult that I should probably reserve full inflation for a last-ditch measure.

I sincerely hope I never have to pull that tab in earnest.

Oh, yes, and here's why I came back to this topic. It's all Silbs' fault - he's musing on some boat-shape-related cowboy-rescue issues himself over at Silbs Says!


Silbs said...

2 daughters and a wife (and women paddlers) blame me for everything :-)

bonnie said...

So you're used to it! :D

bonnie said...

Of course I could also have said it "inspired by". :)

I'd actually considered doing a post specifically about the problems that the new vest proved to cause when I tried to get back into my boat back when I did the second test. I just hadn't gotten to it because there was so much holiday-related stuff to do - but when I saw your post about working on recovery techniques for getting back into a boat whose shape makes a cowboy scramble a little bit tricky, I remembered I'd been thinking of doing something similar.

I do want to do a little more playing with the inflated vest, but I think I'll wait until the water in the bay is a little bit warmer!

Tillerman said...

So, is that cowboy/cowgirl method the easiest way to do a self rescue in a kayak? Is that what beginners should learn first?

Baydog said...

I'm out of breath

bonnie said...

Tillerman, that one, or the paddle float rescue. You could get a great debate going by asking a roomful of kayakers which one is better - what I would say is learn both & whichever one you find easier to do, that one's better.

I suspect that for you, the cowboy is probably going to be the self-rescue of choice - it takes a little coordination and a good sense of balance but a Laser sailor would have both of those.

O Docker said...

I think anyone who's doing this in January cannot have a good sense of balance.

bonnie said...

Oh, it was still December!