Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Out Practising What I Preach

Last Saturday we had gorgeous weather for the last day of March. Sunny, calm and warm with a high of 14°C. It was a great day for a paddle and with the kids at the grandparents my wife & I donned our paddling gear and got out in the kayaks for a couple of hours on the South Saskatchewan River. The river is still mostly frozen, but through the city it is open and most of it is available to paddlers.

I mention that we donned our paddling gear and that is a large aspect of what I wanted to write about. We dressed not just for the weather conditions, but for the water conditions. We dressed for immersion.

I was wearing my dry suit (Barrier suit from Level 6) with long underwear (wool top, polypro bottoms) and a fleece vest underneath. On my hands I wore neoprene gloves (2mm), and on my head I wore a thin neoprene (1mm?) cap. On my feet I wore my new (used) Chota mukluks for the second time but the first time where I was in the water.

K wore a wetsuit with long underwear underneath, and a fleece sweater and softshell jacket over top. Although K declined to test her immersion gear, if she had ended up in the water she would absolutely have been cold, but likely would have been able to function well for a period of time. She had neoprene paddling gloves at hand, but chose not to wear them.

I'll add my observations and lessons learned at the end. In the meantime here are some pictures from the outing, and a couple of videos of me in action (and getting rather wet).

K paddling the cedarstrip guillemot I built for her (and documented in detail in this blog).

Heading south, away from the boathouse and downtown Saskatoon.

The west side of the river was clear of ice but a strip ranging from a few feet wide to half the width of the river was present on the east side. 
Some of the marathon paddlers from the Saskatoon Canoe Club were also out taking advantage of the fine weather. 

We saw their sterns mostly. 
They are building a new freeway bridge south of the city. 
The geese don't mind the ice. 

Heading back toward the boathouse. 
Paddling among the drifting ice.

With the neoprene cap on, I'm ready to practice my rolls and rescues. 

A video of one of my rolls in this ccccooooolllllddd water. I only did a few! (Note that at 5 seconds in my head is high, my head reaching away from the water. That is why I needed to finish the roll with a forward scull to get a little extra lift.)

A short segment of me practising my scramble rescue in conditions that were less ideal than the pool I had practised in a few weeks earlier. Things were much harder this time.

So, after getting into that cold water and practising, I can say I learned a few things (good, because that was the whole point).
  • Things are harder in cold water.
  • Things are harder when you are wearing a bunch of stuff.
  • Water that is at or just above freezing is really, really cold. (Shocking news, I know.)
  • The dry suit works well. I was mostly comfortable in the water except for those parts not inside the suit (hands and head). 
  • There was a cold spot at my lower back and that would quickly sap heat if you were in the water for a prolonged period. Perhaps my vest & long underwear top rode up?
    • A one-piece insulation suit (such as this or this) would prevent that from happening. 
  • 2mm neoprene gloves make it very difficult to grab deck lines even if they are not overly tight. The bulk of the neoprene made grabbing a 4mm rope from the smooth surface of the hull very difficult.
  • My fingertips quickly became numb when I was in the water.This made the dexterity issue mentioned above worse and it happened in only a couple of minutes. Had I been in the water for more than a few minutes, my hands would have been like using 2x4s.
  • The thin neoprene cap did not help much. Rather, it seemed to trap and hold the cold water against my skull and after rolling I had to loosen the strap to drain the water away. I think in a real world situation where the head is mostly out of the water (though with waves crashing over) it would be a net benefit.
  • Holy hell that water was cold.
  • The bulk of the suit and what I was wearing under it made the scramble rescue much more difficult. 
  • I need to calm down and slow down my roll. Also need to calm down and think about what I am doing for the rescues. This may have been the real reason my scramble rescue failed, it wasn't only the bulk of the suit. 
  • My new Chota Mukluks do not stay on when swimming. Anyone want to buy a pair of gently used paddling muks? I think they are a little large for me, which can't help. 
  • The filtrate discharged from the water treatment plant just upriver of the boathouse is a muck that looks like and has the consistency of baby sh!t. 
So, in conclusion I need to:
  • Keep practising.
  • Consider a different neoprene cap (like this or these).
  • Get pogies.
  • Calm down in the water.
  • Add beads to the deck lines to make them easier to grab. 
  • Sell the Chota Mukluks and go back to something that I'm sure will stay on when swimming.
  • Ask my wife to stop laughing at me on video.
The take home lesson of the day: Find a safe way to practice your rescues in less optimal conditions because that's where you'll need them. 


  1. I've never been in freezing water like that, but from your post it sounds like your body almost goes into a shock (you mention numb fingers while in the water). All in all, the roll looked pretty solid to me and now you'll be prepared for the worst in cold water.

    1. Yes, the body can go into shock ("Cold Shock"), but I experienced nothing of the sort. What I experienced was simply the numbing effect of cold which is going to affect the smaller digits (ie fingers) fastest. It eventually would spread to the arms and legs when not wearing a dry suit.

  2. Good reminder to always dress for water temperature.

  3. After talking to Kevin & James, I'm thinking I should use knots on the deck line rather than beads which would rattle (during transport and paddling) and possibly abrade the gel coat (or just be generally annoying). They recommended knots instead.

    Anyone have a good suggestion for a knot to use? I found this one with a little googling:


  4. Here's a video of someone else rolling around in ice water: