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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I had a pretty close call yesterday. I went out kayaking on an inland lake here in North Carolina. I recently bought a C-1 kayak and was eager to try it out. C-1 kayaks are relatively short, very nimble kayaks where you sit kind of on your buns and knees. It was my first time in a C-1 but I am a somewhat experienced kayaker and stand up paddler so I thought I can handle it. Kayak was rated to 200 lbs, I'm 175 plus maybe 5 lbs of clothes and gear. It was windy (10-15 mph) and there were small waves (less than a foot) on the lake. Water temp. 43F. Air temperature 52F.
I sail my dinghy in these conditions quite often, so I could have been sailing, not kayaking.
I launched from the pier and was paddling in a more sheltered area close to the pier to get the feel for the kayak. The way you sit in a C-1 gives you high center of gravity and a lot of windage. I was paddling for maybe 5-10 minutes when a sudden wave and a gust of wind tipped me over. I was not expecting this but I was not panicking as I was only 150-200 feet from the bank. Initially I was trying to get back on the kayak but it was hopeless. I was quickly losing strength (mistake #1). So I started swimming towards the shore pushing the overturned kayak in front of me. I had a life vest but I thought that the floating kayak gave me extra help but it was only slowing me down (mistake #2). I saw that I was not moving towards the shore and that water was draining my energy at a frightening pace. I let the kayak go and started swimming hard for the shore. Let me tell you... it was really hard. Initially i was doing breast stroke but the vest was getting in the way and almost choking me as I had no crotch strap (mistake #3). I flipped over and switched to breast stroke. That gave me a bit more speed. Finally I reached shallow water at the shore. But I could not walk. My legs were too weak. They were like rubber. I crawled out on the bank, got the vest off, got the jacket off. Some guy walking his dog saw me in the water and called 911. By the time I had my legs back they were still talking to him trying to establish whether it was a real emergency or not. I told him to cancel the call. Had to repeat that 3 times to make sure it was for real. I walked to my truck, took off all the wet clothes, changed into a dry set. Pulled the truck to the ramp. Picked up my kayak and paddle that by now washed on the shore (lucky for me it was an onshore wind) and went home. Shaken to the core but alive, thank God.
 

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Discussion Starter · #2 ·
Time for analysis.
My original mistakes:
1. Testing a new toy in the cold water.
2. Not wearing a wet suit. In the winter I usually sail in my wet suit but this was supposed to be a short adventure and the wet suit hampers paddling quite a bit. Still, that was probably the biggest mistake I have made.
3. Going alone.

Plus the mistakes I listed above.
Any others? Let me have it. I deserve it.
 

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Wow. I'm glad it worked out. You already know most of this but for any others...

a. Dingy sailors and kayakers have a saying that your "dress for the water temperature." Though I may not wear a wet or dry suit every time (I frequently do), I always dress in something that will hold heat in the water. Bindblocker fleece, tight Goretex pants with tight cuffs, and a paddling jacket with tight cuffs are usual. Water still gets in, and it's cold, but not quickly debilitating.

b. A proper paddling jacket does not ride up and is not too bad to swim in; kayakers wouldn't accept anything that rode up. I think you may need to retire the one you have. Or is it possible it was just way too loose?

c. Going alone. I don't have a problem with that. However, it does raise the stakes and require complete preparation, like any solo water or mountain activity.

d. Practice self-rescue (getting back into the boat). Practice in waves. I'm not sure about a C1--perhaps it's impossible--and if so, you need to know that. Most kayaks it is quite possible, though the degree of difficult varies widely. In cold water, self-rescue has to be bullet proof.

e. ALWAYS carry something to bail. A full kayak is VERY difficult to swim with, and it must be emptied before you can self-rescue.

I've been in water with ice a number of times, but properly dressed, it was only unpleasant. I'm lazy about PFDs in the summer, but in the winter it is properly fitted.
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
Yes, I probably need a better pfd jacket for kayaking. The primary mistakes with my pfd were: 1. jacket not tight enough (only one strap was properly buckled). 2. Crotch strap was not on (that is not always comfortable for kayaking).
Once you are in a cold drink any adjustments are almost impossible.
My idea was not so much to get back in the kayak but to lay on top of it to minimize cold water exposure and get to shore faster. I wasted a lot of time and energy trying to do that. I was very clumsy in all this wet gear and C-1 is almost like a log to climb on.
 

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Kudos krisskross for posting your experience. I'm happy that you can.

I used to keep my kayak on my car so I could stop at the local lake on my way home from work. Even though I planned only a short paddle I always let someone know where I was going and when I expected to get off the water. An abbreviated float plan in case something happened. Sometimes it was an email home, sometimes a sticky on the fridge before I left in the morning.
 
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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
Yes, notifying others when going on a solo trip is always good.
The two biggest surprises for me were:
1. how quickly you lose strength in cold water. I was in the water for about 15 minutes, 20 at the most and when I got to shore I was totally spent. My legs were like jelly.
2. How hard it is to swim to shore in cold water with all the gear on. I had my wet suit boots on so at least they were not clumsy. The windbreaker jacket I had under the pfd was very snug and once it got wet it was restricting my arm movement a lot.
 

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Good postings, Kriss.. 'obvious' lessons relearned and you may have prevented someone else from having to 'learn' them again.

Like Donna, glad you could post and that you weren't subject of a 'News Feed' thread...
 

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Yes, notifying others when going on a solo trip is always good.
The two biggest surprises for me were:
1. how quickly you lose strength in cold water. I was in the water for about 15 minutes, 20 at the most and when I got to shore I was totally spent. My legs were like jelly. ...
One of my pet peeves are books and instructors who trot out charts that say "you'll become hypothermic in X amount of time in X temperature water" when there are so many other variables involved. My fear is that too many people look at those charts as the rule rather than a guideline. Other factors include your overall health (I have mild Raynaud's so it will happen more quickly), whether and when you've eaten, whether you've had alcohol, how much body fat you carry, etc. A skinny adult may succumb before a really fat child yet I see books that say children will get hypothermia faster than an adult, period. There are no absolutes.
 
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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
Like Donna, glad you could post and that you weren't subject of a 'News Feed' thread...
No kidding... When I was in the water initially, I was thinking "this is not too bad, at least I'm close to the shore". But after 10 minutes in the drink I started having pretty dark thoughts.
 

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Discussion Starter · #10 ·
One of my pet peeves are books and instructors who trot out charts that say "you'll become hypothermic in X amount of time in X temperature water" when there are so many other variables involved. My fear is that too many people look at those charts as the rule rather than a guideline. Other factors include your overall health (I have mild Raynaud's so it will happen more quickly), whether and when you've eaten, whether you've had alcohol, how much body fat you carry, etc. A skinny adult may succumb before a really fat child yet I see books that say children will get hypothermia faster than an adult, period. There are no absolutes.
True. But at the same time these charts give you some point of reference. One other surprise for me was that the water did not feel very cold. In the past I would skinny dip in cold, winter waters from time to time, and the water always felt like ice. This time the water felt cold but all the adrenaline made it feel somewhat bearable. Which was good. My thinking continued to be rather clear. Of course, I was in the cold water for a relatively short time.
 

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True. But at the same time these charts give you some point of reference. ...
I get the charts as a point of reference. It's the "You will..." rather than "You may..." that concerns me.
 

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Thanks for the reminder. It reminds me of motorcycling( dress for the crash). I dumped a canoe in a spring race in Maine 20 years ago and even though I had tons of military water survival training I was shocked at how fast I became immobile. Your cautionary tale may well save a fellow sailor. Al:)
 

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I get the charts as a point of reference. It's the "You will..." rather than "You may..." that concerns me.
I does depend Donna, but the rapidity of the onset of hypothermia is not to be understated. Up here in our cruising groups (north shore, Lake Superior) the water is always cold, year round. A bit offshore the water temp remains around 3-4 C (37-39F), even in the summer. You learn very quick to stay on the boat. Up here, the lifejacket really is just so the CG can find the body.

You really do have about 10-15 minutes of quality time before your body starts to go into hypothermia. Even in considerably warmer water, you have very little time before your systems start closing down. The dangers of hypothermia should not be understated.
 

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I does depend Donna, but the rapidity of the onset of hypothermia is not to be understated. ...
I guess I'm not making myself clear. I'm saying that there should be more education about how quickly (and why) it can happen and less thinking that "the chart says I have this amount of time before I get hypothermia so I'll be OK until T+1."
 
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...

You really do have about 10-15 minutes of quality time before your body starts to go into hypothermia. ...
You may. I probably will have less time. That's my point.
 

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Discussion Starter · #16 ·
I get the charts as a point of reference. It's the "You will..." rather than "You may..." that concerns me.
I imagine that one reason for this type of presentation might be the desire of the instructors to convey how dangerous these conditions are, even to the point of overstating the facts. I have a bad tendency to minimize the risks when it comes to my adventures so language like that gives me a bit of a pause. I'm sure I'm not alone in this.
 

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Glad this story has a good outcome.

I don't think you'd catch me in a kayak like that, in 43 degree water, with anything short of a dry suit.
 

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Discussion Starter · #19 ·
I don't think you'd catch me in a kayak like that, in 43 degree water, with anything short of a dry suit.
In a dry suit you can't do much. It is too big and bulky for any kayaking, except being a cargo. ;)
 

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I guess I'm not making myself clear. I'm saying that there should be more education about how quickly (and why) it can happen and less thinking that "the chart says I have this amount of time before I get hypothermia so I'll be OK until T+1."
Ah, thanks for the clarification Donna. I did think you were suggesting the opposite. The real lesson to learn is that we all begin to diminish immediately, no matter who you are. From the second you hit the water your system starts to close down to protect your core. Most people have about 10-15 minutes of use of their hands, feet, arms, legs, etc. before your muscles start to collapse. But you're right, that is for the hypothetical person. It can vary. Here's one quote from a Minnesota water research group:

"How quickly a person becomes hypothermic depends on a variety of factors, including personality, behavior, physical condition, clothing, and environmental factors. Everyone reacts differently to the cold, even under the same conditions. Generally, children lose body heat more quickly than adults and thin people lose body heat faster than overweight people. People dying of hypothermia in the U.S. are likely to be older than 60, male, unmarried, and living in Alaska, Montana, or Wyoming."

Again, the real point is to get out of the water ASAP.
 
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