Iím sure this is nothing new but it may help a beginner if they read this.
I live in Bournemouth, on the south coast of England. I enjoy sea kayaking on SOTís and would consider myself reasonably experienced and have had my fair share of moments but late summer 2008 I learnt a valuable lesson. And it took me Ď10 yearsí of sea kayaking to learn. Shame on me.
The days weather forecast was good, just a light easterly wind. I rang my friend Stuart to see if he was free for a paddle to the Isle of Wright at lunchtime (an island about 10 miles out famous for yacht racing). He was and we were on the water at about 2pm happily paddling out in good spirits. I was in my RTM Disco he was in his OK Prowler 13. I like day trips, he like to fish. We paddled together mainly but found him slow in compassion. Many times I would paddle a little way ahead then back track to circle him again, our crafts noticeably different. However, we had fun, in no great rush and both were getting a good workout. I took about two and half hours but about half mile out from a headland named the Needles (notorious rough sea area) we were becoming more cautious as the sea was getting quite choppy. I paddled ahead to check the sea state nearer the Needles and returned saying I thought it was not wise to continue forward. However we soon realise that it was not just the sea state that was changing, the weather was brewing up too and within a very short time the sky was deep grey we were being pushed about in the water. The rain came down heavy and visibility dropped as the wind and the waves started to battle against us. We were in open water so decided to head to the closest mainland point about four miles south. Now I have to admit I found it hard to stay still in my Disco. It was like trying to stay still on a bike that was not moving, I needed to keep moving to keep balance. Stuart however seemed quite stable in his Prowler, although he didnít seem to be moving very much. So we both headed toward the mainland. I had to keep my head facing forwards, unable to look back in case I tipped over. I felt unstable, often, if took my eyes off the horizon for a second and I was having to recover. With the wind one way and the tide and current the other, I was being pushed around like a bath toy, but the Disco did well and cut through the surf, held the line and kept me upright. I said sh*t more times than I normally would because I knew if I went over, it was going to be bloody hard to get back in again. However we both had lifejackets on, paddle leashes and there were two of us so at least we had each others support, or so I thought. About a half a mile from the coast the sea felt a little calmer so I looked around to see how far Stuart was behind me, but he was nowhere to be seen. The visibility was still poor and I didnít want to go back out again but I had no choice, I couldnít see him. Where was he? Had he capsized? Was he floating around screaming for help? Had he drowned! I turned around and headed straight back into the swell, shouting his name, checking any buoys in case he was holding on to one. Nothing, no Stuart, and no kayak in sight. I started to panic and headed once again to the mainland. I was even more conscious of my situation, if I fell in now, not only would I be finished but I could not help my buddy either. Add to that I even started to think what I would say to his family. I paddled like I had never done so before, like a bat out of hell I raced to the coast, I had to call the coastguard. Luckily on the way toward the coast the worse of the weather was stating to pass and I made good speed. Arriving at the shore I needed a bearing as I had no idea which beach I was on and had to quickly ask a fisherman nearby. I grabbed my mobile from the front hatch and called the coastguard. As I explained that my friend was missing I was told to relax because he had already contacted them using his VHF radio and that he was being monitored and he was OK and heading toward Bournemouth. ĎHells bellsí did that sound good! He was OK, so now I just had to paddle back home too, but that was not going to be easy. Although the water by the shore line was quite acceptable, my physical condition was not. With all the tension, battling and stress my whole body was starting to flack. My arms were heavy as stone and I felt weak and disorientated. I couldnít think how far I had to go but knew if I hug the coast I would get back OK. I did so, for another ten miles. When I arrived back to our set off point it was 9.30pm and Stuart was there waiting for me. The coastguard had told him I was OK and was heading back also. I couldnít pull or carry my kayak when I got out, but I could manage a hug with my buddy. The trip, for me was 30 miles but it felt like 100.
I have been out many times before in rough weather, equally as bad as that day and often with a friend. However before my friends have had kayaks similar to mine, SOTís able to cut. The problem this time was I could manoeuvre and control my Disco when the sea got rough, where as Stuart in his Prowler, although quite stable, struggled against the elements and ended up just going with the wind and tide. Luckily on this occasion it had pushed him toward home. What would have happened if the wind blew him further out to sea? The bad weather was not forecasted and it came from nowhere. I already knew to respect the sea and its sudden changes but it reminded me. Our kayaks stood up well but looking back I can remember thinking at the time that Stuart just doesnít seem to be moving even though he looks like heís paddling like hell. So I learnt that two kayaks are not the same when the sea turns bad. But the real lesson I learned that day was take precautions and take a VHF radio out to sea. I brought a Cobra MR HH415 submersible soon after and take it with me whenever I go out. I have never had to use it yet but if I do I will be glad I have it. Thanks to Stuarts safety measures he was able to do something I couldnít. If I had a radio too I could have called to him and would have known he could not paddle against the wind and I could have joined him on his route. I would have been back earlier and we could have had a beer. I also carry my mobile in a waterproof waist bag. Another good tip I have used is to leave a note on my car windscreen (if my wife doesnít know where Iím going) to say when I left, what my route is and when I plan to return. At present I donít carry flares, but would be interested anyoneís thoughts on that.
As I said at the start, this is after 10 years of sea kayaking. I should have known better but I know Iím not the only one. Sometimes we can come complacent with our ability or worse the sea. Donít, because it may only takes one time for it to become no more times.
As a closing note, an inexperienced chap I knew went to Cornwall to kayak alone, without a radio, left no note or anything. He capsized, kayak with mobile went one way, paddle the other and he ended up stranded on some rocks for hours. Luckily someone saw him and he was rescued. I heard his kayak was up for sale soon after that.
If you want to see other days on the water then think safe. Radio, Life Jacket, Paddle Leash, Note, Phone. All checked and ready to go.
Loc: Sydney, Australia
That's a very sobering story, thanks for sharing. I'm glad it all worked out well in the end, could have been much worse if the wind and tide had been from a different direction. Your comparison of the behaviour of the two different SOT's was very interesting. I also have a Disco and have paddled it in some very difficult conditions, wind against tide combined with rebounding waves from nearby cliffs and my experience of the boat has been very similar to yours. I think under these conditions it behaves more like a conventional sea-kayak moving around a lot due to the low primary stability but stiffening up as soon as the secondary kicks in. It's never dumped me but I have to keep reminding myself to stay loose and let the boat move around underneath me. "Loose hips save ships," they say. Like you I've also found that the Disco will keep moving easily under these conditions, in fact it seems to like them better than calm water and tracks extremely well due, I think, to the fine entry and exit. I notice in your other post that you have found a seat raises your CofG too much and affects stability. I've never used one but several members here have reported the same thing. However, I do use very tight knee straps, as I really like the feeling of being part of the boat. My only complaint about the Disco is that I wish it was 2' longer .
Now to check the cattledogs to see how much a VHF radio costs these days.
_________________________ "The best boats are either small enough to carry home, or big enough to live on." Phillip C. Bolger (1927-2009) It's not if, but when.
Loc: Los Angeles, CA
That is a sobering story. All things considered, I think you and your buddy did quite well. As you already figured out the only real mistakes were the mismatch in kayaks (and paddlers?) and the lack of communication. But both are easily fixed.
In terms of the RTM Disco, I can tell you - having briefly owned one myself - that my Scupper Pro is WAY more stable, more along the lines of your friend's Prowler, but hopefully a bit more nimble in the waves. On the other hand, I doubt that you could have done 30 miles in a Scupper Pro that day. So, my hat off to the Disco.
Still, if you may be forced to paddle offshore in weather like that, and South England is of course not Southern California, I would seriously suggest you get yourself a kayak that doesn't require that much attention to stay upright. It sounds like you were really quite worried about capsizing, and couldn't even turn around to look for your buddy, which ended up being a real problem in itself. That's just unacceptable. I would never feel comfortable going offshore in a boat like that and I go offshore a lot.
The Kaskazi Pelican should be a perfect fit. It is said to have a super-low seat, even lower than the Scupper Pro, with excellent primary stability, plus it is of course much faster than the Scupper Pro. It's a big investment, but if you can actually test paddle the boat before buying and are serious about paddling to distant places like the Isle of Wight, you should be able to justify the purchase to your wife. For that is really the only reason we don't all Kaskazi boats ourselves, right, guys?
"Paddle when you can, sail when you must."
Yes it was an experience I would not want to go through again. Not just because of the conditions but being in a situation where I could manoeuvre and someone else could not. Stuart was at least a fit guy. Had it been with my wife I would be having to tow her back in (done that before, as I always carry a line with me). Intersesting that Clay also had simular experiences, I'm glad it worked the same you too. Also that others found a seat a problem with stability. Have not heard that saying about the loose hips but your right, I guess experience did pay off for me that day. I did many mnay years of martial arts and have always applied hip movement to my kayaking. I'm really like the look of the Kaskazi Pelican. Price may be an issue (I may have to sell one of my other kayaks just to keep the wife happy) but it does look like it will do the job I want especially with that deep seat and those fine lines. Robert I will let you know if I get to try one. Thanks for the replies guys. Stephen
Loc: Los Angeles, California USA
Gosh Stephen, That's a heavy story! What a reminder of the dangers of the ocean... Things can, and do sometimes change quickly out there on the ocean, and sometimes without being forecast! Just the other day here in Los Angeles the conditions were great, nice+sunny in the early afternoon, when the wind started to pickup offshore outta the North. I was even thinking about leaving work early to get a paddle/sail in as it got dark. All of a sudden our infamous Santa Ana wind conditions developed, the offshore winds went NUTS(!), palm trees were swaying big time, and conditions were outta control for paddling. I bet even kayak sailing would have been extremely trying in 30-40mph offshore winds too! Riding a bycycle on the bikepath just to see the surf with sand stinging my face was no fun, I can't even imagine paddling my kayak out there that evening...
As you noted in your story, safety gear is of utmost importance for unexpected conditions that might develop. When I started paddling, I had read somewhere that one should be ready for the paddle they might have to do, not the one they were planning...
For that reason, I always keep my paddle leashed, and will sometimes, conditions deciding, use a 10ft surf leash to attach myself to my kayak. I always wear a full 3/2 G/B wetsuit, usually pulled halfway down, with a PFD also. The PFD has a Standard Horizon HX850S VHF, a cell phone, mini air-horn, Weatherman Wave tool, signal mirror, snacks, and my Canon D10 submersible camera. On my kayak I carry a swim fin or two, 3 lb. anchor with 300 feet of rope, a sea drogue anchor, a safety kit with parachute flares+smoke, and my Freedom 7 Shark Shield. I have an extra paddle stored below, foam blocks to help my kayak stay afloat if need be, 100 ft extra towing/anchor rope, bailing bucket, sponge, duck tape and spare bottled water. My secret weapon though, is my KayakSailor 1.4mm2 sail...
Anyways, reading alot of valuable articles here on TopKayaker.com has helped me to prepare for the day where I too am in tough weather and will have to use my ocean knowledge to fight my way to get back to land. Glad you were safe! sincerely, Randy
We may have met at Mudeford before? I live in the same area as you and still own the original Disco that was called a Hawaii and later Baja Sport before becoming the Disco.
Like you, I am an experienced sea kayaker. Either myself (in the past) or an accompanying friend have paddled the Hawaii (Disco) around the IOW, and on long 30 mile plus trips around most of the West Country. This kayak handles the rough waters well as originally it was remodelled from a short plastic SINK sea kayak. However, it was designed with a flat bottom mid section for good initial stability. Hence I still use my old Hawaii as a good introduction for friends and family. I built my own SOT 28 years ago based on a full length expedition sea kayak. The different characteristics of both these kayaks side by side in varying conditions is very noticeable particularly the secondary stability in rough conditions. My more tippy sea kayak design comes into its own as the waves pass the more rounded hull whilst rocking the flatter hull of the Hawaii. This is why although you made reasonable progress you felt unstable.
As has already been mentioned; good thigh straps or even better; a quick release lap strap (a dive belt works well) give better connection so that you can wear the boat as opposed to just sit on itÖespecially in rough water.
The direction you were approaching the infamous Needles would have put you in very confused water at certain states of the tide. Add a wind and weather and you have quite a cocktail. It is best to paddle across from Keyhaven or Milford so that you miss the worst of the rip and then down to the Needles. This is one of my favourite paddles in the area. Happy paddling and let me know if you fancy a joint trip.