Reflecting on My First Inadvertent Capsize

posted May 16, 2015, 3:23 PM by Richard Sevenich   [ updated May 17, 2015, 8:01 AM ]

I have practiced self and assisted rescues over the nearly 9 years since I began kayaking. I have also tried to learn rolling and have an embryonic (one side only) roll. This constitutes a project that continues. Nevertheless, I aspire to be a flat water paddler who typically avoids white water. So there were lingering questions around the possibility of an inadvertent capsize e.g.

  • will I experience the cold water gasp reflex?

  • will I remain reasonably calm and wet exit successfully?

  • will I retain my paddle?

  • will I successfully reenter my kayak?

Recently, I and 2 companions (Phil and Audrey) ventured into Surge Narrows about one hour past max flood (7.4 kt). The 50-90 rule indicated that the current would still be significant and, indeed, we found currents and features in which to frolic without venturing into the more frenzied areas. I had used my dry suit 5 days in a row the previous week and it was deemed toxic. Consequently, I wore dry pants and a splash jacket and a pair of paddling boots. My neoprene spray skirt fits quite tightly.

As we battled our way deeper into Surge, I came upon a small rock islet with a wee overfall at the upstream end. I tried to negotiate this and immediately capsized. I did not teeter on the brink of going over; the capsize was instantaneous with

  • no cold water gasp reflex, no try at a roll

  • a first thought – gee, that was a surprise

  • followed by – I don't want to stay upside down

  • then my mind suggested that I pull the spray skirt off the coaming

Upon surfacing, I found myself in a bit of a back eddy holding onto my kayak, but not my paddle. The latter made its way back to me, so my companions did not need to chase it down nor did I need to grab my spare paddle. Next

  • Audrey rafted up with me and held my kayak firmly for my reentry, while Phil stood by

  • I placed my paddle between the kayaks and gave Audrey my hat

  • then I reentered, finding the boots awkward because they were part way off

A landing spot was quite close, so instead of using the bilge pump I paddled the water-filled, waddling kayak through the conflicting currents to the shore. Audrey preceded me and held the kayak so I could disembark without further embarrassment. We dumped out the water with Phil's help, pumped out some of the remaining water, and finally used the sponge. Although I carry a change of clothing, I opted to keep warm by swiftly paddling back to the lodge, a mere 30 minutes distant. I was not yet cold and thought I'd save the dry clothes for any subsequent dunking. The dry pants were ineffective without a properly overlapping dry top. I stayed warm on the paddle home and, being the first to arrive, was first into a hot shower. Final reflections:

  • I don't keep much on my deck, but it is well secured and stayed in place during the capsize

  • I lost neither my hat nor sunglasses, both with restraining straps

  • I need to work on my wet exit so I don't lose my paddle – the skirt is tight enough that I used both hands

  • I stayed calm; the water was cold but not shocking

  • salt water up the nose is preferable to fresh water

  • prior practice sessions at self and assisted rescues were important, assisted rescues are swift/efficient

  • continuing to pursue a laugh-proof roll is a noble endeavor

  • the experience was valuable to all and not traumatic