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weekend: tea ceremony and kayaking

This weekend marked a return to Japanese tea ceremony classes since our August hiatus. It's a nice routine to return to. In Japanese terms, we're well into autumn, never mind the warm weather. We had dried persimmon slices as a sweet. The humid weather combined with the steam that had been rising from a hot kettle of water for hours to make for a sweaty practice session. Our teacher gave us some of her garden's myoga buds, which I'd never tasted or cooked with before, but which I tried slicing up to add to miso soup (from a box). I couldn't manage to wash the dirt out of it, though, so—pressed for time—I gave up.

On Sunday I went to Virginia for a day-long pair of kayaking classes. The lake on which these classes are held is situated in a residential neighborhood, and the residents have docks with pontoon boats in it. We even saw a couple of floating deck platforms outfitted with tiny electric motors and patio furniture (complete with umbrella and potted plants), carrying some extremely relaxed-looking folks. It was a nice day to be outside.

The first class was introductory, so we learned the basic paddling strokes: forward, backward, sweep, draw, sculling—the same ones I'd learned in a different class the previous weekend. The (touring, I think?) kayaks we used were nicer: long and graceful, plenty of bungees on deck, watertight bulkheads, and thigh braces. Unlike recreational kayaks, these are meant to be an extension of your body.

After lunch was the second class, where we learned wet exit, assisted rescue, and paddle float (self) rescue. We each got a spray skirt, and for the wet exit got to capsize ourselves, remove the spray skirt, get out of the kayak, and get to the surface. For everyone else in the class, this was not a problem. But when I capsized myself, I panicked and just scrambled out, disoriented and out of control. I'm uneasy enough about dunking my head underwater right-side up, but apparently the rotational momentum and being upside-down underwater attached to something are enough to switch off any rational thinking in my brain and hit the big red alarm button. An instructor tried to help me practice capsizing slowly, but my nerves were shot and this seemed to be an issue beyond the capability of a kayaking instructor to solve. (Cue memories of childhood swimming lessons in which I was terrified of jumping off the diving platforms or even off the level edge of the pool.) I spent the rest of the afternoon without a spray skirt, and I declined being a capsized kayaker in the assisted-rescue practice. I did try the paddle float re-entry, though, after ever-so-gracefully (and unrealistically) sliding legs-first over the edge of kayak into the water. I had no problem righting the kayak (watertight bulkheads, remember), inflating the paddle float, and using the float as an outrigger to get myself back aboard. A few minutes' effort with a handy bilge pump and I was back in business.

In the end, the instructors didn't see my problem with the panicked wet exit as a big obstacle—it just meant I wouldn't be wearing a spray skirt. They see the Chesapeake Paddlers Association's requirements as a bit on the paranoid side, especially when it comes to their outings on peaceful reservoirs and the like. Which means it may have been a mistake for me to join CPA, but there's some hope that I can go kayaking with other groups, not to mention on my own.


( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 18th, 2006 07:36 pm (UTC)
I've often wondered if I'd be able to do that. Even baring the fact that doing it on purpose is going to be signficantly different than doing it in an emergency, I'm not sure how I'd feel about being stuck underwater and attached to something large and relatively stationary. I love the water, but don't exactly relish the idea of drowning.
Sep. 18th, 2006 11:06 pm (UTC)
I was teaching myself wet exits just over a week ago, but not on purpose.

Since taking up kayaking, I've had this odd fear of capsizing and wondered what would happen in that situation, but I found that when push came to shove, I was able to keep my wits about me and pop off the skirt while inverted. However, I was kayaking alone at the time, so my sense of urgency was heightened by the fact that it was either get out and recover or sleep with the fishes.

Historically, I've been a poor swimmer in that I never did learn proper air control to keep water out of my nose. A pair of nose clips really helped me get through my exits since that was one less thing to worry about. Highly recommended if you have similar issues. http://www.nrsweb.com/shop/product.asp?pfid=2050&src=champ

I'll be heading to a local creek the next warm weekend that comes up just to practice swimming around and recovering in current. I think the more you do it, the more you'll get used to it. I say this, however, not being totally used to it yet. :)
Sep. 19th, 2006 08:59 pm (UTC)
I'll look into the nose plugs—thanks for the recommendation. I see they're often sold next to ear plugs; maybe that's something to look into too.
Sep. 18th, 2006 11:49 pm (UTC)
Well, it appears that the spray skirt is the major issue here......when I tried capsizing my kayak, I had no trouble at all getting free, but that's without a spray skirt. Personally, if its windy/rough/cold enough to require a spray skirt, I'm not gonna be out there anyway. You kinda have to give a little thought to the conditions you expect to be kayaking in. The real problem I had was getting back in. It sounds like they have some sort of a device to attach to a paddle to help you get back in....I'd like to know more about that.
Sep. 19th, 2006 12:05 pm (UTC)
Re: Kayaking
Yep, it's called a paddle float. There are basically two varieties of them - one foam, one inflatable. Once you've recovered the kayak, you grab the float, put it on one of your paddle blades, and inflate it if need be. That then provides bouyancy on that end of the paddle, allowing you to use it as leverage against the deck of the boat.

Here's a good page on the subject:

One way to make the spray skirt exit a lot easier is to grab the release loop before you invert. Put both hands on the loop, then use your upper body to lean the kayak into a flip. As soon as you're under, pull the loop. This isn't practical for a real world release (since nobody ever really plans a wet exit), but it might help alleviate some fear during practice.
Sep. 19th, 2006 08:40 pm (UTC)
Re: Kayaking
Spray skirts appear to be required on CPA trips no matter what the conditions, which seems rather severe to me.
Sep. 19th, 2006 09:33 pm (UTC)
Re: Kayaking
After checking out that site, it looks like these are some pretty serious paddlers. Occurrences like this are probably why they require skirts. You never know when the weather is going to change on you.

Even mild waves may be enough to throw water into the cockpit, and while you could pump it out, taking your hands off the paddle in suddenly windy conditions to operate the pump may be risky. Using the skirt eliminates that particular scenario.

I think the CPA just has an incredibly healthy respect for the Atlantic that they want to impress upon others.

Of course, I'm landlocked and can only do lakes where a skirt definitely isn't needed, so my perspective largely lacks experience. :) If my current boat didn't have a cockpit the size of a small truck, I'd probably outfit it with a skirt just to get in the habit of having it. My next kayak will probably be a 15' day touring boat for which I'll definitely purchase a skirt since I'll need one to learn rolls.

But as far as the CPA goes, I get why they require it. They actually require quite a bit of gear that more casual groups would not. Chances are good they came to these requirements through experience. One side benefit for the CPA, though, is that by requiring all of this stuff up front, they effectively exclude casual kayakers. While an elitist approach, I'm sure it makes for a far more enjoyable experience for their trip leaders.

This isn't horribly different from my local outfitter who turned down my offer to revamp his web site because he figures the less people that know about his business, the better his clientele. He purposefully doesn't go out of his way to make more money because doing so opens him up to a cadre of customers who have unrealistic expectations and lack respect for the possible dangers of paddlesports.

The CPA, by setting their bar sufficiently high, blocks rec boaters at the gates and limits themselves to spending time only on those folks serious enough to meet the prereqs.

Of course, they also lock out folks whose only issue is that a single piece of equipment causes discomfort, which is a bummer.
Sep. 19th, 2006 10:02 pm (UTC)
Re: Kayaking
The CPA doesn't paddle only in the Atlantic/Chesapeake, though—next weekend they're paddling at the Occoquan Reservoir, for example. I haven't personally been there, but doesn't requiring a spray skirt at that kind of venue go beyond "healthy respect"?

Still, I'm more sympathetic to that kind of elitism than the secretive kind where you have to know somebody "on the inside". That is, at least they're clear about what their policy is and give everybody the opportunity to demonstrate their seriousness about kayaking.
Sep. 20th, 2006 11:46 am (UTC)
Re: Kayaking
Heh, yeah... I can't imagine needing a skirt on a reservoir, no matter what the conditions.
Sep. 19th, 2006 09:37 pm (UTC)
Re: Kayaking
Hmmmm....after looking at those requirments, I'm guessing that several club members must belong to the legal profession! For lengthy trips in cold/windy weather, in open water, yes, I suppose their requirements make sense. Just for exploring flat water, near shore, on a calm sunny day, the only item on that list I carry is a PFD and a healthy dose of common sense (as in don't paddle right next to a busy channel where large power boats make big wakes). It sounds like some of their trips are more of a marathon than just a casual paddle to take in the local wildlife and scenery. Our kayaks don't have any bulkheads, nor do I have any float bags....perhaps that's something I should consider checking into. The thing is, most of the water I kayak in is shallow enough to stand up, so getting back in is not such an issue. As I mentioned before, our Loon 111s are pretty wide, stable craft and you'd really have to work at it to upset it. My experience with rentals is that there is a pretty wide range of stability when it comes to recreational kayaks and there may be some out there that require a lot closer attention to keep upright. That's a big part of why I chose the model I did.
( 10 comments — Leave a comment )