don't panic and try everything! Posted by: tdaniel on Nov-05-12 4:31 AM (EST)
That's what I told myself when I found myself trapped by a sprayskirt a few years ago. I was paddling the Little River in TN (below the elbow) and three of us had been swapping boats to keep the class II-III run interesting. I jumped in someones free style,or rodeo kayak and promptly flipped at the bottom of a class III rapid. I tried to roll but the balance was totally different so I only got 3/4 of the way up. It was chilly (March in the Smokies)but I was dressed appropriately, and had some air in my lungs. I couldn't find a grab loop along the cockpit combing. I ditched the paddle and put my hands on the sides of the boat and pushed with all my might with both my hands and feet. I came up off the seat but it felt like a giant rubber band was holding me in the boat still. I tried grabbing a side of the skirt under the cockpit combing with no success. What got me out was grabbing the skirt with both hands and pulling, but this is hard to do wearing neoprene gloves. That did the trick. If that hadn't of worked I would have tried peeling down the tunnel and kicking my way out. My main thought while I was upside down was how embarrassing it would be to die in class III rapid. Certainly, if your going to die on a river you want it to be on something more worthy. That was my screwed up thought process.
I learned a couple of things from that experience: 1) Make sure you know where the grab loop is on the boat you're paddling. You can do this by tracing your hands over the cockpit rim and touching the loop before leaving shore. The position of the grabloop was in a slightly different location on the boat I was paddling and I simply hadn't paid attention. 2) consider a loose skirt. A little water in your boat ain't so bad if it means you can get out. I had help putting on the skirt but because "it was real tight and a bear to get on". That should have sounded an internal alarm in my head but it didn't.
3) just as you practice your roll you should practice wet exiting different ways in a pool with a buddy. That practice paid off for me.
This past Feb. I flipped in the bottom of a small class IV falls on paint creek in wv and had to wet exit with my nondominant hand because I dislocated my shoulder. At the time, upside down in the river, I didn't know my shoulder was dislocated, I just knew I couldn't even set up to roll and my body wasn't working right to even reach to wet exit but I did get that grab loop with my good arm and hand. It wasn't pretty but I got out pretty quick and it involved some kicking even after the sprayskirt came loose.
You do what ya gotta do to survive.
In the past, people used to put a little plastic wiffle ball on their grab loops to make them easier to find. The problem with that is they can get caught on branches from overhanging trees. It might be a good thing to do if that isn't a concern for the paddling environment you're in. Otherwise I consider them a snagging hazard.
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