Saturday, December 11, 2010

How important is boat fit?

We met under the north tower of the Golden Gate Bridge to do some playing amongst the rocks around the Marin headlands.  There were four of us and four different boats with a plan to switch throughout the day to see who liked what the best.  There was a steady rain but little wind and even though our timing was a little off from the current we had no problem getting out the Gate.  And immediately we were met with surge- even inside the protection of Pt. Bonita the forecasted 10 ft., 13 second swells were creating some fun action. We played our way out to Pt. Diablo and landed on a steep little beach for the first boat swap.

The swap put me into the new P&H Delphin - a boat I'd been wanting to try for a while.  It was the longest boat we had with us at 15'5" and was designed with rock gardens in mind.  My skirt was rather large for the boat and I mentioned to Sean I would just have to avoid getting dumped on by a wave (see the 2:35 mark in the video to see how I jinxed myself).  Sean ended up in a boat that didn't fit so well and as we pulled away from the beach he mentioned that he didn't think he would be able to stay in it if a wave took him for a ride.

In no time we rounded Pt. Bonita and I followed Sean in amongst the rocks, close to the point, and faster than you can say double jinx a big set came in and washed over our protective rocks.  Sean and I both turned into the broken wave and drove forward.  My long boat with a pointy and buoyant bow pierced the wave and I rode over the top.  I looked to my right and saw a complete lack of Sean and his rounded bow little boat.  I looked back and saw the wave wildly throwing the boat around and Sean popping up next to it - he had been sucked out of the boat.  I looked back outside in time to see an even bigger wave coming in and charged forward yet again - this time launching my boat completely into the air as I topped the wave.

I paddled towards Sean who was swimming away from the rocks (and his boat) and he told me to get clear - even while swimming he was looking out for my welfare.  He swam around the point into calmer waters and the rest of us met him there.  He climbed onto my back deck and with a little help from Bill and Tony we headed to the nearest beach.  Once there Sean climbed ashore while we went back to see if we could salvage the boat.  But the boat was nowhere in site - either trapped in the rocks or at the bottom somewhere.  Without a boat Sean walked the three miles back to the vehicles while we paddled.  He beat us back and we were all in relatively good spirits (Sean just felt terrible about losing someone else's boat).

 While losing a boat is never fun it was also never too scary.  Sean was comfortable with the swim and was not in much danger.  If he had been in a boat that had a proper cockpit that was outfitted for him he would have been able to stay in the boat, roll up after the wave passed and paddled out of the impact zone.  With just three paddlers at this point we chose to stick together getting the swimmer safely to shore.  If we left someone to watch the boat it would have left one boater alone somewhere.  It was easy enough to get him to shore and he had quick access to the road which lead back to our launch site.  The boat had float bags backing up the bulkheads and hatches so we were expecting it would still be floating when we got back to it.  So I think our response was correct and losing a boat isn't such a bad thing in the realm of possible outcomes.  Prevention was the key and proper boat fit was the lacking element.  Lesson learned.

Sean's recounting of events is on the California Canoe & Kayak staff blog.

Video below - you definitely want to watch this in full screen HD.

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