What if I told you that you could die while paddling, even on a slow moving river? Remember the example of that nice March day in the south in my last post? Consider this: you chose to wear that cotton t-shirt and were paddling along on the lake, when your attention got diverted. You knew how to swim, so you didn’t bother putting on your PFD, except now you wish you had. As you tread water, trying to right you kayak, you find yourself shivering a little and getting tired. As the minutes pass, you’ve been able to right your boat, but you notice that the shivering is a little more intense. You try to climb back in your boat, a task you’ve done a thousand times before, yet, you’re having problems grabbing the opposite side of your boat as you fling your self over. Finally resting over the back end of your kayak, you go to make the move to get in the cockpit and seconds later, you spin around and are back in the water. While your struggling to get a hold of the boat, you lose grip of your paddle. The shivering gets worse. The anger and frustration kicks in and deep inside you feel a bit lost, a bit hopeless. And it’s all happened within 10 minutes, because the air temperature maybe in the 70s, but the water is much cooler and the cotton clinging to your chest is pulling heat from your body in quick-time. Does this seem a little dramatic? It can and does happen every year.
Do You Want to Paddle All Year Around?
Whether it’s the heat of summer or dead of winter, here in the south, we’re fortunate that we can easily paddle 12 months a year. My level of comfort paddling during the different season depends on my planning. When I discussed the topic of a float plan earlier in this series, I discussed what to bring. It’s also a great all-around tool for planning a trip; you’ll just need to customize it a bit. Planning for summer heat is simple enough: hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. And while water is important (and don’t forget to bring just a little extra for your trip buddies that may not be as astute as you), don’t forget the snacks too. I found myself crushed by the wind the other weekend, when I was taking a sea kayak skills course, because I did not bring snacks. Since it’s summer time, I will usually carry my ‘oops‘ bag, a rain jacket, and I’ll wear shorts and a polypropylene top. Summertime in the south, I could get a way with a t-shirt, but I prefer the polypro. Why bring a rain jacket in the summer? I’ve experienced times in the past when a thunder storm has literally dropped the temperatures by 10 degrees. It’s easy to stuff in my dry bag, so why not. And don’t forget the sunscreen too, right? I usually use Bullfrog, because it will act as an insect repellent as well as keep my skin from frying!
Winter time is an incredible time to paddle! Getting on the Edisto River with all the leaves gone, you can see back into the forest a long ways. Another thing I like about paddling during winter is the stillness and peace of that season. It just seems like everything is much quieter during winter. While the temperatures can drop during the winter months, the right clothing and the right strategy will keep you comfortable. I start off with quick dry shorts and a polypro top. I will add to that a layer of fleece and when it’s quite cool, I’ll add a synthetic hat to trap that body heat. Other options for keeping comfortable include gloves, an outer shell, like rain gear and I also have a spray skirt I can add to keep the water from dripping in my lap. The important thing is not to wear cotton, keep mindful of your body temperature and be flexible. Add layers when needed and take away layers as you heat up. And always keep in mind the combination of water and air temperature is what will sink you into hypothermia if you take a swim.
Paddling the shoulder seasons in the south can be the most dangerous because of situations like the one above. Again, the key to paddling throughout the year is proper planning. Even if it’s going to be a warm day in March, I’ll always dress for the water and air temperature combined and bring spare clothing in my dry bag. And speaking of dry bags, that’s one piece of equipment that didn’t hit the post last time. It’s a pretty simple: sealed properly, a dry bag will keep your items inside of it dry. I usually will add a second layer of protection for those things I absolutely don’t want getting wet, like my first aid supplies.
Thunder, Lightning and Rain, Oh My!
It was several years ago, when I found myself on the side of a river in Florida. A friend of mine and I were out paddling along when one of those summer storms came along. The rain poured down and the lightning lit up the sky. We pulled off the river, which seemed like a particularly good idea at the time: we were paddling a aluminum Grumman canoe. As all summer storms do, the lightning and rain slowly faded away and the sun broke through the clouds. When considering a paddling destination, it’s important to keep in mind the weather systems for that area. One of those pieces of equipment I particularly like to bring on sea kayaking trips is a VHF marine radio, which can give me weather updates. I will also keep an eye on the weather for several days prior to the trip, inspecting river levels (or tide schedule at the coast) at the same time.
Where Do We Go From Here?
As we near the end of the series on safety, all the lessons before start to blend in. How can you discuss weather without also talking about equipment? And would it matter if you have a VHF, if you didn’t first complete a float plan (knowing about where you’re at is important if your in trouble)? Paddling is a great way to unwind, get a little exercise and just enjoy being outside. Once we’ve put all the previous lessons together, it only makes sense that the final post in the series would be on skills. It’s important to have a plan and you certainly don’t want to find yourself on the water without the right equipment, but it’s your paddling skills that will save the day again and again. So what skill would you like to learn more about? A certain paddle stroke? Or what about how to rescue someone that’s taken a spill?
I’d love to hear your feedback, so drop me a line or two!