Monday, 6 February 2012
The price of impatience!
We began travelling along the coast, rockhopping among small channels and around tiny islands. Sheltered from the groundswell it made for really pleasant paddling.
At the tip of a small headland, this outcrop appears to have striations - perhaps evidence of how far the glaciers reached along this coastline.
Around the point we were exposed to a low but powerful swell whilst mainly being sheltered from the cold wind. We continued to explore the small bays and inlets, enjoying the surge and retreat of the swells.
In a recent post I extolled the virtues of Moray Firth as a good place to learn patience, observation and timing whilst rockhopping. It's a lesson I need to do again!
I had watched a blind gully which was side on to the swell, and so was protected from the wave itself but had a good rise and fall at its mouth. It looked a fun place to practice holding position, so I watched for a few minutes to make sure it would be safe to try. I had thought of using a wider gully just to the landward side and separated by a low rocky finger, but decided on the more challenging play spot.
Having seen nothing untoward, I paddled to the mouth of the gully. After riding a couple of swells, I failed to see the arrival of a set of three, twice as large as the regular sets.
The first wave of the three broke clean over the seaward arm of the gully and onto me, capsizing me instantly. In a maelstrom of water, I made a swift wet exit- I just didn't want to be inverted in this place. The capsize turned out to be a blessing in disguise; the second wave picked up my boat and slammed it upside down onto the rocks - I almost followed but fended off with my feet and let go of the boat.
The third wave of the big set washed my boat off the rocks and into the wider gully and me up onto the rocks. I got a foothold, resisted the downward surge as the wave receded then walked off into the wider gully, which although choppy, was a better place to be altogether.
Douglas came in positioned skilfully to attempt a rescue (thanks Douglas!) but in the confined space things were difficult. I quickly decided that it would be better to self-rescue in the gully than try to swim the boat out and back into the swells. I managed to empty most of the water from the cockpit with a bow lift, then self rescued using one of the techniques I've practised whilst paddling with Gordon Brown of Skyak (thanks Gordon - it worked a treat when needed!).
Once clear of the gully, Douglas rafted up with me whilst I pumped out the remaining water and made a quick assessment. There seemed nothing seriously broken either on me or the boat so we paddled on for about 15 minutes to a sandy bay where we could make a proper examination for damage.
Amazingly, despite being slammed against rocks several times, my boat had suffered only very minor damage to the cockpit coaming (temporarily fixed with Duct Tape) and a couple of gelcoat scars at the bow. I already knew that the Tiderace Xcite is a tough boat - it had proved to be very tough indeed. I was also very impressed that despite being in the equivalent of a washing machine on full rinse with added abrasion, my Lomo Renegade drysuit was completely unscathed - another tough bit of kit.
So, was I unlucky or careless or foolish?
I'm still not sure. If I was unlucky to catch a set of big swells (we saw nothing as big all day) then I was incredibly lucky to get away essentially unscathed. Risk is part of sea-kayaking and the only way to be a better paddler is to practice at the top end of one's comfort zone. I re-learned the lesson that you should watch, then watch some more before committing, and practiced a self rescue in real and challenging water conditions.
I was in the water less than five minutes, my kit kept me warm and I was able to continue despite air temperatures of about 3 degrees Celcius and a very cold breeze. This is the best advert I can think of for wearing a drysuit and warm kit underneath - if I'd been in a two piece our day would have ended right then and there, with potentially serious consequences once I was wet.
Some of Douglas' very fine home made French Onion soup and a piece of cake completed the recovery on the beach. Douglas suggested that the spot would forever be known as "Ian's inlet" - I reckoned that "Stupidity Gully" might be more suitable!
Douglas had a much better view of the whole incident, his report of it is in this post.