So, on Sunday Jan 27th, we decided to kayak the middle harbour–from the Johnson St. Bridge to the Gorge-Tillicum Bridge. It was a gorgeous day, with a rather unexpected blue sky over the city.
This was just a Middle harbour tour, the one you take newbies on, the one we do every so often because it is so unexpectedly pretty. It’s hard to believe that a working harbour (well, not as busy as it used to be, but still…) can host the collection of wildlife we’ve spotted there over the last year or two, and can be a beautiful as it this on a sunny mid-winter day. We’ve spotted harbour seals cruising the waters of Portage Inlet (the Upper Harbour, above the Gorge-Tillicum bridge), otters in the Middle Harbour, and herons and a dozen types of waterfowl spread out over the length of the inlet.
There were five of us on the day’s outing. and we launched from the tiny scrap of public beach left in the Songhees neighbourhood.
But the water was glassy, the weather perfect (And not just for a winter’s day. The conditions mean you can paddle without sweating or feeling cold. Perfect.). I didn’t bother to load my dunk bag in my rear hatch, because, after all, we were just going on a beginner paddle up the Gorge. I tossed my sneakers in the cockpit, hopped in, and took off.
My biggest concern was the weather; the forecast had not been promising–suggesting a combination of wind and snow–and there was clearly a front building off the east coast.
This front did later hit the city–although not where we live in Cadboro Bay. But it did drop quite a bit of snow and freezing rain west of us, starting about 2 or 3 kilometres down the road.
We paddled under the bridge and up the Middle Harbour, checking out the sailboats and trimarans docked below Ocean River Sports, the tugs and fishing boats on the other side of the harbour, and the Dragon boats zipping out past us.
The trip up the Gorge was intended to end at the Gorge-Tillicum Bridge, where the waterway narrows dramatically over what was formerly a reversing falls (dynamited out back in the day by an idiot who wanted to be able to take his yacht further up the Gorge).
After making a run directly into the current just for the heck of it, I ended up on the right hand side of the current, tucked into a small notch in the rock wall, Just on the other side of Paula’s stern (she’s the pink boat to the left). It looked kind of like this:
The direction of movement is my movement coming off the rock wall.In order to cross an eddy line properly, you need to minimize the effect of the current on the cross-sectional shape of your hull. This is accomplished both by the orientation of your boat when you cross the line and by the vertical orientation of the boat. If I was crossing the eddy line above, the orientation of my boat would be correct if the current was running in the opposite direction. That way I would be joining the current direction, minimizing its effect on my boat. When crossing closer to a right angle, you can reduce the pressure of the current on your hull by changing your vertical orientation.
This, quite roughly, is a normal, vertical cross section of a kayak hull.The scale and angles aren’t anywhere near accurate, but you can get the idea.
If this hull is crossing an eddy line, the arrows show the impact of the current on the hull; here the hull is going to cant strongly to the left. To counteract this pressure on the hull, you enter the eddy line strongly edged, looking more like this:
When I crossed into the current at the bridge, I was a full one hundred and eighty degrees off what I should have been for an optimal crossing of the eddy line. To compensate, I edged strongly as the nose of my kayak came into the current. The move into the current from the almost still water next to the rock wall seemed to be going well for the first quarter or third of the length of my kayak. But the combination of the rocker (the curve of the boat that lifts both the bow and stern from the cockpit) and the displacement (underloaded as I was, my kayak sits quite high in the water, emphasizing the rocker), meant that the portion of my boat that had crossed over the eddy line into the fast water was riding very high, minimizing the amount of my hull that was actually in the water–and thus minimizing the effect the current was having on it.
As my knees crossed the eddy line, I allowed the boat to come back down off the edge to a more neutral position. Of course, this meant that I was not edging as the major part of the hull was coming into the influence of the current. And so:
At this point I began to tip. And the more I tipped, the more surface area came into contact with the current, the more pressure, the quicker the tip, and firmly and inevitably, I turned upside down.
After that, everything was fairly simple. I did a wet exit, grabbed my boat–which I passed off to Paula, and I paddled myself (laying on my back supported by my PFD) over toward the dock. Alison came up and offered me a bow to grab, and she discovered just how difficult it is to paddle with someone hanging on the front of your boat. Eventually I got back into my boat and into the water (okay, with a failed seal launch off the dock I flipped again) and we made our way back to the beach.
Because it was a nice day and I was a bit overdressed for the weather, I was properly dressed for the water temperature, but I had the neck of my paddle jacket open, so I did get the occasional cold line of water down my neck. When I got out on the dock, I found that I had a “spare tire” of water around my middle. Had I done a self-recovery and been pumping out my boat, this water would have added a few strokes to the pumping. Of course I destroyed another camera–making two lost to the water in the last four months or so. thankfully I’ve been buying really cheap ones….
The recovery went well; nobody panicked or got flustered and John was somewhere else photographing at the time. My new microfibre base-layer worked well, keeping me very warm while I was in the water and once I was back in my boat.And I didn’t lose the sneakers I’d just shoved into the foot of the cockpit when we’d launched.
It served as a good reminder that I’m most likely to get in trouble (well, however much trouble an unexpected flip can be, which is not really very much) when I’m in water that I consider safe or familiar: Baynes Channel or the Middle Harbour. In unfamiliar waters I’m much more alert than when I’m paddling my boring old home waters.