Exiting retentive holes

After getting held in place twice yesterday, I decided to look for advice. I found this:



Joosse tends to give way too much info

– Last Updated: Jun-20-12 1:53 PM EST –

But he is generally right on. At least the articles of his that I have read (there are many) seem to be accurate. However, I have a friend who is a good class IV paddler and a former Olympic class swimmer. He got stuck in a hole and could not get out while staying in his boat. He finally swam, dove down to the bottom of the hole, and followed the outflow holding on to rocks on the river bottom. This is a person who could easily swim under water the length of an Olympic pool. Most people cannot come close to that. And most people do not know enough play boat tricks to get out that way if that is possible. So I say the lesson is: never paddle alone and make sure your paddling buddies have ropes and know how to use them. Travel through potentially bad holes taking turns at safety.

That’s a lot to remember …

Easy to remember…

– Last Updated: Jun-20-12 2:28 PM EST –

Running rapids with hydraulics:

"I'm going to run this one on the far right".
"I'm going to be so far right; I'll be carrying or dragging my boat on the right shore".

"Don't run it until I get safely below the hydraulic".
"I'll get my throw bag & CPR face mask, and have them ready, when you "go for it"!


Weird stuff, much to learn
After holding a side-surf for what seemed forever as I (stupidly) tried to exit to the outside and could not–later realized I should’ve at least tried to back-paddle towards the inside instead, and maybe flatten the amount of edge?–I decided to flip downstream (to avoid smacking my head and shoulders against a steep rock slope on the upstream side). Actually spent a few moments thinking about this, the edged position was so eerily stable, no bouncing. I didn’t think I could roll the “right” direction without getting a paddle jammed against that slope. So instead I wet exited, ignominy being preferable to injury.

That’s not the weird part. The weird part was that as soon as I got out of the kayak, my body was released but not the boat! I couldn’t swim it out of there until I tried angling it around in different ways.

This happened twice. I was, uh, testing to see if the phenomenon was consistent. :wink: The only thing I got out of that was that on the second time I didn’t spend time trying to swim the boat in the wrong direction like I did the first time.

If water flows are similar the next time, I may try to get in the same situation but try some other tactics. Not sure, though…I don’t mind flipping but getting held in place is a creepy feeling.

Play in small holes
Playing in small, somewhat retentive holes is the best way to learn how to deal with the big ugle ones. If you can surf or side surf, you can buy yourself time to make a plan. In a small boat, you have several options like enders, but most folks are going to have to work their way out at the ends.

A really sticky hole or low head dam might not have a good way out. Even if you know what you’re doing they are tricky, but even then if you keep your cool and don’t give up you can probably find the current moving downstream – hopefully without exiting your boat.


And one other thing
People drown in holes even if they come up repeatedly. If you are being recirculated do not get a breath by inhaling. Exhale strongly and an inhale will automatically and quickly follow. The exhalation will rid your lungs of stale air and make room for more oxygenated air.

Does full boat help?
It has happened to me a fee times. Stuck in a side surf and “the tractor beam” grabs the boat and I can’t get out. Eventually I start taking water over the gunwales, and eventually the boat fills up. At that point, I have been able to paddle the boat out, albeit slowly and precariously.

Is there any reason a full, wallowing canoe paddles out when the empty boat won’t ?


Yes, it’s heavier and floats deeper

As your canoe fills-up, it sinks down towards the deeper water of the outflow, which negates the backflow on the surface and you get flushed out.

Of course, at that point there is very little else you could hope for, short of exiting the boat as it is so heavy as to be mostly unmanageable for most other purposes…

I wish there were more diagrams in that article - lots of stuff in it and some of it I could not quite visualize on a first read…

It was a small hole

– Last Updated: Jun-20-12 6:21 PM EST –

Very quiet compared to the one on the other side of the creek. The other one looked scarier, but maybe it would've been better in terms of flushing me out? Some playboaters were doing tricks in that one. One of the instances where a boat went fully vertical and *washed downstream in that position* (boy, did that look strange) looked like it might not have been intentional.

My boat is a Jackson Side Kick, a kid's river runner. A spud, definitely not slicey. I would've thought my being at the upper end of its paddler weight range would make it seem lower-volume, but apparently the shape makes a big difference in how the hole "sees" it.

I don’t know if I’ll be able to remember that in such a situation, but at least I’ve read it now.

This time, I was actually fairly comfortable, breathingwise, because once I exited the boat I could move around and take a look at what was happening. The problem was that the boat felt like it was glued to that spot.

In 3 years of whitewater paddling I’ve seen that the holes and pourovers that look “easy” are “smooth” are often the most retentave and sometimes outright dangerous. Many low head dams have that look.

I have a river-play boat and I’m pretty comfortable in my ability to get out of most things on Class II and Class III runs. Sweeping the paddle to rotate the boat and dropping the upstream edge at my stern almost always results in an ender or a quick flip that kicks me downstream. I also have a pretty darm good sculling brace on my strong side that lets me side surf for minutes at a time. Sometimes I can slowly work my way to the edges to find an exit.

I’ve been upside down a couple of times when it ddn’t want to let me go right away. Rolled up onece into a side surf and then got out the first time. The other time, it was deep, so I paused and reached around with the paddle until I felt the current pulling me downstream and out of the hole – then rolled up. Time slows down a little as long as you don’t freak out too much.

William Nealy’s classic “Kayak” is the best-illustrated book I’ve seen for hydrotopography. There was a section on escaping holes.


Looking that up, I saw that there’s an updated version published after his death. Just ordered one from my local bookstore.


The cartoon format works for me. I can clearly remember the images even if i can’t recall the text.

boomer knows

one question–
did you pull the skirt and swim immediately after capsizing? One thing I’ve found with moderately retentive holes (emphasis on moderately) is that even though they can be tough to paddle out of upright, they’ll often flush you pretty quickly (i.e. within a couple of seconds) when you’re upside down.

I paused
I noticed that even when upside-down, the boat and I were not moving anywhere. I was hoping the extra “stuff” dangling from the boat (my upper body) would allow the downstream current to grab and shove us away but it did not. So I wet-exited. I guess that hole was deeper than I thought.

I’ve heard of putting arms overhead (while capsized) to try to go down deeper in hopes of hitting the downstream current below. Sounds like a recipe for injury and I don’t ever plan to try that.

Went back for more today
This time I avoided hanging out on that side, the one that looks easier. Both today and the other day I noticed that nobody was hanging out in the place where I got stuck.

One guy was really good at handling his kayak with just body language and hand-pieces attached to his hands (they weren’t mitts nor were they the pingpong-like paddles I’ve seen people using before). I asked him about that weird side and he told me it is a very sticky hole on that side. However, it is, in fact, pretty shallow. I guess the water pours down steeply enough and then kicks back so hard it doesn’t tend to flush boats out. Also, I saw that a large rock at what I thought would be the corner (escape) actually formed an obstruction that may have contributed to the kickback. Regardless, I decided to stay either on or to the right of the central greenwater tongue, as he advised. The eddyline on the other side was strong and more intimidating to look at/hear, but it also was good at pushing stuff downstream. How do I know? I flipped twice because I didn’t switch edges quickly enough crossing it. But at least it didn’t hold me in place. Got in my first two combat rolls of this season then. First time I rolled up I immediately got thrown right down again so I switched sides underwater and rolled up and stayed up on the second attempt. On the other capsize, the paddle actually swiveled over in my hands as I began rolling up, and I ended up with the power face UP. That wasn’t a good roll but at least it got me up.

With water levels low so early this year, I don’t know how much more time I have to learn this stuff.

my friends and I play
in holes a lot. I canoe, most of them kayak, but what we have in common is, in trying to escape a grabby hole, it seems the most successful way is to scull while bracing on the downstream side to pull yourself out. The yaks do generally get flushed after flipping, everyone has a pretty bombproof roll, and I sometimes have to do a partial swamp in my OC to get enough hull into the downstream flow. I feel I have another advantage in having a longer boat and a bigger blade; I can also reach out of the turbulence easier and try to grab some “unholy” water. A few times, even tandem, we’ve been stuck for minutes, and simply try to work our way forward or backward using the sculling brace.