At long last, I recently obtained knowledge and real experience regarding sea kayaking from a source other than the people here. This was a four session course with the last session being Deception Pass to tie all the skills together. It turns out I did not go for the fourth session which was a serious disappointment, but I’ll explain why later. The three sessions I attended were each about 2.5 hours long at Lake Union in Seattle, the site of the houseboat in Sleepless in Seattle and sporting striking views of the downtown skyline, the Space Needle, and Gasworks Park.
This was no gentle introduction to sea kayaking thanks to Mother Nature. During the first two sessions it was raining almost the entire time, with air around 50F and water around 45F. I’m glad I arrived early on the first day because negotiating the drysuit, booties, foot pegs length, and the rest took plenty of time. It was my first time trying to put on a drysuit and to be honest it wasn’t awful. I think the aforementioned temperatures and conditions helped me to feel quite grateful for the thing, and I was amazed to learn that I could be choked by the neck gasket and breathe at the same time. I did however make sure to confirm with my fellow newbies that my head was not turning into a blueberry after wearing it for some time.
The night before I had stayed awake thinking about wet exits in the cold water. I was still thinking about that first wet exit as I entered the kayak while still nice and dry. Once we got into the water, while I was wondering how the hell I would remember all the things I was being taught, these thoughts faded a bit and I was able to settle in and paddle to the site where we’d practice rescues.
Once I saw someone else tip over it was on, as I wasn’t going to be the guy who chickens out. For the first one I did start with my hand on the skirt loop, and after I fell over it felt like only an instant before I was floating with my head above water. It does seem true that especially once the skirt comes off, my body just naturally dropped out of the kayak and the PFD naturally brought me to the surface.
The paddle float rescue took me three tries to get right. I made the same mistake a couple of times where I was leaning too far on the opposite side of the paddle float and flopped back in the water on that side. Then I decided to put some more trust in the float and favor that side, and it was easier. However I took the paddle float off straight away and stowed it, which meant I had to pump out the water and put the skirt on while balancing the boat! The next time, I made sure to make use of the paddle float’s handy services until I was ready to start paddling again.
The worst part of the experience by far was losing my glasses to the gods of the lake in the third session. I was wearing chums but they slid right off when I entered the water one time. I never saw the chums or the glasses again. I have a (decidedly mediocre) pair of backup glasses but I had left them at home, so I couldn’t even drive home. I needed to Lyft home, get the glasses, and Lyft back to my car. This is when I decided to make the painful decision to skip the Deception Pass adventure on Sunday, since if anything happened to my backup glasses there, I’d be SOL for the long trip home.
Overall the experience was positive. Along with rescues, I learned about proper forward stroke technique, keeping the lower body separate from the upper body, edging the boat to aid in staying on course or in turning, doing a skulling draw, a forward and reverse sweep which came in handy numerous times during the lessons, and then finally the low brace. The first time coming out of nasty weather and dunks in the water and being dry and ready to go home felt miraculous. Reading about it does the experience no justice. It must be seen to be believed on a deep level.
I was not as fluid in my movements as I want to be, so it felt tiring. I assume this will improve with time and it’ll feel less like I’m forcefully pushing water and yanking the paddle around. I just had to remind myself over and over to ease up on my grip, ease up on the strokes, keep the shoulders relaxed, etc.
I’m not entirely sure where to go from here, but I’m certain I want to go back to NWOC to rent from them and practice the skills I learned. Buying all the gear still feels overwhelming, like maybe I’m not sure enough about what I want to drop the big bucks. Luckily summer is on its way so I should be able to get out for 3-4 months without making larger investments such as my own drysuit. I did buy an inflatable kayak but it’s not related to sea kayaking, just for summer family fun on the lakes. I suppose ultimately however I can get on the water is time well spent, and eventually I’ll know when it’s time to pull the trigger on the bigger purchases.