There's a lesson in here somewhere...

-- Last Updated: May-27-05 2:34 PM EST --

Before I get into this story, I first have to tell you that this has been a bit of a humbling experience for me -- and a bit of humility -- but I think the story is worth telling.

Secondly, several weeks ago, a friend of mine, who is a very good paddler, offered to give me rolling lessons -- we've tried to link up to spend some pool time together and tonight is the first opportunity that we've both had to get together. I've been excited for the past several weeks about learning to roll and have been very much looking forward to tonight.

Thirdly, Steve, is a good paddling buddy who also works on the WestCoastPaddler website with me.

On with the story...


So there I was yesterday afternoon, getting my gear ready to go for a paddle with Steve last night and I'm looking at my wetsuits thinking to myself that being such a hot day today, I'll just take my shorty suit -- after all, we're just going to the very sheltered False Creek -- not much a chance of going for a swim there.

I get to the boat launch and start unloading my boat and gear and Steve arrives a few minutes later. My boat's loaded and ready, I put my wetsuit on and we're ready to go.

We head out on our way along with a fellow that Steve works with. His name is also Steve, so I'll refer to him as Steve2. The tide is high so we've got some concerns about being able to get under some of the gangways along our regular route but we're pretty sure that we can make most of them before the tide reaches its highest point.

As we approach the entrance to Granville Island I get the urge to blast through between the marina and the shore as I've done many times before. This is a pretty good place to hotrod and if you get the right line in the turns, it's pretty cool. I do a very nice low bracing turn before heading directly towards Sammy J Peppers restaurant, then I do a very comfortable edged turn to the left as I quickly make my way along to the short straight section beside the restaurant. There's a great couple of turns just past Sammy's that I do as gracefully as I've ever done -- a nice hard edged turn to the left, followed immediately with a hard edged turn to the right -- and all at full speed -- I finally picked the right line into the turns -- it's the first time that I've been able to not slow down to make the right hand turn. I go a short distance before another easy edged turn to the left and I take a quick look back to see Steve and his workmate coming around the second turn back. I'm on the straight-away.

Directly ahead of me is the first gangway that we have to go under. The tide is up quite high and there's not enough room to get under without ducking down really low. I blast ahead, thinking that if I get a ways beyond the gangway I can probably get a few good shots of the two Steve's going under the gangway. I've watched Steve struggle a bit to get under these gangways before at high tide and I'm sure that I can get some comical shots of the two of them. I've got about 20 metres before the gangway to build up some speed -- I'm thinking to myself that there's not much clearance and it's going to be close -- but I think I can make it. As I get about three or four meters from the gangway the thought crosses my mind that I just might be going too fast for this. I figure what the hell, and lay down as far as I can on the back deck, put my arms to the side, and watch the underside of the gangway zip past me, only inches above my face. I sit up and think to myself that it must have looked pretty cool -- especially at the clip that I was going -- too bad no one was around to see it. I keep paddling about thirty meters beyond the gangway and decide to line up sideways to take some pictures of the guys coming under the gangway. That's when everything started going terribly wrong.

Because the tide was so high, the width of this part of the channel was quite wide -- in fact, it was a lot wider than I'd ever seen before -- this is good -- I can easily position myself horizontally across the channel. There's a couple of large rocks sticking up on the right so I head as close as I can to them. I figure if I get close enough to them that I'll have room to do a low brace turn to the left that will leave me in a good position to take photos. I narrowly slip past the first rock and have no problem getting by the second with a few inches of clearance to spare. I take a long sweeping turn on the right side, lean hard over on the left, extend my paddle out for a low brace -- everything is looking good, I can feel the support of the paddle and I'm turning at a really sharp angle. It feels good. I look ahead and realize that if I don't slow down a bit, I'll hit the dock with the bow of the boat, so I put a bit more pressure on the paddle and the blade sinks a bit lower into the water. A bit lower than I'd have preferred.

I'm now leaning well past the point where the boat wants to roll on it's own but I'm still braced. But not much. I missed hitting the dock but in my haste to stop, I pushed the paddle blade quite far forward -- I realize at that point that I'm in trouble -- I quickly try to scull backwards but it's no use, there's no support left on the paddle. I don't have time to take a deep breath but I manage to grab a short breath of air before going over.

I'm underwater and I'm thinking to myself, "what an idiot -- what were you possibly thinking?". Then I realize that I have to consider what to do. I almost instinctively try to scull to the surface -- my first attempt gets me close, but not quite. I scull some more and my face comes out of the water and I manage to get a very small breath of air before my face is again under water. By this time I didn't think I could succeed at rolling the boat up and decide that I must exit the boat before I run out of air. I look towards the top of the cockpit -- pull my skirt off and swim out from under the boat. I'm wet, but it's no big deal -- I'm more embarrased than anything. Then I realize -- my fairly new Canon S1IS camera was sitting between my legs in a Lock & Lock box and the lid was off! I look in the boat and can't see the camera. Damn! I figure that's it -- that high tech piece of equipment is a goner.

About this time, the two Steve's have arrived. There's a set of stone steps leading from the seawalk into the water so I swim across, pushing my boat to the steps -- all the way cursing, but not too loudly, about the camera being lost.

Steve2 looks down into the water from where he's stopped and thinks that he sees the camera! It's in about 8 or 9 feet of water. I swim over closer to where he is, but from a position that I can still touch the bottom, and look down -- I can see something bright down at the bottom -- it's not the camera -- it's my headlamp! The water must have shorted it out and the LEDs were turned on. As we're looking at the headlamp, the surface water stops moving a bit and we can see the camera about two feet away from the light. I take my PFD off and prepare to dive. I didn't want to open my eyes underwater (after all, this is False Creek where the coliform count is way beyond acceptable levels) so I dove down in the general direction, found the bottom and open my eyes briefly, but I can't locate the camera. Back to the surface.

Now I've got my Greenland paddle in my hand and I'm trying to use it to nudge the camera towards me -- it's not working -- the bouyancy of the paddle is making it difficult to keep it submerged and I can't control it very well. Between the dark water and the ripples on the surface, I also have a problem seeing the camera. I get Steve2 to come closer and get him to hold his paddle vertically with the lower blade resting on the bottom, within a few inches from the camera. The paddle is completely submerged and he has to hold it by the tip with one hand about a foot or so beneath the surface, but he manages. I take a deep breath and dive to the bottom, using the blade to guide me towards the camera. I take a quick look when I reach the bottom, grab the camera and swim to the surface. I hand the camera to Steve and he quickly removes the batteries.

Next I dive down again to retrieve my headlamp, but I missed it. I come back up and ask Steve for his paddle, since it's got a white blade I figure it will be easier to see. He's sitting in his boat, directly above the headlamp and he guides me towards the headlamp. After a few tries, and with Steve's help, I manage to nudge the headlamp into shallow water where I can reach it easier. The LEDs are still on so I remove the batteries right away.

I empty my boat of all the water and get back in. The three of us talked about what happened for a couple of minutes and I decide that I had best take the camera and get it into some distilled water as soon as possible. We paddle back the way we came, because by this time, the tide has risen a fair bit and the next gangway in front of us was now too low to get under. We paddle back together for a ways and then I leave on my own to head back to the car, while the two Steve's continue on their paddle around False Creek.

After quickly loading the boat on the car, I stopped at a nearby supermarket and picked up a couple gallons of distilled water, rinse off the camera, fill up the 2 lock & Lock containers that I have, and dunk the camera in one and the headlamp and camera memory card in the other before driving home.

I was a bit miffed that I also lost my 256 Mb backup card for the camera -- later, if find that the 512 Mb card that was in the camera works just fine.

The camera is now sitting on my table after a long soak in distilled water. Hopefully, with a bit of luck, I can dry it out and it will work. If not, I'll have to start looking at cameras again. The new Canon S2IS looks pretty nice. :)

I spent a good half hour in a scorching hot shower with a bar of antiseptic soap. I feel better now.

So what did I learn here.

1. You can capsize in calm water if you're an idiot.

2. Always put the lid on your camera container immediately after each use. Better yet, get a waterproof housing.

3. Don't push down on the paddle too hard when bracing -- if I had relaxed a bit, I think the boat would have slowed down enough on it's own and I would have missed the dock anyway.

4. Always try to roll back up, even if you don't think you can do it -- you just never know.

5. The water in False Creek is pretty comfortable in May with a 2mm wetsuit.

6. My rolling lessons are coming a day too late.


Follow up with Canon:

I made a call first thing this morning to Canon tech support -- the woman that I spoke to didn't think there's much of a chance the the camera will survive. She did seem genuinely sympathetic -- I thought that was nice. She suggested that I contact the local tech shop in the nearby city of Surrey and see what they say. I called them and the guy immediately said that it's unlikely that there's anything that can be done to fix it. He said that with salt water, the damage is usually done within the first few seconds of being submerged.

When I told him that the camera was underwater for about ten or so minutes, he said he'd put money on it that the camera is a write off. I told him that I flushed the camera with distilled water and he said that certainly wouldn't hurt it, but still he figured it's toasted. He figured that there's less than a one percent chance that the camera will work after it dries.

He also asked if the inside of the lens was wet -- I told him that it was -- he said that being the case, at the very least, the lens would have to be replaced and it's very expensive.

I'll give it a few days to dry out, throw some batteries in it and see what happens. Who knows, maybe one percent isn't so bad.

Dan (a little wet, but still smiling)

When we precision-clean parts with distilled water, we use an alcohol bath as the last wet step before drying.

Thanks for the tip

– Last Updated: May-27-05 2:55 PM EST –

I'm aware of the alcohol bath -- I had a previous digital camera that was dropped in fresh water -- I soaked it in alcholol and within a few days the camera powered up fine. That was a couple of years ago and the camera still works fine.

I'm going to try an alcohol bath today -- even though the Canon techs say that it won't do any good. But I figure at this point, there's not much left to lose.

Thanks again.


first time benefit from rolling practice
I was in a 100’ wide open space between cliffs and rocks with waves breaking over the rocks and spilling white stuff to play in. Like you I was going over and running out of support on the blade,it was diving and I was less than sideways and going down. Then the light bulb went off,instead of pulling on the blade I switched the effort to my torso with a hip snap and popped up like a little pumpkin sprout in time lapsed photography.

“gosh,that’s what rolling is for!”

It’s the shift in focus from the blade to your hips that makes all the difference.

It almost reads like an action scene
in a movie. At least you weren’t hurt.

Oh man!
Sorry about your camera (and your pride!) It happens.

I’d like to say
Sorry about the camera, but thanks for an interesting and easy to follow description of your “adventure”. You were able to describe a fairly complex series of events clearly and concisely, conveying to me insights that will hopefully help me advance my paddling knowledge.