Monday, 5 November 2007

Anatomy of a trashing

As mentioned in yesterday's post, I had a thorough trashing on a reef break. I lost my spare paddle (a nice Double Dutch slalom C1 blade), a handheld flare from my buoyancy aid front pocket and my camelback water carrier from the back pocket. Thinking things over, I only rolled six times rather than seven but there was an element of luck in the fact that I got away without injury or more serious losses. I hope that my lost kit will be found by someone that can make use of it!

The initial cause of the trashing was simple; I was playing chicken with a fairly substantial reef break and sitting looking at the scenery at the same time. I like views along the coast with some breaking surf in the near foreground, but it is important to keep watching out for freak sets of waves.

I noticed a large wave coming in that could present a problem, so I turned and paddled into it. My relief at reaching the crest didn't last for long; a second wave of a similar size was right behind it and I could see a third wave over the top of it that was even bigger and already starting to break. I made it over the second wave but lost all my speed. The third wave looped me over the back as I tried to climb the vertical face.

I had a washing machine experience in the ensuing bongo slide, repeatedly rolling and then getting power-flipped. It took most of my strength to keep hold of my paddles and I was glad of the ocean cockpit that made it very unlikely that I would get dragged out of the boat. The wave was still too steep for me to really get back in control until I found myself in relatively calm conditions after the sixth roll. Thankfully, I was still about fifteen or twenty yards from the pinnacle of rock that marks the reef and had time to get off the wave and turn the boat around before the next wave.

I rode out a few waves while I got my breath back and secured some of my remaining gear. There was no sign of the items that had gone. I spotted a nice little rip going out alongside the reef and used it to get out beyond the break without any further incident.

I had a number of items of luck:
1) I got trashed on the last wave of the big set, so there was plenty of water on the reef from the earlier waves.
2) The water was deep enough for the boat to loop without hitting anything (not entirely luck - smaller waves had been passing over this area without breaking, so there was at least depth equivalent to their height).
3) My map and GPS, inside an aquapac, were properly secured.
4) There were no rocks sticking up (again, not entirely luck - the reefs along here tend to be slabs).
5) My paddle didn't snap, despite taking a lot of force (not entirely luck - I did a controlled release of the paddle shaft with one hand at one point to let it twirl around, taking the pressure off the paddle and allowing a reverse screw roll with the other end).

Lessons learned:
1) Secure all your gear, even if the conditions are good. I had just tucked my spare blade under some deck elastics rather than using my usual approach of 2-inch webbing with a quick-release buckle. My BA pockets have fixing points with cords attached but I hadn't bothered to tie in my flare or water carrier.
2) Keep an eye out to sea no matter how nice the view is! There can be freak sets even on a relatively calm day.
3) You are always on your own in the surf zone of a rocky shore. There is no way that anyone else should endanger themselves by coming in after you. I was very aware of the need to stay in my boat and keep hold of my paddles.
4) A reef break is generally steeper and more powerful than the break on a nice sandy beach. I think that it's faster too - my GPS registered a maximum speed of 22kmph. While I am sure that this is far from accurate, it felt to be about the right ballpark!

I got away with this through a combination of luck and experience. Years of playing and rolling in the surf meant that I had a good idea of what was going on even while I was been tumbled around. My roll is still good; all of the rolls in this case were on my weak side. The skills are still there to allow me to get off the wave before getting into the shallow water where there might have been problems of boat damage or difficulties in turning the boat around. Kit helped too; the boat is fitted out for me with a snug seat, solid knee tube to brace against, small cockpit opening and a bulkhead footrest.

The adrenaline rush and the sense of euphoria immediately after getting away with such a trashing is tremendous. However, I have too many responsibilities these days for me to be happy with taking these risks. I wouldn't intentionally repeat the exercise because I don't like to trust to my luck.

1 comment:

Grazie said...

Bad luck Sean. Thanks for the insight - I've not had pleasure(?) of that kind of experience yet. I seem to remember Trev being caught out on the Saturday.