In seven years I have only found myself on the outside of my kayak twice, the last time was July of 2010. On December 11th, 2015, I made it 3 times that I have, “turtled” my kayak. Like the other times, it could have been avoided.
With only a few days left in muskie season, I was up early to hit the Thames River at the mouth of Lake St. Clair hoping to land a fish or two. Unseasonable warm weather was going to make it an easy day on the water not having to worry too much about cold hands or feet. Once I arrived at the launch I saw the parking lot was full with the regular shore anglers and about four boats on the water. Unloaded my kayak, rigged it up and was on the water by 8:30am. With strong winds blowing from the southwest I went close to shore just by a drop off that I like to cast out to. I drop my anchor and let out enough line so I was sitting about 30 feet from shore. This position was going to allow me to cast with the wind. Being somewhat sheltered from the wind I felt comfortable to stand and cast, something I have done quite often. Even with the heavier muskie gear the Pro Angler provides enough stability to stand and cast. Having the wind to my back I could feel the wind gusting and I would have to stay conscience to make sure I have a good firm footing. Now this is wear my brain took a break and my choices resulted in my unexpected swim.
Instead of using my anchor trolley and pulling my bow to face 180 degrees so I could cast to a spot that I was targeting next to the rock covered shore line, I turned around and faced the stern of my kayak, something that I had never done before. I lifted my seat so I could get my legs up against the lifted seat on the backrest of my Vantage seat. I was quite surprised at how much more stable I felt. After a few casts I don’t know why but I thought I could turn around 90 degrees to my left facing starboard, to pan cast in another direction. Something inside my head was saying that maybe this wasn’t a good idea, but I thought lets try one cast. That proved to be one cast too many. Between the momentum of the six ounce bait and the wind, I lost my balance just enough to fall backwards. It seemed like a slow motion movie as I was thinking, while falling backwards, please let me fall in and not flip my kayak. Just as I was feeling like that was all that was going to happen the kayak flipped upside down,as I disappeared briefly below the surface.
Once I came back up I saw my Pro Angler 14 in a position that I hoped that I would never experience. I quickly tried to think what I didn’t have tied down and would lose in the nine feet of water that I was anchored in. In a few seconds I thought out my options, and remembering that I was anchored I decided to swim the 30 or more feet and rely on one of the nearby boats to help me get my kayak to me. Just as I turned towards shore, not sure how, but I took on a mouth full of water that I started to choke on, the same feeling you get when something goes down the wrong way and you can’t catch your breath. Oh, I didn’t mention the water was 40 degrees. Between trying to catch my breath and swimming to shore, I was having a little trouble swimming 30 feet. Never mind trying to get my breath I just worried about getting to shore. Once there I sat on the rocks, allowed my breathing to get back to normal and waited for a couple of boats to come and help right my kayak and get it to me. Probably didn’t take longer than a minute or two and there were at least three boats making sure I was alright.
They unhooked the anchor and turned it over, gathering two of my three rods I had with me. The only other thing I lost was a big box of my favorite muskie baits. Verdict is still out whether my Humminbird 999 HD SI will survive. After they turned over the kayak I noticed that it was listing over to one side quite a bit. A fair amount of water was inside that took a while to drain out the scupper holes and mirage drive well. This reminded me of a video I saw of someone that had capsized his PA14 and when he tried to get back in, he flipped it again and had to go in from the stern. I am sure that if I chose to flip the kayak and try and get in without waiting for the water to drain, I would have suffered the same fate.
Once the kayak had drained I climbed back into the kayak, collected my anchor and rods, and called it a day. Lessons learned? Many.
- The minute or so it took to get to shore I was surprised at how quickly my hands were starting to get cold and if I would of had to use them to make an emergency call, or do anything that would take any level of dexterity, it would have been difficult if not impossible.
- My Kokatat Angler suit, as with most dry suits have zippers that seal only if you pull them all the way shut. It is difficult to pull it completely shut because of the thicker material that gives you a good closure. Sometimes I would not pull it shut all the way just from laziness. The only water that seeped in was from the small openings on the main and relief zipper.
- The neoprene neck on the Kokatat Angler suit which replaced the uncomfortable latex found on a true dry suit leaked very little, if any at all, as my upper body was completely dry.
- I wear a fleece shirt over my suit that seems to cut the wind and keep me comfortable on the water and when it gets warmer later in morning I can just take it off without too much trouble. It didn’t seam to impair my ability to swim to shore. When on shore I noticed how quickly I dried up and it still
kept me warm.
- I didn’t tether my kayak boots at my knee allowing the water to fill up my boots, making it more difficult to swim. This reinforces the theory that wading boots or any type of open boot is not safe if you are to take an unexpected swim. To further complicate that if your hands get so cold that you can’t remove the boots then you may find yourself in trouble.
- Once you right the kayak, make sure the water has drained out before trying to climb in so you don’t flip it again.
- When you take the trouble to have a crate that can be closed, make sure it is closed so you don’t lose baits, or anything that you might store in a crate.
- The rectangular hatch in front of the Vantage seat stays dry, not a drop of water was inside, considering there was some water that leaked into the hull.
- It doesn’t matter how stable or wide your kayak is, standing Port or Starboard is not a good idea especially if you are throwing heavy baits in strong winds. Stick to facing Fore and Aft if you are going to stand and fish. The Hobie Pro Angler is probably the most stable kayak on the water, yet I proved that it isn’t invincible when you are being careless.
Hopefully my experience will help others to be prepared for an unexpected capsize that you can never predict. In the seven years that I have enjoyed this sport, I have “turtled” my kayak three times and considering that the last time was five years ago, and I may get out anywhere from 80 to 100 times a year, it is easy to get over confident and start to feel like you are invincible on the water. The one thing you can take to the bank is that, you won’t know when it will happen to you , so always be prepared.
Special thanks to both Kyle Moxon and Ian Jones for making sure that I was safe and getting my kayak and gear back to me.