Drysuit trials (and some tribulations)

Pam in Palm Aleutian drysuitA couple of years ago, I mentioned on this blog the fact that Alan and I had each taken ownership of a Palm Aleutian drysuit. Being that sufficient time has now passed to form a valid assessment of their performance, it’s perhaps appropriate for me to share our findings. The drysuits have been in regular use over the past 2 years, probably being worn an average of once per week in the past year, although Alan had a bit of a break last winter due to injury. The suits have been subject to regular immersion through rescue (including rolling) practice, but no abuse. They are always rinsed thoroughly after each wearing.

After about six months, Alan noticed that his feet were constantly damp after a paddle.  Whilst on a camping trip last September, my neck seal split and we took this as an opportunity to send both drysuits back to Palm for neck seal replacement, and repair of Alan’s suit’s feet. Palm replaced both the neck seals and the feet on both dry suits in record time, charging only for the seals. The leakage that Alan had experienced was recognised as a design flaw and Palm are now using new, improved materials for the feet which they had duly attached to our suits.

Disturbing scenes

Disturbing scenes

Fast forward a year, and Alan’s drysuit  is experiencing leakage that is manifesting around the backside area, requiring a towel on the car seat on the way home to spare his blushes. A fellow Royal West club member kindly loaned him a sophisticated drysuit inflation device, involving a pump and several plastic bottles to allow testing of where the leak might be emanating from. In scenes reminiscent of a horror flick, anyone stumbling across our bathroom might have been alarmed to see us drowning our chubby (and headless) paddler “hostage”, but it was all in the interests of scientific research*. We then became fairly certain that leakage could be traced to the rear entry zip area.  It was not long after this that we noticed that the suit is, to our despair, delaminating substantially primarily in the middle back area, but also in small areas elsewhere. The delamination is visible as bubbly ripples where the top layer of the fabric is separated from the lower layers.

Being that I have worn my suit a bit more than Alan has worn his, one would expect that it would have been showing greater signs of wear and tear. Aside from the neck seal, however, which needs replacing again, my suit has performed remarkably well with no leaks being detected. It too, however, is starting to show signs of delamination. Interestingly, Alan’s suit is much more faded than mine.

The Aleutian is not a cheap drysuit, so we are a little disappointed that, after 2 years – and well out of the one year warranty – we are now faced with the prospect of replacing ours. The need to replace the latex seals is entirely expected, but delamination seems  premature. Browsing online, we’ve discovered a few other folks with the same issues, eg here.

Rather than incurring continued repair bills, the more prudent thing might be to look for an alternative suit. We have now turned our attention to the Typhoon range and so far we have not heard or read anything bad about them. Their 3 year guarantee is also very attractive.

* No headless, chubby paddlers were harmed in the testing of this drysuit.

But it’s Thursday …

Loch Striven

Out on Loch Striven ... on a Thursday

I recall a TV advert some years ago (in the US, I think) which featured a be-suited chap walking down a busy city street. He is stopped dead in his tracks by the sight of a SUV driving past, fully laden with adventure gear and evidently heading off to the great outdoors somewhere well beyond the city limits. As he stares in disbelief, he mumbles, “But it’s Tuesday”. I can relate to both parties in that advert – I have been that frustrated office worker, but more recently I have been that Tuesday skiver. Guess which one I like best!

So it was Thursday and the sun was shining. As much as I love my days spent in the office clicking a mouse and attending to the whims important and pressing needs of my customers, I decided to take advantage of the benefits of being self-employed and awarded myself a well-deserved day off. Alan did likewise, so we hit the high seas for a day of unremitting enjoyment in the wind and waves (and calm). We had a bit of everything to keep us entertained, a brisk breeze and some lumpiness upon setting out (which saw our Nordkapps friskily at play), followed by an ethereal flat calm by the end of the day.

Returning in the gloaming

Returning in the gloaming

After reaching Bute, we headed north towards the Kyles. We stopped for lunch at a nice little beach back over on the Cowal side and noted that the temperature would suggest that it wasn’t quite summer yet. As we were approaching Colintraive, Alan commented that his shoulder was beginning to hurt. Rolling practice has taken its toll, alas. I therefore resigned myself to a slightly shorter paddle than I’d been anticipating. We turned around and started heading homewards, but then Alan suggested we take a detour up Loch Striven, and very pleasant it was. Having gone some way up the loch, we worked our way back down towards Toward. After 26 km of paddling, I began to notice that I was feeling the tiniest bit exerted, and contemplated who, at this rate, would win the competition for the sorest shoulders. Alan appeared to have worked through his pain, but I was developing some new and interesting aches all of my very own. I consoled myself by focusing on the beautiful surroundings, the various seal sightings (5 total!), the birds, the peacefulness and the realisation that I was building some good conditioning for the months of paddling ahead.

Miscellaneous observations from our outing:

  • I still cannot imagine making an urgent surf landing after a full day’s paddling. As I peel my spray deck back, it takes some considerable time for me to re-engage the use of my legs. This, combined with the uneven surface of the shoreline, often reduces me to a state of near crawling on hands and knees, which is all very pathetic. Answers on a postcard please …
  • If I tweak the wrist seals of my drysuit throughout the day, it stops my hands from swelling. Good to know.
  • Sanitary products of a feminine nature do not miraculously evaporate when flushed down the toilet. If they don’t choke the sewage system, they are likely to end up floating in the sea, which is unpleasant for humans and wildlife alike. (Perhaps there is a need for an awareness campaign here).
  • To my mind, seals sound a lot like whales when they snort unexpectedly behind you.
  • Nordkapps handle chop with consummate ease.

And so on Friday, I returned refreshed and renewed to my desk … until such time as the contents of my inbox disgorged themselves on to my PC screen at least. I’m not sure if these sneaky days off truly serve the purpose of renewal, especially as I do have to make up the lost work time, or if they just leave one yearning for a lot more of the same.

“Some people say that mountain climbers are really wasting their time. They have nothing better to do so they climb mountains, tire themselves out, and come back with nothing to show for it. Yet a person who climbs a tall mountain sees the world and experiences nature in a very different way from someone who never leaves his own front door. Genuine mountain climbers do not struggle up great precipices for the glory of it. They know that glory is only a label given by others. A true climber climbs for the experience of climbing.” Ch’an Master Sheng-yen,

Kayaking in Lewis, Outer Hebrides

Had an awesome week up in Lewis with the Garnock Canoe Club. Conditions were wild upon our arrival – it’s the first time we’ve set the tent up in a hurricane and could only do so with the assistance of several kind folks who literally pitched in. It was good to learn that our kayaks had remained attached to the car roof as we journeyed from Stornoway up to our campsite at Traigh na Beirigh, Cnip.

The day after our arrival was a tourist day as the high winds precluded venturing on to the water. Instead, we explored Uig Bay, the Callanish Standing Stones (pre-dating Stonehenge), the Dun Carloway broch and the Gearrannan Black House Village – all well worth a visit.

Kayaks on Traigh na Beirigh beach, Lewis

Kayaks on Traigh na Beirigh beach, Lewis

The next day, we did manage to get out in our boats. For the less experienced kayaker, this should have been a complete non-starter. It was only the presence of 2 senior coaches that allowed us the privilege of experiencing some pretty challenging conditions generated by the Atlantic swells making their way over to the Hebrides. We paddled with Richard Cree of our club, and Mike Sullivan of Stornoway Canoe Club, and their upbeat encouragement and instruction gave us the self-belief needed to tackle the roller-coaster swells and to have a lot of fun in the process.

Wednesday saw us paddle north-west from Trigh na Beirigh up the Bhaltos coast before crossing over to Pabaigh Mor and following its coastline south-east.

In the surf

In the surf

After stopping for lunch on a small beach on Pabaigh, we paddled around Bhacsaigh and then headed back against the wind to our starting point. This was followed by some play in the surf by some of our company.

Thursday saw us set out once again from Trigh na Beirigh, heading north to the east coast of Pabaigh Mor and exploring some caves along the way. As we passed between Pabaigh and the little islet of Bogha Dubh, I decided to make a quick visit to the “white room” located there.

Exploring a cave, Pabaigh Mor, Lewis

Exploring a cave, Pabaigh Mor, Lewis

To my shame, my novice skills were overwhelmed by a substantial wave bouncing off the islet which swiped my boat and sent me off in a sideways detour. I should have, of course, braced into the wave. Failing that, I could have executed a perfect roll back up, or a high brace, or I could have hung around for a short while and then performed an eskimo rescue. Failing all that, I could have flipped my boat and jumped back in swiftly before paddling to safety. Would have, should have, could have.

Paddling off Pabaigh Mor, Lewis

Paddling off Pabaigh Mor, Lewis

Of course, I am entering the realms of fantasy when I talk about perfect rolls and high braces, but the other options would not have been beyond my capabilities had I managed to engage my brain. Instead, I went for a bit of a swim, but only briefly as, faster than you can say “watery grave”, Richard and Mike were on the case. Mike quickly attached a tow rope to Richard’s boat, whilst Richard was busy emptying and righting my boat, whilst I clung on to Richard’s boat. Safely towed away from the lurking rocks off Pabaigh by Mike, Richard helped me jump back into my boat and we paddled off into the sunset. Or so it seemed. A perfect assisted rescue all round. But that doesn’t make up for my own inadequacies and I have vowed to address these forthwith. The up-side is that this was a sterling test of my new dry suit, which held up impressively and I didn’t feel a thing.

Kayaks at lagoon, Pabaigh Mor

Kayaks at lagoon, Pabaigh Mor

Recovering from our recent excitement, we made our way to a beautiful lagoon at Pabaigh where we hopped ashore to enjoy lunch. Mike explained that the lagoon had, in the past, been used to store lobsters before they were shipped to restaurants around the world. It was a beautiful spot and, with the azure waters around the beach in the sunshine, one could think of oneself as being on a tropical island.

After a little exploring, we set off again, heading west, then turning south-east through some formidable swell. Only Mike’s exuberant cries of “Fan-tastic!”, and Richard’s declarations of “It’s a beautiful thing!” kept me from contemplating my next wet exit too seriously.

We all returned safely and, despite my mishap, I felt pretty buzzed at having at least been out there in some “real” conditions and survived. I was greatly inspired by not only the senior paddlers in our company, but also the hugely competent younger members – I hope to be as good as those guys one day.

Addendum: Photos displayed here were taken when conditions permitted Alan to take his hands off the paddle – so sorry, no shots of yours truly going for a swim.

Palm Aleutian Drysuits

Palm Aleutian Drysuit

Palm Aleutian Drysuit

A major development has occurred in our quest to become proper sea kayakers. Following on from my big sulk at missing out on the midnight paddle (see entry below) due to apparel inadequacies, I mentioned to coach Richard that Alan and I were in the market for drysuits. No sooner said than done, and Richard had facilitated our purchase of 2 Palm Aleutian drysuits. They are things of beauty (sorry, only a paddler would understand). We have not yet taken them outside as wind and work have prevented, but we have posed around the living room extensively (non-paddlers can stop reading now) and familiarised ourselves with the suits’ plentiful features. I will stop short of a discussion on relief zippers and Shewees.

So now I am half hoping for a bit of bad weather during our paddle club’s trip to Lewis next week (I hope no club member is reading this!) so that we can test out our suits. Cold and rain will suffice, but not wind thank you or we will be beached. Of course, this may well portend a stultifying heatwave. I won’t complain, honest.

Next up on our list of things to buy before the ever-increasing price of oil makes everything unaffordable (you see, it isn’t just about rampant consumerism) are fibre glass boats. We have been using our P&H Capella RMs for over a year now, which is long enough to prove to ourselves that we are serious about this pastime, and to build sufficient skill to prevent us mangling a shiny new glass boat (hopefully). We are presently considering reviewing a Valley Nordkapp LV, a P&H Quest LV and a Rockpool Alaw Bach. We will be attending Karitek’s open day at Fairlie on Saturday where we’ll be able to review the Quest and the Alaw Bach. Richard advises that we need to spend a fair bit of time testing out boats, so I will have to strongly resist the urge to make an impulse purchase. Boo.