Wikipedia defines a perfect storm as "an expression that describes an event where a rare combination of circumstances will aggravate a situation drastically." I experienced a mini perfect storm this weekend while paddling.
By way of background, my 2 year old Seals Shocker sprayskirt has been "acting up" lately. I've noticed that after every paddle I've had a lot more water in my boat than my fellow paddlers. I just assumed that it was water coming in around my waist or under the skirt rand while I was rolling and edging. I never really put much though into until about a month ago. I was on a paddle and after 1.75 hours in the boat, I had about 2" of water in the cockpit. I asked others if they ever had any water enter while paddling. The general consensus was "no" to " just a little". I bailed the boat out at lunch and we paddled back to the take-out. After 1 hr of steady paddling, again I had about 2-3" water in the boat. I was confused as I consciously paddled with the boat upright so that the cockpit coaming stayed out of the water.
That night I did a good visual inspection of my skirt and I'll be damned if there weren't holes in the deck areas by my waist and back. I could pull the neoprene tight and see light through the holes!!! I popped on a neoprene patched and on the smaller holes I whacked on the aquaseal.
Subsequent paddles saw a great reduction of water in the boat - but still a little more than I'd like. I left the skirt alone and just continued to use it as is.
Fast forward to Sat, July 16. A group of us left Mobile en route to Tors Cove. There was a good swell on and the clapotis was very chaotic (See Dean's and Tony's blog entries). As the trip went on I noticed the boat getting a lot less stable. I was thinking that I was either getting tired or my new boat wasn't a stable craft in rough water. At one point I stopped to switch paddles and almost went over during the transition - not something I was expecting. Then I noticed that I could feel water sloshing under the backs of me knees. I popped the skirt and there was about 3" water sloshing around in the cockpit. There was my problem. We all know that you can throw some water in your boat for good balancing practice but I would not suggest that you do it while on a paddle in rough water!!
I rafted up with Neville and pumped all the water out. Badda Boob Badda Bing, the boat was back to it's old tippy, but much more predictable self!!
So where's the Perfect Storm in all this, you ask? What were the combined conditions? First, and most obvious, is the fact that I had a skirt that leaked like a sieve. The water leaking into the cockpit was throwing off the stability of the boat dramatically. Every lean into an edge, send a significant weight of water to the lower side of the boat, making it hard to maintain that edge safely. The second factor was the chaotic wave action which was sending the water from side to side quite rapdily making for a very unstable boat. This went on for most of the paddle and was quite taxing.
The third, and final, factor is directly related to the nature of the Greenland paddle (GP). GPs do not have drip rings and their long blades are buried in the water right up to the paddlers hands. Therefore, they tend to pick up a LOT of water, which runs down the shaft and drops right onto your spraydeck. When you paddle with a GP your sprayskirt is ALWAYS - even if the water is dead calm with no splash or wave action. On Saturday I looked at a fellow paddler's skirt. We were paddling in the same conditions but his was drying in the sun, while mine had big water puddles on it. He was using a Euro paddle with drip rings.
The combination of a leaking skirt which was exacerbated by the fact that my paddle was shipping large amounts of water, which subsequently went "below decks" while paddling in chaotic water, was, indeed, my perfect storm of spray skirt problems.
I toyed with the idea of buying a new skirt (104.00 + tax) but opted to seal the worn areas with half a tube of Aquaseal. It's good and tight now but for how long? From now on I will be inspecting my skirt a little more closely. I'd suggest that others do the same.