Most sea kayakers are familiar with paddle-float rescues—setting a paddle across the aft deck as an outrigger and supporting the outboard end with a float.
If you have practiced paddle-float reentries, you may have experienced getting flipped to the opposite side of the outrigger during a reentry. The outrigger and paddle float can provide a lot of stability for a reentry, but only as long as you keep your weight to the outrigger side of the kayak. That’s not always easy to do if you are at the tail end of the reentry maneuver. When you are twisting around to get in the cockpit, your weight is nearly centered over the kayak. If the waves are bouncing you around, you could shift your weight a bit too far from the outrigger side. When that happens, the paddle float and paddle can quickly rise out of the water, taking the extra margin of stability with them. Suddenly you are back in the water.
It would be impractical to set a second outrigger on the opposite side of the kayak. To get stability on both sides of a kayak with a single outrigger, you need buoyancy and weight at the end of the outrigger. The idea of adding weight to the outrigger is not a new one. When Matt Broze first developed the paddle-float outrigger in 1981, he used water containers as floats and partially filled them with water to give them some weight.
North Water Rescue’s foam paddle float can now be equipped with the Counterbalance, attached by a strap and a buckle. The bag is pleated and expands as water flows in. A stiff fabric flap at the mouth of the bag acts as a valve to let water in quickly and prevent it from easily flowing back out. With a load of water in it, the bag adds 10 to 12 pounds to the end of the outrigger. A mesh panel on the top of the bag drains the water quickly when you flip the paddle and float over.
The 10 to 12 pounds of water the bag captures at the end of the paddle translates into 50 to 60 foot-pounds of resistance when five feet out from the center of the kayak. That’s a lot of leverage. I had to lean well out of the cockpit away from the outrigger to get the bag to rise out of the water. An accidental capsize by leaning away from the outrigger seems quite unlikely when the Counterbalance is deployed.
The standard procedure for setting a paddle-float outrigger is to stick one blade of the paddle under deck lines or bungee cords aft of the cockpit opening. With an unfeathered paddle, the outboard blade of the outrigged paddle (and the paddle float attached to it) is flat on the water.
With a feathered paddle, the blade on deck is flat, and the outboard blade—and the float and Counterbalance attached to it—is at an angle. If you attach the paddle float to the outboard paddle blade before setting up the paddle as an outrigger, the bag will fill up while it is face down in the water. You can quickly fill the bag by pulling the paddle toward the kayak so the mouth of the bag scoops in water. When the outboard blade and the paddle float twist as the outrigger is set up, the bag hangs at an angle from the float but still has its full load of water and is no less effective than when it is rigged with an unfeathered paddle.
When you are finished with the paddle-float outrigger, just flip the paddle and the float over.
The Counterbalance will drain completely, and you can remove the float from your paddle and re-stow it.
A strap at the mouth of the Counterbalance can be tightened to draw the mouth tight against the paddle float. This will keep the Counterbalance from filling with water inadvertently or from acting as a drogue if the paddle float winds up trailing behind you at the end of a tether.
The Counterbalance doesn’t add much time to the paddle-float self-rescue and virtually eliminates capsizing to the side opposite the outrigger. While this feature should make any paddle float more effective, it is not currently designed for use with inflatable paddle floats. The Counterbalance is available as an optional attachment for North Water Rescue’s foam paddle float.
The Counterbalance by itself is priced at $42 U.S.; with paddle float, the price is $82 U.S.
Visit North Water’s web site for a list of U.S. and Canadian retailers.
North Water Rescue & Paddling Equipment, (604) 264-0827
[email protected], www.northwater.com