This year, I didn't do my first spring paddle with the Boreal Baffin hanging out on an ice shelf along the Ottawa River's shore. That was a little stupid. I wasn't dressed for slipping into water that cold with only a wet suit and no neo hoodie.
This year's first spring paddle with the Boreal Baffin was a hot, sunny May day, 24 degrees Celsius (75 degrees Fahrenheit), with a light wind at a small lake lined with cottages in Mont Tremblant, Quebec.
The beach we launched from was full of people dressed in bathing suits, shorts and t-shirts enjoying a good spring sunburn. Little kids were running in and out of the chilly water exhilarated, yelling, "Mommy! It's cold!"
Yes, the water in May is still cold so I'll do another stupid thing this year and test my gear after 2 hours of paddling when I'm a little tired and very hungry.
I'll do a Cowboy Scramble, close to shore for safety, and test how well I can do it under a little stress to see if this manoeuvre is really implanted in the memory of my brain and body parts.
I haven't practiced the Cowboy Scramble for 6 months. During my normal paddle season in Canada from April or May to October or November, I do the Cowboy Scramble almost every time I paddle, at least once. Sometimes 5 or 6 times during a paddle for fun, or to cool off and stretch out, and most importantly, to make sure I can get back into my boat by myself.
I didn't want to test my gear choice before my first spring paddle and find out it wasn't right. But, I got it right! A full wet suit, with a nylon spandex underlayer (actually my yoga gear), and neo booties and gloves. I don't have a dry suit yet. While in the water, I had a good five to ten minutes of, "This feels nice!" That is, as long as I didn't put my head in the water. I'd need a neo hoodie and ear plugs for that.
There are lots of paddlers who are awesome rollers, yet many of them have trouble with the Cowboy Scramble. I can't roll (yet . . . ) but I can scramble. And I love it!
Some of the guy paddlers have watched me Cowboy Scramble and say, "Hey, that looks really cool. It's impressive. I have never been able to do it. Will you teach me?"
I'm not an instructor but I have coached a couple of guys who were never able to do it before and surprised me by getting it the first time.
So here goes, a Cowboy Scramble up the Boreal Baffin in cold water with a few tips on how I do it:
Smile for the camera! After step one, you aren't going to look cute again until it's over! Make sure your PFD is well-secured. If it's loose and ill-fitting, it will just get in your way. If you can smile, you're probably dressed appropriately for the water temperature. If not, get out of the water and try this when you can smile at step one instead of cringe and shiver.
Also, never hold the paddle so that it's directly under your neck if your head is close to the kayak when you do this manoeuvre.
During one practice session, my Greenland paddle was across my cockpit as I pulled myself up and my head and neck were just a few inches above it. A big wave or a boat wake hit the boat, and I banged my trachea (windpipe) on my paddle. Ouch and dangerous. So be careful.
In the picture above, my paddle is in my lap as I get to the cockpit so I can grab it as I ease into the seat and brace or paddle off quickly if I need to. And I'm keeping my head up.
Now it's time to show off those beautiful edges on the Boreal Baffin.
Cowboy Scramble Tips
- Take kayaking lessons with a qualified instructor.
- Keep the back deck of the kayak free of gear. This is your work space for the scramble!
- Practice slowly in calm water at first.
- Be patient with yourself. I couldn't Cowboy Scramble for years until an instructor gave me some useful tips . . . "Try it further back behind your rear hatch. Don't pull on the kayak!"
- When you get good at the Cowboy Scramble in calm water, gradually test your skill in bigger wind and waves with a paddle buddy nearby in case you need assistance. Be reasonable. Don't press your luck in dangerous conditions.
- Watch out when and where you practice. Wind can blow you quickly into obstacles and rocks. Cold water can be deadly. Dress appropriately and practice closer to shore.
- Stay away from boat channels.
- Practice with the different types of gear you paddle in: t-shirt and
shorts, wet suit, dry suit, bare hands and gloves. I find it easier to
scramble in a full wet suit. When I wear shorts, my bare legs don't slide and get stuck on the
- Choose your PFD wisely. Some PFDs are short, thick, and bulky in front and may make it more difficult for you to scramble up onto your boat.
- When you've really got the Cowboy Scramble down, go for speed. See how fast you can do it. It may come in handy some day.
I love jumping out over the side of the boat and cowboy scrambling back in on long paddles to stretch out and cool down sore muscles. It really gets my adrenalin going if I'm feeling lazy or bored.
Here's a link to my post: Cowboy Scramble up the Maelstrom Vital 166 in summer gear.
It's nice to finally get out on the water this year. I feel like the BaffinPaddler again with lots of wet, sandy gear hanging all over the house and garage.
Let us know if you finally get it and keep it! Or, learn to love it . . .