Thursday, June 29, 2017


I was immersed in the Westport River, awaiting rescue. This was during a class I was taking, in late June, with sunny skies and air temperatures in the eighties.

"Are you alright, Julie?"

"Yes,"  replied, "but I'll need to take a break after this." A moment later I thought to add, "I'm not kidding!" Sometimes my joviality masks real concern.

By the time I was climbing out of the water and into a canoe, my teeth were starting the chatter, and I sat out the next round of practice rescues practicing my "inner lizard", soaking in the sun, fully clad in wetsuit and booties, watching the other participants in my group sort a rescue.

I get cold easily. To be really clear, I have no complaints about the course or how it was managed, or any other course I've been on. In this case, I told the providers ahead of time I was bringing all my layers short of a drysuit, and I was never in real danger of hypothermia. They rotated me out, and the shop we were working out brought out a drytop before I could get to my car to grab my paddling jacket.

I'm no stranger to cold. Over the years, I've been careful to manage my temperature, even at the bewilderment of others. Generally to the effect of "it's such a nice day, you're overdressed." I wore a drysuit on a warm September day for my 3 Star assessment; I've worn my dry cag over neoprene on windless days in spring; I carry my paddling jacket and, nowadays, my storm cag, if I expect F3 winds or higher and being more than half an hour from shelter.

I've been on the fence about identifying myself as one who gets cold easily. Maybe conditions are actually chilly? Maybe other people are putting on a tougher front and what I feel is normal?

I'm considered quite skinny and lean - at 5'9" and about 130 lbs, I'm barely even stewpot material, let along a serving of protein when the aliens come to devour us all. Anecdata and some basic internet research leans toward the side of body fat being something of a shield against hypothermia, but not as simply as is commonly assumed. This article from Popular Science summarizes things nicely. This article on says much the same as well. Fat people might feel colder, but their core temperature is better protected.

For myself, the real chiller is wind. Immersion time is a close second. I might do a roll, or some rescue practice, in reasonable water temperatures, say the low seventies, as we had in Westport. But, once out, if I get a steady breeze, even a gentle borderline F2/F3 breeze, I chill pretty quick.

Immersion simply sucks my heat out. Cumulative immersion (multiple times in the water) and prolonged immersion (more than a minute or two) have their effects, even when layered to the nines, as a quick review of my cold water blogging reveals: a winter rescue and paddling session, my distinctions between cold water and winter paddling, and my first notes on cold water paddling.

Nowadays, I would bump my personal comfort level up a bit. I'm grabbing the drysuit in the low sixties, and keeping the neoprene on up to the low seventies. I might vary that based on risk of immersion.

The challenge I've had lately is managing exceedingly warm days when the water is quite chilly. Removable layers, and planning to cool off in the water if I do overheat, are my new tactic.

So, there I was, in water bordering 70s F, patiently awaiting my rescue; moments later, laying out in the sun to soak in its warming rays; a bit later, using a canoe as shelter against the wind until I got a jacket on.

Just the weekend prior, I'd taught a course at a lake and rented my neoprene to students. After just three immersions apiece, they were tuckered and a bit cool, and we took a break. I kept my jacket on, and adjusted my plan accordingly.

So, I'm officially someone who gets cold easily. I layer up, I keep a jacket and tea handy, even on warm days. As far as the tea goes, my worst case is that I make some iced tea when I get home.