I spent many weeks trying to find a good drysuit that would stand up to what sea kayak fishing dishes out: hooks, spiny fish, and constantly sitting in a pool of sea water or dangling your feet over the side while fishing. It turns out there is just one purpose-made drysuit on the market for kayak anglers, the Kokatat Tropos T3 SuperNova Angler Paddling Suit and this was the suit I eventually chose, as I had heard so many good reports of their quality and after sales service (note that this suit has since been replaced by the Hydrus 3L SuperNova Angler Paddling Suit with Relief Zipper and Socks)
I got mine from Kayak Academy, as they were having an end-of-season sale of old stock. After delivery from the USA and customs charges, I paid around £350 which I thought at the time was a bargain.
|Catching, dispatching, unhooking and gutting fish between your legs. Yes, you need that extra protection!|
But I am much less impressed with the neoprene APT (punch through) neck seal. This neither seals as well as its latex equivalent, nor does it really add to comfort levels. I still feel absolutely strangled and the jury seems out on whether or not you can cut the neoprene to make it bigger. Given the design of the neck (which has a velcro fastening in case you wish to tighten it still further) it doesn't look as if you can. I was advised to put it over a saucepan overnight, which I tried but I still find the seal too tight to be comfortable. It actually starts to chafe my neck after a few hours, as neoprene has a nasty habit of "gripping" facial bristles like velcro. Personally, I'd be happy with a loose neck I could tighten up in some way to prevent splashes going in. Sit-on-top kayak anglers don't really need something this tight, after all they are fishing, not practising Eskimo rolls all day.
Kayak Academy add comprehensive instructions on the care of drysuits to the package and include a little maintenance kit. I think this is a nice touch and gives me the impression that they care about the products they sell.
So having got my shiny new drysuit all the way from the USA I was eager to test it out. On my first outing it was surprisingly hot. The air temperature was over 20°C, while the surface water temperature was around 8° or 9°C. That made dressing for immersion difficult. I decided on a Polartec top and cotton trousers with wool socks. But with a PFD on I did get hot. Very hot. Luckily, having a new drysuit, I could just take a dip in the sea to cool down. It's incredible how cold the North Sea is! After a few minutes you can feel it squeezing the breath out of you and I wouldn't fancy being in it for long even with another layer on underneath. Happily I am able to report that none of the zips leaked and even the neoprene neck seal that is not claimed to the be watertight was very effective.
However, my worries started on getting back to shore and taking my suit off. I had spent some time fishing with my feet over the edge of the kayak, and noticed that my feet were getting very cold. Really quite surprisingly cold. Then on taking off my suit, I noticed the bottoms of my trousers were wet. On both feet! Now as I was wearing thick black wool socks, I couldn't really tell if they were wet or not. They certainly felt damp, but then they do whenever I take my shoes off! So I put it down to perhaps my trouser bottoms getting wet from the early morning dew on the grass before I had put my suit on, and then due to the low temperatures in the water, not drying out.
Unfortunately it wasn't that. On my second trip, I made sure I was bone dry going into my suit. And sure enough, after 9 hours at sea back at the car park, my trouser bottoms were again wet and this time I realised my socks were wet through too. It looks like it was just wicking up through the sock:
Not happy, I contacted Kayak Academy, and after a little email exchange of about a week, they eventually sent me a return authorisation code to return the suit to Kokatat. Naturally I will have to bear that cost and be without a drysuit during the high point of the kayak fishing season. Back to my chest waders and limited opportunities to go to sea.
I admit to being baffled about how these leaks occur. It's almost as though the 3-ply Tropos fabric isn't completely waterproof after prolonged contact with water - but surely no one would make a drysuit out of a material like that? Kayak Academy didn't offer much in the way of explanations about what could be the cause other than suggesting it was sweat. I checked the sock seals and the person who tested them has left their initials, but perhaps they just do a quick immersion or pressure test which might not find such a slow leak? I tried the test suggested by Kayak Academy (to fill the foot with water and look for the leak on the outside) but this seems to work only for puncture type leaks as I couldn't see any patches of damp starting to appear. Maybe if I had left them filled with water overnight it's possible I might have found it slowly seeps through the fabric or seams. I haven't tried this because even if it is the case, it would then mean that no repair job is possible. As you can see, I'm beginning to worry that the fault might lie in Kokatat's choice of fabric and number of fabric layers in critical areas, and that they'll return the suit claiming it doesn't leak.
I'll post an update to this blog entry once I get it back and can give you a report, no doubt long after the fishing season is over. :-(
I must extend my thanks to Rob Appleby whose comments below inspired me to realise what was going on. It seems my dry suit does not leak after all. And yes, the wet trouser bottoms were caused by sweat, well not sweat so much as water vapour. You can read the comments below to get the full story, but essentially I didn't immediately return my suit to Kokatat as I wanted to have a drysuit to fish the season out. I figured I could return it after the season had come to an end. But as the water and air temperatures warmed, I noticed that I stopped getting wet trouser bottoms. This was very puzzling to me, as I was definitely sweating more and more in the suit as it got warmer! So how come my trouser bottoms and socks were no longer getting as wet? Had the suit miraculously cured itself?
Not a bit of it! I sussed it out while responding to Rob, who mentioned that he often had damp feet after kayaking wearing the same suit. At that point I remembered a distant lesson in my construction technology classes about how to avoid dew points within building fabric. Essentially, a dew point occurs wherever a surface temperature is cool enough for dew to form on coming into contact with water vapour (it's more complicated than that, but you get the gist). The colder the conditions are when you fish (especially if you have your feet actually in the sea for long periods!), the more the warm moist air from your body is likely to condense on the inside of the suit. It makes perfect sense: the warmer weather just means that the dew point doesn't form and the suit breathes as it should, hence no interior condensation and much drier feet, as your feet don't sweat that much even in summer (our sea is never that warm!). So although I was right to claim my feet weren't sweating, as it was freezing out there the first few trips we did, the cold water caused the warm moist air around my feet to condense on the inside of the suit. Hence both feet seemed to have the leak. Then water temperatures rise, and guess what? No leaks, or rather, no condensation, despite me sweating more! Counter intuitive perhaps but it makes sense.
I am so pleased to have found what I think is the cause of my mysterious "leak", and I wanted to put up the explanation in case anyone else has a similar experience and thinks their suit is leaking. I will obviously keep a close eye on this, but I think this is the correct explanation. I'll try and give the suit a long day's fishing with my feet in the water, but as the water is nice and warm now, I'm betting my feet will be dry until next winter!