For a number of years I've worn what smart assed paddling associates have referred to as 'the Wonderbra' (above), I've pulled the trigger on a new life jacket. I looked around for a month or so before I settled on a Stohlquist TowMotion. I've really liked my two Lotus Designs life jackets but Patagonia pretty much eviscerated the brand since they acquired it and now apparently are getting out of the paddlesport business completely. I can't say I actually shopped around unless you call 2 minutes each in Midwest Mountaineering and Hoigaards shopping. Our little slice of the paddlesports business is so small and specialized that I did not expect to find a higher end sea kayaking life jacket with ample pockets, tow rig ready, and multiple attachment points on the shelf anywhere locally and my expectations were correct. I special ordered it from Doc at Hoigaards and made a multi tasking, gas (diesel actually) saving trip to St Louis Park to picked up the life jacket, a beer bottle drying tree for Podman, and a cold pint at Bunny's Bar. The first real on water test will be up in the Apostles this weekend.
I have a dirty little confession to make though. I've always hated and still hate wearing life jackets. We spent a lot of time fishing when I was a kid and it was constant debate and argument with the old man on whether or not I had to wear a life jacket in the boat. The boat was a 14' standard Crestliner fishing boat with a 7 1/2 horse Johnson motor. No live well, trolling motor, or swivel captain chairs here, just wooden bench seats and a couple anchors that were plopped over the side. One of the motivating factors to take swimming lessons as a young boy was the potential for decreased life jacket time. After passing my Red Cross swimming test, I was allowed to take off the life jacket when the boat was not moving, an act that was performed slowly and deliberately, almost like a striptease, for the benefit of my younger sister, who was cocooned in her life jacket even if it was 90 degrees out. The life jackets at the time were bulky and actually really didn't work all that well. I remember a mystery substance called kapok which would become saturated if the protective covering was pierced. That is the type of jacket seen in the image of my sister, happy about her fish but not happy about wearing the life jacket on the dock. We were even more unhappy when the horse collar life jacket became popular. It would float a person face up after the Coast Guard determined that was a good thing for unconscious swimmers, prompted by the sinking of the ore freighter Carl D. Bradley in 1953, but I was always fully prepared to take that drowning risk rather than wear the damn thing. I can empathize with Dolly Parton after trying to move around and accomplish anything while wearing that abomination.
I will admit the new life jackets are much more comfortable and handy for things such as the radio, tow belt, knife, light, an energy bar or two, a thermometer, and a compass in the pockets. I also never go on the water without wearing my life jacket, or life preserver if you prefer the more positive and descriptive term. I hate acronyms like PFD. Call me a DSOB but but we have enough stupid acronyms floating around....LOL. I generally don't wear one when I'm rolling, I use a Stearns inflatable belt device but mostly I have the thing on. Like bike and motorcycle helmets, car insurance, and air bags, a person never really knows when they will need em so we should always wear em. But like many things we should do, it is not a requirement that we like it.
I have all my goodies successfully transferred to the new life jacket and will be wearing it for safety boating the Point to Lapointe Open Water swim and then our 3 days in the Apostles. It feels pretty good and is much less 'out front' than the Lotus, a life jacket that I won in a raffle at an early GLSKS event. The on water test will tell the tale. Gitchee Gumee, here I come!