A Test of Pelican’s 1120 Protector Case, A Lost Boat and a Swim to Remember


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Photo by Mike Hagadorn

I was about to be a new father and had been working as a rep for Werner paddles for only three months when I decided to squeeze in a quick, after work run of our local Skykomish River from Cable Drop to Split Rock before it got dark (after 10 years of doing low water laps after work, it seemed normal). But there had been a string of break ins at the put-in recently, so I took my keys, wallet and new Iphone with me in a Pelican 1120 Protector Case.  

Taylor Robertson Sufing his Mullet in July at low flows
Taylor Robertson Surfing his Mullet in July at low flows by Nick Hinds

My friend, Jeff Harris, introduced me to a guy named Sam, whom I immediately liked. He had a calm and jovial air about him. Once we hit the water, the three of us hit our rhythm on the run’s 2,650 cfs. After heading down through Boulder Drop without incident, we approached the lower part of the run. Above Lunch Hole, I remember looking at the pillow and thinking it looked more stable than normal, even though it still backed into a retentive hole with a deep trough. I turned around and locked eyes with Jeff, not sure he realized what I was thinking. Then, I pivoted on my stern of my second Mullet, a design I loved, and went for it. 

Official LL Mullet Logo

Sometimes you decide to eye down a rapid or a move that you know is consequential. This one I had routed many times and took deep strokes and attained my top speed heading into the mound that blocked my view of the landing. Feeling like my timing was right, I pulled one last stroke and landed flat, too flat. I got squirled by swirlies and my tail went down to party, and my bow rose to the sky. In those split seconds I remember missing one roll, and carping another. Luckily I knew where I was in the river. Maybe I should have just reset and tried another roll, but in that carp I locked an eye on the sieve I knew existed on the left. Plenty of times I had hit that eddy and knew it bled into a weird sort of nondescript and dangerous sieve at these low flows.  

I pulled my skirt and was able to get the rear of my randed skirt off in time to kick out completely out of my boat. In the chaos, sometimes you can’t remember seeing much cause you can’t. Feeling myself and my boat getting sucked into the sieve, I decided to kick away from my boat. I popped up and swam back towards the current with heavy overhand strokes. My boat got lodged in the sieve crack probably 3-4 feet under the water—I had kicked off the bottom of the kayak when exiting and felt it pin. Happy I got out unscathed, I caught my breath on shore. 

Photo by Jeff Harris

Highway 2 had gotten worse with break-ins and broken windows. This specific trip, I had a two-week-old Iphone, my wallet, and my keys in my go-to small, black Pelican 1120 Protector Case. The drybox was clipped into the back of my seat in the Mullet with a non-locking carabiner. Now I was in a predicament. After we got a rope and carabiner on a grab loop we couldn’t budge the boat and watched as it sank deeper into the crack. We then tried from various angles with a Z-drag. It wasn’t going anywhere soon. With darkness settling in, I walked out up the wood-strewn embankment cussing and wondering what my next move would be, thoroughly dejected.

Pelican 1120 Protector Case / Dry Box

After some logistics and car shuffling, I ended up home in Woodinville 50 minutes away. Then I had an idea. The Find My Iphone feature was engaged and seemed to be something I could track from my laptop. So I logged in and saw it had a signal and was still holding at the base of Lunch Hole on river left. Thank you, Pelican case! Going to bed that night I thought I could go back after work the next day and try another Z-drag from a different angle and attachment point in the light. After a restless sleep I got up early and logged onto my laptop again just to check. Holy smokes! Now the phone had moved two miles downstream!

The location of IPhone and boat at 11 p.m. after my swim
The location of IPhone and boat at 11 p.m. after my swim
The location of my phone at 5:00 am when I woke up the next morning

Thinking more clearly again, my wife and I decided to let me take her phone with me and then I logged on to Find My Phone, using it as a transceiver to find my boat. I was hopeful that my Pelican case would still be clipped into the stern. I loaded up my creek boat and headed that way at around 6 a.m. A quick call to my Werner supervisor, Taylor Robertson, confirmed I could go try to recover my valuables before someone else did. The quick text back simply said, “Go grab your shit.”

Parking outside of the Big Bend gated community, I carried my boat in and walked upstream until I was confident I could launch at the appropriate point. As I ferried across the river, the Iphone feature was giving me hope. I checked with the landowners I saw out walking the dog, who let me cross their land to put-in. But as I looked across the river, something was off. No orange Mullet floated on the shore where the phone said it would be.    

After ferrying across the river, and looking for over an hour up and down the bank, there was no Pelican drybox easily seen, either. The phone said the other phone was located 40 feet out from the right bank in the middle of the river. I imagined someone downstream finding my wallet, with an address on the license and keys to fit our front door, all neatly packaged in a dry box. Call it a Burgler Care Package. The location with Find my Phone seemed to put the package at the center of the river flow, 25 feet from the bank. After an hour I knew I needed to get back to work. Then, as I walked back to my boat, low and behold, I looked down and saw the black Pelican drybox right at my feet low in the water.  It had worked its way off the carabiner and floated down without my boat—a huge stroke of luck. And better yet, when I opened it, everything inside was absolutely bone dry!

The case fared far better than my Mullet, which stayed in the sieve for a while and came out with many cracks months later. I continued my day in high spirits, but without my beloved orange Mullet. Now, many years later, I’m very weary of this spot on the Skykomish and have since heard of similar incident with the sieve, luckily with no one getting hurt.

My take-home? I now put a small drybox with my keys and phone in my pfd and carry them on my person, never separated from them for any reason. And the Pelican 1120 Protector Case is as bomber as they come.

The Mullet by Mike Hagadorn

Ode to the Mullet

Note: I might’ve lost my Mullet (and maybe a little bit of pride), but it’s a great boat. Below is a video of a 2016 LL Mullet Review:


Nick Hinds
Nick Hindshttps://paddlinglife.com/
Nick Hinds grew up in NC, spending time canoeing and c-1ing around the western part of the state since he was 11 years old. During his 4 years at University of Colorado at Boulder he added whitewater kayaking, so he could earn money teaching at Boulder Outdoor Center. Starting as an intern at Paddler magazine in 2003, Nick began his 20 year career in the Paddlesports Industry. He worked for 4 years with Eugene in Steamboat at Paddler, then 8 years with Canoe & Kayak magazine after moving to Seattle. Spearheading the guidebook for Washington and Oregon, in 2016 he helped publish Paddling Pacific Northwest Whitewater . After 4 years with American Whitewater and 3 with Werner he now handles advertising and marketing partnerships for Paddling Life.


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