29 July 2009
Before purchasing a towrope I obviously looked at what others were using.
It appeared that just about all the systems that I could find were the type that mounted on the kayak's deck and the tow ropes that attach to the body seem more popular for shorter tows (whitewater).
Here in Queensland a tow most times will be required when a fellow paddler's gear malfunctions (rudder failure), the kayaker is seasick (in heavy swell) or injured and occasionally too tired to keep up/continue to destination.
I did not like the look of the tow rope attached to the body: while jerking around the waist of the tower, in my opinion, it tires the paddler too much (and is dangerous in heavy seas).
I looked at what towing system was common with expedition paddlers in Great Britain and I often saw a towrope stashed away in a bag, secured on the deck of the kayak, usually behind the cockpit.
The commercially available (to me) towropes at the time were usually of poor quality and too bulky and there was not much thought given to those systems.
I believed that I could improve on those designs and come up with a better system myself: my first towrope system mimicked the British set up.
I found however that the deployment and retrieval of the towrope behhind my back was cumbersome to me (I am not very "bendy").
I thought that the same towrope could be attached in front of the cockpit where I could easily reach it without having to contort myself.
towrope system securely attached to the front deck of SeaBird Northsea.
The front of the bag has a little loop of Velcro® to keep the bag in place when deploying the tow line.
Velcro® that loops around a bungee cord, securing the bag
The remaining problems were:
1) quick release in case of trouble and
2) the towrope staying clear of paddling radius.
I solved the first with a different approach than the usual cam cleat and I use a quick release shackle.
quick release shackle attached to front deck lines
2) to maintain clearance off the towrope when deployed, the line is routed through a loop next to the cockpit and prevents the towrope interfering with my paddling (and getting tangled).
Dyneema® loop next to my cockpit
The towline bag: custom sewn heavy duty nylon (Cordura®) with reflective stripe.
The cover flap is looped around a second bungee when on deck and Velcroed down to itself to keep it secure.I used a towline that would float, be strong but still compact: 2mm Ø Dyneema® is the perfect line. At a braking strength of more than 650 Kg I think there is more than sufficient strength (I have used lighter lines too and they seem to work as well).
I packs down way smaller than the typical polyester water-skiing tow-rope and it's easier for tying knots around the karabiners.
15 meters of 2mm Dyneema® core lineThe towing karabiner is a stainless steel one that has a little float attached to keep it from sinking if dropped in the water.
karabiner with float. Tow line is chained for easy deployment without entanglement.
I find nothing worse than passing the clip-on karabiner to somebody to see it drop and then have to pull-in all the line again to pick it up.
The Dyneema® line is bright orange for visibility.
The anchor point is not my deck’s bungee since I have seen some fail but my perimeter line deck fitting (in front of the cockpit).
The quick release shackle has a little toggle for emergency release, in case the towed kayak is putting myself in danger I can quickly just pull the toggle to release the line, even under load.
safety quick release in yellow
The towline has been tested in many towing situations and so far has worked great.
A couple of highly qualified sea kayak instructors have endorsed the system and asked me if I could manufacture the system for them.
For a commercially available product the closest one is the towrope from Valley (just a bit thicker line without the quick release shackle).
Needless to say that a rudderless boat works so much better for towing since there is no danger of the line catching on the rudder behind you.
I know that are countless arguments and counterarguments for towlines that are attached to the kayak versus the ones to the body.
This system of mine is working great for my paddling environment (quick rescues from turbulent waters around cliffs don’t apply) but I would not mind hearing from my readers if they see faults in this design.
28 July 2009
I guess, you might be right...
So, while in search of the ultimate accessory that no kayak should be without, I have come across one that beats them all.
Maybe not really making the list as one of the "ten essentials" I think some would really appreciate this marvel of ingenuity and thoughtfulness.
sold as: beer holder
While my tone could come across a bit sarcastic (you guessed it) don't laugh; some folks are seriously adding this to their kayak.
Since unfortunately I have witnessed a few times drunken stupor while kayaking I should actually point out that by no mean I am endorsing this stupidity.
Booze and water just don't mix...
23 July 2009
Hey, I have even seen one with two day hatches and not sure if there was a 5th hatch... that's just getting silly.
Soon we will have kayaks with more hatches than pockets on a pair of 90's cargo pants.
Admittedly I find the day hatch a great idea: easy access and safer than one big rear compartment that if left open and flooded could seriously compromise safety.
Com'on, hands up who has not left accidentally the day hatch open after retrieving an on-water snack...
Now if that was done while paddling in rough seas and water would have filled the big rear compartment... you get my drift.
So, I find the day hatch great for items that I want to access during a paddle.
What I was missing is a storage area that would be in front of me.
Somewhere to put my water.
Paddling makes me thirsty, especially in tropical environments like summer in Queensland.
Water bottles under the bungees of the deck just don't cut it.
Beside the fact that they inevitably get washed away in rough seas, they just don't hold enough liquid for long paddles.
I have been using a large water bladder with a drinking hose to stay hydrated that I have been storing behind the seat.
The bladder is secured so won't come out in case of a wet exit but the hose stays under deck, under the spray deck (I was not going to say "skirt" in case somebody might question my sexual preferences :-)
I could feed the hose through the tunnel of the spray deck but inevitably I would forget to remove it before getting out of the kayak.
Not to mention my "occasional" swims in the surf zone :-)
So I was rather excited when I spotted a very neat under deck storage in Greg's kayak.
That's just the ticket. I needed one too.
I could have my water there, out of the way of my feet and I could route the hose through the deck.
Greg's underdeck bag is smaller than mine: he stores smaller items there.
I need one big enough to hold 4 Lt of water.
I use a MSR Dromedary water bladder as hydration system.
Of all the bladders that I have used to date, the Dromedary is still the most durable with its tough 1000 denier nylon that can easily be patched in the unlike event of accidental puncture.
I have never experienced a split seam and the wide opening allows for easy filling.
The perimeter webbing serves as anchor points for lashing it down securely.
On the bottom of my kayaks cockpit I have epoxied-in small anchor point to secure a 10 Lt Dromedary bag for very long trips that require excess water supplies.
My drinking hose now sits neatly on the deck in front of my cockpit.
I can grab the spigot in any sea conditions and can drink from it without having to pop the deck open and potentially allow a wave fill my cockpit.
Obviously the deck had to be drilled to allow the hose through.
(Routing the hose between the coaming lip and the spray deck ends up pinching the hose and restrict flow)
The hose also needs a coupling for easy attachment to the bladder.
A special self sealing plastic coupling was sourced from CPC (included on some water bladders).
modified Nalgene cap with CPC coupling
The drinking hose stays permanently attached to the deck while the bladder is stored when not in use.
To keep the bladder from going funky between uses I store mine in the freezer.
That means less room for the Häagen-Dazs but I never have to taste mouldy water.
I fabricated small saddles made from fibreglass (and carbon for "bling effect").
I draped several layers of epoxy impregnated fibreglass cloth over a small diameter tube and covered it with balking paper.
I placed a wooden board on each side of the tube to create a sharp "tunnel" shape.
After it cured I cut sections from my shaped plate and made saddles.
I secured the saddles on the underside of my kayak's deck with microfiber thickened epoxy.
The underdeck bag is made from mesh shade cloth material.
The perimeter is sewn with flat tape creating a casing for the cord that holds the bag onto the saddles.The exact shape of the bag will depend on one's needs.
My bag had to be large enough for the 4 Lt Dromedary bladder.
anchor points for 10 Lt Dromedary visible on bottom of cockpit
The underdeck bag I slightly 3D with two darts to make it belly shaped.
A slit in the front with a bit of elastic to allow easy stowage completes the bag shape.
I can now drink all I want (water I mean) and prevent a dehydration caused headache at the end of the day.
*A= magnetic switch (details here)
B= main sheet cleat (details here)
C= compass Suunto Pioneer
21 July 2009
While the open sea it's often exciting and offers opportunities for getting the best traits out of my British style kayaks occasionally I enjoy the calm waters of a lake.
It's a different kind of paddling.
It's more food for the soul instead of adrenaline for my heart.
I enjoyed a particular early morning paddle (I'm no early riser) with rather nippy temps of just a few degrees above freezing.
The water was very calm and the light was soft and warm.
There was nobody else around but my paddling friends.
Suddenly the hardship :-) of getting up before dawn melted away and I longed no more my warm sleeping bag.
Silently I paddled on the glassy water with my Greenland paddle trying to make no noise so as not to disturb the magical morning...
14 July 2009
I have been looking at traditional type paddles with suspicion.
I’m not one for nostalgia.
I don’t like antique furniture or vintage cars.
Old houses are not my thing and I see little value in old artifacts.
Call me shallow but I like new things, often shiny :-).
Therefore all the talk about Greenland paddles being something that has been around for thousands of years was not winning me over.
However I kept on seeing very skilled paddlers using those sticks.
It kind of annoyed me; surely they were just “mucking around”
Then I read that some very long trips have been done recently with a Greenland style paddle.
Namely the circumnavigation of Iceland in 2007 in 33 days.
Freya Hoffmeister paddled with a wing style paddle and Greg Stamer with a GP.
Since the two paddled together they must have paddled at the same speed.
I think that it’s understood that Freya ain’t no slouch therefore Greg must have kept up OK with his paddle.
It got me thinking… hmmm.
Somehow I wanted to try and find out if it was hype or fact, this stick business.
Unfortunately there were no traditional paddles to try.
Nobody in my area that I knew had one.
There was a short (storm) GP that a friend of mine carved himself but seeing him having to slide that thing between his hands while paddling somehow put me off.
My idea of paddling was: grip that carbon paddle of mine with white knuckles and push hard.
That’s how real man paddle (or so I thought)
A few months later my paddling buddy Vanilla (don’t let the name fool you: nothing vanilla about him but his kayak’s color) produced a laminated Aleut paddle.
Admittedly it was beautiful to look at.
So smooth, such rich wooden colors and so pretty (see, shiny again).
Paddling with it was disappointing to me: too heavy.
His stick was double the weight of my carbon Werner!
After a few hours my shoulders were killing me. I was used to my 750 gr. Carbon Werner paddle.
Recently I have been offered a Greenland paddle by Elverpaddles .
Tom needs some nice pictures of his paddle in action and he made me one to use on my trips.
His paddle is laminated with a thin spine of Oregon (Douglas Fir, for added strength…how does he know that I can be a bit rough with my stuff?) while the rest is Western Red Cedar.
At 900 grams It feels well balanced since most of the weight is at the loom (centre) and very little weight at the ends (swung weight).
Elverpaddles can be as light as 650 grams, depending on construction.
He personally delivered the paddle and instructed me briefly on how to use it.
The stroke with a GP is a little bit different than with a Euro paddle.
It seems that a lower angle and more relaxed stroke are favored by GP paddlers.
The paddle also requires a slightly different catch technique.
Tom told me that I will know when I would have perfected my GP stroke: my paddling will be silent.
So armed with my new shiny stick I committed to not use the Werner for a whole weekend of paddling.
Conditions were varied.
I used the Elverpaddles Tour while paddling a British style kayak (not that it was essential) and part of the trip was while under sail.
At first the paddle felt a bit odd.
If I muscled too strongly the paddle would flutter. I had to ease into it.
I remembered Tom telling me to angle the blade slightly when entering the water.
Nice smooth easy strokes.
Sure it was easy, actually too easy.
I was not putting much effort while paddling and obviously I was not going anywhere fast.
Or was I?
My partner Tess was using a mid sized Euro paddle right next to me (Werner Shuna) and surprisingly we were cruising at the same speed.
How can that be? I felt like I was not putting in much effort and still moving at my cruising speed.
Even sprinting felt OK. My kayak would go just as fast as when paddled with my Cyprus.
One thing I did notice is acceleration. From standing still I would briefly fall behind in a rushed get away.
Bringing my kayak to speed required a couple more strokes.
I have not tried to surf yet with the GP but Tom assures me that can be done if willing to alter the technique a bit *
Tess used the GP on the second day of the trip. She kept her Shuna on the deck.
While initially skeptic after a day of paddling her comment was: “I feel like I have not put in any effort today”
And that sums it up.
I will do some more testing before I will commit to sell some of my Werners on eBay.
Anybody interested in a Camano bent shaft? :-)
A two-piece GP would be my ideal paddle.
PS: the Elverpaddle Tour is available for demo.
Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and see if I can arrange a time and place with you.
PPS: click here for some very interesting tidal race playboating with a GP
* PPPS AUG09: Now that I have used the stick in all conditions, from rough water, steep short waves, following seas, sailing, clapotis and ultimately in 4' to 6' surf, I have to say that the Euro paddle is not missed.
Jay Babina really sums it up and wrote on http://www.paddling.net/:
>>Whenever I read these post with someone trying a GP, I would be quite discouraged with all the rules and doctrine. The GP is easier to use than a Euro Paddle. You don't have to cant or do anything different if you don't want to. You can just use it and the flutter will go away and nobody really knows why. I was using a GP before canting was invented or popularized by a Greenland Paddler who got popular around 8 years ago. (Maligiaq - Greenland National Champion) But before that, nobody knew anything and just used and enjoyed the GP without rules or special instructions.
When you convert from a euro, it does feel weird and a bit of a loss with bracing, but before you know it, you will like it and feel quite comfortable in all conditions with it. They don't grab the wind like a conventional blade and because you hold the blade for a lot of techniques, it makes rolling easier too. When I switch back over to a euro blade I now get flutter because I'm so use to the smooth easy stroke of the GP!
One last thing - you can sprint and accelerate from a dead stop just as fast as a euro too. It's a lot like a bicycle where you start out in a lower gear so your legs can move fast and not strain to get going.
<< and here is his excellent article.
Interesting account here from Fatpaddler on his Hawkesbury Classic epic using a GP.
PS NOV09 Tom Nicholson's comments on frequently asked questions:
Re paddles and blade area - most GP's have a blade area about the same as a normal touring euro, so looking at blade area alone is not the best way to compare the two. GP's work a little bit like a wing. The canted blade entry and shape of the blade leads to some lift.
Re offshore 'real conditions' and use: Testing stuff in real conditions is almost impossible. Certainly most real science lacks the real conditions element. However here’s my 2c based solely on qualitative data: I use my GP exclusively. My old euro now feels club like, and clunky. I now find my paddling in confused real conditions with a GP clearly exceeds the performance I get from me using a euro blade. I am by no means an excellent technical paddler. Clearly it’s a case of what you use most feels best. Certainly the GP is within its limits in rough seas, and I find it works better for me. The limits are felt when you need serious lock on water for short sharp acceleration - usually when rock gardening and surfing, or when holding top line speed for a period - not the usual touring or day long paddle stuff.
Personally when I want top line speed, or to lock onto the water, I use a sliding stroke and burry a bundle of paddle in the water. I also use that stroke for pushing onto a wave. With practice it’s a simple slight of hand movement to get the sliding stroke in at the right point. Certainly the GP blade width helps in the wind. I know my blades are about the same as a touring paddle I use. In high wind my GP never catches the breeze, while my euro often does. I think this is because the GP is skinny enough to let most of the air slide around the sides, while the EP 'catches' the wind better (think of the wind hitting say 1cm wide slice of the blade - If that breeze is confined on either side of the slice along the blade, then it can only escape of either side of the blade - this simplistic thinking makes me feel that the air hitting one cm2 of paddle at the centre has to travel say 4cm off the side of a GP, while some 8cm or so off the side of a EP hence the wind felt by the hands). I postulate that the paddle is thin enough to not 'catch' the wind in the air, while the higher viscosity of water means that its wide enough to grab in water. I'd like to test that hypothesis somehow, but my hydro and fluid dynamics are pretty shabby.So would I lag behind you offshore - possibly, but I think it depends more on the person / fitness / attitude / than the paddle they use. Certainly I've spent a long time waiting for euro paddlers to catch up to me...not that I'm fast, it's just people differ in speed in any group.
Scientific data: Now that’s hard to come by. People do relative tests of different things in relatively controlled conditions. It's kind of like asking for scientific data as to why one boat is better than another... I think the best thing for you to do is go and give one a crack for a bit after having a session with an experienced user to get some tips. Then you can make up you mind.
Why do I use one: Well I think it’s because I'm just a little bit lazy and find I go further with less effort. I mostly paddle on my own, and don't care about top line speed. I think also this is why bigger blokes use them - (Warning: gross generalisation coming up) we larger men show our teensy bent to sloth by our in built in wetsuits - that sloth shows in the kayak by our choice for the efficient option.
Is the GP a magic bullet that flaunts the laws of relativity by giving you more energy out than you put in? No, but I think it puts more energy into the right bits of the stroke and less into the bits that don't count.
Keep in mind that during our Iceland circumnavigation, Freya used a wing and I used a Greenland paddle. We made it around in the same time. She was faster in some situations and I was faster in others. We had a fast pace, but a competent paddler could have joined us using any reasonable paddle type. For racing I use a wing but paddling a fully loaded expedition kayak (even at a fast past) is not racing. Use what you enjoy, use what you are competent with, and what you are passionate about (but try them all)!
I have been sailing with my own designed sails for a while and recently I have been asked to test a new sail from Flat Earth kayak sails (http://www.flatearthkayaksails.com/) .
Mick has supplied me with the latest design of his sails.
After receiving the sail in the mail I inspected it.
The sail looks good: it has a great design with the outer edge white fabric being a Twaron reinforced cloth ("Code Zero Laminate" ZL04).
The pattern of the sail is a higher aspect than the one I designed.
The stitching and finish is superb (much better than mine).
Mick MacRobb supplied the sail only and I made the mast for it.
I used my usual tick walled carbon mast (from Exel Composites).
The sail does not need a boom: it is built-in as a sail batten.
Mick has been listening to paddler’s feedback and has improved his design over the competition.
His battens are finished with a sail fitting and a reinforced coupling that mates to the boom/mast junction. It looks solid. The batten should not brake as in other sails I have observed.
Flat Earth kayak sail folded on deck: mast/boom junction detail.
But how does it sail?
I would say similar to mine.
Flat Earth sail (MEI designed one in background)
15 knots of wind
The sail area is a bit smaller than mine and I felt a bit less power at 15-20 knots of wind.
My sailing buddy Vanilla was gaining just a bit more ground (water?) than me.
The clear window despite being small is perfectly positioned to see through (on my sail it is bigger, but not better :-(
The kayak did not feel tippy at all, actually maybe a tad more stable than with my sail.
Maybe the reason for this is because Mick uses a bungee cord saddle where the main sheet attaches to the boom.
In a gust of wind the sail spills a bit and prevents the kayak from tipping: nice detail that actually works.
There was one thing that I found a bit annoying: the sail did not fold as nicely when stored.
Mick’s sail requires two bungees for a neat folded sail. Here shown with only one bungee
My sails have the mast and the boom of the same length when folded on the deck.
I can store them by just one bungee cord wrapped around the sail, mast and boom.
It sits on the deck neater than the Flat Earth kayak sail one.
Since my mast is mounted so far forward on the deck of my kayak I can have a very long boom.
Mick’s design is probably best suited for a closer mount.
The boom being shorter will prevent being hit by the paddle while under way.
However Mick’s design optimizes the sail with max surface area and max speed for the given parameters.
Since this sail was not a custom order from Mick I realize that for a perfect set up I would request a sail that has a longer boom.
a very detailed review of FEKS from Douglas Wilcox can be found here
12 July 2009
Manufacturers are offering all sorts of interesting and sometimes thoughtful design additions to their kayaks.
While most kayak hulls are proven designs and some have been around for decades, most changes are happening to the deck of the kayak.
Day hatches (3rd hatch) are almost a must these days with occasional 4th hatch appearing on some kayaks.
Manufacturers are designing a lot of profiled lines and ridges to increase the strength of the deck and still have a light kayak.
Some kayaks have dimples for paddle float rescues, some have protruding dimples to fit your knees... dimples everywhere.
I also have noticed a recess up front on British style kayaks.
It looks like a rather deep dimple right in front of the forward hatch.
People often ask me what that dimple is for and finally I have found a great use for it.
Not sure what the original design was intended for but it's the perfect location for a snow dome.
WHAT? a snow dome?
I don’t know, but it looks like the perfect accessory that no kayak should be without.
I think that a snow dome is just the ticket.
You know that it should snow at least once every time you go out for a paddle... :-)
I found this great snow dome that allows a picture of your choice to be inserted into the plastic bubble. That's were I have stuck a photograph of my bitch and she smiles at me every time I look at her.
My bitch’s name is Foof. She is an Australian Sheppard that unfortunately I had to leave behind once I moved away from USA.
The picture in the snow dome shows Foof on an adventure in the High Sierra:
06 July 2009
I heard that years ago for the first time but did not make much sense to me then.
What do you mean "cooking with gas"? what's the big deal?
After more than 22 years of trying to make it easy when preparing a meal in the outdoors I can really say that too: now we are cooking with gas!
Years ago the authority of cooking in the outdoors was relegated to the liquid fuel stove.
While extremely efficient and fast they required some finesse to operate. Some campers never learned to deal with them: just too klutzy.
Admittedly some of the liquid fuel stoves were temperamental, required regular maintenance and some designs were plain dangerous.
For real expedition use the liquid fuel stove still rules where sources of fuel are dodgy or limited in choice.
But for common mortal "expeditions" (read: overnighter to a couple of weeks in civilized countries) there are easier options.
After years of using a liquid fuel stove I finally got convinced to try the butane/propane option.
I purchased a MSR Pocket Rocket.
I loved the size and the weight (or lack of it). Turn the knob, flick the switch of a lighter and I was cooking.
What’s there not to like?
Well, a couple of things…
I found the Pocket Rocket very unstable.
It was too narrow. My pots would skid off the tiny burner prongs. I had to be too careful when cooking.
The stove’s small burner was also concentrating the heat to a very small area. It was not suitable for my lightweight pots; the intense concentrated heat actually warped them.
Pocket Rockets also easily burn your meal.
Manufacturers eventually realized that the burner of a gas stove should be a bit wider and distribute the heat better.
Eventually I came across something that was compact (very), light (very) and had decent heat distribution with amazing power.
After 7 years still my favorite ultralight backpacking stove: Optimus Crux.
It folds down so small that it fits in the cavity under the standard gas canister taking almost no space when packed up.
Optimus Crux folded and nested under the gas canister
I combine that stove with very light and compact pots.
I have found that for two people it’s sufficient to have two small pots: one for hot brews and one for heating up a meal.
Optimus Crux with compact titanium pots
Here shown all packed up with fuel inside pots (additional canister used for size comparison)
When carrying the weight on my shoulders is not the case (like kayaking) I prefer a slightly more sturdy stove.
A Primus one with a small heat reflecting shield.
I still manage to pack the stove, fuel and pots in one compact unit but these pots are a bit larger allowing for easier cooking.
Primus stove, heat shield, fuel and folding bowl
I find that for longer trips, where wind could be encountered at camp, the Primus stove can be a bit high off the ground.
The base of the canister, if not positioned on sturdy level ground (not always possible), can create a rickety set up.
Brunton makes a simple stand that brings the stove away from the canister and lowers it to the ground.
Primus stove (sans heat shield) on Brunton stand
The stove is now very stable, easier to operate and a light aluminum windshield can be erected around the stove to enhance the heating of the pot.
The whole unit is still very compact and, in my opinion, offers true versatility without the bulk and weight of other systems.
Brunton stand packed up
I can use any pot on my stoves (not just dedicated overly expensive pots), I can simmer and control the heat with the turn of the knob and I can travel lighter than with any other system that I am aware of.
The Primus stove has been copied many times and some real inexpensive versions are available.
The Titanium pots can be substituted with aluminum one (much more economical however more prone to damage).
The gas stoves are also very efficient. They use much less fuel than some systems (alcohol) and certainly burn much hotter allowing you to have your meal way faster.
And for the liquid fuel stove? Well, it’s sitting at home ready for that elusive exotic trip to Timbuktu or Kamchatka that might never happen…