27 April 2010

SAFETY: choosing your paddling companions.

I choose to sea kayak in the company of other paddlers.
I believe that with the right companions the experience is enhanced and the safety on the water is increased.
Some of my paddling buddies are friends while others are just trusted people.
While I do lead trips for the Club (or participate on trips led by others) where the skill level and the seamanship can be rather basic, those trips are usually brief and not demanding.
Easy day trips are safe occasions to asses one's ability and character.
Put in at Cleveland (c)
A few years ago I learned that I should never take a paddler on an extended trip if they have not paddled with me on a simple paddle first.
On one occasion the visiting paddler from USA (that I have not met before) assured me that she had paddled for years in demanding conditions and she was a very proficient sea kayaker.
Fooled by her assurance I agreed to have her on a multi day trip.
It became evident right from the start that this person was no expert, actually quite a beginner.
I would have escorted her back to the shore and sent her home except she had gotten a ride with somebody else (she didn't have a car herself).
Fortunately for her the rest of the group agreed to slow the pace to a crawl and eventually tow her for the rest of the weekend (conditions and locale were very easy).
Lesson learned: don't believe what a paddler says about his/her ability, assess them on a low grade day trip first.
roll me over..

On a different occasion the situation was way more serious.
An interstate visiting kayaker joined a Club group paddle along a shore with surf landings.
Silvio Testa, an experienced local kayaker, was the leader of the trip.
The visitor was a friend of another Club member who did not participate in the trip.
The Club member vouched for the visitor's ability.
While this visitor certainly displayed the skills needed for the surf, he did not understand seamanship.
His character lead him to bully the group and take over the leadership which resulted in Silvio almost drowning.
With his commanding authoritarian voice he egged the group away from the leader (with the pretext that we were running out of daylight) and abandoned him alone on the beach.
The second-in-charge did not have the spirit to salvage the situation and simply agreed to abandon Silvio.
Unknown to us, while scouting for a camp spot, Silvio got dumped on the shore when trying to launch and rejoin the rest of the group.
For some reason he could not wet exit and nearly came to grief.
Silvio admitted that was real luck that he didn't drown.
If we were present at the mishap, one of us could have surfed in and offered assistance.
Needless to say that this visitor got an tongue lashing about his behaviour and incredibly, his behaviour, did not improve the following day.
The group was however wiser now and ignored him.
Needless to say he was no longer invited on Club trips.
From that incident I learned: there is only one leader and he/she calls the shots, know your paddling companions well before committing to a demanding/long trip.

On my trips to the Whitsundays (2 weeks+) I select the participants very carefully.
Late landing (c)
While the skill level required is a given, I put emphasis on group dynamics, objective of the paddlers and ability to perform under pressure.
I have read one too many accounts of trips in the same area that deviated wildly from the plan because the paddling group was not suitable (skill wise or conflicting personality).
On the account of one well known sea kayaker's trip to Hinchinbrook Island, he admitted that despite having paddled with the participants before, he believed half of them had a skill level unsuitable for the extended trip that he led for the two weeks.
The short time he spent paddling with them prior to the trip was obviously not sufficient to judge their ability/spirit for a long trip.

It puzzles me now why my Club has suddenly changed the policy and has decided to allow inexperienced paddlers (with Club outings) to join any grade trips of any duration.
The rules have now been changed to allow a visitor to join any trip, of any skill level (even very demanding ones) and of any length.
In confidence, I have been informed that one of the members of the Club's newly formed Safety Committee (a highly experienced Sea Kayak Instructor) is strongly opposed to this new foolish decision.
I have made my inexperienced fellow Committee Members aware of the dangers but obviously my view didn't dissuade them.
While we all make mistakes, I try to minimize mine so they don't escalate to a situation of real danger.
Learning from other experienced paddlers has always been my priority: there is no need to have first hand bad experiences to understand that something is just too risky.
Whitehaven sunset (c)

25 April 2010

Technique: the Magnum® roll

After attempting this elusive roll repeatedly in a Nordkapp LV, it was finally performed for the first time by Adventuretess in a Tahe Marine Greenland.
The Magnum® roll is a highly advanced Greenland roll that possibly will be included in future Greenland rolling competitions :-)

Review of the Tahe Marine Greenland: here

20 April 2010

SHOP: modifying the stern of a sea kayak

SeaBird Designs NorthSea: stern modified
Of the modification I have done to my kayaks, this one certainly was the most daunting one: modify the hull!
In my early days of paddling I quickly understood that the shape of a hull in a kayak is detrimental to its handling.
While kayak designers often spend years perfecting the hull shape I don't always find their designs perfect.
I have very little knowledge in naval engineering (read: about zero) but I can feel when a kayak is not performing the way I desire.
My first attempt to fix a kayak that was in my opinion "too loose" was simple: I added a little fin (fixed skeg) to the stern. The kayak improved dramatically.
Apparently modelled on a Nordkapp hull (probably an early version) the stern on the Arctic Raider seems to be cut away more than the current hulls on the VCP Nordkapps.
The Arctic Raider is designed to be paddled with a rudder.There is less keel on the stern.
The Arctic Raider weathercocks really strongly when the rudder is not deployed (like when surfing).
Storm kyking (c)
Arctic Raider
Adding the fin helped to the stern from laterally drifting when windy stabilizing the stern.
On my Seabird Designs NorthSea carbon/Kevlar core sea kayak I had the opposite problem: the boat leecocks.
Soudkapp (c)
SeaBird Designs NorthSea before the mods
Originally designed to be used with a rudder I removed it and installed a skeg.
The NoprthSea paddled very neutral in low winds but became a bit of a handful in high winds.
Above 20 knots the bow will turn downwind and it was hard to maneuvre.
However the kayak will surf very well: no broaching there.
I moved the seat forward and that changed the trim a bit and made it OK to paddle.
Maneuverability however was still slow: edging the kayak would not release the deep keel line in the stern.
I finally decided to modify the hull.
How much should I modify my stern?.... hard to say/quantify.
I worked out a rough estimate (modelling it on the design of my other kayaks) and marked the stern with tape.

Once I was confident that the cut line would be appropriate I fired up my Dremel tool and took the plunge: hacked into the hull.

It took only a few minutes to cut away the section from the stern.

I made sure that both sides were symmetrical and cut even.

I then cleaned all the dust and any possible salt residues from the surface inside the hull to make sure my epoxy glue would stick to the existing surface.
I mixed up some West System 105 resin/207 UV stabilized hardener mix, tinted it to match the hull color and added microfibre to the consistency of peanut butter.
I generously filled the gap that I created by cutting of the stern with this epoxy mix.
I used tape to reduce the gap: squeezed the hull sides by hand and applied tape to hold the new shape. Surprisingly there was not a lot of tension on the tape.

Once the epoxy glue cured (overnight) I removed the tape and filled the remaining gaps (left by the tape area) with more epoxy mix.
Shaping the final fine keel line was relatively easy with some sand paper.
A smooth finished was achieved with a last coat of clear 105/207 mix.
PIC to come
I tested the new stern shape of my SeaBird kayak over the weekend.
The wind was ideal (up to) 20 knots and the kayak was lightly loaded.
I could definitely feel the stern being more loose now.
In beam winds it finally would weathercock slightly.
I paddled along a Norkapp LV and about the same amount of skeg was needed to correct weathercocking.
While I had no chance yet to test the kayak fully unloaded (I had about 20 Kg of gear with me over the weekend) it appears now to be handling much more like my other British style kayaks.

13 April 2010

DIY: simple paddle leash

For most of my paddling in a sea kayak I use a leash for my paddle.
I understand that there are numerous paddlers that see no use for one and might deem it dangerous in some environments.
I regard a paddle leash essential for my outings.
It helps keeping the paddle where it belongs: with the kayak.
paddling liquid silver_1 (c)
Too frequently I see paddlers without a leash having their paddle drift away when assisting others, opening their day hatch or taking a picture.
I have tried many times to store the paddle under the perimeter lines but inevitably for some reason they dislodge and fall in the water.
Often I take pictures from the kayak and occasionally I include the bow in the image: I dislike having the paddle resting under the lines...
I have tried a few styles of paddle leash and the one that really bothered me was the coil type designed for surf boards (ankle strap of Velcro and a bulky plastic coil).
The noise of the constant banging of the plastic coil on the deck annoyed me.
My preferred one is no longer available commercially possibly out of "production" since it was overpriced for something that any child could make at home with very simple materials.

Other leashes I tried lacked a safety quick release.
Admittedly having loose bungee cord close to your body can create a risk of entanglement.
The ability to quickly untie the paddle leash is important to me.

While the leash is firmly attached to the paddle (no sliding of the retention system on the shaft) it can be undone in a split second with just two fingers.
The bungee loop has a small section of rope or tape attached allowing for a quick release.
I just grab the "pull tab" and with little effort release the leash.
The leash will not come loose if just yanked on it; I must pull the release tab.
The bungee can be cut to any length ( I make sure mine is long enough to allow layback rolling or stern ruddering).
The materials for this inexpensive leash can be purchased at marine chandlers: all I need is about 2 mt of 5mm bungee, a small plastic tie ball , and a bit of cord.
Getting the right length of the loop is a bit of trial and error but within minutes I work out the right size for the shaft/loom of my paddles.
A bit of tension is needed on the loop when it's attached to the paddle or it just falls off.
The other end of the bungee is attached to the deck of the kayak.

I use the leash on most paddles, for me it's just so convenient not to have to worry about stowing your paddle when both hands are needed on deck.
I remove the leash when I roll play/practice since it interferes with some moves.

07 April 2010

Dusting off the boots

It has been some time since I last wore my hiking boots.
Sea kayaking has been so absorbing that I forgot the pleasure of just carrying a backpack into the wilderness.

Girraween APR10_4 (c)
lost among the new saplings
Easter can be a real busy place on the water in my area (Moreton Bay) and I was looking for some quality time away from the aquabogans (read: rednecks with motorboats) that seem to destroy the enjoyment for any paddler.
I had four days in a place where I only saw one other person (that's because I crossed a road) and the only noise was from the wind, rain and birds.
I wanted to travel light, off-trail and feel "outdoors" when camping.

Girraween APR10_2 (c)
since fires are not permitted here I used a Candlefire
I only used a very light tarp (365 gr.!) to shelter the two of us.
This time I camped on exposed granite ridges and managed to pitch the tarp despite the solid rock.
I really cherish travelling light and making do with so much less gear than sea kayaking.
Now that the heat of summer has gone I will probably wear my pack more often.