31 December 2012

PHOTO: End of Year paddle

As the blazing sun heats up the day I seek the only shade available.

End of year paddle_2_c

Paddling amongst the mangroves.

29 December 2012

VIDEO: Still feeling good

 Following the original concept highlighting local paddling, this is the sequel mash-up video of fun on the water in South East Queensland.

select 1080p if you have fast Internet connection

In order of appearance:
Toddy, Stika, Gnarlydog, Adventuretess, Simone, Matt.
Intro footage courtesy of Greg Schwarz.


20 December 2012

White Christmas paddling

It's 92F (33C) in the shade and the sea is just perfectly bath-tub warm. The sun is right above my head and I need to roll to cool down.
While at the other end of the world, at a pond where I grew up, my friend's paddling

Reflection_Marco Ferrario

River Mera, tributary to Lake Como, Italy. Photo courtesy of Marco Ferrario/Eko.


14 December 2012

REVIEW: the best roof rack

I was shopping for a new car and since my current one had factory roof rails I was hoping that the existing roof rack could be transferred to my new wheels.
My search for a replacement vehicle was pointing towards a car that had no rails and I almost discarded that vehicle because of it.
I wanted the security of a seriously well anchored roof rack since I have seen one too many flimsy and ill fitting clip-on style roof racks fail. Transporting a kayak or two on a rack that is just secured by some kind of friction mount against the recess of the car's door is NOT my idea of safety.
Having kayaks come off the roof at high speed on the highway, where up lifting forces are greatest, is a terrible scenario, with possible consequences of causing somebody behind me to crash and possibly die.
Nah, I wanted a bolt-on serious racks.
The vehicle I eventually settled on offered no factory rails but my search for a decent roof racks revealed that some brands offer anchors that pierce the sheet metal of the roof and are permanently bolted to the car; I like that idea.
Some brands required drilling several holes into the roof of the car and installing a long flush "rail" to then accept a tower and roof rack.
Not exactly unobtrusive and maybe a bit esthetically questionable on some vehicles but the rail solutions allows for quick removal of the roof rack assembly.
On my previous car I had Rola roof bars that were clamped onto the elevated factory car rails.
The solution was good allowing me to transport two kayaks side-by-side in a lay-down position.

Rola nd Thule cradles (c)
Rola clamp-on bars on car with factory rails
I prefer that option since in the heat of summer a light high-end kayak (epoxy lay-up) can deform if transported on its side on a "J" cradles.
The contact area of the standard swiveling cradles is so much greater that the J cradle base, not to mention the security and sturdiness (no wobble).
One thing that really annoyed me with Rola rails was the noise that the rails created at highway speed.
When not transporting kayaks, to make my rails quiet, each time I would have to remove the kayak cradles and replace the rubber strip to cover the T slot in the rail: not exactly a swift and easy operation. I did that only twice when I planned a long drive (1000 miles) but, since I used the cradles weekly, I just left them on other times and put up with the noise.
Now, having to purchase a new rack system, I wanted something quiet.
Whispbar from Pro Rack seemed the best solution guaranteeing a noiseless ride.
The rails are wing shaped to eliminate turbulence causing noise and they don't effect gas mileage, the feet are low profile and tapered to eliminate whistling.

Rukus rack1lr

I still remember those agricultural offerings that I used to sell when I managed a bicycle shop in USA: they remind me of a Meccano set where parts were just bolted together with no consideration to noise or aesthetics. They might have looked OK on a Jeep but I thought that they were so out of place on a streamlined modern car.
Whispbar was offering a permanent drill and bolt-on base for their modular rack system but my car was too new (and uncommon); there was no mention of compatibility.
I searched on the net for rail installs on the same car in USA and found some samples of similar set ups. While I was risking setting off the side curtain air bags I  drilled the roof of my car.
All went well and the small anchor pads were riveted solidly to the edge of the car's roof.

base stud_c
anchor pad and stud for roof rack mount
The rivets are high strength stainless steel and require a commercial style pop-riveter (tore apart my light duty one trying to pull the heavy duty rivets).
The base is now super solid and the rack can not accidentally come off no matter how fast I drive or how much crosswind there is.
There is no noise while I drive and I don't have to remove the cradles: the T slot rail has a built-in rubber strip that seals the void around the cradles. Simple but ingenious.

T-rail detail_c
end of rail flap open to reveal T slot detail
The overhanging rails are wide enough to fit most vehicles and when the time will come to get a new car I will not need to shop for a new rack system. All I will need is 4 small metal pads to rivet onto the roof (also modular with door clips).

rack removed_c
small anchor pad riveted to roof (rack removed)
The bonus part of riveting the pads is that the spread can be way greater than the typical between-the-doors clip-on racks. The kayaks sit much more securely (less pitching). I purposely spaced the bars to the length of a bicycle's wheel base. When I transport a bike I don't need a bulky (and expensive) bike carrier. I secure the fork to a simple block with a T bolt fitting that slides nicely inside the roof rack rail, The rear wheel is secured by an old school toe strap. Simple, light, quiet, aerodynamic and cheap. However I can't boast to the world: look, I am a bike rider :-)

While I was not satisfied with the Rola roof rails I was pleased with their kayak cradles.
I have tried several brands (Thule, Thule J cradles, Rhino, "no brand", custom foam blocks, Yakima) No other cradle offers me the ability of the swinging Rola cradles and the hinged pad that contours the hull better than a fixed one.

tilted cradles_c
swiveling Rola kayak cradles
Rola cradles self adjust and never create a hard spot that can lead to hull deformation (in the summer heat).
Where Rola come short with their kayak cradles is the simple nut that is housed inside the thumb wheel. While their T bolt  is made from stainless steel the actual nut on the adjusting thumb wheel is mild steel. Not the best choice of material for hardware designed to transport salty kayak. Needless to say the mild steel nuts rusted and froze onto the studs. I had to split one plastic wheel and remove the frozen nut with a spanner.
When contacting Rola for a replacement part (thumb wheel) their  reply was:
"... You will need to purchase a new cradle. Part number 25-0069 - RRP $41.00..."

I felt insulted and I want point out here Rola's poor customer service policy.
Not only the rusty nut is a design fault but I find the way the problem was handled is sub standard. It seems that it was too difficult to send me a single thumb wheel and, if Rola manufacturing is done in Australia, how hard would it be to reach for one in the bin and ship it?
I am used to a different style of customer service where a design fault is addressed and remedy is offered.
I ended up sourcing the simple thumb wheel somewhere else ($2).
I generally prefer to deal with companies that offer to repair the faulty/damaged item instead of forcing me to buy a whole new unit while the old would be still perfectly functional with just a small part replaced.
I think that companies like Patagonia for example, where repair is high on the priority list, no matter who is at fault, base their success on an ethical approach to manufacturing and customer service.
Needless to say that they are also the leading brand when it comes to REAL green manufacturing policies and practices. But that will be a future post.


04 December 2012

DIY: keel strip

I am lucky that where I paddle the beaches are sandy. Landing my sea kayak, even with surf, poses very little chance of damage to the hull.
Sand is so much more gentle on gel coat than sharp rocks.
What I have discovered tho, that even if not gouging the hull's finish, sand is rather abrasive over time.
Dragging a loaded sea kayak to the water's edge can wear through the gel coat down to the laminate in a relatively short time.
gelcoat skid mark (c)
gel coat skid mark left by dragging the kayak
Typically I would take care of my kayaks by applying a resin strip (epoxy mix) to the hull. From bow to stern I lay UV stabilized epoxy (mixed with graphite and pigment) several layers thick to act as a sacrificial layer that every couple of years will need touching up. I prefer epoxy because it wears better (higher abrasion resistance) than gel coat; it takes longer to apply but I like the results. I won't describe here how to create a keel strip (there is plenty of very good info on the net) but I will say that it adds some degree of protection in areas of wear.
resin keelstrip_c
conventional resin (or gel coat) keel strip

On some kayaks the gel coat is very thick and it will take a while for sand to rub it off but on high end light kayaks the manufacturers try to keep the weight down and apply only a thin layer. Of course I could stop and exit the kayak before I hit the beach but often I launch and land in surf conditions where the most practical and safe way is to simply start/stop right on the wet sand. My light carbon/Kevlar hull was starting to show a bit of wear and I decided to try a new style of keel strip. I have heard of KeelEazy before but I have never seen a kayak with one. On my recent trip to USA I visited Kayak Academy in Washington's North West. Here I saw their entire fleet of rental kayaks covered with KeelEazy strip. I wanted to try some for myself. I decided I was going to cover part of the keel line, just the "pointy" areas where most of the abrasion occurs. The material resembles thick PVC backed with an industrial strength self adhesive glue.
The instructions were clear: clean the kayak's hull and apply neatly.
round edges_c
rounding the edge

I trimmed the edges to create a rounder corner to prevent peel-back once applied. I cleaned the hull with acetone making sure it would be really clean.
peel back_c
peeeling the adhesive backing

The glue on the KeelEazy strip is very strong and the blue protective backing is hard to get started
applying over skeg box

I carefully centered the strip over the skeg box opening and pressed down lightly to then check alignment. Once I was happy with the position I lifted the tape back up and pulled on it to stretch it slightly. The tape tends to then fall over the edge of the keel and contour the hull's shape. Around the bow and stern keel's curve I used a heat gun set on mild and softened the tape a bit while stretching it. It conformed over the curve perfectly without wrinkling. I applied the pressure of the palm of my hand and let it cool down.
trim skegbox_c
trimming back around skeg box

Around the skeg box I used a utility knife and trimmed away the strip over the opening of the skeg's blade leaving little tabs to push them into the recess.
skegbox detail_c
skeg box finished

The whole application of the KeelEazy strip took me less than an hour; a far cry compared to a typical "wet" application of a gel coat style keel strip. I have however my reservation over the effectiveness of the KeelEazy strip and I can see potential problems happening from a "half" strip. While the protection over the centre of the hull is not as critical, in retrospect I think a continuous strip might be a better solution and prevent the strip's leading edge from peeling back when dragged over a sandy beach. Time will tell if the strip is as effective as my resin ones.
finished curved_c
wrinkle free around curve

27 November 2012

VIDEO: too windy

I believe in pushing myself in environments that are often outside my comfort level.
It is in conditions that test my skills and endurance that I gain a better understanding of my potential and abilities. I encourage others to do so too because I see it as the only thing that really improves a person's confidence, fast.
Lately I have been spending more and more time paddling in windy conditions because I feel that I greatly need to gain more skills in developed seas.
I used to dread a windy forecast; anything above 15 knots would make me reconsider my paddling plans. Now I look for winds that will oppose a tidal flow hoping for some waves that will mimic a tidal race. Bumpy is good.
Saturday's forecast was mild (up to 15 knots) but Sunday was shaping to have 25-35 knots wind against an ebbing tidal flow. I have paddled a few times there before and I knew that with onshore winds waves will form.
What I didn't know is that too much wind doesn't make for better fun.

I reefed my Code Zero Flat Earth sail to reduce it's surface knowing that a full square meter was going to be too much for me to handle.
Soon after I launched I was again glad to be paddling with a Greenland paddle remembering how much more wind effected my Euro paddles used to be in a stiff breeze.
My progress was a bit erratic and the strong wind kept on pushing my bow downwind. The British kayak I was paddling has proven a handful before I relocated the seat forward (to balance its trim for beam winds); this time her handling was really lousy. I wished I would have weighted the bow with ballast to release the stern a bit as I could barely turn my kayak around and paddle back out into the waves for another run.

I will take a weathercocking kayak over a "neutral" one any day. In a weathercocking one I can drop a bit of skeg; in a so called neutral, when the wind really blows, it suddenly becomes lee cocking, something I definitely DO NOT want.
My attempt at sailing was dismal: even with only half sail I could not get my kayak going and I quickly capsized. It was then that all the futzing with sculling training in clam conditions came handy as I managed to roll back up without having to wet exit in a rather tricky scenario. I packed the sail back on the deck and continued to just surf the messy waves.
After a few hours of battling with the wind I called it a day.
Getting the kayak back from the shore across the sandblasting beach with me leaning at a great angle into the wind, was another story.


14 November 2012

GEAR: the 10 NON essentials

I keep on coming across lists of the ten essentials; ten essential items that I should not leave home without.
Ten essentials to go backpacking, ten essentials to go skiing and of course ten essentials to go sea kayaking. I even heard of the ten essentials to survive a trip to Thailand's notorious clubbing scene :-)

Of course the ten essentials are a go-to list of items that we should not forget when going on a trip or outing, items that make our adventures safer or just simply more comfortable.
I often also see the opposite of this these lists where backpackers, riders or paddlers overload their packs and crafts with items that I really would not think of taking with me. Just because my kayak has an enormous amount of space inside the hatches I don't find the need to fill that void with "stuff"
Before I sea kayaked I did a lot of backpacking so maybe I have developed a tendency to streamline and go light, often leaving at the unnecessary things at home.
I find truth in the saying "less is more", where I feel that the less gear I take with me the more I get in touch with my surroundings.
There are items that I don't take with me when paddling; here is my list of 10 non essentials

1) I have written about light shelters before and I still think that a "walk-in" tent is really out of place when sea kayaking. It just weights so much and often is a bad choice on a windy beach where the sheer size of the structure makes for good "shaking and flapping". I prefer to go with something smaller.
20070802-05 - Assateague Island beach camping - Greg & Nicole's tent blowing in the wind - (by Ian) - 1023721717_a2e4e60fa7_o

2) A pillow; a full size house pillow. Nah, always found those thing suitable only for my bedroom. A small inflatable pillow does the job for me or even some clothing on top of my PFD will do at times.

3) Jeans. What's up with that? Jeans were originally designed for cowboys, to withstand the rough and toughness of mustering animals. They also work great for heavy labour and I condone their use in urban environments (however I don't wear jeans); but for sea kayaking? No, I don't mean just while paddling, (I have seen that too) but around camp. For me, only safari suit polyester pants are less comfortable while sitting on the ground.

4) Sitting on the ground, you ask? Who does that?
I do. Seriously guys: do I really need a reclining chair to camp away from home?
I rather enjoy being able to stretch my body on the ground on a simple light tarp or mat; it keeps me more connected to the place I am spending the night at.

5) Tables. Just like chairs I think that with tables I just want to replicate an environment that I want to escape from. I see no point to have my dining room in the stix. I want something different, something a bit more organic when I am away from home those few nights a year.

Modern Camping.

I do however pack a very light and compact butterfly table (the size of my kayak's bulkhead), if I know that I will be camping on a beach with sand and no grass. I dislike preparing my meal in the sand because inevitably it seems to end up in my food too. However, if I plan to go superlight, then a thin ground sheet will have to do and I will be extra careful in trying to keep that hot stove away from plastic.

6) A gas lanterns. Gas lanterns were the rage when there was very little alternative for illumination.
These days I prefer a super compact, less fragile, safer and much longer lasting LED camp light. They come in all sort of shapes and colors too.

7) A shower. Really, a shower? Yep, those big black plastic water bags, that I have seen people lay in the sun during the day planning to have a hot shower at night.

solar shower photo credit: grlfr
 All that stuff for a few days away from home? It's not like I am crossing the desert and I have been dusty for a week... when sea kayaking I tend to actually have a swim in a creek or the ocean if I feel the urge to clean myself. And if it's cold, I man-up enough for those few minutes of significant shrinkage :-)

8) iPod, iPhone, iPad or other electronic devices. Again, the beauty of going away from it all is to be away from it all. I see little point in distracting myself from where I actually am; silence is gold to me. Listening to and observing what's around me is way more soothing than the bobbing tunes that I listen to at home. I love being present in my new environment.
The only thing I take with me is the iPood

9) The mighty GPS, on an outing that I have done dozens of times before (I am yet to use a GPS anyway).  Maybe it's just me but I see no point "breadcrumbing" my trip, in details. Or even less know my top speed since speed, in a sea kayak, doesn't interest me.

10) Last but not least this little gem :-)


08 November 2012

Photo: simple camp

As summer is approaching (Southern hemisphere) I know that soon it will be too hot for me to go backpacking: we had temperatures of 30C already.
In my last effort to get a last blast of cold weather I wanted, for a couple of nights, to camp simply.

CandleFire at bivvi_c

I left the sturdy tent at home despite knowing that it might rain and be windy.
It was a welcome challenge to set up my shelter for the night with just a thin sil-nylon tarp in a breezy location. A candle-fire created a cozy feeling even if the flame is too meek to warm me.
The tarp flapped around a bit at night but allowed me to watch the moon play hide-and-seek with the clouds.
It was a rewarding experience to leave behind the comforts of city life, stripping myself of the safety of solid brick walls.
Laying on the ground, with only my face exposed from the sleeping bag, listening to the wind whistling in the trees is an experience 5 star hotels can't buy me.


30 October 2012

VIDEO: sea kayak sailing afternoon

Once again the forecast was not too conducive for sea kayaking as we know it: the wind was to blow up to 30 knots!
I didn’t have any specific destination in mind and no major crossing to tackle, so I resorted to have some fun with my kayak sail again.

What could have been a rather tedious slog paddling in a stiff breeze turned out to be a fun filled afternoon of zipping up and down the gentle wind waves.
I only wished that the tidal flow would have opposed the wind direction, to create a bit bumpier conditions :-)


26 October 2012

SAFETY: going solo made safer

On the left shoulder of my PFD I have my personal locator beacon (aka PLB) tightly strapped hoping I never have to use is. It gives me a sense of security that in case the proverbial sh*t really hits the fan somebody might come to my cry for help and pluck me out of the water.
I also know that those electronic gadgets aren't totally foolproof or operate 100% of the time (details here ).
Lately I have found myself venturing on more trips alone; my usual paddling companions seem to have other commitments or maybe have just grown tired of me :-)
While solo trips have a certain appeal they also pose more risks, especially when on the water.
As I prefer more textured waters and longer paddles to more remote places (of a week or so) I have been contemplating undertaking those trips alone.
Ex Cap_34

One concern that has crossed my mind would be the rare scenario where I would come to trouble and be left stranded somewhere with no way of letting people know of my predicament.
I should let my loved ones know where and when I am going but giving them all the details and logistic constraints might prevent that from happening. Printing out maps with detailed plots and ...
I also don't want to "burden" a relative or a friend with the duty of checking on me if I don't contact them on my return, giving them the mental constraint to be my lifeline in case of no-show.
Put it this way: I would rather not be that person that a buddy relies on for safety.
So I was rather pleased when a new registration service was set up for the purpose of "keeping an eye" on theirs subscribers.
iNeverSolo.com a free service that allows you to register you intentions.
"The brainchild of an outdoorsman,
pilot and engineer, iNeversolo is an innovative online resource that lets you create
a plan for your outdoor activity so that, if you don’t make it back when you said you
would, an email and text alert goes out to the people you designate and they can track
you down. iNeverSolo ensures that while you may be on your own outdoors, you are
not really alone." says Peter Downing of iNeverSolo.

The service is free to the users supported by international advertisers and sponsors.
Initially only available in USA, it has just recently added international coverage.
Anybody that signs up to iNeverSolo.com can submit as much (or little) information about the proposed outing, and it doesn't have to be epic. Anything from a simple outing of a few hours in the bay (or woods) to week long expeditions.
You let them know when you will be back and when you will log off and they keep track of you.
I don't mean that they physically check on you (nobody will come around my place if I don't log-off) but they will send out an alert to the contacts I nominated if iNeverSolo fails to get hold of me first and I don't send them a response. So, if I fail to come back from my trip and iNeverSolo can't get in hold of me they will alert my contacts that might notify the authorities to come look for me.
For more details watch this animation or read this info

Ex Cap_33

Of course such service has one downfall: what if I get "stranded" on a remote island (with no mobile service) with a couple of Swedish backpackers and prolong my trip for a few days? I would hate to see that Marine Rescue chopper hovering above looking for me :-)


23 October 2012

REVIEW: Carb neutral beer powered vehicle

While the engineers of the world are scampering to invent a carbon neutral vehicle to happily transport people around, a different kind of development has been happening behind Oregon's mountains: a carb neutral vehicle that is very environmentally friendly.
While this vehicle has had tremendous success in Oregon, Utah's DMV seems to be reluctant to allow registration...

Powered by a "V12"engine that sometimes fires in slight imperfect synchronicity, it requires open minded and willing passengers to cruise with one "designated" driver and one licensed barman to make it reach the top speed of 7 miles per hour. Unsuitable for off road (the engine is underpowered for steep hills) it is primarily designed to transport patrons between "refuelling" stations closely spaced apart (microbreweries).
Manufacturers' fuel recommendation is premium (beer) only with a rather high average in-town consumptions of 3 gallons per mile; it is however carb neutral as the carbs ingested are soon burned off by the engines frantically spinning the pedals.
The vehicle is a soft top with excellent street appeal: trust me, you will get second looks, from either gender :-)
The downside of this unique vehicle are the seats: testers found them somehow spartan and suitable only for short journeys as a long drives in the country produced saddle sores.


16 October 2012

New found love

We met in a carpark, a sunny day, I remember.
We hit if off immediately and I think it was love at first sight, at least for me.
For the next month we became inseparable and travelled on a road trip of the West Coast of USA.
It was a magical time, intense and unfortunately too brief.
Now I miss him...

select full screen, HD with headphones for best viewing experience

Rockit is just like the Foof, my first love; he is the legacy that my pooch left behind.
Extremely well trained and with great intuition Rockit backpacked with me in the Sierra (East side) to elevations just shy of 12000ft.
My preferred territory is above tree line where the vistas are only interrupted by high peaks.
There is a strange sense of vulnerability when sleeping in windswept high valleys; I had to keep a watchful eye on the weather or find myself camped for the night on exposed terrain with wind battering the flimsy fabric walls of the tent. Luckily the weather in the Sierras usually holds until late in the season as it did for me.
I huffed and puffed to reach the high valley under the load of a backpack with supplies for 3 nights: I am a "flatlander" these days and my legs see very little action. Rockit however seemed unaffected by his backpack and trotted ahead scouting the route.

It was after Labour Day and most of the crowd have dissipated. We did come across however a party of maybe 10 with about 7 dogs, all coming back from a camp up high. It is wonderful that the regulators in US have set aside remarkable areas where dogs are welcome, where owners of trusted canine friends can enjoy the outdoors, together.
I sat there, stunned by the beauty of this landscape and tried to absorb it all in, and "upload it" to my mental memory. It is in the high mountains that I feel the most serene, excited and peaceful at the same time.
Laying on my back I spent hours just watching the clouds rush push the peaks to then fizzle out into thin air. As evening approached they blushed, first a faint pink to full deep red as darkness approached. I slipped into my sleeping bag and Rockit borrowed my light down jacket. There was just a hint of frost in the morning.
Not extremely fond of the water Rockit would however leap onto boulders like a goat. He followed us without hesitation sharing the adventure that Edgar and myself wanted to experience.
Rockit added his curious and playful spirit to our mountain trek to then keep guard at night: we were in bear country and he could alert us of unwanted visitors.
There is special bond between myself and Australian Sheppards; a breed of exceptional intuition. Owners of these dogs know what I am talking about.

I chocked back a couple of tears as we parted at Los Angeles international airport; Edgard pulling back into traffic, Rockit perched out of the window watching me disappearing into the stream of people.


10 October 2012

Photo: High Sierra

There is a magical place that has a special spot in my heart.
It is not along the seashore or deep in the woods but high in the mountains of the Sierra Nevada of California.

Blue Lake_2

I recently reconnected with that place and realized how much I missed the simple pleasure of journeying through a rocky landscape in good company.
Sheltered from the breeze I slept outside in a hollow on my last night looking at the starry night.
With just my face exposed from the hood of my warm sleeping bag, the cold breeze transported me back to my childhood Alpine valley.
Cuddled next to me, my new found love.

Currently working on a short video on the Sierras.     Coming soon...

03 October 2012

Video: The Ocean Dragons

I have had no time to create a post of my own lately (I have just returned back to Australia) but I have come across this brilliant video by The Ocean Dragons.

These guys really enjoy rough conditions using Greenland paddles.

Thanx to Adventuretess for the link

05 September 2012

Road Trip

USA Route 66 - Oatman Arizona
photo: Stewart Leiwakabessy_with permission

Gnarlydog News is taking a break while on a road trip. We will be attending to comments moderation sporadically (there is no Internet in the backcountry) and resume posting soon.

29 August 2012

VIDEO: kayak sailing in the bay

A few years back I would cherish the days when the forecast would call for little or no wind; these days I prefer a bit of breeze to ripple the waters of the bay and occasionally produce a few small waves. And there is nothing like popping the sail on a beam wind to make paddling so much easier.

A common misconception is to assume that a sail on a kayak is only good for downwind sailing.
With a well designed sail like the Flat Earth Sail I find that I can sail out and back with very little effort from my paddling; the wind does most of the work for me. When the breeze is not strong enough (below 10 knots) a few strokes often help to catch a wave.


16 August 2012

REVIEW: SEA-LECT Designs footbraces

I paddle kayaks without rudders that use skegs for directional stability.
Most of the kayaks I own came with footbraces that are mounted on rails attached to the hull.
The footbrace pegs have sliding adjustment fore and aft to allow different paddlers' leg lengths fit correctly.
I find most footbraces' surface rather small offering me limited support for my feet, often creating a pressure spot. In trying to maintain a good paddle stroke I tend to have a positive pressure against the pegs, that after an hour or so results in discomfort.
Wiggling my feet around and repositioning them frequently indicates that the footbraces are under engineered for my requirements. In some of my kayaks I have modified the pegs where I have added a bar spanning from side to side creating a much larger platform with infinite foot positions.
The bar works very well for me but when it comes to adjust it for a different paddler it is pretty tricky.
The bar needs to have some adjustment in the mounting holes since the hull of the kayak is tapered.
Pulling back the bar for a closer fit usually requires a bit wiggling, hard pulling and occasionally cursing to get the corroded mechanism (aluminium against stainless steel fastens)  to slide.
In my latest kayak I have not installed my modification since several people borrow that boat and adjustment of the brace would be a pain.

When SEA-LECT Designs offered me to test their footbraces I was very excited.
The design on their website looked good and I awaited the arrival of a set of replacement footbraces.

SeaLect vs Yakima_1

As described on their website the SEA-LECT Designs footbraces are a direct swap for most brands.
I removed my Yakima rails bolts and installed the new fasteners in the same existing holes, no modifications needed.
I was even very impressed with the detail of the fasteners; the bolt comes with a cupped washer that is backed by rubber to ensure a positive seal so no leaks will occur.

SeaLect fastener

SEA-LECT Designs offers also footbraces that will mount on hull-bonded studs, not just through bolts.
There are a couple of fundamental differences with SEA-LECT Designs footbraces.
The adjusting mechanism is all corrosion free and is accessible from the cockpit, while seated in the kayak.

SeaLect footbrace_1

If I need adjustment (bring the pegs closer) I just grab the tab on the rotating rod, flick it 90 degrees upwards and relocate the peg, all on-the-fly, while on the water. I can do that with Yakima footpegs too, wiggling my foot behind the peg and hopefully finding the release tab, but only works when new. After a few months corrosion sets in and the adjusting mechanism becomes very sticky.
The surface area of the SEA-LECT Designs pegs is larger and gently curved to spread the load of the feet-pushing action.
Despite wearing paddling shoes I still find Yakima's sharp pegs edges dig into my feet a bit; SEA-LECT pegs are much nicer on my feet.

SeaLect vs Yakima_2
SEA-LECT Design on the left, Yakima on the right.
There is one thing I don't like about the SEA-LECT Designs pegs: the angle relative to my feet.
Maybe it's a personal taste but I found the pegs oriented too much forward: I kind of like them more square.
In the process to test them thoroughly and offer the manufacturer comparison feedback I added a little plate that I bolted onto the pegs surface, angling it backwards.
After an initial paddle of 10 miles I found the modified angle more to my liking.


12 August 2012

Photo: sailing in rough waters

Sunday morning paddle in the warm Queensland winter sun...  then suddenly got bumpy.

Sailing in rough waters_c

A fun outing with just 12 knots of wind.
Flat Earth sail with Northern Light Greenland paddle.

07 August 2012

DIY: replacement carbon-fiber seat in Valley

Seats in kayaks seem to be often a deal breaker: some folk won't buy a kayak if the seat is not comfortable for them. Some kayak seats seem to fit more paddlers than others but there are also some seats that cause a lot of grief and paddlers go to great lengths to fix them.
The most common complaint I hear and read about from sea kayakers is the dreaded dead leg syndrome; after a while on the water (sometimes as brief as half an hour) some paddlers start to feel pins and needles or loose the feel of the legs altogether.
I am one of them: I find a lot of sea kayak seats not suitable for me. Maybe is my chunky thighs that force me to extend my legs lower to make them fit or something but I find most seats too short and too "peaked" (high up front) for my anatomy.
One seat that I have removed from more kayaks than any other one is the Valley plastic seat and the current model seems to be just as aggravating as the previous one.
In Adventuretess' Nordkapp LV I removed the seat and replaced it with a DIY fibreglass one removing the back band and replacing it with a foam block.
Steavatron recently borrowed Adventuretess's Nordkapp LV (Sialuk) and was amazed by the difference in feel and stability of the kayak.
Within half an hour of paddling Sialuk, he politely asked me if a similar seat was possible to be had in his own Nordkapp LV.
I agreed that with his help we could fabricate one for this kayak too, and we might as well go "bling".

carbon seat4

The plastic VCP seat is easy to remove: 4 bolts on the outside of the coaming hold the seat in place.
Once the fsteners were removed the seat came right out but revealed a little problem; the edge of the seat has been "shaving" the hull and a few layers of fibreglass have already been carved away by the motion of the seat slightly swinging when paddling. If not caught in time it would have holed the kayak from the inside out (the same problem occurred in Sialuk).
Patching that divot was dead easy and we restored the hull to full strength.

carbon seat2

The new seat is made from a laminate of glass fibre, double bias carbon under the sitting area and a veneer of the oh-so-sexy twill carbon fibre on top, for looks of course :-)
The edges of the seat have been reinforced with Kevlar to prevent the typical cracking that I have experienced in other factory chopped-mat kayak seats.

carbon seat1

The new seat does not hang on its own but I used "L" brackets to support it. The original VCP hardware was re-utilized and new stainless steel bolts are anchoring the carbon seat to the bracket.

carbon seat3

Stevatron was happy to reuse the original back band and hip pads. The back bands sling is attached to the seat with a short piece of webbing and a "D" ring. Existing straps firmly secure the back band to the rear bulkhead to prevent dislodgment when entering the cockpit.
After the maiden voyage Stevatron was happy with the position and height of the new seat and it was then finally secured to his kayak with a few dobs of polyurethane (Sikaflex) sealant to prevent any swinging and deliver a solid feel. In the event the seat would have to be removed for any reason a spatula will be inserted under the seat to break away those few spots of sealant.
Stevatorn finds the new seat a vast improvement on the stock VCP plastic one. The centre of gravity has been lowered and he finds that the Nordkapp LV has changed personality.
He is more confident on putting his kayak on edge and has gained stabilty when in textured waters.
Since the change and after a few paddles of several hours he no longer experiences the dead legs.


31 July 2012

Naming that boat

There are very few other things that have evoked "personification" more than a sea going vessel.
Throughout history owners of all kind of boats have been naming her (yep, apparently boats are female... alluding at the changing moods? :-) with captivating, suggestive and exotic names.
Not sure if all paddlers share my attachment to a kayak but I feel being part of "her".
Is it the tight confined space that almost wears my body or is it the medium to deliver so much pure enjoyment that personifies an inanimate object made from fibreglass and resin?
Nevertheless I have named all my kayaks even if our "love" was brief at times.
From "Wet Dream" (a name almost R rated) to Kadzait there have been 14 "girls" in my shed...

I think it's more personal to have a name to refer to, instead of the model that the manufacturer gave her (at one stage I had two of the same model).
I like to display the name of my kayak on the bow, just under the seam line.

Nukilik bow_c

In the past I have come up with the logo for the name myself; using the imagination and electronic tools I would fashion graphics that would work on a sea kayak.
My designs have been so far monochrome; I would cut the logo out of cast vinyl and apply it to the gel coat.
Self adhesive cast vinyl is used for sign making and I would source mine from a local supplier but "flea Bay" seems to be a good source too.
I would trace the logo over the vinyl and with a very sharp hobby knife I would neatly cut out the desired shape. I limit my designs to be rather simple with few pointy edges and no fine lines. A cut-out vinyl sticker needs to have some body if used on the bow of a sea kayak or peeling of the material will occur.

tail surfing_1_c
I used clear vinyl to cover the complex shape of this logo
Recently I have had the urge to spice-up a bit my logos and with the recent purchase of (yet) another kayak I held back for a while. I could design my own logo in full color, maybe even with a drop shadow or something but the quotes I got to print a one-off were rather expensive.
Then I stumbled across Kayak ID, a guy that specializes in making just the very thing I wanted: logos for kayaks in "airbrush" look.
On his website he offers a very simple way to design your own logo in a few different styles.
I asked Bob for a sample and he was happy to supply me one, with exact instructions on how to apply it without messing up.
The decal took a while to make and ship (California based company) but it was delivered in a very protective stiff cardboard envelop to prevent shipping damage.
Cleaned up my kayak as recommended and carefully applied the decal.

kykID decal_1

I think that these graphics look a lot more professional than my amateur efforts.

kayakID decal_Kadzait

29 July 2012

Photo: sunset sailing

Sunset sailing_2

Two weeks off kayaking and I needed a fix of salt water, badly.
Mid afternoon I packed my boat with the essentials for an overnighter and headed to my favorite spot just hours away.
Wind on my back, the crossing to my island was easy. Middle of winter and there wasn't a soul around; all I could hear was the breeze in the trees.
Sleeping under the stars restored my spirit.

24 July 2012

REVIEW: Shred Ready and Nutcase helmets

Undeniably looking goofy, just like bike helmets were on cyclists when they first appeared, helmets for sea kayaking are not very popular in my part of the pond.
A helmet for sea kayaking? really? what will they think of next...
And that’s what I thought when I used to paddle the sheltered waters of the bay.
Admittedly I can’t see much use for a helmet in an sea that has no surf and where the chance of bumping you head is rather remote.
The game changed once I realized that for me the real fun in a sea kayak is in white water and luckily most of the shores in my area where the ocean meats land are sandy with rarely I rock in sight.
While the chance of banging my noggin on a reef is remote, I have made contact with the hull of my kayak, and that of others.
As wise paddlers say: "we are just in between swims", I regard my roll as proficient but not bombproof and, despite all the rolling training and play in the surf zone, I still come out of my boat.
Tossed out of my boat, my head and my kayak sometimes decide to be in the same place at the same time.
Just like I embraced bicycle helmets years ago (way before they became compulsory) I now don a helmet when going out in conditions that might see me contacting the head with something hard.
In sea kayaking the increased risk factor over bicycles is that a knock to the head, that would make me unconscious even for a very short time, would probably spell disaster.
I was lucky to not have drowned a few years ago when crashing my windsurfer I passed out. Maybe wearing a helmet would have prevented me seeing stars even tho not sure if it would have saved me from ending in hospital for shoulder reconstruction.

In my shed I have two helmets for sea kayak surfing: the Shred Ready Shensu carbon and a Nutcase Watermelon.

Shred Ready Shensu Helmet_c

The Shensu is a carbon fibre and Kevlar lid with closed cell foam interior padding. Unlike EPS foam in bicycle helmets this foam has a bit of flex and does not dimple if pressed hard but returns to its original shape. The helmet comes with pads of different thickness that attach to the bottom perimeter of the interior padding with small Velcro tabs. A fully customized fit can be achieved for a perfect feel with no pressure points.

Shred Ready Shensu_c

What sets this brain bucket apart form the rest is the extremely good retention strap system. The typical under-the-chin plastic buckled strap is complemented with HOG occipital lock: a tensioning system that grabs the back of the head and keeps the helmet perfectly in place even during the most head banging spills.
I have seen this type of ratchet system on bicycle helmets and shoes and they have proven to work well.

SR retention system_c

The Shensu fits my large head well. I have struggled to find a helmet that could offer me comfort and security at the same time. Most other helmets I have tried just felt like a bucket on my head often putting pressure on the temples. If however your head is shaped differently Shred Ready offers a more elongated style that fits smaller heads: the more budget-conscious Super Scrappy is injection molded ABS shell that won't break the bank.

The Nutcase has a more conventional helmet look with its shell shape shared with many other sport helmets for skateboarding and bike riding.
What sold me with this helmet was the funky graphics: it's not like I can hide wearing a helmet so I might as well stand out :-0
This water version has an ABS Shell with the same closed cell foam (EVA) lining that cradles the head but doesn't absorb water.

Nutcase melon_1_c

Additional comfort open-cell padding found on top of the head keeps this helmet comfortably seated.
There are removable heat molded foam ear flaps to protect me from lateral light impacts but I found those flaps pressing down on my non-Dumbo ears after a while. With some careful gentle heat-gun action I slightly reshaped the flaps and domed them to create the perfect fit.

Nutcase melon_3_c

Nutcase uses one size shell for their adult helmets but increase the inside EVA padding for the S-M size.
The Nutcase comes with additional small soft pads that can be used for a custom fit but I didn't need them in my L-XL one; the fit is smaller than the Shensu.
Nutcase melon_2_c

Now the question remains: does everybody need a helmet when paddling?
Probably not. The fat chance of banging one's  head while paddling on a Sunday morning millpond condition outing doesn't really warrant one but somehow I feel safer wearing my helmet when the waves get steeper and the surf traffic wanting to share the same space increases.

Zegul surf_5

PS: no shwag and no kick-backs for this review either. Bought the helmets with my own money and no prompts from the manufacturers. 
Heck, I don't even sell or monetise nothing on this website... 
One downside: I receive almost daily offers from totally unrelated Chinese manufactures asking me to become their agent for electronic parts , carbon  fibre or plastic goods. I even had offers from website design managers in USA and India offering me to maximize my "profitability" :-)

17 July 2012

VIDEO: Zipper Zone Futzing

I like it bumpy, always have.
From bicycles pedalled on rocky terrain, motorcycles ridden off road to bushwalking cross country I recognize a passion for the challenging conditions.
Mindless rhythmical power exertion of my body does not interest me and I usually seek locations where skills and balance are more important than muscles. The same goes for sea kayaking: I seek waters that offer a bit of excitement and unpredictability, where I have to use my body and bracing to keep myself upright.

select HD if you have fast Internet connection

 My local paddling location is a sheltered bay away from ocean swell and lacking a rocky coastline I don’t have anywhere to practice my balancing skills in clapotis rebound. Moreton Bay however has a decent tidal flow with 6-7 feet of height variation at spring tides creating shifting banks of sand a few miles from the shore. Power boaters avoid the area and take a different route to travel to the big sandy Moreton Island. I instead seek those locations where tidal flow, residual ocean swell and small wind waves, from the opposite direction, meet over shallow waters of sand banks. The opposing forces of the two waves collide and at the right moment peak high with a great splash. With the confidence offered by the Northern Light Greenland paddle, I play in the area hoping to get caught in the very spot of collision to get tossed high in the air.


12 July 2012

GEAR: sea kayak sail_update

Several years of using sails on my sea kayaks has lead to refining my initial set up.
I no longer sew my sails but I still create my rigging, using custom made carbon masts.
On some narrower kayaks my sail set up was not as bombproof as I would like it to be where in a strong breeze (above 20 knots) the mast would not keep vertical and the little polymer base would deform under the lateral pressure of the wind. In a beam wind I would like to have my mast in a vertical position, making the sail more efficient and increase a bit of speed.
Mick at Flat Earth Kayak Sails has developed a brilliant way to reduce the down pressure on the flexible joint and is now shipping his sail with a new system where the mast contacts directly the removable fitting.
I want to use carbon fibre masts but I have been unable to find an off-the-shelf mast that would replicate Mick's system.
Not wanting to bond aluminum to carbon to create the oversize sleeve for the mast, the only way I could achieve what I wanted was to modify my existing masts to create the sliding foot sleeve.
mast base_sleeved_c
mast uphauled
Instead of having a larger diameter mast running the whole length, I just made a short sleeve out of glass fibre tape wound around a tube of slightly larger diameter than my carbon mast. Once cured I bonded a the sleeve section to the base of the existing mast and covered it with carbon cloth for strength, and looks :-)
The sleeve section slides over a stubby base with the flexible polymer allowing the mast touch the actual hard surface of the red plastic base.
No load is now exerted on the polymer so it will no longer deform when the mast is uphauled and cinched down hard.
mast base sleeve_c
mast lifted for demo purposes
Of course the mast can still be lowered as before and when the sail is folded onto the deck the mast slides back up just enough to allow the flexible polymer do its job.

mast folded_c

To prevent the sliding mast and the stubby base come apart I have used a short piece of shock cord threaded internally holding the two together.

boom junction_c

I have also improved my anchor point for the stays on the mast.
I no longer use a stainless steel ring riveted with a saddle to the carbon tube but I prefer the use of soft Dyneema core line bonded directly to the mast with a section of carbon fibre cloth.
The load is distributed better and there is no risk of cracking the thin carbon tube with the pressure of installing (pulling) a stainless steel rivet.
mast stays junction_c
mast rotated to show the carbon cloth anchor for the Dyneema cord
I have been using the new recessed anchors with great success, locating them right on the seam of the hull/deck to achieve a wider stance and a better load angle.
The stainless steel shackles are now heat shrunk (see warning below) to the Dyneema stays so they don't rotate when the sail is lowered on deck.

anchor and stays_c

The whole assembly, viewed from the bow.
on beach_c

update 04JAN13
Richard Sharp from SEQSK has this to say:
"I had the sail up in 20knots and got hit by a gust which tipped me in. It
was at that point that I noticed the sidestay had snapped. Finding it hard
to believe that this was possible given the breaking point of spectra, I
examined the break closely. It was then that I discovered that where it had
snapped the internal spectra cord was melted together. See the enclosed



It appears that the core has melted while the outer sheet remained OK.
Using a heat gun at close quarters causes the Dyneema/Spectra fibres to fuse and become very weak.
The melting point of Dyneema is much lower than the outer polyester (pictured here black) and no noticeable damage was visible from the outside.
He now prefers to use the heat shrink only over the loose end of the rope, not over the entire knot and apply very gentle heat for longer to allow the tube to shrink.