17 December 2014

To club or not to club

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"Keep on pumping, don't stop, you are doing fine!"
Those were the words of encouragement that I was saying to Tim*  hoping he could hear me; he was clearly shaken by the experience.
It was windy and the waves were large enough that he no longer could brace efficiently and eventually he fell in. I was holding his flooded kayak stabilizing him while he was furiously trying to empty it with the hand-held pump. It was working, but just so slowly...
The fear I saw early in Tim's eyes was now slowly subsiding, he knew that he will be alright.
I was on a Sunday outing with a group of kayakers, where the paddling arrangements were loose: we paddle together but without real rules and expectations.

I identified myself with Tim and recalled a few years back when I first joined a kayak club and had my first rescue.
I joined a club to learn the skills necessary to paddle safely in the ocean. I also enjoyed the company of other like-minded paddlers that genuinely loved the sport.



But I am kind of bitter about clubs now; my experience with them leads me to believe that, while they are good in principle, they also attract a fair share of power struggles.
My first exposure to a club was while bushwalking (backpacking).
I was new at the game, very keen but I knew little.
I joined the local club and went on walks and camps with my new-found buddies.



It was fun and I learned a lot. But the longer I was in the club the more I became exposed to the politics that seem inevitable in a structured environment: I observed a good number of people getting very animated about basic issues and some individuals clearly had their heart in the wrong place.
Eventually I no longer wanted to go on their outings as the red tape became too oppressive.
The club was large with several hundred members.

Years later I started sea kayaking.
I knew very little about the sea and I figured that I should really learn how to stay safe out on the water. I was lucky to get involved with a newly formed paddling club that was government sanctioned. For the first year it was really awesome: we all chipped-in with the organizing and there was a real good energy there.
Protocol was simple with not too many rules. Paddling was fun and we really went to great places; the calendar was full of activities.


QSKC trip to Lady Musgrave Island

As the Club grew it attracted individuals that wanted to make a profit from other paddlers while I was not sure if they really loved the sport without the monetary incentive; I call it conflict of interest.
The basic rules were not good enough anymore and a strong push to have mandatory skills to participate on any Club paddles was pushed onto the members. Incidentally those skills could only be "achieved" by being instructed by the few certified  commercial operators.
And then it finally dawned on me: this was no longer a bona-fide club, this was becoming a money motivated gig for a few eager individuals.
I was kicked out of the Club for wanting to expose a sexual harassment case and I was bitter about the events. I was also worried that my skills would not advance and I would loose my paddling buddies. I did loose some buddies that, if I look at them now, were rather lame.
Some no longer paddle and some just struggle in the same constrictive environment.

Luckily the Club is not the only way to paddle with others.
Several informal groups are actively involved in sea kayaking where I live.


easy paddle with the Claytons

There are also other Clubs that unfortunately, because of external pressure, seem to be too structured for a real free paddling experience.
I started to paddle more and more frequently with the very same people that shunned the Club that I joined in the first place.
As a novice I used to look at them as a dangerous crowd to paddle with. It seems that the Club culture brain-washed me enough to instill a fear in me to not paddle if not in a totally controlled and anal environment. Initially I felt that we should paddle all together, keeping a constant eye on each other.
Nobody should be no further than a few paddle strokes and if "anything happens" one could be "saved" within seconds. The tall stories of sharks (something that the Club was very good at selling) however had little impact on me as I rationalized the potential danger to a minimum.


the mandatory Club lengthy briefing before launch

So, here I was in the middle of a short passage between islands that had a few bumpy waves tossing us around. A bit of wind was pushing against the tidal flow and I could surf some of the lager waves.
I was having fun but in our group there was a person that probably found the conditions a bit intimidating.
I have kept a loose eye on Tim and while he was doing OK I noticed that he had stiffened up and his paddling stroke was reduced and the catch was a bit short.
At my last wave before the beach I looked back and I no longer could see him, his red kayak and white paddle not around. As the waves were obscuring my view from a low position in the water I spotted him a few minutes later: he was swimming.
I headed back and by the time I reached him he was already getting helped by a passing motor boat. We took it from there: myself and a buddy held Tim's kayak, now with flooded cockpit that was getting emptied by a hand pump. He was a bit shaken, a bit confused and a bit tired. Eventually he started paddling the remaining 1/2 Km back to the beach. I considered offering a tow but I held back: I wanted to offer him instead  the possibility to help himself, make him proud of what he achieved.
And then I thought: how would a similar situation be dealt in the Club.

Well, for starters the proposed outing would have been cancelled: too much wind (it was around 15 knots as we set off).
In the event that we would have gone out we would be on top of each other, like a flock of sheep, but not before a lengthy briefing on the beach of all the possible dangers that we could run into, including the shark stories ( I used to get a bit miffed with the scare mongering when I used to be in the Club). Falling in would involve a quick response and the swimmer would be placed back in his kayak within minutes. A good thing, right?
Well, I am not so sure about that...
Let me explain.

I believe in self reliance, in learning from mistakes and by "pulling the finger out".
When I used to fall into the water (and that was often) I was kind of expecting others to come and rescue me, I was relying on them. I had little incentive to actually become a better paddler.
Then I started to paddle by myself and much more aware of my surroundings and my actions: I did become a better paddler. I learned how to roll as swimming was proving to be rather tedious.
I am unsure if I would have advanced as much in the safety of the cocoon called Club.
Considering that today I see on the Club's calendar no real challenging paddles anyway,  I would have little opportunity to actually improve myself.

Now, don't get me wrong; clubs are a good thing.
They have introduced me to sports that alternatively would have taken me possibly longer to master.
In a decent club one can learn the basics without having to pay for private tuition, from other more senior members.



Clubs also cater for those that prefer others to make decisions for them. When I led trips in the Club I had my share of participants that really wanted to be guided for the whole paddling event totally foregoing any personal decisions; I understand that we are not all the same and some prefer it that way.
What I really like now instead is to have the freedom to actually paddle where I want. No sign-on sheets, no disclaimers, no herding, no listening to gurus for half an hour before launch in calm conditions. What I prefer is a self reliant group of paddlers that meets and paddles.
We look after each other in a loose way, no holding hands. We teach each other, no money changes hands. And if somebody in the group does not like where we are going he/she is free to do what they want: no sermon before "leaving the pod". A brief acknowledgment that that person will no longer be around for the day is sufficient. There are no formal leaders therefore no liability, we just enjoy each others company with no expectations.

* name has been changed to protect his identity

02 December 2014

Photo: foreshore sunsets

For too long I have not been holding a serious camera in my hands.
Engrossed by the brilliant results of my GoPros and the incredible capabilities of my other compact point-and-shoot, I have lost interest in cameras that allow more creativity than just full-automatic settings.
I used to schlep a Hasselblad around and then suddenly go sick of the heft: small or nothing was my new motto.
I secretly lusted over a DSLR but not over its bulk.
Then my eye caught the Micro Four Thirds line up of cameras.
I am now on my second one in six months and in love again with taking pictures that little compact cameras could not.

Bribie foreshore_2c_c
undistorted wide angle

Spinifex on shore_2_c
selective shallow depth of field

Bribie foreshore_1_c
dynamic close-up 

Narrow field of view and selective focus is something that GoPro can't do.
Not to mention long exposures and the ability to capture scenes out of the ordinary

Jelly fish_3_c

While I will continue with my compact camera for on-water images, as I see little point of having a bulky camera tucked below deck and miss the action, I am now spending more time on shore trying to capture the fleeting moments of the "golden light" with a camera that fosters creativity.

Red Beach sunset_6


25 November 2014

VIDEO: sailing with SeaDog 0.7

This time the wind was really blowing and I was glad that I had my smaller sail installed on my kayak: the SeaDog 0.7m².
I could feel that there was less heeling as I didn't have to transfer all my weight to the windy side.
My large sail of 1.0m² would have been too much and harder to handle while my SeaDog 0.7m² was still giving me plenty of speed to surf the waves with ease.

Here is a short video of a few different outings with the SeaDog 0.7m²



I believe that the SeaDog 0.7m² is a great sail for when the wind starts to blow and white caps appear on the water; it offers me plenty of power while still allowing me to handle my more tippy kayaks without a white-knuckled grip on my paddle.
I figured out that a kayak can only go so fast and no matter how big of a sail I mount on the deck it just won't go any faster. A larger sail however just catches more wind and when loaded from the side wind it wants to push the kayak over. I have been at times hanging way over the side of my kayaks trying to keep them from tipping while not noticing any increase in speed over a smaller sail.

Of course, if the wind is from behind (stern wind) and the waves have built up to a size that they start to lift the stern of the kayak where I can surf; my kayak will indeed go faster than hull speed.
It is these times that I find the SeaDog 0.7m² exceptional and easier to handle. As I surf down the wave (on a wind right behind me) the kayak will come to a point where the sail no longer seems to be inflated. At the bottom of the wave I will have the boom flap loose over the deck and wanting to swap sides. Then the gust of wind catches up with me and with a shuddering noise the sail slaps to the other side taken in by the main sheet. It is in this moment that a smaller sail will save me from a sudden imbalance and possible precarious lean that might result in a dunk. I don't feel the raw slap that bigger sails give me in high winds: the 0.7m² is easier to handle.

Another benefit of a smaller sail is when things do go pear shaped and I fall in.
I have been practicing rolling with a sail; starting from dead calm conditions to increased breezes and more bumpy seas. I find that a sail with a smaller surface has much less drag underwater and in a roll I can scull up without too much effort. Recently I have been trying to forego releasing the main sheet and just leave the sail alone while falling in. While slightly more difficult than releasing the main sheet (or uphaul) I am more confident in recovering with the sail just left as it was before falling in.

As winds increase to 20 knots and above I wonder if a smaller sail would not be even better?
Maybe that is something I should look into...

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17 November 2014

Vandal or innocent fun?

At my favorite camping spot I was confronted with this scene.
To paint the picture a bit I should mention that it is a National Park heavily frequented by motor boats; a popular destination for day trips or overnight camping; in other words a busy place, not remote at all.

Axe yealding_c

I did not know how to react and experience has taught me not to engage too much with somebody possibly not doing the right thing. My initial reaction was disbelief soon followed by anger: somebody was cutting down trees that offered shelter from the sun and wind, in a natural place pleasant enough that I often call home for a night or two.
But the best I could do was to keep my distance somehow and just take photographs.
Even though the youngster did not look too menacing, my camera is no match for an axe; if not used by the youth, certainly by the parent not too far away.

Cut tree_c

There were a dozen trees that have been freshly cut, some a bit too large that seem to have deterred the short attention span of the kid that found attacking smaller ones more rewarding.
The child was still hacking away when I got near him but then he stopped and watched me for a while.
I am not sure what went through his head and if he felt that a camera on the scene might have prompted to review his actions.
It was not long before the adults arrived to see why the chopping stopped.

Cubby house_c

I was asked what I was doing and I explained that I was photographing.
Again the older man wanted to know what for and I revealed that it was for documentation.
Hammer in hand he stepped closer to me and asked: What for?
I explained that somebody might be interested in my images, suggesting the ranger.
At this point the vibe changed and I could sense a shift in emotions.
The hammer holding man tried to convince me in a loud voice that his kid was just having fun and that I was not allowed to take pictures.
Soon a little group gathered (friends of the man) and started to shout rather insulting remarks.
It was clear to me that it would not be wise to try to explain my view, after all I was quickly labelled pedophile and pervert and police was going to be called in.
I thanked them for their decision to actually call the police as maybe a few things could be cleared but I never saw the arrival of any law enforcement.
I also knew that it was time to retreat, clearly outnumbered by menacing little crowd.
I walked away happy that despite my rage I was able to remain calm and not engage: it was not my place to prevent trees getting cut down.
Somehow maybe my presence and the fact of me taking images deterred the kid from continuing and the ax was put away: damage was done but at least not continued.
I feel sad that the child lives in ignorance and cuts trees down in a National Park, right where so many others try to enjoy the place. It makes me wonder what messages has he learned at school, or is the influence of his father stronger than what I hope the educational system has given him?
The other part in me also acknowledges that it could have been intended as innocent fun to build a cubby house (his father's words), just maybe in the wrong environment?

Later in the afternoon I suddenly heard a chain saw fired up and the shrieking sound of trees getting cut down at the other side of the camp.
This time, I was not going trying to document the event.
A kid with and axe is one thing, somebody waving a chainsaw at me is a bit different, especially if alcohol is involved...

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11 November 2014

Video: Radikal Kayak Surfing

I love this video.
Beside the incredibly smooth kayak surfing demonstrating outstanding skills using an unconventional paddle, the footage capture and the editing is really captivating.



It inspires me to get out more in the rough stuff and play.
My aspirations: to be one day half as good as Marc.

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07 November 2014

Photo: candle lit tent

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Candelight tent_c

First outing with the new "summer tent".
I need a roomy tent for tropical conditions, for when the nights are humid and hot, or for when it's raining. Small tents are a sauna in the Queensland heat and ventilation is critical.
While not super light (2.7Kg) and not very compact it still allows me enough elbow room for maybe a game of cards with a few buddies?
I got this one for a steal at REI...

03 November 2014

GEAR: cheap light stoves

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There are a few things easier than cooking on a gas stove when camping, eating cold food is one.
I love the simplicity of canister gas stoves: turn the control knob, light the flame and we are "cooking with gas"

stove comparison_c

I have made a previous post about the virtues of compact gas stove here.
I have since updated my stoves and opted for something that is stable but still light.
I prefer to cook with non-dedicated pots that are not part of a system (with flux ring, like JetBoil and MSR Reactor).
I like the flexibility of being able to use a small frying pan (that I picked up at K-Mart for under $10) when a fancy dinner or breakfast is in order.
Therefore I looked at stoves that are close to the ground, have a decent footprint for stability and have a large burner (Pocket Rocket's small burner head scorches light pots).
Above are two stoves: left is a very cheap one in stainless steel from eBay, right a bit more expensive one in titanium.

weight comparison

For the last 18 months I have been using a light titanium stove that sits low to the ground. At 100gr. is very light, packs away small and shows no signs of rust.
The stove is so light that a small movement of the flexible hose tips it over if no pot is on the stove

Olycamp Ti stove_c

I have used this stove for approximately 100 days, cooking extensively meals for two, occasionally for 4.
Coupled with a light windshield (very thin aluminium sheet) it has worked well in above freezing temps, even in very windy locations. The windshield is critical when there is a breeze as it retains heat and saves fuel.
When cranked to the max the stove roars and emits too much heat; I usually have it regulated at about half power.

Olicamp fitting_c

The flame control knob is at the canister spigot, away from the heat of the burner and easy to adjust when the stove is going. I like that: no burned fingers trying to reduce the flame when I feel my risotto is about to get scorched.

Olicamp hose_c

But there is little fault: the hose junction into the base of the burner's jet.
While the hose does have an O ring on the shaft of the hose intersecting the (blue) aluminum base, the hose can not freely rotate. A slight redesign would make this stove even better.

Trolling on eBay I came across this stove: a compact stainless steel design with large burner (did I mention I don't care for burned food?).
Labelled as "Lingyun portable gas butane stove..."  I was impressed by the price: $17.99
I ordered one as I thought it would be great as a back-up stove.

Lynun stove_1_c

The difference on this one are the legs, the fuel supply and the ignition.
I don't care about the piezo ignition where the stove can be started by just pressing a button: my experience is that they don't last. Luckily I can unbolt the unit when it will stopped working and use my trusty BIC lighter.
The legs of the stove are however made of one-piece sheet metal; they can not be accidentally folded and collapsed while operating the stove making this unit a bit more sturdy, requiring less care.
The downside is that this stove is not as compact as the titanium one, when stowed.

Lynun stove_2_c

Last but not least the fuel supply.
The gas travels from the canister to the stove via a flexible hose and then, just before reaching the jet is makes a loop of solid pipe passing close to the flame area.
It is intended to vaporize the butane/propane gas before it reaches the jet when ambient temperatures are low, close and below freezing.
While not really a concern to most sea kayakers in tropical locations, outdoor users in colder environments lament poor performance of gas canister stoves when temps are chilly.
The preheating loop takes care of that and delivers hot gas to the burner (once the stove has been operating for a minute or so).

And while I write about gas stoves I should mention this little adapter.

adaptor1_c

The gas canister stoves use a Lindal valve, where the stove or regulator are screwed-on to create a leak-proof seal. Gas canisters are usually a mix of butane/propane for better performance in low temperatures. They are readily available at good outdoor stores but not so easy to find elsewhere.
I had a bit of trouble locating the Lindal valve canisters in Sweden but I saw plenty of push-on style butane cans.
Again, on eBay I was able to source an adapter that allows screw-on stoves to be used with the much cheaper ($5 for 4 cans)  option of push-on cans.
The push-on cans are often just basic butane, more suited for warm climates; however I have also seen the butane/propane mix ones.

adaptor2_c

And to get that gas stove working well in windy places (cooking inside the tent is a bad idea) I sourced a matching windshield.

windshield2_c

This shield is a bit heavier than my super thin one that I have used for decades, the advantage is that it has little spikes that can be driven into the ground to keep the stove and shield well connected.

in the field_c

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22 October 2014

GEAR: SeaDog sail Code Zero

I nearly tipped in and went for a swim when a small set picked up my kayak and I started surfing.
I was in my "tippy" kayak and half an hour into testing a new sail: the SeaDog 0.7 mt² in Code Zero .

SeaDog Code Zero 0.7mt_1

I was having fun trying to catch the short wind waves that the tidal flow against a healthy breeze was producing.
I am familiar with this location and often I wait for the conditions to be just right to be able to surf with my kayaks.
I am not sure if the long waterline Swede form narrow beam low rocker kayak was ideal for the small steep short waves but I wanted to see if a smaller sail would be easier to use in a stiffer breeze.
I have several sails from Flat Earth of 1.0 mt² and 0.8 mt². They work great and are very efficient sails for sea kayaking. Their design is a derivative from the decade old, or more, proven system that the Tasmanian sea kayakers have been using in strong winds.
That lead to the development of a sail mounted further forward, away from the paddler's cockpit as explained here.
The SeaDog sail is an unapologetic close resemblance of  Norm Sander's rigs and Flat Earth sail.
Actually the design is strikingly similar.

SeaDog sail_3

I have been kayak sailing with other paddlers that have been using SeaDog sails for the last couple of months.
Richard, an avid SE Queensland Sea Kayakers paddler, is the man behind the brand and his passion for sailing is evident.
He can be seen paddling every weekend (and often during the week) sporting sails of his own creation on his kayak.
It all started innocently when Richard decided to add some color to his sail.
A special one was made just before Xmas and of course, inspired by the festive season, it was green and red. It was different and unique; people noticed.

Xmas sails_SeaDog
photo: SeaDog sails
I was impressed by his early work even tho I didn't share his passion for the color choice :-)
A few weeks later a new colorful sail appeared in the paddling group. Again the work was impeccable.
I watched those sail taking the wind very well and I noticed them filling with air at even very acute angles into the wind. One thing that I was very surprised is that Richard's sails did not flutter.

Eventually Richard made me a sail that I was missing in my quiver: I wanted a small sail that will allow me to be used in winds of 15 knots and above.

SeaDog sail_1

I have used my Flat Earth of 0.8 mt² in winds where I no longer was comfortable with the heeling force of the strong wind. Unless surfing, the hull speed of my kayak will really determine how fast I can go, no matter how big my sail is

As the small waves started to pick up my kayak the SeaDog sail was hit by a gust from the side. Any other time I would have to quickly react with a solid brace with the risk of tipping over.
This time the jolt was softer and the shock cord on the main sheet (the rope that pulls-in the boom) released some of the pressure from the wind. This sail being smaller helped reduce the heeling force that wanted to tip the kayak into the water. I was able to stay upright and continued to surf.

The downside of a smaller sail is that I have to work harder and paddle more when the wind is from behind (running with the wind). As the waves catch up with me I have to put an extra effort to then accelerate down the wave.
Side-by-side with a buddy using a 1.0 mt² sail I had to really crank to catch the marginal waves, while I could see that he was getting more push from the wind.
However, I am sure if the wind was 20 knots +  he would be a bit worried with his larger sail...

SeaDog sail_2

In essence the SeaDog sail of 0.7 mt² is best suited for stronger winds or paddlers that have just starting out sailing, possibly with less bracing skills. Lighter paddlers will also appreciate this sail as their lack of counterbalance body weight is noticeable in strong winds.
SeaDog sails also makes 0.8 mt² sails, in traditional colorful Dacron® or the fancy laminated Code Zero (unfortunately white only).
On closer inspection I notice very clean seams and stitching on the SeaDog; every stitch is continuous from one end to the other with absolute precision. Every end is reverse stitched to prevent unravelling and the tension on the bottom and lower cotton is perfect to create a very clean stitch.
Attention to details is superb and the finish is outstanding: every rivet and every reinforcement is very well executed.

SeaDog sail_4

Is SeaDog a better sail for me?
I can't say that as Flat Earth has served me well and I had no trouble for years now.
What I notice is no flutter in the leech, something that mildly annoys me in the Flat Earth sails.
I mounted the SeaDog sail with two back/side stays, as I have done on all my other sails.
Richard recognizes that kayakers have preferences in mounting styles and hardware used for doing so. He supplies the sail with the mast, Spectra stays and the flexible polymer base only, leaving the rest up to the sailor.
I much prefer that since some of the (Flat Earth) sail kits that I have used had parts that failed on me.



08 October 2014

Photo: Back to Magic Island

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We found it again despite not having it clearly marked on our map last summer.
The weather was warm this time with less wind; the clouds benign and not threatening a thunderstorm.

Magic Island_2_c
photo: Petra Ries
The sun was baking the polished granite shores and soon we would be laying on them drying our bodies after a refreshing swim.
We were back to our Magic Island

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03 October 2014

Video: Aquarius Sea Lion LV

On a sea trip of 5 weeks in Sweden and Ă…land (Finland) Petra paddled a Sea Lion LV.



Aquarius of Poland sponsored her with a very light carbon/Kevlar kayak and we installed her Flat Earth sail to make our expedition more fun.
Petra picked the color scheme of her kayak and I thought the graphics were particularly attractive making the kayak very visible against the water and granite islands.
The kayak behaved very predictably in varied conditions and weather-cocked just enough to make it safe when windy, even in a storm.
The only real modification was removing the padding that was factory fitted on the seat; lowering the center of gravity made the kayak a bit more stable. Given that she has never paddled a Sea Lion LV before, Petra liked how she felt in that kayak right from the beginning.
Despite the cockpit maybe being a bit too roomy for her the key hole style thigh braces allowed her to brace efficiently when the waves picked up and tossed her around a bit.
Cargo space was sufficient for our extended trip and the main hatch covers (Kajak Sport) never leaked (the "glove box" needed a bit of sealing around the rim).
The skeg performed flawlessly and was butter smooth to operate. Adjusting the foot rests was possible even while paddling (without needing to exit the cockpit to reach the adjusting tab behind the foot rest!).
The shorter waterline and the rockered hull seems to be well suited to shallow waters with shorter waves (no ocean swell in the Baltic sea). Clapotis was not upsetting Petra and I noticed increased confidence in following seas where she was catching and surfing waves way faster than me, leaving me behind.
I think that the Sea Lion LV combined with a sail is a great fun kayak.
It performed well with just light loads in strong winds (slight leek cocking when sailing) and very steady when filled with camping gear, food and water.