08 October 2014

Photo: Back to Magic Island

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


03 October 2014

Video: Aquarius Sea Lion LV

On a sea trip of 5 weeks in Sweden and Åland (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.

10 September 2014

The power of disconnecting

I call it "expedition style".
Petra was starting to understand what I meant by that; it was not the fact that we were now on our third week of 5 paddling and camping in the Swedish archipelago, it is more the state of mind that comes from being away from everyday life.

My highlights of any given year are usually my trips.
I love being away from the confinement of 4 walls and a roof, plugged and connected to the increasingly demanding "social media".
For 5 weeks I wanted to not think about others far away from the place I was in.
At the risk of offending and being called selfish I cherish the being away from others.
The islands we were travelling through had slightly more traffic then last year and on occasion my first choice of campsite was already occupied: we could not have the whole island for ourselves.
It was however prime holiday season for Sweden and realistically we were not that far off shore to think we could be really alone.

Evening shore walk_c

I prefer to travel with as few tools as possible that keep me connected to my usual world. I had to have a mobile phone with me so my friend Johan could text me the weather forecast. Honestly I would have preferred not to have it. I chose not to bring a GPS even tho Sweden would be one place where I could really use it as "geographical confusion" had its moments.
In a spur of the moment decision we started our trip too far South along the coast where we had no map for it. Interestingly enough the initial concern quickly drifted away since I knew I just had to keep to the right of the big islands but not too far out to be in totally open sea.
The fellow paddlers that we met and chatted to shook their head when we told them that we didn't have a map for the first days' journey and ultimately planned to reach Finland.
I now laugh at myself thinking that we might have come across a bit bizarre: we had the right gear and our kayaks were of the latest style but not having a GPS or even a map? now that is odd...

Vögeln camp_c
On my last local paddle in Australia before my Scandinavian trip I was in company of other paddlers that elected to use way-points to reach an island in my bay that clearly needs little navigation aid to be reached, in my opinion. I prefer the "navigation by sight" style where things become clearer as I get closer to my destination. And if I paddle a few minutes longer, I regard that as bonus time on the water.
There are times and places where electronic navigation does come in handy, but in reality often common sense still helps me out where I paddle.
Somehow there is a primeval sense of connection to the land or sea when I don't rely on too many external aids to travel in a remote place, a sense of achievement and discovery that I deem electronic devices can take away from me. I could have mapped my journey way more efficiently and searched online for "the best spots" to then have my GPS guide me along, but that is not how I like to travel.
I could have many websites tell me what the weather was going to do (rarely accurate tho) but I would have not engaged in conversation with the occasional sailor asking him for the wind predictions. I often ended up spending some times with them and had additional local knowledge shared with me, something that many websites can't offer.
Petra even scored the odd cookie or piece of cake from strangers once they discovered that we were travelling far.

And in the evening I was glad that I had no social chore of updating my site (I never did buy into the Facebook thing) and keep my fans fed. I spent my time running around the granite shores, sometimes taking pictures or just laying on my back on the warm rock, concentrated on the clouds passing by above me. I had time to talk to Petra; talk like there was no rush to say things as there was plenty of time. We did not bore each other with mundane trivial facts of who is doing what in the world.
We cared about our world: right there and right then.

Dinner at Lost Island camp_c
Did I miss out on something?
Yes, I did.
I did not hear the news for over a month; I did not hear of air disasters or wars, Royal babies or rock stars deaths, no scores of games and no updates on championships. And it felt so good.
The simplicity of being able to focus on what really matters can only be achieved when I disconnect, anything else just muddles my head.

04 September 2014

Photo: The German camp

As we were paddling close to the cliff line when we rounded the corner their camp came suddenly into view. We found the Germans again.
We met on the water the day before and briefly chatted, then saying goodbye and hoping to meet again.
Myself and Petra have been on our paddling trip for 3 weeks already and wanted some company: time to talk to some new paddlers. It was late in the afternoon and despite having only paddled a short distance that day we saw no reason to paddle past this great little bay along the cliff faced Northern shores of the Åland islands.

The rocky granite ground was a bit bumpy in places but enough flat glacial-polished spots could be found for our tent too. A few showery looking clouds made sure that we searched for a location that would not pool under out tent in the middle of the night.
We spent the evening talking with our new friends, me in English, Petra in German (while I do understand "school" German the fast-talking locals leave a bit behind at times...).

Sunset finally approached and the light went "magic".

Reflection of Ǻland_c

The higher ground above the bay was graced with little ponds making the landscape a delight for an evening walk.
The glacial sculpting of the last ice age was particularly interesting here: the layers of the rock were tilted allowing the top edges to be of a baby's-butt smooth finish.
It felt great to run the hand over the shiny rock, reminding me of soft leather.
We laid down, our backs onto the warm granite and looked at the passing clouds in the sky, now no longer threatening rain. We knew real darkness would not come here as the sun was rising again way before we would.


23 June 2014

Call of the Baltic

I retire to the tent late, tired; it has been a long day.
I lost track of time because I did not need to know, my watch stowed somewhere deep in my kayak.
The sun has been shining since very early morning and now has almost made a full circle around the sky. I watched it eagerly skirting the horizon but it just doesn't want to set.

Sea kayaking in the Baltic sea is extraordinary.
The labyrinth of islands where I choose not to navigate electronically (no GPS for me) are truly endless.
I don't have to rush to find my campsite as I don't have a set destinations; there is an incredible abundance of good spots to stop for the night.
The wind has been pushing us North and made our journey easy.
The sailors we meet along the way are intrigued by our kayak sails and often question us.

I have  a great sense of freedom here.
The vast choice of routes and destination, places to stay for the night and easy waters create an environment suited for my style of travel. I am not pressured by tidal flows and timing needed to reach my camp, I get up when I feel like and paddle as long as I want; night comes too late to have to fret and usually I tire out way before I run out of daylight.
And there is no sand at camp: always a bonus for me. While sandy beaches are gentle on the kayak's hull they are my nemesis when camping. I rather have hard granite under me anytime over messy sand that seems to stick to all things it shouldn't.
The sea water is so much less salty here; I use it to cook pasta and potatoes but just a bit too briny for drinking. I don't have to carry much fresh water with me anyway since there are enough houses around with a hand pump in the back where I can refill every couple of days.
The Baltic sea offers me the perfect blend of civilization when I need it and remoteness when I want it. The islands closer to the mainland have more vegetation, more houses, shops. Further away are the outer islands: often desolate low elevation polished granite shores exposed to the wind and waves.A great place to camp in fine weather where I rarely seen any other sailing boats and hear no noise but the one of wind, waves and birds.

For the next couple of months is where I will be.

21 May 2014

Video: Vandreaming

Vanilla heard it clearly: it was the sound of his hull scraping on rock.
Now that his new kayak was finally baptized extreme care would no longer be necessary.
The lure of the gentle swell over the rocks was too great and, as if hearing a mermaid's song, we were drawn to it.
There was absolutely no need to paddle so close to those oyster and barnacle encrusted shores but the thrill of feeling the slowly pulsating water push our kayaks up to then suddenly drop away exposing the rock below, was measurable.

Allow yourself to view it on a large screen and headphones: enable HD for a better experience

This time the gentle wind and the calm ocean swell allowed us to explore a few tight spots that we missed on previous visits to these shores.
Food and water for a week and no scheduled itinerary is how we like to kayak. The mileage is irrelevant when there is so much to explore at close quarters in these tropical waters.
I was back in my old "big girl", a kayak that these days I only use for longer trips; when I thought I should spend more time with her. While maybe not as hard tracking and fast as some of my other kayaks, it was a refreshing feeling to be able to maneuver more nimbly around the rocks. A wider beam allows me to edge and release bow and stern for easier turning: I was able to avoid a few rocks...
We were too early in the season to encounter whales but saw a few large tunas leap out of the water.
Vanilla optimistically brought a hand line for fishing, with little success, given that he only tried once.
A realist, I carried dehydrated home-made meals that made fine dinners: just add water (and a bit of heat).
Being a team of just two allowed us much more flexible planning (read: none) and the days' destinations were simply shaped by the direction of the wind: if possible, we chose downwind.

09 May 2014

The anti-social media

Below is one of the most insightful videos that I have seen in a long time.
Ironically it attacks the very essence of the medium where you are now reading this.

There is something about social media (blogging included) that bothers me and at the same time draws me to it.
I don't know where the line is, where is OK to "share" something that I find outstanding and where instead it is just mental distraction, noise.
I have developed an aversion to FaceBook but condone blogging.
I often question myself why I do that.

Maybe I have developed an unspoken ethical boundary where I accept knowledge that I can learn from electronically, but despise formats where I am peeking into people's private lives, even if willingly shared publicly (0:08)
What good can I draw from that? is the question I ask myself...
I don't understand the obsession of individuals bent on knowing what their "friends" are doing, all the time.
But then I am guilty of self promotion letting other know what I do and secretly I crave adulation (1:06).
The real tipping point for me however is the constant presence of the mobile phone, where it is clearly out of place used only to "update" the status or news, or letting others knows "I am having a great time".
Why do I need to tell the world where and what I am doing right now, disconnecting myself from the very people that I am having a great time with?
Let it be, be present and save the updating for when I no longer am in good company as good company is created by actually being present and connected with the people around me as nothing says I don't really want to be here as staring at a small screen and furiously typing away.

(2:19) We are a generation of idiots, smart phones and dumb people...
(4:06) So look up from your phone, shut down those displays, we have a finite existence, a set number of days. Don't waste your life caught in the net as when the end comes nothing is worse than regret...


06 May 2014

Video: Sailing with Vixen

Of the kayaks in my shed Vixen is the most demanding.
I have kayaks that are high volume and are great on extended trips although I find them a bit dull for sheltered waters paddling.  I have low volume kayaks that are oh so easy to roll and a bit tricky to handle in rough waters, I also have a kayak that despite having a tendency to lee cock a bit it is very easy to live with when I do hand's free photography on the water.
And then there is Vixen: a Point65North XP designed by Johan Wirsen.
I need to pay attention when I paddle that kayak; she won't let me be sloppy or careless.
I find her a demanding in short wind waves; because of her longer waterline she tend to bury bow and stern (video here).
With her deep V shaped keel she wants to sit on one side when stationary and novices find it disconcerting.
Vixen however is great for sailing: the deeper keel prevents some of the lateral drift in a beam wind and I can maintain a straighter course over waves.
The longer keel line in the stern resists broaching and I have to use less correctional strokes compared to my other fish-form British kayak.

If you aren't viewing this on a mobile device, go big and watch it in full HD glory
Over the week end the Westerly wind really picked up an despite the shorter fetch over the waters of Moreton Bay I had times when the wind was up to 30 knots.
It was then where I no longer could sail as the bow was getting pushed downwind; maybe a smaller sail could have been still manageable for the beam wind?
Even with the sail stowed on deck I had to take care of occasional lee cocking when the bow will crest a wave and then be blown downwind.
Myself and AdvetureTess had the bay to ourselves with only the occasional yacht enjoying the strong wind.


27 April 2014

Photo: Sail-surfing at sunset

I chase in my mind those idyllic scenarios where things feel just right.
And then sometimes those moments really occur.

Sunset sail-surfing_c

Riding a wave while sailing into the sunset.


16 April 2014

Travel with camera gear

With two expeditions planned in the near future I have been busy organizing myself.
My main focus for the new season will be improving my photography skills and trying to capture higher quality footage.
I believe that the best talent will shine with any half decent camera equipment and since I don't fall into that category I am justifying my average efforts with the lack of equipment.
The saying "A good tradesmen doesn't blame his tools" comes to mind tho...

On my previous trips my footage has been limited to point-and-shoot style cameras.
Occasionally I wished for higher quality (even if my use is almost exclusive to computer screen display) and specifically more control over focus and exposure.
Also my on-board of kayak footage on last year's trip to Sweden was limited to hand-held angles; I want to have the flexibility of varied angles for on-deck camera mounts.
I need light and compact.
At home I have a garage full of custom made deck mounts that often take too long to set up and are way too bulky for international travel.
I drool over footage taken with Steady-cams and dollies while I realize that it would require more than a one-man-band to schlep and use that gear.
After 5 different prototypes I have finally come up with something I can transport with me without having to pay excess luggage when flying.
I can now set up my system to any kayak deck within minutes (no custom molded carbon base for each specific location) and have footage steady enough, even in surf environment.
The mount is made of carbon and Kevlar plates to be light, but stiff enough to prevent wobbles when extended higher up.
Here is a sample short video of the angle I can get

While I am confident on my tinkering I am not sure how well it will really work for weeks of continuous use. Stuff breaks and it does, fittings come loose and carbon snaps when hit hard.
Next week's one-week trip will be a good test before I fly to Scandinavia with my rig.

 My biggest challenge: recharging batteries where there are no wall power outlets.
8 different types of batteries are really going to be a handful. Again I need the lightest set up possible.
Here in Australia I just shove my gear in the car and then set up at launch. Flying with my proposed equipment is however a very different story..
There will be a compact solar panel on deck during the day and this time I am trying a Lithium battery pack to power my chargers at night.
Ah, the good old days of film cameras :-)

PS no images are available yet, until I am satisfied with my work.