25 May 2015

GEAR: SeaDog Commander.

I fell in, again.
I have been surfing for an hour and now I was heading home.
I sailed for a while but then I turned directly into the wind and I wanted to stow my sail away.
Stretching myself forward trying to reach the shock cord to secure the folded bundle of my sail made my loose my balance and I kept on falling in.
I realized that I needed a sail that would fold easily on my kayak deck.

Commander testing_1

My high aspect SeaDog sail (0.7 Code Zero) catches the wind beautifully and allows me to cut into the wind at a higher angle than before, but I had a problem with it.
Since I like to have my spray deck area clear my sail is mounted differently than a typical set up.
A typical mount for the sprit style sail (SeaDog, Flat Earth etc.) calls for a tall mast with stays mounted below the boom.
I prefer to have my sail mounted lower to allow the mast not to protrude in my "paddling area" when stowed on deck.
I don't like a folded sail that encroaches the deck where my hands swing when paddling.
It's simple: I want that area clear so my hands don't catch the sail.

On my high aspect sail the boom is substantially shorter than the luff (mast section) resulting in an uneven bundle when the sail is lowered down: the boom is much further away from me when I lower my sail onto the deck.
In need to secure the sail firmly onto the deck I use a section of sock-cord to wrap around the mast, battens and boom to create one solid bundle that I know will not fill up with water when waves wash over the deck or I roll the kayak.
In the bumpy waters, I was now having trouble reaching that boom and I was loosing my balance.

SD_CodeZero 07_c_gd
SeaDog CodeZero 0.7, folded. In order to reach the boom this sail intrudes the cockpit area.

It has been in the back of my mind for some time now: I wanted a sail with a slightly lower aspect and a longer boom.
I consulted with SeaDog sails and after I proposed my design to Richard a technical compromise was hatched: the design I had in mind might end up less efficient and might cause some loss of upwind reach.
One other trait that I really desired in my new sail was that it would be quiet.
Douglas Wilcox aptly calls it "motoring"; the sound that the leech makes when sailing cross-wind.
I don't like that at all and a highly value a quiet sail.
I proposed a double batten to Richard and after some measuring we decided on an optimal length, given my initial request of "neat bundle" when folded.

SeaDog Commander Mk1, folded on deck

SeaDog sails distinguish themselves for utilizing the very best high tech materials and superb cut and manufacture.
I love the pattern that the carbon fibre makes in the sail cloth used for the batten pockets; it looks really high-tech matching the finish of my Greenland paddles :-)
The twin battens shape the sail perfectly and there are no areas where the sail puckers; the sail stays aerodynamically shaped to catch light breezes allowing a high angle of head wind sailing.
My concerns for decreased upwind performance did not materialize: the SeaDog Commander stays inflated at really high angles too.

SeaDog utilizes a special thin thread that is incredibly tenacious and UV resistant: the results is beautiful stitching.

I asked for a combination of sail cloth that would be stretch resistant, dry fast and remain stable. I also wanted to add the Clear-View feature into the bottom panel so I could easily see where I was going. Somehow vinyl windows cut into my previous sails never really helped with forward vision; they were just too milky and were ruining a smooth surface with a puckered section of sail (different stretch).

The new Clear-View panel really offers a better vision of on-water obstacles and boat traffic while the sail surface remains perfectly tensioned and smooth.
The orange tip adds incredible high visibility on the water while the pattern in the other panels makes for a stunning sail. The SeaDog Black Diamond series (with the Clear-View TM lower panel) are the highest technology sails that I have see so far: a true masterpiece.


The new SeaDog Commander has a surface area of about 0.8m² to match the sail I most use in winds up to 20 knots.
Above 20 knots, in a beam wind, there is more heeling (pushing over) that I am comfortable with while my kayak does not really go any faster (max. hull speed).
If I know that there will be high winds forecasted I rather use my SeaDog CodeZero 0.7m²
I mounted this SeaDog Commander sail high enough on my carbon mast so I can reach it when folded onto the deck but not too high to intrude into my paddling area.


Disclaimer: my association with SeaDog has grown where we now collaborate on new projects. After purchasing my first sail from SeaDog I started to offer feedback and stimulated Richard with new ideas. Richard recognized that there was room for improvement with the original sprit sail design. Being able to quickly accommodate to special needs or requests with custom sails, SeaDog is able to blend high-tech sailing cloth to create sails that I wanted to realize for a while. I paid for the materials and he offers his workmanship: we both benefit from it.

02 April 2015

Video: I Have A Dream

Some dream of power, some dream of money.
Some dream of a slimmer waist and a bigger chest, some dream to have more hair on their head.
Some dream of a fast red car or those pretty shoes they saw in the window...
My dream is different.

reward yourself with full screen viewing in high definition on a larger screen, this one was not meant for mobile devices...

My dream is to be lost in a sea of islands, midnight sun and good friends.
A place where I don't need to keep time or answer my phone, no updates and no "likes".
And then the presence of mind to take it all in.


10 March 2015

Photo: beach army

Emerging from their hiding places below the surface they invaded the beach.
As the sea retreated at low tide they came in swarms and like a massive stampede they roamed the exposed sand.

Soldier crab_3

I could hear the noise they make when their tiny claws; hundreds of them collectively sounded like a swarm of locust.
I lowered myself to a foot above ground and a magical world appeared in front of me.

Soldier crabs_5
army of soldier crabs

But as soon as I creep a few feet closer they start to move hastily away from me.
I chase them, I want to observe them close-up.
They can not outrun me but they can hide again, quickly burring themselves into the sand with a funny circular digging motion.

Soldier crabs_1

I must have looked like a child running after the micro monsters, camera in hand, hovered a foot above ground. I would get close enough but by the time I would compose my image and focus the lens they would be gone below the surface.
Pesky little soldier crabs: so captivating yet so elusive.

I was camped at my favorite little island in Moreton Bay; in front of me the somehow less attractive stretch of beach to the power boats as they can't access it for being too shallow.
I calmly waited for the evening to come and replace that harsh midday tropical light; ideal time to capture photographs.
Some call it happy hour, I call it golden hour, for different reasons.

Coral at Peel_c

24 February 2015

Video: Petra surfing Dugong

Let's name her Dugong!
Short, stubby and just a bit "a face only a mother could love" look... the Whisky16 (designed by Nigel Foster) is not a pretty kayak in a traditional sense.
Dugong seemed an appropriate name for Petra's new kayak.
While looks are often deceiving, this kayak fits Petra very well and being very maneuverable spurs confidence in rough water.
The inspiration for the name came from the previous day's event where Petra and I were kayak-sailing back from my favorite play spot. A dugong suddenly surfaced too close to my kayak and looked at me with spooked eyes: I don't know who got the bigger fright, me or the dugong.
Then he quickly dived, his tail flew inches away from my face wetting me completely while I ducked my head avoiding the slap as he desperately tried to miss my kayak.

That evening a sail was hastily mounted to the Whisky16's deck as next day's forecast was promising conditions for a pseudo tidal race: wind against ebbing tide.
With the new SeaDog sail mounted up front Dugong really brings smiles

click on image above to play video

Edging and rolling the Whisky16 seemed easier than the borrowed kayaks: a good fit where one can brace without having to splay the legs too far could be the reason.
The keyhole cockpit where the legs can be kept relatively close together, allowing some wiggle room but still offering a solid wide area of contact, is probably a better solution than the diminutive thigh braces wings I see in most kayak cockpits.
So far the two kayaks that I own with such keyhole cockpits are way more comfortable than the other system I have tried.
The rear deck is not particularly low in the Whisky16 however layback rolls are still reasonably easy since the seat is not jammed right against the rear of the cockpit rim.
For once the seat is not shaped as a racing short-pan paddler crunched-over design: a lower front lip allows for more relaxed seating.
My experience with short seat that have a higher front has not been positive as I often end up with "dead legs". A flatter pan and longer seating area is key for longer paddles where my thighs don't suffer from blood circulation cut off.
Petra, while being the exact opposite of my bio-metrics, seems to agree: she dislikes short peaked seats and loves the flatter pan. The seat of the Whisky16 is here to stay.

The front deck however has already been modified to accept a sail and place it at closer reach. Details here.

12 February 2015

Photo: walking on the beach

A walk on the beach helps me to focus on what matters in life.
Even more rewarding if remote and later in the day.

Red Beach FEB15_2

Barefoot, at water's edge, the sun close to the horizon.


03 February 2015

SHOP: filling-in the compass recess

Mounting a sail on a sea kayak requires a few considerations: position and deck strength.
On the newly acquired Whisky16 the front hatch is positioned surprisingly way far forward.
In front of that there is a deck-mounted compass recess.
The previous owner of that kayak had a small sail mounted there and I used the existing holes to mount mine.

first run with the Whisky16
A test run revealed that the sail worked well on the Whisky16 but the reach was a bit too far for grabbing the sail and stow it on deck, securing it.
Most other sailing buddies use a 3 stay set up ending with a rather long mast.
I see their stowed sails going past the front of the cockpit ending with a sail mast half way across the spray deck. I prefer to have mine clear off my deck so I do not rub it with my hands when paddling.

The Whisky16 however has the sail mounting spot just a bit too far out or reach for the sail to fit nicely on deck. As I use my sails on several kayak I need to have them fit all decks well, with the same stay lengths.
I could increase the size of the mast and bring the sail higher (and make an ill-fit on other kayaks),  but I prefer to keep the sail as low as possible and minimize the heeling force of a beam wind exerted on the sail.
The compass was not really needed on that kayak so I removed it and decided to utilize that space to mount the sail closer.
I wanted to fill the void left (recess on the deck) and create a solid base for the mast fitting.
I could have used a simple block of wood somehow attached to the deck but I knew I could do better.
I shaped a block of foam (polystyrene) to fit a bit loose within the cavity of the recess. Shaping the foam was easy: a bit of coarse sandpaper on a cork block.

Once the foam was shaped I placed kitchen cling wrap (Glad® wrap) over the deck and wetted out some fiberglass with epoxy. I draped the block of foam (under side) and pressed it into the cavity.
Once cured (overnight) I removed the excess and trimmed the glass.
The finish was really rough; maybe I could have used wax and mold release to have a perfect fit but nobody was going to see that part.
The top was done similarly.
I carved out foam from the area where the screws for the fitting would go for my mast base and filled it with epoxy glue (mix of epoxy and microfiber). While wet I then used a few layers of glass for the top and a scrap of carbon fibre for where the main load would be.
Polystyrene foam compresses easily when spot loaded so I needed a sturdy surface.

compass fill-in1
the "black patch" is carbon fibre cloth over the carved-out foam filled with epoxy glue.

The next step was to clean and cut back the edges a bit leaving a bit of a gap between foam block and kayak deck. I filled that with epoxy glue again to create a hard edge and seal the two surface together creating a monocoque style item. Of course I waxed and prepped the kayak deck so epoxy would not stick to it...

compass fill-in2
the new mast-base fitting placed only for testing

The last step was to add a nice layer of carbon fibre weave: partly structural, partly looks.
A few coats of UV stabilized epoxy later and my block was ready for installation of the mast base.
I used wood screws that secured the mount very solidly: the epoxy glue is very dense.

compass fill-in3
the foam block now covered with carbon fibre cloth

Final step: securing the foam block to the deck.
This one was simple: a small bead of polyurethane all around the edge (only!) to then seal perfectly against the deck.
The original deck void was now sealed and the sail mounted closer to the cockpit.

compass fill-in4
notice the difference between old position and new closer location for the mast base. The old holes will get filled with matching gel coat

So, do 4" make a difference? *
Not in handling of the kayak but when reaching for the sail to be bundled on deck when stowed (reaching for the boom particularly) is now much better.

*Hell yes, she said :-)

28 January 2015

Video: Best Moments of 2014 in Moreton Bay

Once a year a new video is edited focusing specifically on local paddling's best moments.
This one was shot over 2014 in Moreton Bay alone.

Of course, only a very small portion of "the fun stuff" is recorded despite spending most weekends on the water.
I compiled mostly "orphan" clips that were not previously included in a other videos; the shots are short and highlight the best moments of a day's outing.

In order of appearance: Gnarlydog, Vanilla and Petra.

PS: work has already commenced on the 2015 edition...


12 January 2015

Photo: sail-surfing the New Year

Conditions were just right: a running out tide met by an opposing 15 knots of wind created waves steep enough to be caught by a small sail.

Surfing Dugong Jan15_1

Petra sail-surfing with Northern Light paddle and SeaDog sail.


23 December 2014

VIDEO: beyond the action cam

A few years ago I fell in love with action cams.
I started using the newly "invented" waterproof compact camera to capture images first and then I discovered that some scenes were best captures with motion pictures.
I brought the little Olympus 720SW into the surf zone and devised mounts to go onto my kayaks.
It was fun for a while  but the metal bodied cameras don't last in salt water. After killing a few waterproof cameras I decided to revisit the GoPro, housed in a plastic case.
My early experience with the first generation was very disappointing: the resolution was so low that I really could not see clearly what was happening, things were fuzzy. I discarded that camera and labelled it as a "toy".
Then one day GoPro Hero 1 came to the market and that changed everything, totally.

It was a very decent tool with an excellent case that was seriously waterproof and sturdy enough for the footage that I wanted to capture.
I embraced the wide angle distorted view that was giving me a lived-in point of view, not a spectator one, more one of an actor, really being there.
While GoPro can deliver outstanding footage in the right hands and shooting technique, it comes up short when I want to isolate the subject from the busy background.
Action cams (and a lot of compact cameras have) lenses create images where everything is sharp: from the close-up foreground to the distant subjects in a scene.

There is little chance (most often impossible) to isolate the subject.
While most on-water action situation from a sea kayak don't offer me the time and environment where I can compose an image to create shallow depth of field and have selective focusing, on land, away from the bobbing of the waves, I have the time and stability to see the world more selectively.

I find that if I want to emphasize my subject and make it stand out from the visual noise of the background (or occasionally foreground) I need to limit the area that will be in focus in my images.

Van Dec14_1_c

A blurry background makes a person stand out from a busy scene, a softly focused foreground brings attention to the the kayaks on the beach instead of having the viewer visually wonder around and miss the focal point. A less busy image can sometimes convey a different message.
I predominately use actions cams for video capture and I mix the use of my land camera between still images and video.
Lately I have been experimenting with selective focus on my Micro 4/3 cameras and found out their limitations. Shooting video is particularly challenging with a wide open long lens.

While my cameras excel in image stabilization I struggle to create even transitions of focal points and smooth focus pull. I don't zoom much as I find that most consumer cameras (of reasonable cost) lack real slow smooth zooming. I prefer to concentrate on the camera movement to create a dynamic point of view. As I have never used tripods for video, since I think it creates static scene that are too stiff, giving me a sense of "spectator" instead of a person that is present and involved. Therefore the in-camera image stabilization is very important to me to allow me to move around my scenes without producing jerky footage.
The one thing that I lack with my larger cameras is waterproofness; I have to be very careful around moving water.

17 December 2014

To club or not to club

"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