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.

02 April 2014

VIDEO: Swedish Baltic coast

It rained all day and the wind was blowing hard from the land as we paddled to a remote island to meet with Pia and Erik. All we had was a name for a location that was marked on our map, no other details.
We were not sure if our friends would show up: conditions were not that great for camping.
In the afternoon the rain eased and the clouds parted to reveal a colorful sunset. Shortly after our friends landed to then join us for a few days on our 4 weeks expedition along the Swedish Baltic coast.

 for a better viewing experience select HD, if you aren't using a mobile device

I love the outer islands of the Stockholm archipelago with their polished granite shores.
The sensual shapes are very inspiring luring me back to experience them again.
This summer (Northern hemisphere) I will be kayaking again in the rocky labyrinth, possibly crossing to Finland.

Contact me off-line at gnarlydognews(at)gmail.com if you want to catch up.


17 March 2014

Photo: foam pile

Playing in messy conditions with waves coming from different directions is one of the best training grounds for improving my skills.

Gilligans MAR14_1

I was joined by Peter who has only recently learned how to roll.
It was so rewarding to see his improved skills that allowed him to go for the biggest waves, now that he can confidently come back up when tossed over by a wave.
We both had a ball.

13 March 2014

INTERVIEW: Johan Wirsen, the kayak designer

Johan Wirsen is today one of the most prolific kayak designers.
His home is in Scandinavia and his heritage of sea fearing Vikings is well represented with his skillful art of designing modern sea kayaks.
I was lucky to meet Johan in 2011 when I invited him on a trip to the Queensland tropical coast.
A very understated person with great insight, Johan is an incredibly likable character.
Humble and considerate in his thoughts and trusting by nature has not always been an advantage in the cut-throat business of sea kayak manufacturing.
He has been designing and constructing boats and kayaks since early teens and it is his livelihood.
Last July I visited him in his hometown of Borgholm on Oland Island, Sweden and he revealed to me that something big was brewing in his shed.
After years of designing and working for other manufacturers, fed up with some of their attitude and malpractices (he got ripped off several times)  he decided that it was time to launch his own brand: Rebel Kayaks.

Rebel ILAGA rolling1
Ann-Kristin Skinlo at Göteborg Boatshow_ image with permission from Lars Jönson

I took the opportunity to interview Johan Wirsen:

gdn) You have started a new brand of sea kayaks called Rebel: why another brand ?

JW) -You know, since 2001 I have been working independently with kayak designs for a number of companies. Of course I was building and designing my own kayaks before that so I more or less took the experience I had and transformed that from “one off” designs to a serial production. But as you know, the kayak business is also quite dirty and some of the companies I have been working with were also very greedy, so I have decided to terminate some contract with the “big ones” and start all over with this new little company Rebel Kayaks and try to keep the passion for the sport and paddling alive for myself.

Where and when will these kayak be available?
- For the moment we are that lucky that we have been contacted by so many high end retailers, dealers and customers that we can’t satisfied them all!! 
The truth is that we are too small and can’t produce that many kayaks, yet. When we shift our production to Poland we naturally will start to sell our kayaks here in Northern Europe.

Rebel kyk_Janusz
image courtesy of Janusz Kowalski from Rebel kayaks

What style of kayaks are you focusing on under your brand Rebel?

-    The first two models that we put into production are my two Greenland styled kayaks: the “ILAGA” and the ”T”. Those are the type of kayaks that I personally feel a lot for, and since they are well known they are like a signature for me. It feels important to me that I design and in the future build kayaks that I would like to paddle myself. 
Since our production capacity is not too big, we also prefer to put the effort into building light and stiff. – Why build something you would not want for yourself ?

Petra on Traunsee_c

Are you still designing for other manufacturers?

-Yes I still do some work for other companies, and for the moment I am working on a Coastal Rowing boat.

I notice a certain consistency of style in your creations even if the kayaks that you have designed have different goals in mind. How did you get involved in boat design and what is the driving force for your passion?

-Born on an island, and growing up with a father that had all kinds of boats (anything from fishing to sailing and even a water-ski boat) it is not that unusual that I got this interest and eventually I went to school to become a boat builder. I have always tried to build or rebuild my own stuff, even motorbikes! 
But boats and especially traditionally boats with smooth lines have always appealed to my eyes. And there is something special about boats and the tree dimensional shapes that should be put together in a smooth way (to achieve less drag).
For ex. The single coastal rowing boat that I recently designed where I had to learn new traits while listening to skilled rowers to get the ergonomics right. I am not a rower myself so there was a lot to learn.
Another kind of boats I love is our traditional wooden boats and of course to sail them. 

Johan sailing

 The picture shows my 17´ “Sandbacken” which is our traditional type of boats from our Island

What? Rowing boats???  

- Yes, this is actually really funny.
It started as a small project that then won tree medals in last World Championship!! (Gold and Bronze – men, and Silver – woman)
Mats Leo (rower and the owner of the project) asked me if I could help him to design a boat and together with one of the most skilled rower here in Sweden, Peter Berg, we got this far!!
-For more info check    www.leocoastalrowing.com

Peter Berg rowing
Pictured Peter Berg. Recently Peter Berg also won a race in Monaco

Sea kayak sailing: what do you think of that?

- I must admit that I have not experienced sailing with a kayaks before I visited Australia. But I really got hooked!  It is fun, it is energy saving and the “Flat Earth Sails” are working well. The position of the mast is not ideal on a sea kayak, however at the same time you don’t want it to interfere with paddling. But it works, and I recommend paddlers to try out.

Swede form or Fish form: what is the best hull shape?

- A quick explanation, or to say when and where is best would be hard to describe here in a short form. 
A Swede form (the widest part aft of centre of the hull ) creates less drag and wave resistant on the surface resulting in more laminar flow and less turbulent flow than on a fish form, that has the opposite shape. However there are also so many other things to be taken in consideration when designing a kayak or a hull.
In my current designs I concentrate on the thought of how strong we are as a paddler, and I try to make a kayak as fast as possible in the low speed area, let say in 3 – 4 pound drag area; because this is where most of us ordinary paddlers fit with our “touring sea kayaks”. 
If you would like more info please visit www.marinerkayaks.com and click the link at the bottom about designs. It does not tell every thing but can give you something to think about.
When I am working on a new design, in most cases I also build and test paddle my kayaks. It gives me the possibility to make adjustments before the kayaks goes in production, unlike many other producers today that make something up on a computer and then email it to a CNC-machine shop. Furthermore, in their catalog,  they will then tell you all about the kayak's advantages before they even ever built the first one.

Johan, you know that this is a passion of mine: What do you think of Greenland paddles?

- In the beginning I did not find the Greenland paddles interesting. I had been using a Euro paddle produced from our Swedish brand VKV for many years and modified the size of the blade more for a touring paddling, since the original blade was too big for long distance paddling; I also made the paddle shorter and I was happy with that. 
When I started to become more focused on rolling and was paddling more Greenland style kayaks I had to re-think. I can’t say that I have a pure Greenland paddling technique and while I do more what is intuitive and adept to the situation I almost never use anything else than a “stick” today.  If speed is a concern the Greenland paddle is not limiting, and if we talk about feeling I have the biggest respect for that paddle. 
I love to hold onto a wooden paddle, even if I have had in mind to make some carbon ones. However hollowed ones made out of cedar are around 650 gr.

Johan in ILAGA
image courtesy of Janusz Kowalski from Rebel kayaks

- If anybody here in Scandinavia is interested in learning good rolling, or paddling techniques, consider Helen Wilson and Mark Tozer from Greenland or Bust in partnership with Rebel Kayaks, on their “Nordic Tour 2014”:  a three months long tour around Sweden, Denmark and Norway.  For more info visit www.greenlandorbust.org

I have seen you tool around with the shape of the Greenland paddle and I have seen an interesting twist to the traditional shape. Thoughts on that?

- I started to make my paddles like that a few years ago. I like the shoulder on the loom as a position for my thumbs; at the same time I just make the other (top) side smoother for my hand to hold onto. What is most important is that the edges of the blade should be sharp so the paddle works quietly. I also have my tip of the blade more rectangular and at a slight angle. Some of my paddles have been copied and are for sale at Rebel Kayaks now. The paddles are made of cedar with ash edges as a harder more durable wood. The length of my paddles is often around 2.18m total, while the width of the blade can vary. 

Johan JUL2013-cr
Last words?

 Well I guess that would be: With paddling try to make it your own journey.
 The experience I have is not “one size fits all”. We all have to listen to our self and it is not always that important what gear we are using or if we go to the most exotic places; your own bay is often good enough. Paddling or sailing is mindfulness in itself for me, and hopefully for you too. 
/ Johan Wirsén

Summer storm_c


27 February 2014

SHOP: DIY back band

Paddling comfort can make the kayaking experience great but an ill fitting cockpit keeps my mind away from truly enjoying my pursuit.
I have changed many seats in kayaks that did not fit me and often the back band is part of the equation.
In some kayaks the back band is directly attached to the back of the seat (Valley) while in others it is independently suspended by straps or webbing on the side cheek plates or coaming.

The seat of the Point65North XP was too narrow for my ass and too high up front; I replaced it by fabricating a new wider one out of carbon fiber.
The bulkhead on the XP is really close to the rear of the coaming offering just enough room for an electric bilge pump.

foam backrest_2

I did not like the original back band that came from factory; it was cutting into the carbon fiber laminate on the pivot points. I also did not like the large plastic tabs digging into my hips.
In some of my kayaks I have installed a Immersion Research backband with a ratchet buckle/strap system (similar to snowboard bindings): I love the support and the low profile it offers still allowing me to do laybacks.
In this kayak the bulkhead was so close to the seat that I could create a backband out of foam and have it resting directly against the bulkhead.

foam backrest_1

In some kayaks I have made a pillar from closed cell foam that is nested and jammed between seat and bulkhead; in the XP is wanted to try a floating foam block to be able to access the bilge pump.
As a prototype I wanted to use cheap foam and some discarded packaging from electronic goods was good enough for my first try. I laminated two pieces by gluing them together with contact cement.

foam backrest_5

This type of foam is very easy to carve with a sharp kitchen knife and in minutes I had a nicely contoured backrest shaped to allow layback rolls. My intention were to test the foam back first on a longer paddle and see if it fitted OK.
After some minor reshaping following my initial trial I was happy with the shape of it.

Initially I planned to use high quality closed cell foam for the final product but this cheap foam was working well enough to not bother with higher quality foam, like the one in a block used for yoga.
I just wanted to cover the rough surface with a bit of neoprene.
Again, I used contact cement to laminate the black neoprene.
I made a hole in the foam, the length of the block, to allow a bungee cord to secure it to the coaming of the kayak.

foam backrest_6

The bungee cord is attached to the underside of the coaming by little fiberglass saddles that I fabricated and bonded with epoxy glue. Alternatively small stainless steel saddles could be used instead.
I can tension the bungee with an olive cleat and while the backrest is firmly in place I can still access behind the seat to clear the pump from sand and debris.

foam backrest_4

The main advantage with this style of back band is that it does not end up under my butt when I enter the cockpit. I can slide from the back of the cockpit coaming rim and it will not get in the way, ever.
While some find the pod-style seats with no rear back band a great solution to this problem, I did not like that set up in one of my previous kayaks. I felt that I could not brace myself from sliding backwards when actively paddling and leg driving.

foam backrest_3