23 September 2009

Paddling license

Sea kayaking is an emerging sport in Australia.
Most of the population lives around the coastline of this great island and it was only a matter of time that sea kayaking would see an explosion in popularity.
A few years ago I started sea kayaking as diversion to my bushwalking (backpacking) passion that was put on hold during the hottest months of summer.
And like most of paddlers I taught myself the basic handling on the kayak.
I have respect for the water (used to windsurf years ago) and I realized that staying close to shore and always wearing my life jacket was imperative if I wanted to stay safe.
The passion increased and eventually I started to have company on the water.
I figured it would be safer to have somebody there if I eventually capsized. However, to learn good skills before something would happen, I needed to hook up with better paddlers.

A newly formed sea kayak Club was the perfect environment for me to meet paddlers of higher skill level and seek instruction from them.
The Club was a very friendly place with many paddlers offering their knowledge to me for the love of the sport.

training day line up (c)
Club training day (without instructor)
I started to venture further away from the shore and eventually wanted to tackle the surf.
I still remember the bliss experience when two senior Club members took me in the (baby) surf and looked after me. Needless to say I did capsize on my second wave ride. Within a few seconds they were there and quickly helped me to reenter my kayak. Suddenly I was back again and learning how to prevent my kayak from broaching.
All that was done in a controlled environment and the two paddlers were not instructors: they just wanted to pass on their skill for the joy of seeing another person advance.
I am still thankful to them for giving me their time and help in gaining essential skills that would make me a safer paddler.
I joined that Club and continued to advance.
Some formal training with a certified instructor was undertaken and eventually I started leading trips on the water for my fellow Club members.

Club member learning formal skills from instructor
The policy in our Club is that a leader must be qualified to lead others and depending on conditions, environment and distance of paddle, a different level of skill is needed.
Participants on Club trips were always welcome.
Easier paddles will require low skills levels while only demanding paddles (in surf conditions) would require the paddler being formally certified to be able to participate.
It kind made sense to me: easy paddles are suitable for beginners where skills can be acquired before having to venture out in the “big stuff”. The sheltered waters of the bay interspersed with many islands allow for trips of low skill level. Beginner trips can be safely conducted when conditions are benign. On calm days many kayakers can be found in the safe channels between the islands: if conditions deteriorate the shore is usually not more than ½ hour paddle’s away.
Van sticking Aleut (c)

typical day on the Bay (Southern area)
Lately there have been some rumors about the need to license all paddlers.
It was speculated that all kayakers that belong to a Club should be licensed (just like a driving license) to be able to be on the water.
A local instructor, after a day of tuition at one of the kayaking clubs pronounced that the members of that Club should not paddle anywhere but the rivers, until they gained the necessary instructions (incidentally probably from him) to paddle again in the bay (where they have been doing it for years).
That made me question: if the instructor is pushing for a formal license for a paddler to be able to participate in ANY paddle in the sea he probably will generate himself substantial work and revenue (the instructions obviously will not be free of charge).
While formal assessment and skills are surely needed in demanding environments, in my opinion, a paddling license (certification) to undertake the simplest and safe paddle in a structured group of paddlers (with a recognized suitable leader) is probably overkill.
I do advocate for safe paddling and applaud when individuals want to step up and gain better skills and possible certifications but it should be left to the individuals to make that choice.
A policy where ALL paddlers will suddenly have to hold a license to be able to be on the water, or to paddle with a Club in mild conditions is just ludicrous.
If the national body that oversees the development of the kayaking sport and promotes safe paddling will enforce this rumored “license” I have the feeling that current and future members will be driven away from joining formal Clubs and prefer to paddle in informal groups (something that seems to be growing in popularity).
While the threat of legal action in case of an incident is one of the reasons for me joining a Club (and therefore be insured) I believe that the introduction of forced licensing will probably result in a decline of membership and possible lower the skill level of the paddling community.
Larry Gray instructing at RnR09 (c)
The camaraderie of helping each other out and learning from each other is obviously one of the basic forms of skill development.
At a lower level paddles in sheltered waters is probably all it’s needed as long as safety and group dynamics are observed.
I don’t believe that forced licensing is the answer to a better paddling community.

21 September 2009

Nordkapp LV stability

stix or Euro paddles: it's all good
On a recent paddle of 25 Km we had two Nordkapp LV in our pod.
Adventuretess and Greg Schwarz love those kayaks for different reasons.
Tess loves how it performs in rough waters (video here) and she prefers it to other kayaks for surfing.
She also can roll that kayak very well (although she admits a Tahe Marine Greenland would be the ultimate roller, for her) and finds it very reassuring.
Greg Schwarz on the other side does not seek out the surf.
His preferred game is rolling.
He is happy to spend a few hours just playing around in the bay in front of his house.
He does that regularly. He also has admitted to me that he gets "pumped" watching Dubsides's DVD and he learns a new way to roll just about every other week.
Needless to say I ask him to show me his new tricks every time I see him.
Greg also is very happy to teach other kayakers interested in Greenland rolling technique, not formally but from the pure joy of spreading this amazing feeling when rolling.
But what I find interesting is that both Greg and Tess deem the Nordkapp LV as a "stable" boat.
I have tried to paddle the Nordkapp LV once (had to shoehorn myself into that tight cockpit) and did not find it excessively tippy.
I often hear and read that the Nordkapp LV is a kayak that a lot of paddlers find "demanding".
So, when Greg suddenly got out of his seat and stood up in the LV, I was amazed.

Therefore, I understand that what might feel very tippy for one person obviously is not for an other.
When a paddler would praise a kayak (often his/her own ride) and discard another one (sometimes one that they have not even paddled) I now view their opinion with caution.
If I want to value their opinion I ask them what other boat they paddle and what is their skill level.
What might appear as rather "tippy" to a novice it could be regarded as "dead" (too stable) by other advanced paddlers.
On that note I have to admit that a kayak that I purchased (sight unseen) a few months back and found very "demanding", is now warming up to me.
Not sure if I will even have the balance to be able to stand in a narrow kayak but practice can only make me a better paddler.

PS: a very good article on understanding stability was found at Hunter Kayak Klan.
Article here

18 September 2009

The first 20.000 hits

Gnarlydog News has received the 20.000th visit since its debut in February.
Thank you to all my readers from more than 80 countries that have bothered leaving a comment or asked a question.
If you would like to see a particular topic covered this is the time and place to ask.
I can't guarantee that I can address your query if it's outside my limited field of expertise but probably can explain some of my projects in more detail.
You can contact me off this site by emailing at gnarlydognews@gmail.com if you prefer to remain anonymous.
PS I have been asked to detail my kayak seat replacement with a foam one.
I don't have any pictures of the construction/carving phase but I have some finished seats. See what I can do...

16 September 2009

Aleut paddle by Vanstix

A two week trip to the Whitsunday Islands was going to be the ultimate test if my traditional Aleut paddle would be the right choice for touring.

Van and Adveturetess "sticking" at Gloucester Island
I have been using my Aleut paddle for some time now and fell in love with it.
It’s hard to describe how a little unpretentious wooden “stick” can feel so right for my paddling.
Vanilla is the creator of this great tool.

The man that started the local "revolution"
He selects quarter sawn Wester red cedar to replicate a wooden paddle used by the Aleuts.
The drawings for the dimensions and shape of the paddle come from a rare original paddle that is stored in a museum.
Some kayakers are familiar with Greenland paddles but few know the Aleut ones.
While similar in overall dimensions the most noticeable difference is that they are not symmetrical: the power face is not the same as the back side.

back side of the paddle
The back of the paddle is close to a Greenland one but the power side displays a pronounced grooved centre ridge.

notice the groove in the centre ridge
We are not sure what the function of the groove is but the dihedral ridge creates a unique paddling experience.
I had the opportunity to try both styles: GP and Aleut when I was transitioning from a Euro paddle.
I gave both a fair go but I settled on the Aleut one. I found it easier to get used to.
While my technique might not be correct and purist would probably be schooling me in the orthodox style that I should be using a traditional paddle (my stroke is rather high angled), I find that the Aleut paddle does not flutter in the water.
I understand that the catch on a GP is critical and it must slide into the water fully before power is applied; I probably never bothered learning that.
Cavitation is also something that I don’t notice on the Aleut.
The revelation really became obvious when on a long paddle, at the end of the day, I would be less tired then with a Euro paddle.
Surprisingly the Aleut is gentle on the shoulders and my wrists or elbows don’t ever hurt anymore.
I can not use a Euro paddle with straight shaft for a long outing: my wrist ache. All my Euro paddles are bent shaft (Werner).
The loom on the Aleut is not oval but more pears shaped. It has a flatter spot on the power face. The thickness of the loom is also beefy and the ridge that runs along the power face makes that wooden paddle a very strong one.
The tips are probably the most vulnerable part. Softer than glass or carbon, the cedar will dimple or chip if banged against rocks.
I am currently modifying one Aleut paddle to reinforce the tips with epoxy/microfiber and give it that traditional look of a (fake) whale bone tips.
Vanilla takes great care in carving the paddles. He uses spoke shavers to be able to create a concave surface on the power face ridge.
So far he has been using Tung oil for the finish but epoxy (UV stabilized) has proven to be a possible alternative for more wear resistance.
Vanstix quiver (c)
I seem to get a few funny looks and queries about my choice of paddle. Needless to say that some think that a wooden paddle is great “kindling” but often their smile is wiped off their faces once they try to keep up with me in a sprint. The paddle is also very capable in the surf. Stern ruddering is very efficient and catching a wave requires a slightly higher cadence to bring the kayak up to speed.

The Aleut paddle, like the Greenland one, shines when rolling.
The power face adds some "lift" and makes the paddle skim the surface of the water when doing a sweep roll.

Adventuretess rolling with a Vanstix TM
However if a "C to C" is more your style and you tend to muscle your roll instead of using your hips and knee, you might find that a traditional paddle offers less resistance and possibly will be diving deeper.

One thing I wish is to design a strong joiner that is totally flush which will allow me to carry a slit paddle as a spare.

14 September 2009

Trip: Whitsunday Islands '09

Team Whitsundays 2009 has returned from a two weeks trip in the glorious Whitsunday Islands, Queensland.
The Prof, Gnarlydog, Adventuretess, Wally, Vanilla
Click here for a brief account of the wonderful trip.

DIY: LED campsite illumination

In the eternal quest to lighten up the load of my kayak I have been searching for some time now for an alternative to the old gas lantern to illuminate the communal camping area at night.
On my kayak trips we tend to congregate in one spot where we all cook and socialize together.
On backpacking trips the general consensus seems to be the use of headlamps as light source (less weight) but while kayaking more luxurious item can be had for that purpose.
Some fellow kayakers carry an extra gas canister and use a small gas lantern.
That light seems adequate and lasts long enough.
One problem: bulk and weight.

So, on a recent trip of two weeks of paddling with all supplies carried in my kayak I needed something small and light.
I have used previously a relatively small sized lamp purchased at an auto parts store that used LEDs as light source. It was compact but not that bright. It was rechargeable but the battery would not last.
On eBay I found the perfect compact light.

It's a cluster of 8 LEDs (superbright FLUX) mounted on a little PCB.
The LEDs power supply is 12V. which is perfect for my SLA battery that I recharge with a solar panel (see article here).
The LED light is so small and light (smaller than a box of matches) and will illuminate approx. for 8 hours on a fully charged battery (consumption 130mAh).
At AUD$ 5 (and $5 postage from Hong Kong) it is hard to beat. I purchased mine from Kittybabie

the cluster of LEDs 35mmX22mm

it comes with sticky back foam (that I removed)

detailed view of the back with micro resistors.
I have extended the power supply cable to about 2 mt long so I can secure the light to a branch above camp with a twist tie and have the battery somewhere on the ground.
The LED light offers superb even and wide illumination of an area large enough for several people to prepare dinner.
I still use my Candlefire to add atmosphere to the sterile blue light that the LED light emits (I'm not a fan of "cold" light) and to keep biting critter at bay (citronella in the wax).

illuminated camp with LED cluster light