29 January 2010

Destination: Fraser Island, Qld

While Australia celebrated it's National Day on 26JAN, I took the opportunity to make it a 4 day vacation and paddle in a locale that I can't reach during an ordinary weekend.
Some paddlers prefer the busy waters of Moreton Bay but I cherish a trip where a sense of adventure can be had and very few people are encountered.
Fraser Island's West coast offers that sense of solitude.
Most people visit the busy East coast of the island where 4WDs are as thick as a traffic jam on the I-405 in Los Angeles (well not really, but you get my drift) leaving the West coast very quiet.
Camping happens right on the beach and the sunset views are unspoiled.
sunset paddling_3
I know I am killing my Northern hemisphere readers right now with the view of balmy conditions and warm water.
If it's any consolation to you, I will let you know that the bugs were really ferocious at one campsite :-)
clear water sailing (c)
sailing crystal waters
Report to follow on Adventuretess' blog: Funtessea

27 January 2010

Technique: sail roll

On some of my sea kayaking trips I like to use a small sail.
I have designed my own rig and a few of my friends are now using the same set up.
Details on DIY sail can be found here.
While sailing can be great fun and can add a few more miles to your daily paddling distance (that's if the wind gods are benign to you and won't give you head wind) it can also be more challenging than just paddling.
The kayak can become more tippy in higher winds with increased wave heights.
Occasionally a kayak sailor will find him/herself in a gust of wind that just were not ready for and capsize.
Van sailing Fraser (c)
Some sail rigs are rather cumbersome and don't stow away easily.
Those rigs will be more difficult to handle in case of a capsize.
The design I use has a single main sheet (one rope that goes to the boom) that with a simple flick of the fingers will depower the sail and possibly allow you to roll your kayak.
I have been lucky enough not to capsize yet in windy conditions and I am unsure if I will be able to roll back up in the heat of the battle.
On a recent trip I wanted to see if my friend Vanilla could actually pull off a "sail roll".
Conditions were not really windy but that allowed me to be next to him and document the roll.

To be able to successfully roll with the sail Vanilla let the sail out so the boom was loose.
In case of an accidental capsize that would be the first thing needed to be done or the sail would hold water and prevent rolling back up.
During rolling, the extended paddle generated more lift, especially the Aleut paddle.
An alternative roll with the sail would be to release the uphaul (rope that holds the mast up) and have the mast loose.
Once back upright the sail would be deployed (uphauled) in the usual fashion again.
I have observed several rigs on local kayaks that used my dimensions for the sail but rigged the sail with some mistakes in the set up.
Those sails can only be used in light winds where realistically the chance of capsizing is substantially diminished.
If rolling your kayak is not a skill that you already have, be prepared to have a swim or two if you use your sail in decent winds.
Make sure you know how to rescue yourself too or the swim back to shore could be a very long one.

18 January 2010

SHOP: replacing a Valley seat

Valley has recently changed the seat in their sea kayaks (2010).

The previous kayaks were shipped with the above seat.
Some paddlers found a problem with the shape of the seat and the configuration of the back band.
The seat shape did not suit a lot of kayakers that would spend long time on the water and the backband would hinder some rescues.

As shipped from factory the back band would tend to fold down under the paddlers bottom when a rescue (assisted or self) is performed.
Some kayakers have modified the retention system to make the back band more secure and prevent dislogment and nuisance when reentering the cockpit.
But the more important concern is that the shape of the seat seems to cause severe rubbing with some users.
The "slope" of the pan on the rear is too gentle and when the kayak is paddled efficiently with pressure on the footpegs and consequently the body of the paddlers pushed back, the seat would rub the tail bone.
On long crossing some kayakers would rub all the skin off of the end of the spine area and consequently be in pain.
Comparing the Valley seat to other sea kayaks' seat I notice the pronounced difference and tried to rectify the problem.
The Valley seat seems to be made from polyethylene and I tried to use a heat gun and reshape some of the seat and create a better pan.
Unfortunately such solution only alleviated the problem but did not really fix it.
A new seat pan had to be made.

I was lucky to borrow Greg Schwarz's mold that he has made for replacing an ill shaped seat on a different kayak.
In a conventional lay up of double bias glass and 4oz cloth, I used epoxy as resin.
In some areas of high stress I used additional layers of carbon/Kevlar cloth to reinforce possible weak spots (something I have learned by repairing other manufacturer's seats).
A hung seat sees a lot of stress in the "bracket" area.
I did not want to carve a simple but effective closed cell (minicell) foam seat because it prevents the flow of water to the electric bilge pump located behind the seat.
Foam seats are great: easy to fabricate, very comfortable but don't allow water flow to the rear bulkhead.

Greg's mold allows for a channel to let water flow though the middle, under the seat.
Visible in the image above is the front of the new seat installed in a Norkdkapp LV. Expanding polyurethane foam was used for supporting the front of the pan.
The new seat has a much longer pan and offers outstanding thigh support.
This is the second seat that I have fabricate from that mold and to date is the best sea kayak seat for me. While some other seats would offer reasonable comfort others would give me the dreaded "dead legs" on long outings.
This seat however addresses the compression of the sciatica nerve problem and eliminates discomfort that some seats bring.
seat installed in Nordkapp LV, rear bulkhead with electric bilge pump
I decide to remove the back band all together and go for a foam block instead.
A well shaped foam block offers support where needed but eliminates the problem of back bands falling under the paddlers bum in a rescue.
Fabricating a foam back block required the lamination of 4 pieces of coarse closed cell foam (type of foam used for industrial packaging) and carving the centre section to allow for the bilge pump.
foam sections laminated with contact adhesive _ underside of foam back block
The back block is shaped to the contour of the rear bulkhead and fits snugly behind the seat.
To prevent accidental dislogment I used a bungee retention cord (with olive) threaded through the block.
The section of the back block that contacts the body has a softer last layer of quality minicell.
Shown here before final the layer of neoprene that will cover the block.
The new seat installed.
I used a simple anodized aluminium bracket fashioned from a 2" L section.
Stainless steel nuts and bolts to secure the seat to the bracket.

10 January 2010

Size matters

I have the feeling that some individuals are obsessed with size.
Some must think that bigger is better.

I keep on coming across people that appear to have a fascination for acquiring items that seem just too big for them.
Are the large items compensating for their own physical size insecurity?
I have seen it in all aspects of life: young men with clothing that are too big for them (usually on guys that would prefer to be more bulky), riders straddling motorcycle where they can barely touch the ground, outdoor enthusiast that carry a backpack so big that hinders their progress on the trail...

Not forgetting the all-obvious obsession with large vehicle.
If you look at what is driven around in the urban environment one would think that the western world has very little paved roads (particularly around schools at kid’s pick up time :-).
It would appear that most of us live in very rural areas and need very large vehicles to get to work or do grocery shopping.
On the other hand, interestingly enough, I have observed (in Australia and USA) that majority of real active people usually drive compact cars.
Is the large 4WD the domain of the wannabe?
There are obviously legit users of said large vehicles where a smaller one just would not work for their business (i.e. construction).
Is there a trend to compensate with the large for the lack of confidence, or in some cases, for guys, the perceived lack of “manhood”?

somebody not confident about their manhood?
Funny enough the trend seems to extend to sea kayaking as well.
I have been noticing that some are buying sea kayaks that are just simply too large for them.
I can understand the inexperienced novice where his/her priority is usually a “stable” kayak (often by default large) but it seems that some paddlers are trading for larger kayaks that don’t really fit them.
I know of several paddlers that have upgraded from a seemingly OK kayak to monsters 6.1 meters long (21ft) barges.
These kayaks are designed for extended unsupported expeditions and perform poorly in the hands of a paddler that has not got the skills or the strength to maneuver it in a bit of wind.

kayak too big for this paddler needing towing in 15 knot of wind
And just because you are a couple it does not mean that you have to have matching kayaks; surely there is a difference in size and weight between the two of you :-)
So why are there a disproportionate number of barges around used primarily for day paddles or a brief overnighter?
But there is no need to go to that extreme to find yourself in a kayak that is just too big.

If one wants to improve skills and be able to really feel connected to a kayak a smaller size is usually better.
I have witnessed a remarkable advancement of skills after a paddler has switched to a kayak that would fit her properly.
Very evident areas are the ability to edge the boat, quick turns, improved paddle stroke (due to lower cockpit rim and width of kayak) and rolling.
While some seem to justify that a kayak must be large enough to carry supplies and equipment for several weeks majority of us very rarely (if ever) venture on trips of more than a few days. In my part of the world that’s in tropical conditions where very little protective clothing is needed therefore requiring even less cargo space.

Serious major expeditions are usually carried out in medium size kayaks (SKUK Explorer being the most popular one). If remote locations can be reached in those kayaks surely a few days in balmy conditions could be too.
While some manufacturers are rather vague with payloads, Valley's website is informative enough to offer a weight guideline for optimal performance.

So, despite that info, some paddlers still choose boats that are way too big for them.

No amount of padding experience will make an oversize kayak fit well. Wind and waves will make that craft bob around the sea like a cork.
An Aquanaut HV, for example, to perform optimally will have to have a paddler and cargo of 250 lbs (113 Kg)! Such kayak with a lighter paddler will perform poorly compared to one sized to match the paddler.

A kayak that is designed to carry large loads will have too much freeboard (when unloaded) that will act like a sail in anything but calm conditions.
A kayak that does not sit deep enough in the water will feel often a bit tender. Needless to say also that a kayak that is too long will be a handful to turn around, especially in wind.
I could carry on with the disadvantages of a large kayak (long/large ones need more effort to be paddled at Club outings pace, heavier, occupy more room in storage, harder to lift/transport etc.)

A well fitted kayak promotes maneuverability. Unfortunately padding out a cockpit of a too large kayak is often just a marginal improvement but certainly not the solution.
A too high coaming of the cockpit will always remain too high on a paddler that is clearly too small for that given craft.
With the range of kayaks available today to fit most body types there is no longer the need to make do with a boat that does hinder your skills.
Way too often the concept of “the longer waterline equals to a faster kayak” is misconceived if the paddler has not got the strength and technique to actually paddle a longer craft.
Most smaller paddlers will be better served by a kayak that despite being a bit shorter will actually give less resistance to be paddled at Club pace speed.
So very few paddlers rarely reach and maintain the higher “hull speed” of a long kayak.
Paddled at slower speeds the longer kayak is actually harder to paddle.
Honestly, a lot of folk out there on the water would be better off with a kayak that fitted them.

11FEB10: Expedition Kayaks' blog post on "downsizing" is interesting (no direct link available)

04 January 2010

Hollow core Greenland paddle

Yet another masterpiece from Greg Schwarz: a laminated Greenland paddle.
Greg has been rolling avidly for some time now.
His favorite DVDs are on Greenland style technique and he challenges himself all the time with a new way to roll.
His rolling is really gentle and beautiful to watch.
He has been using a Werner Ikelos that gradually has unfeathered from a hefty 60 degrees down to 0.
For most of his rolls he prefers his blades parallel so he always knows where the face of the paddle will be when underwater (Ken Whiting advocates that in his instructional video).
Also, some of the rolls require blades to be unfeathered, like in the butterfly roll.
What amazed me though was that Greg despite his love for Greenland style paddling was however not using a Greenland paddle.
While I have witnessed most kayakers that roll (using a Euro style paddle) muscle through the water to bring themselves back up, Greg never uses much blade support when rolling.

Unlike some very good paddlers that can’t roll with a Greenland paddle (are they relying on the resistance that a big bladed Euro or wing paddle offers?) a good roll should be more rotation of the kayak with your hips/thighs than arm muscle.
Lately Greg's interest in the Greenland paddle was rekindled when he borrowed one of my sticks for a few weeks.
Not surprisingly he suddenly saw the light and after a short transition period now advocates GP for finessing a roll or for general paddling.

Greg balance bracing (c)
Greg however was not just happy with the commercial offerings that he saw; he knew he could do better.
Admittedly the sturdiness and lightness of the Werners are hard to beat but Greg saw potential in an easily worked material: Western red cedar.
Some GPs tip the scales at a hefty 1.2Kg (41 oz.) if durability and strength are a factor.
Surely there are some light Western red cedar GPs out there but it’s not unheard of a few of them failing when used with force like in a hard high brace or while surfing.
Greg decided that a laminated paddle would offer most strength and thin strips of reinforcement of Silver Ash were used for additional strength.

Using wood that adds strength usually translated to a denser material that consequently will be heavier.
The only way you could end up with a paddle that is strong but does not weigh too much is to shave away material where it is not needed.
Since the GP’s shape should not be altered too much externally, the option is to remove wood that adds little strength: internally.
On the same principal that the foam core of his Werner carbon paddle adds little strength to the whole paddle, Greg knows that the wood inside the paddle does not offer a great deal of sturdiness.
He therefore hollowed the guts (core) of his Greenland paddle.

Painstakingly removing unnecessary material from the loom sections of wood before lamination, Greg shaved away a significant amount of weight (150 gr) without compromising the integrity of the paddle.
Once the various pieces of Western red cedar and Silver Ash had the core routed out he laminated them together with epoxy.
From there he carved away the surface to achieve the desired final shape.

The finish on his paddle is epoxy first with a light coat of boiled linseed oil.
The results are amazing, something these images can’t give credit.
The joints are superb and the look is outstanding.

The paddle offers incredible buoyancy and despite its light weight has a great sturdy feel (very little flex, unlike some light weights I have tried).

For the record, Greg shaved away 150 gm of wood (hole of 20 mm diameter the length of the loom) from a 220 cm long paddle.
The loom measures 38x35 mm (oval diameter), max blade width is 87mm and tips at the scales at 865 gr (29.8 oz.).

Greg's GP_1 (c)
It took him 45 hours to complete the paddle and if this paddle would be commercially available would cost a bomb.
Greg has made a second paddle for his wife Moira.
At 210 cm long, with a slightly smaller loom diameter of 35x32 mm (hollowed out at 16 mm) her paddle weights an insane 677 grams (23.4 oz.)!
Greg is confident that his paddle is as strong as any commercial offering despite being light but as any Western red cedar paddle it needs to be treated with care since it damages easier than a carbon one.

Closer to a work of art than a tool, Greg’s Greenland paddle is superb and the performance while rolling and sculling is noticeable superior to any GP I have tried.