24 February 2010

SHOP: recessed deck anchor

On my Mockpool I needed an anchor for the main sheet pulley of my sail.
I did not want to use the same style as the stay anchor that I have documented here but I was after a recessed fitting.
In the past I owned a Raider sea kayak and the clean deck free of hardware anchors for the perimeter lines really appealed to me.
The Raiders use through holes as deck fittings.
While very clean and very strong those fittings are a bit harder to make than your standard bolt-on stainless steel saddle.
I selected a section of the deck that was free of bulkheads and other under deck fittings.
Using a high speed drill (Dremel) I made two parallel holes large enough to fit snugly a polyethylene tube (Ø approx 8 mm ).
The tube is about the diameter of the cord that I wanted to thread through the hole.
Since the poly tube would deform and flatten on a tight radius I inserted a cord inside the tube that will prevent kinking of the tube.
The tube fitted snugly and it was threaded through the two holes.
The below pictures shows the view inside the kayak.
The tube was pushed hard against the under deck leaving just a small gap.
I mixed and tinted a small batch epoxy and microfibre to the consistency of firm peanut butter.
Working through the small front hatch I pushed the paste into place by forcing it with my fingers into the gap between tube and deck. This is essential since I wanted to created a tight seal around the tube with no voids.
It was all done by feel since I could not see inside the kayak.
The tube would be later removed and any gaps would leave a hole.
Untinted epoxy would have made a white recess; I preferred to color match the deck.
epoxy paste before curing and sanding
After full cure, the epoxy patch was heated up with a light bulb (warm temp) to soften the poly tube.
The tube was then easily removed (epoxy does not stick to poly) and a nice clean recess was left behind where the desired fitting was inserted.
here is the "fixed" version for my boom pulley
and this is the "dynamic" version for the same pulley.
I used bungee cord to create a loop for the boom pulley.
In windy conditions the bungee allows for some give when caught in a gust and possibly preventing a capsize.
The large epoxy patch distributes the load better then just a simple stainless steel saddle or a single plastic deck fitting.
To date I have not seen any of these fittings fail while I have encountered numerous factory fittings brake (plastic ones) or rip out (single bolt on a light deck).

17 February 2010

SAFETY: surviving a summer storm.

Nordkapp LV and Avocet LV(c)
As a leader (among peers) of sea kayak trips I have often pondered at scenarios that I might be involved in while paddling in a group.
I usually paddle with sea kayakers that have a minimum standard of proficiency (self rescue in mild conditions) and rarely with novices.

Some stretches of water involve crossings of semi protected waters (no ocean swell) of 15-20 Km.
Living in a subtropical locale the possibility of sudden storms, occasionally violent, unexpected and usually brief is feasible.
While the weather forecast is religiously checked and observed before leaving shore, on multi day trips sometimes the only forecast available is via VHF radio bulletins on the morning schedule.
I have been caught out before on sudden changes of weather but luckily close enough to shore to make a hasty easy retreat.

hand towing kayaks to camp in 30+ knots wind
To better my skills and be able to handle unexpected though scenarios I sometimes seek conditions where I never see any other user on the water, let alone a kayaker.
Obviously in those conditions I chose an on-shore wind location where in case of trouble I can be blown back to safety in a short time.
paddling in 30 knots (c)
training with Greg Schwarz in 30 knots wind
In the unlikely but possible event that I should be caught out on the water in a group of 6-8 paddlers (too far from shore to be reached in time) what would be my best way to ride out a short storm (1 hour duration, for example) ?
I have asked this question on a couple of Forums and I got replies of limited value and some abusive ones too ("you should have checked the forecast", "paddle close to shore", "don't go out in bad weather" or "if you are that stupid to be out there in a storm is serves you right").

A local instructor replied to me:

click on image to enlarge
While stating the obvious, I really did not learn much from his comment.
Relying purely on the weather bureau's forecast is very shortsighted.
I believe that knowledge, skills and being prepared for the situation is my best defense.

windy conditions (1)
So I asked the question directly to highly regarded sea kayakers Nigel Dennis (of SKUK) Eric Soares (from the Tsunami Rangers) and Nigel Foster (of Nigel Foster kayaks):
"Since I believe that you have had a fair share of bad weather experience on the water, what is, in your opinion, the best way to ride out such event when paddling in a group of medium skilled paddlers?
Winds would not exceed 40 knots and waves would be of max 1.5 meter with probably braking tops.
I believe that rafting up would be hard and holding together dangerous? clipping the perimeter lines of the kayaks together to raft and leave the hands off the edge of the kayak?
I am open to suggestions"

Thankfully their replies were outstanding first hand knowledge of possible solutions for my sticky scenario.
Nigel Dennis replied:
Hi Damiano,

Thanks for the e-mail. I am not sure there is a one answer. If it was me and I was caught out in strong winds with a group the best thing would be to run down wind. As the wind gets stronger this will become more and more your only option. The problem is that people will be at different levels. It will be very hard to keep the group together. Someone will need to lead from the front so they have a little control over the direction and speed of the group. Another will have to stay at the rear and be in charge of rescues. As the wind picks up you will have problem with people falling in. You can't afford for this to happen. Your only option left is to raft up. I would advise two small rafts rather than one big one but only if you have sufficient competent leaders to go in each group. Finally it would help if you used a small drogue on each raft or clipped helmets on tow lines to each raft. This will be difficult but it’s the only thing you can do. I have had to do this in the past.


sea kayaks in wind waves (2)
Eric, more specific to different levels of storm gravity and participants skill level, said:
Greetings Damiano,
Here is my reply to your scenario.

1. Of course, all your friends are right who say "You shouldn't be there." Right. But as you said, you can't always forecast sudden squalls that only last an hour or so.

2. I do not recommend rafting up unless someone is very ill. The reason is as you said. Even in somewhat brisk conditions such as you describe, boats that are rafted bang together, which can hurt boaters and damage boats. It's especially risky to tie boats together, as they may get entangled, which can cause all sorts of problems, as you can imagine.

3. Form a diamond formation of four boats. If there are more than four boats, form more diamonds or parts of diamonds. A diamond formation has one boat in front, leading, another boat in the back, sweeping, and one boat on each side. Each keeps a safe distance from each other, about ten meters or so, so they don't bang into each other, but the paddlers can communicate and watch out for each other. Also, for your weaker paddlers, the formation provides a psychological structure so they feel safer and protected in a "pod". If there are say, two diamond formations, have one follow the other with the lead of the second diamond maintaining a distance of about ten meters or so behind the sweep of the first diamond.

4. From the diamond formation, (assuming the wind is 30-40 knots, w/seas below 2 meters in a semi-protected environment), FACE the wind directly and have everyone put their heads as low and forward (to reduce windage) as possible, so they are looking up to see forward. Arms (elbows especially) should be close into the body to reduce windage. This will give you a low physical profile so you are less effected by gusts and the strong prevailing wind. The leader should paddle just hard enough to make nominal forward movement, so slower paddlers can keep up. Do this for an hour until the squall passes, then resume your course. Facing the wind like this provides the most stable feel for inexperienced paddlers.

5. A formation variant: Should you have one or two truly weak paddlers, make a column formation, either by itself, or within the diamond. A column formation is a straight line. The weak paddlers draft on the strong lead paddler, so their workload is reduced.

7. Another solution: Should you have all strong paddlers, just continue on course with the wind at your flank in a diamond formation and ignore the beam seas, while doing correction strokes as needed. Or, turn with the wind, fan out (row formation), so you don't run into each other, and run with the wind for the storm's duration, then turn back toward your destination, assuming it's to the side and not behind you! These two solutions are preferred, if your paddlers are strong and bold. This is what we do!

8. If someone is unable to stay up for any reason, have a diamond of four or five paddlers raft up, all facing the same direction (ideally, into the wind and swells). Put the weakest paddlers in the middle and the two best on the outside. Hold the boats together tightly by placing paddles on your laps, with the blades extended to the boater next to you, so he can grab your paddle. Everyone holds onto the paddles, and that keeps the boats (roughly) in place, with everyone pressing toward the center.

9. These solutions to this scenario should be rehearsed, first in mild conditions, then in rough conditions--but near shore!

Happy paddling!
when it rains it pours (c)
Vanilla practising in 30 knots wind (according to BOM records)

Nigel Foster addresses the training for the unexpected.
Only by being prepared and having trained in harsher conditions will give me the chance to survive a possible storm.

Hi Damiano,Thanks for your patience. Recovered thanks and back on the water... and last weekend running kayak incident management courses.
Re your questions; If I could start with the concept; "fail to prepare; prepare to fail" and suggest that for the individual paddler who faces a real possibility of encountering certain conditions on open water, then the best advice is preparation. If you want to know what it's like to control your kayak in strong winds, then practice in strong winds in a safe place (such as just a short distance from shore when the wind will quickly blow you to shore if you get out of control)
If you can paddle circles or figure-of-eights in the wind, can edge and brace for balance against a side wind and make forward progress in all directions... then you are in a better position to meet similar conditions unexpectedly while on a trip or on a crossing. It's neither safe nor as much fun for the individual or the leader to play Russian Roulette on open water, knowing that there's a good chance of meeting conditions that group members have never experienced even closer to shore. But... it's really fun to learn techniques in a safe place in wild conditions that get close to or exceed your experience and current ability, especially if you're doing it with paddlers who know what to do and can offer help and advice. It makes you a better paddler.

Ideally each paddler should be confident and able to rescue others, and to perform self-rescues in conditions they might expect on any trip they choose to go on. Ideally that means practicing in similar conditions in a safer place before signing on for an open water trip where those conditions are a possibility.
What do paddlers generally find easiest? Heading straight into the wind until it reaches a certain strength... ( beyond that wind strength the kayak will prefer to be sideways to the wind.) So in the first instance, paddling against the wind through a squall will offer more ease of control for individuals, and therefore more safety so long as they can keep together as a group.
So a good practice session might include heading out from a safe shore against the wind to a nearby anchored float and paddling steadily to remain as close as possible to the float for the duration of a violent squall. Try it with a small group and try it with a larger group. If anyone gets tired, they'll be blown onto the safe beach behind.

Another useful practice session in similar conditions is to paddle a figure-of-eight path around two anchored floats. (Anchored floats can be as simple as a plastic bottle on a line anchored with a brick.) It gives practice in turning in every direction to the wind and shows how effectively you can control the kayak in that strength of wind. The more practice, usually the quicker and more effectively you can do it without getting blown onto the beach.

Other skills that are useful? Techniques for balancing while looking behind at fixed objects or other paddlers, the ability to slow down your paddling pace to match someone else's pace, the ability to turn your kayak around and position yourself to rescue someone in the conditions... and practicing anchored rescues in those conditions, which require positioning skill, tow-line skills and rescue skills... and awareness of what happens if you let go of your kayak... again practice in a safe place first.

Finally, in wind, communication gets more difficult. Practice using eye contact and head gestures rather than shouting, and keeping close as a group. Then... the squalls on open water become a treat rather than a potential hazard, and if someone capsizes, your role becomes one of making use of the situation as a useful practice session for everyone, rather than it falling on you to perform the rescue. Hope these comments help! Get back to me if you need to, and have fun out there!


There you have it.
I very much value their advice that will help me to become a more prepared leader with wiser knowledge.
Please feel free to comment on their advice and if you have anything to add, my readers would love to hear from you.

PS AUG10: a very informative discussion thread on QajaqUSA forum here.

1,2 published under Creative Commons license

15 February 2010

Cartopping sea kayaks

In my previous post I mentioned tie downs anchor points for sea kayaks when car top transporting them.
Here I would like to talk about my experience with cradles for kayaks.
I soon learned that kayaks can not be transported by just "chucking" them on top of a car and tie them down.
I was wise enough to never do the mistake of just using bungee/ocky straps for securing them (don't laugh, people really use that) and, in the rear vision mirror, see my prized possession tumble down the freeway .
I used proper straps to secure the boat onto the crossbars.
The previous owner of my first kayak told me that she never bothered with those "fancy" cradles that some people use, "the kayak will be fine".
And it was, for about a month.
Then one day I noticed a nice crack just where the kayak met the roof rack.
I must have been a bit heavy handed when securing it, worried it might fall off the roof.
That incident prompted me to learn how to repair glass boats and that after all they have to be handled with care.
While a decent sea kayak can take the force of the surf, a concentrated load in one spot (like a steel bar of a roof rack) can crack the hull.
Plastic kayaks suffer a different type of damage: deformation and oil canning.
I have now tried 3 types of cradles for my kayaks and not all have been successful.
There are several manufacturers of cradles but not all are equal.

Thule Hullavator: a little bit bulky for my style
My preferred one is where the cradle swivels and contours to the shape of the kayak. Some cradles are contoured but rigidly shaped; they might fit just one hull shape but not all. Stress raiser might appear on hulls that are transported on cradles that don't "hug" the kayak evenly.

high-tech layup deforming in tropical heat
Living in a subtropical place my summers get pretty hot.
High tech composite boats often have layups of Kevlar where epoxy is used as laminating resin.
Epoxy's melting point is lower than polyester and in full sun it can become a bit soft.
In one instance I had one very high tech kayak dimple and show stress marks despite transporting it on recommended "J" cradles.

Thule "J" cradles
My best solution for that kayak was to transport it belly up on custom made closed cell foam cradles cut to the exact shape of the deck.
DIY closed cell foam cradles
Since the deck was made of vinylester resin it was more heat resistant.
If your vehicle does not allow for conventional roof racks a foam block can be your only solution, in some cases.
used with permission from British V8 (link here)
My current kayaks don't suffer from heat distortion and I can use standard cradles with hull side down.

Mockpool (SeaBird Designs Northsea) and Sialuk (VCP Nodkapp LV)
A while ago I came across the cradles below.
I am unsure if they would be suitable for kayaks that have light hulls or a plastic one.These pads seems a bit on the small side however they do swivel.
The owner used them to transport a hard chined kayak where the ridge would be strong enough to support his kayak.
Transporting kayaks in the summer heat poses problems.
Before you permanently damage your prized possession on a long hot drive test the hull of your kayak and make sure your cradles offer enough support.

11 February 2010

Prototype Rockpool

This Greenland style kayak is apparently just a prototype at this stage.
In typical Rockpool fashion it features a high foredeck.
It looks like a kayak that I might be able to fit.
Full story here (if you read German).

09 February 2010

SAFETY: group size on the water

I am a social sea kayaker. I enjoy the company of other paddlers.
Paddling in groups has a great social aspect and the benefit of the safety to be paddling with others.
Paddling in a pod usually means that you have the support from your mates if something should happen on the water.
While in some other outdoor activities the help factor is not as critical, in sea kayaking, a quick response from members of your pod is much more drastic.
It really does not take that long that, if in serious trouble, you could drown.
By serious I don’t mean anything catastrophic; it can be as simple as just fainting.
The water is not forgiving and drowning even in rather mild conditions is always a possibility.
With this in mind I wanted to minimize my risks and paddle with others.
I wanted to paddle in the safety of a knowledgeable and skilled group that would offer me that support if something had to happen to me.
I joined a Club and undertook several instruction courses to achieve the standard of being able to rescue myself and others.

Instructions on shore_2 (c)
The Club follows set guidelines to ensure that all paddlers are safe on the water.
One of the areas that is recognized as potential danger factor is group size.
A historical incident with NSWSKC where a group of about 50 paddlers run into serious trouble and had to be rescued by authorities lead to the recognition of maximum group size that should paddle together.

The highly esteemed sea kayaker Laurie Ford says:

".... 10 or 12 should be an absolute maximum number of paddlers on any one trip (see my Philosophy on canoeing). It is absolutely impossible to keep an eye on more than that. The leader should be constantly looking round every few minutes and counting them all, so that at any one minute he/she knows exactly where everyone is. And with that number of paddlers, you can tell when some of them may be starting to get tired, or seasick etc. ..." *1

Some Clubs are however still promoting much larger pods of paddlers (I have seen some as large as 20).

Joining and leaving the group at different stages of the outing is also apparently OK.
As Laurie Ford suggests, I ask myself:
how can a leader keep an eye on such large number of participants?

And if the paddlers are then leaving and joining at different stages, who is there to know if somebody has actually been left behind?

A few years ago Laurie Ford observed :

"...Over the past few years there have been numerous articles in their (ed. NSWSKC ) magazine, from paddlers who felt they were left behind on trips - and generally given a hard time. The same magazine always had an answering letter from the ‘leader’ concerned, basically telling the novice that if they can’t keep up they shouldn’t be out there spoiling the leaders enjoyment..." *1

I observed the same on a recent outing.
One of the older paddlers was left behind.
When he later on arrived on the beach he said that the pod left him behind and did not wait for him.
I was concerned. If for some reason he would have capsized, most likely he would have not be able to self rescue (I know the guy and I have never seen him be able to get back in the kayak without great assistance).

While some informal paddling groups advocate for self reliance and involve paddlers that take the responsibility to look after themselves, a Club usually also caters for paddlers that need assistance.
The Club outings of low skill level/grading are aimed for beginners/non skilled paddlers.
Is it not the imperative responsibility of the Leader of that pod to have a watchful eye on all participants and make sure that at no time they should be left at their own devices?
An experienced Club Leader once said: "
Everything is OK until it goes wrong "
Lets hope that his prediction never happens.

I now wonder what is the view of other paddlers and instructors on group size.

*1 http://www.laurieford.net/sadnsw.htm FEB01

PS 09FEB10

6 NSWSKC separate pods congregate at a common destination
At Umina's Rock&Roll 2009 it was interesting to see that despite large number of paddlers participating in on-water activities, strict pod numbers were always observed.
If the pod was too large to paddle safely it was divided in two and two certified leaders appointed.
The briefing was separate and independent form each other, the route taken was independent and separate, the only thing common was the destination.
Pod group ratio was observed at all times as per Australian Canoeing guidelines.

08 February 2010

TRIP: when it rains it pours

Just some fun pictures of paddling in a squall.
Full trip report by Adveturetess: here

Vansticking in the squall (c)

when it rains it pours (c)
30 knots headwind, great conditions for traditional paddles which are not affected by wind

01 February 2010

Technique: low deck rolling

Finally I am moving forward with my technique.
I am not sure why my kayaking skills learning is rather slow: is it that "you can't teach an old dog new tricks" or is it that my coordination is not that great (I still laugh at myself when I tried to dance, once :-).
Recently I have progressed from my basic sweep roll to a Greenland roll.
While I get the idea of that roll, I would not exactly call it performed flawlessly.
I watch Greg Schwarz dance in his Nordkapp LV; such grace.
I also know that Greg does a fair bit of yoga, something that I stay away from.
He is much more "bendy" that I am and it shows in his balanced brace.
While Adventuretess does not do much yoga she still rolls much nicer than me, any day.
Am I destined to be a klutz roller for the rest of my paddling life?
Maybe, but there could be a reason that Greg and Adventuretess can pull off some rolls with such finesse.

Greg performing an "elbow crook roll"
I can not lay on the back of my kayaks!
Since my legs are rather chunky I tend to fit production kayaks with higher decks.
Higher in the front for my legs and feet usually translates higher in the back.
Greg and Adventuretess mainly paddle lower rear deck kayaks: a Nordkapp LV.
While Adventuretess has so far rolled any kayak that she has sat in (including some real barges out there) she definitely prefers rolling her low volume Nordkapp.
I have recently removed the factory seat from her kayak and replaced it with a custom made one.
Yesterday, I tried her kayak again: I now can almost fit in it.
My legs can jam under the thigh braces very snugly.
While I would not want that fit for hours on end I thought I would try some rolls in her kayak.
Hello Dubside!
What a difference! No longer am I hitting my back square in the middle while trying to lay lower on the deck ( I still can't get out of the seat and totally lay low on the deck though).
My rolls were easy. Compared to my NorthSea, the Nordkapp LV just seems to roll by itself.
So while I was at it I wanted to try the elusive butterfly roll.
And after a few tries I understood the paddle position needed for that roll and pulled off a couple of decent ones (I know: more grunt than style, but hey, gotta start somewhere :-).

I am now looking for a low rear deck kayak.
I was hoping to fit in the Tahe Marine T but the importer assures me that it is smalled than other kayaks that I don't fit.
Would a custom skin on frame be my only solution?