28 May 2010

GEAR: Reed spraydecks and clothing

Aquatherm is a unique fabric used by Reed Chillcheater to make kayak spraydecks and clothing.
Like no other fabric on the market it addresses a couple of very important features.
The fabric is firstly waterproof but also breathable.
Many fabrics have achieved that (Gore-Tex for example) but what sets Aquatherm apart from the other fabrics is its elasticity.
Almost as stretchy as Lycra the fabric is coated with a unique rubber-like membrane that makes it waterproof and windproof.

What ultimately distinguishes it is the ability to dry very fast compared to other fabrics.
Since the outside of the fabric is smooth (no knit) the rubber sheds water like nothing else.
The face fabric does not saturate with water that would take a long time to dry.
After a few minutes my Aquatherm gear is touch dry.
So what's the big deal of keeping the fabric dry; isn't it enough that water does not get to your body?
You might have noticed how a wet garment chills you when saturated with water if the air is chilly and there is a bit of wind.
Think of a wet T-shirt in a bit of a breeze...
The evaporative action (fabric drying) uses an incredible amount of energy (heat) and that translates to heat loss and therefore the cooling effect.
Just like a "swamp cooler" works on that principle to cool the air, the wet fabric is cooling your body.
Sounds desirable in the heat of summer, but it can prove to be a real bummer (often more than that) when temperatures are in the low teens (centigrade).
paddling away (c)
With winter approaching, fellow novice paddlers are seeking recommendations on suitable paddling attire.
While I also own a Gore-Tex paddling jacket I always reach for the Reed gear.
Aquatherm tops are excellent for rolling too since they are so much less bulky than a jacket.
Even though they don't keep me dry when rolling (water still goes down my neck) they are excellent for cruise paddling.
In a jacket (unless it's a "dry" top) the sleeves fill up with water and rarely drain..
Van floating (c)
Being breathable they keep the "steam" that I exert from my body away from my skin keeping my underlayer (when cold) dry.
I find Aquatherm suited for mild weather (read Queensland winter); if necessary I layer with a thin fleece underneath.

Reed also makes spray decks.
Sunset while rafted up (c)
If Aquatherm is excellent to keep me warm as a garment, it excels to keep me cool when used in a spray skirt.
How can that be?

As mentioned, the fabric "breathes" and prevents the steam to build under the enclosed deck.
Since I have been using Reed spray decks I have been much more comfortable when paddling in the heat of summer (30C-86F). I no longer feel the little rivulets of sweat drip along my legs...
I am not sure how warm the skirt would be in really cold waters (Qld ocean temps rarely drop below 20C) but its perfectly suited for my paddling conditions.

Now the bad part; there always is one :-)
User reviews say that Aquatherm skirts are not as durable as good quality neoprene skirts.
Despite the manufacturer claiming that they are 5 times more abrasion resistant than neo, I have not found that.
The fabric is rather thin and its fairly easy to puncture when assisting rescues and sliding the rescued kayak over the cockpit rim. I am not the only one lamenting this problem.
Furthermore, a couple of skirts have delaminated prematurely.

While Reed does offer a 12 month warranty against manufacturing defects, it is the fabric in some skirts that failed, in some cases before warranty ran out.
Reed is happy to replace them only within the specified warranty period.
I was hoping that my skirts would last longer than 12 months and that I should not need to replace them soon after.
Interestingly enough only some skirts are effected by this.
Could it be that there was a bad batch of fabric and that the local retailer got the bulk of those defective skirts?
Will I replace the Reed skirts with the same one?
Yes. I will give Aquatherm another go and hopefully my problem was isolated.
The fabric is just too good to go back to neoprene.
Tess with Black Stick_2(c)

24 May 2010

Black Stick by Greg Schwarz

Schwarz_Black Stick_4_lg (c)

The latest creation from Greg Schwarz: a high density laminated balsa core with carbon skin Greenland paddle.
If his previous hollow core paddles were art this one is pure magic.
This is a one-off (not a production paddle) since it takes an insane amount of time to manufacture.
Schwarz_Black Stick_3 (c)

The Black Stick is a paddle like no other I have tried.
The surface is extremely smooth but not totally mirror shiny.
Greg finished the paddle with a coat of boiled linseed oil to give it a bit of grip.
I found the paddle to have no slip with my gloves on while others said that it felt less grippy than a non-shiny timber GP.

The shoulders of the paddle have a rather soft transition from the loom and sliding the hand to the blade is noticeable but not "notchy".
Surprisingly the paddle displays relative good flex considering it is skinned with carbon fiber.
Other carbon GPs I have tried were more rigid and a hollow carbon one was particularly stiff and noisy.
Paddling with the Black Stick had a similar feel of solid timber.
Black Stick_2 (c)
This paddle is slightly different in shape to Greg Schwarz's timber hollow core one: a slightly more pronounced ridge makes just a bit more diamond shaped.
I believe that it offers a more neutral feel and less canting is needed to avoid flutter.
It gave me a very reassuring feedback and compared to Greg's timber ones it was easier to use, considering my rather limited time since I have swapped from Euro style paddles to GP.
I thought it required a bit more precise technique than my Aleut paddles (which have a strong dihedral ridge) but less than a flatter faced GP. A beginner would probably find this paddle easier to use.
Rolling with this paddle is outstanding.
It offers ample buoyancy and the blades, having a rather fine edge, allowed for superb sculling.

It is butter smooth through the water offering very good lift.
Black Stick_1 (c)
The Black Stick made my limited sculling skills look so much better than when I use an Aleut paddle :-)
However it still does not offer the raw power of the Aleut.
Vanstix have more surface area than the GPs I own and consequently will still probably be my choice for confused waters or surf play.
Interestingly enough most paddlers transitioning from Euro paddles seem to prefer the Aleut ones (myself included).
Once the paddlers become accustomed to the new paddling style, Greenland paddles seem to be easier to use than earlier on.
Just like kayaks: each one has its own strength and best suited for a particular situation/style.
The Black Stick complements my fast expanding quiver of traditional paddles and possibly might become my favorite all rounder.

11 May 2010

Sea kayak rental

When travelling abroad to remote locations it's not always possible to transport your favorite kayak with you.
One option is to rent locally, if possible.
However the style of kayak that you might end up is not always what you expect :-)

inspecting a "caballito"

click on images for larger view

*all photos: M. Visocnik_ used with permission