28 June 2010

Feedback and advice: which boat is right for me?

From a recent email to Gnarlydog News:
G'day Mate,
...I love the ocean paddles, my boat is a second hand plastic Tasman Express.
Having no knowledge of what to buy as a kayak I bought the first boat I saw.
The Tasman has done me proud and I am now looking to upgrade to glass.
I became a member of the sea kayak forum a short while ago and love everything on it, but yesterday I decided to have a look at your blog.
I have never had a look at anything like it before, I have to say I am blown away by your fantastic writings and knowledge.
I can hardly get away from the pc because you have so much for a bloke like me to read and study.
... I have paddled the new P.H. Cetus, a Valley, Shearwater, Tui, Sea Bear, Raider x and express, I can't make up my mind on what to buy and after reading just a small portion of all your information I am back at stage one....
Half an hour ago I read about how you made a new seat and a new back support and also the water storage system behind your seat.
Bloody hell, I'm out of me depth here I thought, this bloke Gnarly dog is a Whiz kid, how fantastic is your knowledge and the ability to pass it on to people like me.
My skill level is at the stage where I want a skeg boat because even in the Tasman I don't use the rudder unless I need it and that is only because the Tasman does not like a side wind, the rudder generally has to be used, except on the day where it packed up in two metre seas and twenty knot winds and I still paddled without the rudder by just sweeping and edging.
Now that was one hell of a day over thirty kms in heavy conditions, loved it...

....Do I just continue on trying out different boats till I feel comfortable with the way I handle it, do I buy a rudder or a skeg boat, remembering our conditions in the West similar to all Aust. Terry (...) has told me not to buy a boat without a rudder because why should I have to edge a boat and use a paddle to brace etc. when I can just move my big toe and the boat will steer.
That's Terry's thoughts and as you probably know he has done many thousands of miles in a kayak...
My idea is: I want to work on getting my skill level as high as possible.
I love the rough conditions and love winter paddling because my skill level accelerates pretty quick in the rough.
Les's boat looks and goes well with the people that bought one, and if I get one off him it will be custom made to suit me, my build and skills and be light enough for an old bloke like me to lift...

After all this writing here it only comes down to me wanting to say G'day to you and thank you for such an interesting reading blog.
Any ideas on boats etc will be appreciated, and I have weeks more reading to do just on your own web site...
Thanks again.

<< Dear "Reader",
thank you for your email and for your comments.
While some of my thoughts are somehow expressed in my blog there are a lot of ideas that I don't want to publish since a lot of paddlers (especially local ones) might get offended.
Please remember that in the end they are just the opinions of an average paddler with no formal qualifications.
I have however always had a critical eye for technical things.
While the industry tries to accommodate for so many different styles and tastes occasionally they produce untested or badly designed gear.

From what you say, you seem to be very active in the outdoors (way more than myself as weekend warrior).
I am familiar with only some of the boats that you mention: Cetus, Seabear, RaiderX.
You probably know my opinion about rudders: they are great for racing or comfortable cruising.
My skeg kayaks are generally slower and more demanding.
I often compare the two to cars: stick shift versus automatic.
What would I rather have? on a winding mountain road? or in day-to-day city traffic?
While I would love to drive a racy car on traffic-less sweeping-corners road the reality is that I drive an automatic car in city traffic.
Why? Because it’s easier than clutching and shifting gears all the time.
What has that got to do with kayaks?
For me paddling is fun, not just going form A to B with the minimal fuss.
If I paddled the way I drive chances are my kayaks would have a rudder.

rough waters (c)
I like to maneuver my kayak with my body, roll and occasionally surf. A ruddered boat is not generally ideally designed for that.
I had ruddered kayaks and they were good but not for what I wanted to do.
If my goal would be covering long distances in rather non demanding conditions with the minimum input from the paddler (myself) I would use a ruddered kayak.
I also have broken a few rudders in surf, but never a skeg.

Currumbin_surfing5 (C)
I cut myself on rudders in choppy waters, I damaged boats when rafted up with rudders and I caught towing lines in rudders… they just aren’t for me.
I do however use a bit more effort in edging my skegged kayaks in following seas while cross winds are taken care with the deployment of the skeg.
While ruddered kayaks are often the preferred choice for some expeditioners, just as often I see skegged boats used for demanding long trips too.
It’s a personal choice.
I do however have strong reservations towards ruddered kayaks that are very difficult to paddle in conditions (wind or waves) with the rudder retracted.
Storm kyking (c)
Imagine a rudder failure (quite an occurrence) on a long trip.
Most skegged kayaks are relatively easy to paddle with a malfunctioning skeg (has not happen to me yet) while most rudder dependant kayaks are sometimes impossible, when windy.

A kayak should be your choice not somebody else’s.
What suits very well one paddler does not necessarily suit me. Boat fit, weight and skill level will dictate what the perfect boat is for you.
And "perfect" is only a perceived attribute that will probably last for a relatively short time.
As my skills progressed and my objectives changed the “perfect boat” suddenly became limiting or boring.
I have owned only a limited number of boats and I can see myself getting a few more (maybe selling the current ones, one day….) as my skills will progress and my goals will change.
Will I own a ruddered boat again?
I can’t see that happening right now, maybe in the future if I become lazy and I want to take it easy. I can't see myself racing :-)

Once you have decided on the style of kayak you want/need for the goals you have in mind, boat fit should be the deciding factor.
I like good contact with my upper thighs (not knees) on the thigh braces (some cockpits lack decent thigh braces, some don’t have thigh braces altogether).

Sean's Arctic Raider_braces
I also like a bit of wiggle room for my legs too.
A kayak that finds me with the legs always stretched out to the floor is going to cramp me.
For a kayak that I spend paddling all day I like to see a bit of a bend in my knees.
While a comfortable seat does not determine the ultimate purchase (I have the skills to fabricate one that fits me) a person without the ability of customizing a seat should be wary of the seat that gives the dreaded “dead legs”.
And finally I look at the boat’s strength.
I have occasionally discarded a boat that I loved test paddling but that in my opinion was badly constructed.
While I can reinforce/modify/repair a kayak, I think that an top price brand new kayak should be right from the get-go and not spend weeks in my garage getting reinforced/modified.

Thank you for reading GnarlydogNews.

Best Regards.


PS I would like to publish in GnarlydogNews your query (part of it) and my answer to you.
I would like to maintain your anonymity though...

21 June 2010

Surfing with a stick

Defying popular belief that traditional paddles are just for show and really not suitable for rougher waters, I have been using Vanstix (Aleut paddles) for small surf fun for some time now.
through the surf with the stick_lg (c)

Van stick surfing (c)
Vanilla carving it with a Vanstix
Surfing with a traditional paddle: works for me...

reversing on wave (c)
Adventuretess with a 'Greg Schwarz' hollow core GP

here I am using a Black Stick by Greg Schwarz
brace turning (c)

11 June 2010

SHOP: joiner for a timber paddle

It's been more than a year since I have happily transitioned from Euro paddles to traditional paddles and I have not looked back.
One advantage that my former paddles have over my sticks is the ability to split the paddle in half to be able to store it on the deck of the kayak.
While some split GPs are available locally reports say that they aren't all that strong.
So, I have decided to make my own split traditional paddle.
I wanted a simple joiner that would require minimal fuss and no need to source special parts overseas.
I decided on a simple stainless steel bolt and (long) nut system.
While very primitive compared to some other offerings it is dead simple to install.
The loom of a traditional paddle is not round like in a Euro one but oval or tear shaped.
I measured the half way point of my Vanstix and cut it carefully in half.
Then I reduced the diameter of the loom in two progressive steps
I needed to reinforce the ends of the split paddle or any inserted fitting would compromise the strength of the loom.
Two staggered layers of carbon sleeve were epoxied onto the recessed loom.
The second sock layer protruded beyond the recess and later was sanded down.
Once the resin cured I cut the carbon sleeve flush.
I then removed 1 cm of the timber at the end of the cut loom leaving just the thin carbon sleeve.
An oversized tapered hole was drilled into the centre of the cut loom, deep enough to accommodate the long sleeve/nut.
I filled the hole with a mix of thick epoxy glue (microfibre filler) tinted black.
I threaded the sleeve/nut onto a long bolt and sunk it into the hole making sure that the resin would fully encase the stainless steel hardware.
The temporary bolt was greased up so it would not stick to the epoxy mix and be removable.
excess epoxy mix to be sanded back once cured
I positioned the paddle horizontally clamping it to a work bench.
I supported the bolt with a spacer to make sure it would be positioned parallel to the loom.
Once cured I removed the bolt and sanded the end surface smooth and square to the loom.
I repeated the same procedure on the other half this time inserting the cut-down stainless steel bolt.
bolt end squared to be glued into epoxy mix
I filled the second half with epoxy mix and joined the two halves to create a uniform joined surface.
I waxed up the first half of the paddle to prevent it from gluing together to the second half.
excess epoxy mix spilling as the two halves are brought together
After the resin cured the paddle was separated and a very thin plastic spacer inserted as mating spacer to create a very positive joiner when the paddle is assembled.
This paddle joiner worked out great.
I am now working on a different style split that requires a lathe to fabricate the carbon joiner pieces.

02 June 2010

Gnarlydog News advertising philosophy

Gnarlydog News following has grown in recent times.
It captures the attention of readers around the world and some seem to really like my postings.
The blog's popularity (still very meager compared to some teen based topic related blogs) has attracted the attention of some commercial operators.
I have been asked a few times if I would be interested in promoting, reviewing or advertising certain products or services.
While I love to test new products that personally interest me, I have declined offers that don't follow my philosophy.
I prefer to review items that I would personally use.
I have rejected requests to advertise products that don't meet my criteria of solid design and construction.
I have also declined to advertise for services that I don't believe in.
You might also have noticed that some of my reviews are not all honky dory and occasionally I don't exactly praise or hold back on a product that has failed on me.
I try to give you, the reader, an honest opinion of what I think.
While the web might be full of reviews for certain items that you would like to know the durability/performance of, just about all reviews seem commissioned.
There are several magazines that do the same: stellar reviews on ALL the products they test...
Hmmm, does not that smell a bit fishy to you? ...it does to me ;-)

Occasionally Forum/Blog administrators will pull non favorable comments from end users that may damage the advertising of a certain manufacturer.
It is rather difficult to get an honest opinion these days.
Some advertising masquerades behind "reviews" from consumers however for me it's often easy to spot the story that reeks of commission.
You will hear from me when I like a product but at the same time I will also let you know if something just ain't right...
I might not win myself any favors with some manufacturers (or individuals) but I won't say something that is not true.

"The currently fashionable idea that marketers can manipulate social media to serve their needs is largely a delusion. Yes, there will be isolated successes. But most web users are far too savvy to confuse honest social commentary with contrived social media "marketing." Social media is currently an effective way for companies to maintain good customers relations, and for smallish retailers to deliver sales promotion messages. "
(from The Ad Contrarian 25MAY10)