30 August 2011

TEST: waterproof camera drop

I have convinced myself that there is no durable waterproof compact camera on the market yet. These so called waterpoof cameras don't last if used regularly for sea kayaking. Corrosion creeps past the pretty external metal shell and kills the internal electonic components.
I have however never tested if they are as tough as they claim to be.
Only one way to find out...
Tough and FT2_c

While the test was more for "effect" than a scientific experiment it appears that the two candidates can survive normal drops even on concrete.
A typical accident would be slipping the camera out of my hand and onto the ground. Most times the hight would be around 3 feet. But what happens when the camera hits the ground from 6 feet? or even higher like 10 feet and 20 feet?
Watch and be amazed :-)

Surprisingly these so called "waterproof" cameras did not explode like most other compact cameras would. Only the tiny sticker on the selector dial of the Olympus Tough came flying off (at 1:13); no other bits broke off the two cameras.
At 10 feet I managed to crack the lens cover on the Tough, after 3 drops.
Tough 8000_2_c
glass lens cover cracked at 10 feet drop
At 20 feet things got out of shape, I mean the poor camera bodies compressed so badly that permanently deformed the case.
camera body defomed and no longer aligned with front plate
Tough 8000_1_c
metal corner compressed and deformed from repeated 20 feet drops
Unfortunately I was unable to veryfy if the cameras were still working after each drop: corrosion claimed their respective "ghosts" long time ago :-)


24 August 2011

GEAR: the Birthday Rolls counter

I was getting dizzy and closer to my goal but I didn’t know for sure if I hit my target; I had lost count of my rolls.
It has become customary that when one of the senior paddlers in our group celebrates his/her birthday rolls must be performed.
A tradition started by Adventuretess that has gained popularity and is now religiously observed: one must perform a kayak roll for every year he/she celebrates (plus one for good luck).
Concentrating on keeping my rolls going in the rather nippy water I lost count of how many I still had to do.
I could cheat (nobody was really counting, they were all busy busting out their own rolls) but hey, we are an honest bunch and the Birthday Rolls are a serious matter to us.
So our ever ingenius collective mind, fuelled by friendly banter, suddenly came up with the idea to create a “rollometer”
We need something that will count how many revolutions a kayak makes.
Unaware of the existence of such a gizmo I thought that modifying a “step counter” (device used for walking, favoured by seniors) could work for sea kayaking.

I had a step counter laying around (schwag collected at a trade show) that my engineer promptly disassembled and modified.
The step counter has a spring that holds the contact separated. A relatively firm jolt is needed to create the contact and trigger the counter.
When rolling there is no such jolt (as when walking) and the spring had to be de-tuned and made really “soft”.
We disassembled the step counter, re-soldered the spring/contact and luckily everything fit back together again.
Now the counter adds correctly even when simply inverted, not just when jolted.
A waterproof container with a viewing window was needed so it would be easy to see the progress of the rolls. A small clear dry bag (the ones used for waterproofing a cell phone) is used to keep the roll-counter in sight on the kayak's deck so progress can be monitored.

Now there are no ifs or buts anymore; the counter doesn’t lie. I must do all of my rolls or there is no cake for me later :-)


22 August 2011

Photo: surfing fun

Greg surfing_1_c
using a hollow core WRC Greenland paddle

Greg Schwarz all smiles in the breaking waves.


16 August 2011

VIDEO: Surfing with Northern Light GP

After a few weeks of initial testing in calm waters, I finally had the opportunity to take the Northern Light Greenland paddle sea kayak surfing. I have been very impressed with my first trial with the paddle, and following a weekend camping trip I was eager to see if the Northern Light three piece Greenland paddle would be a good paddle for dynamic water.
Adventuretess, Stevatron and I wanted to see how that paddle compared to the traditional paddles we usually take for surfing.
We took along the Northern Light, the Black Stick (by Greg Schwarz) and the laminated Aleut WRC by Vanstix.

The Vanstix Aleut paddle is a solid performer when short bursts and powerful strokes are needed. I am used to it, while Stevatron found the loom a bit thick for his liking. Adventuretess didn’t use the Aleut that day.
Stevatron usually paddles with a Mitchell GP where the loom is small in diameter compared to a typical traditional paddle, not unlike the shaft of a Euro paddle.
He initially felt that the loom on the NLP was a tad chunky, and concerned with its comfort due to the pronounced squareness of the loom. However, after an hour of surfing his initial impression changed, comfort no longer a concern, and he thought that the paddle gave him a very positive and solid feeling. He thought that surfing with the NLP was great and the paddle gave him enough bite to catch even small waves. He was not keen to give up the paddle and hand it back to me for my trial.

I felt immediately at ease with the NLP.
I was now used to the loom’s oval shape and I was just concentrating on catching small waves that didn’t have much power in them requiring furious stokes to catch. These are the types of waves which require a very fast cadence and lots of continuous stress on a paddle! Then I moved on to bigger waves for nice long runs.
Before I acquired the Northern Light paddle, I have been using the Black Stick as my main GP and I was apprehensive that my “taste” was spoiled by such a perfect example. The paddles are different. But it is difficult for me to say that one is any better than the other.
The Northern Light seems to have just a little bit more surface area and perhaps made catching waves a fraction easier but it’s hard to quantify such perception…
I noticed that I could be a bit lazier with my technique to get full power out that blade. Again I think that those small longitudinal inverted ridges reduce the need for a perfect canted stroke to have maximum benefit and avoid flutter. The NLP under power feels just as good as the Aleut and the Black Stick. It is close enough that it would be very difficult to say that one paddle would be any better than the other in conditions.

Powering on the paddle felt solid and I certainly I didn’t feel any alarming flex that some thinly laminated commercial GPs have.
I didn’t have to hold back with this carbon paddle!
High braces when broached felt supported. The advantage to me of a Greenland paddle in the surf is that I don’t get my arm forced into a hyper extended position in a possible dislocation move. In the surf, where my arms just seem to get ripped away from my body when hit by the full force of the wave, I believe that a GP can be safer creating less of a damaging uplifting force. In my opinion the GP is gentler on my body compared to a Euro.

The NLP got it’s “baptism by fire” and the 3 piece joints held up very well. I feel no wobble in the paddle. From what I have seen, not all Greenland paddles can be used for surfing. The NLP certainly can. Only a long test will determine if the paddle will survive a season of trashing. Hopefully I will be able to report that this paddle is really bombproof.
Since my initial review on Northern Light and my enthusiasm for this 3 piece Greenland paddle, Paul contacted me and asked if I would like to be an “Ambassador” for Northern Light Paddles. When asked what this means exactly Paul responded and I quote:

“I would like to have someone in Australia with no commercial interests with a couple of my paddles. Use the paddles as you would any other paddle. Give me honest and detailed feedback. Make them reasonably available to anyone who may be interested in trying one out. I do not and would never expect you to alter your opinion of the paddle to anyone who asks. Does this sound like something you could live with?”

Someone wants to give me a couple of paddles and does not mind if I trash them (and in fact encourages it: treat them like "rentals"), and wants me to let others use them if they wish. In return he asks for nothing more than an honest opinion about the quality and strength and wants to list me as someone who has the paddles in Australia if someone in the area wants to try one out? Yes I think I can do that :-)
Anyone wanting to try one out can contact me and arrange a test paddle. 

In the future I will report on my findings on the Northern Light Aleut.


09 August 2011

VIDEO: Black Water Sticking.

When introducing prospective future paddlers to sea kayaking their very first impression is often the most memorable one. If the experience is positive there is a good chance that they might consider pursuing the sport.
With that in mind I wanted to make my friend's first time in a sea kayak the best possible ever, after all they were bringing a "cake" to help me celebrate my birthday.
And since they have not paddled any real distance before and were not too familiar with the equipment I opted to loan them my spare traditional paddles.
Noticeably there were no embarrassing moments where a novice can hold a Euro style paddle back to front or upside down; traditional paddles are much easier to use, even for beginners.

But what really surprised me was that my friends kept a very respectable pace for the sustained duration (20Km) of the trip.
Their stroke appeared to be relatively natural (given it was their first time) and there was not stumbling or fumbling to cause an accidental mishap.
It was mainly smiles all the way.

I celebrated my birthday in style: for me there is nothing better than camping with trusted friends in a location where there are no man made noises, no neighbours and no walls.
I defaulted on my duties though: I didn’t do my birthday rolls on the day but redeemed myself the following Sunday pulling off my first clumsy roll with a Norsaq (actually a rolling stick, gift from Stika)

07 August 2011

PHOTO: paddling at sunset

Sunset paddling_1_c

Half of me was saying: is not worth it, the other half: don't be lazy...
I only had less than an hour of light left before darkness and I was not sure if getting the kayaks to the water and dressing myself was going to pay off the effort.
The motorboats gone, it was an almost windless evening. A couple of eagles were still soaring hoping to get dinner while small fish were jumping out from the golden water, in front of our bows.
The sky turned slowly a faint pink to later fade into a deeper purple.
There was nothing to disturb this idyllic moment.
All I could hear was the rhythmical, almost silent, gentle splash of my paddle.
The perfect way to finish the day.


03 August 2011

FAIL: sail set up

I have noticed an increase in popularity of the single-mast sails for sea kayaking. I find the forward (of the hatch) mounted sail to be the easiest and most efficient sail to use while paddling.
I never liked the twin mast one and even less the step mast ones where the sail would interfere with my paddling stroke.
I believe that a collapsible mast is a safe sail too, taking only a split second to depower when the wind suddenly becomes just too strong to sail.
I currently use Flat Earth Sails and while they are more efficient than similar style sails (lateen) they require thoughtful mounting.
I have seen and read about sails that have failed when the breeze picked up above 15 knots; surprisingly those failures could have been avoided if the sailor would have set them up correctly.

A single mast sail should be kept as vertical as possible when sailing since tilting the kayak away from the breeze usually spills the wind and slows the boat down.
While often unavoidable, a paddler should counteract the heeling of the kayak to maintain proper balance and forward momentum.
When I set up a sail on my kayaks I take a fair amount of time to create the perfect-length stays. I  secure high quality line (always Dyneema) to a very solid anchor on deck.
My anchors are spaced widely apart on the edge of the kayak's deck. Using existing deck fitting for anchors only works if they are in the right spot.Early experimentation demonstrated that stays too close to the base will not keep the mast upright.
Proper length stays are a critical component to successful sailing.
As unsolicited advice can be met with contempt, I often refrain from commenting (on the spot) when I see a set up destined to fail.
I have witnessed stays attached to the kayak's perimeter lines because the owner didn't want/care to create proper anchors for the stays.
When perimeter lines do stretch under the strain of the wind the mast would then often collapse.

not so good set up
Needless to say the paddler would then blame the sail manufacturer and tout that his sails are rubbish.

So how do you set up the sail to keep up in strong winds?
I mentioned Dyneema line, in my opinion the crucial part. Nylon stretches when wet and elongates under load.
Secondly I make sure that the stays are just a bit on the short side. When the wind loads the sail the polymer mast joiner (base) deforms a bit and compresses. A stay that is a bit too long would then angle the mast precariously.
sail set up
sail about to collapse
Lastly I make sure that the deck of my kayaks don't flex under the base of the mast.
Most kayaks' decks are not designed to take a concentrated load in one spot. Peaked decks are better but often still not strong enough.
Since I don't like creating metal plates externally under the mast's base, I prefer to reinforce the deck of the kayak internally. A few layers of quality fibreglass cloth (even carbon, if I have any scraps laying around) make a much neater set up than agricultural looking metal plates, in my opinion, and lighter.
Tess with FEKS (c)
sail set up with mast in upright position
I use quality cleats that keep the uphaul line in position. I hate nylon cleats that let the rope slip.
A tensioned uphaul will keep the mast upright.
And finally the fasteners that keep the stays attached to the deck anchors.
I don't use snap links and even less clasps.
Nothing is more solid, secure and unobtrusive than a proper small "D" shackle.
It might take a second longer to secure it but I am positively sure it won't let go.

So, if your sail set up has failed you consider checking the above pointers.
If any other cause is not keeping your sail upright I might be able to advise you on a solution.

JUL 2012: updates on sail set up here