19 December 2013

Technique: Greenland paddle speed

A debate rivaled only by the skeg-versus-rudder one has been nagging a few proponents from both camps: the diminutive minority of Greenland paddle users and the more popular wing ones.
There have been a few strong opinions over the last couple of months about the power and versatility (or lack of) of Greenland paddles.
Comments from both camps, (actually all three including Euro style) appeared on Forums and a few misconceptions remain.

Khatsalano in Greenland
Photo: Doug Simpson
Greenland paddles are deemed positively inferior by some paddlers when it comes to speed (among other things) with their supporting evidence being the measured speed (fact).
However we often forget that performance can be a subjective thing where one might find a tool better than the other for his/her skill level, strength and style of paddling.
The drive to categorically dismiss a paddle as inferior is often the erroneous desire to emulate the "big" guys and acquire the very same tools that their heroes use.
Often however these specialized tools might not fit the casual approach to paddling that so many kayakers have, leading to disappointing results.
As disappointment seems a hard reality to accept I see too often persistence with a paddle that clearly does not fit the user and his/her style of kayaking.

The perception that a tool alone was going to make a marked difference and make an average paddler a faster/more skilled one is way too common in so many sports.
I have seen it in bicycle riding where wanting to emulate a hero the weekend warrior purchases the incredibly overbuilt downhill mountain bike rig to then only ride mellow fire roads, to skiers on the slope sporting very stiff and long skis designed for high speed close-track conditions being used for Sunday crowded intermediate slopes; there are examples in all sports.
I see the same happening with kayakers where a slow paddler wants to buy a longer kayak thinking that they will then be able to hold pace with a moderate-speed group of paddlers. A shorter kayak in reality serves them better than a long one, for casual paddling.
A limited skilled kayaker buys a playful boat thinking that it will make him an ace in the rough waters;  an arm paddler thinks she will improve her speed by using a wing paddle.
All these wonderful tools mean very little in the hands of paddlers that lack the skills to actually get the benefit from these tools.

Photo: Peter Sandström

Back to the Greenland paddle: why is it such a slow paddle?
It is only slow because it is used by slow paddlers using the wrong technique.

Years ago I gave the wing a go and I totally sucked with it: I spent a whole weekend with it to get an understanding.
I now laugh at myself thinking that I would be able to go much faster with my slow kayak using a wing paddle and understood nothing about its potential and proper use.
I also thought that spending a whole two days was sufficient time to get a feel for it when really it might take me years to actually get any decent results from such a specialized tool.
Like any new kayak that I acquire I understand that it takes time to learn the new balance points and quirky traits, the same applied when trying a Greenland paddle.
And despite a few years of exclusive use of the stick only now I am starting to get some results and I am confident using that paddle in all conditions.

So how could I discard that wing paddle so soon?

Owen showing why wing paddles are better than Greenland paddles
Photo: EKSydney
After some research I realized that wing paddles were designed for sprinting and while some kayakers are using them for general paddling I don’t have the same goals that they have.
I want a tool that is easy to use, reliable in the surf and gentle on the body.
It appears that the wing requires strong body rotation (something that I lack) high angle strokes (something that I don’t favour) and even the best paddlers deem them not that suitable for surf work (an environment that I enjoy).

But am I any slower by using a Greenland paddle? was the question that was bugging me and I had to find out.

Surfing NL GP_1_c

Since I have been using the Greenland paddle my speed has not really increased (maybe it has but I don’t have a way to measure that) however I have not been falling behind when going on outings with my paddling buddies using Euro paddles.
One thing I do notice however is how relaxed my body feels compared to using Euro paddles, while paddling and afterwards; no more wrist and elbow pain.
Greg Stamer, a world class paddlers that uses both wing and Greenland paddles (and a strong advocate for Greenland paddles) says:

For short races, under 10 miles, in flat conditions, with a skilled and fit paddler,  a wing paddle is usually faster.  I paddle with both a GP and a wing. I find that I’m roughly two minutes faster per mile with a wing (unladen kayak, flat conditions). This however, is not a perfect comparison because my fastest kayaks (e.g. Epic 18x) are wide and deep as compared to my normal Greenland kayaks, and would benefit from a longer paddle and longer loom than I have now.

My shoulders can handle a Greenland paddle much longer than a large wing, but that might not be true of everyone. 
In Iceland, Freya was often slightly faster with her large wing in calmer water. When it was rougher, I was slightly faster.  We finished at the same pace and same time. I still feel much safer in rough conditions with a Greenland paddle in my hands. 

Greg Stamer
Photo: Kam

But could I be really fast with a Greenland paddle if I wanted?
Could I hold pace to racers if I had a fast boat and got off the doughnuts and did some training instead of just playing in my kayak?

Start of Year_c

So what is the potential speed that I could achieve from a Greenland paddle?
If I took care of my canted stroke and studied the real masters of Greenland paddling I could real motor on the water. I could go way faster than anybody in the bay, with certainty. But I don’t.
What is holding me back is technique indeed, not my tool.

Maligiaq Padilla, the undisputed Greenland champion, has this to say:

1999 I was training for Sea kayak world championship, I took a class for wing paddles, I had it and use it, but cannot really comfortable with it, I choose to use my Greenland paddle.
For the world class 500m sprint I came #8 for the 32km #12 for 60km #7 I was pretty happy with the result, by the time my max speed was only 8,3 mph, I was the only one who use that stick.

2000 I went to Miami kayak challenge for 5 mile race, using Greenland paddle and Surfski
I came 1st their were several pro paddlers was there.

So I would just say, depends on skill level and experience and Greenland paddle is good for anything.

There I had is spelled out for me: if I want to go fast I have to better my skills, not just get perceived better tools.

Greenland Paddling Success
Photo: Fat Paddler

PS Greg Stamer says:
regarding the record set by Joe O’Blenis, the previous record for Vancouver Island was set by Sean Morely. Sean used a Nordkapp kayak and a wing paddle.  

10 December 2013

VIDEO: Surfing Vixen

My new kayak is tippy, with me on board.
A narrow beam and a deep V hull give me less initial stability but allow slightly higher speeds.
I have used the Johan Wirsen designed XP on the bay a few times; in milder conditions I chased the little short wind waves with ease as I can glide where usually I can’t with my other kayaks.
In steeper waves however the longer and less rockered kayak becomes more difficult to keep straight on the short waves. The bow seems to get caught in the wave in front of me while the stern is still getting pushed by the following wave, broaching the kayak.
Then every so often I get a decent longer wave and linking the one in front I get a free ride.

Conditions were rather windy with recordings of winds in excess of 25 knots all around the bay. The tidal flow was opposing the wind and the waves were starting to get blown over, flattening them. After an hour of surfing I no longer could paddle out against the wind as it increased beyond my skills: I had to call it quits. I pulled the kayak back to my launching spot and battled the wind trying to keep it in my hands once out of the water. I was tired, a bit frightened but happy to have overcome the initial tippines that I felt in the XP.


04 December 2013

Accessory: Hobkey sea kayak keyring

What is that on your keyring?
Obviously he doesn't know what a sea kayak is, I thought to myself.


It might be a talking point at a party or maybe a way to make myself not fit-in with the cricket loving fans but I like to remind myself of what makes me happy.
Marin from Hobkey has been following my blog for a while and asked me if I was interested in some samples of his unique sea kayak keyrings.
Turns out that he is one of my peeps from the old country and speaks my mother language: Slovenian. A very accomplished sea kayaker and rower himself (check his profile) he is passionate about this non main stream sport of sea kayaking.
He is the distributor of the sea kayak Hobkey and ships them directly to online customers but also wholesales them to retailers around the world.


The miniature kayak is made of PVC and meticulously reproduces a Fish-form skeg kayak with a keyhole cockpit. It really is a good model that almost looks perfectly like one of my kayaks!
The keyring is secured by a crimped stainless steel cable loop making the attachment rather solid. The little kayak is slightly flexible and will not snap when I try to bend it making the pendant durable. Marin's personal Hobkey is well used with a couple of keys rubbing against it and while the paint is getting a little scuffed it is still holding up well.

Is that a canoe?
I rolled my eyes and politely explained: "Close: it actually is a sea kayak..."

02 December 2013

Why a tippy kayak can be a good thing

A few months ago I paddled a new kayak that really impressed me: the XP designed by Johan Wirsen.
He lent me his personal kayak for a 500 km trip along the Swedish East coast. I had never paddled that kayak and I knew it was going to be very different to my British kayaks.
Along the way I really had a chance to test the kayak properly and I fell in love with it. The kayak was loaded with supplies and camping gear and it sat relatively stable in the water; I never had the chance to paddle it unloaded. I really wanted that kayak because it fitted me so well and allowed me to sit with my legs together, not splayed wide to fit under the thigh braces. It paddled with ease and responded very well to edging.
Once back in Australia I was lucky to get hold of a rare ultralight version; the XP is no longer in production because of copyright breach on the part of the manufacturer.
When I finally got to paddle the XP in my local waters I suddenly realized that this was a very different kayak. While the mould and shape were identical to what I had in Sweden I felt that my kayak was now so incredibly twitchy.

  Sculling Vixen_1_c

With its rather deep V hull shape and a narrow beam the unloaded kayak sat very differently on the water.
My first paddle in choppy conditions found me not in the usual relaxed style but I was bracing every so often to avoid falling in. I was concerned that this kayak might get relegated to “calm” days only but I really wanted to use it in all conditions. I took her out on challenging weather and despite feeling uncomfortable and needing to brace often I persisted.
Slowly my body got used to the tippiness and while I am not totally relaxed in her yet I can come back from a paddle no longer white knuckled.
I remember buying a few years ago another kayak (no test paddle) that I was disappointed with: I kept falling in. I was ready to on sell it but somehow persisted and developed the skill to paddle that demanding kayak. It later became my favorite surfing kayak, unfortunately the cockpit does not fit me that well.
As some say there is no such thing as a tippy kayak, just tippy paddlers I find that it takes a bit of time to overcome the initial low initial stability of a narrow hull. What I gain from my new kayak is increased skills and performance on small waves: I can easily surf wind waves that I can not in my British kayaks. While not perfectly suited to all the conditions that Moreton Bay offers (it’s a handful in short steep tidal flow driven waves) I find the performance superior to other kayaks I have.

Jeff Allen in Ocean Paddler magazine writes:
The other point about stable sea kayaks is that, if we take a beginner and put them straight into
a stable design, we gain instant success; they don’t need to learn a high degree of balance or effective bracing, they get away without the need to develop those most fundamental of skills. They develop the strokes in a stable craft /environment, but, when they move onto a more dynamic environment and try a simple sweep stroke in bubbly water, we see them capsize. 
A lack of balance and supporting blade angle are usually the culprit, which would have been their
first lesson had they started the process in a less-than-stable sea kayak. That is quite a radical
thought however, and (I hasten to add) is only my opinion. Much of our industry is based around
maintaining a good client base; happy customers will keep coming back for more.

  Surfing Vixen_3_c

In my previous life I used to ride passionately mountain bikes. My regular riding partner has a similar trail bike to mine. She was usually lagging behind a bit and I had to wait for her on some rides. She then decided to try riding a single speed on hilly trails. I thought she was mad to forego gears and make her riding harder; she sure will be a real drag…
And she was, for a few weeks. Then her technique improved, her riding style changed and her strength increased as she no longer wanted to get off on the hills she could not ride with the single speed. In a month’s time she was on my wheel and soon after she started to leave me behind.
I realized that by making her conditions harder she became a better rider since she wanted to ride that bike and not walk it, while myself I never pushed hard enough riding my geared bike: I could simply downshift on harder terrain. I never had the courage to go singlespeed but I wished I did; I would have ridden those Californian trails with more finesse and strength.

25 November 2013

Photo: sailing fun

It does not have to be epic to bring a smile when sea kayak sailing.
Even light breezes are fun when chasing small waves and feeling my boat glide along with little effort.

Sailing from Peel_c
AdventureTess with Northern Light Greenland paddle and Flat Earth Sails


16 November 2013

Video: Neptun Kajakk

Every so often I come across a kayaking video that leaves me speechless.
And this is one of them:

Norway - Jæren from Roald Holm on Vimeo.

Worth watching in High Definition and full screen, not on a mobile device..


14 November 2013

GEAR: sea kayak sail set up options

I was now heading for the cliffs fast and frantically tried to depower my sail.
I had been sailing in following seas with increasingly stronger winds and having a ball.
My kayak was humming along and surfing from wave to wave; it was one of the most exciting days of a month long trip in the Swedish East coast archipelago.
I was in a borrowed kayak and loaded with a lot of gear and food, my kayak was tracking pretty straight.

FEKS high mount_gdn
borrowed kayaks set up with Flat Earth sails and KariTec hardware

I let go of my main sheet, the rope that holds the boom in position and with the wind from behind the sail swung to the front. I felt relief as my kayak slowed down and I was travelling now at a much lower speed thinking I had avoided ending up against the cliffs.
I then let go of my up haul (the rope that holds the mast upright) and nothing happened. I tried to lower my sail altogether and stow it back on deck but that just would not happen; the wind kept on pushing my bow downwind and the kayak would not broach on the waves coming from behind! I continued to head to the cliffs…

FEKS high mount3_c
not actual footage of event
Desperately I pulled the main sheet again hoping to bring my sail around but the wind was too strong and the boom was just stuck in a forward position. I was not happy, actually a bit panicky to tell the truth; I have never experienced that before.

On my sails when the conditions become unmanageable I just simply let my uphaul rope out from the cleat, the kayak broaches pushed by the wave from behind and the sail falls into the water.
The forward momentum brings the sail close to the cockpit where I can collect it and secure it on deck: I have done it hundreds of times.
With the sail set up with the boom above the side stays, the boom could swing all the way around instead of stopping on the stays at about 90 degrees with the kayak. Once the boom is in the forward position I could not bring it back to me as the wind was exerting too much pressure on the sail; the mast stood up proud and solid.
Eventually, with monumental effort, great acceleration and strong sweep strokes I managed to bring my kayak around enough to let the sail fall into the water. I caught up with my paddling partner who was new to sailing; she was having the same problem as me and I helped her out of danger of the cliffs. It was an experience that I did not predict and did not want to repeat. However a few days later the same thing happened but this time I was in open waters and I had time to get myself sorted.

Things I learned from this experience:
- I prefer the predictability of my sail set ups: if the wind is too strong I can just drop my sail anytime
- While theoretically the full swing boom should make things easier in high winds it did not for me as I could no longer lower the sail.

I paid close attention to some sail set ups in my paddling circles and noticed somebody with an additional rope coming from the mast back to his cockpit. He had boom-above-3 stays set up and explained to me that the additional rope was to bring his mast down when sailing down wind. It made sense to me: he must have similar problems than me although he usually does not sail in stiff breezes.

FEKS_high mount2_gdn
sail set up with additional down haul rope

One question remains: to bring down the sail in a downwind situation he must use two hands to pull the rope back in?
That reminds me of V sails where one must actively pull the sail down instead of letting it just fall down on its own. It was one of the reasons that I opted out from those sails: I wanted a more efficient way of handling dicey situations.

I understand that my system of two side/back stays has a few problems:
- there is more pressure from the mast onto the deck of the kayak; decks need to be very stiff or reinforced internally
- the boom can not swing all the way around for de-powering in case of a stiff breeze, but as I found out that might not be a good thing?

The advantages:
- there is less pressure on the mast as the stays anchor higher up. I wonder how many mast would I have broken by now if I used the other system ( I do hear of people braking masts in higher winds)
- sail mounted lower therefore less healing (force of wind trying to tip me over),
- two less ropes to deal with on deck. On the 3 stays set up more ropes add to more chances of entanglement if tipped over and trying to roll back up? I know that occasionally I have to wiggle my paddle out of a loose stays before I scull my kayak if tipped over.

While there is an increased risk with ropes on deck I am used to them now and deal with them. However I rather not add any more than I have to.

These are my findings on sailing with both systems: 2 side/back stays and 3 stays.
I know that there is a strong following with the 3 stays set ups but I also hear that that is not recommended for winds that I usually enjoy sailing in.
I wanted to share my experience of sailing sea kayaks for ten years, the last 4 with Flat Earth.


06 November 2013

VIDEO: sea kayak sailing best hits

A short collection of sea kayak sailing best moments.
From expedition distance paddling to fast afternoon outings Flat Earth Sails have been a trusted companion on my rudderless kayaks.
After years of using Flat Earth Sails these days I welcome windy conditions when sea kayaking.
Every kayak that I have fitted a sail to has delivered great fun, but some kayaks sail better than others.

Video produced for a sea kayak gathering in Austria. View it in full screen if not using a mobile device.

If the winds are blowing above 20 knots I prefer a smaller sail of 0.8m² since most kayaks I own have a relatively low hull speed; a bigger sail does not equate to higher speed. However, with lighter breezes I often can sail slightly faster with a 1.0m² as I usually don't reach the kayak's hull speed.
I prefer masts in carbon fibre with only two side/backstays instead of the often recommended 3 stays.
On my sail set ups the boom swing is limited to 180° and I now firmly believe that this configuration is safer than the full 360° swing of a 3 stays set up.
After recently sailing for a month and 500 Km (in borrowed kayaks) I have concluded that limiting the boom swing prevents dangerous situation when sailing in higher winds.
More details on my findings in this post here


23 October 2013

Photo: Seal Cove camp

The soft warm light of the long evening produced again a spectacular sunset; the early storm was long gone. There was no rush in preparing dinner to avoid cooking with headlamp as darkness would come after we had already retired to our tents. Laying on the polished rock we exchanged paddling stories: my tropical sandy beaches compared to Scandinavian granite labyrinth. I was still surprised that I managed to meet up with Pia and Erik on the water among so many islands that all looked the same.
As we were sipping our best moonshine a black head appeared bobbing in the little bay. A seal was trying to catch her dinner. Then she looked at us intently as trying to figure out what we were, the colorful kayaks maybe confused her.

Fish camp sunset_c


03 October 2013

VIDEO: Magic Island

Lost on the Swedish East coast archipelago there is an place that I named Magic Island.
The early afternoon thunderstorm cleared and the sky was now promising a colorful sunset.
We went for a walk.

view it in full screen, full HD (1080p) if you have broadband Internet connection

Non esitono distanze, ma solo posti diversi in cui ritrovarsi_ Emilio Averga
(There is no such thing as distance apart, just more places where we can meet.)

30 September 2013

Photo: Sea of jelly fish

An evening paddle as the sun was setting, my paddle bumping the jelly fish, sea turtles' favorite food.

Bribie sunset paddle_1_c


25 September 2013

Technique: pitching a tent on rocky slabs

My favorite natural environment is rock; granite to be precise.
I am not a rock climber these days but I have always gravitated to locations where exposed granite forms the landscape.
Last season I traveled to the  High Sierras, to a familiar area.
This season I chose to undertake a sea kayak trip instead where thousands of little island gently emerge from the sea and create incredibly smooth landscapes.
There is a strong similarity between the High Sierra and the Stockholm archipelago; both have glacially polished granite, the latter at sea level.
For the Sierras I chose a very light shelter since I knew I didn't need an inner tent to protect myself from insects.

PeeweeLake camp_c

For Sweden I chose a tunnel tent: a known design able to shed wind well.
I chose a non-freestanding tent over a more pitch-friendly free standing one because of weight and bulk. I dislike travelling with heavy gear and flying across the word to reach my destination usually limits my choice of equipment; there is an incredible difference between car camping and international travel.

Tunnel tents however pose some problems when pitching on hard ground.
Staking out the ends of the tent is essential  to keep the tent erect (unlike in a freestanding tent).
Since polished granite offers too much resistance for conventional pegging (like rock-hard ground!) a little tinkering on my part is usually necessary to have a secure shelter for the night.

Sunset at Windy camp_c

Instead of relying on pegs at the stake point I collect a stick and a couple of decent size rocks.
I insert the stick into the stake loop of the tent and place it horizontally on the ground where a large rock will secure it in place. I find that a rock on top of a stick is generally a way better anchor than a typical tent peg pushed into soft ground.

Furthermore, where the ground is a polished slab there are usually a few cracks.
Here is where I like to place a little wired metal wedge designed for rock-climbing  (aka stoppers, nuts, rocks etc).
A carefully placed wedge is bombproof and no amount of wind will rip that anchor out.

rock anchor_c
Black Diamond stopper
In locations where there is little to no trees, or large boulders to create a wind break, I am confident that my tunnel tent will stand  up to strong winds, even without any pegs secured into the ground.

Windy on Magic_c

rock anchor_gdn
Omega Pacific wedgie

17 September 2013

Photo: Kiss in the Storm


Kissing in the rain_c

A summer storm can't dampen the spirit of love.


10 September 2013

Destination: Magic Island

There is a place on the East Coast of Sweden, in the Baltic Sea, that I named “Magic Island”; I paddled to it on my recent Scandinavian sea kayak trip.
The seas were bumpy, created by the waves rebounding the rocky cliffs hitting the outer islands. I was paddling unprotected waters and the steady breeze from the preceding  days was sending a decent swell in my direction. My paddling companion Petra was a little concerned as her paddling experience was mostly limited to very different waters of land locked Austrian lakes; the last time she paddled salt water was in Pacific Ocean, Australia.
Rounding the South-East point still presented non land-able locations for a camp. The map showed a little cove but I was having a bit of trouble finding it; after all with 30.000 islands in the Stockholm archipelago alone I was now having doubts that I was in the right place… And suddenly there it was, as promised by my little map, a fantastic sheltered bay of polished granite.

Magic Is sunset_3

The action of the glacier of the last Ice Age some 11.000 years ago managed to shape this very hard granite into smooth rocky waves. The location of this island away from the mainland prevented a lot of vegetation from taking hold and the winter storms have dwarfed and shaped the small trees. The presence of this windy place was palpable; I felt exposed and vulnerable here. The skies turned to dark clouds and storms could be seen approaching.

Magic Is2_c

I climbed up a small rocky outcrop and could see lighting in the distance. The storm would be upon us soon and I made sure I secured our tent with extra guidelines anchored to the cracks in the granite. The wind came followed by a downpour and as we lay in the tent, I was glad that I was picky in selecting just the right tent site as small creeks ran down the smooth rocky slopes. We stayed dry and the tent proved to be solid. But as most summer thunderstorms this one did not last and eventually it passed leaving only a few puffy clouds around. The sun was getting lower and the magic hour was approaching (I borrow this term from my early inspirational photographer Galen Rowel. Galen describes the perfect time of the day to take photographs when the light is warm and the shadows long as magic hour). The rock was still wet but we wanted to see the sunset on the other side of the island, facing West.
We took a walk.

Magic Is sunset_4_c.Still002

Magic Is sunset_5_c

In Sweden, at such high latitudes, the sun sets later in the evening and the twilight lasts so much longer than at home in Australia; I did not have to rush to see the landscape in its best light but I could take my time to wonder around and pose to take it all in. Cold enough to wear a wind braking jacket I could feast with my eyes on the sensual soft shapes of granite waves sculpted by ice. A few birds were still trying to catch dinner before darkness fell and I kept on smiling, happy to be present in this magical place.

Magic Is sunset_3

Magic Is sunset_2

Video coming soon

03 September 2013

Photo: ominous evening sky

Evening brought heavy skies and wind.
The small cove of a rocky island was going to be home for the night.

Kyks on Windy Is_BW_c

12 August 2013

Kayak swapping

I know I live in a great part of the world where sea kayaking is really beautiful and easy.
Australia, and especially Queensland is a very desirable destination coveted by paddlers around the globe.
While I receive a lot of comments of how beautiful my part of the world is, I occasionally connect on a deeper level with some paddlers. Johan Wirsen, designer of my Zegul 520, was interested in my paddling style and we came to know of each other. He sounded friendly and considerate and after a few emails I invited him to come and visit me to paddle warm waters while his Baltic sea was gripped by a thick sheet of ice. I have enough kayaks that would fit a range of paddlers and enough gear to outfit a small party. We spoke on the phone and travel was arranged soon after; Johan trusted me to look after him. All I had was one small picture to go by to spot him at the airport pick-up but there was no mistake; somehow I recognized him from the distance. We planned a mini sea kayak camping expedition to the warm waters of the Capricorn coast.

Unloading the kayaks_c

Johan tried kayak sailing for the first time and we exchanged ideas and shared the passion for paddling and kayak design. Johan’s personality suited well; mellow enough to go with the flow but with great skills to feel comfortable in demanding conditions. We have similar goals too: no rush, no racing, no destination fever, just happy to explore and play on the water. The rest is just details.
I was invited to visit him in his native country in the Baltic archipelago. Johan has a shed full of kayaks (he is not sure how many) and lives on the water of the Swedish East Coast.
I have been longing to see Scandinavia again since I first traveled there in my teens but little I knew that the coast is a paddler’s dream. Thousand of islands litter the rather calm sea that has very little tidal influence. Those images of tents pitched at almost water level on polished granite slabs are not staged, one can really do that. 



This year things fell into place and I am currently lost somewhere among those islands. Johan has limited vacation time in summer and only paddled with me for a short week, while I am continuing my sea trip heading North.
At the last Rock&Roll I was lucky to meet Petra, on her extended visit to the land of OZ. A very keen sea kayaker from the land locked Austria, she is my travel companion on this incredible trip although her “training” already started Down Under where she learned to roll in the warm waters of Moreton Bay.

It is wonderful how this little sea fearing vessels that have such ancient roots can bring people together from around the globe. The paddlers that I have met share the same passion for self reliant travel and simple life styles; I am drawn to them through this primeval need to be in contact with nature. I have shared amazing times with people that seek outdoor diversions to the structured life we lead. I have met sea kayakers that are authentic and honest, willing to open their hearts and homes to help and host travelers. It seems that the values of hospitality of the first kayakers of Greenland is now passed on to us.

2nd, 3rd and 4th image courtesy of Erik Sjostedt

I am not sure where I will end my trip but I will know when the time will come to get off the water and catch a bus back to my car.

22 July 2013

Sea trip to the Northern Coast.

“I have come to accept the feeling of not knowing where I am going. And I have trained myself to love it. Because it is only when we are suspended in mid-air with no landing in sight, that we force our wings to unravel and alas begin our flight. And as we fly, we still may not know where we are going to. But the miracle is in the unfolding of the wings. You may not know where you're going, but you know that so long as you spread your wings, the winds will carry you.” C. JoyBell C.​

Kvällspaddling vid Ö bokö

There is a need in me that calls me to travel to far away places. When young I travelled a lot with my parents exposing me to new cultures and alternatives lifestyles. Then one day I left my native country and moved to Australia. I love my new country but my soul still searches for familiar landscapes where spruce trees are the forest, not gum trees. I love the cold as it is in my bones as I love skiing and winter camping; it reminds me of the bitter winter mornings waiting for the school bus on snowy roads.
I find pleasure in being rugged up and feeling the cold air on my face.
My upbringing saw me outside a lot and I lived for the forests and mountains behind my house. I feel that evenings become more contemplative when I camp in cold weather; I am not a big fan of sweltering Queensland summer nights.
Give me a down jacket and a decent shelter from wind and I feel at home. After a few years of dreaming to eventually paddle in arctic waters this time the stars aligned and I am off to the land of the long shadows.

Långeskär i Fjällbacka

I have a vague plan but not distinct destination. I want to spend the days exploring and make decisions as I see them fit my mood. No destination syndrome and no log of my mileage: sea travel at its best with the unknown and surprises my driving force.

all images courtesy of  Eric Sjostedt

I will have limited access to the Internet. Please allow a few days (or weeks) to see you comments appear on this site.


10 July 2013

Photos: autumn paddling in Queensland

Blessed with windy conditions I have been sea kayak sailing in the last couple of months.
As the forecast has been calling for unfavourable conditions for the motorized crowd, quite often I would find the bay very quiet.
Gone are the pesky jet skiers and only sailing boats find the choppy waters to their liking.

Sailing Mockpool_c

Bribie Passage sailing_c

But not all forecasts have been accurate and often the conditions were mild.
There have been days that my sails have been stowed on deck and the cleared colder waters of autumn have created mirror like conditions.

Liquid silver_c

As the sun has been setting early I would often be still on the water to enjoy the last light of the day.

Bribie Passage sunset_c

Bribie Sunset_1


19 June 2013

REVIEW: shoulderless Northern Light Greenland carbon-fibre paddle

The new Northern Light paddle recently received is different: it's a shoulderless version of the three piece carbon fibre Greenland paddle that Paul produces. 
The sectional loom is the same as all the other Northern Light paddles (Greenland and Aleut) but this blade is much narrower than my standard Greenland paddle, which I have been using for all my paddling.


I have grown to love the Northern Light Greenland paddle that, despite my best efforts to destroy it, has never let me down.
Despite me abusing it, all I managed to create was a hairline crack in the insert after a wave dump and high brace onto a bank of sand, which was later easily repaired. 
No other paddle would stand up to the abuse I now subject my Northern Light paddles.

The new carbon-fibre Northern Light paddle is shoulderless and my hands slide along the shaft without feeling the familiar notch of the shoulder. Initially I thought I needed to feel my hands centred on the paddle and the blade’s shoulders of my Greenland were the reference point, but as I paddle kayaks with skegs I tend to wiggle a bit and often extend the paddle on one side.
Ruddered kayakers find it odd that waves slide my kayak sideways a bit and make it broach just so slightly needing corrective strokes.
To address directional changes I use sliding strokes where my hands let the paddle extend to one side; all without being even aware of such technique.
I no longer keep my hands in the exact same position on the loom (as I used to with Euro paddles); they are literally all over the place.
When I want to accelerate hard I extend my Greenland paddle to insert more blade into the water and create more resistance.  If I want to correct my direction a bit, I extend the paddle and slightly sweep, all unconsciously. This new paddle lends itself perfectly to my “wandering’ hands.


The Northern Light “Skinny” Greenland is incredibly smooth and has an organic feel in my hands.
The edges are very fine allowing silent insertions into the water; canted strokes feel effortless. It
literally slices through the water.
The “Skinny” has been in the works for a while and Paul spent a lot of time talking to some of the best known Greenland kayakers like Maligiaq and Dubside before he and Carlos (his former partner) came up with the dimensions for this paddle.
The paddle has actually been in production, with prototype testing going on for over a year now.

I thought that such diminutive paddle (if compared to big blade Euro style) would lack purchase resulting in reduced kayak speed.
But as Maligiaq demonstrates, a fine edged Greenland paddle used with correct technique (canted) and a higher cadence can produce hull speeds equal to larger blades, the proof seems clear in his results against world class sprinters.

As the blade is so fine I expected to experience some flutter, as most Greenland paddles seem to have in the first ten minutes or so until my brain “learns” the traits of the new blade and adjusts.
The “Skinny” was immediately at home with me and no adjustment was needed. Canting it was super easy (maybe it’s the pronounced flat surface on the loom) and I noticed no splash, even if I purposely tried to use a sloppy stroke. It was also a surprise to see rank beginner kayakers trying this paddle and loving it immediately with very little wobble when sprinting.

Northern Light paddles size comparison: Aleut, Greenland and "Skinny"
Small hands will find this skinny paddle easier for sculling (compared to the standard Greenland) as it allows the blade to sit more comfortably in the palm closer to the end of the blade.
Furthermore the "Skinny" can be converted from a full size adult paddle to a perfect child paddle; this was a very important consideration when designing this paddle.  

With the use of the included insert the "Skinny" makes a smooth paddle for the budding new paddler. 
Weighing a bit less than the standard Northern Light Greenland the "Skinny" is just as modular as the original.
Paul has maintained the concept of a 3-piece paddle where the loom is the variable part to accommodate for different size paddlers.

The unique ability to break down the paddle in sections small enough to allow air travel as part of check-in luggage (fits perfectly inside a large duffel bag) makes this paddle a trusted companion for remote locations. 


But how does it handle the choppy waves?
No different than the larger sister original Northern Light Greenland.

So why not use the “skinny” all the time?
All paddles have their strengths and the NLP “Skinny” is no different.  The sharp edges lend themselves to more technical paddling as it slices through the water allowing for a higher cadence when paddling distances and also for sculling rolls.  A lot of times a thicker paddle allows one to rely on the volume to auto correct a bit when rolling.  The “Skinny” requires good technique in this regard.
The noticeable difference I could feel was when I accelerated from a standing start; I felt just a little bit less resistance in the water and maybe a stroke more was needed to bring my kayak to cruising speed.
Side by side with my paddling partner Adventuretess we swapped paddles back and forth; using a perfectly synchronized stroke our kayaks maintained the exact same speed.
I can only conclude that the “Skinny” offers enough hydraulic resistance to propel a kayak to hull speed.

I had no chance to try the “Skinny” in the surf yet, where a big blade is desirable to be able to suddenly accelerate down the face of a wave; that’s where the Northern Light Aleut shines. 

On my planned trip to the land of the long shadows I was planning to take the standard “fatty”; I am now reconsidering and want to have the "Skinny" with me.

11 June 2013

Photo: friends in the Circus

To shelter from the wind as evening light was fading we all bunched up in the Circus tent.
The little fire-in-a-can offered no real heat but warmed our hearts as dinner was cooking on our little camp stoves.

Friends in the circus_2_c

The joy of sharing the evening with good friends listening to each others stories is one of my great pleasures in life.
As the cold weather brings people closer together, winter camping has often created the best times for me.

Friends in the circus_c

28 May 2013

Review: carbon-fibre skeg by Norbert Gancarz

A carbon-fibre skeg is the ultimate bling aftermarket accessory for any kayak.
If however one considers a kayak just a tool and has little affinity with his/her craft then I don't think this skeg blade would excite them.
Just as some consider a car just a car and see no point in retrofitting it with performance accessories I am sure that to some a carbon-fibre skeg might seem an unnecessary replacement.
I don't care that much about my car but I will not say the same for my kayaks.

As all of my kayaks are rudder-less and incorporate an adjustable skeg for directional stability, I often wondered if the deployment of my skeg had as much effect on drag as when I would lower a rudder (it has been a few year since I have paddled an over-stern ruddered kayak).
In my Impex Kayak the skeg is a rather chunky HDPE blade (same material as the common kitchen chopping board); if I fully lower that skeg my kayak seem to slow down a bit and become a tad sluggish.
When Norbert Gancarz ( norbertga@o2.pl from Poland) offered me to test his latest creation, a carbon-fibre blade to retrofit the Valley skeg, I was keen to try it.

Norbert skeg_1

The skeg blade is of the exact outer shape as the VCP factory standard grey plastic one but this carbon skeg has features that the Valley skeg does not.
The blade is foil shaped like the wing of an aircraft with the leading edge thicker than the back of the blade. This shape minimizes turbulence and promotes an easy flow of water over the blade when the skeg is deployed. Less turbulence equals to less drag that leads to less effort and possibly more speed.
While speed has never been my goal, less effort is certainly welcome.

Norbert skeg_2

The skeg blade is a real work of art and the finish is incredible.
Somehow I felt that such a beautiful accessory looked out of place on the basic finish of the Nordkapp LV's skeg box but I was keen to find out if the blade would actually fit and how much effort the retrofit required. After all the existing skeg blade was still working fine...

Norbert skeg_5

I inserted a 2.5mm Allen key (like the one you get with IKEA furniture, but smaller) into the skeg's control knob found next to the cockpit and tried to undo the grub screw. Initially it would not budge but a squirt of water dispersant (WD40) and a few minutes later the key turned and the pinch on the skeg cable was released.

Norbert skeg_6
salt built up under the skeg control knob,washes away easily...
The knob was free and now I could pull out the skeg blade past its normal maximum deployed setting; the wire came out easily.

Norbert skeg_7
factory VCP skeg blade removal

Norbert skeg_3

Norbert supplied me with the stainless steel wire that I had to cut as each kayak model has a slightly different wire length .
The carbon skeg has a very neat grub screw that pinches the cable that is inserted into blade (not show here).  I measured the length of my existing Valley skeg wire and cut the new one to length with a pair of diagonal cutters (a decent pair of plier would have done the same job).
I fastened the grub screw on the carbon blade onto the wire, inserted the blade into the skeg box and easily wiggled the wire back into the housing all the way to the control knob. The skeg blade was sitting flush with the hull, all the way in the skeg box, before I aligned the knob over the hole in "slider tube" and secured it tightly with the Allen key. I made sure that the knob was in the "retracted" position or I would not be able to deploy that skeg all the way like before.

Norbert skeg_4

Norbert's skeg blade sits in the skeg box without any wiggle and the two little rubber washers on the pivot point offer just enough resistance to keep the blade in position preventing the skeg blade from creeping back up when the kayak is at speed (one of my kayaks does that and I am yet to fix it...).

But how does the skeg perform in the field, err water?
It seems to have a crisper feel with the lowering amount precisely translating to directional changes. There are no wobbles and no "skeg hum" as I have in some of my other kayaks when I speed down the face of a wave.

Norbert skeg_10

As for increased speed?
I can't attest to that as I don't have a GPS to measure precisely the speed of the kayak.
All I really want is to have the kayak on the beach, belly up, with the skeg standing up proud showing off that sexy carbon weave :-)

Norbert Gancarz can be contacted at norbertga@o2.pl