29 January 2013

GEAR: a rudder like no other

I found myself constantly sweeping on my right hand side with my Greenland paddle to keep away from the crushing waves against the tall cliffs.
The mild swell of 1.5 mt and the stern wind of 15 knots were affecting my British kayak like I have not experienced before.

Beecroft Pen_cliffs_JAN13
in a bay away from the heavy seas
I often paddle in environments where wind is the only reason for a bumpy sea.
Even on my extended trips I have dealt with following seas and breezes with ease where a bit of skeg control would balance the weather cocking of my rudderless kayaks.
I used to paddle kayaks with over-stern rudders and while I found the cruising much easier than in a skegged boat I eventually abandoned the pesky blade sticking from the end of my boat.

The deciding point of getting rid of those kayaks with “crutches” came when for the 3rd time my rudder was damaged when paddling in waves.
I was not happy with the unreliability of rudders.
As I transitioned to skegged kayaks I learned how to maneuver a boat with my body (by edging) and sweeping paddle strokes while directional stability was taken care by the adjustable skeg.
I now have 6 sea kayaks, all without rudders.
There is no denying that a skegged kayak is slower for me and that I don’t keep a perfectly true course in following seas. That does not bother me: I am in no rush and I usually don’t like to paddle too close to my buddies to be then bumping into them if my kayak sways a bit.

But all that I wanted right now was keeping myself off the big spraying smashing waves against the rocky coast. I looked over to my paddling buddy and I noticed that he was paddling with greater ease and I didn’t see any corrective strokes.
He was paddling a Hybrid550.


The Hybrid550, designed by Andre Janecki, is a kayak like no other. It has features that I have not seen on any other boat. The thought process that went into designing and redefining that kayak is astonishing.
Unlike so many kayaks that capture my attention and look so similar to each other, the Hybrid550 is unique. Its cockpit concept is inspired by white water boats with outstanding ergonomics for this chunky body of mine while still perfectly accommodating a more nimble paddler. One thing that concerns me is the width of the cockpit rim since my, how can I put it, “love handles” might rub after a while.  I hope one day Andre will produce the Hybrid 550 L (larger cockpit) but I understand his priorities are with the “UNLIMITED”  www.hybridfoundation.org.au
What intrigues me however is the unique design of the rudder.

Hybrid rudder_1

As I was dissatisfied with my own rudder boats many years ago I looked at the alternative integrated rudder of Mirage kayaks. I liked the look and I like the idea of not having anything above deck, nothing to swing and insert in to the water with so many less parts moving resulting in a simpler design. What concerned me though is the fact that the Mirage rudder is always there, even when I want to seal launch or beach land and drag the kayak.
After repairing a few split rudder blades from friends' Mirages I decided that if I wanted a rudder boat it had to be stronger than that.

I did the initial mistake of confusing the rudder design of the Hybrid550 as a copy of the Mirage but I never had a real close look at the details.
I now know that the pivot points are totally different, the action of the swinging blade is different and the construction is nothing like the Mirage...
Hybrid rudder_2

I had a GOOD look at the rudder on the Hybrid550 and I have one thing to say: brilliant.
It can take a reverse surf landing, right on the blade. What other ruddered kayak can do that?
None that I have seen so far.

Hybrid rudder_3
rudder folding away and bending when being hit
I am a skeg man, I don’t paddle with ruddered kayaks. I came to the realization that rudders are not suitable for my style of paddling.
With the Hybrid550 however I now have to rethink my philosophy. 

Psychologists have found that familiarity breeds fondness: Repeated exposure to a new idea leads to progressively lower fear and avoidance and even, eventually, sometimes, to acceptance. (Megan Kimble)


24 January 2013

VIDEO: Bumping around in waves

I found myself getting tossed around more than usual in those short dumpy waves.
It has been a while since I paddled Green-Piece, the quirky little lime green Currituck from Impex.
Yes, it felt little compared to my other kayaks and with my hefty weight it does not suit me as multi-day tripping boat (I think I am at the load capacity limit). I find that boat quite nimble and I seem to be able to turn it faster than other hard tracking kayaks.
I wanted to take it surfing and find out what it can do for me.

select HD for a superior viewing experience

I noticed the bow getting pushed under the surface faster than my other larger kayaks and occasionally it would pitch and broach; I think a lighter person will find it more forgiving.
Reverse surfing made me spin quicker than in my Zegul and I had find again the balance point before it would tip over.
It was refreshing to be paddling a kayak that I have neglected for a while thinking that it just was not suited for me.
It gets to show what a difference a few years make and with new skills what fun I can have in a kayak that I find boring otherwise when flat water paddling.

15 January 2013

DIY: paddle retention on kayak deck

A few years ago I came up with a great on-deck retention system for split paddles.
It was also just about then that I stopped using Euro style paddles and transitioned to Greenland paddles. The new style became my regular paddle and soon I totally abandoned the fat blades.
My spare paddle became a shorter version of the full length GP (also known as "storm") or a slip sectional full size one.
While the split Euro paddles fitted well on the front deck, I did not like carrying the Greenland storm on the front deck.
Some argue that a spare paddle should be readily available in case the main one (the one in the hand) is lost; in ten years it has not happened to me once. I also use a paddle leash most of the times so I minimize the risk of parting company with my paddle. It is a risk that I am now willing to take that if one day I will loose a paddle I will have to reach for the spare paddle behind me. Then again I often wondered if I would have the presence of mind to grab that half paddle in front of me anyway, in the heat of the battle.... probably not.
I am happy to carry my spare on the rear deck, to create an uncluttered front deck.

NLP on rear deck_2

The kayaks in my fleet all have bungee cord on deck for the retention of miscellaneous gear that one wants to access while on the water. Some kayaks have strategically arranged these bungee in view of carrying a spare paddle. The idea is to slide the paddle under the bungee and hope to retain the paddle.
My experience however shows that if the bungee is not highly tensioned those paddles tend to creep out in heavy seas and occasionally dislodge in surf.
Sliding the full length of the paddle under tensioned bungee is often tricky while I scratch the shiny gel coat (considering resale value).
I wanted a system that retains my paddle but would not require a slide.
On my expedition kayaks I devised a flat strap with a Fastex buckle.

paddle retention_4

It worked well; I could attach my split Euro paddle there with little fuss.
With the storm GP there is only one shaft (loom) and the buckle of the Fastex clip was not working well there: it would slide and become loose.
Borrowing the idea from my simple paddle leash I now use this system for my spare paddle retention.

paddle retention_2
laminated Western red cedar storm Greenland paddle by Greg Schwarz

paddle retention_1
heat-shrink over the bungee joint

Removing/attaching the paddle is very simple: I just pop the bungee loop off the little plastic ball.

paddle retention_3
retention system released

While the bungee retention system works very well for paddles I recently found out that it works also in anger when I need to attach something on the rear deck quickly.
One of my camera mounts failed in heavy seas and I had to stow it away as it was dangling in the water with my camera still attached (I did NOT loose that one this time!).
I had to jump in the water, take down the remaining mount and attach it to the deck, while bobbing up an down in waves (I was also happy to be wearing a PFD). The bungee and ball system worked very well allowing a swift attachment of the hardware that I would not be able to carry any other way.
Reentered and rolled, pumped the water out of the cockpit and I was sailing again on my way in minutes.

04 January 2013

REVIEW: Buff water gloves

The brutal Queensland sun is a killer; it causes an incredible number of cases of skin cancers.
Protecting my body from the harsh sun is imperative for me. When kayaking I cover my body with a long sleeve rash guard, my head with a wide brim hat and the rest of the exposed skin with SFP 50 sunscreen lotion.
My hands tend to get very wet when paddling since there are no drips rings on my Greenland paddle; sunscreen would wash off too soon and gloves are my best defence against the sun.
In the search for the best gloves for paddling for years I used several brands of sailing gloves.
Some half fingers styles did not work for me where the fabric would bunch under my thumb and cause blisters. I also find sailing gloves too bulky with all that padding in the palm of the hand; they are designed to handle ropes (sheets) where padding is desirable to prevent rope burn.
As most of my sailing gloves started to fall apart after a year of regular paddling, I really wanted thin gloves, with no padding, that were durable.
Then I stumbled upon a different offering from a company famous for their head/face scarfs: Buff.

Buff water glove silicon detail_c
silicon texture detail on the palm
In their line they have a glove mainly designed for fishing where protection from the sun is the key.
I ordered a pair a year ago and initially I was dubious about the durability of the product; the thick Lycra style fabric was not convincing me as I thought that they would not last long, similarly to my cycling gloves.
Surprisingly however the gloves are outstanding.
The lack of bulk allows me to grip my paddle easier with no bunching-up in the palm of the hand.

Buff water glove palm_c

Furthermore the palm has a grid of textured silicon that gently grips the paddle. Without gloves some of my carbon Greenland paddles would occasionally slip forcing me to have a dead grip to keep them in my hand. With the Buff gloves the paddle feels more secure and after a year the silicon is still in place and doing its job.
The very long cuff allows me to create a decent overlap at my wrist between glove and rashie, something that the sailing glove did not. I no longer have funny looking sun-burned strips around my wrists that I am sure some folk thought were caused by some "kinky" bedroom games :-)

Buff water glove_c

The stitching is superb and nothing has failed after a year of paddling.
Where occasionally I used to stitch-up my other gloves on the sewing machine, the Buff gloves have not failed.
Originally I ordered a size L-XL for my hands but I always felt that the gloves were just a bit too loose, so I got myself a Xmas present and ordered some "safety" orange new ones in M-L that fit me like a, ... doh, glove.

Buff glove_c

This product review is independent, unsolicited and unrenumerated. No swag, no perks, no glory.
Bought the gloves on eBay from Utah, USA.

01 January 2013

PHOTO: Start of the Year

Somehow the conventional NYE celebrations left me wanting for something a bit more real this year.
On the 1st of January, not having to nurse a headache, I headed to the beach instead.
The surf was promising and I was in an unfamiliar kayak.
Not wanting to hold back I decided I was starting 2013 head on.

Start of Year_c
New Year's resolution: more of this :-)