27 February 2014

SHOP: DIY back band

Paddling comfort can make the kayaking experience great but an ill fitting cockpit keeps my mind away from truly enjoying my pursuit.
I have changed many seats in kayaks that did not fit me and often the back band is part of the equation.
In some kayaks the back band is directly attached to the back of the seat (Valley) while in others it is independently suspended by straps or webbing on the side cheek plates or coaming.

The seat of the Point65North XP was too narrow for my ass and too high up front; I replaced it by fabricating a new wider one out of carbon fiber.
The bulkhead on the XP is really close to the rear of the coaming offering just enough room for an electric bilge pump.

foam backrest_2

I did not like the original back band that came from factory; it was cutting into the carbon fiber laminate on the pivot points. I also did not like the large plastic tabs digging into my hips.
In some of my kayaks I have installed a Immersion Research backband with a ratchet buckle/strap system (similar to snowboard bindings): I love the support and the low profile it offers still allowing me to do laybacks.
In this kayak the bulkhead was so close to the seat that I could create a backband out of foam and have it resting directly against the bulkhead.

foam backrest_1

In some kayaks I have made a pillar from closed cell foam that is nested and jammed between seat and bulkhead; in the XP is wanted to try a floating foam block to be able to access the bilge pump.
As a prototype I wanted to use cheap foam and some discarded packaging from electronic goods was good enough for my first try. I laminated two pieces by gluing them together with contact cement.

foam backrest_5

This type of foam is very easy to carve with a sharp kitchen knife and in minutes I had a nicely contoured backrest shaped to allow layback rolls. My intention were to test the foam back first on a longer paddle and see if it fitted OK.
After some minor reshaping following my initial trial I was happy with the shape of it.

Initially I planned to use high quality closed cell foam for the final product but this cheap foam was working well enough to not bother with higher quality foam, like the one in a block used for yoga.
I just wanted to cover the rough surface with a bit of neoprene.
Again, I used contact cement to laminate the black neoprene.
I made a hole in the foam, the length of the block, to allow a bungee cord to secure it to the coaming of the kayak.

foam backrest_6

The bungee cord is attached to the underside of the coaming by little fiberglass saddles that I fabricated and bonded with epoxy glue. Alternatively small stainless steel saddles could be used instead.
I can tension the bungee with an olive cleat and while the backrest is firmly in place I can still access behind the seat to clear the pump from sand and debris.

foam backrest_4

The main advantage with this style of back band is that it does not end up under my butt when I enter the cockpit. I can slide from the back of the cockpit coaming rim and it will not get in the way, ever.
While some find the pod-style seats with no rear back band a great solution to this problem, I did not like that set up in one of my previous kayaks. I felt that I could not brace myself from sliding backwards when actively paddling and leg driving.

foam backrest_3


17 February 2014

Photo: turtle's perspective

This is how a sea turtle sees a paddler at close range


There are a lot of sea turtles where I paddle. I often see them surfacing, getting a couple big gulps of air while looking around to then disappear underwater again.
Occasionally I startle them as they might not see me coming; they pop out from below close to my kayak.
If I am paddling slow I have the time to observe them until they spot me.
But often I am just having too much fun to even see them...

Sailing Vixen2_c .

11 February 2014

TECHNIQUE: to roll or not to roll

So many paddlers regard the ability to roll the holy grail of sea kayaking.
I was one of them. I envied paddlers that could roll a kayak; it just looked so cool.
I will see them plop-in purposely and turn their kayaks upside down only to see them explode a few seconds later out the water with a mighty splash and be back up. Sometimes spectators would even clap :-)

Rolling Sunna (pc)

At the time I felt that there was a lot of mysticism around rolling and not many in my circles really knew how to roll; I had to learn how to roll.
I took several lessons and I paid instructors to teach me how to roll. Several months passed and many pool session later I was still struggling.
However not knowing how to roll did not deter me from going out at sea even if admittedly in a wide bay where waves don’t really reach much over a meter. I rarely fell in and I always paddled with others so I could be helped back into my kayak.
Trying to self rescue was not that pretty: I felt very unbalanced when trying to “cowboy scramble” into my relatively wide (56-58cm) kayak. They tell me it has something to do with being top heavy and a bit taller than the average paddlers; I think it’s poor balance.

Surfin' Bluey (c)

On the other hand I would also see my paddling buddies having a much easier time getting back in their kayak. We would regularly hit the surf zone and on days when the waves were not really pounding we were gaining solid skills. I would push myself and try to catch the steeper waves. I would regularly broach, often tip and end up out of my kayak. I also broke several rudders and realized that those pesky metal bits on the stern are not surf friendly; eventually I opted for skeg kayaks.

Currumbin_surfing10 (C)

I had no chance to re-enter my kayak on my own while the water was bumpy, not necessarily breaking waves but still dynamic enough to toss my kayak around a bit. I needed help to re-enter or swim a long way back to the beach pulling my flooded kayak behind me. I was getting tired quickly as where my paddle buddies of my clumsiness.

Now I really needed to learn how to roll coz on a bad day the surf was bringing more frustration than joy. There were some among us tho that could jump back in the kayak with very little fuss: a few seconds and they would be out of the water with a single big leap, plopping their butt into the seat, legs sticking out on the side to then bring them in one at the time through the keyhole cockpit.
I could not do that: I am just too big and slow. What I wanted was the sense of security of knowing how to get into the kayak in lumpy waters.

Sialuk in the chop (c)

While paddle floats would work relatively well for me in calm waters I found them useless in conditions that made me tip in the first place.
Relying on my paddling buddies was unfair and probably short sighted as on some of our trips we were not always very close to each other.

What I did have to my advantage is the water temperature that I paddle on.
All of my paddling was in subtropical seas where on a cold winter day I would "gasp" at 17C immersions. I feel totally different if I would have to deal with water that saps paddlers' energy in times of a capsize. I rarely wear more than just a light paddling top and never insulation paddling garments.
In winter I have to protect from evaporative cooling wind more than immersion.
I persisted with leaning to roll and eventually a skilled instructor thaught me the finesse of rolling.
I loved my new found skills and practiced a lot. I also discovered that rolling is not about the explosive power that a paddle might offer but is more about a blend of skills from being able to turn the boat with my body aided by the gentle support of my paddle.
I still remember Craig McSween saying: you should learn to scull first before you roll.

sculling Paprika (c)

Only now do I understand what he meant: sculling is the real roll for me where I can have a better chance of righting my capsized kayak in aerated water and windy wave conditions.

Is rolling really essential?

I am sure it is for me but I would not evangelically preach it to everybody.
As I witnessed many times paddlers recovering from a wet exit in the surf zone I now believe that rolling is not the holy grail, in Queensland waters.
If one can re-enter his/her kayak swiftly in all conditions and be able to empty a flooded cockpit in bumpy seas then rolling is not critical. If waters were much colder than I would think differently.
I still advocate to gain the best skills possible but there are many ways one can self rescue.
As long as a paddler can reliably get out of trouble in demanding conditions (I don't count calm waters one of them) then there is validity in the alternatives.

Cheryl and Bruce (c)

Jim on UK Forum puts it so well:
Rolling can be over-rated, far more important is having the skill not to fall in, BUT almost everyone finds it much easier to develop those skills after they can roll, because the ability to roll gives them more confidence to practice recoveries....

03 February 2014

Photo: warp speed

Not really "warp speed" but faster than I could ever possibly achieve under my own paddle power.
Gusting on 20 knots ripping it up with a 0.8 Flat Earth sail.

warp speed_1
using a Northern Light Greenland paddle in a Johan Wirsen design PT65North XP