Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Breathtaking waterfall descent

Something a bit different for Christmas - I saw this video and was amazed. If it doesn't make you catch your breath then you're probably already dead. Blow it up to full screen and crank up the volume.

First descent of the Nocallula Falls.

I gave up whitewater a decade ago when I felt very mortal. These guys demonstrate show astounding bravery and skill - watch what they do with  their paddles as they go over.

The paddlers are Pat Keller (First Descent), Isaac Levinson and Chris Gragtmans. Shot by John Grace, cut by Isaac Levinson, music Calvin Harris. If you like it go to their vimeo site and let them know, this video is embedded from http://vimeo.com/33079315 for criticism and review.

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Matters of taste

This post is a bit of a rant, still no pictures, and it strays a long way from sea kayaking. What's the point of a blog if you can't go off-road every now and again?

As I paddled in to work this morning with my chunky home-made stick  I reflected on Rob Mercer’s recent post on his blog (http://balancedboater.blogspot.com/2011/09/lesson-on-stick.html?spref=fb) about dogma and single-mindedness. Exceedingly sane argument and I enjoyed reading it, as it spoke to three axiomatic principles:

  •            The greater the diversity of experience (in this case paddles and craft ) the better;
  •            No style, technique or bit of kit is intrinsically superior  to another in all circumstances;
  •             Life is really far too short to spend devising arbitrary and mutually-exclusive hierarchies of virtue when we should be  enjoying our brief and improbable  stay on this earth in as many ways and sharing with as many others as possible.

The schismatic tendency towards splitting into groups that differentiate themselves from other groups by some comparatively  arbitrary factor and then infer a moral, technical or intrinsic altitude from that position seems pretty hard-wired into humans. It’s everywhere. I see it in kayaking, where it’s possible to define yourself as whitewater, ski, river, sea, Greenland, racing, plastic, composite, sit-on, sailing or any other number of fine-grained differences.  Or define yourself by what you are not (that reminds me of a joke…*). All ultimately matters of personal preference. Does it really matter what sort of blade or craft you choose, as long as you get on the water and enjoy it? De gustibus non est disputandum, or words to that effect.

I’ve seen the same us-and-them impulse at play at the snow, with free-heel, fixed heel, snowboard and snowshoe. It’s true with bikes (think fixies, mountain, street, BMX), football codes ( hey, you can split by code and team, how good is that) and of course in other realms of my interest  far from sport: Apple vs the rest, iOS vs Android,  vegetarian vs omnivore, sourdough vs commercial (!), and on and on to the point of absurdity. Religion and politics being the ultimate playgrounds for this sort of thing because there’s no verifiable reality against which to test a given position ( though in the former’s case I guess that may be proven after death!).  

Madness. Very human madness,though.  Jane Elliot nailed this one in 1968. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jane_Elliott

Douglas Adams wrote a terrific and insightful piece back twelve years ago  (http://www.douglasadams.com/dna/19990901-00-a.html) about the internet in which he set up this scheme:

1) everything that’s already in the world when you’re born is just normal;

2) anything that gets invented between then and before you turn thirty is incredibly exciting and creative and with any luck you can make a career out of it;

3) anything that gets invented after you’re thirty is against the natural order of things and the beginning of the end of civilisation as we know it until it’s been around for about ten years when it gradually turns out to be alright really

So in reference to the matter at hand and deference to the master I’d like to adapt that:

1)    Everything we do now is sensible, intelligent, progressive and clearly  the choice of any thinking person;

2)    Anything we used to do but now don’t do so  much is OK and understandable, virtuous actually,  but a truthfully bit behind the times and unimaginative,  stuck in the mud if we must be frank;

3)    Anything we don’t do now is probably wrongheaded, ignorant, archaic , faddish, a novelty, unachievable, elitist, boorish,  a wank or ideally all of the above, until we try it, like it,  and move it to category (1) in which case it becomes sensible, intelligent etc.

I have to finish now because I need to go out on my skin-on-frame stand-up paddleboard with my titanium wing blade and heckle a passing sit-on-top about their choice of web browser. Bit difficult on a rainy Wednesday night  but well worth the effort.

(* and that joke.
A castaway is rescued after several years from a tropical desert island . As they row back out to the rescuing ship one of the sailors says to him:
“I understand you’re a devout man, but why did you build two chapels, one on each end of the  island, when there was just you?”
The castaway pointed to the visible rough-hewn  chapel and replied
“Well you see, that chapel, that’s the chapel I go to. The other chapel, well, that’s the chapel I don’t go to!”)

Saturday, 3 December 2011

When to drag and when to lift

Not a lot of pretty pix this time, but a discursion on the Aleut blade and  the dynamics of GPs. OK, no pix at all.

When I bought the Novorca Greenland blades, I also bought a beautiful lapis-coloured Aleut. Like a Greenland, the Aleut blade has a very long, narrow power  face and a central loom that the blade diverges from, but unlike the GP it has an egg-shaped loom, the long flat axis of the blade is offset from the central axis of the loom, and the slightly (backward facing) concave power face has a long groove running down its centre.

The Aleut blade hails, remarkably enough, from the Aleutian Islands of the NW pacific. The Aleut were famed for their long, fast paddling journeys.  Ten to sixteen hours was apparently nothing unusual . It stood  to reason the Aleut blade would be ideal for longer runs such as the Hawkesbury.

So which side really is the power face? Wolfgang Brinck :
in the summer 1986 issue of sea kayaker magazine j. heath [4] explains that the most significant advantage of the greenland paddle is its effectiveness in coming out of the water. a kayaker can pull the blade out of the water at the end of a stroke more easily with a greenland paddle than when using a conventional blade. there are also apparent advantages in the unique stroke of the greenland paddle  which is called the canted stroke. in a canted stroke  the kayaker keeps the blade tilted slightly forward throughout the entire stroke. heath claims that the advantage of the canted stroke is the fact that vortex shedding only occurs on one edge. this allows the kayaker to have more control over his or her stroke
But the central ridge that runs down the length of the blade does more than give the paddle a combination of strength and light weight. The ridge also controls the flow of water over the face of the blade. When you use an Aleut paddle with the ridge facing backward, the ridge evenly divides the flow of water over the two halves of the blade. If you pull a flat faced paddle blade through the water, the blade alternately wants to slip right and then left and then back again, making the paddle flutter. The central ridge prevents this and gives you a solid steady stroke. While it is not impossible to paddle a flat faced paddle, you need to maintain a tight grip on it to prevent it from fluttering. Having the central ridge lets you keep a looser grip on the paddle and lets you put all your energy into forward propulsion

As I discovered in my HCC trial runs though , as I used it it was inferior to the GP: the greater length meant slower cadence,  it doesn’t cant the way a GP does and initially had a tendency to develop flutter at the spear-shaped tip.  I gave up and went back to the GP.

I certainly noticed a tendency to suck air down the forward-facing  side of the blade  on acceleration. Brinck again:

The harder you pull your paddle through the water the greater the pressure in back of it and the lower the pressure in front. If the pressure in front of the paddle is low enough, air will get sucked down along the face of the blade and that will prevent you from getting any more thrust. The harder you pull, the more air you suck. This problem is worse with native paddles than with Euro paddles. You can plant a Euro paddle so the blade is completely in the water before applying any force on it. The deeper the blade is in the water before you start pulling, the less the chances of air getting pulled down the face of the paddle.

Since then I have gone out of my way to practice with the Aleut but I have found it a tricky beast. There is very little I can find on the web about technique for these blades, but I am sure the problem lies in the way I use it. It’s a beautiful piece of gear and I only wish I had the expertise  to unlock it.

I know the Aleut blade is used more vertically than a GP, and does not employ the cant so beloved of GP users,  no strangers to using cant of another kind!  Still I find it more strenuous and  just about the same speed as a GP.

Which brings me eventually but inevitably to a quick summary of what I have found about the hydrodynamics of “native” paddles.  My blunt understanding has been to date that while euro blades generate propulsive force overwhelmingly through drag, GP’s also generate a high degree of lift ( notoriously in the last third of the stroke). Ginni Callahan  taught me to really push down hard on the upside arm as the paddle entered the last part of the stroke to give an extra kick of lift at the exit . It noticeably increases speed, though I’m not disciplined enough to keep it up for more than ten minutes or so at a stretch ( tried hard in the HCC but, like the slide stroke, it was exhausting to do over a couple of km and quickly put me out into lactic acid boundary-riding ).

Chris Cunningham at Sea Kayaker http://www.seakayakermag.com/2011/Dec11/paddles.htm explains it like this:

Wing paddles may be among the latest major development in paddle design, but the principle behind it, using lateral movement of the paddle blade through the water to generate lift, is an old idea. It’s what gives Greenland paddles great power in spite of their narrow width. While a modern wing paddle develops lift by moving outward from the kayak, a Greenland paddle does so by slicing downward and using the opposite edge of its blade as the leading edge. That lateral movement also keeps the paddle moving into water that is as yet undisturbed and provides more resistance to slip. The Greenland paddle has an advantage over the modern wing paddle in its symmetrical design: It is equally effective moving either direction. The narrow Greenland blades also allow users to grip the paddle anywhere along its length for a variety of techniques.

While the blades are narrow, they are quite long and have an area the equivalent of many Euro blades. The long blade is like a glider wing; its high-aspect ratio is particularly efficient at generating lift. Euro paddles used for sculling braces function like planning watercraft. They provide a lot of support while skimming across the surface. Greenland blades generate more lift while submerged.

Mr Brink has a fine summary in his dynamics page at http://www.wolfgangbrinck.com/boats/paddles/dynamics.html:

 When you pull a paddle straight back through the water, the resistance you feel is called drag. The bigger the surface area of your paddle, the greater the drag. This is what we would expect based on experience. But another factor affecting drag is the shape of the blade.

A long skinny blade with the same surface area as a short wide one has greater drag. The difference between the two paddles is that the long skinny one has a longer blade edge than short wide one. For a given surface area, a circular blade would have the shortest edge. So what does edge have to do with drag? If you think about it, water has to move past the paddle when you pull it through the water, but it can't make a 90 degree turn when it comes to the edge of the paddle blade. Instead it has to take a wide turn around the edge. This wide turn in effect makes the paddle act as if it had more surface than it does. So more edge gives a paddle a greater effective surface area. I don't know that you would want to go into a lengthy discussion of this phenomenon with a casual critic at the beach, but now you know.

I was very conscious that the blade face areas of GP/Aleut  paddles  would be pretty close to those of the standard euro blades but had never heard that point about the edge.  I presume therefore that a sharper edge is better than a more rounded one, but the utility sticks I’ve made have pretty chunky edge profiles and they get along nicely.

Martin Nissan on Greenlandpaddle.com  has a good meditation on canted strokes at http://www.greenlandpaddle.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=42&Itemid=76 and cites some work in a back issue of Sea Kayaker by Al Bowers about the hydrodynamics of drag and lift:

‘In any surface that produces lift, two vortices are formed. In an aircraft wing, the two are opposing, and form the start-up vortex (where the lift originates) and the bound circulation vortex of the wing (which creates lift). The aircraft wing that is producing lift and flying has ‘shed the vortex off one side’. The reason flutter occurs in conventional paddles is because the vortex sheds alternately, first on one side, then on the other. The result of a fluttering paddle is an alternating stream of vortices behind the paddle; this stream of alternating vortices is called a Karman vortex stream (after the noted aerodynamicist Theodore von Karman).

However, if the vortex can be controlled to shed on one side only the other vortex is ‘trapped’ around the paddle and manifests itself as lift. The ‘tipped forward’ clue is also significant. There are two ways of inducing lift from a surface. If the surface is ‘cambered’, it can produce lift; this is the method used by modern wing paddles. The second way, if there is no chamber, is to set the blade at an angle of inclination to the flow. This is familiar to most kayakers with conventional paddles when doing sculling strokes. There are other similarities, such as the ease with which the blade leaves the water, i.e. ‘’the blade slices out of the water’. This attribute is often credited to wing paddles. Another is ‘grip of the paddle is noticeably firmer’. Again a typical comment associated with wing paddles.

was very taken by the importance of the GP exit, and the vortex-shedding it does at that point of the canted stroke:

When a narrow paddle enters the water with the working faces at right angles, the water tends to flow equally around each edge. It makes a vortex that looks like a miniature tornado, along each edge. The axis of each vortex is parallel to the edge.

However, if the top edge of the paddle blade is tipped forward throughout the stroke, the vortex will shed toward one edge all of the time. It becomes predictable, instead of alternating, and the paddler can compensate for and control it. This might be an important factor in the effectiveness of this paddle stroke.

Chris Cunningham followed that up with a bit more explication:

At first, the stroke Maligiaq describes seems a bit unnatural—even precarious—because the angle of the blade draws the paddle downward as you pull on it at the catch (the insertion of the blade into the water). Since the angle of the blade causes it to slip downward as the blade slips into the water, it is very quickly buried in the water. You begin the stroke pulling on a well-buried blade; the solid connection to the water is evident.

The lateral movement of the blade, as John Heath suggests, sheds the vortex off to one side, preventing flutter. You can see the vortex, a little tornado-shaped cone of air twirling off the tip of the blade, its pointed end trailing away, pointing toward the bow. As the blade sheds the vortex, it moves into "solid" water, away from the air driven in at the catch. By contrast, in what Maligiaq refers to as the "beginner’s stroke," the blade does not slice into the water, but stabs into it end-on. Since the blade doesn’t enter the water quickly, it is only partially buried when you pull it back. Air driven into the water by the tip swirls in a pair of vortices as the water wraps around both edges of the blade, pulling more air from the surface as the paddle is pulled through the water. With so much air on the back side of the blade, the paddle does not have a good grip in the water.

At the end of Maligiaq’s stroke, the downward pressure created by the angle of the blade keeps the blade buried in the water to the very end of the stroke. At the release, the pulling hand does not lift up, as it does in the beginner’s stroke, but it pushes forward. The blade slices out of the water, moving up as it moves forward.
I lied about no pix. Cunningham's diagram of the angle on exit. 

Glad June is doing so well after the sex-change . 

And finally there’s a cracker of a an analysis at http://www.me.rochester.edu/courses/ME241/G11(Final).pdf, Jacob Farber’s thesis for a mech engineering degree looking at the GP hydrodynamics. Concluded the GP would be better for distance than sudden catch.  A clutch of equations, and a reference again to J Heath:

In the summer 1986 issue of Sea Kayaker magazine, J. Heath [4] explains  that the most significant advantage of the Greenland paddle is its effectiveness in coming out of the water. A kayaker can pull the blade out of the water at the end of a stroke more easily with a Greenland paddle than when using a conventional blade. There are also apparent advantages in the unique stroke of the Greenland paddle, which is called the canted stroke. In a canted stroke, the kayaker keeps the blade tilted slightly forward throughout the entire stroke. Heath claims that the advantage of the canted stroke is the fact that vortex shedding only occurs on one edge. This allows the kayaker to have more control over his or her stroke.

None of which really gets me any closer to working out why my Aleut stroke is such crap.

Monday, 24 October 2011

Down To The River

The Hawkesbury Canoe Classic: Australia’s most famous paddle marathon, an alleged 111km down the Hawkesbury overnight.

This was my eighth time along the creek, second time solo. Cathy doubled up with Rae to paddle the 730, I was in my trusty Mirage 580. This time around I was using the Greenland blade, Ron Steinwall’s #228 carbon fibre number.

Stinking hot day at Windsor. We had the usual complex arrangement of ground crew: Mick pitching the tent and marking out the campsite, John driving us out, Kaye with us the whole way, Trevor appearing mid-morning after scrutineering. What a great ground crew, couldn’t ask for better ( except our previous crews, of course!).

Most of the NSWSKC paddlers

Our plan this time was simple and similar: don’t get out of the boat. Rae and Cathy had a 4.15pm start, I kicked off at 5. We planned a very brief stop, in-boat, at Wiseman’s but were equipped to go straight through if we wanted to.

Our heroes Barb McGrath and Roger Price were also returning to the river for a second time, and it was a delight to see them again, as ageless and charming as ever. I can’t overstate the debt that I owe to them in kayaking, bushwalking and skiing.

Usual palaver: a carload of gear, food, water, registration, scrutineering (by the ever-generous Mick), faffing around, pretend to rest, check gear anxiously, then too fast to the starting line.

Tides this year were rubbish: slow/fast/slow, two changes and most of the nigh against the current.
Rae, cheerful as usual
Cathy, Kaye and Rae
Cathy and Rae towards the start line.

4.15pm clicked around suddenly and Cathy and Rae were off, powering down the starting straight. Less than  an  hour later and I was goofing around on the water, wondering what I’d forgotten, wondering if I had made a mistake with the stick.

Trevor., me and Kaye
I had a lot of people in the lead-up sceptical about my choice of paddle, which echoes the general apparent unease that a lot of paddlers feel when thinking about using  a GP. The common tropes are that it can’t possibly compete with euro blades, that it will be no good over distance, that it’s an almost perverse deliberate handicap. Basically, a novelty.

My training runs had convinced me otherwise and now, after clocking 103km in 12h55m I feel some experience when it comes to its characteristics over a decent stretch. I was using the Novorca stick, a feather light carbon piece, very snappy in the water but a bit smaller than the blades I made myself. My previous solo time , with a wing and favourable tides, was 12h09m, and I thought all going well I could match that. After all, that first time I did a rescue that chewed up the time.

About two hours in. Daylight saving, wonderful.

And so the night unfolded: I started strongly with the pack of 50+ LRECS, steaming along in the front five for a few k, then the front eight, then the front…ten. There were only ten in our class. Most of the other starters would have been other classes. It felt good to be thrumming along, pumping my legs like no tomorrow, overtaking the earlier starters, as night fell.

Unscheduled stop at Sackville, nose to bank, to rig for the night : fleece on, beanie on, iPod in… hmm, seems I forgot to connect the iPod in its waterproof case. Very careful minute or two as I withdrew the electronics from the case, plugged in the jack, then sealed it all up again.

Evening wears on: start to struggle against the tide. Speed drops from high 8’s to high 5’s. Alternate with slide stroke every now again to crank more speed on but notice after a dozen or so strokes the speed drops off again.

I scoffed energy gels and drank a lot of water ( but only one pee in the whole trip…). This time I had 500ml of electrolyte solution which I also drank at measured pace through the night. Nurofen, the paddler’s little helper, was ready to hand.

There came a moment, quite early on ( probably about 40k), when I was struggling wit the tide, thinking I could walk faster than I was paddling, when I wondered if I would finish. Odd. Twenty minutes or so of that and suddenly got new wind and spirits lifted. Swinging along, listening to my fast-song playlist: everything from Nick Cave, Ed Kuepper and the Cat Empire to Talking Heads, Orbital and Laura Marling. 100+ bpm being my only artistic criterion.

The tide turned and I watched the GPS tick up to 11kph. Bats chirruped as we sped along, a caravan of ethereal green candles on the river.

Wisemans and the fabulous Lane Cove club landing. Thank God Trevor is a member. Because of the low tde there was waist-deep mud: my crew gamely waded into the goop and served up the warm ricecream and hot chocolate and replaced the GPS batteries . Then on: it’s always a weird feeling steaming away from Wiseman’s. It’s very committing. No real stop until Spencer, resisting the siren song of Last Pit Stop.

The rest of the passage went in a phosphorescent dream. After a few hours turned off the music and just enjoyed the night. The tide turned again and slowed me down to low 6’s . Managed to hit a tree ( again) cutting too close to the bank in the dark (again) mesmerised by the light-show in the water, blade on fire, riding a swirl of green, sudden lightning bolts underwater as my passed spooked big fish, setting off green strikes. Clocked an extra 3km hunting across the river to catch the back-eddies and slack water (normally it’s 100k paddle).

Round the spencer turn and down the final straight. By hugging the shore I could get up to low 8’s, and kept that up the rest of the way home. And that damned heartbreaking last 2km across the gap with the lights of the finish shining. Diabolical. Finishing, though, is fantastic.

Again again!

There were Trevor, kaye and Cathy – Rae having extraordinarily left as soon as she finished to fly to Queensland, get in a kayak and paddle out to Moreton Island that night. They had come in at 12h05m, terrific time  for that night.

On the way home Trevor’s van blew the radiator reserve tank: huge bang, lots of smoke, then lots of standing at the side of the freeway waiting for a tow. Cathy and I zombies.
The perfect end to a perfect night. 

Conclusions about the GP? I still can’t shake the feeling it is slower than a wing, though I came second in the class just 6 min behind the leader so in practice it’s as fast as some and faster than most. Moving average overall was 8.1km: to hit 12 hours I would have needed to do 8.4 so I can blame that extra on the crap tides. No really.  It was great to be able to vary the stroke: normal stroke, slide, forward-facing scull, nice tight tummy-stroke, deep vertical strokes – and I didn’t have any of the hand problems I have always had either. No temptation whatever to roll at the end!

One problem was the feet and rudder: because I was pumping legs the whole way I found myself fishtailing the rudder a bit , very hard to avoid over that distance, so that would have added turbulence and drag. Next time, I’ll adjust the footpegs. Or dump the rudder. And I forgot to blow up my inflatable seat so my bum still hurts two days later.

Would I do it again with a GP? Yes, without question. Very tempted to try to find a faster boat ( that is going to be tolerable over the 12 hours) to see what it can really do… hmm, maybe a Flash or even the Zegul Baidarka? I feel that the GP gave me a very comfortable race, felt delightful in the water, and allowed sufficient variation in stroke styles that I could break up the motion a bit and alternate muscles sets when I was getting sore.

Next year, then.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Another Greenland day with the Splinter Group

In theory the water is warming up, and in Sydney we had a string of warmer days, so Dee suggested the splinter group return to the salt water after our luxuriation in the pool and have a day mucking around.

We met at Vaucluse bay and paddled round to Watson's bay. The water was...bracing... but we were all pretty well dressed for it and managed a good few hours. Many different rolls, including Claudia's attempts at a spine roll and Dave Fisher's proficient forward-finishing rolls.

Particularly notable was the hand-rolling glove Dee had borrowed, seen in the video, I didn't play with it myself but looked like a lot of fun.

Next up, the Hawkesbury Classic.!

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

The Hawkesbury: picking a paddle

I’m training for the Hawkesbury  Classic  again (http://www.canoeclassic.asn.au/). Eighth consecutive year, the second time I’ll be doing it in a single. On the last weekend I did a 40k return training run from Wiseman’s  to the far side of Last Pit Stop. I joined Raewyn, Neil, Mark Schroeder and Roger White

Ready to go, Rae's Flash in the BG. My Mirage in front, with Aleut on foredeck.

 Most of the other times I’ve done the race have been in a  Mirage 730 with Cathy, but this year she’s paddling with Rae and I’ll be striking out into the dark on my own again.

Mark Schroeder , the start of a pretty wet training run. 

When I last paddled a single(Mirage 580) I did 12h09m, and was pleased with that. This year I decided to try something different, to leave behind the competitive pursuit of the best possible time and instead take a leaf from Richard Barnes’ book and enjoy it by stretching it out, though I certainly don’t want to relive the 18 hour time our first Classic took.

This year, seeing I’ve been having a lot of fun with Greenland sticks and my trusty Greenland T , I thought I’d paddle it with a stick and  test out different boats. Been an interesting experience.

My options for boat were Greenland T or Mirage 580. Paddles: Novorca Greenland, Novorca Aleut, my own wooden Greenland, Werner  Corryvrecken or  a wing blade.  I’ve doen a series of test paddles now, though I haven’t included the wing blade or the  wooden stick: the wing blade isn’t a split blade and so it’s hard to carry at the same time as other paddles.

Rae in the Flash. Couldn't catch her once she got away from us. 

So for what it’s worth, here’s the results of several weeks of tests. I’ve done several 20k runs up Lane Cove, swapping  the Greenland, Aleut and Werner blades, a 26k run with Dee to Balmoral and the recent 40k Hawkesbury  run swapping Greenland and Aleut  paddles.

I expected the stick to be 10% or so slower than the Werner, but to my surprise when I checked this with frequent  swapping they were effectively too close to call: on the Lane Cove River in the Greenland T , I clocked between 8.5 and 9.3 km/h overall with both paddles, with variation from tide and wind.  I did find that paddling with the Corryvrecken was frustrating because of the huge resistance the blade presented when it hit the water, as opposed to the gradual build-up of resistance from the GP.  I just wanted to get back t o the GP and found I had to consciously  control my desire to change blades as soon as I  used it.  I also tried the Aleut and it seemed to be a little faster though it took a lot more control to stop it  fluttering and  developing turbulence.

On the trip to Balmoral ( about 22k) in the Greenland T I tried the Aleut for a longer period, trying to get it to behave. After a few K I found I could  eliminate the uncontrolled behaviour but because it’s such a big  thing it had a slower cadence. It did about 9 km/h averaged.


And finally on the Hawkesbury I used the Mirage with both  the Aleut and the GP. I Only paddled five km with the Aleut: I found the cadence slower than I liked and to my surprise it wasn’t  any faster over distance than the much smaller GP.  With the GP I averaged  9km/h despite  contrary tides, and strong winds. It got up to mid-10s with tide and wind and down to mid-8s without.  The Mirage is unquestionably faster than  the Greenland T, probably by about 1 to 1 ½ km/h.  I think over the distance the Mirage would be a much more comfortable  boat.

I had sore shoulders and the next day some tenderness in my left wrist, but on the basis of that trip I would be coming in at a shade under 12 hours. I haven’t managed to subsume the desire for a fast time, so that  would be just fine by me!

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

The other water sport

Pic: Doric Swain

Does cross-country skiing count as a watersport? On the last trip, I’d say so, I was almost as wet as I’d ever been in a kayak.

Kozzie from Tor Camp (Ramshead)

I’ve long found a correspondence between xc skiing and sea kayaking. They are both about wilderness, body skills and self-reliance: in both, the environment is a plastic traversable space outside the norms of terrestrial life, with a rhythmical beat interweaving on human and landscape scales.

A snow expanse has the same long and short cycles that the ocean does: speeding down a hill is very like catching a wave, crossing an expanse is like a long offshore run. Both reward commitment to the turn. The glorious and intoxicating rhythm of telemarking maps sweetly to carving down a long swell, and skating across a snowbound plain recalls the sensuous twist of a long run with a Greenland stick across a gentle ocean.
Alex heading to the Chimneys. Pic: Doric Swain.

I used to think of myself as a  mountain person, not the sea, and found my most transcendent moments at the top of a hard-won isolated snowbound prominence. The language of my dreams was the language of cornice, spindrift, sundog, blizzard and boilerplate. Since then I have learned another tongue: swell, tide and waves. In dreams the paddle springs now to my hand. Nevertheless, I can’t help wondering if sea kayaking is my all-year substitute for xc skiing.

pic: Doric Swain

In mid August the three doughty buccaneers - myself, Doric Swain,  Alex Taylor (and the Captain of course) – set out yet again on our annual cross-country epic. We had six days: Doric, in another life a ski instructor at Thredbo, had wanted to go to the east of Deadhorse Gap for years. Although the season had lost a lot of snow, we decided to venture it. 
Leaving Deadhorse. Hi Ho. 
The two routes. Southern leg first.  Not huge distances, but snow sadly not so flash.

A late start saw us leaving Deadhorse at 2pm, into new territory. On the eastern side of the range the landscape is wide bogs with rolling wooded hills, still bearing the scars of the 2003 fires. There was enough snow to navigate  comfortably but from time to time the bogs got a bit… boggy.

Debate about directions. Alex skeptical. Pic: Doric Swain.

We arrived at Teddy’s Hut after dark, a dirt-floored single room with outstanding ventilation. Plenty of gaps between the boards for the snow and wind to howl in.

Teddy's. Very glad to find it. Pic: Doric Swain.
The new wall: still plenty of refreshing gaps. Pic: Doric Swain.

Alex and Doric loll by the fire. Dirt floor. Bloody windy. 

That evening we strung up the fly inside the hut, and passed a very comfortable night. Next day a flog up through the  brush to the top of the Chimneys. I got completely bushed, thankful for the trusty GPS.
Somewhere in the distance is the hut. 

Rainy night, then out late the next afternoon via several small herds of brumbies. Never seen them before – they don’t cross the road often it would appear. They appear out of the mist and are gone.
Doric and Brumbies
Same brumbies. Pic: Doric Swain

Rather than camp in the rain at Island Bend, we spent the night at Thredbo where Doric caught up with a couple of his old skiing mates and we had a few agreeable drinks.
Very odd. Doric and Alex decidedly out of focus. Half a litre of pilsener will do that to a camera. 
Next morning up the chair and off towards south Ramshead, intending two nights out. Bluebird day but the rain from the last week had delivered a crust of ice a half-centimetre thick. Very hard going uphill, lots of stamping to break through, and diabolical downhill as any turn would crack the crust, catch an edge and send you over. We gazed down on the Cootapatamba valley but in the end decided to camp halfway up the tor of North Ramshead. Two other camps nearby, both snowshoers.

Tor Camp, North Ramshead. Pic: Doric Swain.
The buccaneers.

That night had a spectacular sunset with the full moon rising opposite: quite astounding. Bloody cold though, with clear skies.
Sunset over  Victoria
Moonrise over the three camps.
Full moon. Pic: Doric Swain.

Next day, overcast, essayed an excursion to the south but only made a few km as the snow was very hard to traverse and no fun to go down.
South Ramshead. Note crap snow. 
Me demonstrating the distinctive Australian powder. Note ice layer. Pic: Doric Swain.

Back at camp at 2pm, bit of desultory harrumphing and we chose to pack up and leave. Dumped the packs on the chair and had a run down the liftline at Thredbo, almost the only tele turns in the whole week.

As if emerging from a glacier. Pic Doric Swain.

Overall, a patchy sort of week. Great seeing some new country, and we didn’t have to grind up Munyang.  The main range was frustrating : the snow looked so widespread but it was all ice, and very hard to travel on. Still, ait provided that step outside the normal that the backcountry does so well.   

Doric's account of the trip is at http://forums.ski.com.au/forums/ubbthreads.php?ubb=showflat&Number=1418384&page=1#Post1418384

Thanks to my sterling buccaneer comrades for another fine epic. 

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Fitting a pump; a practical guide

“Doesn’t  handle too well when it’s got a bit of water on board” said Rob cheerfully  when I took the Greenland T out for a test paddle.  It was a beautiful black boat, I fell for it straight away… but it’s  a wet ride and does ship a bit of water.  No problem, I’ll just fit an electric  pump. Been there. How hard can it be?

I had the benefit of two terrific articles , one from gnarlydog (http://gnarlydognews.blogspot.com/2009/04/shop-electric-bilge-pump-in-kayak.html) and another from Shawn Armitage ( Hunter Klan. http://hunterpaddler.ning.com/forum/topics/installing-an-electric-pump), setting out in confident and unambiguous detail how to make a magnetic switch  and install a pump in a T. Very clear, very encouraging.

I decided a magnetic switch was the go. My mate Matt built one, the instructions are straightforward, it’s only a switch after all. And so my journey commences. The days below span several happy weeks.
Day 1:Off to Whitworths with my list.  Sikaflex, ugly white acetal outlet fitting, spade clips, black plastic ball to hold the magnet.  They don’t stock the pump I’m after ( the Rule Amazon 280GBH inline pump) , but I’ll mail order one. From nearby angling shop buy a cheapo pelican-style case for the battery. Trips to Whitworths = 1.

Day 2: Pop into Jaycar, crikey what a seriously  brainy bunch they all look. Buy a battery, three reed switches, a relay switch, and a metre of heatshrink tubing. What fun! Trips to Jaycar =1. On way home call in to the bottle shop to pick up my good mate Captain Morgan.

Some of the elements required

Day 3: Order pump from Whitworths, $84 (doesn’t count as a trip).  Dig out a bunch of electrical wire. Spend an hour finding soldering iron. Put off doing soldering. Consult the Captain instead.

Day 4:  No means of securing battery case to boat. Hmmm. Off to Whitworths, buy some epoxy putty, a bunch of saddle clips, some shot cord and olive clips. Also buy the rather cute $4.95 fuel breather valve(black), the hero of this story. Trips to Whitworths = 2.

Day 5: Pump arrives. Huzzah! Bilge pump fails on neighbour’s stinkboat, it’s sinking slowly, no worries, I’ll save the day with my new pump!  An hour later pump fouled with toxic sludge from the rotting bilge. Hmmm.  Flush it  furiously. Hope it’s not compromised. Seek the Captain’s advice.

Day 6: Realize I can’t make the switch work, I haven’t got any magnets. Trip again to Jaycar ( seriously brainy bunch) where I find rare earth magnets are sold in convenient packs of eight. Great, seven spares.  Get home, spend an hour finding soldering iron, set up, hmm, haven’t got any 2-core cable, and the heatshrink has run off with the acetal fitting and neither can be found. Some more water tubing wouldn’t hurt. Trip to Whitworths in order!

Day 7: Off to Whitworths. Cable, more spade clips, acetal fitting just in case,  13ml tubing,  some Sikaflex, white this time so I’ve got both colours. Trips to Whitworths = 3

Day 8: OK, the  Sikaflex I bought on trip 1 was  also white. Bugger. Never mind: find soldering iron ( only ten minutes, ha!) and get to work fabricating circuit with battery and relay. Embed reed switch in block of epoxy resin. Put 1/8th of my magnet supply in the plastic sphere.  Cram battery and relay into pelican case, sikaflex wire outlet. Test. All works. The Captain and I celebrate.

Day 9: Pump-fitting day! Put the beautiful boat on the sawhorses in the backyard, take out the seat (skin knuckles, curse).  Take deep breath, drill hole in bulkhead from cockpit to day hatch. Glue magnetic switch in place to inside deck, take off deck lines, fit magnet. Run cables back into day hatch, and cut pump cables to fit as well. Drill exhaust outlet, fit that black fuel breather vent ( looks brilliant!). Make up a hose to go from the lowest point of the hull  to the pump, make a stainless mesh gravel filter , attach to a hose fitting and secure to hull floor. 

Seat removed, with knuckle-blood washed off.

Sikaflex the hole, cables to hull, Velcro to hold pump, and screwdriver to boat floor (accidentally) . Secure saddles in day compartment with epoxy resin. I am so damn clever. All very neat except the screwdriver, which comes off eventually. Connect up the battery, test.

Does not work. Nothing at all. Dark by now. The Captain and I commiserate.  I draw up test circuits to isolate the problem. Captain helpful as ever.

Day 10. Test out the circuits. Yep, it’s the switch: every other configuration works. Make up new switch: more wires and resin. Before cutting old switch out, test the new one with magnet. Switch goes on! Huzzah! Switch stays on! Bugger.  Turns out reed switches can be permanently magnetized. And me without my degausser!

Decide to test pump setup, so connect to battery and relay without switch. Half fill boat with water, turn pump on. Satisfying whirring noise, unsatisfying absence of water being pumped. Unvelcro pump,check for obstructions. Clear. Cycles happily.  Stand in water vertically and spurts like crazy thing.  Reattach hose to inlet, put on side, refuses to shift water. Surmise the rotor is inadequate to evacuate the air when it’s on its side. Bloody thing needs to be more upright.

Day 9. Overcast. Can’t work. Review progress with the Captain.  On Captain’s advice decide to abandon magnetic switch and go with the old faithful toggle.

Day 12: Off to Whitworths! The staff greet me with excessive familiarity and assure me that the sniggering noise they’re making is just a bad head cold they all have. Two toggle switches (a spare ready when the first one fails) , a fuse and some black Sikaflex.  Trips to Whitworths = 4. To work!

Drill another hole in the boat, no hesitation by now. Bung in toggle switch. Rip relay out of the pelican case, pull out the wires, fit a fuse and a simplified wiring.  Use a tiny  bit of hose to connect the pump and exhaust so the pump is more vertical, lash in place with cable ties. Discard lovingly crafted steel mesh grit filter, substitute a bit of flyscreen over the inlet. Test. It works! Fit spade clips to all the exposed bits of wire and call my beloved to come and look. 

Triumphantly explain the travails and theatrically connect last remaining wires. Blue spark, emphatic popping noise.  Oops, in my enthusiasm I’ve short circuited the thing. Last item I did this was with a $2,000 video camera and it never worked again. Nothing works here either. Bugger. Have I blown up the battery, the pump, or both? Captain nowhere to be seen.

Completed wiring, ready for hatch closure.

For once it’s not a disaster. The 30c fuse! It blew instead! Replace that, dear God it all works.  Cram the rat’s nest of wiring into the day hatch, lash the pelican case in place, and fit seat again ( skin knuckles, curse). 
Undo seat and fit it again, properly.  As usual, wonder what the left-over screw was for.
Captain still nowhere to be seen.

Two days later: paddle from Balmain to Clifton Gardens, do a few rolls, pop the skirt and fill with water. Not without some trepidation reach back to switch. Sounds like a Blackhawk helicopter firing up but blow me down, the thing actually works! Paddle cheerfully home deliberately shipping water just for the joy of hearing the pump. Once home discover the battery pack has fallen loose from its moorings during the rolls but the tangled swirl of wires now filling the day hatch prevented any harm. Such foresight.

A couple of days later Shaan asks about the pump. I tell her about my enthralling experience and offer to help her fit one to her pristine boat, no problem, happy to lend a hand. I’ve got a spare few bits , after all.

Still waiting to hear back.  

(This account initially published in issue 83, June 2011, of NSW Sea Kayaker Magazine)

Late update: there's a very good summary about pump equipment at http://hunterpaddler.ning.com/profiles/blogs/fitting-an-electric-pump-options published Oct 2011. These people actually know what they are doing but  a disturbing lack of salty-sea-dog consultation with the Captain. 

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Around the head: a southern circumnav

Whales. Lots of them.

I recently  joined Matt Bezzina, Mark Schroeder, Wendy Stevenson, Andrew “the car’s got another gear, you know” Eddy, Laurie Geoghegan and Paul Loker on another circumnavigation, this time St Georges Head at Jervis Bay.

This is my third circumnav, after the first circumnav of Sydney and the second figure 8 Bondi to Manly.  Unlike the others, no trollies required: the  land leg was too dangerous to trolley. Those other two trips are on Matt's blog here and here
Hyams Beach departure
We set out from Hyams beach, deciding to go north-south because a strong N-NW was forecast on the second day. Delightful paddle out past Bowen island and turning south. A metre or so of swell and small wave height, nothing to test the Stugeron.
Bowen Island on the left

Wendy rounds the point

The cost along here is all cliff, similar to the immense walls on the Beecroft Peninsula but with its own character, horizontal striations pocked with huge sea caves. I started the day with my no.5 wooden GP but after an hour or so swapped to the Werner euro; I needed the extra sudden acceleration if I was going to frolic in the caves. 

Matt in foreground

Delightful trip. Lunch was at Stoney Creek, interesting entry with big waves coming in and a definite line to follow, but no dramas.

Stoney Creek. Oddly named.

Several very large defiles penetrate the cliff wall, and on one defile I had the bizarre optical illusion that the defile sea surface sloped downwards. The cliffs on each side are 50-80m tall, terrific places to play.


An abundance of huge out-of-focus caves

Along the way we encountered whales broaching and a few seals goofing around. The whales were in no great hurry and seemed interested in investigating us.

Wendy rounds the southern point

Seals looking at us looking at them.

Eventually we rounded the point and as we did we sighted more whales in the bay, in particular a mother and calf who were not going anywhere.  I recall Shaan saying how when she  was approached by a bull orca in Queen Charlotte Sound she felt like every sense in her body lit up. At one stage the mother surfaced very close to me, heading towards me, and  the proximity of this immense and implacable animal certainly evoked a very strong and unmediated reaction.

We investigated a few of the beaches before camping, looking out into the bay at sunset over the whales still spouting a few hundred metres off. Delightful evening, much fine starlit conversation.

Next day we decided on a late start, so that we would hit Sussex Inlet at the inbound tide ( about 3pm Matt calculated). Laurie donned his wetsuit, took up the speargun he had lugged all the way, and potted a beautiful flathead, big enough for a fine morning tea for all.

Flathead for brunch

Eventually ( after noon!) we hit the water again, meandering around the headlands until we  reached the surf beach and then cutting the 8k across to Sussex inlet. A few of us played in the surf ( not me, I was back on my GP and had a morning shower  in my surfing  attempt) while Laurie and  Andrew hoist sail . They were the only two who carried sails this time around, but the winds offered little advantage. Or maybe they were - see Laurie's comment. 

The Inlet turned out to still be flowing strongly out, but arriving bang on 3pm we had no alternative but to flog across the bar and then against the current to St Georges basin.

Not everyone chose to travel without a sail. Fat lot of good it did them. 

Mark on the Sussex Inlet bar,
Visible in the distance was the point that obscured Erawong Bay, where the cars were parked.  Against a setting sun we set out, against only some small wind-fetched waves, really plugging away strongly to try to beat the dark. Several not entirely amused jokes about training for the Hawkesbury.

The home stretch. It was a stretch. 
Just after dark when we arrived at the  boat ramp, with the delight of unpacking the boats without any natural light.
Dry feet again.
A great trip, another fine circumnav.