Tuesday, 31 May 2011

The Road Less Travelled

I kayak to work every day.

I live on the water in the old industrial ( well, post industrial)waterfront  suburb of Balmain and work as a manager in a corporate job only a few km away in Ultimo, also an old waterfront  industrial suburb... but separated by the harbour.  It takes an hour and a bit to walk to work: twenty-five minutes by bicycle,  about half an hour door to door by ferry, and over half an hour by car. Any land route involves a long detour and lots of traffic choke points. 

So I kayak. I use my 25-year old Dancer whitewater boat, still in surprisingly good nick after all the abuse. I have to seal-launch off a wharf every night and that would make short work of a rudder or a glass boat.  For the last three years in all weathers (except lightning storms) I head out in the morning and head back at night.
When daylight saving arrives suddenly I’m paddling home in the dark.

 I can’t say I look forward to being out on the harbour alone at night in my little boat, especially  when it’s rainy and windy and visibility is poor. Quite apart from what may be active beneath, there’s a fair bot of traffic and it’s not always easy to spot against the city backdrop. Lately there’s a big old sailing ship that takes cruises ( the Southern Swan, lovely boat) but it is almost invisible at night.

 It’s not as bad as it might sound: I run parallel to a ferry route but not crossing it, and the 800m crossing isn’t the main harbour but into the relatively quiet Blackwattle Bay.  I‘ve only been over twice in several hundred trips: once launching off the pontoon at very low tide in front of a bunch of Chinese tourists, probably a couple of metre drop, and doing a very tasteful endo (very amusing) , and the other in complicated circumstances involving a ferry, a wharf, a dozen rusty sharpened steel spikes and a stormwater drain (not amusing at all).

On the home side I simply slide into the water off a pontoon . On the work end, I haul the boat out with a line, then lug it on my shoulder into the bowels of the  building and into the bike area. My work is bike-friendly and the building seems to tolerate my boat. I don’t point out I’m pulling lots of salt water into their car park and I’m also bringing in explosives when I carry small flares to scare off the boats at night.

Ya gotta have a system. I have a locker at work, and a dry cleaner has a drop-off  in our building, so now I leave shirts, shoes  and pants at work and just carry in undies, socks and my mobile phone.  I take a towel in each week, and on weekends wash all the bits.

Hi Ho,Hi Ho

I get some interesting reactions at work, from “cool” to a sort of blank incomprehension. I think I’m riding a fine line between cool and eccentric, and I certainly can’t afford to slide too far over that line. I get most comments when it’s wet: I would get much more wet walking from the carpark to work or catching the ferry than kayaking in and getting into dry clothes, but colleagues seem to think that as soon as it rains I abandon ship.

Things have changed, though. Since my beloved Cathy has gained her guides’ ticket, she also now paddles to work occasionally : her commute is longer than mine, being an hour forty from Balmain East to the Spit. For an 7.00 start she has to leave well before dawn.

Cathy under the Harbour Bridge,rainy  pre-dawn,  on her way to work
She arrives at the Spit, lights still on. 

I’ve joined her occasionally on weekends, either  to go to work or I’ve paddled over to come back with her.

So there we are: a couple of kayakers who are able to kayak to work.  All’s well.

I use my old Dancer, with reflective tape on the sides. I’ve strung a deckline which I detach to haul the thing out of the water up the ladder.  Whistle and knife on the PFD: I have had cause to cut fishing line from inconsiderate fishers who have cast across my deck.  I have not needed a whistle make my feelings known.

Mostly paddle with a handmade GP now, but sometimes use a Werner Rio blade.

I carry two lights:  one small Princeton Tec on my PFD and another larger Princeton Tec on the end of a metre of white electrical conduit which I stick down the back of my PFD so it pokes up in the air.  The lights are white continuous so I’m street legal. I softened the top of the conduit  with a heat gun so it fits the light really tightly.  I’ve tried lots (and lots) of lights: I think there’s another post in that! But for the last 18 months I’ve used this  arrangement and it’s simple and safe (ish) and hasn’t failed me yet. 

Saturday, 28 May 2011

A Day in the Sticks

We had our second Greenland day today, following a successful morning a couple of months ago. A group of paddler s who had attended Ginni Callahan and Axel Schoevers’  training sessions back in February (and for some, March he preceding year) had decided to try to keep meeting to maintain the skills. Once again, Dee organised this.

Cathy and I set out from home, meeting Matt Bezzina on the way. Matt didn’t join us for the day but came to Watson’s Bay to say g’day to the others and the people  who were heading out with Sharon and Rob.
This was another chance to give the new Novorca blades a stretch. I lashed the red GP to the deck but paddled with the Aleut, trying to make sure to adapt the normal shallow canted GP stroke to a  the steeper and more square stroke.  Opposite the bridge and Opera House stopped for a few pix, to send back to Ron at Novorca.
Aleut #221. That's GP #228 on the deck. I'm not really that fat. 

When we reached Watson’s Bay we proudly showed off the carbon sticks, to admiring noises. I have learned that first people are struck by the colour and then by the lightness and feel, and so it was.  Ron may find himself with a few more Oz orders.

Susan Day had thoughtfully brought along the notes from Ginni’s workshop last year, and we all went over them again. Much discussion about balanced bracing, I was sure you engage the upside knee but was completely wrong ( might explain a thing or two).  We decided to try forward strokes around to Vaucluse bay and then get wet there in the shallows.
Claudia in Rock Melon and Dee in Orca.

Dee doing her Greenland thing from Ian Vaile on Vimeo.

Ann did not have a Greenland stick. I initially didn’t think to give her the Aleut, because it doesn’t really behave like a GP, but at Claudia’s prompting did so and Ann just took off. She was really amazingly fast to pick it up – a little later she was experimenting with the angle of canting  and went over, and nearly managed to pop back up again, less than twenty minutes after touching a GP for the first time.

Ann with the Aleut - the first day with a GP , amazing. 

And so we buggered around practicing braces and rolls. My butterfly roll  has flown, I’m back to a  caterpillar, with only one success in a dozen attempts. I still have trouble holding a balanced brace. Ken day stood for bloody ages thigh-deep in the cold water and helping first Cathy and then me in getting into that brace. Very generous.
Cathy and Susan 

Ann asleep  in a balanced brace

Tony did brilliantly, Dee got her brace and butterfly nailed, and Ann also pulled off a balanced brace. Success all round.  The water is getting pretty cool now though and after a couple of hours Cathy decided she had to get moving to warm up. I reluctantly  retrieved the Aleut from Ann and headed off to catch her at Bradleys.

Dee has decided to form a group in  the NSWSKC to pursue this admittedly  fringe activity, and we are calling it the Splinter Group. 

On the way back had a close shave with the usual blind deaf incompetent sailor, unable to keep a straight line or a lookout. I’ve never had a serious close call  with a stink boat driver but I fins sailboat skippers and crew to be highly hazardous. But that’s another rant.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

The most beautiful paddle

A few months ago I looked online for Carbon Fibre GPs.  Not a lot of people make them: I was struck by Ron Steinwell’s Novorca paddles. With the AU$ at the dizzying height of US$0.99, the US$375 price tag looked possible and the blades themselves looked lovely.  Unfortunately postage  added another couple of hundred to the price, so I decided that was too much.

That was when my friend Kaye said she was going to Santa Barbara for work for a couple of weeks in April, did we want her to pick up any kayaking gear. Novorca doesn’t charge postage in the US: that sounded like a great opportunity.

Ron makes twenty-odd different sizes , different looms, blade widths and lengths, as well as a new range of Aleutian blades. They are generally longer and wider than I'm used to making (from the Holst designs). After some correspondence I ordered a ruby red GP for myself, a yellow/red  smaller blade for Cathy and  hey, why not a blue Aleut as well.  Ron was very helpful about shipping and design, and so I waited.

Turns out Kaye couldn’t fit a 7 foot bundle onto the plane, so they shipped separately home when she returned. We finally picked them up last week after two months of anticipation.

Aleut and two GPs

It’s a bit hard to know where to start: they are quite simply the most beautiful pieces of equipment I have ever touched.  They are angelically light: carbon fibre over computer-cut foam cores, they feel balanced and strong and so smooth to touch.

Each blade is dated, numbered and signed

But the colours and finish are breathtaking. These images are lighter than the objects - the red blade is a deep ruby.  The dye he uses suffuses the black strands of the carbon giving a complex multi-layered effect, and where the colours join and merge the  intermingling is almost liquid.  Close up they seem like snake-skin, with lustrous lozenges of black and colour tessellating off into the distance.

I’ve only paddled once so far  with the Aleut and once with the  GP. The Aleut is a big, confident powerful stick,  delivering notably more thrust than a standard GP, but the GP is so well-behaved and  sure-footed in the water. Both roll easily, the GP is a delight. Slide strokes and braces feel strong and responsive, and they talk in the water, telling you about every stroke.

I used to think my Greenland T boat was a pretty bloody fine bit of kit, but it looks blunt and utilitarian next to these blades. 

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

A tale of two noses

A couple of weeks ago we took a Saturday paddle from  our place to Shelley beach. After a few weeks of lumpy weather it was a pretty calm morning.

Dry run, with salty sea dog. Well, sea poodle. 

Among the paddlers Was Claudia “Pink Lady” Schremmer. This was the first time in the water for her new Nadgee Bombora, freshly delivered by Laurie. It’s a very good looking boat.

 I tried an earlier pre-production version last year and it didn’t really sing for me, but it looked terrific with Claudia. Very good build quality, a lot of thought in the design, and it cut through the water beautifully.

We got to Shelley and unpacked a bottle of bubbly we had secretly stashed, and Claudia christened the new boat. Bubbles on the nose.  Then she took my no.5 stick and put it through the Greenland paces.

On the way in to Shelley Cathy took advantage of the small swell to surf her Mirage in. Too close to the corner, as it turned out: a big set came through and she did a beautiful endo, with her nose secure in the rocks of the reef. A bite on the front of her boat to commemorate it. 
(a) just a teeny little bump (b) there was just this much water over the rocks