Wednesday, June 30, 2010

As Long As It Floats
While some of us look for the sleek lines of a skin on frame boat; while others seek the coolest color combination; while still others want a famous brand name imprinted over their gel coat; some are just out there in what ever they have. This "bus" is part of a larger story which I hope to have time to tell tomorrow.

Paddle safe...

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Good to Know
You feel them, something like a throb in your chest, before you actually hear them. Then there is the throbbing in your ears; and, finally, you see them.
It's a reminder that the Coast Guard has helicopters on the Great Lakes, although none is actually stationed in Milwaukee. It's also a reminder to think about how you are going to make them see you should an emergency require a rescue.
Too few sea kayakers out there lack the the proper flares or signaling devices to allow themselves to be spotted from the air in bright sunlight. There are so many to choose from, and I have written on them before. The idea here is to have something.
Still, it's good to know they are around and that they are ready.

Paddle safe...

Monday, June 28, 2010

Could it be?
The old state of Wisconsin may actually be using some of that tax money wisely. There is an active stewardship movement here to keep as much land and as much water access open to the public. In fact, Rutabaga, who sponsors the upcoming (you can still register) Door County Sea Kayak Symposium, donates some of the symposium proceeds to just such a cause. Cheers.

Paddle safe...

Friday, June 25, 2010

Back To Basics
The tight fit of a skin on frame kayak cannot be beat for control, especially when rolling. When using my Romany primarily for rolling, I have reduplicated this snug fit across my thighs by inserting a rectangular piece of closed cell foam. A few days ago I blogged about needing to beef up the thigh braces in the Cetus as my edging was not as I would want it to be. Brian pointed out that Ben Lawry emphasises edging by un-weighting one buttock rather than using the thigh to tilt the boat. This was best expressed at an instructor's update by a petite young lady who said to tell students that it was like farting on a bar stool. We all instantly got the picture.
Be that as it may, having contact with the thigh braces at least gives (at least, for me) a feeling of solid control and a feel of holding on while edging. So, I used the device in my Cetus the other day, and the results were quite satisfactory. I was edging further and with less effort while not actually using the thighs. Rather, having a feel for where the braces were gave instant feedback as to how much the boat was leaning and that, in turn, let me be more aggressive with the maneuver

I am going to (add it to the to-do list) carefully add a thin layer to the underside of the deck where my thighs (try to) make contact. This has all been part of learning this boat and, I must admit, gradually bringing it under my control in a way that has me paddling better than ever.

Paddle safe...

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Dam It...
or not

You see these signs all around here, this one taken from my kayak while on the Milwaukee River. Just downstream from this sign is a dam that is actually a gate that is left open in winter and closed in summer to raise the river levels. Some want it entirely removed so the river can return to its natural state. Some, especially owners of river front homes, don't want to see the river turn into a creek leaving them high and dry.

Boat houses are already well above the water line, and some say that the dam was originally put in to return the river to its normal level after some construction process had lowered it. I don't know.

During my paddle, I discovered that, in fact, the gates were open and the water flowing freely...although there was the usual collection of garbage trapped at the walls.

If one scans just to the right, you can see what has washed down river to this sacred resting place.
I don't know what will happen, but they still haven't addressed the massive PCB collection on the bottom of this section of the river.

Paddle safe...

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Wait A Minute
Around here we say, "If you don't like the weather, wait a minute." Why bring this up? Well yesterday I went for a rare (for me) river paddle near my home. I waded out into a yard of PCB infected muck to float my Romany and head down river. Levels were low, and the current around 3+ knots in places.
It soon became apparent that leaving open the Estabrook dam had "drained" this section of the river, and the boat bottom out several times. The worst of it was when I went around the island off the golf course. This is where I usually see mammals, lots of birds and a wide easily passable channel.
My wonderful passage, however, was down to a trickle, and I had to wade and drag the boat several times.
This was likely to be the last time I ever launch on this filthy section of the river. Why mention it? Because, as I write this, a thunderstorm has been raging all night, and this section of the river is now under flood warnings. What's gong to happen? I don't know. Wait a minute.

Paddle safe...

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Sometimes I feel Like A...
Sometimes I feel like a...
Perhaps coffee will help.

Paddle safe...

Monday, June 21, 2010

Bigger v. More v. Better
In this "bigger is better" world many folks select a camera by buying the most pixels they can afford. I guess it is really a "more is better" idea. Cameras with more pixels than grains of sand in the Sahara are now available and the technology of some of those cameras exceeds that of many computers. But, do they result in better pictures? Almost never. Many of us who have shown at juried art shows have had someone say to us, "You must have a very good camera." Yes, and Benny Goodman had a very good clarinet. And...we both knew how to use them.

The finest camera cannot keep you from walking past and failing to recognize the finest of images. More pixels often means the person will be sloppy, compose poorly and end up cropping an 18 megapixel image down to one that could have been taken with a 7 megapixel camera. As for the technology, I bet that less than 1% of camera owners can use all the programs on a 4 megapixel camera.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and if all you have is a mini-pixel phone and some knowledge of lighting and are down in the Washington, DC subway, you can still get a nice image...if you know what to do with those few pixels (even if you have to e mail the image to yourself).
(as sent)

Paddle safe...

Friday, June 18, 2010

Getting Edgy

So, I continue to paddle the Cetus and work on the things that have concerned me. One has been speed, which the boat does have. I do believe that the wide beam behind the cockpit increases the boat's footprint so that I am pushing more water than a shorter boat with, say, a 21" beam. I still don't like the effort needed to keep up.

My other problem has been tracking, and this has been reported by others. I have been surprised at the amount of correcting strokes I've needed to keep on track. Lowering the skeg a tad has solved the vast majority of this misbehavior. What else to do? Edge.
Seems simple and all too obvious. One edges as part of steering a sea kayak, and yesterday I realized that, all this time, I have been doing very little of it. I also discovered why: I need to pad the thigh brace area as my leg has to move a full 1-2 inches before engaging the brace in a meaningful way. When I made the extra effort, the boat responded like a charm.

I am about to leave town for a retreat and plan to make the padding out of the braces my first priority when I return. I won't be adding hip pads as I love the freedom to rotate on the seat, and I can do that now even in a dry suit with all the layer beneath. Things are getting better.

Paddle safe...

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Seed to Sea
As a board member of the The Friends of Lake Shore State Park, I recently attended the Gathering of Waters festival. There was lots to see and do and lots of energy all around, and I will have some images of the event to share with you. Today, I want to mention how (above) a fellow rowing ashore caught my eye. His craft had elegant lines and was made of wood. I was hooked. I waited until he came ashore to chat him up.
Turns out his name is Dave and he'd been a teacher at a local Milwaukee charter school. He and one of his students had brought two crafts they had built as a class. The other boat was a strip canoe.
I loved the work I saw but was disappointed to hear that the school's funding had not been renewed. There would be no more of these classes. Dave, as it turns out, has decided to try and take his work public as a workshop. I hope he can succeed and pass on these skills.
He doesn't have a web site, yet; but he can be reached at
Hopefully, he and his students will be able to continue pursuing this traditional way of constructing boats.
Paddle safe...

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Just Do It
So you don't have a picture perfect forward stroke...yet. So you haven't learned to select a boat for your specific needs. So the paddling snobs (a rare breed) tell you you're doing it all wrong. So what? Let me ask you two questions: 1, Are you wearing a pfd? 2, Are you having fun? If you said "yes" to both you are a true kayaker. You just love doing it.
And, hey, is the kayak one of the few times you get to hang with dad or mom? Is the kayak at the cottage the one thing the family does together? Are you wearing a pfd? Man, you have discovered the best of recreational kayaking.
Maybe, one day you will take lessons, get a sea kayak and paddle on big water like Victoria above. If you do, and this is purely your choice, you will find a whole new world of kayaking and pleasure on the water. Until then, don't let anything stop you. Just be safe, wear a pfd, have company and just do it.

Paddle safe...

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Good Luck, Gary,
Sue, Jeff and Greg
Gary Simon was the first amongst our group to get into kayak racing. A retired attorney, he has trained through pain and worked endlessly on his forward stroke while traveling around the country to race. Well, the race around Washington Island is coming up, and I want to wish him well.

The Island is just off the northern tip of Door County in Wisconsin, and the race is worth the trip just to see the scenery.
Several others in our little community have taken up the sport, like Jeff and Sue and, lately (see previous post), Greg. It's not for me, but I admire anyone who can train, race and keep upright in a boat that has as much initial stability as an elephant on a golf ball.

Paddle safe...

Monday, June 14, 2010

Amazing Greg
and his bullet express
I've written about him before and about his wonderful skills around both paddling and constructing wooden strip kayaks from plans. Well, he has gone to the dark side and gotten himself interested in doing speed. Always a fast paddler, he has taken wing paddle in hand and built himself a fiberglass over strip racing craft.

Light as a feather and looking as unstable as unicycle, Greg launched his boat yesterday and, which is more, paddled it as if he'd been using it for years. He looked stable and confident as he took his latest creation on its maiden voyage.

Another and impressive well done project.

Paddle safe...

Friday, June 11, 2010

Two Girls
One May be Alive

Most of you know, via the world press, that the girl trying to become the youngest to sail around the world non-stop has activated her emergency beeper. She was out of contact for a while, but this morning there are reports that her mast is broken. I assume she is alive and will be rescued. The news locally is not as good.

It's been almost two days since a 9 year old girl took a kayak out onto Lake Michigan without a pfd. It is unclear if she had permission or just went out. No matter, she fell in and has not yet been found. There was an offshore wind at the time, although the wind had shifted out of the East yesterday. Even if she had managed to hold onto the craft, hypothermia certainly will have been fatal by now.

My heart goes out to the family while, at the same time, I feel a little angry that this was allowed to happen. We continue to wait for word and closure

Paddle safe...

Thursday, June 10, 2010

                                     Soon to be Extinct?
A while back I showed a picture of a small metal gizmo and asked if anyone recognized it. Very few did. It was a skate key, something that members of my generation owned and often kept on a string around our necks. It has become, to me, a symbol of the past. I wonder if the pay phone is about to be added to that category.

It used to be that I would do an emergency case and be headed home at 2 am when my beeper would go off. All the info a beeper gave back then was a phone number to call. I would get off the expressway and have to drive around until I found one of these modern marvels (no cell phones yet) and call in to see if I had to turn around and go back to the hospital. In those days, we always kept loose change in the car just to use in these phones ( and, I guess, parking meters). Times have changed.

Not so very long ago all the kayaks were fiber glass and the carbon fiber paddle had not yet been introduced. The sport had very few participants, and most people had never heard of these boats. Now, these little vessels to happiness are everywhere and made of everything. Once was, all cars were black and all kayaks of limited color. Shazam! It looks like whoever used to design drapes is now in the boat design business, and new and creative schemes are showing up all the time (I still think that basic black is best for the skin on frame boats).

Go back just a few decades, mention Gortex, and folks would think you were from the future or another planet. Materials have improved at an amazing pace. And for those of us who used to get around with just a map/chart and a compass...oh my. There are little futuristic boxes out called GPS that tell us where we are, how fast we are going and how to get to where we want to go. Heck, they even got a little lady in some of them who speaks the directions out loud to us. Perhaps our brains are in danger of becoming extinct.

Sometimes it is best to move on and accept the new improved ways. It makes life easier, often better and frequently long as they don't screw with the whiskey.

Paddle safe...

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

                     Big, Bad and Better
Just found a nice article on the Guillenmot site (click on info and then design in left column) about paddle size v. paddle speed. I recommend it. I can't do it justice here except to surmise that using a larger blade and paddling slower (fewer strokes/minute) is more efficient than using a smaller blade and taking more strokes. Now, I realize, this has nothing to do with the perceived energy your shoulders may report to your brain the next day, but it is food for thought.

Paddle safe...

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Not This Year
These shots from last year's QAJAQ training camp remind me that this year's camp is not far off...and I won't be going. It wasn't an easy decision since I love the group, the site, the energy and the goings on. In the end, my decision was forced by a summer schedule that was starting to even scare me. Just too much going on.
In addition to symposiums, lessons and camping trips, I am teaching two courses and have just inked an agreement to teach at a nearby college starting in fall. Before then, I will need to decide if I am going to continue at my present teaching position at a local school of nursing. If I do, I would be teaching most of Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. Hell of a retirement, hey?

At the time I signed, I anticipated a break between semesters when I could let go of all professional responsibilities, recharge and do my thing. Turns out I need a little something called a full graft transplant from my palate to an area over my right incisor where the gum has receded greatly (getting all this, Steve?). The oral surgeon (she cut to the chase) has reassured me that I will have lots of pain for about a week and shouldn't go swimming for 7-10 days. So much for a relaxing summer "break". Is it no wonder I no longer sleep well?

On the plus side, I have been on the water a good deal already this season (as well as all winter). I am using high angle paddles most of the time, and my forward stroke has improved noticeably (to me, at least). Now, I wonder, if I don't fall over...or if I duct tape a snorkel in place in my mouth...can I paddle straight on pain pills?

Paddle safe...

Monday, June 07, 2010

Weather Wise
Ever since becoming a sailor (decades ago) I have constantly been aware of the weather. In fact, it is one of the few things in my environment that I do notice (I will write about senility another time). From the moment I wake and look out my window, I am aware of the clouds present, the trees being blown or not and what is out in the western skies (from where our weather comes).

I notice smoke stacks and whether or not the smoke is going straight up or being bent by the wind. If I pass any river or puddle I notice if ripples are present, or white caps. If I pass the big lake and sailboats are out, I notice if hulls are heeling over, if mains are reefed or if a rail is under the water. I notice all these things, but most of all I notice flags.

Are they just hanging, twitching, fluttering or standing straight out? And what do they tell me about the direction of the wind? I watch all these things, and I watch for them to change when I am out on the big lake. Is the wind steady, gusting, clocking, feeling cold then warm, and so on.
One thing I've learned in my years on the water is to be careful when making a passage going down wind. With the wind at one's back, there can be rather dramatic changes in wind velocity without one being aware until the boat turns abeam or into the wind. Unless one actually goes a bit off course to "feel" the wind or is very aware of how the following seas are changing, the weather can produce harsh surprises to the unaware.

Paddle safe...

Friday, June 04, 2010

Paddling to Carnegie Hall
People sometimes ask me what I do out there (on the lake) all those times I go paddling. They want to know where I go and are often surprised when I tell them no where. What do I do? Practice, I tell them. Every time I go out alone or have some alone time before a group paddle, I practice. I practice every stroke over and over at one time or another.

Most recently, I reviewed Ben Lawry's old DVD on forward stroke and picked up a pearl I had some how missed. The top hand, he points out, should make an L. First down during capture, then straight across a horizontal line during propulsion. End result: the blade is kept as perpendicular as long as possible for maximum efficiency.

So I go back to basics and very slowly concentrate on one thing, in this case an L-movement of the top hand: over and over while I build muscle memory. A few sessions of this and I have already seen improvement in my forward stroke. It is smoother, I am rotating my torso much better and I get less fatigued. Practice, practice, practice. That's how the cab driver told the tourist was the way to get to Carnegie Hall.

Paddle safe...

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Time Has Found Me Out
It says the picture was done in 2008, just two years ago, and Ansel was still a vital bounding pal with whom I often walked the river banks and fields of local parks. Not so much anymore. Arthritis has weakened his hips and it is painful to me (and, I suspect him) to watch this loyal family member slowly climb steps. Time has found him out.
Just home from several days in Maryland/Washington D.C. and living in a hotel, I have had a chance to step back and see how time has molded me as well. Another 2008 picture above shows three of our "posse" returning from a paddle on Lake Michigan. Just a few years old, this picture, and already one of us is gone. Just a few days away and on dry land, and I realize how important this kayaking has become to my way of life. As the time in D.C. passed, I became more and more aware of my need to be back in a boat and out on the water.
2008, again, when Greg and I were playing in the surf at Bradford Beach; and I need to go out there again...soon. Whether it is paddling lazily, bashing waves or teaching a class, I seem to find my peace and center in a kayak. There, with paddle in hand, I have a sense of oneness with the water and control of my life that I never knew during decades of sailing. And I remember the words of the poet (sic)...."I must go down to the sea again...".

Paddle safe...