Friday, May 30, 2008

Out of Town
Gone until Monday
There is this guy I gotta' see!
Paddle safe...

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Looking Ahead
Sometimes, nothing is happening. Sometimes, the only thing that gets me up in the morning is looking ahead to something good. Sometimes, that thing is simply summer.

Sometimes even that doesn't do that for me, especially when the sadness creeps into my bones. At those times, it is as if the color has been sucked from everything.Fortunately for me, this spring I have the first birthday of a grandson to which I can look forward. So, I am packing and, in the morning, I will leave to join the family in Ohio for the celebration. That should put some color in my cheeks.Paddle safe...

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Practice, Practice, Practice
If we were playing Jeopardy, and that was the answer, to win you would have to supply the question, "How do you get to Carnegie Hall?" If you are a wary paddler, on the other hand, you could have asked, "How do you prepare for emergencies?"

We learn a T-rescue on flat water but never practice it in waves. Then, we wonder why it doesn't work when we need it. A fire starts, and we realize that we cannot operate the fire extinguisher or, worse, cannot remember where we put it. When you think about it, sometimes an emergency is just an interesting event that catches us unawares.
That's why clubs and organizations have flare shoots, like this one at the South Shore Yacht Club in Milwaukee. All were welcome to bring their old pyrotechnics, and the Coast guard and Milwaukee Fire Department were on hand to keep things safe. Fire fighting strategies were also taught.

I saw some flares that suffered premature flame out, and there were probably some that didn't work at all. This was a good place to find that out rather than when a life was at stake. Is there such an opportunity in your area, or is everyone waiting for you to organize one?

Paddle safe...

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Things Were Jumping On The Old PondIt was busy on the pond behind Rutabaga in Madison this past weekend. Greg (above) and I conducted a Kayak Progression course. This 2 day affair covers the intro to sea kayak stuff along with more advanced strokes and rescues.Then Brent conducted three one-day forward stroke clinics, each preceded by some fine harmonica playing. On top of all this, there were dozens of test paddlers trying out boats for the first time.

It was a dance, but all 3 groups stayed out of one another's way as we each did our thing. Our class was enthusiastic and caught on quickly to every thing we threw at them.Penny seemed to enjoy her first struggle with the paddle float rescue. At the end, they were all ready to cautiously take to the water in the company of others. Our numbers grow.

Paddle safe...

Monday, May 26, 2008

Memorial Day 2008
I remember...

I remember my Uncle Eddy who was in the Navy during world war II. He made it home and smoked himself to death. I remember my Uncle Jack who was a medic in WWII. It wasn't until he died a few years ago that I learned he was a decorated hero. But mostly, I remember the guys and women who were in "my war." It seems as if each generation has one.

Although I was alive during WWII and Korea, the one we call 'Nam was mine. A fruitless effort criminally (this is data, not political opinion, which I don't do) managed, we fought our war with both hands tied behind our backs. Thankfully, I served as a flight surgeon and never had to point a gun at a human being.

I remember the roaring engine of the F-105 as it shot down the runway slamming me back into my ejection seat. I remember flying into North Vietnam in a KC-135 re fueler in an attempt to save a shot-up F4, then watching the fighter glide off and it's two man crew eject. I remember the old man taking that huge gas station down in a wide spiral so we could watch an incredible rescue operation as both F-4 crew members were snatched off the Ho Chi Mihn trail.

I remembered how several of my pilots were shot down over North Vietnam, rescued and (according to regs) brought to me for interview. I kept a bottle of whiskey in a drawer to help them stop shaking.

I remember myself getting drunk in celebration of a pilot (make that several pilots) finishing 1oo counters before going home alive to their families. I also remember scraping the remains of 4 college age kids off the runway because someone had screwed up.

I remember, painfully, the heart break of a man who was scheduled to have leave to see his baby born (it was a high risk pregnancy, and he didn't have to have come to the war until after...but I digress). Instead of standing down his last day, he flew downtown (Hanoi) where he was shot down and captured. I never heard another thing about him.

I also have a bitter memory of being transfered to a California base and thinking the war was over for me...until I had to join a team that was going to a local family to tell them that their son had died in the war. I was asked to go along because of the father's heart condition. I can still hear the bell ringing, a small girl answering and seeing our uniforms before turning back into the house and yelling, "It's Johnny!" She had known immediately what we were there to do.

I remember. A part of me insists on remembering. A part of me wishes to hell it could forget.

Paddle safe...

Friday, May 23, 2008

At Last......the first evening paddle of the season. It wasn't hot, and I still wore a dry suit when JB and I paddled off South Shore last evening. There was a nice 2-foot roll/chop on the outside as we did a two hour tour.Not too shabby.

Paddle safe...

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Where Ever
So, this past weekend we had Paddle Fest, and Sunday we took a short paddle from the outer harbor up into the Milwaukee River. I suspect that this is the last you will read of this trip as Ocean Paddler and Sea Kayaker Magazine are unlikely to cover it.

It's not as if we circumnavigated Puerto Rico or Ireland, and it certainly didn't compare in magnitude to crossing a few hundred miles of open ocean. It was, simply, a paddle, and that's the whole point.

It was, pure and simple, a paddle. It consisted of some boats and some friendly paddlers...just add water. It was 99% forward strokes, and the boats were off the rack. There were no sponsors.

Yet, for some of the newer paddlers it may have been the best damn adventure they ever had as they did battle with the 2-foot clapotis chop that tried to tip the kayak from beneath them. For some it may have seemed like a marathon and was the longest paddle they had ever made. Arriving at our destination was no small victory for many.

Crossing an ocean or our open harbor is, in the end, just paddling; and that's the common enjoyment we all share...where ever.

Paddle safe...

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Paddle Fest
A Rescue

Sometime on Saturday, I looked across the river to see a gaggle of boats against the far wall. Not all the boats were occupied. Paddling over, I noticed a woman hanging on to the bow of one of the rescuers.It seems that she and her husband had dumped a tandem, plastic recreational kayak which didn't really have flotation or effective bulk heads. The beast had taken on tons of water, and Doug--thankfully one of our strongest guys--was on site attempting a T-rescue.Nydia quickly came along side to add her muscle to the effort. Some how, and by time I got across the river, they had the man back in the boat. I was concerned, however, at how tired the woman appeared. Although she said she wasn't chilled, we knew the water couldn't have been warmer than 50 F, and she was not dressed for it.

Because she did not have the Strength to pull herself onto a deck, I had her reach across and simply grab my opposite deck line. She now had two kayak bows under her arm. We had the now-righted tandem come in the opposite direction and slowly make a space between the two boats while another kayak was positioned so she could get her feet up out of the water. This pulled her from the water and gave her a three-boat platform on which to rest. Finally, we had her put her feet into the cockpit and completed the rescue.

After delivering her safely to shore, we asked that that boat not be put back onto the water.

Paddle safe...


Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Paddle Fest II
Gary Simon

Gary, a retired attorney, is one of the original members of the Milwaukee paddling group. He has done it all and has earned all sorts of certifications. Eventually, he gravitated to racing and bought all sorts of those skinny boats in his quest for speed. Along the way, he studied the forward stroke and practiced and honed his skill. He added a kayak paddle attachment to his rowing machine, and his basement soon became the Simon's University of the Forward Stroke around here.This year, Gary did an on-water teaching session, and interest ran high. I cannot reduplicate all that he taught in this limited space. Suffice to say that he has developed an intricate understanding of this under-practiced technique and is able to convey by speech and example just what needs to be done to achieve an efficient forward stroke.Gary has been kind enough to mentor me (along with others) in this black art. I have "paddled" in his basement, and he has stood on the shores of the river to point out my weaknesses. One of the good guys, Gary Simon is giving back a great deal to our sport.

Paddle safe...

Monday, May 19, 2008

Congratulations to Sherri
Sherri Mertz (on the right in photo above) is a well respected local paddler and instructor. She also happens to work at Laacke & Joy whose downtown store sells paddling equipment. This past weekend was their annual Paddle Fest which was, as far as I could tell, a great success. Sherri, as usual, had carefully assembled a crew of competent safety paddlers and instructors who were all happy to volunteer in support of Sherri. During the two day event, many many folks, of all ages, got to try out a kayak for the first time.

On Sunday morning, a group gathered at our South Shore launch point for a paddle across the outer harbor...then up the Milwaukee River to the main store where we had breakfast before the test paddling resumed.Tomorrow, I will have a few more comments and photos on this event.

Paddle safe...

Friday, May 16, 2008

Aids (ATN's)
One of the great "luxuries" I had while sailing was the ability to spread out a chart and use tools such as parallel rulers and dividers. It was important, with my 6-foot draft, to always know my position, especially when sailing near the shore line. Another challenge was coming into a new harbor at night.

At such times it could be hard to pick out navigation lights on entrances because of all the city lights in the background. On a few occasions the headlights of cars making U-turns near shore have looked an awful lot like light houses. In any event, it was always the aids to navigation that got me safely into port.

Kayakers, on the other hand, have no room for a chart table. Heck, we don't have enough room for a full sized chart. Many of us laminate small pieces of a chart (always including a compass rose or reference to north) and keep them on the fore deck just ahead of the cockpit. Generally, we point our boat at something in order to take a bearing with our deck mounted compasses. Triangulation is roughly done as we seldom have a straight edge, let alone parallel rulers with which to "walk" a compass reading.I am often surprised at the lack of navigation knowledge amongst our brethren. Depending on line of site observations and alignments of known objects may work most of the time but, eventually, we will find ourselves in a confusion of small islands and inlets.
Observing a numbered buoy at such times (and knowing what they mean) can be a life saver at such times. I encourage folks to get one of the many small books available on navigation. There are even a few aimed explicitly at paddlers. And, by the way; if you ever see a navigation light out or an aid to navigation out of position, call the Coast Guard immediately. They tell me that it is appropriate to use channel 16 at such times (they will then probably direct you to 22).

Paddle safe...

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Ah...spring. Warm air...and freezing waters. Everything is in bloom, and the only-in-warm-air- paddlers are starting to appear. I found this lady about to launch at south shore. It is inside the breakwater and fairly well protected from the waves on the big lake. One never knows, however, when an unskilled motor boater will throw a wake your way. So, I asked, "New boat?"

It was. Did she realize that it was a recreational boat and not a sea kayak and that any wave or wake could tip it? She was, the man pointed out, only going to use it within the breakwater to get to their boat which is on a mooring. "Be careful," I offered and went off for what turned out to be a wonderful solo paddle.

They were gone when I returned, and there was no sign of a major rescue having taken place.As I hauled out, I saw these new paddlers, and they were doing it right. They stayed together better than any class I've ever taught, and they had adult supervision and an experienced instructor. Hmmm...pretty smart, don't you think?

Paddle safe...

Wednesday, May 14, 2008


Now that most paddlers are back, or about to be back, on the water, it is a good time to set some realistic goals. For some, this is the year they will learn to roll or add a roll to their bag of skills. For others, it might be getting a solid draw stroke or a low brace turn. No matter, all will need to practice, and most will benefit from instruction.

Symposiums abound and most offer a tantalizing array of courses. Here, in the Midwest, Rutabaga (in Madison, Wisconsin) has a unique offering coming up soon. Brent Reitz, a champion racer with roots in the area, will be conducting a clinic in Madison. This one day course, which involves instruction and video analysis, will be offered on May 24, 25 and 26. For more info, go to their site or contact Nancy at 1-800-472-3353.

In Milwaukee, Laacke & Joys will hold their annual PADDLE FEST on May 17th-18th. Several lectures and some mini-on-water-lessons will be offered along with test paddling and short trips. Our local forward stroke Guru, Gary Simon, will be presenting there as well.

Here are two great opportunities, right in our back yard, to learn and perfect the most-needed-most -often-done-wrong-stroke.

Paddle safe...

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Stick it

Now it is officially spring. I have my Milwaukee County launch sticker (senior citizen rates, no less...but I digress) and will soon get one for the state parks (same deal). There is, after all, lots to look forward to (he said, ending with a preposition).Everything is blooming around here in anticipation of warmer weather. Even the Rutabaga civil defense squad is out drilling:If you are one of those seasonal paddlers who doesn't go out in the winter cold, it is time to get your equipment out of the garage, make sure all is in working order and get ready to paddle. Come on out and, I guarantee, you will have fun (he said, ending in a proposition).

Paddle safe...


Monday, May 12, 2008

May The Force Be With You
No one showed up for our Sunday paddle yesterday morning. No one, that is, except Tim and myself; but we were on a mission. The gusts out of the north east were about 35 mph, and the flag on the yacht club was a blur. We were there because Tim had graciously consented to allow me to test paddle his Impex Force 4.

As most of you know, I paddle a Romany and love it. It is agile, seaworthy and an ideal boat for teaching, day paddles and rolling. Because it is not a long boat (16 feet) and has a good deal of rocker (which probably shortens its waterline more), it is ever so slightly slower than the boats my water-mates paddle. On longer slogs, therefor, I feel I have to work just that much harder to maintain speed. That, in essence, has sent me on a search for a longer boat.

A few years back I had paddled an Impex Outer Island and liked it. I cannot find one in the area to see how it would feel to me now at my improved level of paddling. Last week, however, I was able to paddle a Force 4 while in Madison. It behaved wonderfully and felt as if I was in the Romany as far as stability goes. It was, however, a nearly windless day and the water was flat.Yesterday was just too good to pass on, so Tim drove into town with his Force 4 and Looshka IV. Once on the water, I found that the boat asked for more attention than I think the Romany would have required. Initial stability was a bit less than the Romany, but the 4 tracked well on all points, especially with a tad of skeg deployed. I was surprised how relatively well I could turn her in the long as I gave it a little edge.On shore, the boat does appear to have some rocker, and I am still undecided. I would still like to paddle it in large swells, andwaves when the wind is not as strong. I wonder, still, how the Outer Island would feel to me now. The process continues.

Paddle safe...

Friday, May 09, 2008

Writing On A Clean SlateThere is still a chill in the air, but the snow is gone and the trees are blooming (which is probably why I am sneezing). The calendar says, "May," and my schedule says Intro to Sea Kayaking. If It's Friday (and it is), it must be lesson time.

I head for Madison in a few hours to teach my first class of this season. I worry about how cold the pond is and that beginners need to do wet exits but don't have dry suits. I want to be sure to take my time to cover each skill enough so that they can go off and practice on their own. I need to be sure to cover everything in the curriculum (imagine if they learned to roll but didn't have a forward stroke). Above all, with the cold water and all, I must keep them (and myself) safe.

We love this sport, and many of us love teaching it as much as participating in it. It is, however, a great responsibility, and those coming to learn deserve the best we can offer.

This little unpaid political announcement is my pep talk to myself as I come off the (winter) bench. It's time to get out there and into the game.

Paddle safe...

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Not Forgotten
Winter is, supposedly, gone; but it isn't forgotten. Yesterday, we took a walk in the park just across the river. It's the first time we'd been there since the snow melted. While it was good to get amongst the trees, I found that several old friends had not survived the winter.Trees, some of which had been there for hundreds of years, had snapped under the relentless cold, wind and snow.Some that had, for years, clung to a thinning layer of eroding soil had finally lost their grip. It's o.k., part of the cycle. Others, I am sure will sprout in their places. Anyway, Ansel didn't seem to notice.(for Suzette)
Paddle safe...

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

I've spent an awful lot of time lugging 45 pounds of gear in search of black and white images. I had a heavy back pack and a wooden tripod with a hefty three-way-handled head that could hold my 4x5 view camera steady when set up in a running stream. Under the cloth I would go to adjust the swings and other settings in order to bring the upside down image into focus. Time and again I would go out for hours, maybe set the camera up several times and never click the shutter. It wasn't worth the exposure if it wasn't going to be a good one since each one led to a lot of work.

When I did expose a piece of film, I needed to mark the sheet film holder to tell me whether it was a normal, plus or minus development. Then there would be unloading the holder in the dark, processing the negative followed by long hours of printing. In the end, when everything went well, I would have a gorgeous 11x14 silver print slightly cool toned. We called it fine art black and white photography.

Now it is slam-bam, clickity click and Shazam! you have a color image that looks wonderful on a computer screen. If you have a fine art printer like mine, you might still produce printed images to hang where it can be enjoyed from time to time. It still amazes me that no chemicals or film are needed from click to print, just a pocket full of pixels. Still, the black and white image remains the holy grail for many of us, especially those with dogs named Ansel.

Paddle safe...


Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Now You See The C To C...
Now You Don't

Time was a time when a rolling class meant a time to struggle with and fail at the C to C roll. A good and quick roll, it always seemed to have some psychological barrier that kept the student from quite getting it. All would go well until the head came up. The boat never rotated because, without the student or instructor realizing it, the one in the boat was actually lifting both knees, what physicists refer to as mutually neutralizing double hip snaps. In any event, a surprisingly low percentage of first time students left the class with any roll let alone a bomb-proof one.

Enter the modified sweep roll and successes abounded. Well, at least the numbers of folks getting it at the first session increased considerably. More over, fewer shoulders popped out of their sockets, and folks eventually got their off side roll quicker. What's not to love?

To be sure, better approaches to the C-C roll have been developed and success rates are up. but who needs the gymnastics (I speak here to sea kayakers, not the play boaters who need quick and dirty rolls). With all sweep rolling, everything is more leisurely, and the boat comes around more slowly (or quickly, if you wish). Boats with chines and designs that make them harder to roll, can be brought around gradually as they relent to the longer and more evenly applied lift of the thigh and slow sweep of the blade.

So, see no evil, see no C to C (at first try) and sweep that sucker over. My thoughts.

Paddle safe...

Monday, May 05, 2008

How About A Hand...
..for Ann, JB, Rutabaga and Wilderness Medical Associates for putting on a perfect Wilderness First Aid Course! 18 people who love the out of doors and carry the responsibilities of leaders and/or instructors gathered to learn and refresh wilderness first aid techniques. And, wow, did we learn.

Ann and JB dispensed an unbelievable amount of great info in an amazingly well-orchestrated progression of lectures and drills. By the end of the weekend we were breaking each other's necks just to practice moving spinal injury patients.

If you lead, teach or just spend time away from the urbane setting, I recommend (without reservation) a course from these folks.

Paddle safe...

Friday, May 02, 2008

Good News?
Bad News?

These 3 magazines arrived in our mail within 2 days of one another (the one on the right is from the American Automobile Association). Notice the common theme? Yes, kayaking. Or, at least, paddling. Thing is, only one of them is a paddling magazine. Is this good or bad news?

Those who sell or rent boats or offer trips involving them will find this wonderful. Ah, the kayak is becoming mainstream. This means more business for them and bottom line, a better bottom line. For them, it ends up being about money.

Outdoor advocates may celebrate that, at last, others will get to enjoy the outdoors. Even exercise folks will welcome the new herd of people who have gotten their butts off the sofa and into a boat. Surely the National Association To Get Everyone Into A Kayak Because It Is Good Fun will be happy with this sign of "progress". So will the National Association Of Manufacturers Of Plastics and Resins. Lots of people will celebrate this economic niche as it grows. Could it be that there is no down side here (remember who is writing this)?

It is spring, the Lake Michigan is not yet up to 40F, and soon young people with new/rented boats will appear at the launch site ready to paddle. Many, sadly, will have had no lessons or experience but will have a recreational boat not meant for the lake, no pfd (or one that is on the back deck) and cotton shirts and shorts that feel good in the relatively warm air. Hey, how wonderful, they are getting involved and contributing to this economic boom. We all know, however, that they are putting themselves at great risk, especially for hypothermia.

In addition, they know nothing of navigation or the rules of the road. Our launch site is busy with large yachts and fisherman constantly leaving and entering the harbor. We have already had complaints of kayakers getting in the way (which is how I got onto the Milwaukee Harbor Safety Committee). These unwashed novices are, at times, a public relations nightmare.

Finally, there will be the elitist snobs who feel the sport is too crowded and that it is already too hard to get a good camp site. There will be the purest who looks down at anyone who is not in a real kayak which, as he or she will know, must be 18 feet or skin on frame or no more than 18 inches wide or be able to carry a piano in the rear hatch. They will look askance at the faulty forward stroke, the not-upright-posture and the arm paddling of the newbies. They will find plenty to criticize.

I know that you (and I) fit into one or another, and possibly more, of the groups I have described. Which group(s) you are in will determine whether this is good or bad news that arrived in my mailbox.

(Off to the Wilderness First Aid course. Back Monday)

Paddle safe...

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Who Is Next?(They don't have leprosy?Hansen's disease. I blurred their faces because they are minors)
Earlier this week, two of us took a dozen or so play boats to a high school and had four sessions during which the students got to...well, play in the play boats. After a short demo and fitting, off they went. There were races, figure eight course, follow the leader and tag.

It was interesting to relive that time of life as I watched these teenagers go about their social interaction; and it was fun to watch them struggle with a boat not meant for quiet waters. Eventually, they invented their own games, such as basketball in a boat. A few, who have had kayak experiences, won the races and paddled with the least effort.

Bottom line, perhaps an idea was planted in a young mind that might otherwise never have thought of trying out a kayak.

Paddle safe...