Friday, April 18, 2014

Review - Goal Zero Sherpa 50 & Nomad 13

One of the many things on this trip, that is different than on the last trip, is the demand for power. Instead of shooting everything on one GoPro Hero, I now have two Hero 3+'s - which are significantly more power hungry. I will also have a long a DSLR for use in camp for video and for our final "side by side" shots of the glaciers. Which boils down to one thing. We need power, and it needs to be reliable.

I considered many options before settling on the gear that is coming with us. I thought about the Biolite stove, but was concerned that we would find enough tinder - that was dry - and would be able to run it long enough to charge camera batteries. It is also pretty big, and fairly heavy.

I thought about the Powerpot, but really this is just converting fuel to power - via a camp stove - and I didn't want to A) bring along that much more fuel, and B) have run a stove all night to recharge a camera.

This left me with Solar as my only option, and once that was decided I knew It was going to be a goal zero product. Currently they are the only company offering really innovative products.

I quickly realized most of the smaller units wouldn't do what I needed. And so I focused my research on the Sherpa 50. I got one in December and was immediately blown away by how small it was (4.5 x 1.5 x 5.25). The pictures on GoalZero's site make it look much bigger. It also isn't that heavy (1.2 pounds), but as a paddler that is of less concern for me. It fits easily in my hand and have just recently had time to start working with it. I have been exceptionally surprised with how well this unit has done, particularly considering how I am asking it to work.

So the first problem is that I need the unit to charge during the day while we paddle, no problem right? Just put it on the back deck of my kayak. Except, of course the unit isn't waterproof! After racking my brain as to how to make this work - waterproof, and transparent - I realized the idea was literally right under my nose. My Sealine Map case. Waterproof, Flexible and pretty transparent. Of course, I realize that anything between my Nomad 13 and the sun will decrease the panels efficiency, so when I first tested this out, I wasn't too optimistic.

I started paddling with the Sherpa 50 charged at 60% on a bright sunny day. I noticed pretty quickly that the map case it was in was covered with water droplets - which I am sure only slowed the rate at which the Sherpa 50 charged. But even so, I was surprised an hour and 20 minutes later to see that it was now charged at 80%.

Today, a 2 hour and 20 minute paddle brought me from 80% to Full. The next big question is how many times can a fully charged Sherpa 50 charge a Hero 3+, and that was what I did next.

I fully depleted a newer, larger Hero 3+ battery. Then plugged it into the sherpa 50. An hour and 40 minutes later, it was fully charged, about the same amount of time as plugging it into a computer.

All in all I am very impressed with the pairing of sherpa 50 and nomad 13 solar panel. We will see how they perform in rainy and cold Alaska.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Because at the end of the day.... is just money, and money won't make you happy.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

An amazing AGAP update.

It has been a heck of a week for the Alaskan Glacier Awareness Project.

First, as you may know, our kickstarter funded in 36 hours, we then hoped to hit our stretch goal of $1000 and guess what. We hit that goal on Sunday evening, and we still have two full weeks left. Now I am just curious how far we can go? So if you can continue to help us spread the word, that would be amazing. $1500 is our new stretch goal.

Second, the fleet is complete.

This is a Delta Sixteen that will be coming to Alaska with us. So if you aren't keeping track, We will have my Delta Seventeen (in red), A Delta 16 (in green) and a Delta 15.5 (in yellow). Yes, we will be covering the rainbow.

I haven't had a chance to paddle this boat yet, as I just picked it up today, but it amazingly beautiful. A foot shorter than my seventeen (obviously) and a half inch narrower. They changed the way the hatch covers work, which at first I wasn't too excited about, but after playing with them a little I might actually like them more. It is an extra step to open and close them, but the closure is fast and very secure - and in all fairness when rolling, mine leak a little. Also in fairness all kayak hatches leak a little. It has slightly lower volume, which you would expect. 5.5 liters less in the bow (which is almost nothing) and 15 liters less in the stern. So if the boat is a foot shorter and the dry storage isn't that much smaller where is the space coming from? The cockpit. The cockpit in the 16 is 35 liters smaller than the 17. When I am paddling on long trips I generally have a bit more than a foot in front of my feet that I fill with gear. This looks to be a much shorter cockpit. But you can add 11 liters for the day hatch in 16 that aren't in the 17.

I will paddle this boat this weekend and do a first look review. Then of course after Alaska I will do a long term review.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Funded, but not done.

As I am writing this, our kickstarter is funded to $815 on a goal of $700. We couldn't be more happy, and promise shut up about it for a little while. But we aren't done. We still have a kickstarter running for 18 days towards a stretch goal of $1000. So it is still there, and still happening. If you can help us out either with promotion on your social network, or a few dollars it would be awesome.

I will have more big news on Tuesday night or Wednesday morning, unrelated to kickstarter. So stay tuned. We leave for Alaska in 51 days!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

What a day yesterday was!

When I got up yesterday morning, I was a little apprehensive. I was going to launch the kickstarter, but I honestly didn't expect it to do very well. I figured I was setting myself up for 21 days of asking people to back it. I am not good at anything to do with money, and I particularly don't like asking for it.

We got our first backer about 30 minutes after it launched, and despite a break in the action in the afternoon, it picked right back up after dinner time on the east coast. It then went to about midnight. was pleasantly surprised to see another backer signed up at 3 am this morning. Leaving us just $55 short of our goal.

$55 dollars short of our total goal, on day 1. So this is where I say thank you, but also say we aren't done yet. I am optimistic that we will make our final $55 but I am also hopeful that we will make it to $1000.

So if I could ask for another great day, help me spread the word further than it has gone already. Help me do the last $355 dollars. If you know someone that likes a documentary, or someone that likes kayaking, or someone that likes the outdoors, or someone that is concerned about the environment, send them here.

I don't have a cool trailer to show you, so I will show you the trailer of chasing ice, an amazing film.

$355 dollars in 19 days for our stretch goal. Post it to Facebook, or reddit, or stumble upon...  Spread the word.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

AGAP Kickstarter

I am trying something a little different this time. In the past I have always funded my trips personally. This time I tried to get sponsors on board, which didn't really pan out - Though one exception may still occur, I will keep you posted - and so I wanted to try a slightly different approach.

I have a launched a small kickstarter for the Alaskan Glacier Awareness Project, and when I say small I am not kidding. we aren't trying to raise thousands of dollars, the goal is set to $700. We are seeing more and more expeditions funded via kickstarter, and in the planning process of AGAP we found we got one response from the people we were telling about the project, Here is what we told them:

"We are going to Prince William Sound in Alaska, and we are bringing with us archival photos of glaciers. Photos like this one of Harriman glacier"

"We are going to try and find the exact spot this photo was taken from, and recreate it, to see the change in the glacier."

Then the person we are telling, almost 100% of the time, says something like this "WOW, that sounds amazing!" There is a small percentage that says "I think that is going to be really hard to do, and they are right also! We figured that since so many expeditions were turning to crowd funding, and since we were getting such an overwhelmingly positive response, we would give it a shot, and see what kind of results we got.

This is the important part. Our goal is to bring awareness to the state of the glaciers in PWS, we will also be doing a side journey to see remaining impacts - 25 years later - from the Exxon Valdez oil Spill. Don't you want to know what has changed in 57 years?

By backing our kickstarter you will be helping to make this project happen. You will also be proving that projects like this can happen without sponsors from major corporations.

So if you love the outdoors, or kayaking or films about the outdoors and kayaking, you could probably help us out. If you are concerned about the environment, and the state of the glaciers in PWS (and elsewhere) you could probably also help us out. If you can't help us out, how about you use your social network - the one you have worked so hard to cultivate - to help us spread the word.

Our kickstarter goal is set to a relatively modest $700. We are hoping to hit $1000, but the way kickstarter works is, if we don't hit your goal, we get nothing.

Always wanted to take part in an Alaskan Expedition? Now is your chance. Always wanted to be the executive producer of a film, now is your chance.

So there you have it! You have 21 days to save the world! or at least help out our little corner of it.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Review - Dark Skies Weather App

I hate the weatherman. I really do. I don't trust him. He lies to me regularly. In fact one of my favorite quips, while standing in the rain when it was supposed to be sunny is - "you know what meteorologist means in English? Liar."

I know it isn't their fault, as weather prediction technology has gotten better and better, the people trained to use it have ended up with too much information and not any more real ability to predict weather. I generally don't trust a weather prediction that is more than 48 hours out. Meaning I will only look into the next 48 hours to see what they are predicting and consider it reliable. Life was more simple when all they had at their disposal was barometric pressure readings, now they have radar that sees everything, and satellite imagery, and pressure variables, and lots and lots of computer modeling. At the end of the day they can't really predict the weather.

Over the years I have taken to using a VHF when paddling, I want to know what the weather is doing where the wind is coming from. That will tell me what is coming my way, usually. I also wear a watch with a barometer for very localized weather predicting. If I am paddling, and the pressure is dropping, bad weather is coming, and it is time to get off the water.

In the film 'three days of the condor' CIA analyst Robert Redford is a micro weather enthusiast. In the beginning of the film - to illustrate how smart he is - he predicts that it will start raining at something like 10:48. Slightly later when he is being chased by the baddies, it starts to rain and he checks his watch. Seeing this made me look into micro weather and at the time it didn't really exist. Now it does.

Yesterday I taught a GPS class in what the weatherman predicted would be rain all day. My boss was concerned I would be able to make the class happen because the rain would be too bad, I said I am making this class happen, and the only thing that would end it would be an electrical storm - which they were calling for at 2:00pm.

But I had with me, Dark Skies ($3.99 the app store) and I figured I would give it a chance. Right now as it is open on the table next to me, I see a black circle that says 39º and rising. Around the circle it says Mostly cloudy.

Below that is a bar graph with the vertical access going from light to heavy, and left to right the next hour in 10 minute increments. Below it says "light rain starting in 20 minutes".

Yesterday teaching class I would move us under shelter or out into the open based on these instructions. It worked phenomenally well. The entire class got into the predictions this app was making, and it became a point of discussion. The next page - with a swipe to the right shows the next 24 hours, for both cloud cover and temperature, (as well as sunrise and sunset time). the next swipe to the right shows the week to come. There is also a weather map, and an alarm mode - that works like "notify me if...."

I am super impressed with this little app, and it is now my go to source for current weather.

Friday, March 28, 2014

10 essentials for sea kayaking

If you are active in the outdoors, you should be aware of the ten essentials list. What started as a list of ten items not to go into the outdoors without, has evolved and become ten 'systems' not to go into the outdoors without. Here is a great page with both the original and the new updated 'systems' version, along with some history.

But as I stated a few weeks ago, Sea kayaking is really the 'bastard step child' of the outdoor community. So I searched for a kayaking specific ten essentials and didn't find anything definitive, so I decided to make my own. I am going with the 'systems' concept. So here it is, Ten essential systems for Sea kayaking. Each item is going to have two sections. (a) You have to have this, and (b) It's good to have this.

#1 SAFETY - (a) This should be at a minimum a PFD with a whistle attached, a bilge pump and a paddle float. In section (b) I would add signaling device. Preferably one that makes light. Flare, Strobe, mirror. Then consider adding a throw rope and a short tow.

#2 NAVIGATION - (a) Map/Chart and compass. I keep a compass in the pocket of my PFD. (b) I am a fan of GPS. on long trips there is one in a waterproof case under my deck bungies. Put that chart in a waterproof case. And use it! Keep track of where you are.

#3 APPROPRIATE DRESS - (a) What ever is appropriate for the situation In the hot days of summer something to keep you cool, and in the cooler seasons wind/rain/insulation layers. (b) Paddle jacket or drysuit will change the way you paddle. I paddle all winter, and you can too!

#4 SELF CARE - (a) Sunscreen/hat/sunglasses (b) Lip balm. Good foot protection and foot care. While we are at it, how about good hand protection and hand care!

#5 EXTRA CLOTHING - (a) a small dry bag with a change of clothes appropriate to the season (b) a slightly larger dry bag with a change of clothes for those that didn't bring extra clothing, and ended up wet

#6 NUTRITION - (a) depending on the length of your trip, power food, gels, drink additives whatever you like. Water and plenty of it, and an easy delivery method! (b) More of the same, when a good day turns bad, a lack of calories can make a bad situation worse. It will impair your judgement. Pack extra food.

#7 FIRE - (a) a minimum of a fire source, a disposable lighter, or better a storm lighter (b) A fire starting kit, I use a small pelican case with a swiss army knife, flint/magnesium and tinder.

#8 COMMUNICATION - (a) As simple as the whistle in your PFD (b) Cell phone in a waterproof case (and turned off when not in use! we kayak to get away from the world!) VHF (I saw a photo of a reader recently on a day paddle wearing a VHF on his PFD. Good for you Mark! Awesome for weather updates, and communication with nearby vessels, or contacting The Coast Guard if need be. More than a day trip? consider a SPOT or a Satellite phone.

#9 FIRST AID KIT (a) a good first aid kit in a dry bag that you can get to from your cockpit (b) consider a Wilderness First Aid course or the longer Wilderness First Responder course.

#9 ILLUMINATION (a) Headlamp. The flashlight has gone the way of the Dodo. Try paddling with a flashlight in your hand. (b) a backup headlamp with extra batteries.

#10 A PLAN - (a) even on day trips, tell someone where your going. (b) Do a float plan and leave it with someone, or on the refrigerator in the kitchen where everyone will see it. I know a place where you can download one for free!

#11 KNOWLEDGE - Get instruction from a qualified instructor or school, Knowledge is the single most important aspect of being safe in any environment.

What did I forget? Let me know!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Minimalist Kayakers Manifesto

There are a couple of 'agendas' I have been trying to push with this website. The first and most important is that people need to seek kayak instruction. Yes, you can buy a kayak, a paddle and pfd and go paddling and have a good time, but it is so much better when you actually know what you are doing. The second, is that it doesn't take an amazing amount of skill to camp from your kayak, and it is in fact easier than backpacking, and more adventurous (unless your form of backpacking is ultralight in the winter, in the mountains and solo.)

A third agenda is that you can do this, and be a minimalist. Now, don't let that word 'minimalist' scare you. It really just means simple. Keep things simple. I like kayak camping because of its simplicity. I like that for the month I was on the inside passage I had two changes of clothes. That all the food I was going to eat was already in the boat. That we lived by the cycle of tides and sun. This is what I mean by simple. I wasn't distracted by phone, or email, or television. There was no office chatter, and no gossip.

Yes, there is gear involved. But here are some guidelines to be a minimalist kayaker on an expedition, or a day paddle.

Find out what works for you, and stick with it. I update gear when it is at the end of its life, or newer tech has so surpassed the performance of what I am using that it would be silly not to upgrade. A good example of this is sleeping bags. My sleeping bag is coming to the end of its life, and it has performed well. But as it comes to the end of its life I am starting to look at treated down. Down sleeping bags have been exceedingly rare in use with kayakers, but for the first time paddlers - myself included - are looking at them for paddling. Technology has caught up.  When I do upgrade, the older piece of gear goes away. If it still has some life in it, it gets handed to a friend who is just starting out, or sold.

This also means that I am never wondering what gear to pack or what to wear. I have summer paddling clothes, and I have winter paddling clothes. The only question is when do I switch between the two. I have a bilge pump and a paddle float and I always pack them and they are always in the same place.

Don't be a slave to technology. I love GPS. I carry one on long trips - a Garmin Dakota 20 that is probably 5 years old - and I use it when appropriate, as a check for map and compass. Not only doesn't it replace map and compass, but I am also not lusting after a much newer one. At the end of the day (or the paddling trip) all GPS's do the same thing. The ability to make a waypoint, and get distance and direction to the waypoint. Adding maps are nice - which my dakota does - but is far from necessary. I don't need one that takes pictures, geotags video, knows if it is being held sideways or vertically or anything else.

Spend more, less frequently. I buy beautifully made gear. I use it for a long time. I replace it when it is dead. I like things that are well crafted, and made with care. My four primary pieces of gear are proof of this. I swear by Delta Kayaks, Werner Paddles, Astral PFD's and Kokatat paddle clothing. Yes, I spent $400 on my paddle. Here is the history of my paddle purchases. I bought a $60 paddle with my first boat and used it for a year. I bought (actually received as a gift from my girlfriend - now wife) a  carbon Werner Camano, I used it for nine years, and it is still my back up paddle. My current Werner Kalliste is five years old, and it probably has another five years in it. My Werner paddle was made by hand in Sultan Washington, and you can have it when you can pry it from my cold dead fingers.

When buying gear, plan for 'the big trip'. Don't buy gear thinking, 'oh before I do that big trip I have always wanted to do, I will upgrade to a better.....' Because you know what? It will become the thing that keeps you from doing the big trip. I bought my Delta knowing in the next few years I would do the Inside Passage. When it was time to do the passage, I had a suitable boat. When my tent died I bought a four season tent, knowing it was way more tent than I would need 99% of the time. But I also knew I wouldn't have to buy another tent for the Inside Passage. Which also means when it is time for this summers trip to Prince William Sound I don't have to worry about boat or tent, or anything else.

Don't Buy "gee-gaws" or anything else that is unnecessary. A gee-gaw is that super cool, keychain headlamp bottle opener. Buy things that you actually need, that serve a purpose. Things that improve safety or quality of life. If you are packing a headlamp, you don't also need an 800 lumen flashlight - no one needs an 800 lumen flashlight! Think about what you are buying, and packing. If you think you might need it, don't bring it. Bring the things you know you will need.

Don't buy something just because it is the latest and greatest, buy it because you know the purpose it serves and why it serves you well.  There is a whole new wave of ultra-light free standing tents on the market. They are amazingly light. But you know what? They don't suit the kind of weather I paddle in. So while I can admire the beauty of the design, they serve no purpose for me. I upgraded from the Hero 3 to the 3+ because I needed the extended battery life. It served a purpose that will directly benefit me on extended trips.

Minimalism can apply to your paddling as well.  Much like Bruce Lee taught with Jeet Kun Do, I try and break everything down to its simplest movements. If I am doing more than is needed I am wasting energy. A good indicator of wasted energy is noise. IS your paddle making a lot of noise as it enters and leaves the water? You are wasting energy. I should be smooth and fluid and simple.

As I write this, I am sitting in a room without furniture. When my son moved out, he took our couch and coffee table, and we never felt the need to replace them. But I am sitting comfortably on the floor, next to a warm fire. I have everything I need. I don't own a lot or material possessions, and I do consider myself a possession minimalist. But I have the things I need to do the things I love. I don't have a quiver of boats, but I have one boat that I love that I use a lot. I try and extend the rules above to the rest of my life, and it is really very easy. The fewer possessions I have, the happier I generally am. I am pretty frequently trimming the amount of clothes I own, and I give away a lot of books and other possessions.

We have been trained to believe that happiness is possession based, and it simply isn't true. You don't have to have much, if what you have suits your needs, serves a purpose, and performs well.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

It's time to switch your km's to n.m.

A couple of days ago I found myself on r/kayaking (the kayaking specific sub-reddit. It is unfortunately very recreational kayaking, and very little touring kayaking. There is r/seakayaking but it gets very little traffic and most of it is me.) and someone posted an awesome photo of a sea arch.  It was titled "kayaked over 10kms for this, So Perfect"

I did the math - actually google did the math - and "10kms" is 6.2 miles. Now I am going to get a little nit picky, because I am a bit of a navigation geek, and I should point out I teach a lot of navigation classes. I have read the history of the compass, as well as the history of longitude - a great little book, aptly titled "longitude". I taught myself to use a sextant, even though it is impossible to use a sextant in a kayak. So here comes the nit picking.

First, paddling 6.2 miles isn't that far. I applaud anyone who gets in kayak, sets their sights on a goal and accomplishes it. But if you are traveling 2 miles an hour, that is only 3 hours in the cockpit. That isn't really that much time.

Second, If you are starting look at distances, and set goals you are going to do much better if you choose not to use Kilometers. Now I like the metric system as much as anyone but kilometers just aren't meant for use in a boat. And you shouldn't be using statute miles either.

You should be using Nautical Miles, here is why:

One nautical mile travelled in an hour, is referred to as one Knot. And the origin of the name knot, is this:

Until the mid-19th century, vessel speed at sea was measured using a chip log. This consisted of a wooden panel, attached by line to a reel, and weighted on one edge to float perpendicularly to the water surface and thus present substantial resistance to the water moving around it. The chip log was "cast" over the stern of the moving vessel and the line allowed to pay out.[5] Knots placed at a distance of 47 feet 3 inches (14.4018 m) passed through a sailor's fingers, while another sailor used a 30-second sand-glass (28-second sand-glass is the currently accepted timing) to time the operation.[6] The knot count would be reported and used in the sailing master's dead reckoning and navigation. This method gives a value for the knot of 20.25 in/s, or 1.85166 km/h. The difference from the modern definition is less than 0.02%.

So why would you possibly want or need to use a measuring system from the 1800's? Because if you are using a chart, that is the system they are using, so why would you want to use something like kilometers, on a chart designed for nautical miles. You are making work for yourself. Of course, we are used to thinking in terms of kilometers or miles, and it will take a little while to get used to it.

For reference, a kilometer is .62 statute miles, and .54 nautical miles. That is right, a kilometer is pretty close to half a nautical mile.

But that still doesn't tell me why I should be using nautical miles? Well, here is the reason. Because one nautical mile is equal to one minute of latitude. Which means you can measure a distance on your chart, and then determine the length of that distance - either with string or dividers - right on the side of the chart. It makes life super easy.

I think it is important to set goals and paddle towards them. But you should be able to measure the distance when you are looking back.