Monday, August 30, 2010


This blog will slowly be transitioning from a purely instructional to a purely story driven enterprise. I am planning a trip for next summer, and currently I am spending a fair amount of time paddling with the young team that will under take this trip. All have some experience paddling, a couple of others are paddling driven like myself. But it is interesting to see the people with little experience - day trips only - thinking about what a month in a kayak will feel like. I am coaching on basic skills, the diamond of four strokes and a skill that I talked about earlier. But hearing things like - I have never worn a spray skirt - make me think. I know that all the members of the group are capable of doing a trip like this. It will be more perseverance than hardcore skills. But even perseverance can be a challenge. It will be interesting in the next year to see this group of relatively inexperienced kayakers grow with their skills and confidence and take on an amazing challenge.

It has gotten me to thinking about the physical aspects of long distance paddling. I really have very little patience for a two hour paddle. I do them. But they don't drive me. They are more a way to keep my skills sharp, and my mind clear. But give me a coast line, and a campsite twenty miles away, and that is where I shine. I am not fast, but I have the ability to spend 16 hours in a cockpit, cold and wet, with out a moments thought. It is a zen experience for me. It is as close to being in the moment as my far to active brain can handle. It is my meditation.

Recently I have been fielding a lot of questions from students about hands. Hands, and gloves. Hands and gloves in cold weather, and warm weather. and blisters. Which really are probably more likely calloses. Here is what I have to say about hands.

I have three pairs of gloves, A fingerless set which live in my pfd chest pocket. A thick neoprene arctic glove, and a set of pogies. The fingerless gloves come out on two different types of occasions. A very sunny day to protect the backs of my hands from sunburn, and very long days where I am planning on paddling 20 plus miles. But they aren't for blisters or callouses. They are simple to protect the patch of skin between thumb and index finger. Paddling for a long day particularly into the wind where my paddle is feathered, that piece of skin gets a lot of wear. So it is just an added piece of protection. The thick neoprene glacier gloves I despise. I bought them for my first Alaska trip. I thought they were amazing until I used them. They tend to get wet on the inside, and once wet are very hard to dry. Also once wet they are very hard to get on or off, and once you get the first one on, it is particularly difficult to get the second one on. I bring them on trips but they are generally my loaner gloves for the person who can't locate - or neglected to bring - theirs. Finally pogies. I was very skeptical of pogies. Until I tried them. When using them I still have good solid contact with my paddle, as well as protection from wind and rain. But if I need my hands it is very quick to get my hands out of them and to the task at hand. Try and put a spray skirt on with thick neoprene gloves, it isn't easy.

Hands are important. They are our connection to the paddle, which is our connection to the world. You must take care of them. Feet similarly so. The primary reason that I made the investment in a dry suit was to keep my feet dry. I tried many options and the things that kept my feet dry didn't give me the feedback from the foot pegs that I wanted, and the things that gave me the feed back I wanted left me with cold wet feet. Which for a little while is manageable, but for an extended period of time is difficult, if not down right dangerous. In the summer I wear small neoprene booties that is actually designed for whitewater play boating. In the winter I wear the same booties over my dry suit socks. It is important to not only have a good connection with the boat physically, but if you are cold you are distracted. And distraction leads to problems.

Friday, August 27, 2010

predicting the next tide.

We can look at the beach and see where the water is, and even sometimes where it is going, but for us to camp on a beach we need some solid information. The tide line is for ever moving up and down the beach, and we need to be able to decipher what we see to figure out where our kayaks and ourselves can sleep. We need to determine where the last high tide was, and how high above that the next high tide is. If you look at the photo that I borrowed from a skilled photographer on the web you can see two distinct lines running across that beach from left to right. The line closest to the camera - running diagonally across the frame - this is the high tide. The line slightly further away that is less distinct is the low tide.

The more pronounced line is the last high tide, the one below it is the most recent tide, which was a low tide. This tells us that the next tide coming is a high tide again, and our tide table which we learned to read earlier in the week will tell us if the high tide that is coming is higher or lower than the last one. This is the information we need. The height of the next tide in relation to the last high tide whose remains we can see on the beach.

Just for clarity, I know that the low tide in the picture is newer than the high tide in the picture, because when the high tide comes in it will wash out the remains of the low tide. Therefore it must be newer.

So we can see the last high tide. if we pretend that the height of that tide is 8 feet (above mean low tide) and the next high tide is 6 feet. Then all we have to do is camp above the current high tide line. But if the next high tide is the 'high high' and its height is 9 feet then we need to do some figuring.

So for this example our next high tide is going to be one vertical foot higher than our last, lets go stand on that last high tide line and figure out the next high tide. To do this we are going to need our paddle, a half filled bottle of water, and the ability to accurately judge height or a tape measure.

Put your paddle blade on the tide line with the shaft perfectly vertical. Estimate the distance above the tide line that the next tide will be vertically up the paddle shaft, in this case, one foot. Hold the water bottle at the one foot line, horizontally, so it is pointing at the beach. Use the water in the bottle as a level to make sure the bottle is horizontal to the ground. Then sight over the top of the bottle to the beach, and mark that height - the spot you are looking at over the top of the bottle - I like to use a small piece of drift wood sticking up out of the sand. This is your next high tide line, and your tents and kayaks must be above it.

This is also a good time to touch the two tide lines and see how wet they are. The newer low tide should be wet to the touch, while the high tide should be a bit drier as it has been there longer. Get a feeling for how long it takes for sea grasses to dry in the sun, and you will have an easier time determining what you are looking at.

In the picture there is also scattered sea grass above the high tide line, this could be one of two things. As the month goes on, the tides will move in a cycle getting higher each day, until they reach an apex, and then slowly receding each day, until they reach the lowest point in the cycle and then they start over. This could be an older high tide, with the new high tides receding lower and lower. If your paddling when the cycle is receding, all you have to do is find the last high and camp above it, because the next high high is guaranteed to be lower.

Unless this scattered line is something else. A storm tide. When you get a Storm, High winds can drive waves higher on the beach above the high tide leaving a scattered layer of sea grass. Looking at this photo I would bet this is the case.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Tide tables

So now we understand what causes tides, it's time to look at how this information breaks down into effects for us paddlers.

First lets look at a tide table for an area near where I learned to paddle, Port Jefferson on Long Island, New York for Monday the 30th day of August 2010.

It lists four tides in this order, HIGH, LOW, HIGH, LOW. Because we have four tides a day and two of them are highs, and two lows, they occur in that order HIGH, LOW, HIGH, LOW. The first high is at 3:19am and has a height of 6.3 feet. 6.3 feet above what, you may ask? 6.3 feet above mean low tide, which means the average low tide. The next tide, a low is at 9:20 am - almost exactly 6 hours later and is 1.0 feet high, again above mean low tide. Next is a high tide at 3:31pm with a height of 6.9 feet followed by a low at 10:01 at 0.8 feet. Four tides of different heights all approximately 6 hours apart. This tide table has a tidal range of about 7 feet. From a low low of 0.8 to a high high of 6.9 feet. 7.1 feet to be precise.

The tides occurred in this order:
Low High - meaning the lower of the two high tides
High Low - the higher of the two low tides
High High - the higher of the two high tides
Low Low - the lower of the two low tides

I mentioned before that when traveling in a kayak, my first concern is being able to get off the water. I would rather be off the water and wish I was on the water, then on the water and wish I was off. But once I am off the water, I need to be able to camp. I don't want to set up a tent and wake up in the middle of the night floating in my sleeping bag with my kayak washed away. So I use this tide information when picking a campsite. I want to make sure that I am camped above the high high tide line, and then I want my kayak to be above the tent. This assures that if my tide calculations are wrong I will know when my tent floods, and before my kayak floats away. And remember we are talking about tides, which are the vertical movement of water - not horizontal. So when I am finding a campsite - with this tide table - the tent needs to be at least 7 vertical feet above the low tide line. On a steep beach that usually isn't too far. On flatter beach, that can be a great distance.

Lets look at one more tide chart, this time for a place I have been lucky enough to paddle out of on numerous occasions. Whittier Alaska. This one for August 6th 2010. The first tide, 1:58 am at 12.3 feet Followed by 8:32 at -1.1 feet. Then 2:57pm at 11.0 feet, and finally 8:35pm at 2.2 feet

1:58am 12.3 feet is the high high
8:32am -1.1 feet is the low low
2:57pm 11 feet is the low high
8:35 pm 2.2 feet is the high low

There is a tidal range 13.4 feet, think about having to find a campsite 14 feet above the low tide! I say low tide, because if you come ashore at low tide, that is how far you will have to travel. But most people will come ashore between tides. Rarely have I ever arrived at my home for the day at high tide. So really what we need to do is find the last high tide, figure out how high the highest tide will be during our stay, find that spot on the beach, and camp above it.

That is our next lesson.

Monday, August 23, 2010


One of the beautiful aspects of doing a long distance tour, is that you get into cycles. Instead of your day be driven by the times that things normally occur - lunch at 12, work ends at 5, dinner at 6. You are more controlled by the natural environment. You tend to rise with the sun, and sleep shortly after sunset. We move in day light, but part of the planning of that move, as well as other things, is dictated by the tide. So first lets discuss the what causes the tides.

Tides are the vertical movement of water - currents are the horizontal movement of water - and that movement of the water is controlled primarily by two forces. The Sun, and the Moon.

You will need to visualize the water covering the Earths surface as somewhat elastic, as it gets pulled and pushed by the sun and moon. First lets start with the moon. The moon has a weak force pulling on the earth, but the moon is relatively close to the earth. When it is over a specific spot, it pulls the water nearest it, and pushes the water furthest away from it.

The sun has a very powerful force exerted on the earth. But it is considerably farther away. But it also pulls the water on the near side of the earths surface to it, and pushes the water on the far side of the earth away from it.

So you have to forces of similar effect - the moon is weak but close, the sun is strong but far away - pulling and pushing the water on the surface of the earth.

But now we have to add movement. The Earth spins on it's axis once every twenty four hours. The moon revolves around the earth once every 28 days. At times the moon and sun are aligned on the same side of the earth. At times the Moon and sun are on different sides of the earth, and at times the sun and moon are at ninety degree angles to each other. This movement combined with the earths rotation is what causes our tides.

In one twenty four hour cycle - in most locations - we have 4 tides. Two high, and two low. These are further broken down to a high high, and low high. (two high tides of different heights) and a low low, and high low (two low tides of different heights)

This is how tides work in the most simple of forms. This is enough for our purposes in that it will give us the back ground to understand how the tides move, and effect us in our kayaks. The tides flow continuously. With no beginning or ending. Only changing in their height, and even those have a never ending flow to them. There is no effective way to fight the tide as a kayaker, we have to get into rhythm with the tides, and use them to our advantage. We can use them in planning our movements, when to leave a beach, when to arrive at another. When it is a good time to move past a shallows, or an area of strong tidal current. Yes, tides can have currents associated with them, but that is for another post. get into the zen of your tide, as it will make for a happier life working with it, in harmony. Than working against it.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Boat Materials and an email exchange

Today I paddled with a woman who wanted to test paddle my boat, and a friends boat as she is preparing for her first long distance paddle. As the two boats were constructed differently, it prompted the question of what kayaks are made of and how. So I thought I would go over it briefly here.

First, and probably most common material for a kayak is plastic. I had the opportunity to go to a factory near me, to see plastic whitewater kayaks and recreational kayaks manufactured. Plastic kayaks are made from plastic powder, which is poured into a mold, and then placed in a very large oven. The oven is on a gimbal, and moves the mold every which way, after heating the mold to around 500º (If I recall the temperature correctly)

Plastic kayaks are relatively inexpensive, incredibly durable, but comparatively, fairly heavy.

The next most common material for kayaks is fiberglass, and it is the generally preferred material for a high performance boat. More expensive, a bit lighter, a bit stiffer. For all practical purposes each boat is hand made, though I am sure that someone can fill in the blanks of how they are manufactured.

These are, by far the two most common materials for kayaks. There are of course wooden kayaks, skin on frame kayaks, folding kayaks - which I tend to think of as skin on frames younger cousin, and high end carbon/kevlar composites, but the majority of paddlers use Fiberglass or plastics.

Like everything in kayaking there are trade offs of each, and because of the popularity of fiberglass and plastic those are the two I want to focus on.

As I said, the plastic kayaks are incredibly durable, and less expensive, and since a lot of high end fiberglass manufacturers are making plastic versions of their high end boats, it makes it very easy to start with one of these kayaks.

If you do manage to damage your plastic kayak they are not easy to repair. I have seen kits for plastic repair, but I suspect there is always a scar, whereas Fiberglass is easy to repair, and maintain, and repairs often leave no scars whatsoever, though they are a bit more fragile.

Having paddled both extensively, I can say that there is a responsiveness to fiberglass that is incredible. Actually responsiveness isn't the right word. It's a feel. This isn't an accurate description, but some say that paddling plastic kayaks, the boats 'feel dead'. I don't know what that means, but when you paddle both you will understand the expression. There is a snappiness in fiberglass that isn't present in plastic. Plastic kayaks have a 'thud' to them when they come down over a wave. It is really very hard for me to describe.

The big argument between the two is the inherent stiffness that the fiberglass kayaks offer, over the relative softness of the plastic.

And this brings me to my email exchange with the editor of Sea kayaker magazine. It was just before I bought my current kayak, I emailed him to suggest a story idea. The idea was this, since Sea kayaker does all sorts of tests on kayaks to determine drag, and speed, and the like, I felt they were in a position to discuss materials and all the benefits and drawbacks. Over several emails we exchanged ideas and information - in all fairness he gave information, I gave questions! He talked about the stiffness of fiberglass, and how that translates to speed. He talked about the plastic kayaks tendency to gouge, and its effect on speed. The flex of the side of the kayak when you push on your foot braces which he thought would be a big drawback of plastic boats efficiency, and I thought the flex of the paddle blade and shaft would be a big loss of power. (According to Sea Kayakers tests we were both wrong, as the flex of the kayak at the foot braces, and the flex of the paddle shaft are both non-issues.)

After a number of emails I asked what I really wanted to know. In testing, with all conditions being the same, what are we really seeing in actual speed difference between plastic and fiberglass. His response was this, 1% or 2%. I cruise at around 4 knots. 2% of four knots isn't much. So don't let speed be your overall judge in deciding what types of kayaks to paddle.
The outcome of the email discussion was published in the 25th anniversary edition of Sea kayaker magazine.

I have only owned plastic kayaks. Mainly due to cost, but durability is also a factor for me. I started kayaking the shores of Long Island, New York which are essential rock piles. I didn't want to worry about my kayak, so plastic it was.

Of course I haven't mentioned my current kayak, which is thermoformed plastic. Using plastic in sheets, the kayaks are manufactured similarly to fiberglass kayaks. I currently feel that it is the best of both worlds. It doesn't have 'the dead feeling' of plastic, and is lighter than most fiberglass kayaks. You repair it very similarly to fiberglass, but it is priced between fiberglass and plastic. I am curious how the kayak will age, but thermoformed kayaks have been around for quite some time with various names -airalite, and ultralite being the most popular.

So you need to think about use, and care, and cost of the kayaks you are looking at, but most importantly you have to paddle kayaks to get a feel for the different boats. I am a firm believer that once you start paddling different kayaks, just like the paddles, one will sing to you. One will feel just right. One will be 'the' kayak.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The paddle

We talk a lot about kayaks, and what properties different shapes offer. How to control them, and how to best use them to get the needs we require. We talk about the fit, and the connection between ourselves and our kayaks. But what we haven't spoken about, and I think most don't speak about, is our paddles.

Frequently I see people who have decided that they are going to do it, they are going to buy a kayak, but then they realize that there are things they need in order to paddle. Among them are the PFD and paddle. You can't really save of money with your pfd choice. Yes, there are expensive and less expensive pfd's to choose from, but not to the degree that you can save money on a paddle. But spending less on a paddle is truly a mistake.

The paddle is our connection to the water, and our means of propulsion. Or at least our means of transmitting propulsion power to the water. I don't think there is a single piece of gear that is as important as your paddle. I tend to think of it as being like the idea of buying a Ferrari, and putting cheap tires on it. What would be the point. I am not going to get into the debate of Greenland or euro - what ever works for you, works for you! - But I will say a few words about length, and materials.

Length, I feel, is a lot like hemlines. They go up and down with the times. I paddle a 220 cm paddle. If I go to the Werner website and fill out a quick survey, it will tell me I should be paddling a 215 cm paddle. Today I was reading a kayaking book, by who's formula I should be paddling a 230 cm paddle. At this point I wouldn't change the length of my paddle because I am comfortable with it, but my guess is the Werner formula is closer to the truth.

In terms of materials you have a handful of choices. The paddle shaft can be Aluminum, fiberglass, wood, or carbon fiber. With wood being almost exclusively the domain of Greenland style paddles - though bending branches makes a nice wooden paddle.

As you go up in price, you go down in weight, and here is what I think is important. Weight should be low. As low as you can afford. Here is why.

If you paddle for four hours, you will do about fourteen thousand paddle strokes. if you save five ounces, by going up in price, that is well over two tons you don't have to lift. If you are kayak touring, four hours is a short day. For that reason I paddle with a Werner Kalliste, which is a carbon shaft, with carbon blades. It weighs 23 ounces. Compared to the previously mentioned Wooden bending branches paddle which weighs 41 ounces. The carbon is stiff, and light, and a dream. Students regularly ask me to try my paddle, and I tell them they can try it, for 30 seconds. And I hold them to it. Mostly I limit their time because I don't want to paddle with their almost universally heavy paddle. And also because I want to make sure I get it back. That paddle is mine. This is another thing I feel strongly about. Connection.

In Feng Shui they explain that a room with good Feng Shui will just feel right. Similarly, when picking a piece of fruit, let your hand wander over the choices and one will just 'feel right'. This is how I feel about paddles. I feel that there is a bond between myself and my paddle. I found this quote about Samurai and their Katana:

The bond between the katana and samurai was sacred. The sword was always used as a last resort. The samurai believed the katana was linked to their soul

For this reason I limit the time my paddle spends in another's hand. She is mine, and I am hers. I know her every scratch, as they tell a story of the journey similar to a persons scars. She is kept in a soft cloth bag when not in use, she is treated with respect. She is my connection to the water. As important as I think choosing the right kayak is, I think choosing the right paddle is more important. Spend a little extra money, and more importantly a little extra time. Check your prospective paddle for scratches, and if faced with more than one of the same paddle, let both of them - or more - rest in your hands, and see which one sings to you. This will be a partner in many great journeys. Choose her wisely.

A short word on 'spare paddles'. When I do long trips I carry a spare paddle. She is an older, but still solid Werner carbon fiber paddle. The Camano, also 220 cm. Many people use a less expensive paddle as their backup. One school I almost taught for - used smaller Greenland paddles as their backup paddles. Regardless of what the primary paddle was. I think this is a mistake. If your paddle fails you, it will likely be in bad conditions. You will probably do something to stress the paddle in a way that it wasn't meant to be stressed. This is no time to switch to something new. Something that doesn't feel natural, or right, in your hands. Your backup paddle should be very close to your primary paddle in terms of weight, and feel.

Monday, August 16, 2010


I can't stress enough the importance of practice. I paddle frequently - though lately not as frequently as I would like, but still probably more than most - and while I have rituals and routines for when I paddle to practice there is still a fair amount of freedom to it. I will always focus on my forward stroke at the beginning and end of each session. I always get in my kayak and play with edges to make sure I have a good feel for my body, the kayak, and the connection between the two. I will then pick a few strokes to work on.

This past week I chose three different things. Various draw strokes, the low brace turn, and an as yet unnamed turning stroke. I chose these three for various reasons. The draws, because I don't do them frequently. Of the draws, I use the sculling draw the most. The standard draw I will almost never use. Which is why in the video it doesn't look very good - my paddle shaft should be more vertical, but I have short arms. But I practice it from time to time regardless. The low brace turns I like to practice though I don't use them that often. They are just a lot of fun. I recently read in Canoe & Kayak magazine that I should be doing the low brace turn with the paddle in the center of the kayak. So part of my choosing that was to get a feel for the way they said to do it. They way they describe it, it is more of a support for a powerful edge turn, than the paddle actually causing the turn itself. I like my version more, though I will continue to play with theirs and see what it becomes. The as yet unnamed turning stroke, perhaps someone can enlighten me as to what it is called, I actually saw it quite a while ago on youtube, and have been playing with it since then. It is sort of a hanging draw, with the paddle at a 45º angle to the cockpit at the stern. With the blade in the water, it nicely turns the kayak - though I don't like how high I have to place my left elbow to make it effective.

Anytime your elbow is above your shoulder, you are risking an injury. Falling with your elbow above your shoulder is a very easy way to dislocate it. In general we don't like strokes that put our shoulders at risk.

But to me this stroke feels in terms of usability like a cross bow rudder, which is another stroke I am very fond of, and so I continue to play with it. I think it will become a powerful directional stroke. There are times when it is good to control direction from the stern, others from the bow, and still others from the cockpit area.

I started thinking about practice as I was at my dojo. the past few weeks my Sensei has been teaching the class certain techniques that I have come to employ when sparring. I think of them as my own. I am under no illusion that I had anything to do with him choosing them, but I did feel that he was giving away some of my best personal sparring secrets, ways that I move and strike. It got me to thinking about where new techniques come from. Even something as old as the martial arts, every instructor puts his or her own spin on things. They add their own flavor. And so each student will take a piece of that with them. A small portion of the instructor lives on in the ways that their students have been taught.

I feel the same way about kayaking. First and most importantly you must be open to the ideas of others. The magazine I was reading showed a way to do something that was different than the way I do it. I wanted to see if it was better - for me - to do it their way or mine. For now, my way is better - again, for me - but as I said I will continue to play with their method and see if something comes out of it. Secondly it is important to share knowledge, as every time I teach someone something about a kayak, the gift that I receive is what they give me back. Every student adds something to the way I teach. Every student gives me a different perspective on things I have taught hundreds of times. But most importantly you have to spend time in the cockpit of your kayak in various conditions to expand your skill level. Remember ten thousand hours! Some days practice can be working on technical skills, some days it can be working on softer skills. Following a bearing, reading a chart and orienting it to your position. Watching the weather. All things that must be practiced, to become natural.

What I realized at the dojo is what my Sensei was doing was giving younger students something to practice that could become more natural to them. They were just already things I was comfortable doing - maybe next week it will be spinning hook kicks, which I still don't like.

practice from Paddling Otaku on Vimeo.

Friday, August 13, 2010


One of my biggest concerns when paddling is my visibility. On my first multi-day paddling trip, down the Hudson River, I awoke the second morning to flat water and an overcast sky. The water was reflecting the sky in such a way that everything was a similar shade of grey blue. I decided right away I wanted to be paddling in this amazing light, and calm conditions before they changed, so I quickly packed up my camp, loaded the boat and headed out. It was an amazing section of river, and I had it all to myself. A little rain began and with it a little wind. The wind was coming from the west, and I was on the east shore of the river, so I knew that if I paddled to the west side of the river - about a mile away - the shoreline would protect me and I wouldn't have to deal with the wind ( When wind has open water to move over with nothing impeding it, it moves faster. The distance that the wind has to move freely is called 'fetch' So the section of river I was on had a fair amount of fetch). So I changed my direction and angled across the river. After a few minutes I noticed a large yacht coming up the river, moving quickly. By all appearances if neither of us changed course, we would either hit, or come very close to each other, and I didn't want to be anywhere near that boat in my little kayak. I had the right of way. I waited for him to change course, or alter speed. Nothing happened. Finally I decided to cut back to the east shore to get some distance, and then as he passed turn back west again to take his large wake on my bow. I did so, and through this he never changed course. Never altered speed. In retrospect he probably never saw me. My kayak was blue, matching the water and sky. I was wearing a red paddling jacket and red PFD, but when you think about how small your body is compared to your kayak it isn't surprising he didn't see me. It changed the way I thought about visibility.

All of my kayaks have been red, yellow, or a combination of the two. My PFD is still red, as is my paddling jacket and dry suit. The only thing I use that isn't brightly colored is my werner paddle. I carry a C strobe in my pfd as well as a chemical light stick and whistle. On multiday trips I have a waterproof VHF radio within reach. When I teach for the school in Alaska I carry flares as well. But the biggest most visible object is my kayak, and I like it in a bright color. traditionally I have owned plastic kayaks, primarily because I can't afford a fiberglass boat. But also because I learned to paddle on very rocky beaches and a plastic kayak made sense. My current boat is plastic, but built like fiberglass, meaning it starts its life as two pieces and is joined together. I have a problem - in terms of visibility - with kayaks that are made of two pieces. A rotomolded kayak is one color top and bottom. For some reason, composite kayaks - be they thermoformed plastic like mine, fiberglass, or a kevlar layup - almost always have a colored deck, and a white hull. I would imagine it is to save money on materials, but someone more familiar with construction can correct me on that if I am wrong.

Here is my problem. Over turn your white hulled kayak. The white hull is now facing up. The bright colored deck is facing down into the water. If a search and rescue team or even a passing powerboat was looking for you, and your kayak was overturned it would look just like a white capped wave. If you are floating in the water, the majority of you is beneath the water as well, only your head and shoulders are above the water, so we are really relying on the kayak to be the visual that gets us noticed - forgetting about flares and strobes and the like. Now, I don't plan on ever being in a situation where I am out of my kayak, in the water, and unable to get back in, but Still I give it some thought. I also don't plan on getting into a car accident, but I have a car with airbags, and I wear a seat belt. This is why it is vitally important to think about these things. They call them accidents because we don't plan them.

As I have just learned that I can paint my kayak I am giving serious thought to painting a bright yellow stripe down the keel of my kayak. While I doubt I will ever be bobbing in the water next to my overturned kayak unable to get back into it, hoping someone will see me. I do think about the 'what ifs'. What if you were in that situation. What if a good day goes bad?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The perfect student

Recently I went paddling with a young woman, that in retrospect I think was the best student I have ever had. She is very active, having ridden her bike across the country last summer building houses for the homeless. This summer she did a course with the National Outdoor Leadership School in the Yukon - backpacking and canoeing. Upon her return from the Yukon she decided to join a trip I am putting together, and because of that has started taking lessons with me.

I should point out that my favorite thing to teach are basics. Primarily because they are the foundation of everything else. But also because the forward stroke is difficult to get fluid with and it challenges preconceived notions. But I love teaching the basics because watching students process what they are being taught, teaches me how they see it. And for that I learn more about the art.

This young woman did a few things that made her an exceptional student, and they are things that I think we can all learn from. First, she recognized that there were things she didn't know, or had misunderstood about kayaking. Knowing that you don't know something is very important. All too often in today's society I hear the phrase 'OH! I knew/know that!' For some reason we have been trained that to not know something is somehow a failure on our part. But what that does is close off our ability to learn new things. She didn't have this problem. She would say 'I don't know, teach me' and then would be open to the concepts or ideas I brought forward.

The other thing she did was to have a true thirst for knowledge and skills. She would work on something for a few minutes, and then would say teach me more. Without giving up on the first concept she was looking to add to it with a follow up concept. This was not to say that everything she did was perfect, she still has skills she needs to work on, but her quest for knowledge and her openness to try new things all but guarantees that she will be an excellent paddler - or frankly an excellent what ever she sets her mind too.

She pushed me as a teacher as well, as usually I am holding back information until the time is right, and the students skills have progressed enough to add more to the puzzle. With her I had to rethink everything I was doing. Has she got enough that I can give her more? And at the same time if I do give her more will that overload her and bring it all crashing down.

It was the first time that I have had a student on day one, ask about rolling in a way that wasn't negative. She asked when she could learn to roll, and I responded - hopefully sounding very zen by saying - when she was ready. About thirty minutes later I felt that I could give her an overview of rolling, and start to work on hip snaps. She picked up hip snaps very quickly, and I wouldn't be surprised if she is also rolling very soon.

As I am a student myself primarily of the martial arts, though I always consider myself a student of paddling a kayak, I try and apply these rules to myself. I am hungry for knowledge, and do push myself to learn more. I study one martial art formally, and read about others as I think they form more of a complete picture when looked at as a whole.

My failings as a student are two fold. First I have very little patients with myself. I tend to pick up skills very quickly and then plateau. Then I must work very hard to progress. Currently I feel competent in a kayak as well as in a dojo, but I feel I need a kick to get to the next level. I think I am very good at the things that I do, but I want to be able to do more. I am still not happy with my spinning back kick, and I would like to learn to Greenland roll. My second failing is my knowledge level. Because I have studied the kayak, seriously for the past 16 years I know a lot. But there is still more for me to learn. This is even more true for me in my study of the martial arts, as I have only been on that path for about five years.

When I am told some piece of information, I need to be better about putting my hands together, bowing my head, and saying 'thank you sensei'. Regardless of whether I know the information or not, I must put my ego aside, accepting the knowledge and continuing on.

Because everyone has something to give, and something to teach - even someone who has just gotten into a kayak for the first time.

Monday, August 9, 2010

today someone googled

Kayaking buddhist. I am curious if they were looking for this site, or if there is another buddhist kayaking site out there they were looking for. Or if they just thought kayaking and buddhism went together well. I did the search as well, and this site doesn't show up until page 2.

If you are that person who googled kayaking buddhist I would love a little more information. And just for clarity sake you were on my site at 11:57 and you are in California.

drop me an email, or leave a comment.



Float Plan

Now that you have paddling skills and basic navigation skills, it's time to implement a float plan, and it doesn't need to be complicated. It can be as simple as this:

My weekly paddle is on a lake. A very controlled environment. If I am going alone I tell someone where I am going, and when I will be back. I check the weather. I check myself - am I feeling okay? does anything hurt? I check my kayak. I check my gear, a paddle float, and bilge pump are on the deck where they belong. I have a PFD on. Sunscreen, hat, water, whistle. The actual plan can be simple too. I am going to paddle this coast for one hour, cross to the other side, and paddle back. What are the conditions of the water - the sea state?

Plan - Paddler - Weather- Water - Gear

It's five simple pieces of information. But the plan doesn't end once you hit the water. Once on the water you have to be constantly evaluating what is happening around you. Is the weather changing, is the sea state changing. Is my state changing? If one of those pieces is changing for the worse my next question is this: Does it warrant getting off the water? Does this have the potential to be dangerous? If the answer is 'maybe', then I monitor the situation to see how it is developing. If it is 'yes', then the most important question is, where can I get off the water? This should be in the back of your head whenever you are paddling.

There is a great expression, I would rather be on the land wishing I was on the water, then on the water wishing I was on the land.

Most people don't realize that where water meets land isn't always a gently sloping sand beach. You need correct conditions and interplay between land and sea to be able to get off the water and to safety. As you are paddling you should always be looking and thinking about where you can get off the water. As you pass a good beach note the time. If a condition should change, maybe someone in your group is getting sea sick, it's two o'clock, and at one forty eight you passed a good take out. You now know how far behind you in minutes there is a beach that can be used as a point of safety.

A simple plan is a good thing to have, and those factors should always be in the back of your head. But for multiday trips your float plan is going to be more complicated.

Start with a proposed route on a chart. Plotting it in pencil, and then figuring out the distance and the compass headings - as seen in a previous post. I may not follow the compass heading exactly, but it is a good reference to have. I also need to know where the days paddle plans for me to get off the water. It may be a harbor, or a known point that is a good take out. But I am not getting on the water unless I have a pretty good idea where I can get off. I may rely on 'local knowledge' or 'local beta'. A paddler I spoke with before the trip told me there was a good beach at a certain point. He had been there himself, he was a reliable source. Sometimes it may not be that easy. But as I paddle the route I am always looking for back ups. Where can I get off the water?

After a route has been plotted, I look at weather and sea state. I will listen to the VHF weather when I am making my plan, before I go to sleep, and when I wake up in the morning. If there is one thing weather does well, it is change. I like the joke that meteorologist is English for liar! I am also looking at tides, and making sure that if I need to be at a certain point because of the tide or tidal influences, I will work that into the plan. For instance, I need to be at the junction of these two waterways at slack tide, because if I am there when the tide is still flooding the current will be too strong.

Next I look at gear. Am I dressed for the conditions? Thinking about both weather, air temperature, water temperature, rain and sun? Is my kayak in good working order? Does my VHF have batteries and is it handy? Spare paddle on the back deck? If my plan doesn't call for a break on land, do I have food that is easy to get to, and convenient to eat while paddling?

And finally 'paddler'. This can be me, or an entire group. How is everyone feeling? Sick? Tired? Sore shoulder? Mental State? Maybe someone in the group is just not ready for day 22 on the water, and the group needs a rest day to relax, and heal up. But if everyone is ready, and everything else is good, it's time to paddle.

If I am in a large group, I will have a talk with the group the night before. Going over the float plan, so everyone is on the same page. We can discuss schedules - moving boats at 6, on the water at 7 so we can catch the ebbing tide - Breaks every two hours for ten minutes, or whatever the group decides or likes. In a group communication is key.

But then once on the water, and the plan is becoming action, You must always be watching what is happening around you. Are there changes in any of the factors we have made plans for. Is the weather changing? Is a bow hatch leaking? Is the sea state changing?

And as important as plans are, equally important is flexibility. Maybe you get half way to your destination, there is a weather change and the smartest call is to turn around. Talk to your group as you are paddling to make sure everyone is doing well.

It seems like a lot to do, but most of it happens automatically. With practice, all of it will happen automatically.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

The outer Hebrides

I just listened to the Seakayak Podcast about a new guide book of the Outer Hebrides in Scotland, I quickly checked out google earth and it looks like a an absolute paddling mecca. I have been reading a number of Scottish Sea kayak blogs, and I have to say I am very intrigued by how wonderful the paddling looks. Give the podcast a listen, and then have a look at google earth and see if you think it would make a great destination.

And is it my imagination or do northern latitudes make for amazing paddling? Alaska, Maine, Newfoundland, Scotland. Coincidence?

Monday, August 2, 2010

taking the week off.

My apologies. My first missed post in three months.

I am going to take the week off and plan my next steps.

Keep paddling, and if your bored, work on your roll.