Thursday, August 18, 2011


Please note that on the side of this page is a new option. I have decided to offer instruction in two ways.

Option 1: if you are in the Central North Carolina Area and want to learn to paddle feel free to contact me for pricing and scheduling. I teach a progression from the forward stroke through rolling, navigation, and expedition planning.

Option 2: If you don't live in the Central North Carolina Area I offer instruction through video. If you record yourself doing various strokes I can critique you, via Skype or iChat and give you skills to work on. This process actually works very well, as we BOTH get to see what you are doing, right and wrong and work towards getting your skills where you want them. If you don't have the equipment to record yourself paddling I can assist you in making inexpensive camera purchases and discuss mounting options.

In the not to distant future - probably January - I will be offering an online expedition planning E course. This will teach you the skills that you need to plan your own adventures safely. Always wanted to Hike in Alaska but didn't know where to begin? Begin with the E course to teach you the in's and out's of expedition planning. Until I offer the E course I am available as a consultant for expedition planning. Contact me for more information.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Dry bags

You all know that I packed and repacked my kayak before going to Alaska, as a major fear of mine is that I will get to the put in and not get everything in the kayak. But while I was waiting to load onto the ferry I ended up meeting a number of guys doing long distance motorcycle rides through Alaska. They were heading home as I was heading to my put in, in Ketchikan.

We got to talking about the gear they had packed on their motor cycles. Most had hard cases - panniers - on tiebacks of their bikes, but within those they had waterproof bags that fit the cases perfectly. It made packing much easier because you could pack your bags and that would fit perfectly onto, or into the motorcycle.

I had a wonderful experience with the tapered dry bag I used, so much so that I will buy another one for my next trip so I have one in the bow and one in the stern. But this is really as close as we get to 'custom' bags for kayaks. The vast majority of us literally putting round pegs(dry bags) in square holes (our kayaks) and then filling the extra space with odds and ends. Even the tapered bag I use and love, doesn't slide all the way back into the stern. I found myself wishing for a 10 liter tapered dry bag that could go in front of my larger 35 liter tapered dry bag.

Why doesn't someone make dry bags that fit the shape of our kayaks? Why doesn't the manufacturer make - or contract out to a maker - a set of bags designed specifically for their boats? It would be another source of revenue, and it would make everyone happy.

The key to quickly packing your kayak is always packing the same gear in the same place in the same way, but invariable this doesn't happen. I can pack  kayak pretty quickly, but even on a a trip like the inside passage where the load is unchanging, just getting smaller every day as we eat food, and use fuel, it should be the same, but it rarely is. Now if I had a set of Delta kayaks dry bags, made specifically for my Seventeen by Seal line I probably would.

Earlier in the year I was thinking Seal line - or some other manufacturer should make bags not only in more and different colors, but with large icons to denote what is in them. A food bag. A clothes bag. A first aid bag, and so on, and so on. You could buy them in a set or individually. It would also help create brand loyalty as some would want a system that worked well together.

Another thing I was thinking of as a bear chased us from a perfectly good beach, Hunters wear clothing lined with charcoal - I think they use charcoal, I'm not a hunter! - to mask their odor from the animals they are hunting. Why can't we - or any outdoors person - use something like this for food and garbage? and while we are on the topic why aren't there soft, bear proof options? a bear proof/odor proof bag for food and garbage? Well, in all fairness there are bear proof bags but they are ridiculously expensive.

The answer to why none of these things exist is market share. The number of paddlers doing overnight trips compared to the number of paddlers is a very high ratio. There simply aren't enough people doing paddling trips of the kinds that would benefit from products like I mentioned to make it feasible for a company to offer these products. As painful as it is for me to admit most people in the US are paddling for away and going home - really most new paddlers, believe it or not, are fisherman. At least in the United States the largest growing group of paddlers are fisherman - and don't need any of the things I have mentioned. But it would be nice wouldn't it?

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Forward stroke again

The focus of this blog is and always will be instruction. Even the coverage of my inside passage trip was based in instruction. I had a lot of time to think while paddling in Alaska. We did around 325 miles in 18 days of paddling. Which averages to 18 miles per day. By my math around 700,000 paddle strokes were done in those 18 days. That is a lot of time to think and tweak your forward stroke. In the first few moments of the trip I thought to myself - how many strokes will I do? And towards the end of the trip I started to think - How many strokes are left?

Psychologically there is a very interesting thing that occurs when you talk to people during a trip like that. In the beginning people will say "wow! you have a long way to go!" which is a painful sentence to hear. And then at some point what they say changes. It becomes "wow! you've come a long way."  Which is an amazing sentence to hear. Our last night of the trip we were in Haines counting the minutes to get back on the water. We were ready to be done. We were waiting to take showers and a woman who said she was a kayaker asked where we came from. When we told her we came from Ketchikan and got there in 17 days she was speechless. Then she warned us about the wind.

If your going to do a trip involving 700,000 paddle strokes though your stroke has to be efficient. I noticed a couple of things with my forward stroke in the 18 days we were paddling. When the water got choppy and rough I tended to shorten my paddle stroke, and I think this was because I wanted to be able to brace if I needed to. But the by product was it slowed me down. I had to remember to lengthen my stroke out to not give away speed.

There are three things I like to watch for in my forward stroke:

Number 1 - Am I planting my paddle up by my feet? I want a nice long forward stroke utilizing as much of my rotation as possible.

Number 2 - Am I making my stroke too long? Where is my paddle coming out of the water? It should be at my hip. Any further back and I am lifting water up, instead of pushing my kayak forward.

Number 3 - How much blade is going in the water? In the middle of my stroke - or yours - the water line should be right at the throat of the paddle, where the shaft joins the blade. More than this, and I am wasting energy. Having the shaft in the water is only causing resistance in the water. But not having the blade fully submerged and I am giving up surface area that is providing propulsion.

I need to hit three sweet spots in each paddle stroke. Every time. No exceptions. Every. Stroke. Counts. And when you have 700,000 of them you get some time to think about it. But at the same time you have to control what those thoughts are.

When meditating - a foundation of Buddhism - it is important to keep your mind focused on the present. I always think of the forward stroke as a meditation. It has to happen without thought. Yet must be thoughtful. It is important to remember when meditating and your mind wanders, which it will do, that you bring your focus back to the present. But at the same time it is important to accept the wandering without chastising yourself, which is just another thought taking your focus away from the present, your chastising yourself for something that occurred in the past - just go back to your focus. The same thing has to occur with your forward stroke. When it strays from perfection, which it will do, just go back to focus. Check your three sweet spots, make sure your rotating, make sure your posture is correct. Make sure you are pushing with your feet.

Stay focused and in the moment and a fluid, beautiful forward stroke will come.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Kayak review: Delta Seventeen Long term test

If you have been reading this blog you will already know that my Delta was purchased specifically for the Inside passage trip I just completed. I realized while paddling in Alaska, that I have never written an actual review of the kayak - though it is probably pretty clear from my writings here just how much I love the boat. That said she is not without her faults, and spending 18 days paddling a long way in kayak you really have a lot of time to think about what your paddling, and so here are those thoughts.

My kayak is the Delta Seventeen Sport. There is an expedition model which is the same kayak with the deck raised 1 inch providing a little more leg space and dry storage. They Also make an 18.5 which fit my 6 foot 6 friend perfectly. And for something a little smaller they make an amazing 16 foot kayak.

My partner on the IP was paddling a beautiful - though older - Necky Looksha made of kevlar. (When I was boat shopping the Looksha was my first choice until I paddled the Delta. She met all the requirements of an expedition kayak that would do 30 days unsupported and fit a smaller hipped paddler like myself) It had very sexy elongated lines with a  flat deck. She is a beautiful boat. And while it was made for long paddling trips  those elongated shapes - long narrow pointy bow, and stern. Low decks - made the boat harder to pack. In contrast the Delta is thermoformed plastic and weighed a bit more. Had slightly harder chines. Its less elongated bow gave her a longer waterline which means slightly more speed, and easier packing. The Delta is made to be packed. The word 'roomy' doesn't do it justice.

The kayak paddles beautifully, carving a beautiful edge turn, she is stable, holds an edge well and is easy to roll. The kayak has that shiny finish of much more expensive fiberglass kayaks. In fact I would say it 'feels' like a fiberglass kayak when paddling her but at a third less expensive and in my opinion a bit more durably. The boat is treated with a coating called solarkote to protect the color of the kayak from fading, and it works. My kayak is three years old and as vibrant a red as the day I got it. Unfortunately the inside of the cockpit isn't treated with solarkote, and it has faded to a sort of light green/yellow. I may paint it.

In my experience Glass boats tend to be a bit more brittle whereas the thermoformed Delta tends to have a bit more flex. When departing a rocky beach in a hurry - say after a bear visits your campsite - I was able to  slide my Delta over the rocks with ease while the Looksha had to be carried. I am sure I put some scratches in the bottom of the kayak, but I wasn't worried about scraping off gel coat or worse.

The cockpit is roomy and very comfortable on long days. The comfortable seat - which adjusts forward and back - is simple, with a thin foam pad on it, and the seat back - which is adjustable as well moving both up and down, and hinging forward and back - is very comfortable, though a bit big. I have it lowered all the way, and reclined all the way back, so essentially I am not using it. I only contact it at the very base of my back. But when I rotate at my core - as we all should when we paddle! - it tends to rub against the cockpit coaming which is causing some wear and tear. I have been told that you can remove the seat back and put in the Immersion Research Back band which I will do, and should have done before this trip.

The bow and stern hatches use a wonderful seal that doesn't use a neoprene cover which makes them very fast in terms of getting into a hatch easily. Historically they have been very dry. In fact when I paddle here in North Carolina in the spring, when the water is cold and the air is warm, the hatches seal so well that the cool water has cooled the warm air in the stern, causing it to contract, sucking the stern hatch down so much that I couldn't get it open very easily. In fact there was so much suction that the hull was slightly 'oil canned' in. But when the hatch cover was released the hull immediately popped back out. I have actually had this happen twice. The seal is that good. However, in Alaska where so many of the beaches were gravel, small bits of gravel would get in the seal of the hatch prevent a good seal. I routinely had more water in the compartments than I would have liked to see. It was just very hard in that environment to keep the seals free of debris. I would still call it user error.

My kayak has a rudder - though it is available with a skeg - I chose the rudder so as not to give up the storage space in the stern. The rudder is beautifully made with 'Gas pedal' style controls. They are easily adjustable, by flipping a tab sideways you can adjust the placement of the pedals which works well. Though I would like to be able to move the pedals with the same tab that locks and unlocks them (with my hand) instead of having to use my foot to slide the pedal back and forward. I have written about the difference between rudder and skeg so I won't go into them here, but I am starting to think of a rudder as a skeg on steroids, that post is coming soon.

A few complaints. The boat scratches very easily. I wouldn't mind so much if she wasn't so damn pretty. I have bought the Novus polish/scratch repair system which works well, but doesn't amaze me with its results. I am sure this is just the nature of the plastic used, and there probably isn't much that can be done about it. The first real scratch occurred while assisting someone with a rescue, I slid my paddle under a bungie and left a long scratch in the deck. I would like it to be a bit more scratch resistant.

When the kayak is empty it handles beautifully. It tracks well without the rudder down, and with the rudder down the kayak is unbelievably solid in wind coming from all points of the compass. She is a very impressive kayak in this regard. But, when fully loaded in a following sea she wants very much to Lee cock. (turn flat to the waves). I am sure this is because with more weight she is sitting lower in the water and the waves pushing the stern have more to push against. Even with the rudder all the way over and correcting with paddle strokes she was hard work in a following sea (when fully loaded).  I don't know enough about designing kayaks to know if this is something that could be corrected through design changes. I say over and over again that everything in a kayak is a trade off and I am sure this is a trade off of some sort. That is my only performance short coming in this highly versatile kayak.

I would, and have recommended this kayak to others. The few times that I have let others paddle her they have all cursed me afterwards because she is such an impressive paddle. I would buy this kayak again in a heartbeat. She is as comfortable on a day trip with no gear as she is for a month in Alaska. She is beautifully designed, and finished with a great deal of thought going into so many aspects of the finished product. She is as fast, as stable and easy to roll as any high end kayak on the market, but as I said above at a less expensive price than any composite boat. I will be paddling her - happily - for many years to come.