Sunday, December 8, 2019

the 2019 Adventure Otaku Holiday Gear Stocking Stuffer List.

Okay, here we go. A week ago we had the full gear list, now it's time for the Stocking Stuffer List! As always, I am not sponsored by any of these companies, this is just gear I use, trust and enjoy!

The first piece fo gear I grab every time I go to teach or to play in the outdoors. A Buff ($28) that is both UV resistant as well as treated with permethrin so it keeps the bugs away too.

The Simple Guides - Backpacking, Kayaking, and Stand Up Paddle boarding ($3.99 - $5.99) Short little books, that contain everything you need to get started. From gear selection to basic strokes and skills.

The next is one of my all-time favorites. The GSI Kung Foon - A spork and Chopsticks combination that combine to make a long handled spork for eating freeze dried food.

Coffee is key. Both psychologically, and in terms of comfort. There is nothing better than a hot cup of joe on a cold morning to get you out of your tent. I have struggled with coffee makers in the back country but have finally found one I like. The Sea to Summit X-Brew. Folds flat and packs to nothing. Expands to make an awesome pour over. REALLY. GREAT. COFFEE. For an extra jolt do what I do. Use espresso! That'll wake you up.

I love maps, and charts. When I am working on a map and navigating way to adventure and excitement I use Blackwing 602 pencils. "half the pressure - twice the speed" - It seems like a simple thing, a pencil. But until you use this pencil you don't know the whole story. This pencil has a cult following. Need I say more?

The next two things on the list are medical. The first is a problem solver. So much so that I am thinking about replacing the knife on my pfd with a pair of EMS trauma shears. DO NOT FALL for the $60 trauma shears, or even $30 trauma shears. These are $6.99, work forever and will cut anything! You can't go wrong.

We get cuts and lacerations in the backcountry. When it is more than a band aid can handle this is what you need - The NOLS Wound kit (except training, see the previous list for that!) You don't want to do stitches or staples or glue in the backcountry - you want to use this kit.

Finally, with things like tick born illnesses getting more common we need to take precautions to the next level. Instead of bug repellent that goes on your skin, put this product - sawyer permethrin - on your clothing! One treatment is good for 6 weeks or 6 washings. You apply it before you go on your trip so you don't have to carry anything with you in the backcountry.

Saturday, November 30, 2019

The 2019 Adventure Otaku Holiday Gear List!

Every year I publish a list of holiday gifts for the adventurer in your life.  This year I wanted to do something a little bit different. T I wanted the list to specifically make peoples outdoor adventures better and safer. In general, my mission in life is to get people active in the outdoors. Here is this years list. Here is the accompanying video.

#1 Hydration is key. Most of the time water will suffice. But in the dog days of summer when the temperature is 102 (and the water is 86) and I still have to teach kayaking or SUP, water won't cut it. I switch to NUUN Hydration products. They taste great, they have electrolytes. They replenish what I have lost and keep me going. It isn't always that extreme, sometimes I just need a break from water. Get this variety pack for around $40 or buy them one at a time just about anywhere for $7

#2 I live my life in a wet environment. Over the years I have used every brand of dry bag made, and then one day I turned around and realized all my dry bags were made by one brand. Sea to Summit. Available in sizes from 1 liter to 60 liters, and Ultra-sil - thin to Big River thick (With Lightweight in the middle) these are my bags of choice. From compression sacks for sleeping bags to taper bags for clothes to lightweights for first aid kits and bear bags and small big rivers for deck bags, You can't go wrong. From $14.95

#3 The best bang for your buck headlamp on the market, the Black Diamond Spot 325 - to be fair, there are a lot of good headlamps out there. But dollars for lumens, this is the best deal, and I love the adjustability and waterproofness. You may get tempted by rechargeable headlamps, but the batteries don't last. Just buy yourself some rechargeable triple A batteries and use those. $39.95

#4 I have bought Map and Compass Navigation for over 20 years, and been practicing nav for 30. Use one compass, the Suunto M3 - it has everything you need and nothing you don't. I use it on land, at sea and in the class room. $44.00

#5 I use them for everything. Class notes, lesson plans, and brilliant ideas. The Field Notes books are inexpensive and waterproof (some versions) $12.95 for a pack of three.

#6 Required reading if you work in the outdoors. Deep Survival by Laurence Gonzalez. Who lives, who dies and why. The science of survival. Learn why others died so you can avoid their mistakes. The other books I mentioned in this part of the video are my own, links are in the sidebar, as well as The Spirt of St. Louis, and Endurance. Both great adventure reads. $varied depending on format

#7 Required gear and people don't like spending their money on this, so it makes a great gift. I like these because they are easy to work out of. You can see how I set up first aid kits here. $23.95 and up.

#8 Even more important than a first aid kit is knowing how to use one. Take a WFA course. Reach out to me if you want to take one with me as your instructor. I teach bout 12 of them a year.  $245 to $300.

#9 My new favorite tent. The Passage one. Simple. Easy to set up. Roomy for one. I wish it had two doors but that is true of all one person tents. An amazing kayaking tent and not bad for backpacking.

#10 I don't know why people struggle with this, but I see it all the time. Wear. Base. Layers. It is that simple. Once the temp drops to the mid 40's I am in them full time. It is the foundation for everything else. A lot of people skip this, and it is a simple mistake. Currently I am using the REI lightweight and midweight bottoms and tops, but if you want the best of the best try the smartwool merino's.

Need more inspiration, here is the 2018 List.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Kayak Instructor life: Part 2

A coupe of days ago a friend - who is also a student - wanted to get some more experience in high wind. Fortunately the weather cooperated. This is slightly more dangerous than the normal instruction  I do but it was a lot of fun.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Kayak Instructor Life: Skills day

Every wonder what the life of a kayak instructor is like after paddling season? It looks like this. Paddling in bad weather to work on skills. I will paddle as much as I can between now and next season to make sure my skills stay sharp.


Monday, November 4, 2019

Do you know how to fit a backpack?

I am guessing you don't. In the past 13 years I estimate that I have fit 9 to 12 thousand backpacks on people. All kinds of people. New backpackers, experienced backpackers, you name it.

Here is the thing, most people think they know how to wear a backpack. The problem is, they don't. If you have never been fitted for a backpack by a professional then I can almost guarantee you are wearing a backpack too low on your hips. Similarly, if you have never taken a kayaking lesson I can almost guarantee you are paddling wrong. I've written about this before, it is one of my pet peeves. Someone walks into a store, takes a pack off the wall and puts it on. They don't check size on a pack, they don't make any adjustments, they don't put any weight in the pack, and then they proudly proclaim "this feels great!" Well, guess what? Every pack feels great when there is no weight in it. You need to have your torso measured, which is hard to do without a sizing tool, and you need to have weight in the pack to really tell what it is going to feel like.

This was the driving reason behind writing "The Simple Guide to Backpacking." Pack fitting and pack selection are both covered along with a lot of other things.

I work in the outdoor industry as an instructor, and I teach all sorts of things, from backpacking and navigation to kayaking and stand up paddle boarding. I do it because my primary goal is to get people active in the outdoors, safely and comfortably. I see too many people working too hard and not having fun. You need to be having fun. With the the right gear and the right knowledge you can have fun even on bad days, when the weather is bad and the pack is heavy.

The thing that surprises me the most is how hard it is to get people to let you help them. People are so hung up on looking like they "know" what they are doing, they don't ever get the chance to know what they are doing. It gets in the way of having a good experience. If you do anything in the outdoors you should let me help you. You can reach me here, or on Instagram, and my Youtube channel is starting to get some heft in terms of content.

Look me up. Let me help.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Outdoor Tip #324 - The Ziplock Mistake!

Another in a long line of outdoor tip videos - are you making "The Ziploc Mistake?"

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Big boats versus little boats

Recently a friend sent me a link to the new Oru Kayak - the Inlet. Which is their newest and smallest folding kayak. He asked what It thought. Here is the video that accompanies the boat on Kickstarter.

First I would argue that their points "where do you find the time, where do you find the space?" Are fallacies driven by capitalism run a muck. Yes, it may be hard for some people to find the time to paddle or follow other outdoor pursuits, but that isn't a problem that should be fixed by buying something. It is a problem that is fixed by getting your priorities straight, but that isn't what my friend was asking.

He asked, what I thought of this kayak, and even that has some problems with it. Was he asking what did I think of folding kayaks? What did I think of this particular type of folding kayak or what did I think of this specific Oru folding kayak. Again, it comes down to priorities.

If your priority is a boat that packs small and stores easily I think this is a great boat. It weighs a mere 20 pounds and according to Oru assemblies in 3 to 5 minutes. I would add, that is 3 to 5 minutes when you know how to do it. The first time I set one up it was close to 30. But at the end of that 3 to 5 minutes you are still paddling a ten foot long, 30 inch wide kayak. If you are okay with that, then its a great boat, but I am not okay with that.

You see everything in kayaking - or the outdoors, or life for that matter - is about trade-offs. So what am I giving up by paddling a boat that is 10 feet long by 30 inches wide? For reference, I currently paddle a boat that is 17 feet long by 22.5 inches wide. So how does that effect my paddling?

When boats are long, they do two things really well. They go in a straight line (which we call tracking), and they go fast. Which means this 10 foot long boat is going to be slow, and harder to paddle in a straight line.

When boats are shorter we say they don't track well, which means they don't want to go in a straight line, but they do turn really well, which is why white water kayaks are shorter. But when a boat gets shorter it also gets wider and that width does two things. It makes the boat far more stable, and it also contributes to the boat being slower.

Let's talk about the slower aspect first. When a boat is moving through the water the boats bow slices the water and forces the apart as it moves down both sides of the hull. The longer the boat is, the more time it has to do that, so the less pressure is exerted on each square inch of the bow and the hull of the boat. A wider boat has to push that water further apart, increasing the pressure on the hull, and in turn slowing the boat more - or requiring more effort to propel the boat forward. So a short wide boat is really slow. I could add that a flexible hull like on a folding kayak will also have a harder time pushing through the water, but let's save that conversation for another day.

Let's talk about the added stability. That's a good thing right? Well, yes and no. Yes, if you are a novice kayaker, you may want a more stable boat, but there are a lot of factors that play into stability and I would bet if the Oru kayak was 22.5 inches wide it would still be pretty stable. But for me, That added stability is a hindrance to making a boat perform even better. I want my boat to be a little unstable. Instability is in fact a good thing - to a point.

The reduced stability - and my boat is actually still pretty stable - gives me the ability to edge my boat through turns and roll my kayak. I use that instability as an advantage, the same way a fighter jet is inherently unstable. I want it to be easy for my boat to get tippy, it makes everything else I do in my kayak better and easier. But you have to be comfortable with that.

You see, I started this by saying everything is a trade-off. You have to decide where your priority is. My priority is a high performance boat. If your priority is a boat that packs easily, and can store under your desk - with the limitations that imposes, This may be the boat for you.

But if you are that person in the video, who somehow equates a kayak that fits under their desk with their life somehow making more sense. I would say take some time off work, and spend a couple of weeks paddling a real kayak in an amazing place. You may realize that the problem in your life isn't storing your kayak.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

My Last Weekend Teaching Kayaking

Recently I taught my last paddle classes for the season, and maybe for quite a while. Head over to YouTube to find out why.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Another solo sail, this time....

....This time with Mr. Blue Sky.

Seriously though a really nice day on the water building skills and comfort. Learning on a lake I have realized the wind is super changeable or as I like to think of it "swirly." You are cruising along having a great time, and a huge gust from another direction scares the heck out of ya.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

A quick look at a WFA class

Once a month I travel to teach a NOLS Wilderness First Aid class. This is one of the more difficult things I teach, as there are many topics crammed into two days with very tight time constraints. It is also one of the more important things I teach, because at some point I am going to find out that someone in one of these classes saved a life.

I decided to shoot short snippets of this class, and see what it looked like. I will do more detailed coverage as I continue to create content for youtube.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Airstream Madness

A few weeks ago I had two really cool classes back to back. They were both cancelled because of downed power lines in the marina. So to sooth our aching soles, the instructors all went to look at - and dream about - Airstream Travel Trailers. Here is the video from that.

And yes, there is a lot going on over on Youtube. Please head over there, and give it a try. Like and subscribe. I am having fun working in video - though it is a lot of work. Still very active on Instagram, so head over there too!

Sunday, September 8, 2019

How to do First Aid Kits right!

After the Ryan and Sophie video, which got a lot of notice, I wanted to follow up with a video about first aid kits and how I do them. This video delves into what is inside my kits, and how I do them for personal use, long trips, work, and finally how I would do first aid kits for people like Ryan and Sophie who spend extended time at sea.

You can also read about how I do first aid kits (In detail) here. 

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

An extremely productive summer.

Well, it's September.

Summer is over - though I will be teaching for another month like it was still summer - and I am extremely excited about all I have accomplished. Here is a quick list.

I published two small books (and a third is on the way!) These are the Simple Guides to Paddle Sports, one kayaking, and one sup and you can follow the links to find them on Amazon in both kindle form and paperback. Think of these as "quick start guides" for specific sports. What you need to get started, not a deep dive. Let's not forget that I also published a 300 page monster last year at this time, GO! Planning Weekend Trips to Month Long Adventures. All of these books are also available on Apple Books if you are of the iPad/Mac persuasion. The Simple Guide books are selling really well. Keep in mind for me 4 books a month is considered doing really well. But The Simple Guide to Kayaking sold twelve copies in its first three weeks. So I am super excited. Hey don't judge. Support an independent author who does this all himself with no marketing wing!

I finished my American Sailing Association (ASA) 101 course which is a certification for sailing keeled sailboats, which means, sailboats with a  keel which is bigger than I aha been sailing. You can see a video about that process here.  I am also prepping for my ASA 106 (I think it's 106) and that is a coastal navigation class, as a nav geek I am super excited to take it.

I have been diligent in sailing most weeks, okay most every two weeks. As my instructor said in the beginning of the year it is about tiller time, and I am working hard to build up experience. Hit me up if you want to go sailing.

I have gotten busy on Youtube posting videos on a  regular schedule, check them out here. I am not quite proud of my actual content yet, but I am working on it... It is a work in progress... It is coming along... but really, give me a subscribe. It'll pay off. No really. (Jonah! Just go subscribe on Youtube already!)

Finally, my Instagram has crossed the 700 followers mark, and I am working my way towards 1000. The content on Instagram I AM really proud of. It is where my background in photography really shines, so please, if you're not following me on Insta, it is time...

A productive year, and I still have a quarter of it left! AND I have big plans for 2020. Another ASA course, a NOLS course in Baja, and a lot of sailing not to mention teaching another dozen WFA courses, as well as my normal teaching load. Want to learn a new skill? Hit me up! See you outside.

Hey check out my most popular video!

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

MSR Pocket Rocket, It's not my Favorite

New video live on Youtube!

Check it out, give it a like and subscribe. Working hard to post a video per week.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

New Sailor, New Boat, High Winds.

The newest video on Youtube, I got to sail a brand new RS Quest. It was my first time sailing solo, and the most difficult conditions I have ever sailed in. Check it out here.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

How to clean an aging MSR Whisperlite

I have an MSR Whisperlite that is at least 15 years old, and stopped working. I was pretty sure that the only problem was soot from years, no decades, of use. I went to work cleaning and here is the finished result.

The whisperlite is an essential piece of expedition gear. I couldn't do big trips without it.

Thursday, August 1, 2019

The Simple Guide to Kayak

Super excited to announce that a new book "The Simple Guide to Kayaking is now available on Amazon in Print and Kindle and Apple books for iPad.

Think of the Simple Guide as a "quick start" guide to a sport. What you need to get started, safely, and setting you up for deeper dives into knowledge further down your path.

A relatively small book, with an equally small price tag. Get out there and go paddling.

Other Simple Guides are coming.

Stay tuned.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

How does a $40 GoPro compare...

Do you want to see how a $40 GoPro Clone compares to the $400 real thing...

Watch it here or head over to Youtube

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Adventures in Sailing - Part 3

Part 3 - The Ugly (With some good thrown in for good measure.)

Well, after over a year of trying, I have completed my ASA 101 certification for keeled sailboats. Why did it take so long, because I am not terribly impressed with the American Sailing Association (ASA), here's why.

Last year when I tried to do this I ran into a Captain - who insisted on being called Captain - on the coast of North Carolina. We booked the course as a very cursory investigation into his experience level, and I figured if he was backed by an organization like the ASA he was probably okay.

We had a long string of bad experiences with him.

He cancelled us (I say us because at the time my wife and I were both going to take the course.) 8 days prior to the class, claiming a schedule conflict. In exchange he offers us each a $50 visa gift card and would allow us to sleep on one of his boats, which I will point out if it isn't already obvious, costs him nothing, but is an option he offers to people for $100 a night. This class was scheduled for May, and due to my schedule we weren't able to reschedule until June, when he cancelled us again. The next time we were able to make a schedule work, was in August, and then Eloise - my dog - broke her foot. So three weeks before the class, I told him I had to postpone due to a family emergency. He. Freaked. Out.

He sent me a long email stating that while he was very sorry for my dogs injury, it was outside the cancellation window. He went on for several paragraphs and finally said he would allow it, if an only if I filled out a form on his website in the next 24 hours. I tried repeatedly to make the form work, and it wouldn't go through, I emailed him repeatedly, and finally he relented. The thing was, he was really rude. That was when I dug, and saw notices on the NC Better Business Bureau that this was his norm. Cancelling classes, being rude to students. I stowed that info for later.

A week before the course, I emailed him to confirm the date and the gear we would need, and that he would be providing the gift cards and the housing he promised, and again, he freaked out. He threatened to bill my credit card for a $175 for a class transfer fee, which was when I had enough. I just couldn't imagine getting on a boat with him for three days. Here is what I did.

I first, headed over to the ASA website and found an instructor code of conduct, which I immediately saw he was in violation of, This and a couple of other pieces of information would be all I needed. I sent him an email stating that He had been unprofessional, rude and insensitive. That I wouldn't be getting on a boat with him. and made him the following offer. He could keep the fee for one of us - about $530 dollars - but refund the other, and we would be done. I literally said he could keep $500 for doing nothing. But, if he didn't refund the other fee, here was what was going to happen.

1) I was going to file a complaint with the state of North Carolina BBB, and the ASA since he was in violation of the instructors code of conduct.

2) My attorney advised me that we would have no problem winning a case in small claims court, and he would be representing me. I would also, happily, spend more money on lawyers fees than I was going to get back from him just to make his life miserable.

3) I would be writing about the experience on my website which gets around 10,000 views a month.

I had a refund in less than ten minutes.

This made me super wary of ASA instructors, and when I decided to find someone local to teach me, which was when I found AnnMarie, who was amazing, both as an instructor and a kind soul. But I knew eventually I was going to have to do ASA 101, and I found the group I just worked with.

It was a pretty good experience. But as an outdoor educator I can't help but see all the things that my instructor this past week did wrong. It isn't his fault, he is a highly skilled sailor, but he isn't an educator, and this is what (it seems) the sailing community does. Make sailors into educators when really they should be doing it the other way around. I truly feel I would like to - far down the road - teach sailing, and do a better job of it than I am seeing and experiencing.

The sailing community does a great job giving kids great sailing experiences. They also do an okay job giving adults sailing experiences. But it could be so much better.

Now I have to start logging all of my sailing experience - in a log book given to me by the ASA, which is super cool. I will be taking more sailing courses in the future with the same instructor while building skills. I have big plans. Follow me on Instagram to keep up to date, and if you want to go sailing, drop me a line!

Friday, May 31, 2019

Pack and Go! or Hell No! - Columbia Omni-Freeze UPDATE - SEMI FAIL

It's 92ยบ in central North Carolina. The brutal heat is unrelenting and it is starting earlier than normal. I have a long hot summer of teaching and learning to sail ahead of me, so with that in mind I went ahead and made a purchase.

Last year I replaced a very used shirt that I got from REI, it was called the long sleeve tech T and it was my primary hot weather paddling shirt. After extensive "testing" - meaning I tried on about a dozen shirts - I decide on a replacement and it was the one shirt I didn't want it to be. I chose the Patagonia. I didn't want to go with the Patagonia because it seems cliche for an outdoor instructor to wear Patagonia, but I went with it, because it fit the best, and some really cool features, like thumb loops to keep the sleeves in place. I wore it for a year and was very happy with it. It offered great sun protection UPF 50, as well as being very quick dry. Additionally, for the past few years I have paired UPF 50 shirts with a UPF 50 buff to protect the back of my neck. This has been my go to system for paddling in the heat.

But last week, seeing the unbearable heat, and realizing it was early and here to stay, I decided to try something else out. An option I didn't have when I tried on all those shirts last year. I reached out to Columbia Sportswear and ordered two products.

The first was from the PFG (Professional Fishing Gear) line, and its called the Zero Rules cooling long sleeve shirt ($45.00). By touch it feels exactly the same as any other quick dry shirt, but this incorporates the Columbia Omni - Freeze Zero technology. Here is a video describing Omni - Freeze Zero

Yeah, I watched it twice and I still don't understand how it works. The shirt also has Omni Shade (UPF 30) and Omni Wick (which means it wicks moisture.) It also has an antimicrobial coating to keep it form getting smelly. Anyone who wears synthetic tech fabrics knows that they get ripe sooner than organic materials.

Partnered with the shirt I ordered The Freezer zero II neck gaiter ($30.00). This also has Omni-Freeze, Omni-Wick, Omni-Shade (UPF 50 this time) and Omni-shield (which is a water repellency.)

For the record, Columbia is a little out of control with the Omni naming conventions, and let's be honest, these two items - which would hopefully replace my Buff and Patagonia shirt - have really stupid names.

Today I put them to the test.

The gaiter fit a bit tighter at the top, but was cut with a nice taper on the bottom. That tightness should keep it up on my face should I choose to use it that way. It also has laser cut holes so if I pull it over my nose and mouth, it won't fog my glasses, which is a nice touch. The shirt fit me well, but lacks the thumb loops, a feature I really like. It is also only UPF 30 instead of the UPF 50 for the shirt it is replacing. But really, this comes down to two questions. Does it work? Does it do everything that the Patagonia Shirt does? And while it's doing that does it also keep me cooler?

So question #1, does it work. It does almost everything the Patagonia shirt does, with the exception of the UPF 30 which I think is probably okay. It wicks moisture well, and fits well. It feels good against my skin, and I would have no problem wearing it.

Question #2, does it keep me cooler? Well, actually, it does. It gets this weird cooling effect going on that I am at a loss to explain. At one point I put the gaiter on my head like a hat and it was much cooler, and when you touch the sleeve of the shirt you can feel that it is cooler. I don't fully understand how it works, but it definitely works.

One down side, it takes significantly longer to dry, and I think that is part of the cooling process. It seems like Omni freeze prolongs the evaporative heat loss process. The funny thing is, the inside feels dry, but the outside surface still feels wet. It's bizarre.

Compared to other, similar shirts, it is a little more expensive. However the neck gaiter is almost double the price of my Buff.

But despite that, both of these products are Pack and Go! I will use them both on Saturday when I teach back to back paddle classes in 90+ degree weather!

Check back at the end of the season and I'll tell you how that antimicrobial stuff works. Why isn't it called Omni - Stink? or Omni-Fresh?


I am switching both of these products to the Hell No Category. To read why, head over to Instagram.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Visitors from Adventure Sports Podcast, Welcome

Greetings to everyone joining me from Adventure Sports Podcast. (If you are a regular reader, check out the podcast at Adventure Sports Podcast)

Feel free to look around, I have been writing here sine 2009, and there is a lot of material here relating to trip planning, kayaking, and gear selections.

There are also links to my books on the right for just about every platform.

So make yourself at home, have a look around, and feel free to call me names because I said the Appalachian Trail is dead!

Monday, April 8, 2019

Adventures in Sailing, Part 2

The Bad.

This may piss some people off. Take it with a grain of salt, keeping in mind that I am outsider to the world of sailing, and the comments I am about to make are based solely on my experiences. I will also say that I am difficult, because of three things. My advanced level of outdoor experience, my training as an educator with a focus on outdoor education, and my understanding of how retail and outdoor education mix.

Okay, with that out of the way, the sailing community in the United States - at least in my experience - doesn't understand its potential customers, how to get them, and most importantly how to educate them. Let's break that down.

Sailing doesn't understand its customers or how to get them. Just about every reputable kayaking dealer knows the importance of educating kayaking customers. I live in the southeast US, and near me I can take kayaking lessons from no less than three different outdoor retailers. One of those retailers offers kayaking lessons from Alaska to Florida, and Boston to San Diego. I use kayaking as an example because that is what I do, but it is equally true for mountain biking, rock climbing and backpacking. I had a very hard time finding access to sailing instruction. I finally found a wonderful instructor based out of a yacht club that is very welcoming to new sailors - and I had drinks with a friend who had a similar experience in Georgia. Once you are hooked up with a yacht club, life is pretty easy. Getting started isn't.

For example, because of my schedule I couldn't wait until May to start lessons and I couldn't do the group lessons that were Monday evening to Friday evening and all day Saturday. I reached out to sailors I knew, and said "hey, if you know an instructor I'll pay cash for private lessons." everyone said yes, they knew many sailing instructors, and yet I never heard back from anyone. I finally found my instructor - did I mention she is fantastic!? - by emailing a local yacht club and explaining my situation, and it still took close to a month to get started. In researching other yacht clubs in my state I see similar things. People like to sail, they start a yacht club - but really they are sailing dinghy sailboats, which are small, and not very yacht like - and they offer sailing lessons and access to boats. This is an inherit misunderstanding of where the growth of your sport comes from. The sailing community is great at teaching little kids to sail - usually at camp - and a small percentage of them become life long sailors. It is very difficult to start as an adult. Don't get me wrong, the sailing community is very welcoming to new people, but it has to be super engaged new people, who are willing to put themselves in a difficult situation - walking into a yacht club, and saying "I don't know anything" which is intimidating. The people sailing are very nice, and super welcoming. But I suspect most of the people who are thinking about learning to sail hit too many roadblocks along the way to make it happen.

Sailing doesn't understand how to educate new sailors. When I google sailing lessons, I get two options. Moderately expensive lessons from a yacht club. Really expensive lessons to learn to sail a keeled, full size boat, and a minimum of three days to learn both. Here is the problem with the yacht club sailing schools: Who do you think the instructors are? I'll tell you, they are highly skilled sailors who are leaders in the school. Here is the problem, while someone may be an expert in a topic, that doesn't mean they can teach the topic. One of my employers says they don't want their instructors to be the best outdoor practitioners, they want their instructors to be the best educators of outdoor practitioners. Do you see the difference? They want their people to be educators first. In my experience it is far easier to be good at something than to be able to teach something. I work with a woman whose background is in education, and she is new to outdoor ed. She is an amazing educator, and I learn from her every time I work with her. Sailing has fallen into the age old trap of, because I am good at this, I can teach this. That isn't always wrong, but it frequently is. Sailing schools should be hiring people that teach, and then teach them to teach sailing. I'm not saying those people can't be sailors also, but it isn't the most important thing.

I suspect these problems are similar to becoming a private pilot. But at least in the case of private pilots (meaning aircraft pilots) there is a governing body - the FAA - that says this is how you become a pilot. I could go buy a boat and just teach myself to sail, which I guess I couldn't do if I wanted to become a pilot. Maybe my mistake is that I am thinking of sailing like I think of kayaking, and I should be thinking about it like learning to fly an aircraft... I'll have to give that some thought.

Stay tuned for Part 3, the Ugly.

Friday, April 5, 2019

Adventures in sailing, in three parts

Part 1 - The Good.

Keep in mind I have had a long life on the water. Growing up I spent time on my fathers power boats, and got pretty adept at life on the water. I started kayaking - for real - in 1994, and started earning a living - or part of my living - in kayaks in 2003, when I started teaching privately. In that time I have done many long distance expeditions on the east coast of the US, as well as Alaska. My point, I have a lot of experience on the water. I have a good understanding of how a boat is affected by wind, and how water is affected by wind.

I had no idea.

I am working with a wonderful sailing instructor who primarily teaches people how to race sailboats. Her ability to judge wind, is incredible, and far more refined than mine. This is a sport that relies heavily on understanding the wind and seeing what is about to happen.

Let's take a step back. I decided that 2018 was going to be the year I learned to sail, and there were a couple of false starts, more on that in part 3. There was also a dog with a broken paw, which drained finances and time. It wasn't until the beginning of 2019 that I was really able to start making it happen. But in 2018 I did a lot of studying. I read a ton, and figured out what my path would be. My path is different that most people, certainly most adults learning to sail. More on that in part 2. All of my reading and studying led me to believe that this was actually a pretty easy sport.

You need an understanding of where the wind is coming from, and how to set the sails based on that wind. Simple. I even used a simulator put out by the American Sailing Association to practice sailing a little boat. I had it down. To a certain extent that is true. You can get into a sail boat and set the sails and go, but there is far more to it than that.

There is a level of nuance in trimming sails, which I am sure with practice - or as my instructor says "tiller time" - will become second nature. Frequently when I am sailing I feel like I am grasping for something in the dark that I know is there, but I don't quite know what it looks like or feels like in my hand. It is an interesting place to be, I have spent the last twenty plus years finessing a kayak in good weather and bad, and to feel like a complete novice is incredible. There is so much to learn, and absorb and I am taking it in as fast as I can. Yesterday, my instructor turned to me and said "are you ready to go in?" and I replied simply that yes, I was, as my brain was mush.

We spent the day in a 15 foot Wayfarer Mark 1 GRP which was originally released in 1965, and is the fiberglass version of the even older, original Mark 1 which was made out of wood. It is just slightly older than I am. My instructor dropped a buoy with an anchor overboard and we spent the day sailing around it. With the wind constantly changing on the lake we had to constantly adjust our approach, and in the course of four hours we circled it from all points of sail, and with gusting wind and nearly dead calm. Spending four hours hyper focused on sails and tell-tales (the small ribbons on sails and standing rigging that tell you what the wind is doing) is absolutely exhausting. Late last year my wife and myself spent a day on a 41 foot sailboat getting an idea of what sailing is like. It was much more calm and predictable than the little boat on the lake. I am thinking that getting a grounding in what is called Dinghy sailors will give me a better understanding of how to sail bigger boats.

My previous lesson was in two parts. We started in a Hobie kayak with outriggers, and pedal drives. It also had a single mast, and a hand control for the rudder. We spent about two hours in what is essentially a trimaran sailboat. Having only a mainsail and a simple rudder made the boat easy to control and super easy to get a handle on sailing concepts, and this confirmed my thoughts that sailing was easy. It really was just like the sailboat simulator I had used. However, the second half of our day was spent in a 16 foot RS Quest which was like jumping ahead about 30 years in terms of what was happening. All of a sudden I had a jib to control as well as a main sail. I also had a tiller, to control the rudder, and it does this with a handle that is articulated in the middle. Because it isn't hard enough that a tiller gets pushed the opposite direction you want to go, adding an elbow just makes it more confusing. There was also the little fact that the boat could now heel over to one side, which the trimaran couldn't do. It was a lot to keep track of. It was just starting to make sense when the lesson came to an end.

I have a lot to do in 2019, there are four phases to this project, the learn to sail project, and I am only on part one. It should be an interesting time.

Monday, January 28, 2019

Welcome to 2019, a quick update, a rough first month.


I have had a rough start to 2019. Which is painful because I really have a lot to get done, and I accomplished nothing in the first 12th of the year.

Right after New Years I went to Denver to visit my sun, and spent a couple days feeling crappy. As someone who teaches wilderness medicine for a living, I should have realized much sooner that I had Acute Mountain Sickness. It was really only a couple of days, so it wasn't bad. But the hiking was amazing, and with instant views. If I didn't like the water so much, I would consider Denver for relocation.

Shortly after I got back I taught a WFA class that was only open to REI Outdoor School Instructors. It was an absolute blast. Being able to tailor each scenario to their specific needs was wonderful. Each patient was set up as being in an REI class. It really made me think about how we teach those classes and what I would like to do in the future. I think a lot about how I would like to teach classes, which is good, because it is very easy to just teach classes the way you always teach classes. You convince yourself that every class is different by what the students bring to them, but as the instructor I think it is important to be thinking about what we want to bring to them as well.

The day after the WFA, my voice started to go. I thought it was leaving from overuse as I had spent the weekend solo teaching, but in fact it was the beginning of a cold. A cold that lasted right through my one planned weekend off, when I went to a wonderful cabin in the mountains to celebrate a friends birthday. I spent the weekend sniffling and coughing, while my friends were sampling special bourbons and soaking in a hot tub.

Then, as I came back from the weekend, I went back to work the next day. I worked a 1 to 9:30 shift which is a killer, particularly when you are feeling under the weather. I came home, and was going to have a sandwich, take a shower and go to bed. When I realized there was some left over chinese food in the fridge. It smelled okay. The vomiting started 12 hours later, as I was going back to work. I spent the rest of the day running to the bathroom, and I couldn't eat for three days.

I have to say, what got me fixed up was my Acupuncturist, with a combination of herbs and needles. That woman - Heather at Paradox Wellness, in Greensboro - is amazing and I am pretty sure can fix anything that ails you.

So, that was my month. I Hope February is more productive.

One of the best things to happen this month - maybe the only thing good to happen! - was on yesterdays Map and Compass class. A student told me how much she loved my book! Which is an amazing thing to hear. A coupe of years ago at the East Coast Kayak Festival I mentioned in a presentation that I published Enlightened Kayaking, and someone said "That's you! WOW!" and it was really nice. It's always nice to hear that something you created resonated with someone. If you have enjoyed something created by another, tell them! It will make their day, like it made mine. If you are one of the people who bought my books this holiday, do me a favor and give it a review, it really helps. Thanks!