— Brinestorm

Tag "sea kayaking"


From the always-excellent XKCD.

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I and four other paddlers did a two-week kayak camping trip to the west coast of Vancouver Island. We were there from late June through early July. Because we traveled from Northern California with our own boats and equipment, we drove 2,280 miles round-trip in order to paddle less than 60 miles.

Oh, but what an amazing sixty miles. In the video above you’ll see us launching and landing via a crane aboard a diesel freighter, encountering a mola mola after I ran over it (which I chronicled previously), hiking on Nootka Island, riding a rusty “zipline,” feeding anenomes, tidepooling, and doing a whole lot of paddling in conditions that varied from long, steep swell to placid waters, from sunshine to heavy rain, from clear skies to dense fog.

All I can offer from this experience are slices of my own perspective over those two wonderful, intense weeks. To get the barest sense of being there, you can watch the short film in this post (or on Vimeo – either way, viewing it in HD at full screen is recommended), or view my photos on Flickr. While I’ve written about the boat I used and the mods I made to it in the past, be sure to keep an eye on this space (and my Twitter and Facebook accounts) for more lessons and learnings from planning and executing our own trip.

Stay tuned for more soon!

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In the midst of a crossing from the Cuttle Islands to the Brooks Peninsula on the west coast of Vancouver Island, in the summer of 2013, my rudder struck something.

I knew there weren’t any submerged rocks, according to our chart. I immediately spun around and saw a fin in the water behind me. My mind started reeling with what it could be…of course, going to the worst case scenarios first (orca?!?!)…

I had just glided over an ocean sunfish, or mola mola, coming to the surface to bask. I was not prepared to see a typically tropical pelagic fish that usually lives 600-2000 feet below sea level on a day paddle! The sunfish was about four or five feet in diameter, a bit smaller than an average adult male, but it probably weighed more than my fully loaded expedition boat.

Mola Mola in the Monterey Bay Aquarium; this specimen was at least ten to fifteen feed long. (Photo by yours truly.)

Mola Mola in the Monterey Bay Aquarium. (Photo by me.)

It was lazily flopping its top fin around after I struck it (not that it seemed to mind getting clipped by a kayak). It’s thought that the sunfish’s basking behavior is to warm itself after feeding in the depths (they mainly eat jellyfish), but they’ve also been observed to float near kelp to be cleaned of parasites by wrasses. Even more intriguing, seabirds have been seen to peck parasites off sunfish, and it’s theorized that fin flapping is to attract gulls to engage in this activity.

With our white hulls and shallow draft, did this mola mola think that we were birds? Did the fish even care we were there? Regardless of the reason, the sunfish let us watch it for three to five minutes before righting itself and sinking slowly out of sight. It was a magical, bizarre chance encounter with what I consider one of the strangest fish in the world.

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towingTales2Towing is one of the least-practiced skills in sea kayaking. People seem to think deploying a tow line is a rare and serious occurrence. While deploying lines always complicates things, towing is an essential skill that has some uses of which many paddlers aren’t aware. Towing needn’t be only used in dire straits or emergencies!

I never, ever paddle without both a full tow line and a cowtail/short tow. Here are two short examples of why I think this is a best practice for all paddlers, and how towing can often mean what you least expect.

The Psych Tow

I once towed a paddler in a skin-on-frame boat with neither skeg nor rudder. We were in strong crosswinds abeam crossing a strait, and the paddler couldn’t hold a course, even with what she thought were aggressive edges and strong corrective strokes. I volunteered to give her a “directional tow,” just to keep her kayak on the right course. We paddled across and the towing was effortless. We rafted up so I could unhook, and that’s when someone pointed out why it had been so easy.

The rope was slack and in the water the whole time.

The paddler made it across all by herself. What she needed was a visible connection between the boats and she edged more aggressively and took better corrective strokes, as she could focus on a shorter-term goal of just aligning herself to my boat, not to a distant shore or less-visible goal. It wasn’t a directional tow after all: It was a psychological tow. She was thrilled and rightfully proud when this was pointed out to her!

Sometimes a visible link and even perceived assistance can make a big difference. In my case it was a tow line, but in other cases it can be an extra cookie at lunchtime, a drink from your water bottle on the water, or some other small gesture to demonstrate a sense of camaraderie and trust amongst paddlers.

The Urban Tow

We took a pair of friends paddling who had never been in kayaks before. We gave them some instruction and planned to do an incredibly mellow, flat-water paddle. While they surprised us with their fitness and ability, within the first 5 minutes one of them capsized. He was doing a good thing, exploring the edge of stability, but in a way that was overzealous, and FLIP! In he went. Dressed for immersion and a former surfer, he was embarrassed but comfortable. Ms. Brinestorm proceeded to provide a T-rescue.

Then a weird thing happened: A scenario we had in a class actually came to pass.

In a class with Helen Wilson and Bryant Burkhardt, we had a scenario involving towing two boats while a rescue was underway, to prevent the rescue boats from drifting into rocks along the coast. However, here there were no rocks, nor coast: Instead, there was a fishing pier. Of course, the first time a t-rescue is done with someone who is unfamiliar with it, it takes a while, and a strong ebb current was pulling the rescuer and the swimmer towards the pilings.

Since they couldn’t take action to get away from the pier due to the activity of the rescue, I simply paddled over, clipped my short-line cowtail onto the rescuer’s boat, and paddled backwards to move them away from the pier. Decidedly undramatic, incredibly easy, and took basically no time and little effort. But not having done so would have caused complicated situation, especially for the swimmer, especially with many fishing lines cast into the water in their path. Drunken, angry fishermen are bad.

Now, certainly, with newbie kayakers a tow line makes good sense. But I had no way of guessing that I’d be applying it to my own significant other’s kayak during a rescue. And while we’d practiced this before, I certainly didn’t expect to use it within 20 meters of the beach. But I was ready, equipped, and it came naturally…as a direct result of practice.

I’ll Have Your Back if You Have Mine

So there we have it: Two really mellow, non-drama situations in which towing was incredibly helpful. Towing isn’t just for complex extractions and injured paddlers and lassoing orcas. It’s flexible and handy, but only good if you know how and have practiced it. As stated earlier, practice also breeds better judgement about the use of ropes and lines in the water, which can cause their own problems.

But while I’m willing to practice towing and always wear my towing gear in order to help my paddling pals, I would rather strongly prefer that my paddling pals have their own tow ropes and also know how and when to properly use them. It could be me that’s in trouble for any number of reasons, and knowing that I can be ably assisted – and that I can ably assist – is a major foundation for trust between kayakers…and, in fact, in almost any human endeavor.

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Most kayakers I know use gloves when they’re paddling. Some detest gloves, opting instead for optimal contact with the paddle. To each his/her own, of course.

But me, I’m a glove guy. My hands prefer a low-friction buffer of fabric to help avoid blisters. And it’s taken a long time to settle on gloves I like.

Like so many things in paddling, it’s all quite personal, but here are the gloves I’ve used, and loved…or hated.

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Hey, Outdoor Clothing Industry: Can you please consider putting heavier-weight materials on the arms of your upper baselayer garments, and lighter-weight materials on the torso?

We paddlers wear PFD’s on our torsos, as well as spray skirt tunnels. Including a jacket/drysuit and a base layer, my body’s core is wrapped in four layers of material. This keeps the body’s core quite warm. When we’re in cold water, the torso tends not to get as cold as our arms. Even on cold days, after paddling for a few minutes, I get overheated in my torso, even if it’s so cold that I can’t feel my fingers.  Sweaty backs and numb hands is a really uncomfortable combo.

I’ve experimented with wearing the thinnest synthetic or wool t-shirts with fleece cycling sleeves, but this is fiddly at best and sometimes those sleeves are a bit constrictive. Low blood flow means colder arms, so that doesn’t always work out.

Imagine having a top made of Patagonia’s Capilene 1 on the torso and Capilene 3 on the arms. Or, even better, wool that’s two to three times as thick on the arms than the torso. This would help thermo-regulation in a major way and not create redundancy in terms of weight or material. A jersey cut would reduce chafing and let the sleeves cover the shoulders, which are not kept warm by most active-cut PFDs on the market.

The lesson here for paddling clothing and gear manufacturers is to think about undergarments as part of a larger system, the system of gear all us responsible kayakers are already wearing. This would help backpackers as well, who have half of their core covered in a pack, and cyclists, who need to vent from their backs on hot or intense rides.

You’d sell more vests, too! 🙂 I accept product royalty payments in turkey jerky and rye whiskey.

If you’re a paddler who’s found interesting ways to balance warmth and comfort while paddling, chime in with a comment below!

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[Remember that you can watch this video larger on Vimeo or watch it full-screen by pressing the icon in the lower right corner of the video above.]

I’ve been outside the Golden Gate of the San Francisco Bay on a number of trips this fall, and the video in this post is a compilation of some of these sights and sensations. Mostly small-condition exploration and play, but with some capsizing, side-surfing, and combat rolls thrown in for good measure. Zero injuries, except some wounded pride, and many chances to paddle with some of my local friends and heroes.

Anyone coming to the Golden Gate Sea Kayak Symposium in January will be in some of these very same environments, so come on out and I’ll see you there!

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Here in the San Francsico Bay Area, the Pyranha Fusion is an increasingly popular rock gardening kayak: It’s about 10′ long, intended for self-supported river running, but it has a skeg for tracking well in flat water. After trying one on the Mendocino coast (which you can see in an earlier blog post and video), its responsiveness and stability was awe-inspiring in ocean whitewater conditions. I knew I had to have one!

But, being a sea kayaker, I was struck by its total lack of perimeter lines. I’ve never seen a river kayak with perimeter lines, but nearly every serious sea kayak has them. When you need or practice rescues and recoveries as much as I do, they are absolutely essential for maintaining contact with your boat should you wet exit…or for someone else trying to recover your boat for you. In fact, a recent pool session revealed that a friend almost couldn’t even lift if after a capsize to do a T-rescue, as the front grab loop was the only place to get purchase.

So, I decided to add some perimeter lines to my brand new boat!

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A tired me, crossing the finish line…but I finished! (Photo by Bill Rostenberg)

I just participated in the SeaTrek Regatta and ETC Paddle-A-Thon, a charity race for Environmental Traveling Companions. Those who pledged to my participation raised over $500 for this excellent charity, and I got to paddle my first race ever, a 9.5-mile course around Angel Islandin the San Francisco Bay.

And somehow I won first place in my age and boat category. How could that possibly happen?!?

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Wayne Horodowich published a guest post on the Tsunami Rangers blog about being a kayak escort or safety boater for swim races or triathlons. Wayne asserted that kayakers are often untrained and unprepared to serve as escorts, at least in a way that can make a difference and not make the kayaker him/herself a liability to the race organizers. I agree. I’d also like to address the problem by helping paddlers understand what’s involved, what can go wrong, and how prepared you need to be.

I’ve done several escorts for full swim races and triathlons, and have enjoyed every one. The intense gratitude shown by the swimmers afterwards is powerful. They can be cakewalks, or filled with drama, so are as variable as any other kind of paddle you might take. However, if you’re considering doing so – or if you’re a race organizer who wants to optimize the escorts you’ve assembled on race day – here are some observations and tips based on doing escorting in and around the San Francisco Bay.

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