Thursday, September 14, 2017

Need an Inflatabable?

I've been testing the Walker Bay Airis Sport for for over a year, and have found a lot to like.

 On my first test I used rope for thigh straps. They made all the difference, increasing power, responsiveness, and stability. Straighten your legs and they fall away.

  • High pressure inflation. Using the same technology used in inflatable stand-up paddleboards (SUPs), it is inflated to near soccer ball presures, resulting in a very stiff, responsive boat, nothing like the pool toys that we think of.
  • Very stiff paddle. Whitewater-durable (I tested it at Great Falls, VA) and with a nice shape, it is far better than the typical paddle included with a boat. You can up-grade, of course, but you won't need to.
  • Very light. at only 15 pounds, it practically jumps on deck. It also fits easily into and included sturdy backpack.
The one vital upgrade is thigh brace straps. Whether from Walker Bay or one of many kayak accessory providers, they really improve both the comfort (better back position with knees bent)  and power of the boat.

Need a cheap thigh brace solution? A pair of old briefcase straps will do nicely.

Small boat? Here she is riding shot gun on my F-24. Although she deflates, at 15 pounds she is perfectly acceptable as deck cargo.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Greenland Paddles

For an old guy, Greenland paddles win.

A Euro paddle blade is leaf-shaped, nearly half as long is it is long. Or rather that is what we have come to accept as normal and 21st century. It is superior for whitewater kayaking and racing, where it provides a positive, even harsh grab on the water.

But over the years I've run into folks using Greenland paddles with their sea kayaks.  Though the urban legend is that they were long and slim because that is the only thing they could make from drift wood, when you consider the craftsmanship that goes into a skin-over-frame kayak, that sounds like lame reasoning; these people could craft anything from a few bits of wood and sinew, and in fact, they used broad paddles in other craft. They developed what we now call the Greenland paddle because it has some unique advantages.

These are works of art. Mine was fashioned from a 6' x 3/4" x 3 1/2" (a common 1 x 4) board and a center of aluminum tube in a few hours, and probably performs better.

The length is about the same--a little less than 8 feet. The blade in only 1/2 the width of a Euro paddle, but the length of the blade is over double, resulting in greater projected area. Because it is not scooped like the Euro paddle, the catch is much softer, and it does not generate as much instantaneous power. However, because it has a higher aspect ratio, it actually creates greater lift once the stroke is underway.
  1. Lighter. My Greenland paddle is 25% lighter than my fiberglass Euro paddle.
  2. More buoyant for rolling. 
  3. More lift when used in a sweep stroke for rolling or bracing, because of the higher aspect ratio.
  4. More resistance and better grip on the water at mid-stroke.
  5. Smoother catch and release.
  6. Easier on the wrists, shoulders, and elbows.
  7. Quieter.
It was "1" and "6" that caught me attention. Although it does not provide the same acceleration, it is faster through the water over the long haul, easier on the body, and significantly lighter. I'm still not used to the look, but it is more efficient over a long day.

Downsides? A few, but they are minor.
  1. Harder to buy. But you can make them rather easily. They don't need to be laminated and beautiful.
  2. Not as much blade in the water in shallows. But you can use a shallow, more horizontal stoke.
  3. Most designs do not feather, but that can be fixed by incorporating an adjustable ferrule. 
  4. Typically the shaft is fatter (1 1/2-inch vs. 1 1/4-inch standard or 1 1/8-inch small). Hand size and whether you wear thick gloves (a smaller paddle works better with thick gloves) may dictate which is better, but I find the fatter shaft is harder on my wrist and hands. Personal preference enters in. 
  5. Learning a new stroke. Where a Euro paddle is simply pulled, the smoothest and most powerful stoke on a Greenland  paddle is delivered by a gliding pull with the blade moving at an angle, as when swimming the crawl efficiently. The blade is high aspect and generates a lot of lift when moving sideways. the stoke is also lower angle.

Feather. Most sea kayakers adopt a feathered paddle after some experience. By angling the blades about 60 degrees relative to each other, even when the arms cross between stokes, the wrists remain in a neutral plain, never flexing. The key is to pick a control hand that grips the paddle, and to let the shaft rotate in the other hand during the cross over. The non-control hand need never grip the shaft tightly. Gloves help.

Whitewater paddlers often use an non-feathered paddle--it can be problematic to keep track of the twist angle when paddling rapidly or throwing out a quick brace stroke. I use zero feather in technical whitewater.

Greenland paddles are typically not feathered, because a more shallow stroke is used, minimizing wrist flex, and by tradition. Many paddlers find an non-feathered paddle easier to roll, because similar to the whitewater case, they don't have to remember the feather angle. However, I have wrist problems and really like feather, although less than the traditional 60 degrees used with Euro paddles. My Greenland paddle is feathered only 30 degrees.

It's  little ugly, but by using aluminum tubing in the center I dropped the weight to about 65% of a common paddle and gave it 30 degree feather.  I am wondering if less or even no feather might be best for Greenland paddles. It may be a matter of learning a new stroke.

Where can you get a Greenland paddle? First, make you own. There are many on-line sites with instructions, and if you are handy in the wood shop, a basic paddle won't take much over an hour or cost more than $5 to make. You can buy them, of course, but artwork and craftsmanship cost money.

If you want adjustable feather or a Greenland paddle that can be broken down for storage, Duckworks sells carbon fiber ferrules for ~ $25. This also makes it possible to create feather. Duckworks offers two ferrule options:
  • Standard. Allows for O degree, 60 degree right, and 60 degree left feather. The shaft is 30.6mm (1 1/4-inch), which is generally considered standard for kayak paddles.
  • Greenland. There is no allowance for feather, although you can obviously mount the ferrule with some rotation to create a fixed feather angle. The shaft is 38.6mm (1 1/2-inch), the traditional fatter Greenland paddle diameter. 
Additional holes (you drill em') can create custom feather angles.

This is the elegant way to do it [details on Duckworks]. Add a slightly longer center section and 30 degrees of feather, and this is my dream paddle!

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Drysuit--Ocean Rodeo Soul

[Eventually this grew into a full-length article in Good Old Boat Magazine, September 2016. I tested the drysuit against cold water immersion suits by, among other things, floating the midst of ice for hours. They really do make winter paddling pleasant.]

It's about the details. The Ocean Rodeo Soul ticks all of the right buttons for me:
  • Attached feet.
  • Attached hood and jacket.
  • Suspenders keep the pants up when the neck is open.
  • Standby mode that allows better ventilation (see animation, below).
  • Durable.I'm going on 3 years now, kayaking and sailing in foul weather.

The sizes are athletic. I'm 5'7" and 165 pounds, and the medium just clears the hips and shoulders, with suitable underlayers.

A dry suit helps a lot. A bit of a struggle, worming the arms in and fitting all the seals, but...

ultimately well worth the struggle.

Extended transoms for boarding are nice...

and the after-paddle swim makes it perfect (the water is 36F). Just testing out the suit, but swimming was actually pleasant.

Very cool... figuratively speaking. Flotation is so good that a PFD is really quite redundant. Do keep a PFD on board.

I later purchased a dive hood (3/5mm) and gloves (5mm). Essential.

It's rather neat to realize that when paddling in freezing conditions, I'm more comfortable that the folks watching from shore.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

The Smithsonian Institue Environmental Research Center--Rhode River

The Rhode River is certainly not off the beaten track--on any nice weekend expect about 30 boats overnight and 2-3 times that during the day. But head behind Big Island, into the tributary and wetlands monitored by the Smithsonian Institute, and suddenly you are a different place. The occasional water skier or PWC may zip by, but mostly they stay out in the main course, where their friends can see them... I guess. On a weekday generally you will see no one at all. In cooler weather, solitude is certain, just a fraction of a mile from some of the busiest sailing waters on earth. Weird.

You can paddle up to the visitors center, about a mile up the creek, by passing through the narrow opening in the fish-counting dam, a ramshackle breast of wood and plastic mesh, with a now-dysfunctional gate wide enough to pass a kayak and fish, of course.

If your boat is shallow draft, anything less than 4 feet, you can anchor behind the island in about 6 feet of water. The holding ground is variable and not always as good as north of the island, but it is well protected and there is little drag into.

Smith Cove, Little Choptank River


The farther you head up the little Choptank River, the less populous it becomes. By the time you reach Smith Cove, houses are sparse, and the houses that remain are of human size rather than mansion size. I suppose I have nothing against mansions, but their jarring the look at and seem out of place in the natural environment.  Moreover, the trip up the little Choptank, quietly motoring east of green ATN 13 is worth the time for its own reasons. This areas visited by too many cruisers, and I think you like it that way.

The not convoluted and mysterious like the Taylor Island Wildlife Refuge, it's quiet, the ground is firm enough to allow brief walks ashore a few places, and a few bald eagles could be seen in the trees.

Only one local chose to visit. We dismissed him with extreme prejudice.

The holding ground is only average, but the river a small at this point in well protected from all directions. The Cove itself is too shallow, with 5 feet carrying only a few hundred yards inside. But I experienced 15 to 20 not winds from a couple of directions, and the waves were trivial.

Periwinkle Soup

The northwest Indians said the "ocean rolls out the dinner table twice a day," observing that with each low tide an edible bounty was uncovered, free for the picking. For the kayaker, it's even simpler than that, with periwinkles presented at eye level at every turn. They're small size will make you work for your meal, but they're tasty, fresh, free, and just begging investigation.

I'm sure you can Google up 20 better recipes, but this is an easy one I always have the stuff for on board. Given the choice, potatoes and a chowder approach is better, and linguini is very nice.

  1. Collect a lot. Select the largest, about one cup/serving.
  2. Check that they are alive when you get back to the kitchen. Just spread them out thin in some seawater and watch for movement. Takes only a few minutes. Chop vegetables while you wait.
  3. Chop about 1/3 onion per serving. Season with cumin, pepper, curry, and ginger. I add 1/4 of the "chicken" flavor packet. Or what every you like.
  4. Boil the periwinkles in the shell for 5 minutes.
  5. Some say pick out the meat, but I find a nut cracker is faster. A water rinse (stir or shake the bowl) separates the shell bits that you missed.
  6. Simmer meat, vegetables and seasonings for 20 minutes.
  7. Add raman noodles for the last 3 minutes. 
Yummy, rather like mussels.  All summer I seem to bring food home from cruises, finding a good portion of what I eat.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Warehouse Creek

Much of Kent Island is over-developed and crowded, due to it's proximity to the Bay Bridge. However, branching east of Cox creek is wide, marsh-boardered Warehouse creek, with only a few houses at the mouth and at the head, and a lot of solitude in between.

The beaches are silty rather than sandy (south shore has wadeable areas) of SAV (submerged aquatic vegetation), but at least they are firm, and if you step out to look at something, you won't sink in up to your knees. But mostly it's a quiet place, with a few fisherman, a few sailboats anchored near the mouth (few go up very far), and bigger fish chasing little fish.

Near the head is a small public landing, protected by a stupidly high fee for nothing more than gravel lot and a short board walk. On the other hand, if you land with an unregistered kayak, I think there is nothing to fear.

A few hundred yard walk east (pleasant) on the road will take you to route 8, and a few hundred yards south on route 8 (unpleasant) will take you to the entrance to Matapeake Park, an unremarkable park on the bay with a ramp, pier, swimming beach, and a club house often rented for weddings.


Warehouse creek carries 7-foot depths until the final split about 1/2-mile from the head, though there are a few lumps in the channel that may reduce it to 6 feet without local knowledge. The holding is good in firm mud.

rev. 2-18-2016. I liked it so much I returned in the spring. Miles of unspoiled, uninhabited shoreline.