Monday, April 30, 2012

Rust removal

Saturday dawned up in Washburn, WI 180 degrees opposite of what the weather alarmists forecast.  Partly sunny and a relatively pleasant 45F or so.  Neither snow shovel or sleet scraper were needed. I immediately decided that at 3pm my nose would be lifted from the grindstone and I would get out for my first Gitchee Gumee paddle of 2012.  The VOR was on a mission and offered to drop me off and pick me up wherever I chose.  As long as she could get me there in ten minutes.  I chose the north end of the Washburn coal dock with a pickup point at Thompson West End Park.  She dumped the Explorer and me at the coal dock along with my gear for a short day paddle.  As I stood there I began to belatedly run through the rusty check list in my head, a check list last utilized somewhere around Halloween of last year.

I confess that I just don't think about kayaking all that much from the start of the whitetail deer rut at about the beginning of November through the end of the ski season, late March most years.  When my sons played hockey and wanted to join the spring league, summer league, fall league, and attend a few hockey camps as well I explained to them that they needed to take a break and get into soccer, baseball, even fishing in order to be well rounded and avoid burning out on a single activity like so many kids I've watched over the years.  Kayaking is like that to me, an activity that sort of obsesses me from April through mid October, at which point I look forward to deer hunting with giddy anticipation, the kind of anticipation that I felt Saturday before I launched into the big lake.  The problem with the layoff, and especially a layoff where a fifty plus year old brain is involved, is that it takes a while for the synapses to fire and fire efficiently and accurately.  As I watched the VW head off to Ashland I stood next to my pile of gear and began to check off the gear and launch procedures into what had turned into 1-3 footers with about a 20mph north breeze.

I had remembered all my gear except for my VHF radio.  I did have the cell phone in a dry case so a quick risk assessment pointed to an onshore wind in an area with plenty of people around, although I was the only one on the water.  Dressed for immersion, spare paddle, float and pump, float plan, check, check, check.  Now it's time to launch.  Aim boat into surf and watch it get pushed sideways with the first wave.  Move back a bit and plan to utilize Neanderthal knuckle walk into the water.  Dammit, the back of my spray skirt is stuck under my ass, forgot about that little issue.  Get back in and knuckle walk into the water.  Oh man it's cold on the hands!  Affix spray skirt while a three footer washes over the deck, drenching my neoprene gloves.  Shit!  I'm finally situated with gloves on and paddling straight into the wind.  A bit of skeg adjustment (also forgot to check for pebbles at launch to avoid the stuck skeg),  a bit of getting used to the waves, and that familiar feeling came back, wind in my teeth, spray flying off the bow, and the view of open lake up the west channel and over the line of Long Island.  Yeehaa!!  I headed north into the wind almost to Houghton Point and then turned back south.  I dropped the skeg a bit as the waves rolling underneath me wanted to push me sideways, another little fact that popped back on to my mental desktop.  When I got to the end of the coal dock the waves were refracting around the dock and piling up for perfect surfing. Paddle like hell, lean back, steer a bit, OK that's back in the short term memory queue.  I took a half dozen runs and then cruised down to West End just as I saw the VOR pull up, perfect timing.

I had a few screwups but it was a good shakedown.  My shoulders and abs are a bit sore from the poor skiing and lack of exercise this winter but that will work itself out.  Like the first ski run of the year, the first climb up into the tree stand, or the first cast of the fishing season, the excitement and the familiarity of starting a brand spankin' new season is something I will never get tired of.  If I lived in Vancouver I could do all three things, ski, hunt, and paddle, in the same day but it just wouldn't have that same 'season opener' vibe.  I almost can't wait for deer season!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

It's demo time folks

I finally got on the water this weekend, about 90 minutes on Lake Johanna, a lake about 4 minutes from my front door.  Distracting events are now in the past and the kayak focus can begin.  I paddled about 45 minutes and then did the three rolls recommended in the Justine Curvengen collaboration with Turner and Cheri, 'This is the Roll'.  Great dvd and I need to review that along with the three piece Northern Lights Greenland stick I picked up at Canoecopia.  I hit all three, even after a perfect record of chlorine avoidance all winter, but immediately went to the storm roll section of the dvd when I got home to see why my storm roll was so creaky.  Now I get it.  The item of more immediate concern than roll technique however, is the Midwest Mountaineering boat demo on Thursday night, precursor to the Outdoor Expo and boat auction this weekend.

One of the clubs I belong to, SKOAC, has traditionally furnished safety boaters at this event.  I have a couple friends that are looking for new boats and this is the perfect spot to test paddle those boats.  This year  an early spring has the water is a bit warmer as evidenced by my lack of an ice cream headache on Johanna Sunday.  The forecast is sunny and 55F, which should be perfect.  In the past we have had downpours, hurricane winds, and temps that were 'colder than a well diggers ass' as my grandpa would say.  This year would seem to be the perfect time to try out some boats.

The old adage that we sit in a canoe and wear a kayak is very true.  A paddler needs to'try on' as many as they can so you don't wind up with that 'irregular shirt' syndrome where everything looks OK but just doesn't feel right when you put it on.  In kayak selection as in other endeavors, size matters.  At 6'4" and 225#'s I don't fit in a lot of boats.  The reverse is true as well.  Attempting to put a 5'5", 105# friend in my old CD Storm was when this concept first struck me. She was swimming in that thing and it seemed like the paddle barely reached the water.   It has to feel good and you have to be able to paddle efficiently.  There are lots of folks at this demo with lots of knowledge, both MM staff and the factory reps from a number of companies. It's always good advice to stay well clear of Kelly Blades of course.....

One of the traditions of the SKOAC safety boaters is the swim bet.  Beers to the person who guesses the number of demo participants that go for a swim.  Given potential weather and wind conditions, I hereby set the official over/under at three.  The three will inevitably a person who tells me, 'Oh, I know what I'm doing', a person that paddles straight past the safety cordon and then goes over when I insist that they turn around and come back, and one person testing the initial and secondary stability of the boat they are demo'ing.  In any case they all get a nice swim, some years nicer than others.  The majority of people will be paddling with big smiles on their face and with any luck Midwest will move a couple boats and a few more folks will join the paddling fraternity.

 So come out and paddle some boats.  Even though it's a rough looking group of safety boaters above, we promise not to have a beer until you are safely on shore.  You might even find a canoe and a million SUP's, a craze that I don't get, but what the heck if it gets us out on the water, that's a good thing.  Satchel Paige warned to "Avoid running at all times".  I would riff on that a bit and say never stand when you can sit but that's just me.  It will be the perfect evening to be on the water.  We hope to see you there.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Hey, we get to put a new sticker on our kayaks!

I am ashamed to admit that I have not wet any of the kayak hulls in our fleet yet this spring. The Explorer and Avocet made it up to Washburn this weekend but poor decisions on work/play interaction with the weather conspired against any paddling. If you want an excellent review of the Bayfield Peninsula weekend weather, read Julie Buckles Honest Dog blog post. If you would like to read about a very sound US Coast Guard regulation, click on Bryan Hansels Paddling Light blog link. If you would like to read about a stupid waste of time regulation, the kind Minnesota is famous for, one which will get you a misdemeanor ticket in a couple years, just click here.
Some of you know that when I'm not armed with kayak paddle, rifle, bike handle bars, or ski poles that I'm in the label business. I deal mainly with medical device labeling but we do print a 'sticker' or two from time to time. Things like ladders and 5 gallon plastic pails make me smile a bit and even get a little excited. A ladder has a dozen or so government mandated labels on it. When the universal 'don't let your toddler get stuck upside down in this pail' label came out I smiled a bit more. Our latest boating rule, spelled out in its entirety in the link above, does not have me smiling however, it has me shaking my head. They want us to plop yet another label on our boats, subjecting we Minnesotans to yet more ridicule from our friends on the east bank of the St Croix. This sticker will remind us to check the many spots on our kayaks, eg. live wells, propellers, trailer axles, trolling motors, etc., where milfoil or Zebra Mussels could hang out. We will get a warning for non compliance this year and next but, like many rules implemented in the 'heat the water up with the frog in it vs. throwing it into hot water' method, it will be a misdemaenor with fines and suspensions in the 2014 boating season.

Will it make any difference? Will people thoughtfully view that sticker as they launch and recover kayaks from the lakes and rivers? Will a mental flash occur, reminding them to carefully inspect their kayaks for aquatic hitchikers? I think it will be just as effective as Jerry Ford's WIN button. That of course, reminded Americans that they needed to Whip Inflation Now, not just sit around and wait for the government to do something. I saw the new sticker. In it's defense, it is not garish or brightly colored nor will it stick out. Its as bland and boring as, well, a Jerry Ford presidential speech. It has a secondary sticker that you are instructed to put on your kayak trailer winch, the one you use to haul your kayak out of the water. This orders us to 'Check the Drain Plug! Please wear a lifejacket'. The main part that goes on the boat has two sections, 'You must.......' and 'You may not......'. The one redeeming characteristic is that it doesn't need to be placed where we can see it. Being a letter of the law guy but not necessarily a spirit of the law guy, mine will be stuck behind my seat. Getting checked by the warden will necessitate me popping my spray skirt and leaning forward in a precarious position to reveal the sticker and hopefully not my ass crack. I hope I don't go over......

On the other hand having the trio of signaling device that the Coast Guard requires on the Big Lake makes complete sense. Day and night visual as well as audio signals are just good safety common sense. I would add one item to the audio portion; a .357 magnum revolver, 4" barrel to fit snugly in your knee tube. This it to alert high speed boaters of your presence. The .357 Mag is a round proven by many State Patrols to be capable of penetrating an engine block. You never know when a power boat might be approaching at high speed, its driver sipping a beer while
studying the 'You must....' and 'You may not....' on the invasive species sticker on his foredeck. I would also suggest, as does Sherri in the comments on Bryan's blog post, to pick up the little orange flare pistol. They seem to hold up longer, perform more reliably and are tons more fun than pulling the string on the Orion flares.

I have three boats that need new registration, $21.50 for three years, funds that go directly to needed improvements in kayak launches, parking areas for kayak vehicl...........Oh hell, we all know it goes to snowmobile trails and making launch areas more friendly to tandem truck pickups with trailered bass boats but WTF. I will get my three invasive species stickers, stick them on the backs of my seats, and wait for the wardens and volunteer launch watchers. All joking aside, we do need to rinse our hulls, check any hidden spots per my 2008 blog post linked above. I just don't think that this sticker is going to make one bit of difference. Its personal responsibility and that alone that will make the inspection process succeed or fail.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Kayak Review

This wonderful craft was spotted on Craigslist by the sharp eyed MrEngineerGear, a man always on the lookout for a new boat. The fellow that has it is up by Pine City, MN on the Snake River and is offering rent or buy options. It can be yours for $495. Apparently it has been down sections of the Snake successfully already this spring. While I don't really plan on taking it down a river in spring flood, I think I can do a pretty accurate review just by looking at it.

First of all, it would appear to be the 2x4 layup rather than cedar strip or stitch and glue. Let's call it a torque screw and bolt layup. I looks like it might be a bit beamy with that revolutionary dual hull design. Again, neither Swede form or Fish form but maybe we can call it the Adirondack form hull. I'll bet that initial stability on this baby is outstanding. Secondary would likely be non existent. Tracking could be problematic with that straight hull shape, no curves on bow or stern. I don't see any hatches in the dual hulls so storage would have to be above deck, Beverly Hillbillies style, which probably would not affect stability very much at all. Knee turns and leaning might be problematic and I think a 200cm paddle at the very least would be required. Finally, if you drilled a roughly 4" diameter hole in each arm for pint beer glasses this could be the perfect party platform.

Somehow I don't think this design will go the way of the Arctic Hawk and get picked up by Chesapeake LC or Pygmy. Like a very low volume rolling boat that a person needs to grease themselves to slide into, this craft seems to be designed for one specific purpose, which I feel is drinking beer on a sunny day on a placid lake. For that activity this design would seem to be pure genius.

Monday, April 2, 2012

What happened to our snow........

Even with this unseasonably warm weather I have not dipped a paddle in any water yet, even though I am itching to try out my new three piece Northern Lights Greenland stick that the BadHatter and I purchased at Canoecopia. Now that he owns a dry suit he is gloating about being several open water rolls ahead of me this season already. A packed travel schedule and complicated real estate transactions have pretty much kept me off the water, although I hope that will change tomorrow night. The end of last week and the weekend found a group of us in Portland for our annual Frozen Four hockey trip. Serious puck fans might point out, "But isn't that next weekend?". Yes it is, but friends don't let friends do hockey in Florida. Nice site selection job NCAA. No, we decided to take the Empire Builder out to Portland, OR for a pub crawl. What we had not planned on was a trip up the mountain to check out some serious snow depth.

The mission, in addition to checking out the brewpub beers in the historic Timberline Lodge, was to shoot a video for No1Son's company, PDW. Content and release date are top secret at this time but we did need the snow and found plenty of it. I think most of our snow fell on Mt. Hood before it even got close to us. Aparently March snowfall on Hood was over a dozen feet. Champagne Powder is famous in the Steamboat area. Cascade Concrete is the name of the snow around Mount Hood. Superb for snowball fights but a person better have some wide skis and strong legs. We snowshoed up to the sight of the shoot, three pairs of showshoes for 'the talent' and the rest of us following afoot. As the heaviest member of the followers I managed to go through the crust up to mid thigh on at least a dozen occasions. The file is too large to upload, but click here for a video of my attempting to get to the bottom of the snowpack. An almost five foot trekking pole and a three foot arm did not reach the bottom.

I may have said this before, but this is the last snow post for the season. I've got a bit of work on a couple boats that needs to get done but most of the fleet is operational and needs to get some hulls wet in the near future. It is time, actually past time, to hit the water.