Sunday, September 12, 2010

Lake Michigan Crossing, 2010

On September 11-12 I crossed Lake Michigan with three other CASKA paddlers.  Here's our write-up on CASKA blog:

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Meteorology Conundrum

Gales of September

Thursday, June 3, 2010

“RULES OF THE ROAD” and Signaling Devices for Sea Kayakers

Outline for a clinic at WMCKA 2010 symposium

  1. YOU are the Captain of your Ship—CONGRATULATIONS! "With great power comes great responsibility!"
  2. Where do Navigation Rules Apply? International --> Inland --> State --> Municipal
  3. What is a kayak under Navigation Rules? Where does it fit among others?
    1. Certainly a Vessel (any means of transportation), not excluded from being subject to the Rules
    2. Power Driven > Sailing > Fishing > Restricted in the Ability to Maneuver > Not Under Command
    3. Limited Maneuverability (speed) status is not explicitly granted to kayaks in the Rules; other vessels are required under law to consider kayak's limited speed when assessing risk of collision, but SO ARE YOU!
    4. Suggestion: Operate as if you are a Power Driven Vessel (any vessel propelled by machinery—paddle)
    5. Kayak is a Sailing Vessel when under sail
    6. Always remember that you are difficult to see and other vessels are not on the look-out for small craft when under way
  4. Rules Abridged: Rights and Obligations = Good Seamanship
    1. Maintain proper look-out with eyes and ears and by any other available means
    2. Maintain safe distance and speed at all times
    3. Avoid collision with others. Other vessels need to avoid collision with you WHEN and IF they see you (limited visibility) and when and if they can (limited turning and stopping ability of big ships + shallow water)
      1. Take timely action
      2. Use decisive maneuvers—avoid small changes to speed and/or course
  5. Right of the way (ROW) = the only time a kayak has the right of the way is when it is being passed by another vessel. Maintain course and speed—the other vessel has no right to cut you off. You should avoid collision if in danger when being passed and have the right to ignore the rule to maintain speed/course. Vessels limited by channels have the right of the way in areas of limited operational space
  6. Interactions with Other Vessels—"stand-on"=vessel that will maintain course vs. "give-way"=vessel that should not cross in front of the other vessel by stopping, slowing, and/or turning:
    1. Open water=unlimited navigability:
      1. Overtaking: vessel being passed has ROW, overtaking vessel can pass on either side—keep course and speed unless in danger
      2. Head-on: neither of two power vessels has ROW, both turn to starboard/right to avoid collision. Sailing vessel has the ROW over power-driven, power-driven needs to turn to starboard/right
      3. Crossing: vessel on starboard/right has ROW if two power vessels; sailing has ROW over power
    2. Narrow channels=sides defined by sea walls or banks:
      1. Stay as far to starboard/right as safely possible—can use middle of channel if sides are not safe (rebounding waves)
      2. Do not impede vessels that can only navigate in the channel (sailboats only have ROW if limited by keel)
      3. Avoid crossing and cross fast, at right angles, and as a single group if many kayaks
    3. Fairways=shipping lanes and open water channels: treat as narrow channels with an additional challenge of knowing where they are (need current charts), cross fast in a group and with plenty of safety cushion. Safe distance in front of ship—need to get out of the way even if paddle gets broken, capsize, dislocate shoulder, etc.
  7. Darkness: powerful white light exhibited in sufficient time to prevent collision course; single constant white light will signify a sailing vessel or a stationary small boat to others
  8. Limited visibility: generate a sound warning every two minutes with at least 0.5 mile audible range

  9. Signaling devices—devices to attract attention:
    1. Hand and paddle signals
    2. Sound signals: Whistle, Air Horn, or Fog Horn for warning and communication
      1. One short blast = right/starboard (two long one short if passing on starboard)
      2. Two blasts = left/port (two long two short if passing on port)
      3. Three short blasts = backing/stern
      4. One long blast = warning/announcing location
      5. Five short blasts = imminent danger
      6. One long + one short blast = passing on starboard/right
      7. One long + two short blasts = passing on port/left
    3. Navigational Lights: required to display in order to alert other vessels
    4. Strobes: recognized call for help on inland waters; widely used in international waters but not technically legal there
    5. Flares—3 required at night
      1. Aerial
      2. Hand-held
      3. Light, smoke, dye
    6. Brightly-Colored Rescue Bag—when inflated can be used to increase visibility and aid in search and rescue
    7. VHF Radio—"Mayday", "Pan-Pan", "Securit√©"; distress, help, warning. Also to communicate to other vessels and Coast Guard
      1. Channel 9 = recreational boat hailing
      2. Channel 13/14 (listening only) = bridge-to-bridge, port operations, visibility reports
      3. Channel 16 = emergency hailing
      4. Channel 22a = Coast Guard
      5. Channels 68/69/71/72/78 = recreational boat-to-boat
    8. Family Two-Way Radio (FSR)
    9. Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB)/Personal Location Beacon (PLB) —to initiate rescue—Satellite Personal Tracker (SPOT)—alert Coast Guard or communicate with shore
    10. Cell Phone (dial *CG to reach Coast Guard within range of antennas)/Satellite Phone

Comments emphatically solicited.


Outline of a clinic at WMCKA 2010 kayak symposium:

  1. What is Safety?:
    1. "Getting out is optional, coming back mandatory!"
    2. #1 killer of sea kayakers = exposure to elements: cold, lightning, heat
    3. Avoid collision with other vessels, people, and property
  2. Before paddling:
    1. Body:
      1. General conditioning and flexibility
      2. Safe application of paddling skills
      3. Know your personal limits—endurance, power, medical conditions
      4. Stretching for warm-up and cool-down
    2. Head/Knowledge:
      1. Skills—technique, group dynamics, navigation, rules of the road, signaling, and rescue
      2. Risk assessment/Prevention—people, equipment, environment
      3. Practice what you know—intentions mediate between knowledge and action
      4. Leave a Float Plan behind (
    3. Equipment:
      1. Serviceable functional condition
      2. Match for environmental challenges at hand
      3. Know what to bring or leave behind—use a checklist (
  3. On the Water:
    1. Flotation:
      1. Boat—bulkheads/hatches (spare) or float bags, sprayskirt, sea sock, sea wings, pod cockpits, bailing device (pump)
      2. Self—PFD, paddle float, quick-self-inflate deck bag
    2. Propulsion: Paddle with spare and paddle leash, sail, diver's fins
    3. Fuel (for body): food, snacks, water, warm drink or soup
    4. Clothing:
      1. Temperature—dress relative to potential and consequences of immersion (wet/drysuit, layers, head/neck protection, cotton bad in cold climates but great when it's hot, gloves/pogies), storm cag
      2. Protection—PDF (body), helmet (head) , footwear (feet), gloves (hands), sun protection (skin)
    5. Communication: learn paddle/hand signals, VHF radio, whistle/fog horn, other signaling devices (mirror, handheld and aerial lights/flares, smoke, dye)
    6. Navigation: compass, timer, GPS, pre-marked charts, navigational lights, notebook, kamal
    7. Rescue: tow rope, perimeter lines, VHF radio, signaling devices (light, smoke), paddle float, sea anchor/drogue, first aid, repair kit, bail-out survival bag, bright clothing, reflective tape
  4. After the Paddle:
    1. Shelter/Fire
    2. Food/Water
    3. Means of summoning help or getting out on your own
    4. First aid kit/Boat repair kit
    5. Stretch and warm down to prevent injury
  5. Discussion: "What is the MOST important article of safety equipment?"
Comments required!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

My Review of REI Hoodoo 3 Tent - '09 Special Buy

Originally submitted at REI

The Hoodoo 3 is a full-featured, lightweight tent that optimizes convenience for 3 persons with ample headroom, 2 doors and generous storage.

Versatile Big Tent

By Haris from Chicago, IL on 5/19/2010


4out of 5

Gift: No

Pros: Fly Works Well, Easy To Set Up, Windproof, Waterproof, Comfortable

Best Uses: Backyard, Beach, Car Camping

Describe Yourself: Avid Adventurer

What Is Your Gear Style: Minimalist

I've owned this tent for two seasons. We bought it as a replacement for Alps Mountaineering Orion 3 tent because it shaves off over 4lbs of weight from that, otherwise excellent, tent. An additional benefit is much easier set up. Not having to thread the poles through holes in the fly helps a lot. HooDoo set up is somewhat different from the other tents I used and requires some learning which may intimidate some of the less technically inclined. Once you understand how things go together (and they are color coded) it's quick and painless.

The poles don't fit together very well one folded. There are a couple small sections with breaks on each side I have to guess and try which side to open every time I fold them. Somewhat annoying. I guess I could just mark the right ones once and for all but that would be work :)

Love the horizontal walls--makes the interior feel so much bigger!

HooDoo 3 is a bit smaller than the Orion 3 and has just enough room for 3 20"-wide sleeping pads. With three people, there's very little room left for gear. I miss the overhead mesh storage compartment of Orion 3 but HooDoo has smallish pockets in each corner of the tent.

Vestibules were larger than other tents when I compared them on-line; however, my Orion 3 has substantially more vestibule space.

We used this tent as a shelter on the beach and during our son's outdoor swim meets--set up the ground cloth with the rain fly without the tent. Works very well and is easy to set up.

Although it could be used as such, I would not classify this as a backpacking tent. There are many of the same size that are much lighter but, of course, they normally cost more. I've used this tent for car and kayak camping with great success.


Monday, May 3, 2010

Into the new decade

Last weekend I gathered a bunch of friends from various walks of my life to inaugurate the fifth decade for me.

Before the party I was really eager to show of the standing waves on the mighty DuPage river. It rained the night before so, with the vast basin on this river, I was hopeful. The gauge was not showing much rise. And there wasn't much to show for the rain, as it turned out...

On the positive end, when the water is not high enough to generate the waves, a kayak in capable hands can make it up the stream throught he drop/constriction. And we had six capable hands...

Thanks to Eimly and Pierre for helping me smoothly transition into the new decade. I hope that it will be full of paddling.

Paddle on and paddle hard!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Empirical Feel for the Paddle Length

My first paddle was made by Canon. It had a fiberglass shaft and nylon blades. It's 230cm long. I got it to propel myself in a barge of a kayak: the folding Folbot Greenland II double. That's a beast with 34" of beam and 17" cockpit height. Folbot recommended 260cm for that boat but 230cm worked for me as long as I but a few inches of padding on my seat and was able to clear the coaming.

Since then I slimmed down. First came a single Folbot Cooper with a 24" beam. After that an old Valley Nordkapp HS—my slimmest boat at 20.5". With slimming boats and increasing appetite and skills, my paddles shrunk too. First I got an all-fiberglass 215cm Lendal, then another Lendal shaft to go with the fiberglass blades—a carbon bent-shaft 210cm. For the past 6 months I've been paddling a loaner 210cm all-carbon Werner Ikelos.

All along the way, "shorter is better and more efficient" has been the word.

This past weekend, I went for a paddle on a shallow rocky West Branch of the DuPage river. For the first time in years I've brought out my 230cm fiberglass-plastic Canon weapon. Just wanted to see how it feels and what difference 20cm in length really makes. Did not really want to bang up the primary guns against the bottom either.

First impression—the paddle felt very comfortable and efficient for casual stroking. The weight was not noticeably different from my fiberglass Lendal and the paddling was not any harder due to extra length. Very quickly I noted that the shaft was not as stiff as Lendal or Werner. It felt more like a Greenland stick as it obviously flexed with every stroke. I kinda liked that… I also liked the longer reach at the beginning of the stroke. It seemed like I could put more into each stroke and apply more power if I wanted to. So I decided to want to…

That's where things started to break apart. First, it was hard to maintain a high angle stroke as the blade went too deep under water and was harder to take out of the water. There was also no way I could generate high-frequency cadence with the longer shaft. Even though the blades on this Canon Heritage paddle had much lower surface area than my Lendal Kinetic or Werner Ikelos, the longer shaft increased the arm of the lever to the point where even these smaller blades quickly exceeded my available power. So while a fresh 4.5-knot touring pace with a stroke somewhere between a high and a low-angle felt very relaxed comfortable and efficient, sprinting with this paddle was awkward. Shorter paddle definitely has an advantage here regardless of the blade size.

Then I tried maneuvering strokes. I loved the extra extension on the stern ruddering strokes. Put the paddle parallel to the boat and work the throttle to see-saw from a pry to a draw. The boat responded wonderfully. Longer blade gives greater leverage and since the loads during ruddering are relatively low on intensity, extra length is an advantage. Something makes me think that the speed and power involved in surfing would most likely overwhelm the hands wielding a longer weapon.

Extra length does not work so well on bow rudders either. I immediately got lost with upper hand somewhere in the sky, lower blade deep under water and the amount of strain on the body noticeably greater than with a shorter paddle. Positioning the blade was also more lethargic, fine control more elusive. This could be, in part, due to the fact that I have not used this paddle for a long time but the difference was so stark that I tend to dismiss this argument of disuse.

Sweep strokes with a longer paddle—you guessed it—are more efficient. Here the more power and leverage you have the better. Since the blade is farther away from the boat, both the turning and the supporting momentums benefit.

In summary, longer paddles have come in disrepute lately. After a few hours of paddling a low-tech cheap long paddle, I could see no prohibitive disadvantages to using it for casual paddling. Some maneuvering strokes and bracing may be a bit slower with the longer paddle; however, this lag is more than compensated by the additional leverage that a blade gains when it is used farther away from the hull. As long as the blade is not too big, a longer paddle seems perfectly appropriate for a non-technical paddler. Lower paddling angle is also known as less demanding on the upper body strength and seems more appropriate for people who are less physically fit.

Except for the stern rudder and sweep strokes, a longer paddle will most likely interfere with technical paddling strokes and intermediate-to-advanced maneuvers. Acceleration is sluggish, bow rudder is awkward, braces are slower, draw strokes seemed less efficient due to sinking blade. It also seems like a longer paddle would be more of a hindrance than help when rolling in rough water. Extra leverage will be nullified by the difficultly of maneuvering the blades into proper position.

At the end of the day, I expect that longer paddles will be back in vogue in the next decade or so.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Standing Waves on the Mighty West Branch DuPage River

With the water about a foot above average, there are some surfable standing waves on the normally placid West Branch of DuPage river just north of Butterfield Rd. in Warenville.
About four of them are progressively longer from the first one with all of 2' to the last one that's probably good 6-8' long. They are not steep, hard to get on to, reside in swift current artificially produced by strategically placed boulders that constrict the flow. The water is about a foot deep on either side.
It is a pretty good place to practice surfing as the set-up is completely unforgiving.  I clocked the average drift speed at 5.5 knots with the GPS.

PS Here's a picture of the spot from the other side at an average flow.

When it is that low, I can paddle through the constriction.  GPS speed with average water levels was just a hair over 3 knots.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010


I am in love with the bow rudder but I don't know her name! There, I said it. To me it's the sexiest most efficient and effortless move in a kayak. More than that, the way the boat spins under you when motions align just right feels almost magical. The turning momentum seems to perpetuate itself. It's like the boat starts to give back what put into it.

For a decent free skill description and illustrations of the stroke with moving images see this Atlantic Kayak Tours web page. Search also for "Bow Rudder" among these videos by Doug Cooper if you'd like to see a short movie of the skill in action. If you don't have them already Doug Cooper and Gordon Brown's books are great resources for updating your kayaking skills. They both also contain good consistent descriptions of the Bow Rudder. Gordon has a DVD companion to the book out as well.

Gordon Demonstrates cross-bow rudder

Then, there's another detailed and well-illustrated description of the skill by the same name by Derrick Mayoleth. You may not even notice much difference between the two versions but, in my opinion, what separates them is so critical that two different names should be used to label them. Derrick's is the way the bow rudder looked when I met her but she is definitely not the one I fell in love with. Yet, it is the skill as illustrated by Derrick that seems to fit the name. That stroke actually attempts to pull the bow in the direction of the blade. Applying the same name to the turning maneuver presented by Atlantic Tours, Brown and Cooper (ABC) seems to me like a long stretch. More than surface semantics, both of the words in the name obscure the little ABC gem from the sights or well-meaning students of the sport. What's your name, darling?

Derrik demonstrating lean-forward bow rudder

ABC version of the 'so-called' bow rudder is neither done at the bow nor is it really a ruddering stroke. ABC way, the active blade is planted perpendicular to the surface of the water at the paddler's knees, next to the gunwale. The placement is much closer to the kayak's longitudinal center of gravity than its bow. Furthermore, there is really no reason to move it in that direction in principle. If anything, I am curious it if wouldn't work even better applied a foot aft. The live blade placement is distinctly different in the forward-reaching skill as illustrated in Derrick's post. Here the paddler needs to lean distinctly forward and advance the rudder toward the bow. The body rotation in the two versions is in the opposite directions. For ABC you "face the work" on inside of the turn with maximum torso rotation. In the alternative, you are rotated with the opposite shoulder facing the bow as the outboard hand extends as far forward as possible.

The term 'rudder' in the name implies that the paddler should be trying to concentrate the action on the end of the boat. After all, 'rudder' is a steering contraption always found at the (rear) end of the boat. Substituting 'bow' for 'stern' does nothing to the implicit suggestion that the stroke should be performed as far away from the center of the boat as possible. The first term in the name—'bow'—does the same thing: it tells you to reach for the bow with the paddle.

Atlantic Kayak Tours version of bow rudder

The role of the active blade in the ABC incarnation is not intended to move or anchor the bow. Here the paddle in the water serves the role of a pivot point around which the kayak swings–bow moving in one direction stern in the opposite. In that sense, although it is clearly meant for turning the boat, the move feels more like a draw-on-the-move or a side-slip than a rudder. Cooper gives an apt analogy when he writes that bow rudder should feel like a runner grabbing on to a stationary post with one hand and spinning around. The forward-reaching version of the bow rudder emphasizes anchoring the bow, releasing the stern so that it could slide around. Leaning forward, weighing the bow, taking the weight from the stern, and sticking the blade near the bow to anchor it are mobilized to that end. The ABC version treats bow and stern on equal terms. Instead, it capitalizes on finding the most efficient pivot point on which to spin the kayak around its longitudinal center axis not unlike a table-top. The paddler remains fully upright throughout the turn.  Finally, the lower elbow is fully extended in the former and tucked into the pelvis in the latter--seems a bit safer to me.

I am yet to confirm this in the field, but I would guess that the ABC way would not work quite as well as the lean-forward version for turning into the wind. In practice, I only know that I can easily turn 180° or more on calm days but was barely able to do 90° with strong beam wind using ABC. The latter is much more efficient at producing quick radical changes of direction in tight quarters will less body contortion … not to mention it looks much more elegant and also makes your legs shake with excitement J

So what do you think—are these two different versions of the same skill or two different skills? Are we doing those who are learning the skills any favors by misdirecting their attention from the knee toward the bow and toward ruddering instead of pivoting and spinning? How about something like "gunwale swing" or "beam spin" instead? The way the kayak dances alongside the planted blade could almost pass as a dos-√°-dos dance move. Whatever you call it, give them both a try and see if it changes your relationship as much as it did for me. Whatever you decide, I'll always go to my spinning version to get a smile on my face and a tingle in the belly.

While we're at it, how about a cross-bow bow rudder that is initiated by bringing your paddle across the deck rather than the bow, has the blade planted at the cockpit rather than the bow, and uses the paddle as a pivot point rather than a rudder? Any takers?