Sunday, February 25, 2018


A couple of weeks ago, I dropped in on the pool program run by my friend Matt at Prime Paddlesports. After teaching a few lessons there, I hadn't been in a couple of weeks. I brought along my newly-repaired Gemini SP to practice some rolling.

What a pleasant surprise to see fellow Manhattanites (and paddlers extraordinaire) D&O there, with an array of small boats. OG, the "Original Jersey" girl from the Channel Islands, had brought along her squirt boat.

Squirt boats are meant to be extremely playful, mainly in whitewater, finding current features to twist and shout and dance upon. The boat sits practically submerged to begin with. Just a little momentum, and it starts to dive and place the paddler perpendicular to the water.

As I watched her practice, I was intrigued. No way would I fit in that! I'm a good deal taller, and the boat, sitting on the floor, was no higher than my hand! But OG encouraged me to try, and with a little shimmying, I was able to slide in.

One of my friends, TI, took some video while I floundered about. Friends, it was like a real rodea, gettin' pitched around. 

Unfortunately I seemed so trimmed to the stern, I had to go backwards to make it dive. You can hear OG exhorting someone to push down my bow.

Well, it was a holler and a hoot. I'm not sure when I'll have another chance, but I'd take it if I had one. It was not quite the death trap I feared, but it was a lot of work to stay upright - and getting out in an emergency would be a bit more terrifying than in a pool surrounded by friends.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Seat Repair

A few months ago, I had to take the Gemini SP out of circulation because the backband broke.

More precisely, the part of the seat pan that one of the bolts attached to had sheared clean out. I mentioned this in my post about the Rendezvous event, but for various reasons I didn't finish the repair until January.

First I emailed Valley, and they suggested replacement. Honestly, I was angling for some sort of free or warranty repair, but that's not how the kayak world works. In any case, they're in the UK and I'm in the US, so I was directed to the nearest Valley dealer, Kayak Centre of Rhode Island. Matt Bosgraaf set me straight, and even sent along a pair of bolts later on, that I'd forgotten I'd need.

Some people have been unclear about what I mean about the "seat pan". There are several ways to mount a seat in a boat; the true enthusiasts will situate some carved foam, but I wasn't ready to do that. Basically it's a butt-shaped bucket.

Here's the replacement, upside down and backwards.

The Replacement.

I noticed some spider cracks on the right. Asking around on a sea kayaking forum, comments were generally split between "that's just a byproduct of the manufacturing process, don't worry" to "no that's terrible, send it back." I wrote Valley again with a picture, and they said, in effect, the former. By this point I hadn't paddled the Gemini for a couple of months, so I decided to install the seat.

Area of Concern.

Doing so would require some non-trivial effort. First I had to remove the old seat.

Look! A ball in my cockpit.

I started by removing the hip pads. These are held on with small straps, so that was easy. This is from the broken side, and you can see a hint of zip-tie poking out - but we'll get more into that later.

Hip Pad.

Next I had to remove the four screws that hold the seat in. Imagine the seat is a U, and it's an undersink mount, the top ends attached to the underside of the deck. Two small plats underneath act as sort of lateral washers.

I was nervous about doing this over floorboards with gaps over the open river, but also, it was cold, and I was determined. So, I was careful, cupping my hand under each thing that might drop.

One side detached.

The opposite side, still attached.

I did most of this with a cheap household repair kit. I need to get a better one - the bits don't stay in the driver! I tried using my Gerber but it wasn't comfortable, nor ratcheting.

Cheap ratcheting screwdriver.

Here, on the "good" or unbroken side, you can see how the backband normally attaches. Basically, a bolt with a washer goes through the strap and holds it fast to the sides of the seat pan.

This is what it is supposed to look like.

The backband also attaches to the middle of the seat pan, almost straight down range from the business end of your bum. This proved to be one of the more challenging things to remove, because an inch of foam is on the opposite side, and I couldn't do anything more than rotate the bolt until I removed the foam

Backband above, seat pad below.

The backband also secures via bungie through a small hole in the back of the coaming. It's held fast with a knot tied through a thing. I don't know what this thing is called.

Support for the backband.

With the backband no longer attached to the boat, I was able to slide the seat out. It took some doing - sliding it forward to a slightly wider part of the boat, then rotating. It weren't hard, but it weren't easy neither.

The seat pan removed.

Now that the old seat pan was fully removed, I could see the damage in full light. The round hole is supposed to be there. The square hole above it is not. From what I can tell, the entire square, approximately 1" by 1", popped at once, and shortly after, the fracture between that and the circle formed.

You can make out the black zip ties that I had used to keep the backband in place at the time, but these were only temporary. I found that they not only wore out quickly, but put more strain on what was left of the seat pan, since they didn't have a washer and bolt to distribute the load more evenly. Basically, the edge they looped around would saw away, and the zipties could put the load on the narrow edge they looped around. It was a mutually destructive relationship.

This is not what it is supposed to look like.

Last step: taking the bandband off the old seat.

With the seat removed, I could finally flip it over to get at that pesky bold holding the backband in. To do that, I had to remove this foam padding from the bottom.

This block of foam is all that's between the seat and the keel.

Not so hard once you can get to it!

This little nut attaches the backband to the lower part of the seat.

Now, "getting to it" meant I had access. I still had to use a small vice grip to hold the nut in place while I removed the bolt. At the time, it didn't occur to me that I'd have to take the foam off.

Foam bent back to access the nut.

At last, side by side comparison of the old and the new seat pans. Looks like a match!

Old and new. Maybe I should lease?

One minor thing I had to do: there are two small loops of rope tied on at the front; these made for good handles when I had to tug the old pan free. To transfer them, I undid a knot on each, and slid them through.

I noticed an intriguing aspect that I think made these much easier to re-tire the knots: beveled ends.

I appreciate engineering details.

Knowing that I'd have to have access to that nut again, I poked and widened a hole in the underseat's foam block before gluing it back on.

For a hole in the seat-bucket, Eliza.

All of the above is as far as I got on the first day. It was a cold day in December, and I needed to let the glue dry between the foam and the seat, before I could install the seat.

Between my work schedule, weather, and social obligations, it was a full two weeks before I went back to actually install the new seat.

When I went back, I pulled the boat out to the deck in the club's garden, so I wouldn't be over water, and laid out the bits I needed to re-install.

Backband bolts in the Sephora case, side mounts below.

I like to organize my materials before I start. Off-camera, my boxes of tools on a ledge.

It looks more refined without the fittings for a human.

One concern is, I'm still using the old backband, which means I've got the strap that chafed against the zipties for a couple of days. I ended up folding some gorilla tape over the end, before re-attaching to the seat pan.


Now, unfortunately, low temperatures seem to have put my phone into a coma, so I don't have more pictures. However, installing the new seat was fairly straightforward, mostly a reverse of the removal. I do have a one more tip to share, though.

Lining up and bolting the side mounts was really tricky. About three photos up, you see a pair of metal plates with bolts through them; those bolts go down just to the side of the coaming, holding the seat's sides against the interior of the deck. Those plates help distribute the load.

The hard part is holding those plates up while also holding a nut in place while driving the bolt in from above. It's a tough angle, and I couldn't reach my arm in - just my fingers through the circular hole in the side. This is all out of sight, because of the seat pan.

Eventually, I devised a method of using a piece of tape folded back on itself to stick the plate onto two of my fingers while the other two held the bolt just long enough for the bolt to get some bite.

I'm happy to say that the replacement seems to have gone well. I've had that boat in the pool a couple of times since, and also on a 7nm journey in the lower harbor of NYC to check out some seals. Time will tell, but I think this is one repair I can check off as well done.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Winter Mitsuwa

I recently paddled with some members of my club to Mitsuwa market, in Edgewater, NJ. It's a popular mid-range destination for our club, about four nautical miles each way. Timing with the tidal currents makes it a pretty easy trip. The trick was, this was in winter, December, a day after a significant snowfall.

I've mentioned it before, paddling there solo a couple of years ago.

Clearing the deck.

With temperatures in the 30s F, water about 50 F, everyone was wearing drysuits. At least one member was wearing one for the first time in actual conditions, and a couple others were relatively new to drysuit and cold water paddling. The wind prediction was on the high side - broaching F4 from the west - but turned out to be milder, and more from the south.

Shuffling to and fro.

Mister Cowgirl readies his steed.

We also had sunshine on most of the journey, so after layering up to meet the predicted wind chill, several of us found ourselves warm, in some cases overheating.

While we'd had several inches of snowfall the day before - incidentally, something I drove in briefly, making the rounds of various holiday parties - some was still on our deck, but mostly it had melted. We had "movie snow" decorating the cliffs and trees, but otherwise the water was indistinguishable from any other day of paddling.

Finally ready?

We did spot snow falling off the George Washington Bridge, as it was plowed off, way up high. We could see it streaming in heaps to the water below. That was kinda neat.

Five of us set out. Along the way, we met up with AA, another club member who'd been supporting a swimmer out for a photo shoot. That is, someone swimming in the water, without anyof our fancy thermal protection, near the Little Red Lighthouse, for about half an hour, just for the sake of some photographs. We were amazed. AA came over and said hello, but opted not to join us - he'd worked late the night before, and went back to get some shuteye.

We proceeded, and I found my first navigational challenge. This trip is easy enough to handrail, but one of my favorite marks is no longer in place: the Ferryboat Binghamton, a historic ferry later turned floating restaurant, abandoned years ago and long since demolished by hurricanes Irene and Sandy. Last summer, plans were finally executed to remove the old lady from her mooring, so I took a few minutes to figure out where we needed to go - past that wharf, or farther and around that long pipeline pier? It was the pipeline pier.

Our landing at the beach.

Happy Holidays!

We landed and secured our boats, then went into the market. I had a hot pork and noodle soup.

Nom !

After about an hour, it was time to return. We took in a good view of Manhattan across the way.

From parking lot to Manhattan.

It was a great trip. If you want to see the on-water portions, check out my video with a lil' holiday music set to it.

Happy holidays to all !

A Race with Improvers

I taught a fun class near the end of September, taking students down to a little tiderace that forms under the George Washington Bridge, right here in Manhattan.

I called this an an improvers class, as everyone had some experience sea kayaking, but wanted to develop their skills a bit. The tiderace was just a bonus feature to practice against.

First, we practiced near Dyckman street, in the last bits of ebb tide, working out the fiddly bits.

A wee bit of practice.

Then, we headed south, towards to bridge.

Sally forth!

On the way.

I've mentioned the GWB tiderace before. In a post from last year, I described it a bit of a trip Kayak Dov and I took.

At the start of the flood cycle near the bridge, a wider body of water starts flowing past Jeffrey Hook, where the Little Red Lighthouse sits. Furthermore, if you look on a chart, it's clear that the hydography has a steep, banked curved in the long bay south of the bridge. The effect is that a large volume of water gets squeezed and accelerated at the hook, and the surface water piles up and back over itself. As these waves form, they appear to fall, bizaarely, back towards to flood current. As the effect builds you can actually surf upstream, and if some sizable wake arrives from, say, a passing barge, you can ride some dumpy waves in excess of 1m in height. It can be quite exciting.

For these students, it was a safe, low-consequence environment to gain confidence in somewhat rough water. What I like about the area for instruction purposes is two fold. First, there's a sizable eddy just north of the hook, making for a safe spot to retreat to or observe from, as well as a "ski lift" effect to make multiple runs practicing peelouts. Additionally, since it's a flood current, in the worst case, swimmers and boats and kit will all float back towards where we started.

Getting a taste.

Perfecting a stance.

We did have one rescue. Towards the end of the session, we did get a bit of wake that vaulted the wave heights to 1-2 feet from behind us. I shouted a heads up to my students, reminding them to keep momentum and either ride the wave or let it pass under. One was indecisive, and capsized. I was able to recover him, and called the rest over to the eddy. As a group we decided to end the tiderace portion of the session and practice rescues, with the current carrying us back to our starting position.

Taking a pumpout.

Enjoying the scenery.

Observing others.

I really enjoyed this session, and was happy to have a sizable group for instruction. It's an area I am constantly learning more about, and having a group of students with different goals and abilities pushed me to develop my coaching ability - focusing on one or two things at a time for each participant.

At the end of the day, we were treated to a weather system moving in, some potential precipitation crowding out our sunny day.

Farewell to the Bridge.

I hope to do this again next year - maybe more than once.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Rendezvous 2017

I was very happy to attend the Midcoast Sea Kayak Rendezvous in Georgetown, ME, this year. Hosted by John Carmody, the Rendezvous brings together top coaches from all over the sea kayaking world, with dozens of attendees sorted into groups who rotate through sets of coaches each day. I've been to the area several times, and this was only my second visit to the Rendezvous, and I had a blast. For bonus fun, Mister Cowgirl came along, and got to fine-tune some of his sea skills.

Coaches I worked with: Nigel Robinson, Jerry Polinsky, Russel Farrow, Steve Maynard, Caroline Zeiss, Andrea Knepper, Kevin Beckwith, John Ozard.

In my pod were some familiar faces, mostly chaps who completed or were working towards their Four Stars: Bruce, David, Mike, and some new faces.

I stayed with some friends in a house up the road from the campground, shared it with some friends and new faces. Definitely doing that again!

The biggest challenge was the overall weather. It was too nice! Sunny, winds F2-F3, long period swell. For paddlers looking to challenge themselves in conditions, it was a bit too easy!

I didn't take many photos, and none from being on the water. I'm trying to keep my deck clear and streamline my kit, so cameras take a low priority.

First of all, there was the road trip.

The Saab is loaded.

Now, it's actually loaded.

COLREGS-Compliant: Red on Right is Wrong.

Bundled up for an early start.

We picked up Jean, of Two Geeks Three Knots. her boat was coming on another friend's car, but that friend was delayed enough that she'd be getting in late.

There's a lobster hiding in the back!

Arrived and Registered in Sagadahoc Bay!
We'd gotten a late start on reserving camping at the campgrounds, which were full. Fortunately, the daughter of one of the owners had a house nearby, and was willing to rent it out. It was a little complex, with some people arriving later and staying later, thanks to Bea for getting it all sorted - we stay in a house, with heat, and hot showers.

One of our housemates was a T, a lanky fellow from the UK by way of Montreal. Turns out a New Yorker had sized him for a greenland paddle, and I was the paddle mule.

Like Christmas in Maine.

The maker's mark.

A long paddle.

At one point I had that thing on the subway, and had to lean it at about a 70 degree tilt just to clear the ceiling. I gave up and ended up taking a cab. T brought genuine Canadian Maple Syrup and popcorn as a thank-you, though! Werf it.

The next day, we sorted into our groups, by color. Mister Cowgirl was in the Purple Group.

A bit of surf with Nigel Robinson, Jerry Polinsky, and Russel Farrow. We set out from Sagadahoc Bay warming up, estimating distance and time to paddle it, and then paddling west towards Popham Beach, where the Kennebec River meets the sea.

At the mouth of the river are a couple of large rock islands, and a bend in the river the results in a pretty stiff tiderace. We ferried over to one of the rocks and then spent some time in a wee tiderace, current carrying us NW. Eventually, we backed off of that, ferried over to a large green buoy, and then surveyed the surf along Popham.

It was  . . .interesting, and a challenging read. For one thing, the inbound current was flowing north-ish, almost parallel to the beach, but the ocean swell was coming in from the SE. On a chart, it was clear that there was a long, low sandbank, and as the swell hit that, it would turn and roll in at a complementary angle to the primary surf. Additionally, the transition to that long low back was abrupt.

The result was somewhat messy but organized. Waves would form and break pretty far out, then hurtle in towards the beach. Waves came from two different directions, converging like a pair of scissors at one spot on the beach. The current would move us sideways as we waited, and a bit while surfing in, left to right as we faced the beach.

So - eight ball in the corner pocket time. And I gotta say, I nailed it, starting my line to the left, surfing in, backing off, then catching a complementary wave from the ride, landing on a nice, chill patch of sandy beach.

Later on, as we rode in the waves, there was one surprising bit of swell that picked me up and ran me in. I braced for what seemed like forever, then tried coming off too soon and capsized. I whiffed on my roll but found I was shallow enough to quickly pole up and paddle back out.

Later, when we relaunched from the beach for lunch, I felt a *POP* and my backband gave way. I paddled out past the surf zone - our given exercise was to stay and paddle in the surf zone - and saw that an 1"x 1" panel of plastic had sheared out of my seat bucket, including the part where the bolt goes in. While I managed to fix this with zip ties, this issue haunted me the rest of the weekend.

Popped clean out.

Bolt and washer, still in place. 

After our surf session, we paddled back to camp, arriving with enough water left to paddle in. Sagadahoc Bay gets awfully muddy on a lower tide level.

Our second day paired us up with Steve Maynard and Caroline Zeiss. Early on, rumors were buzzing and turned out to be true. We were paddling out to Seguin Island!

Seguin Island is about four nautical miles south of our campground, a large set of rocky cliffs with but a single sheltered area to land. There's a lighthouse on the top, and a small, defunct boathouse near the landing. It's a proper journey, with a lengthy open crossing, as well as some ledges along the way to play with and navigate against.

Challenge #1: Waiting for the tide to come in.

We paddled out, playing a game of, basically, leap frog, to keep in position and warm up a bit. As we approached Seguin, we veered right in order to circumnavigate it counter-clockwise, playing aginst some features along the way. However, rather than staying and playing, we just played and kept moving, on and on around the island, then back a ways, then back on our original course, eventually rounding the final bend to land in the sheltered nook below the light.

Behind the defunct lighthouse was a long, long, long wooden track leading up to the lighthouse. After lunch, I walked up the entire length, noting the wobbly and loose boards before realizing, at the top, the the track was closed, and we were supposed to be walking up a path just below it. By this point, it was almost time to leave, so I took a couple of pictures, turned around, and left.
A long climb up.

Seguin Light.

A bell.

No kidding.

Very clear water!

The journey back was pleasant and uneventful. As we approached Sagadahoc Bay, we realized the tide was dropping, and if we lingered too long we'd be caught out in the mud. We managed to get off in time, and debriefed in a little gazebo overlooking the bay - whereafter we spotted the other groups coming in, and we started to wonder who would make it in before the tide ran out.

Sure enough, a few didn't quite make it.

Low tide.

The third day was our short day, as everyone would want to be off in time to clean up, pack up, and start long drives home. We were paired with Andrea Knepper, Kevin Beckwith, and John Ozard. I've met Andrea before, and paddled with John, but Kevin was a new acquaintance.

The tidal situation was such that there wasn't much to play with. High tide was in the early afternoon, which meant that at most we'd catch the back half of the flood cycle and be off shortly after. The weather was similarly benign - there weren't big Low pressure systems kicking up shorter period waves offshore. We were challenged to find something close and interesting.

We set out from Reid State Park, and basically played around some rocky features - first, Griffith's Head, then up along the coast. I practiced paddling as close to the shoreline as I could, and sure enough a large swell, about my height came along broadside. I braced into it but capsized; I think what must have happened was, as I was alongside a sloping rock, and as the wave hit me it also lifted and dissipated, so I lost my support.

I ended up in a position to roll up on my weaker side, but I though for a moment and thought 1) that's my weaker side, but also 2) I'd be swinging into rocks and, I think, coming up against the next waves. Thus, I swung around and rolled up on my strong side, positioned to brace into the next oncoming wave, which wasn't necessary.

More than one person later remarked that my practice roll looked pretty good. Was it intentional? "Well, the recovery was intentional, that's for sure," I said.

Somewhere in all of this, that pesky backband gave way again. The zip ties that I'd used to secure the band to the pillar had broken use, and Kevin had us try a repair at sea. now, in hindsight, we futzed around with it longer than necessary, but ultimately it took one coach supporting my boat while I sat on my back deck to get better access to the operating theater - it's hard to work on something immediately next to your waist.

Assorted Musings
Always, always, always look up your own tidal and weather conditions.

I am adding zip ties to my small repair kit. I've been so focused on patching holds and snapped paddles that it never occurred to me to need fasteners.Maybe some paracord too.