Monday, December 19, 2016

Come in from the Cold

I've been watching a little slurry of ice form on my spraydeck, little fragments sliding around, like the last bits of a cool drink at the fairgrounds in summer, or the final repositories of alcohol in a margarita. They're not, of course - instead they're the Hudson River, splashed on and frozen in place, broken up by the steady undulations of my torso rotation.

It's about 30 F air temp, 42 in the water, and I'm working my way around Spuyten Duyvil into the Harlem River. My original ambition was to go to the Brothers (islands), or at least Randalls Island, but schedule constraints mean I won't go half that far, and will in fact fight some current on the way back. I don't care, though. I haven't paddled in about three weeks, and it's a sunny to partly cloudy day, and it's just nice to be out.

An icicle is forming on the carabiner of my camera, getting longer, I swear, every time I look at it. There's a thin layer forming around the clip of my water bottle, and even my contact tow is developing a 'break in case of emergency' layer of ice around the rope.

I'm layered up like a Russian nesting doll: InnerCore base layers, a PolarTec onesie, Outercore pants and a long-sleeved winter running top, and then a Navy surplus USMC "Wooly Bully" sweater. All of this is underneath my Gore-Tex drysuit of course, and since the wind is a bit stiffer than I anticipated, I've got my balaclava on, and neoprene pogies over my gloved hands.

Yep, it's winter alright. You wouldn't know it from the photographs though !

They're still working - why shouldn't I?

On my way up, an NYPD boat passed me, and later at Spuyten Duyvil, another arrived from the north and they radioed the railroad bridge requesting entry.

I passed under unimpeded, and they caught up a few minutes later once the bridge rotated open.

Ice, ice, baby!

I worried my drinking water would freeze!

There was some construction work on the 207th street bridge - later, I'd see a tugboat do-si-do to hook up to one of the crane barges. Also some work on the super-tall projects on the Bronx side across from Peter Sharp Boathouse.

Looking north.

Looking south.

This time of year, the sun transits at a southern angle, very low in the sky. I need new sunglasses - these are so scratched up, they're practically foggy, nearly worse than my uncorrected vision!

Mercy, mercy, mercy.

I still call this look, "Luchadora the Explorer".

A twinkle in her eye.

There was a steady northerly wind, stronger than predicted when I decided to go out today. It was bone-chilling, though with all my layers on I was fine. In fact, while usually my legs are warmer in the boat and out of the wind, on a day like this they were colder, not as layered as my core, and sitting on the water.

I had lunch in my boat, sheltered in the eddy of High Bridge. I'd brought along hot tea and hot cider. The cider, along with some caramel-filled chocolate, perked me right up for the return journey.

You might have though this was a summer day, except for the icicles I found on the cliff left over from the cleaving of Spuyten Duyvil creek.


Icicle, icicle!

See? Below freezing temperatures.

From the top!

It was just as well that I cut my original trip plan short. While I had to fight about a knot of current on the way back, I'm not sure I would have wanted to be out the additional couple of hours. Maybe on a more relaxed day, or with friends, but by myself? And also, I had to be back home to finish packing for my annual family visit.

Henry Hudson Bridge, Palisades.

As I approached the Hudson River, I could make out a lot of wave activity. Not huge waves, mind you, but a pretty steady procession of footers. There was still a bit of flood from the south hitting that wind from the north, and when I got out into it, I found myself doing a little surfing of those following seas, all the way back to the Inwood Canoe Club.

When I got out, I put things away quickly and decided to walk back to my care in my drysuit. I took my gloves off since they were wet, and immediately regretted it: while my hands were cold when in wet gloves, chilled by the wind, they were even colder without that thin layer of insulation. By the time I was finished packing, my hands felt like they were on fire, they were so cold. My gloves are not winter paddling gloves, but they thin layer of protection they offer was better than bone-chilling wind on my hands.

I did take my drysuit off at my car, and contemplated the day. It was cold, no doubt. Unlike my usual December paddles, there was no "hey it's kayaking in the snow". All the powder we got on Saturday melted away in the bizarrely warm Sunday that followed. Also, there was no whale to chase. So why did I go out?

Well, one, it's fun no matter what. Also, I haven't been out in a while, and this might be my last chance before the New Year. I even paddled the Argonaut, my older, bigger boat, and that was a nice change of pace from the Gemini SP.

But does kayaking require a reason? Of course not!

Monday, December 12, 2016

Care and Maintenance

It's winter time, so guess what time it is for kayakers?

What time is it, Cowgirl?

While I'd normally say time for winter paddling, which I have done and will continue to do, it's also time for repairs. Inspecting your boat and taking care of any little things going on with it.

Today I pulled the Gemini SP off the rack to take a closer look at some things that have been bothering me for a few months.

I had three goals: clean the skeg, protect the hatch covers, and inspect the remaining mechanicals and lines on the boat.

First, the skeg.

Tools at the ready.

I've taken apart the Argonaut's skeg before, and while the control box is different on the Gemini, the overall approach is the same. Since then, I've bought tools that are useful for these kinds of repairs, including both metric and imperial folding Allen wrenches, and a small set of vice grips, which I keep in a little tin I got from and international flight on Turkish Airlines.

The problem I've been having is that I couldn't deploy the skeg, yet on land I could pull it free by hand easily, and work it up and down. After some earlier checking, I determined that is was likely sand in the tube. That was my theory, anyway.

Note paper placed below to prevent screws from dropping through cracks.

Here you can see the controller. Basically, the steel cable that controls the skeg itself feeds up through plastic conduit inside the boat until it gets to the controller. The slidy-box thing with the five screws is just a housing - a thing for the control rod to to move through.

That rod extends to the right of the housing, and is in fact a hollow tube that the cable feeds through. The handle at the far left in this photo has a small screw inside that tightens down on the end of the cable, through a hole in that rod. Basically, the handle pinches the end of the cable, and everything else just keeps the cable straight as it comes into and out of the conduit.

All the skeg controller screws are Allen head.

Blurry - basically the housing detached, rod still in place.

Rod with the handle removed. See the hole for a screw to pinch the cable? 

Once I had the handle off, I noticed corrosion on the end of the cable. Not a whole lot, but definitely rusty red. I also found, and cleaned out, sand between the hull and the housing.

Satisfied with my dismantling of the slider hosing, I checked the cable on the skeg itself. To my surprise, there was nearly no corrosion here. While you can't see it in the photo below, it looked at first like there was no kink, but I found a slight bend further up when I hyper-extended the skeg.

I spent a lot of time working the cable up and down. I also splashed some water on it, hoping it would work its way down the tube. However, I was becoming convinced that there wasn't so much sand in the conduit itself.

The skeg end of the cable.

My original plan was to pull the cable completely out, and then to flush water through, and wipe down the cable. But, as I worked things along, the cable seemed fine to a point, and I was a little worried I'd have trouble threading the cable through if I got it all the way out. It's not hard, but it requires more time and finesse than I had at hand.

I also noticed a slight kink in the cable near the skeg end. It's not noticeable in the photo above, but when I hyper-extended the skeg, I could make it out. I've seen worse. As I continued working the cable back and forth, I found that it was pretty smooth, except for pulling the skeg up an additional quarter-inch to be flush with the keel of the boat.

That much, I can live with. I'll replace the cable eventually, but for now, I've got it working better than it was. I can pull it flush for storage, and when I go to see, just give it a little pull to get it in position to be deployable when needed.

I removed the controller housing completely and ran water through it, then a twisted-up paper towel, to get any grime and sand out. I did the same with the control rod as well, even though nothing is supposed to be moving internally in it.

I put the entire assembly back together and tested it out, then moved on to some other things.

For one, I rinsed my hatch covers and then dried them off, then applied 303 protectant to them. I'd removed the hatched from the lines I used to tether them as well, so that I could wipe 303 into the rims. The 303 spray shields hatch covers from the sun's ultraviolet rays, which can degrade the material. Even though I store my boat in a boathouse, well-shielded from the sun, it's a wise protective move given how frequently I paddle.

I inspected all my deck lines and bungies. They're all in good shape, though I can see the start of some thread fraying on one stretch of bungie. Surprise, it's the area I use the most, to secure my water bottle, or pump, or camera.

The last thing I checked (other than the seat, which was fine, just fine) was the pair of foot pegs. The right peg was fine. The left, not so much.

I couldn't open the cleat that keeps it secure. I use my vice grips to finally get them open, but even after that, the peg would not slide along the track. I got out a hammer and tapped it forward, but even that didn't budge it much.

Finally, I resorted to removing it from my boat, but removing the two screws that pierce the hull and attached to the rails. Once out, I was able to rinse and remove the peg. I made sure to get all the sand and grime off, and got the foot peg to slide again.

Problem parts, taken apart !

One note about re-assembling the foot peg and track: you need to put the peg on before re-attaching the rail to the boat. Once the screws are in, they block the peg from sliding on (or off) the rail. Minor thing that I had to figure out.

I wiped out some sand left in my boat, and rinsed along the bulkhead seams. The last thing I want is for some sand and water to freeze in a crack and expand later.

I'm sure I'll paddle my boat some more in the winter, but I was happy with this little inspection and repair. I've got one last thing to follow up on later (the skeg cable) but other wise the Gemini SP is in good shape!

Now I'll just have to make time for its bigger and older sibling, the Argonaut. . .

Monday, December 5, 2016

O Captain ! Great Captain !

I paddled right after Thanksgiving with the westchester crowd - my good friends the 2 Geeks, and AD, JT, JB, and B with the Nordkapp. We're paddled pretty regularly, some more than others, as AD and Jean look to build their leadership logs, and the others just want to practice basic skills. We went around Hart Island, and later went out to Jones Beach, and most recently, met up in AD's back yard (literally) to paddle from Mamaroneck to the Captain Islands - right around the corner in Greenwich, CT.

AD lives in a swell-looking condo right on the waterfront, complete with a kayak rack in the back yard and a proper gym and sports club on the grown floor. We were able to park in a pleasant residential neighborhood, putting in at a beach at a the end of a dead end street. The 2 Geeks paddled over from their boathouse in Larchmont, and once we were all assembled, we set out.

Unlike our previous journies, this one had a pretty stiff onshore wind, and the tide was unusually high as well. The tide meant we were able to take a shortcut out over a low point in Hen Island, but the wind would be hitting us abeam as we came about along the coast.

Leaving Mamaroneck.

A pleasant little gap.

Assembled for the briefing.

AD ready to lead.

After a short on-water briefing in the lee of a rock, we set out, and went around Milton Point to cross the long harbor from which we could see Rye Playland - and old amuement park, still operating in the warmer months. To lessen the wind we paddled closer in, and after assessing the overall speed of the group, made a short stop for a bio-break.

Rounding Milton Point.

From here, it was determined that about half the group would want to turn back earlier than the rest, owing to off-water obligations later in the day. We knew by then that Great Captain would be a longer journey, and more exposed to wind and an open crossing, so Jean and JT and I became the "Captain" group, and the rest formed the "Byram" group, that would go no further than Byram point.

We left and went around the next curve to be alongside Manursing Island, when suddenly an alarm was raised. Where was Alex?

We had separated into two smaller pods, and we all took a quick look around. The answer was quickly given: Alex's skeg had broken, and owing in part to the frustration, he'd opted to turn around and land where we'd been previously, and paddle back with the group on the return.

This was fine, except only two people knew that. We'd all seen Alex launch, too, so everyone else assumed he'd be with us. We had a quick talk about communication. Changes in plan are for everyone to know, not just the trip leaders.

By this point we were paddling into the wind, and the Byram group turned around to head back and pick up Alex on the way, while the remaining trio of Jean, JT, and myself, heading on the Great Captain.

Great Captain Island is one of the Captain Islands, part of the town of Greenwich, CT. It's home to a proper lighthouse that, until recently, had a live-in lightkeeper and his family. Hurricane Sandy made the local drinking water brackish, so the family moved ashore. The island is a park for the town, but in the off-season local paddlers have landed and taken in the view.

We paddled north a bit and then a fairly steep ferry angle to account for the wind, and landed on the northwestern corner of the island. After pulling our boats up, we hiked a bit to see the lighthouse.

Approaching the light after landing.

It's a sizable home.

Originally established in the 1600s.

The wind was still a-blowin', so we took our lunch in the lee of the lighthouse. Here, we could talk, soak in some sun. If it weren't for the wind, it'd have been a warm and pleasant day.

I'd brought roasted chestnuts, leftovers from Thanksgiving. Though cold, they still had some sweetness to them. I'd never considered it before, but they do make good paddle food!

A beautiful front lawn.

Long Island Sound.

By now, the wind had picked up and was easily on the upper end of F5, gusts to F6. We still had outgoing tide in our favor, but to cross the mile or so from the island back to the mainland, we were going to take a roundabout route - heading up towards Calf Island, then cutting over and letting the wind and current carry us south. Even at that, we might've overshot and gotten carried out further than intended, if we weren't paying attention.

Ready for the Wind !

I rarely use the hood on my drysuit, and was keenly aware that with a headwind, it would be more likely to catch wind, so I cinched it up. I was glad for it - my head kept warm, and when not taking wind in the face was actually quite comfortable.

That said, the Gore-Tex is stiff, and so it was more like a porthole than a hood. My head tended to turn inside the hood, rather than the hood turning with my head. I had to really goose-neck my head around to keep an eye on my companions.

The seting sun.

As the sun went down, the wind declined as well, and in short order we were just paddling the miles back to Mamaroneck.  By now, everyone else had landed, and all but Alex had left.

Paddling again past Hen Island.

Contrails, Clouds, and Sunsets.

Approaching the harbor, we had to wonder if all those contrails in the sky were holiday traffic taking visitors home.

As we approached the harbor, we could make out a lone figure in Mango yellow with a white hat, walking about on shore to keep warm. Jean radioed in to let Alex know we would be there soon, and with sunlight dwindling, he prepped his boat so as to get going right as we approached. They had to paddle another couple of miles back to their boathouse.

JT and I helped each other with our boats and drove off separately. By now it was dark; I'd left my house around seven in the morning, and hadn't considered how long the day might be. But it was grand - a journey of at least 16 nautical miles, a mildly challenging wind, a split group, and some great scenery, most of which was still new to me. It was a great trip, and one I'd happily do again.