30 April 2009

SHOP: electric bilge pump in a kayak

It is interesting how some technology seems to be more popular in one country than others.
Sails and electric bilge pumps are way more popular in Australia than anywhere else; skegged kayaks are more popular in Great Britain than Downunder or the Americas.
But let’s look at the bilge pump.
Like probably most kayakers, I equipped myself with the safety of a trusty hand bilge pump.
I really thought that with that piece of equipment I was ready to take on the rough seas.
I soon realized that even during practice the little pump was kind of, ahem..., a joke, if I was going to rely on it to empty my boat in case of a flooded cockpit in a serious emergency.
While the hand pump has still got its place in a sea kayak (empty a flooded hatch that by accident was left open?...) I don’t regard the little pump sufficient as main safety device.

How was I going to steady myself in my swamped cockpit and balance the kayak using both hands to operate the pump while waves were tossing me around?
It just does not work; not for me.

I am aware of two options for a hands free device that will empty water from the cockpit: a foot pump

commercialy available version

custom fabricated one with carbon

or an electric bilge pump.

I had a kayak with a foot pump and did not work for me. Maybe coz my big feet rub against the deck, maybe because I could not really steady myself while trying to balance the boat and pump with one foot or just because I found the foot pump so painfully slow.
I decided that an electric bilge pump will be my choice.
While certainly not totally foolproof it has a higher percentage of success rate than other devices.
To date I have installed 15 sea kayaks with the Rule 500 bilge pump.

If you are keen to install such pump in a kayak and are a bit handy with tinkering read on.

The pump is brilliant but the switch and installation pose some challenges.
Kayaks that have some room between the seat and the rear bulkhead are best suited to this install.

Components that you will need:

1) bilge pump (my preferred one is Rule 500)
2) Switch (including a small relay; will detail later)
Quality electrical wire (figure of eight)
4) Waterproof battery box
5) Small SLA battery
6) Outlet hose
7) Outlet spigot

For tools and supplies:

1) power drill
2) various drill bits (some small and a large one 10mm)
3) round file (or Dremel with attachments)
4) marine sealant (polyurethane, like Sikaflex)
5) soldering iron
7) epoxy resin (optional)

Before you start drilling try to suspend your kayak with slings. Working at waist height is easier and later on working inside the cockpit you can turn the kayak belly up and avoid a bad back.
Plan your install carefully considering thoughtfully the location of your outlet spigot, switch and hose route.
Think twice drill once.

The spigot outlet should be in a spot where it is not going to spray water on yourself or back into the cockpit. While it seems that I am stating the obvious I have seen some installs that made it happen. The outlet should also be above waterline, well above it.

The deck seems to be the obvious location.
Enlarge the hole with a file (or Dremel) just big enough for the spigot to fit snugly. No need to be sloppy.

The switch for the pump must be waterproof. I mean it. Electric bilge pumps fail most times because of lousy switches. I used to install pumps using the typical toggle switch with the rubber boot.

Good when new but the boot is prone to be torn or deteriorates in the elements.
I have seen air switches used but they cost a bomb and a large hole has to be drilled to install them.
To date the best solution seems to be a magnetic switch.

Ready made fully sealed burglar alarm switches are available from electronic parts stores but I have trouble envisioning the proper operation on the deck of a kayak.
I fabricate my own ones that require no holes drilled into the deck and so far have been very reliable. See appendix on how to make one.

More info on options available here.

The wiring has to be secured to the underdeck of the kayak. Loose wires will get ripped off while entering/exiting the kayak. It’s only a matter of time. I use polyurethane to secure the wires to the fiberglass inside the kayak.

The battery that powers the electric bilge pump is a 12V. Sealed Lead Acid (SLA) 1.3 Ah.
It almost fits perfectly inside the Pelican #1010. Since the battery is just a smidgen too wide a small section of the lining inside the box MUST be cut out to ensure a good seal when closed.
If you forego this step your box will not keep the water out.

The box needs a hole drilled where the wires will run to the battery.
Once the wires are in place I seal the hole with epoxy or high quality sealant (but never with silicone! It’s a product that has no place in a sea kayak, in my opinion).

Drill a small hole into the rear bulkhead behind the seat close to the deck. Run the wires to the switch and pump then seal with polyurethane.

The battery box is secured to the hull in the day hatch away from frequent dunkings.
Pelican boxes located in the cockpit have proven to leak.

I secure the bilge pump to the floor of the kayak with little saddles (custom made) and bungee cord. I heard some people gluing the pump directly to the hull.

Measure the outlet hose with a loop close to the deck and attached to the outlet spigot. While the loop will prevent water running back in, a quality non return valve can be used instead.

For kayaks with bulkhead too close to the seat to fit the pump, a recess for the pump can be created. Details here


The switch is made of two parts: the magnet and the reed.
The reed is a little ampoule that contains a metal "leaf" that is "bent" by a magnet.
When you place a magnet over the reed it closes the circuit and makes the contact to activate the pump. Reeds are available from electronics parts stores.
The reed is soldered to the wire and then placed in a little section of PVC tube cut in half.
I use epoxy resin to encapsulate the reed and exposed soldering and make it waterproof.

Once the resin has cured I remove the switch from the mold and stick it with polyurethane (Sikaflex) to the underdeck (see previous image)

The magnet is made up of a small rare earth magnet (from electronic store) and a small piece of steel to channel the magnetism towards the reed switch.
(PS: further research revealed that the piece of steel is not really necessary. The magnetism of the rare earth magnet is not really shielded by such a small piece of steel. Future magnetic sliders willbe made without the steel bit)
I position the rare earth magnet in a suitable plastic cap (or mold) .
I place a spacer of thin paper under the magnet. It will allow for clearance of the hole where the bungee cord goes.
Make sure that the resin covers all the components or salt water will corrode them in no time.

visible are rare earth magnet on top of section of steel (PS steel not really necessary)
The little reed switch is not strong enough to operate the bilge pump.
It needs a booster: a relay.
The relay must be strong enough to switch the pump (minimum 3 A). Below relay available from Jaycar.

A typical diagram for the wiring will look like this. This wiring will only work with this relay. Other relays will need a specific wiring depending on the design of the part.

The above diagram does not show a fuse (strongly recommended)
The relay (and fuse) are positioned in line with the positive (+) and are all contained inside the Pelican box inside the day hatch of the kayak.

The local kayak outfitter charges $395 for fitting an electric bilge pump in your kayak.
If tinkering does not scare you probably you can save yourself about $250+...

Douglas Wilcox from Seakayakphoto has installed a Rule 500 fully automatic pump for jetskis (25S-6WC).
He does not use any switches, fuses or relays. The pump turns on automatically every 20 sec and it continues to pumps only if encounters resistance (water).
According to his findings he used the pump on a 10 day trip having it connected every day and emptied a flooded cockpit at least 10 times.
There was plenty of power left in a 1.3 Ah SLA battery.
He does not use a waterproof case either (battery in day hatch) but simply connects to the battery terminals with spade style connectors.
After a few years of use he is confident that his set up is very reliable.

28 April 2009

DIY: Candlefire ™

Camping often evokes thoughts of campfires.
It just seems that an evening at camp must have one. It’s like the moon and the tides; you can’t change that...
So when the administrators of National Parks around the world started to realize that too many of us having campfires in the wilderness were causing great degradation to the environment they decided to ban campfires.
Initially I took the news with disdain, followed by refusal and eventually I had a good look at the issue.
Fires cause tremendous impact in pristine wilderness. They scar the land.
Even if not escaping out of control with irreversible consequences (bush fires that kill lives and destroy property) even the mere little camp fires cause damage.
I love to travel in areas where there is little or no sign of human impact.
Unfortunately fires leave a scar that takes years to heal.
But I still want my fire; it just adds so much atmosphere.

Years ago, while in USA, somebody (Edgar Peralta) showed me the solution to this dilemma: make a fire in a can.
He produced this can that once lit looked like a small fire.
I couldn’t believe that simple thing would be a great surrogate to a real fire.
He explained to me the basic principles of fabricating one and I have since made hundreds of these.

You will need:
-candle wax (recycle your old unburned candles)
-medium sized empty can (tuna cans seems to work best)
- some cardboard
- pliers

Your can should be clean and dry.
You can place the can directly on the stove or have a much larger can to melt wax for the fabrication of multiple candlefires ™.
A word of caution: if you are generally a klutz and tend to spill and tip things probably you should not be handling hot wax, however if you can handle a bit of heat (so to speak), be careful and all will be good.

Wax is like oil. Do not spill any water into the liquid wax or an explosion of hot wax will spray everywhere.

Do not overheat wax: if it’s smoking there is great risk of imminent fire. Therefore stay at the stove while melting wax… don’t wonder off to the TV and watch the riveting Australian Idiot reruns…

Once the wax has melted, remove it from the stove with pliers.

Alternatively, if you have a large container of hot wax, carefully pour some into the empty cans, just below the brim.
You will need to insert a spiral of corrugated cardboard into the hot wax.
Add some “spikes” of cardboard that will act as starting wicks.

Let the can cool down before handling it with bare hands.

Candlefires ™ will give you a decent flame (small fire effect) for a couple of hours depending on the quality of the wax.
The great advantage of the candlefire ™ over the fire: people can sit all around without getting smoked out.

candlefires ™ at the table (timber has been protected)
Above pic is a time exposure. The flame is obviously much smaller...
The candlefire ™ is not more than a stove powered by wax therefore totally legal in all National Parks where open fires are not allowed but stoves are.
Light your candlefire ™ on a durable non flammable surface since once the candlefire ™ is lit the wax melts and can’t be repositioned.

27 April 2009

Danger Eddie surfing Bribie

best viewed in HQ (tab at bottom of the above window)

21 April 2009

SHOP: DIY lightweight tarp

The lightweight tarp has become one my favorite shelters.
Years ago I purchased a tarp from EMS because I liked the idea of being "outside" while still sheltered from the rain.
The tarp did not work too well.
It was too heavy and bulky (normal urethane coated fabric) and because of its catenary cut design (the sides were not straight cut but bowed) it did not allow to be pitched right to the ground and prevent splashback in case of rain.
Fast forward ten years and I reconsidered the idea.
A new material became available: SilNylon (Siliconized Nylon).
The stuff is very thin, light and surprisingly strong.

Sea to Summit sells a silicone one side, urethane coated on other side tarp.
Not as light and strong as true siliconized nylon though.
A fabric that has no coating will be inherently more tear resistant. The fabric can stretch an conform to stress forces way better than a “static” fabric like a coated one.
Therefore a tarp made from a fabric that stretches will also shape better when strung. It will almost assume a catenary design and minimize the dreaded flapping in the wind.
Unable to source a modestly priced silnylon tarp locally I set to make my own one.
Gee, how hard can it be to make a square tarp?

Sourcing the fabric proved to be the hardest.
I finally found a supplier that is happy to sell small quantities of the high tech fabric: Outdoor Wilderness Fabrics Inc. of Idaho.
Lynn Maine specializes in high end outdoor fabrics and sells to the consumer.

I have made several tarps to date with her silnylon fabrics.
Most weigh around 500-600 grams (18-20 oz.) for a 3.1X4mt tarps and take the space of a one litre bottle.
The tarp is sewn in the centre which then acts as the peak for the “roof”

enjoying a dry evening by the candlefire (TM)
I hem the sides by rolling the fabric and create a casing. A single “fold” is not sufficient since the fabric will eventually fray (despite what some light tent manufacturers say!)
The corners are reinforced by nylon ribbon tape (gross grain) about 30 cm along the hem, leaving a little loop in the corner for cord attachments.

The main central seam is sealed with SilNet sealer since other sealants will not stick to silicone.
In some tarps I add some attachment loops along the seam for hanging a night lamp or clothesline.

A complete basic tarp generally will cost me around US$50-60.
A much cheaper proposition than the commercial silnylon ones.

20 April 2009

British style kayaks

One aspect of sea kayaking that excites me at the moment is playboating.
It offers all the right elements to keep me interested: skill building, adrenaline rush and fun with friends.
While the immediate waters of Moreton Bay usually don't evoke thoughts of rough waters on occasions you can come across some clapotis where, with the right kayak, a lot of fun can be had.
As most sea kayakers, I was introduced to the sport without knowing much about kayaks.
I am not the type of person that would endlessly research something before I commit.
I learn along the way.
If at the time I would have had a mentor or an experienced person to guide me I could have gained my skills faster and probably I would have avoided learning bad habits that later take so long to change.
I might have even started with a rudderless kayak so I would be forced to understand that a kayak is steered with the whole body, not just the pedals of a flimsy rudder.
Eventually I realized that for sea kayaking in demanding waters using my rudder was not the best solution. ("boner" on paddling.net comments: ....My previous kayak had a rudder, which hindered me from learning good paddling skills; very much like training wheels...)
I was intrigued by the virtues of a skegged boat but held back too afraid that it was all too hard.
Little I knew that the learning curve is not as drastic as feared.
Slowly I started to use my paddle not just for forward travel but also for directional adjustments. Eventually I started to lift the edge of my kayak and lean the boat when surfing down a wave.
How much more fun it all became once I understood what sea kayaking in rough waters was.
Kayaks were meant to go in all direction, not just forward.
Broached by a wave, skidding along sideways, spinning around and going backwards is now all part of the endless fun that the surf zone can bring me.
While expedition kayaking is just one aspect of my time in the sea I really like to play in confused waters.
Just like this:

best viewed in HQ mode, full screen (tabs at bottom of window above)

16 April 2009

Less is more

If you are reading this post most likely you live in a structured society.
Chances are that most of your time is spent indoors and maybe you are wishing that you could be outside more.
Some of us just dab at the outdoors while if you are like me you make it a priority in life.
I also make sure that I spend a healthy amount of time sleeping away from the comforts of my home.
I am not talking about the "luxury" hotels that work sometimes takes me to, I am talking about camping.
I love being away from home and spend the night in the wilderness.
The further away from civilization the better.
In my opinion a real sense of achievement and adventure can only be had if little or no human disturbance is found in a place.
The experience is enriched further when I travel with less gear.
The years of travelling light in the wilderness with all the needed gear carried in my backpack has thought me to minimize and discard items that are really unnecessary.
I remember my early days of backpacking when I would schlep a rather large pack that most times would weigh around 20+ Kg (44Lbs) just for an overnight experience.
It used to require considerable effort and additional time to take me to the places I loved.
Admittedly the gear that I take with me today is technologically more advanced and consequently lighter but what made my pack smaller and lighter is the elimination of items that were not necessary to experience the healing nature of an outing.
I have come to the conclusion that if I have less "stuff" with me I tend to appreciate the place more.
I know that there are many that will think I am mad and they see no point of leaving behind the "essentials" to make camping comfortable.
These days my pack weight around 8Kg (18Lbs) when travelling light for a week end in the bush however I don't enjoy the outdoors any less than the days of heavy hauling.
When kayaking on overnight trips with my friends I am often puzzled why are their kayaks so incredibly heavy when helping them carry it up the beach.
On occasions I have actually refused to help them with a kayak that in my opinion was just too heavy. I suggested emptying the contents on the beach and then carry the unloaded kayak closer to camp. After all the most common kayaking injuries occur while carrying heavy boats.

So what have I changed and eliminated from my list that I found unnecessary?

While backpacking I realized that there is no need to carry a heavy large tent.
These days I often go away with just a light tarp. Used correctly it often offers the same level of comfort as a tent. And while the tent gives the non experienced outdoorsmen a sense of safety by being totally enclosed it robs them the pleasure of still seeing the world around them while sheltered from the elements.
If bighting insects are a possibility I add a mosquito net.
My totally weatherproof shelter can be as light as 500 grm (18oz.).
There are times though where wind could be an issue where I prefer to take just the fly and poles of my tent leaving behind the heavier part, the inner tent.

rainy and windy night with just the fly of the Hillberg Nallo
There are numerous items that I no longer take with me because I found that I never use those items.
I have revised my cooking (bulky and heavy inefficient metho stove, redundant multiple pots) and my clothing (several bulky items that offer little insulation and are not suitable around camp... these days amuses me to see jeans worn around camp on wilderness trips...).
I also have a light sleeping bag since most locales have mild temperatures. I don’t take an air mattress that often offers little warmth and is incredibly bulky and heavy; a compact self inflating matt does the job for my horizontal times.

(details here)
The list goes on. My pack or kayak weigh less and I can travel faster and more efficiently.
To teach myself and others on how to travel light occasionally I organize a trip where the goal is to take only the very minimal essentials.
Tents, chairs and tables are never seen around camp when we kayak or walk light.

ultralight camping at Peel Island
Even if fires are not permitted, some of us elect to not even take any cooking equipment since realistically not really needed just for a night out.
Improvising from the few items that we have is part of the fun and surprisingly most of us don’t wish for the luxuries left behind.

I found that travelling with less gear awakens your senses and enriches the experience.
The biggest culprit seems to be the electronic gear that pervades some trips.
The constant scanning of the GPS and data that it feeds (or the noise of the VHF radio) is in my opinion a total waste of time.
No doubt that it is a great tool used wisely and for safety but it alienates me from my surrounding. Being worried of my progress, speed and constant knowledge of my location in a non essential situation is an invasion of my freedom and peace.
Somebody gave me a GPS probably 10 years ago… I still have not used it. Call me old school but I have only once wished for it when caught in a blizzard. On the other hand it was not a life threatening situation and instead of trying to make my travel very hard, I just set up camp and sit out the storm.
If I kayak in waters that require a GPS I make sure that I invite a geek along that will keep me informed… :-)

08 April 2009

Shark training?

As an avid sea kayaker I often come across other paddlers that use their craft primarily for fishing.
I have fished from the kayak myself (with mixed results) and find it great fun and rewarding.

Vanilla's catch
While not exactly a mad fisherman myself, I know of folks that regularly hit the water in a kayak to go fishing.
They have outfitted their vessel with all sorts of technology to increase their chances of reeling in the big ones.
I also have heard of kayakers using burley to attract their catch.
Observing several kayaks not far away from shore at one of my paddling spots I asked the local kayaker if the fishing was good.
The reply was that most times was great however lately it has been rather hard to land any of the catches.
He lamented the presence of a tiger shark that was stalking the kayakers and snatching the hooked fish before they could be landed on board.
While hearing of sharks taking your fish before it's in your hands is nothing new (most "stink boaties" can confirm that) what is different in this case it the type of craft used on the water.
Admittedly a kayak is much smaller in size and much closer to the water than let's say a "tinny" (small aluminium boat) and its occupant is much more vulnerable to a potential shark attack.
Reports of sharks bumping into paddling kayaks (even not fishing) are not unusual.
There are several cases of sharks actually having a nibble at the craft with teeth marks to prove the close encounter.
My question is: are we training our sharks to associate kayaks with easy food and potentially lead them to attack us (recent Sydney Harbor incident) ?
Would in the years to come this be a real concern for all paddlers in shark habitats?
While sharks have learned to follow ships where scraps are tossed overboard all the time I think sharks will soon learn that kayaks could represent a food source.

PS APR10 this article/video is quite scary

01 April 2009

North Shore Atlantic_test paddle

Fresh from the Rock&Roll in Umina (premier NSW Sea Kayak Club event) I have come back impressed with the test paddle of the North Shore Atlantic.

While there were many high end sea kayaks to test paddle the only one that I have not tried yet was the Atlantic (many others too but my legs' size would allow me only so many that fit).
The Atlantic could be described as an in-between my Impex Assateague and my Currituck.

The kayak is superbly finished (expected since it's manufactured by Valley) and I really like the two tone "spill" gel coat of the hull. It's not a sticker, it's actually gel coat.

The cockpit fits me a bit snug and if I had to own one (strongly considering) I would drop the seat a fraction to allow my chunky legs fit with a bit of a wiggle.
As is, the cockpit probably suits a medium sized person.
While not as snug fit as a standard Valley cockpit the one of the Atlantic was just a bit roomier but the thigh braces were still very solid and excellently shaped.

The conditions for my test paddle were initially very mild (rather flat sea) that progressively got more bumpy with small sized swell and chop.
Further along there was some rebound from the cliffs and the wind increased to possibly gusts of 20 knots.
The Atlantic tracked relatively well in most conditions without the need of the skeg.
I deployed it only once I encountered following sea.

The kayak was great to edge offering decent initial stability and outstanding secondary stability.
I felt more at ease in the Atlantic than in my Currituck (possibly I am a bit heavy for the Impex...).
I was very pleased with my test paddle of the Atlantic and after a 4 hours paddle in the variety of conditions I now can say that I would recommend that boat.

The hull and deck felt solid (no flex when pushed on with hand) and while the importer (http://www.expeditionkayaks.com/) would not classify it as true expedition boat it just lacks the absolute security that a standard lay up of a Valley or NDK would offer for rock landings.
It certainly feels much stronger than some so called expedition worthy kayaks that I have come across... and the kayak was reasonably easy on the shoulder when carried solo. Way easier than my Valley Nordkapp LV.

If rudderless paddling is your style I think the Atlantic might be worth considering.