23 December 2014

VIDEO: beyond the action cam

A few years ago I fell in love with action cams.
I started using the newly "invented" waterproof compact camera to capture images first and then I discovered that some scenes were best captures with motion pictures.
I brought the little Olympus 720SW into the surf zone and devised mounts to go onto my kayaks.
It was fun for a while  but the metal bodied cameras don't last in salt water. After killing a few waterproof cameras I decided to revisit the GoPro, housed in a plastic case.
My early experience with the first generation was very disappointing: the resolution was so low that I really could not see clearly what was happening, things were fuzzy. I discarded that camera and labelled it as a "toy".
Then one day GoPro Hero 1 came to the market and that changed everything, totally.

It was a very decent tool with an excellent case that was seriously waterproof and sturdy enough for the footage that I wanted to capture.
I embraced the wide angle distorted view that was giving me a lived-in point of view, not a spectator one, more one of an actor, really being there.
While GoPro can deliver outstanding footage in the right hands and shooting technique, it comes up short when I want to isolate the subject from the busy background.
Action cams (and a lot of compact cameras have) lenses create images where everything is sharp: from the close-up foreground to the distant subjects in a scene.

There is little chance (most often impossible) to isolate the subject.
While most on-water action situation from a sea kayak don't offer me the time and environment where I can compose an image to create shallow depth of field and have selective focusing, on land, away from the bobbing of the waves, I have the time and stability to see the world more selectively.

I find that if I want to emphasize my subject and make it stand out from the visual noise of the background (or occasionally foreground) I need to limit the area that will be in focus in my images.

Van Dec14_1_c

A blurry background makes a person stand out from a busy scene, a softly focused foreground brings attention to the the kayaks on the beach instead of having the viewer visually wonder around and miss the focal point. A less busy image can sometimes convey a different message.
I predominately use actions cams for video capture and I mix the use of my land camera between still images and video.
Lately I have been experimenting with selective focus on my Micro 4/3 cameras and found out their limitations. Shooting video is particularly challenging with a wide open long lens.

While my cameras excel in image stabilization I struggle to create even transitions of focal points and smooth focus pull. I don't zoom much as I find that most consumer cameras (of reasonable cost) lack real slow smooth zooming. I prefer to concentrate on the camera movement to create a dynamic point of view. As I have never used tripods for video, since I think it creates static scene that are too stiff, giving me a sense of "spectator" instead of a person that is present and involved. Therefore the in-camera image stabilization is very important to me to allow me to move around my scenes without producing jerky footage.
The one thing that I lack with my larger cameras is waterproofness; I have to be very careful around moving water.

17 December 2014

To club or not to club

"Keep on pumping, don't stop, you are doing fine!"
Those were the words of encouragement that I was saying to Tim*  hoping he could hear me; he was clearly shaken by the experience.
It was windy and the waves were large enough that he no longer could brace efficiently and eventually he fell in. I was holding his flooded kayak stabilizing him while he was furiously trying to empty it with the hand-held pump. It was working, but just so slowly...
The fear I saw early in Tim's eyes was now slowly subsiding, he knew that he will be alright.
I was on a Sunday outing with a group of kayakers, where the paddling arrangements were loose: we paddle together but without real rules and expectations.

I identified myself with Tim and recalled a few years back when I first joined a kayak club and had my first rescue.
I joined a club to learn the skills necessary to paddle safely in the ocean. I also enjoyed the company of other like-minded paddlers that genuinely loved the sport.

But I am kind of bitter about clubs now; my experience with them leads me to believe that, while they are good in principle, they also attract a fair share of power struggles.
My first exposure to a club was while bushwalking (backpacking).
I was new at the game, very keen but I knew little.
I joined the local club and went on walks and camps with my new-found buddies.

It was fun and I learned a lot. But the longer I was in the club the more I became exposed to the politics that seem inevitable in a structured environment: I observed a good number of people getting very animated about basic issues and some individuals clearly had their heart in the wrong place.
Eventually I no longer wanted to go on their outings as the red tape became too oppressive.
The club was large with several hundred members.

Years later I started sea kayaking.
I knew very little about the sea and I figured that I should really learn how to stay safe out on the water. I was lucky to get involved with a newly formed paddling club that was government sanctioned. For the first year it was really awesome: we all chipped-in with the organizing and there was a real good energy there.
Protocol was simple with not too many rules. Paddling was fun and we really went to great places; the calendar was full of activities.

QSKC trip to Lady Musgrave Island

As the Club grew it attracted individuals that wanted to make a profit from other paddlers while I was not sure if they really loved the sport without the monetary incentive; I call it conflict of interest.
The basic rules were not good enough anymore and a strong push to have mandatory skills to participate on any Club paddles was pushed onto the members. Incidentally those skills could only be "achieved" by being instructed by the few certified  commercial operators.
And then it finally dawned on me: this was no longer a bona-fide club, this was becoming a money motivated gig for a few eager individuals.
I was kicked out of the Club for wanting to expose a sexual harassment case and I was bitter about the events. I was also worried that my skills would not advance and I would loose my paddling buddies. I did loose some buddies that, if I look at them now, were rather lame.
Some no longer paddle and some just struggle in the same constrictive environment.

Luckily the Club is not the only way to paddle with others.
Several informal groups are actively involved in sea kayaking where I live.

easy paddle with the Claytons

There are also other Clubs that unfortunately, because of external pressure, seem to be too structured for a real free paddling experience.
I started to paddle more and more frequently with the very same people that shunned the Club that I joined in the first place.
As a novice I used to look at them as a dangerous crowd to paddle with. It seems that the Club culture brain-washed me enough to instill a fear in me to not paddle if not in a totally controlled and anal environment. Initially I felt that we should paddle all together, keeping a constant eye on each other.
Nobody should be no further than a few paddle strokes and if "anything happens" one could be "saved" within seconds. The tall stories of sharks (something that the Club was very good at selling) however had little impact on me as I rationalized the potential danger to a minimum.

the mandatory Club lengthy briefing before launch

So, here I was in the middle of a short passage between islands that had a few bumpy waves tossing us around. A bit of wind was pushing against the tidal flow and I could surf some of the lager waves.
I was having fun but in our group there was a person that probably found the conditions a bit intimidating.
I have kept a loose eye on Tim and while he was doing OK I noticed that he had stiffened up and his paddling stroke was reduced and the catch was a bit short.
At my last wave before the beach I looked back and I no longer could see him, his red kayak and white paddle not around. As the waves were obscuring my view from a low position in the water I spotted him a few minutes later: he was swimming.
I headed back and by the time I reached him he was already getting helped by a passing motor boat. We took it from there: myself and a buddy held Tim's kayak, now with flooded cockpit that was getting emptied by a hand pump. He was a bit shaken, a bit confused and a bit tired. Eventually he started paddling the remaining 1/2 Km back to the beach. I considered offering a tow but I held back: I wanted to offer him instead  the possibility to help himself, make him proud of what he achieved.
And then I thought: how would a similar situation be dealt in the Club.

Well, for starters the proposed outing would have been cancelled: too much wind (it was around 15 knots as we set off).
In the event that we would have gone out we would be on top of each other, like a flock of sheep, but not before a lengthy briefing on the beach of all the possible dangers that we could run into, including the shark stories ( I used to get a bit miffed with the scare mongering when I used to be in the Club). Falling in would involve a quick response and the swimmer would be placed back in his kayak within minutes. A good thing, right?
Well, I am not so sure about that...
Let me explain.

I believe in self reliance, in learning from mistakes and by "pulling the finger out".
When I used to fall into the water (and that was often) I was kind of expecting others to come and rescue me, I was relying on them. I had little incentive to actually become a better paddler.
Then I started to paddle by myself and much more aware of my surroundings and my actions: I did become a better paddler. I learned how to roll as swimming was proving to be rather tedious.
I am unsure if I would have advanced as much in the safety of the cocoon called Club.
Considering that today I see on the Club's calendar no real challenging paddles anyway,  I would have little opportunity to actually improve myself.

Now, don't get me wrong; clubs are a good thing.
They have introduced me to sports that alternatively would have taken me possibly longer to master.
In a decent club one can learn the basics without having to pay for private tuition, from other more senior members.

Clubs also cater for those that prefer others to make decisions for them. When I led trips in the Club I had my share of participants that really wanted to be guided for the whole paddling event totally foregoing any personal decisions; I understand that we are not all the same and some prefer it that way.
What I really like now instead is to have the freedom to actually paddle where I want. No sign-on sheets, no disclaimers, no herding, no listening to gurus for half an hour before launch in calm conditions. What I prefer is a self reliant group of paddlers that meets and paddles.
We look after each other in a loose way, no holding hands. We teach each other, no money changes hands. And if somebody in the group does not like where we are going he/she is free to do what they want: no sermon before "leaving the pod". A brief acknowledgment that that person will no longer be around for the day is sufficient. There are no formal leaders therefore no liability, we just enjoy each others company with no expectations.

* name has been changed to protect his identity

02 December 2014

Photo: foreshore sunsets

For too long I have not been holding a serious camera in my hands.
Engrossed by the brilliant results of my GoPros and the incredible capabilities of my other compact point-and-shoot, I have lost interest in cameras that allow more creativity than just full-automatic settings.
I used to schlep a Hasselblad around and then suddenly go sick of the heft: small or nothing was my new motto.
I secretly lusted over a DSLR but not over its bulk.
Then my eye caught the Micro Four Thirds line up of cameras.
I am now on my second one in six months and in love again with taking pictures that little compact cameras could not.

Bribie foreshore_2c_c
undistorted wide angle

Spinifex on shore_2_c
selective shallow depth of field

Bribie foreshore_1_c
dynamic close-up 

Narrow field of view and selective focus is something that GoPro can't do.
Not to mention long exposures and the ability to capture scenes out of the ordinary

Jelly fish_3_c

While I will continue with my compact camera for on-water images, as I see little point of having a bulky camera tucked below deck and miss the action, I am now spending more time on shore trying to capture the fleeting moments of the "golden light" with a camera that fosters creativity.

Red Beach sunset_6

25 November 2014

VIDEO: sailing with SeaDog 0.7

This time the wind was really blowing and I was glad that I had my smaller sail installed on my kayak: the SeaDog 0.7m².
I could feel that there was less heeling as I didn't have to transfer all my weight to the windy side.
My large sail of 1.0m² would have been too much and harder to handle while my SeaDog 0.7m² was still giving me plenty of speed to surf the waves with ease.

Here is a short video of a few different outings with the SeaDog 0.7m²

I believe that the SeaDog 0.7m² is a great sail for when the wind starts to blow and white caps appear on the water; it offers me plenty of power while still allowing me to handle my more tippy kayaks without a white-knuckled grip on my paddle.
I figured out that a kayak can only go so fast and no matter how big of a sail I mount on the deck it just won't go any faster. A larger sail however just catches more wind and when loaded from the side wind it wants to push the kayak over. I have been at times hanging way over the side of my kayaks trying to keep them from tipping while not noticing any increase in speed over a smaller sail.

Of course, if the wind is from behind (stern wind) and the waves have built up to a size that they start to lift the stern of the kayak where I can surf; my kayak will indeed go faster than hull speed.
It is these times that I find the SeaDog 0.7m² exceptional and easier to handle. As I surf down the wave (on a wind right behind me) the kayak will come to a point where the sail no longer seems to be inflated. At the bottom of the wave I will have the boom flap loose over the deck and wanting to swap sides. Then the gust of wind catches up with me and with a shuddering noise the sail slaps to the other side taken in by the main sheet. It is in this moment that a smaller sail will save me from a sudden imbalance and possible precarious lean that might result in a dunk. I don't feel the raw slap that bigger sails give me in high winds: the 0.7m² is easier to handle.

Another benefit of a smaller sail is when things do go pear shaped and I fall in.
I have been practicing rolling with a sail; starting from dead calm conditions to increased breezes and more bumpy seas. I find that a sail with a smaller surface has much less drag underwater and in a roll I can scull up without too much effort. Recently I have been trying to forego releasing the main sheet and just leave the sail alone while falling in. While slightly more difficult than releasing the main sheet (or uphaul) I am more confident in recovering with the sail just left as it was before falling in.

As winds increase to 20 knots and above I wonder if a smaller sail would not be even better?
Maybe that is something I should look into...


17 November 2014

Vandal or innocent fun?

At my favorite camping spot I was confronted with this scene.
To paint the picture a bit I should mention that it is a National Park heavily frequented by motor boats; a popular destination for day trips or overnight camping; in other words a busy place, not remote at all.

Axe yealding_c

I did not know how to react and experience has taught me not to engage too much with somebody possibly not doing the right thing. My initial reaction was disbelief soon followed by anger: somebody was cutting down trees that offered shelter from the sun and wind, in a natural place pleasant enough that I often call home for a night or two.
But the best I could do was to keep my distance somehow and just take photographs.
Even though the youngster did not look too menacing, my camera is no match for an axe; if not used by the youth, certainly by the parent not too far away.

Cut tree_c

There were a dozen trees that have been freshly cut, some a bit too large that seem to have deterred the short attention span of the kid that found attacking smaller ones more rewarding.
The child was still hacking away when I got near him but then he stopped and watched me for a while.
I am not sure what went through his head and if he felt that a camera on the scene might have prompted to review his actions.
It was not long before the adults arrived to see why the chopping stopped.

Cubby house_c

I was asked what I was doing and I explained that I was photographing.
Again the older man wanted to know what for and I revealed that it was for documentation.
Hammer in hand he stepped closer to me and asked: What for?
I explained that somebody might be interested in my images, suggesting the ranger.
At this point the vibe changed and I could sense a shift in emotions.
The hammer holding man tried to convince me in a loud voice that his kid was just having fun and that I was not allowed to take pictures.
Soon a little group gathered (friends of the man) and started to shout rather insulting remarks.
It was clear to me that it would not be wise to try to explain my view, after all I was quickly labelled pedophile and pervert and police was going to be called in.
I thanked them for their decision to actually call the police as maybe a few things could be cleared but I never saw the arrival of any law enforcement.
I also knew that it was time to retreat, clearly outnumbered by menacing little crowd.
I walked away happy that despite my rage I was able to remain calm and not engage: it was not my place to prevent trees getting cut down.
Somehow maybe my presence and the fact of me taking images deterred the kid from continuing and the ax was put away: damage was done but at least not continued.
I feel sad that the child lives in ignorance and cuts trees down in a National Park, right where so many others try to enjoy the place. It makes me wonder what messages has he learned at school, or is the influence of his father stronger than what I hope the educational system has given him?
The other part in me also acknowledges that it could have been intended as innocent fun to build a cubby house (his father's words), just maybe in the wrong environment?

Later in the afternoon I suddenly heard a chain saw fired up and the shrieking sound of trees getting cut down at the other side of the camp.
This time, I was not going trying to document the event.
A kid with and axe is one thing, somebody waving a chainsaw at me is a bit different, especially if alcohol is involved...


11 November 2014

Video: Radikal Kayak Surfing

I love this video.
Beside the incredibly smooth kayak surfing demonstrating outstanding skills using an unconventional paddle, the footage capture and the editing is really captivating.

It inspires me to get out more in the rough stuff and play.
My aspirations: to be one day half as good as Marc.


07 November 2014

Photo: candle lit tent

Candelight tent_c

First outing with the new "summer tent".
I need a roomy tent for tropical conditions, for when the nights are humid and hot, or for when it's raining. Small tents are a sauna in the Queensland heat and ventilation is critical.
While not super light (2.7Kg) and not very compact it still allows me enough elbow room for maybe a game of cards with a few buddies?
I got this one for a steal at REI...

03 November 2014

GEAR: cheap light stoves

There are a few things easier than cooking on a gas stove when camping, eating cold food is one.
I love the simplicity of canister gas stoves: turn the control knob, light the flame and we are "cooking with gas"

stove comparison_c

I have made a previous post about the virtues of compact gas stove here.
I have since updated my stoves and opted for something that is stable but still light.
I prefer to cook with non-dedicated pots that are not part of a system (with flux ring, like JetBoil and MSR Reactor).
I like the flexibility of being able to use a small frying pan (that I picked up at K-Mart for under $10) when a fancy dinner or breakfast is in order.
Therefore I looked at stoves that are close to the ground, have a decent footprint for stability and have a large burner (Pocket Rocket's small burner head scorches light pots).
Above are two stoves: left is a very cheap one in stainless steel from eBay, right a bit more expensive one in titanium.

weight comparison

For the last 18 months I have been using a light titanium stove that sits low to the ground. At 100gr. is very light, packs away small and shows no signs of rust.
The stove is so light that a small movement of the flexible hose tips it over if no pot is on the stove

Olycamp Ti stove_c

I have used this stove for approximately 100 days, cooking extensively meals for two, occasionally for 4.
Coupled with a light windshield (very thin aluminium sheet) it has worked well in above freezing temps, even in very windy locations. The windshield is critical when there is a breeze as it retains heat and saves fuel.
When cranked to the max the stove roars and emits too much heat; I usually have it regulated at about half power.

Olicamp fitting_c

The flame control knob is at the canister spigot, away from the heat of the burner and easy to adjust when the stove is going. I like that: no burned fingers trying to reduce the flame when I feel my risotto is about to get scorched.

Olicamp hose_c

But there is little fault: the hose junction into the base of the burner's jet.
While the hose does have an O ring on the shaft of the hose intersecting the (blue) aluminum base, the hose can not freely rotate. A slight redesign would make this stove even better.

Trolling on eBay I came across this stove: a compact stainless steel design with large burner (did I mention I don't care for burned food?).
Labelled as "Lingyun portable gas butane stove..."  I was impressed by the price: $17.99
I ordered one as I thought it would be great as a back-up stove.

Lynun stove_1_c

The difference on this one are the legs, the fuel supply and the ignition.
I don't care about the piezo ignition where the stove can be started by just pressing a button: my experience is that they don't last. Luckily I can unbolt the unit when it will stopped working and use my trusty BIC lighter.
The legs of the stove are however made of one-piece sheet metal; they can not be accidentally folded and collapsed while operating the stove making this unit a bit more sturdy, requiring less care.
The downside is that this stove is not as compact as the titanium one, when stowed.

Lynun stove_2_c

Last but not least the fuel supply.
The gas travels from the canister to the stove via a flexible hose and then, just before reaching the jet is makes a loop of solid pipe passing close to the flame area.
It is intended to vaporize the butane/propane gas before it reaches the jet when ambient temperatures are low, close and below freezing.
While not really a concern to most sea kayakers in tropical locations, outdoor users in colder environments lament poor performance of gas canister stoves when temps are chilly.
The preheating loop takes care of that and delivers hot gas to the burner (once the stove has been operating for a minute or so).

And while I write about gas stoves I should mention this little adapter.

*If you run the canister sideways with the notch up, your canister will deliver fuel vapors.  If you run the canister with the notch pointed down, your canister will deliver liquid fuel.

The gas canister stoves use a Lindal valve, where the stove or regulator are screwed-on to create a leak-proof seal. Gas canisters are usually a mix of butane/propane for better performance in low temperatures. They are readily available at good outdoor stores but not so easy to find elsewhere.
I had a bit of trouble locating the Lindal valve canisters in Sweden but I saw plenty of push-on style butane cans.
Again, on eBay I was able to source an adapter that allows screw-on stoves to be used with the much cheaper ($5 for 4 cans)  option of push-on cans.
The push-on cans are often just basic butane, more suited for warm climates; however I have also seen the butane/propane mix ones.


And to get that gas stove working well in windy places (cooking inside the tent is a bad idea) I sourced a matching windshield.


This shield is a bit heavier than my super thin one that I have used for decades, the advantage is that it has little spikes that can be driven into the ground to keep the stove and shield well connected.

in the field_c


22 October 2014

GEAR: SeaDog sail Code Zero

I nearly tipped in and went for a swim when a small set picked up my kayak and I started surfing.
I was in my "tippy" kayak and half an hour into testing a new sail: the SeaDog 0.7 mt² in Code Zero .

SeaDog Code Zero 0.7mt_1

I was having fun trying to catch the short wind waves that the tidal flow against a healthy breeze was producing.
I am familiar with this location and often I wait for the conditions to be just right to be able to surf with my kayaks.
I am not sure if the long waterline Swede form narrow beam low rocker kayak was ideal for the small steep short waves but I wanted to see if a smaller sail would be easier to use in a stiffer breeze.
I have several sails from Flat Earth of 1.0 mt² and 0.8 mt². They work great and are very efficient sails for sea kayaking. Their design is a derivative from the decade old, or more, proven system that the Tasmanian sea kayakers have been using in strong winds.
That lead to the development of a sail mounted further forward, away from the paddler's cockpit as explained here.
The SeaDog sail is an unapologetic close resemblance of  Norm Sander's rigs and Flat Earth sail.
Actually the design is strikingly similar.

SeaDog sail_3

I have been kayak sailing with other paddlers that have been using SeaDog sails for the last couple of months.
Richard, an avid SE Queensland Sea Kayakers paddler, is the man behind the brand and his passion for sailing is evident.
He can be seen paddling every weekend (and often during the week) sporting sails of his own creation on his kayak.
It all started innocently when Richard decided to add some color to his sail.
A special one was made just before Xmas and of course, inspired by the festive season, it was green and red. It was different and unique; people noticed.

Xmas sails_SeaDog
photo: SeaDog sails
I was impressed by his early work even tho I didn't share his passion for the color choice :-)
A few weeks later a new colorful sail appeared in the paddling group. Again the work was impeccable.
I watched those sail taking the wind very well and I noticed them filling with air at even very acute angles into the wind. One thing that I was very surprised is that Richard's sails did not flutter.

Eventually Richard made me a sail that I was missing in my quiver: I wanted a small sail that will allow me to be used in winds of 15 knots and above.

SeaDog sail_1

I have used my Flat Earth of 0.8 mt² in winds where I no longer was comfortable with the heeling force of the strong wind. Unless surfing, the hull speed of my kayak will really determine how fast I can go, no matter how big my sail is

As the small waves started to pick up my kayak the SeaDog sail was hit by a gust from the side. Any other time I would have to quickly react with a solid brace with the risk of tipping over.
This time the jolt was softer and the shock cord on the main sheet (the rope that pulls-in the boom) released some of the pressure from the wind. This sail being smaller helped reduce the heeling force that wanted to tip the kayak into the water. I was able to stay upright and continued to surf.

The downside of a smaller sail is that I have to work harder and paddle more when the wind is from behind (running with the wind). As the waves catch up with me I have to put an extra effort to then accelerate down the wave.
Side-by-side with a buddy using a 1.0 mt² sail I had to really crank to catch the marginal waves, while I could see that he was getting more push from the wind.
However, I am sure if the wind was 20 knots +  he would be a bit worried with his larger sail...

SeaDog sail_2

In essence the SeaDog sail of 0.7 mt² is best suited for stronger winds or paddlers that have just starting out sailing, possibly with less bracing skills. Lighter paddlers will also appreciate this sail as their lack of counterbalance body weight is noticeable in strong winds.
SeaDog sails also makes 0.8 mt² sails, in traditional colorful Dacron® or the fancy laminated Code Zero (unfortunately white only).
On closer inspection I notice very clean seams and stitching on the SeaDog; every stitch is continuous from one end to the other with absolute precision. Every end is reverse stitched to prevent unravelling and the tension on the bottom and lower cotton is perfect to create a very clean stitch.
Attention to details is superb and the finish is outstanding: every rivet and every reinforcement is very well executed.

SeaDog sail_4

Is SeaDog a better sail for me?
I can't say that as Flat Earth has served me well and I had no trouble for years now.
What I notice is no flutter in the leech, something that mildly annoys me in the Flat Earth sails.
I mounted the SeaDog sail with two back/side stays, as I have done on all my other sails.
Richard recognizes that kayakers have preferences in mounting styles and hardware used for doing so. He supplies the sail with the mast, Spectra stays and the flexible polymer base only, leaving the rest up to the sailor.
I much prefer that since some of the (Flat Earth) sail kits that I have used had parts that failed on me.

08 October 2014

Photo: Back to Magic Island

We found it again despite not having it clearly marked on our map last summer.
The weather was warm this time with less wind; the clouds benign and not threatening a thunderstorm.

Magic Island_2_c
photo: Petra Ries
The sun was baking the polished granite shores and soon we would be laying on them drying our bodies after a refreshing swim.
We were back to our Magic Island


03 October 2014

Video: Aquarius Sea Lion LV

On a sea trip of 5 weeks in Sweden and Åland (Finland) Petra paddled a Sea Lion LV.

Aquarius of Poland sponsored her with a very light carbon/Kevlar kayak and we installed her Flat Earth sail to make our expedition more fun.
Petra picked the color scheme of her kayak and I thought the graphics were particularly attractive making the kayak very visible against the water and granite islands.
The kayak behaved very predictably in varied conditions and weather-cocked just enough to make it safe when windy, even in a storm.
The only real modification was removing the padding that was factory fitted on the seat; lowering the center of gravity made the kayak a bit more stable. Given that she has never paddled a Sea Lion LV before, Petra liked how she felt in that kayak right from the beginning.
Despite the cockpit maybe being a bit too roomy for her the key hole style thigh braces allowed her to brace efficiently when the waves picked up and tossed her around a bit.
Cargo space was sufficient for our extended trip and the main hatch covers (Kajak Sport) never leaked (the "glove box" needed a bit of sealing around the rim).
The skeg performed flawlessly and was butter smooth to operate. Adjusting the foot rests was possible even while paddling (without needing to exit the cockpit to reach the adjusting tab behind the foot rest!).
The shorter waterline and the rockered hull seems to be well suited to shallow waters with shorter waves (no ocean swell in the Baltic sea). Clapotis was not upsetting Petra and I noticed increased confidence in following seas where she was catching and surfing waves way faster than me, leaving me behind.
I think that the Sea Lion LV combined with a sail is a great fun kayak.
It performed well with just light loads in strong winds (slight leek cocking when sailing) and very steady when filled with camping gear, food and water.

10 September 2014

The power of disconnecting

I call it "expedition style".
Petra was starting to understand what I meant by that; it was not the fact that we were now on our third week of 5 paddling and camping in the Swedish archipelago, it is more the state of mind that comes from being away from everyday life.

My highlights of any given year are usually my trips.
I love being away from the confinement of 4 walls and a roof, plugged and connected to the increasingly demanding "social media".
For 5 weeks I wanted to not think about others far away from the place I was in.
At the risk of offending and being called selfish I cherish the being away from others.
The islands we were travelling through had slightly more traffic then last year and on occasion my first choice of campsite was already occupied: we could not have the whole island for ourselves.
It was however prime holiday season for Sweden and realistically we were not that far off shore to think we could be really alone.

Evening shore walk_c

I prefer to travel with as few tools as possible that keep me connected to my usual world. I had to have a mobile phone with me so my friend Johan could text me the weather forecast. Honestly I would have preferred not to have it. I chose not to bring a GPS even tho Sweden would be one place where I could really use it as "geographical confusion" had its moments.
In a spur of the moment decision we started our trip too far South along the coast where we had no map for it. Interestingly enough the initial concern quickly drifted away since I knew I just had to keep to the right of the big islands but not too far out to be in totally open sea.
The fellow paddlers that we met and chatted to shook their head when we told them that we didn't have a map for the first days' journey and ultimately planned to reach Finland.
I now laugh at myself thinking that we might have come across a bit bizarre: we had the right gear and our kayaks were of the latest style but not having a GPS or even a map? now that is odd...

Vögeln camp_c
On my last local paddle in Australia before my Scandinavian trip I was in company of other paddlers that elected to use way-points to reach an island in my bay that clearly needs little navigation aid to be reached, in my opinion. I prefer the "navigation by sight" style where things become clearer as I get closer to my destination. And if I paddle a few minutes longer, I regard that as bonus time on the water.
There are times and places where electronic navigation does come in handy, but in reality often common sense still helps me out where I paddle.
Somehow there is a primeval sense of connection to the land or sea when I don't rely on too many external aids to travel in a remote place, a sense of achievement and discovery that I deem electronic devices can take away from me. I could have mapped my journey way more efficiently and searched online for "the best spots" to then have my GPS guide me along, but that is not how I like to travel.
I could have many websites tell me what the weather was going to do (rarely accurate tho) but I would have not engaged in conversation with the occasional sailor asking him for the wind predictions. I often ended up spending some times with them and had additional local knowledge shared with me, something that many websites can't offer.
Petra even scored the odd cookie or piece of cake from strangers once they discovered that we were travelling far.

And in the evening I was glad that I had no social chore of updating my site (I never did buy into the Facebook thing) and keep my fans fed. I spent my time running around the granite shores, sometimes taking pictures or just laying on my back on the warm rock, concentrated on the clouds passing by above me. I had time to talk to Petra; talk like there was no rush to say things as there was plenty of time. We did not bore each other with mundane trivial facts of who is doing what in the world.
We cared about our world: right there and right then.

Dinner at Lost Island camp_c
Did I miss out on something?
Yes, I did.
I did not hear the news for over a month; I did not hear of air disasters or wars, Royal babies or rock stars deaths, no scores of games and no updates on championships. And it felt so good.
The simplicity of being able to focus on what really matters can only be achieved when I disconnect, anything else just muddles my head.

Tara Jacoby:
You know that naked feeling you get when you realise you’ve forgotten your phone somewhere and have to go an hour or (gasp) a day without it? Rather than rushing to cover up that nakedness with a nearby tablet or the iPhone of a passerby, embrace the freedom a little. Enjoy the fleeting moment of not being tethered to a device that can tell you anything about anything at any given time. ...
Just be present and live in blissful ignorance, if only for a moment.

04 September 2014

Photo: The German camp

As we were paddling close to the cliff line when we rounded the corner their camp came suddenly into view. We found the Germans again.
We met on the water the day before and briefly chatted, then saying goodbye and hoping to meet again.
Myself and Petra have been on our paddling trip for 3 weeks already and wanted some company: time to talk to some new paddlers. It was late in the afternoon and despite having only paddled a short distance that day we saw no reason to paddle past this great little bay along the cliff faced Northern shores of the Åland islands.

The rocky granite ground was a bit bumpy in places but enough flat glacial-polished spots could be found for our tent too. A few showery looking clouds made sure that we searched for a location that would not pool under out tent in the middle of the night.
We spent the evening talking with our new friends, me in English, Petra in German (while I do understand "school" German the fast-talking locals leave a bit behind at times...).

Sunset finally approached and the light went "magic".

Reflection of Ǻland_c

The higher ground above the bay was graced with little ponds making the landscape a delight for an evening walk.
The glacial sculpting of the last ice age was particularly interesting here: the layers of the rock were tilted allowing the top edges to be of a baby's-butt smooth finish.
It felt great to run the hand over the shiny rock, reminding me of soft leather.
We laid down, our backs onto the warm granite and looked at the passing clouds in the sky, now no longer threatening rain. We knew real darkness would not come here as the sun was rising again way before we would.


23 June 2014

Call of the Baltic

I retire to the tent late, tired; it has been a long day.
I lost track of time because I did not need to know, my watch stowed somewhere deep in my kayak.
The sun has been shining since very early morning and now has almost made a full circle around the sky. I watched it eagerly skirting the horizon but it just doesn't want to set.

Sea kayaking in the Baltic sea is extraordinary.
The labyrinth of islands where I choose not to navigate electronically (no GPS for me) are truly endless.
I don't have to rush to find my campsite as I don't have a set destinations; there is an incredible abundance of good spots to stop for the night.
The wind has been pushing us North and made our journey easy.
The sailors we meet along the way are intrigued by our kayak sails and often question us.

I have  a great sense of freedom here.
The vast choice of routes and destination, places to stay for the night and easy waters create an environment suited for my style of travel. I am not pressured by tidal flows and timing needed to reach my camp, I get up when I feel like and paddle as long as I want; night comes too late to have to fret and usually I tire out way before I run out of daylight.
And there is no sand at camp: always a bonus for me. While sandy beaches are gentle on the kayak's hull they are my nemesis when camping. I rather have hard granite under me anytime over messy sand that seems to stick to all things it shouldn't.
The sea water is so much less salty here; I use it to cook pasta and potatoes but just a bit too briny for drinking. I don't have to carry much fresh water with me anyway since there are enough houses around with a hand pump in the back where I can refill every couple of days.
The Baltic sea offers me the perfect blend of civilization when I need it and remoteness when I want it. The islands closer to the mainland have more vegetation, more houses, shops. Further away are the outer islands: often desolate low elevation polished granite shores exposed to the wind and waves.A great place to camp in fine weather where I rarely seen any other sailing boats and hear no noise but the one of wind, waves and birds.

For the next couple of months is where I will be.

21 May 2014

Video: Vandreaming

Vanilla heard it clearly: it was the sound of his hull scraping on rock.
Now that his new kayak was finally baptized extreme care would no longer be necessary.
The lure of the gentle swell over the rocks was too great and, as if hearing a mermaid's song, we were drawn to it.
There was absolutely no need to paddle so close to those oyster and barnacle encrusted shores but the thrill of feeling the slowly pulsating water push our kayaks up to then suddenly drop away exposing the rock below, was measurable.

Allow yourself to view it on a large screen and headphones: enable HD for a better experience

This time the gentle wind and the calm ocean swell allowed us to explore a few tight spots that we missed on previous visits to these shores.
Food and water for a week and no scheduled itinerary is how we like to kayak. The mileage is irrelevant when there is so much to explore at close quarters in these tropical waters.
I was back in my old "big girl", a kayak that these days I only use for longer trips; when I thought I should spend more time with her. While maybe not as hard tracking and fast as some of my other kayaks, it was a refreshing feeling to be able to maneuver more nimbly around the rocks. A wider beam allows me to edge and release bow and stern for easier turning: I was able to avoid a few rocks...
We were too early in the season to encounter whales but saw a few large tunas leap out of the water.
Vanilla optimistically brought a hand line for fishing, with little success, given that he only tried once.
A realist, I carried dehydrated home-made meals that made fine dinners: just add water (and a bit of heat).
Being a team of just two allowed us much more flexible planning (read: none) and the days' destinations were simply shaped by the direction of the wind: if possible, we chose downwind.

09 May 2014

The anti-social media

Below is one of the most insightful videos that I have seen in a long time.
Ironically it attacks the very essence of the medium where you are now reading this.

There is something about social media (blogging included) that bothers me and at the same time draws me to it.
I don't know where the line is, where is OK to "share" something that I find outstanding and where instead it is just mental distraction, noise.
I have developed an aversion to FaceBook but condone blogging.
I often question myself why I do that.

Maybe I have developed an unspoken ethical boundary where I accept knowledge that I can learn from electronically, but despise formats where I am peeking into people's private lives, even if willingly shared publicly (0:08)
What good can I draw from that? is the question I ask myself...
I don't understand the obsession of individuals bent on knowing what their "friends" are doing, all the time.
But then I am guilty of self promotion letting other know what I do and secretly I crave adulation (1:06).
The real tipping point for me however is the constant presence of the mobile phone, where it is clearly out of place used only to "update" the status or news, or letting others knows "I am having a great time".
Why do I need to tell the world where and what I am doing right now, disconnecting myself from the very people that I am having a great time with?
Let it be, be present and save the updating for when I no longer am in good company as good company is created by actually being present and connected with the people around me as nothing says I don't really want to be here as staring at a small screen and furiously typing away.

(2:19) We are a generation of idiots, smart phones and dumb people...
(4:06) So look up from your phone, shut down those displays, we have a finite existence, a set number of days. Don't waste your life caught in the net as when the end comes nothing is worse than regret...


06 May 2014

Video: Sailing with Vixen

Of the kayaks in my shed Vixen is the most demanding.
I have kayaks that are high volume and are great on extended trips although I find them a bit dull for sheltered waters paddling.  I have low volume kayaks that are oh so easy to roll and a bit tricky to handle in rough waters, I also have a kayak that despite having a tendency to lee cock a bit it is very easy to live with when I do hand's free photography on the water.
And then there is Vixen: a Point65North XP designed by Johan Wirsen.
I need to pay attention when I paddle that kayak; she won't let me be sloppy or careless.
I find her a demanding in short wind waves; because of her longer waterline she tend to bury bow and stern (video here).
With her deep V shaped keel she wants to sit on one side when stationary and novices find it disconcerting.
Vixen however is great for sailing: the deeper keel prevents some of the lateral drift in a beam wind and I can maintain a straighter course over waves.
The longer keel line in the stern resists broaching and I have to use less correctional strokes compared to my other fish-form British kayak.

If you aren't viewing this on a mobile device, go big and watch it in full HD glory
Over the week end the Westerly wind really picked up an despite the shorter fetch over the waters of Moreton Bay I had times when the wind was up to 30 knots.
It was then where I no longer could sail as the bow was getting pushed downwind; maybe a smaller sail could have been still manageable for the beam wind?
Even with the sail stowed on deck I had to take care of occasional lee cocking when the bow will crest a wave and then be blown downwind.
Myself and AdvetureTess had the bay to ourselves with only the occasional yacht enjoying the strong wind.


27 April 2014

Photo: Sail-surfing at sunset

I chase in my mind those idyllic scenarios where things feel just right.
And then sometimes those moments really occur.

Sunset sail-surfing_c

Riding a wave while sailing into the sunset.


16 April 2014

Travel with camera gear

With two expeditions planned in the near future I have been busy organizing myself.
My main focus for the new season will be improving my photography skills and trying to capture higher quality footage.
I believe that the best talent will shine with any half decent camera equipment and since I don't fall into that category I am justifying my average efforts with the lack of equipment.
The saying "A good tradesmen doesn't blame his tools" comes to mind tho...

On my previous trips my footage has been limited to point-and-shoot style cameras.
Occasionally I wished for higher quality (even if my use is almost exclusive to computer screen display) and specifically more control over focus and exposure.
Also my on-board of kayak footage on last year's trip to Sweden was limited to hand-held angles; I want to have the flexibility of varied angles for on-deck camera mounts.
I need light and compact.
At home I have a garage full of custom made deck mounts that often take too long to set up and are way too bulky for international travel.
I drool over footage taken with Steady-cams and dollies while I realize that it would require more than a one-man-band to schlep and use that gear.
After 5 different prototypes I have finally come up with something I can transport with me without having to pay excess luggage when flying.
I can now set up my system to any kayak deck within minutes (no custom molded carbon base for each specific location) and have footage steady enough, even in surf environment.
The mount is made of carbon and Kevlar plates to be light, but stiff enough to prevent wobbles when extended higher up.
Here is a sample short video of the angle I can get

While I am confident on my tinkering I am not sure how well it will really work for weeks of continuous use. Stuff breaks and it does, fittings come loose and carbon snaps when hit hard.
Next week's one-week trip will be a good test before I fly to Scandinavia with my rig.

 My biggest challenge: recharging batteries where there are no wall power outlets.
8 different types of batteries are really going to be a handful. Again I need the lightest set up possible.
Here in Australia I just shove my gear in the car and then set up at launch. Flying with my proposed equipment is however a very different story..
There will be a compact solar panel on deck during the day and this time I am trying a Lithium battery pack to power my chargers at night.
Ah, the good old days of film cameras :-)

PS no images are available yet, until I am satisfied with my work.

02 April 2014

VIDEO: Swedish Baltic coast

It rained all day and the wind was blowing hard from the land as we paddled to a remote island to meet with Pia and Erik. All we had was a name for a location that was marked on our map, no other details.
We were not sure if our friends would show up: conditions were not that great for camping.
In the afternoon the rain eased and the clouds parted to reveal a colorful sunset. Shortly after our friends landed to then join us for a few days on our 4 weeks expedition along the Swedish Baltic coast.

 for a better viewing experience select HD, if you aren't using a mobile device

I love the outer islands of the Stockholm archipelago with their polished granite shores.
The sensual shapes are very inspiring luring me back to experience them again.
This summer (Northern hemisphere) I will be kayaking again in the rocky labyrinth, possibly crossing to Finland.

Contact me off-line at gnarlydognews(at)gmail.com if you want to catch up.


17 March 2014

Photo: foam pile

Playing in messy conditions with waves coming from different directions is one of the best training grounds for improving my skills.

Gilligans MAR14_1

I was joined by Peter who has only recently learned how to roll.
It was so rewarding to see his improved skills that allowed him to go for the biggest waves, now that he can confidently come back up when tossed over by a wave.
We both had a ball.

13 March 2014

INTERVIEW: Johan Wirsen, the kayak designer

Johan Wirsen is today one of the most prolific kayak designers.
His home is in Scandinavia and his heritage of sea fearing Vikings is well represented with his skillful art of designing modern sea kayaks.
I was lucky to meet Johan in 2011 when I invited him on a trip to the Queensland tropical coast.
A very understated person with great insight, Johan is an incredibly likable character.
Humble and considerate in his thoughts and trusting by nature has not always been an advantage in the cut-throat business of sea kayak manufacturing.
He has been designing and constructing boats and kayaks since early teens and it is his livelihood.
Last July I visited him in his hometown of Borgholm on Oland Island, Sweden and he revealed to me that something big was brewing in his shed.
After years of designing and working for other manufacturers, fed up with some of their attitude and malpractices (he got ripped off several times)  he decided that it was time to launch his own brand: Rebel Kayaks.

Rebel ILAGA rolling1
Ann-Kristin Skinlo at Göteborg Boatshow_ image with permission from Lars Jönson

I took the opportunity to interview Johan Wirsen:

gdn) You have started a new brand of sea kayaks called Rebel: why another brand ?

JW) -You know, since 2001 I have been working independently with kayak designs for a number of companies. Of course I was building and designing my own kayaks before that so I more or less took the experience I had and transformed that from “one off” designs to a serial production. But as you know, the kayak business is also quite dirty and some of the companies I have been working with were also very greedy, so I have decided to terminate some contract with the “big ones” and start all over with this new little company Rebel Kayaks and try to keep the passion for the sport and paddling alive for myself.

Where and when will these kayak be available?
- For the moment we are that lucky that we have been contacted by so many high end retailers, dealers and customers that we can’t satisfied them all!! 
The truth is that we are too small and can’t produce that many kayaks, yet. When we shift our production to Poland we naturally will start to sell our kayaks here in Northern Europe.

Rebel kyk_Janusz
image courtesy of Janusz Kowalski from Rebel kayaks

What style of kayaks are you focusing on under your brand Rebel?

-    The first two models that we put into production are my two Greenland styled kayaks: the “ILAGA” and the ”T”. Those are the type of kayaks that I personally feel a lot for, and since they are well known they are like a signature for me. It feels important to me that I design and in the future build kayaks that I would like to paddle myself. 
Since our production capacity is not too big, we also prefer to put the effort into building light and stiff. – Why build something you would not want for yourself ?

Petra on Traunsee_c

Are you still designing for other manufacturers?

-Yes I still do some work for other companies, and for the moment I am working on a Coastal Rowing boat.

I notice a certain consistency of style in your creations even if the kayaks that you have designed have different goals in mind. How did you get involved in boat design and what is the driving force for your passion?

-Born on an island, and growing up with a father that had all kinds of boats (anything from fishing to sailing and even a water-ski boat) it is not that unusual that I got this interest and eventually I went to school to become a boat builder. I have always tried to build or rebuild my own stuff, even motorbikes! 
But boats and especially traditionally boats with smooth lines have always appealed to my eyes. And there is something special about boats and the tree dimensional shapes that should be put together in a smooth way (to achieve less drag).
For ex. The single coastal rowing boat that I recently designed where I had to learn new traits while listening to skilled rowers to get the ergonomics right. I am not a rower myself so there was a lot to learn.
Another kind of boats I love is our traditional wooden boats and of course to sail them. 

Johan sailing

 The picture shows my 17´ “Sandbacken” which is our traditional type of boats from our Island

What? Rowing boats???  

- Yes, this is actually really funny.
It started as a small project that then won tree medals in last World Championship!! (Gold and Bronze – men, and Silver – woman)
Mats Leo (rower and the owner of the project) asked me if I could help him to design a boat and together with one of the most skilled rower here in Sweden, Peter Berg, we got this far!!
-For more info check    www.leocoastalrowing.com

Peter Berg rowing
Pictured Peter Berg. Recently Peter Berg also won a race in Monaco

Sea kayak sailing: what do you think of that?

- I must admit that I have not experienced sailing with a kayaks before I visited Australia. But I really got hooked!  It is fun, it is energy saving and the “Flat Earth Sails” are working well. The position of the mast is not ideal on a sea kayak, however at the same time you don’t want it to interfere with paddling. But it works, and I recommend paddlers to try out.

Swede form or Fish form: what is the best hull shape?

- A quick explanation, or to say when and where is best would be hard to describe here in a short form. 
A Swede form (the widest part aft of centre of the hull ) creates less drag and wave resistant on the surface resulting in more laminar flow and less turbulent flow than on a fish form, that has the opposite shape. However there are also so many other things to be taken in consideration when designing a kayak or a hull.
In my current designs I concentrate on the thought of how strong we are as a paddler, and I try to make a kayak as fast as possible in the low speed area, let say in 3 – 4 pound drag area; because this is where most of us ordinary paddlers fit with our “touring sea kayaks”. 
If you would like more info please visit www.marinerkayaks.com and click the link at the bottom about designs. It does not tell every thing but can give you something to think about.
When I am working on a new design, in most cases I also build and test paddle my kayaks. It gives me the possibility to make adjustments before the kayaks goes in production, unlike many other producers today that make something up on a computer and then email it to a CNC-machine shop. Furthermore, in their catalog,  they will then tell you all about the kayak's advantages before they even ever built the first one.

Johan, you know that this is a passion of mine: What do you think of Greenland paddles?

- In the beginning I did not find the Greenland paddles interesting. I had been using a Euro paddle produced from our Swedish brand VKV for many years and modified the size of the blade more for a touring paddling, since the original blade was too big for long distance paddling; I also made the paddle shorter and I was happy with that. 
When I started to become more focused on rolling and was paddling more Greenland style kayaks I had to re-think. I can’t say that I have a pure Greenland paddling technique and while I do more what is intuitive and adept to the situation I almost never use anything else than a “stick” today.  If speed is a concern the Greenland paddle is not limiting, and if we talk about feeling I have the biggest respect for that paddle. 
I love to hold onto a wooden paddle, even if I have had in mind to make some carbon ones. However hollowed ones made out of cedar are around 650 gr.

Johan in ILAGA
image courtesy of Janusz Kowalski from Rebel kayaks

- If anybody here in Scandinavia is interested in learning good rolling, or paddling techniques, consider Helen Wilson and Mark Tozer from Greenland or Bust in partnership with Rebel Kayaks, on their “Nordic Tour 2014”:  a three months long tour around Sweden, Denmark and Norway.  For more info visit www.greenlandorbust.org

I have seen you tool around with the shape of the Greenland paddle and I have seen an interesting twist to the traditional shape. Thoughts on that?

- I started to make my paddles like that a few years ago. I like the shoulder on the loom as a position for my thumbs; at the same time I just make the other (top) side smoother for my hand to hold onto. What is most important is that the edges of the blade should be sharp so the paddle works quietly. I also have my tip of the blade more rectangular and at a slight angle. Some of my paddles have been copied and are for sale at Rebel Kayaks now. The paddles are made of cedar with ash edges as a harder more durable wood. The length of my paddles is often around 2.18m total, while the width of the blade can vary. 

Johan JUL2013-cr
Last words?

 Well I guess that would be: With paddling try to make it your own journey.
 The experience I have is not “one size fits all”. We all have to listen to our self and it is not always that important what gear we are using or if we go to the most exotic places; your own bay is often good enough. Paddling or sailing is mindfulness in itself for me, and hopefully for you too. 
/ Johan Wirsén

Summer storm_c