Sunday, January 27, 2008

Flippity Doo Dah

It's a been a long winter, as some of us haven't been on a paddle in a couple of months, what with bad weather, Christmas, the flu season and the invasion of the aliens from Tralfamadore (I was starting to think that we were never going to get rid of those guys). Anyway, we finally had a sunny Sunday when most of us weren't sick, busy or kicking alien butt, so Bernie, Paula, Alison, Louise and myself headed down to the harbour and put in for a paddle up The Gorge.

You can see that we started under an almost clear blue sky. This was a bit of a surprise, as rain or even mixed rain and snow were called for in the morning with some clearing later in the day, but it was looking like the clearing was going to come early. We headed towards the Johnson Street Bridge.....
To The Bridge

...and here's something you don't get to do in a kayak everyday -- go under the bridge while it's going up!
The Bridge Goes Up
Johnson Street Bridge

Since the train was stuck waiting for the bridge, Bernie decided to wait as well. Solidarity forever.
Train or Kayak... Who Will Win?

Soon however, we were past the bridge and paddling up The Gorge.
Bernie in the Lead

This area has become quite built-up over the last couple of years. A lot of money is getting poured into this part of town....

...but you can still find some wildlife if you look.

Alison paddled under the docks at the Selkirk development....
Alison Paddles Near Selkirk

...and Bernie checked out the dock at Point Ellice House.
Bernie's Boat

It was perfect weather, a bit chilly, but it was bright and sunny, although there were some clouds building up behind us, but they seemed to be passing us to the south-east. The water was flat and glassy.
The Three Amigos

Bernie spotted this plastic deer....

....but then he spotted this heron on a branch.

I lagged behind to photograph the heron, and them I spotted another heron in a tree. The second one was a frustrating subject as every time I pointed my camera, he just sat there like a blob, but I when I would put my camera down, he would crane his neck or hop from branch to branch. He was much more interesting when I wasn't pointing the camera at him. What I didn't realize was that the rest of the group, who were now ahead of me around the next point, were also having an interesting time.

I left the heron and paddled around the point. The group was huddled around the small dock set aback from Tillicum Narrows, a very tricky piece of water where The Gorge narrows considerably and the water shallows and a strong current can run through depending on the tides. We've been here when it's been a dead calm, and other times when it's been raging whitewater. This seemed like a cross between the two; the current was clearly running, but it wasn't really kicking up a froth. Still, from the fact that Bernie had his boat on the dock and his PFD off, clearly I had missed something.

What I had missed was Bernie trying his hand at paddling in the current. He said later that he came at the current from the wrong angle and he didn't get enough edge on his boat. The current just grabbed him and rolled him. It seemed there was no panic by anyone and Bernie and his boat were recovered easily enough. What's interesting is that no-one used their to whistle to call me. Louise said she shouted for me, but I didn't hear anything even though I wasn't that far away. That's something to bear in mind when the distance between group members starts growing during a paddle. Bernie was fine, if a little bedraggled, and he still had enough energy to practice his Highland dancing.
Bernie Practises His Highland Dancing

I suggested to Bernie that he dunk himself again for the camera, and he jokingly replied, "Sure, John, anything for the blog." Little did we know that he was about to take up my offer. He readied himself to relaunch, and was going to try a so-called "seal launch," where basically you scuttle in your kayak across the dock and slide into the water off the edge much like a seal would. I'm frankly not sure if this is a recommended procedure for a sea kayak, but Bernie gave it a shot.
Oh. Wait... I Need to be IN the Water

It did not go well.

Bernie regrouped after his second dunking and tried a more traditional launch off side of the dock. Even this was tricky I'm sure, because even though here we were out of the main line of the current, it was still strong here with eddies and small whirlpools pulling us every which way. We were constantly getting pushed about and in danger of banging into each other as we waited to get organized again.

And since Tillicum Narrows was the end of the line for our paddle, we turned around and headed home, and saw that the weather has turned...

...and so we quickly headed back.
Cloudy Day

The wind came up a bit, not too strong, but a couple of hours later these clouds started dropping hail in the area and later in the evening they would dump snow up the Fraser Valley on the mainland.
Bay Street Bridge

But it was good to back on the water, and we had a great time, and great stories to tell!
Bay Street Bridge

Seeking Enlightenment

We had a good winter paddle today. The weather was cold but not bad, really. We didn't find the icy roads too dangerous for driving. But it was tricky walking on the roads and footpaths. There was a bit of snow before launch about 9:30 am, but at the beach most of the sky was clear and bright. Well, most except for the southern quarter that was full of cumulus piling up in storm clouds.
It was a good day to be paddling in the Middle Harbour and up to the Gorge, instead of out in open water! We were five today: Alison in her Current Designs fibreglass Kestrel, Louise and John in their matched Delta 14.5 in thermoformed plastic, Bernie in his wooden Cape Charles and me in the Necky rotomolded plastic Eliza. A good assortment of boats but all suited to the location, really.
Today there were a few outrigger canoes and voyageur canoes in the Harbour, and as we passed Ocean River's dock we saw their paddling club getting the big dragonboats ready to launch.
We saw no four-legged wildlife today, but I've seen raccoons and deer on the shores of Selkirk Water in the past, and in the water have been seals and otters. (Is this time to brag about the mink that ran up the rocks on Thursday, when I was paddling alone in Cadboro Bay in my Advanced Elements inflatable Dragonfly?) Even without furry animals, we got to enjoy many birds: herons, cormorants, some type of loon, ducks and an eagle.
John found a supermodel blue heron who knew how to work it for the camera and lingered behind the rest of us as we drew near to the Gorge. I bet he'll have pictures to post later. That's why he doesn't have any shots of what happened next.
This is the place with the reversing falls, where legends tell us that young First Nations men seeking enlightenment would dive down, holding a rock, and let the current hold them against the rock in the middle.
Well, it was close to high tide, so the current through the Gorge was moderate. That's moderate by comparison with the waterfall at peak current... but at that time, about 10:50, the current was running out at about three knots. Hard to make any headway against it at all.
Oh, yes, Bernie was trying to go under the bridge. I think his plan was to go under, go to the side and loop around to come back under the bridge. He tried on the left, got caught and carried across to the right, waited in the eddy and tried again on the right.
I was trying to come up on the left as he had done, hanging back, so I had a great view of him sliding a little out of the eddy and getting smoothly rolled upside down.
"Whoa," called Alison, a few yards behind me and well out of the strongest current. "He's gone over. Ah, there he is."
Bernie was out and swimming. No problem, of course. He had his paddle and boat and let the current take him just about ten yards, then pushed his boat towards the dock conveniently located in an eddy to the right of the bridge. As he was swimming confidently, I collected his boat and shepherded it to the dock.
Alison came up as Bernie was demonstrating the fine art of paddling while floating with a PFD (looks like the backstroke, eh?) and offered him a bow to cling to. Good chance to practise, after all. We realized the dock was very high, a difficult scramble for a swimmer, but Bernie managed to climb out, drain his kayak, and get his bearings. Eventually John wandered up and I don't think he managed to get any neat-o shots of Bernie upside down, darn it. What am I going to use for next year's holiday cards?
Next my intrepid paddle partner tried a seal launch, but wasn't optimally placed for it; he flipped again as the eddy is pretty active at that spot. Still no problem.
I'm pleased he managed both wet exits and recovery so easily... if he'd been alone it would have been fine, of course. It was good, though, to see Alison and Louise stationing their boats just a little down current from me, ready to put our practised skills to use, and then hovering near to collect a Scotty first aid kit that was floating away.
Next time, I'm going to spend more time in the currents than I did, but it'll be like I did today -- playing where the eddies shift with the current at a moderate speed (not at 3 knots). It's important to be able to see the change from one direction to the other, to learn how to approach eddy and current at useful angles, and how to be careful crossing the eddyline.
It was time to turn round and paddle back to the Songhees beach where we'd left the vehicles. I was only able to keep pace with Bernie for a short while, as he understandably preferred to set a quick cadence and get warmed up. "Did you find enlightenment?" I asked.
"No," he said. "The sun's gone behind the clouds." It was now a grey, cold day, with a slight breeze. We let Bernie get ahead. He was still mostly dry inside his wetsuit and paddle jacket, as was the microfibre suit he wore under the wetsuit. The microfibre sweater he wore over it was soaked at the waist, but felt mostly dry elsewhere. It's an odd fibre, with a lot going for it, but I am still a merino wool fan.
Once ashore, we met at the Moka House where we were THE crowd, admired by other patrons, and where Marlene and Pebbles had snagged tables for us. Score!

Monday, January 21, 2008

What a Difference a Boat Makes

While yesterday was supposed to be the long trip down Finlayson Arm, the weather declined to co-operate. Paula and I met Richard at the parking spaces beside the Brentwood Bay ferry terminal and took a look around.
The day was so promising.There was sunshine and sunshine and sunshine (okay, there hasn't been a lot of sunshine over the last two or three months so any little bit seems like a lot and is very welcome). But once you got a look out into the bay itself, you could see the downside of the day: wind.
Nonetheless, we decided to load up and see just what it would be like. The tide was high, so there wasn't a lot of room on the beach.
This little cove is terrifically protected, so while we could see wind-blown chop fifty metres away, there was no hint of it at the launch.
The two re-usable grocery bags are my new gear acquisition. I first tried them when I last went to discovery and had to carry all my gear down to the beach--I was loaded for a multi-day trip that day. These bags carry loads, weigh nothing, and either ball up or lie flat on the hull inside the hatch. And they make it possible to carry a stack of loose gear down to the beach easily.
We set off toward Tod Inlet rather than Finlayson Arm--that having been the backup paddle all along. Paula was feeling so confident in her Eliza that she charged out, setting a direct course to the mouth of the inlet, regardless of wind and wave.
Richard, having a little less experience, wasn't quite as confident heading out. So eventually we headed to the lee of the island at the south end of the bay and then made our way over to the mouth of the inlet. On the way over, we experienced some moderate swells taking us broadside on. Very quickly, everyone began handling them with aplomb and we pushed into Tod.
The inlet itself was much quieter, of course. But unlike most trips into the inlet, we weren't able to fish-watch at all--the light/water combination just wasn't conducive to it. We paddled about a third of the way down the inlet and then turned back because it was clear the wind was still rising.
By the time we got back out into Brentwood Bay, the swells had increased in size to the point where Paula couldn't see over some of them--making them 60-100 cm (2-3 feet) high. This time Richard lead the charge to the lee of the island, his Telkwa handling the waves beautifully while all he had to do was paddle (and maybe a bit of balancing :-) ). While Paula was having a bit of trouble making speed into the wind, she and the Eliza seem to have bonded into a serious paddling unit. By the time we came out of the lee of the island, Paula was back in front leading the charge into the wind and swell.
What a difference a boat makes. Paula's comfort level in the Eliza is so much higher than in her Old Town Adventure, it seems to fit her so much better, that she is much more comfortable in water that would have sent her back to shore just a year ago. And Richard in his Telkwa seems to have fallen into a perfect boat for himself. Yesterday he was quite confident in water that was pretty hairy for a new paddler. I mean, I might have chanced it in the Pamlico (okay, I would have done it in the Pam), but I really shouldn't have. And there he was, wary but unafraid, the boat giving him confidence as Paula's did for her.
So it was a short trip because of the wind and swell, but it was also an interesting and challenging trip because of the wind and swell, so when we met John and Louise at Tim's after coming off the water, the three of us were quite happy to have paddled.

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Wednesday, January 16, 2008


On Tuesday the 15th while Bernie went out to Discovery, I worked for a while and checked if Alison could join me. Since she ended up busy, I left my Eliza tucked away and picked up my inflatable Dragonfly.
It's so nice to live where the beach is a short portage away!
I met Bernie at Sheep Cove in Cadboro Bay as he was returning. He swapped paddles with me, to let me try the Greenland paddle for a half-hour. While he was returning to shore, swearing at my paddle (he doesn't like the wide, assymmetric blade), I went out to Flower Island and drifted for a while.
And got lucky.
The otter family that scampers about that part of the bay came out to play. I heard a little pfoof sound and luckily was looking in the right direction. Little sleek heads and tails were bobbing in the channel by Flower Island. I hadn't moved for about five minutes, so they didn't really notice me for a while. Then a little head popped up higher and looked at me, and another and another, and plunk! they all ducked under.
They popped up again about thirty feet away, and I moved only my eyes to watch them in my peripheral vision. Otters and seals and even herons seem to be more alarmed by my gaze when I look at them face-on. But peeking at them out of one eye... that seems to frighten them less. Guess they know what a predator face looks like.
It looks like there are still seven otters in that tangle. Hey, a tangle of otters sounds like a good collective noun. Back in July there were two big otters with three little ones each, near as I could tell, and in September there were a total of seven. Nice to see they haven't lost any more of their group so far this winter.
After a few minutes the otters noticed I was still watching, and they ducked down again. One came up and blew a loud breath, pfoof, in my direction. I took that as a cue to head out, and got back to the beach as Bernie walked back from the Beach House to meet me. He still hates wide, assymetric blades on paddles. But I want him to make me a Greenland paddle so I can use it from time to time. It's quiet enough to sneak away from otters without disturbing them.

I Gotta Get One of These

Next Christmas, while you are settling in to a turkey feast, Greg Kolodziejzyk hopes to be in the middle of the ocean peddling his kayak across the Atlantic.
He was in Victoria today to show off his prototype.

Nimbus Kayaks is a sponsor and apparently interested in marketing something like this. This looks waaaay cool.
Follow Greg's adventure on his blog.

15 January 2008

Launched late–11:00 if you can imagine. Without Paula helping to carry stuff to the beach, it takes a lot longer. I decided to paddle fully geared up, so I could overnight on the island if I wanted. well, I did want to, but didn’t stay. But with 20+ kilos of extra gear on board, the kayak handled a bit better.
This is a slight oversimplification of the route I took–there were some currents in Baynes Channel as I went over (and some noticeable eddylines, etc), but nothing really serious or off-putting. The day was gorgeous.

This was about 10:00 am looking out from my launch point. The day just kept getting better too.

Discovery Island was beautiful. As I headed across Baynes Channel, there was already another kayaker headed back in from what looked like a trip around the Chain Islets.
I parked myself on the southern end of Discovery and decided that there was really no point in heading around to Rudlin Bay. The sun was out, the ground was …. well, not dry, but there was no standing water.
The day was not really warm–the puddles in Gyro Park still had ice on them when I left, and there was still frost in the shade on Discovery at 12:00, but if you were in the sun–and as warmly dressed as I was–life was good.
I lunched under the bent-over tree in the centre of the picture above and lay about in the sun reading and eventually napping. Eventually I thought I should pack up and head back to Cadboro Bay–and did.

The weather was still stunning when I left the island, and the water was even calmer.

That’s Trial Island off in the distance. I was back by 4:00, having met Paula in her inflatable–she was most of the way to Flower Island by then, and just continued on her own paddle after work.
That makes four paddles in 15 days, keeping me on track for paddling my century (100 days on the water in a year). With the weather holding (ie. not raining, not windy. other than that not much matters except fog and snowstorms), I should get one or two paddles in by Sunday, when the group paddles again.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

13 January 2008--Esquimalt Harbour

(crossposted from Notes From a Year on the Water)

Pulled into the parking area just after 9:00 am this morning, got out and the van with a kayak on the roof that had been parked just down the beach was pulling in next to us within moments; Richard had joined us!
Before we'd even got the hellos and initial picture taking out of the way, Alison pulled in, having successfully navigated her way to the lagoon. With a bit of help, Richard got his new (to him) kayak off the roof and onto the beach, and we geared up and got on the water.The day was a bit dull, but no wind or rain, so for January it was pretty much perfect.
We headed out the race, around the point and into the harbour. About halfway down the harbour the sky darkened and it rained briefly, but then stopped and slowly brightened up. In fact, the morning just kept improving , getting brighter and warmer without any real wind at all right up until we left the beach at about 12:30.
It was an enjoyable slow paddle, exiting the harbour and heading up the brackish estuary under the bridge and next to the 6 Mile Pub.
The water shallowed considerably in the estuary, and then deepened again once we got into the river proper.We were only able to paddle about a kilometre up the river until we were stopped by a waterfall.
We floated about for a bit, took some pictures, and had some hot chocolate--well, I had to test my thermos bottle somehow, didn't I? Then it was back down the river to the harbour.
But with the tide going out, the water level in the estuary was dropping, and Paula and Alison ran up on a sandbar. Rather than muck about too much, Paula simply got out of her boat and pulled the two of them across the bar and back to less-shallow water. causing Paula to have to re-enter her boat with chilly feet....

then it was an uneventful paddle back to the launch site. The swells were breaking on the sandbar at the mouth of the now rapidly outflowing tidal race at the lagoon, so once we had all crossed the bar in the midst of the small breakers, it was time to turn around and do it again! And again! (Repeat as necessary...). At one point I met an incoming swell exactly on the shallowest part of the bar and the resultant breaker swept over the front of my boat and broke across my chest and face. Yee-Hah!s and WooHoo!s were heard from all concerned.
Such an enjoyable day.

So this makes three out of thirteen days that I've spent at least part of the day paddling. Not the ratio I'm shooting for, but not a bad start, eh?
Then off to Tim's for lunch and more chat.

Friday, January 11, 2008

11 January 2008

Well, one more step on the road to my century (110 days on the water in a year). Out this morning and off on an hour and a half paddle.
Departure from Caddy Bay this morning.

the route I took was very simple; I headed off towards the Chain Islands. and once I was almost there, I didn’t like the way the weather was moving, so I turned south to go back to the light. Once there, I decided to head over to Mary Todd Is. where I saw this fellow:
Damn but those eagles are big! he looked to be the better part of a metre tall!
I parked briefly on Mary Todd–mostly to grab a drink and get my gloves back on. But before that, I snapped this shot of Chatham and Discovery Is.
Then I headed across the bay and hugged the shore most of the way back. It took an hour to land at Mary Todd Is. But it took me only forty minutes to scoot back to the beach.
By then the clouds had settled back over the city and although it seemed slightly sunnier, all the clear sky was gone. But a good workout and one more day towards the century.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

This And/Or That

A few odds 'n' sods for you...
First, long-time reader Richard H. has started his own kayaking blog, Adventures on the Blue, and bought a new kayak. I've added a permanent link in our kayaking blog links on the side, but you can click here and check out Richard's new ride....
I've also created a Kayak Yak Yak Facebook group. Mostly what's there right now is just an archive of past paddling pictures, but once we get back in the paddling groove, I'll try to keep it updated with news of upcoming paddles....
I've also added an Upcoming Paddles box on the top right of this page which we'll keep updated once we're back in the paddling groove. As soon as the storms stop and the flu recedes, anyway.... :)

And finally, here's a cool video:

The dude is right -- it's a 10!


(cross-posted from Notes From a Year on the Water)

I'm reading Derek C. Hutchinson's book Expedition Kayaking when I came across his checklist for what constitutes a proficient paddler.
  • Paddle 24 to 32 kilometres (15 to 20 miles) in a day's trip.
  • Paddle a kayak out through at least 1.2 metre (4 foot) breakers and into open water, then back in again, then forward and backward without capsizing.
  • Tow the kayak ashore in the event of a capsize, and maintain contact not only with the kayak, but with the paddle and equipment.
  • Turn a kayak around through 360 degrees using forward and reverse sweep strokes. This should be done as quickly as the design of the boat will allow.
  • Move a kayak sideways by means of a draw stroke or a sculling stroke.
  • Prevent a kayak from capsizing using a sculling for support stroke and also a slap support stroke [low brace?].
  • Steer a kayak with a stern rudder while traveling down the face of a small wave, then allow the kayak to come broadside on to a breaking wave and then, with a high brace, keep the boat upright as the wave breaks over it.
Notice that rolling doesn't make the list. In the video interview with him (below) he says that "After you learn to roll you don't have to roll. It all just degrees of lean--even if your ear's in the water...."

Mr. Hutchinson is one of those amazing figures that founded the sport of sea kayaking. His North Sea crossings of 1975 and 1976 are listed in Paddler Magazine's The 10 All-time Greatest Sea Kayaking Expeditions. Paddler Magazine also has an interesting short interview with him here.
And there's a bit more info on him at his USK page. Mr. Hutchinson is not only a founder of the sport, but he's designed some 18 kayaks--including the Gulfstream for Current Designs (this was the boat I fell for at the 2007 Paddlefest in Ladysmith). This guy really is the Duke Kahanamoku of sea kayaking.

Mr. Hutchinson's definition of proficiency is based on the requirements for the UK coast and is intended for expedition kayakers. Certainly none of it is out of line even for most weekend paddlers--I'm disappointed that I don't meet more of the set points he details after two and a half years of paddling. Some of that is lack of practice--the whole 1.2 metre breakers thing, for example. There aren't a lot of breakers of that size to practice on in the bay. And when there are, they are usually accompanied by 70+ km/hr winds and a whack of drift logs bashing back and forth. At which point on an expedition I'd be hunkered down on land until the storm passes anyway. Part of it is also the reluctance to drive out the other side of Sooke to practice for an hour and then drive back. maybe if I camp overnight.... But really, I need to take more classes, including those towards certification. And paddle more.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Yet another homemade craft

I make things.
Some of them are useful things, and put to use by me or the people who are given them. I like to believe what I'm told about these things, when people say, "Hey, that's neat! Did you make that? Cool! Can I have one?" I'm more inclined to believe these comments when I've succeeded in making good cookies.
Some of the things I make are just crafts, with less appeal than homemade Christmas tree ornaments. I've reached some peace with the knowledge that not everybody wants a tea cosy designed to fit their own teapot, or a portable reusable recyclable mini-campstove made out of a coffee can. The knitted and crocheted things I make, like booties or a happy hat, appeal to only the people who actually have a use for them. The camping and kayaking gear that I make is only of interest to people who actually go camping or paddling.
On occasion, I've been known to shower homemade things on my friends. Gotta say, they've been good about it. So far.
But now I've learned how to make a poop tube. Go to this website and you too can learn how to make one.
Must admit, I plan to make one. But no, I don't intend to make a bunch of them and give them to all my friends. I've learned my lesson.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

January 06, 08

Man, it took a long time to get on the water in the new year.But this morning looked lovely, so we got the boats ready. Catherine showed up for what looks to be her inaugural paddle with the Sunday morning group; she enjoyed herself and it certainly sounds like she's going to be a regular. But even with Catherine, it was still only three of us this morning.
The tide was at +2.7 metres at 8:29 am--which means the water was almost up to the seawall, all the many logs on the beach were afloat, and many had floated out from the beach--making it a maze of logs out to about 30 metres or so. We launched from next to the outfall, as that was the most accessible part of the beach today.
the trip was fairly short; just out to Flower, across to the Yacht Club, and then back to the beach. But it was nice to be back on the water after so many weeks away from paddling.
We were joined for coffee afterwards by Alison and Louise, and we hatched plans for several future paddles.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008