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July 2006

Cedar Strip Kayak Building: Flush Deck Fittings


It's been difficult bringing Moonlight Dancer back into the shop for repairs and modifications. Not only do I have to admit that I made some mistakes, but I'm losing a lot of quality paddling time working in the garage. So I don't like to post about it. But now that I'll be ready to paddle her again to the Lake Union Wooden Boat Festival I'll describe how I ripped out the leaky soft padeyes and installed some flush deck fittings. The Dremel was indispensable for this project. It just melts away wood/fiberglass/epoxy and was perfect for cutting the 1/8 brass rod.

The steps are:

Mark out the deck fittings on a mahogany board.
Build a jig for the router. Test it and rebuild it again if necessary. Repeat until you get it right.
Rout out the recesses on the deck fittings.
Cut out the deck fittings and sand smooth.
Install the brass rods in the deck fittings.
Seal the deck fittings with epoxy.
Mark out the holes for the deck fittings on the deck.
Drill big holes in the deck (yikes!) and file the edges smooth.
Dry fit the deck fittings.
Apply a bead of epoxy thickened with wood flour on the fittings and install with the kayak upside down.





Now I have the whole kayak sanded down and revarnished. I also attempted to get rid of a number of scratches on the hull where the weave of the glass shows by sanding down to the glass and applying another coat of epoxy. I won't bother again --it doesn't work! I figured out that when the glass is stressed like that the only way to get rid of the scratch is to sand away the glass entirely. Then you are left with a deep gouge and a weak spot. Revarnishing actually makes a big difference cosmetically, but will not eliminate the scratch. I've decided that as long as scratches are below the waterline I will not attempt to get rid of them.  Hmmm, maybe on my next kayak I'll paint graphite powder/epoxy below the waterline.



I talked with Tom Sharp today. Dubside’s long awaited Greenland Rolling Instructional Video Volume 1 is now shipping. We spoke briefly about the discussion triggered by Brian Schulz’s provocative post on the Qajaq USA forum the other day. It seems Qajaq USA is experiencing growing pains. Some members are unhappy with what they perceive is a trend toward commercialism and self-promotion among the few most talented international stars. Dubside is not bothered by these concerns. He cares little about what people might say regarding his motives and dismisses their accusations of self-aggrandizement as so much hypocrisy. He knows that he acts with integrity.  Both he and Tom, a deeply spiritual man who has been adopted by the Hopi Indians, have nothing but  the utmost respect for the Greenland culture and kayak tradition. Dubside laughs at the suggestion that he is not in creative control, that he is not man enough to say “No” to that which he disagrees. He is in control. Nothing he has done is accidental. 

Narrows and Salmon Beach


Today I got up early to join Mike, Ted and Holly to catch the maximum ebb (predicted at 4.3 knots) flowing through the Narrows. It can stir up some nice rips and boils around Point Defiance, and standing waves when the wind is opposing the current. There isn't much wind today though. We launch from Owen Beach and paddle south toward Salmon Beach, spending some time paddling into the current and around back through the eddy. I learn that in Misterie you don't want to be caught floating backward in the current because she is impossible to turn around. 

It's a pretty shoreline -- sandstone cliffs, bald eagles, and lots of kelp. Halfway to Salmon Beach we spot an empty Bayliner adrift. I knew I should have brought my new Northwater towrope! Mike and Ted paddle up close to investigate. Not too long afterwards a little motor boat drives by to pick it up. We reach Salmon Beach and admire the famous mermaid sculpture. Later the motorboat and Bayliner drive by and stop at one of the floats. On closer inspection a window is smashed. I ask the guy tying it up if the boat is his and he says no. Apparently residents of Salmon Beach are always on the lookout for things drifting by in the water and race to pick them up.  Always bring your towrope -- if I had I could have scored myself a slightly beat up Bayliner!




Cedar Strip Kayak Building: Shooting Stars


Shooting Stars from top: Richard Kohlström's, Scott Fitzgerrell's, then me (before installing a backband) and Henry Romer (after installing a backband which moves the paddler foreward) in Moonlight Dancer


I've been asking other Shooting Star owners where they put their cockpits, since I was concerned that I trimmed mine stern heavy. From the pictures it looks like I put the cockpit way to far back.  Could it be the angle the pictures were taken?  In the top two pictures the kayaks may be angled away from the camera, which would make the bow look shorter relative to the stern.  That effect may be exaggerated with a zoom lens. 

According to Rob Macks, the cockpit on mine isn't more than 2 inches too far back if anything.  Since cockpit sizes will vary, the plans should really specify where the backrest should be, and not the front and back edges of the coaming.  I know I'm probably making a big deal about nothing, since there is really nothing wrong with the way she paddles, as far as I or anyone else can tell.  I haven't started asking someone to take video of me paddling so I can analyze it... yet.


Cedar Strip Kayak Building: Hatch Repairs


So three weeks after the official launch on Moonlight Dancer I'm still working on my kayak!  After all, if I were completely done what would I have to blog about, especially on those days when I'm busy at work and get home with just with enough time to check my email and put in five minutes of epoxy work before going to bed?

My repair of the leaky back hatch consists of two things: adjusting the bungees so that they apply more downward pressure on the hatch and putting gaskets on the hatch lip as well as the hatch cover.  The problem with putting gaskets on both the hatch lip and cover is that the hatch will no longer sit flush with the deck.  To get the hatch to sit flush I routed out a groove (about 1/16 in deep, probably less) where the gaskets will fit in both the cover and the lip.  And how did I accomplish this?  Using the Dremel tool I got for Father's Day!  I first heard about the Dremel from Derrick's blog, when he got one to cut out the seat in his Anas Acuta.  My first thought was, "What is the big deal about the Dremel?"  Well, now I know!  It cuts and carves wood and metal like a dream.  I think I'm going to get plenty of use out of this tool.  I can't wait to try it out on the pieces of caribou antler I got at SSTIKS!


Cedar Strip Kayak Building: Back in the shop


Clockwise from top left: BlueWater 4mm NITELINE reflective deck rigging; new inflatable seat from Thermarest/SealLine next to Newfound seat; composite tubes curing for new hatch mechanism; carbon fiber/fiberglass ready for wet out

Moonlight Dancer is all dried out and back in the shop for some more work.  I'll be honest about the problems: every one of my soft padeyes leaks, the hatches leak, and the seat is awful. To be fair to Joe Greenley, I did not follow his instructions on making the soft padeyes. And if I only used more silicone sealant they probably would not leak at all. I am thinking about making recessed mahogany flush deck fittings instead, so that it will be unquestionably watertight and easier to sand and revarnish. For the hatches I'm going to put gaskets on both the hatch cover and the hatch lip, and reposition the bungees to apply more downward pressure on the hatch cover. People say they can get their hatches watertight even in surf with an internal bungee mechanism so I'll keep trying! If could do it over I would use a bulkhead hatch for the aft compartment, with some kind of bombproof screw hatch mechanism. The small forward hatch is actually reasonably watertight. Maybe all the water in the forward compartment comes from the padeyes.  I got an inflatable seat from Pygmy as a replacement for the foam seat from Newfound Woodworks. I've found that a simple inflatable Thermarest pad is a very comforatable seat even for all-day touring. 


SSTIKS 2006: The Umiak


On the wet Sunday morning at SSTIKS a handful of us gathered to watch as a white umiak floated in to our beach. The umiak, or “women’s boat” (in this case paddled by several girls of the local 4-H chapter) is an open arctic skin boat propelled by paddles, oars or sail, and in recent times by outboard motors. It has been used for family migrations, carrying cargo or passengers long distances, and also alongside kayaks for whaling and walrus hunting. Skin-on-frame construction permits building a large boat with a minimum amount of material, and results in a lightweight craft that can be easily transported by sled or manually over long distances, yet strong and flexible enough to resist the shock of ramming ice. A two thousand year-old kayak model found in a cemetery in Siberia exhibits features that suggest that the kayak is a descendant of the umiak. Some scholars believe however that the umiak and kayak existed side by side in the arctic from the very beginning.

Corey Freedman helped build this umiak for the local 4-H club. The skin is nylon, I think coated with marine antifouling paint.The skin has lasted over 15 years, with occasional repainting. It is left in the water year-round.




SSTIKS 2006: Jim Mitchell


From left to right: Wolfgang Brinck, John Petersen, and Jim Mitchell

Some time ago I thought about carving an Aleut paddle. After meeting Jim Mitchell at SSTIKS I wouldn't even attempt it on my own. This guy knows Aleut paddles! Beautifully finished and carved out of western red cedar, they are exceedingly lightweight. Don't try any Greenland rolls with them though -- they might snap. They specialize in going forward. 


Aleut paddles on the foredeck of Jim Mitchell's Raven


Raven stern

With Jim in his skin-on-frame baidarka Raven, and me in Moonlight Dancer, he showed me his technique for paddling with an Aleut blade. From what I can remember, it goes something like this: Reach as far forward as possible and plant the blade deep into the water. Rotate your upper body and pull back in a line close to and parallel to the gunwale, keeping the paddle vertical and with your outboard hand touching the water until you reach your hip. Then completely loosen your grip with the outboard hand and let the paddle rise out of the water from its own buoyancy. Grip the paddle as loosely as possible during the stroke. 

His paddles feel so well balanced. The blades are very thin. They pull through the water smoothly with no flutter, and exit cleanly with no noise. The loom in cross section has almost a triangular shape. The grip feels natural.   

He showed me another Aleut prototype, a paddle with a central groove. I forgot how the groove works but it is a more powerful blade.  He talks like an engineer, in a language I don't understand. Someday I'll have to take him up on his invitation to his workshop to carve one of these. By the way his best friend is Werner, as in Werner Paddles. He's tried to convince Werner to make a traditional paddle out of composites, but with no luck so far.


SSTIKS 2006: Brian Schulz


At SSTIKS Brian Schulz made a kayak in three days. He put the frame together on Friday and Saturday during the boat-building demo including steam bending the ribs, and stitched the skin on Sunday. I left Sunday afternoon, so I had no idea if he got as far as waterproofing it with two-part polyurethane. That would have only taken another day before the kayak was ready for the water. He acomplished all this between time messing around at the beach and promoting his boats and boat-building classes at Cape Falcon Kayak

Recently Brian commissioned the production of float bags made specifically for skin-on-frame boats and now offers them for sale through Cape Falcon Kayak. He says they are a must-have safety item and are tougher than commercial bags - "the largest, highest quality float bags on the market". He makes no profit from their sales. “My goal is to bring skin-on-frame kayaks up to the BCU standard as far as safety,” he says. They fill the kayak so well that he has been able to paddle 4 miles in a flooded boat with float bags installed. 

On the water he demonstrates a self rescue in a flooded skin-on-frame replica without float bags. He does a reentry in the water into the small ocean cockpit and secures his tuilik, but the stern sinks deep underwater. He sticks a bilge pump through the neck opening of his tuilik and starts pumping. “Where I paddle on the Oregon coast you have to come up with solutions or die,” he says. Water starts to pour out of the pump and the bow begins to rise, maybe and inch or two, but then it stops. “I think I’m sucking up my cock!”  No air can get in through the vacuum seal formed in his tuilik and into the kayak, so he remains submerged. So much for that solution.

[Thanks to Dick Mahler for the pics]


Destination: Doe Bay Resort


I leave home in a hurry to try to get to Deception Pass the first day on my mini vacation. Unfortunately, I have so much stuff to pack and get ready that I won’t make it in time for the ebb. For one thing, I have to stop at my favorite little kayak shop in Seattle on Lake Union to fill a few holes in my gear inventory: a Gerber knife (to replace the one that’s hopelessly rusted out), a bilge sponge (since Moonlight Dancer is still so leaky), and a Northwater tow belt. Why do I need a tow belt when I’m paddling alone?  Because Shawna and Leon say don’t leave home without one! Leon helped design the belt so I highly recommend it.  It has an excellent quick release mechanism with an easy to grab fluorescent ball, and you can restuff the line in 20 seconds. I also stop at West Marine to pick up some 1/8th in foam gasket material. I do a last minute fix to Moonlight Dancer’s hatches while at my campsite at Anacortes: scraping off the old malpositioned gaskets and applying new ones by the light of the fire. 

After consulting the tidal current tables and listening to the marine forecast, I decide on a route at the last minute: north from Washington Park in Anacortes to Pelican Beach on Cypress Island, then on to Doe Bay on Orcas Island. I had never been to Pelican Beach before. It’s a popular kayaking destination with campsites on the beach. The hike up to Eagle Cliff nearby is supposed to have a fantastic view of the islands to the west. Unfortunately, when I arrive at Pelican Beach it’s hopeless to attempt the hike – you can’t see anything. It’s raining and the islands are shrouded  in mist. I eat a cold lunch sitting on the beach in the rain. I see another kayaker putting up a tarp at his campsite. When he is done he invites me over. I take the opportunity to put on another layer of fleece under my drysuit. There is no way I am going to camp here though – I have nothing to prove by camping out in this weather. The mist and rain make it all the more important for me to reach Doe Bay and check into a dry cabin. Otherwise I’ll just spend the rest of the day huddled  in my sleeping bag listening to the rain fall on my tent. 


I look across Rosario Strait and can barely make out the outline of Orcas Island 4 nm away in the mist. I can see far enough to know if any big oil tankers are coming through the shipping channel, so I figure it will be safe if I just set a course and go for it. The rain is relentless. A few porpoises pop up along the way. The flood current carries me a little too far north so I paddle back along the shore to get to the resort. I park the kayak on the beach and walk into the main office still in my drysuit, dripping wet. A kid is watching The Grinch on a portable DVD player. They have free internet in the lobby. What a relief to be dry and warm! Simple pleasures.

I get a bed in the hostel for $20. It has heat, electricity, a little kitchen with a toaster and microwave oven, and clean bathrooms. That's as much as I paid for my campsite in Anacortes -- $16 plus $4 for firewood. It has got to be the best deal in the San Juans! I dump all my gear on the floor to dry by my bed, and get changed. I turn up the heat and fall asleep lying on the sofa in the common room. 


It turns out that they are having an open house that day – free use of the sauna and hot tubs for the community and hors doeuvres in the café. The resort has undergone some renovations, fresh sage green paint on all the buildings and a complete remodeling of the famous “clothing-optional” hot tubs. For 4 months the hot tubs have been closed for the project. Despite the management offering big discounts on cabins and campsites during that time people stopped coming to Doe Bay. It is simply not the same without the hot tubs.

I wake in time for dinner. The café is busy. I get a seat at the bar and order the angel hair pasta pomodoro with a house salad and a cabernet-merlot. Excellent. 

In the morning one of my two roommates, Lucy, says she would like to see my kayak. She helps me carry my gear to the beach. She’s from Holland and has been traveling around the San Juans on a bicycle. Europeans are such adventurous travelers! She says last September when she was at Doe Bay she made a spectacle by swimming at the beach naked and everyone came out to see her. Her next stop is Port Townsend where she’ll stay with some friends. She sees me off. The rain is gone but it’s still misty, so on the paddle back to Anacortes there is not much to see, just the mist, green water, and rocky cliffs covered with purple starfish.


How did Moonlight Dancer do on her first big trip out? First of all, my legs get numb and my butt gets sore, so I have to replace the seat with something more comfortable. She’s feels good in chaotic water and following seas. And she feels fast. It's difficult to know how fast without a GPS. You also have to factor in the currents which are significant. In fact sometimes I feel like touring in the San Juans is like traveling according to a bus schedule and  trying to make the right connections, always in a hurry and pushing to get somewhere right at slack, or to take advantage of a strong current. It’s not always very relaxing, really.