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August 2006

I left my mark in Rome

Dinner at Hostaria Romana, Rome, Italy

There is a little restaurant in Rome called Hostaria Romana where our tour group ate our first dinner together.  It’s off Via del Boccaccio near the corner of Via Rasella on the way to the Trevi Fountain from our hotel.  The only reason I know that is because I still have the card from the restaurant which has a little map on the back, which is common for restaurants and hotels to have in those labyrinthine European cities. The food was excellent. Joel stuffed himself with antipasti and said, “Can we go now?” before realizing that that wasn’t even the main course. By the way did you know that the life expectancy in Italy is greater than anywhere else in Europe? They say it's because of all that olive oil! We all ate in one festive room together which had graffiti all over the walls, and of course I had to leave my mark.

One of the graffiti walls at Hostaria Romana, Rome, Italy

Hostaria Romana, Rome, Italy

Street vendor in Rome, Italy

Trevi Fountain at night, Rome, Italy

Street on a warm summer night, Rome, Italy



Kayaking Yesterday:
 Dick and I put in at West Seattle and paddled across Elliott Bay to the Seattle waterfront. All the boat traffic makes this route interesting: Washington State Ferries, tugboats with barges, and gigantic cruise ships. Apparently the cruise ships like to leave in the late afternoon on Sunday because we saw three of them leave one after another. Dick brought along two specimens from his large collection of Greenland paddles to try out: the famous Beale #70, and the take-apart Feathercraft GP. Beale #70 is probably 90 in long and 3.25 in wide. It looks like Alaskan yellow cedar. Despite the length I found it easy to paddle with and it seemed fast. The Feathercraft GP must be reinforced with steel – it weighs a ton! I can’t believe Dubside rolls with that thing. It feels like it would sink!

Back from Europe... and Another Journey


Well, we all survived our two weeks on the Rick Steves Best of Family Europe Tour. I'm not going to gush about how wonderful it all was because the truth is traveling with kids can be difficult. Traveling with adults can be difficult too for that matter, so now I've decided that I'd rather travel alone or with at most one other person, and preferably by kayak. The tour itself and our guides were excellent and we did have some great moments. One of my favorites was when we had just arrived in Venice and were cruising down the Grand Canal in a vaporetto (water taxi) past the decaying buildings, bridges, gondole and a multitude of other boats, and Joel said, "Hey Dad, what city is this?"  "Mamma mia! You don't KNOW?!" I said and left him to figure it out for himself. "Venezia!"  He tried to blame ignorance on wearing "noise-reduction" headphones while playing Gameboy during the two hours our tour guide was talking during the bus ride from Tuscany. As an adolescent I too lived in my own little world. 


Phoebe Elizaga, photographed for the Rick Steves Family Europe Photo Contest
I won a complete Rick Steve Europe DVD box set for submitting this photo of my daughter to the Family Europe photo contest.

More about Europe later. We got back home last night after 23.5 hours in transit. Despite that I've escaped jet lag and even spent the day paddling to see Tribal Journeys 2006, the annual gathering of Northwest Coast Native American ocean-going canoes. Today the canoes are at the Suquamish reservation and will spend Sunday there before ending the Journey at Sand Point on Lake Washington. Can you imagine 30-40 canoes making their way through the locks and crowded Lake Union into the very heart of Seattle? I wish I could be there to see it!

Salish canoes at Suquamish Triibal Journey 2006
Salish canoes at Suquamish Triibal Journey 2006

When I arrived at Suquamish this afternoon there was no sign of the canoes, just a crowd of people waiting at the beach, a few vendors selling t-shirts and cedar bark hats, a big fire pit and the makings of a huge salmon bake. I talked with some people and heard the unfortunate news that someone on the Journey, the chief of a Vancouver Island tribe, died when one of the canoes capsized in rough water in the Strait of Juan de Fuca. No one in the canoe was wearing a PFD -- very tragic. On the water I met a couple other kayakers and we messed around until the word came that the canoes wouldn't show up for another two hours. They were gathering at a point to the north. After a while I paddled there and found them lined on the beach.

Traditional skin-on-frame baidarkas at Tribal Journey 2006
Traditional skin-on-frame baidarkas at Tribal Journey 2006

The baidarkas from last year were there plus one or two new ones built by Marc Daniels. I also met Sean, a native King Islander who makes  authentic King Island kayaks. In fact, he is the only living member of the King Island tribe who makes King Island kayaks. I remember seeing one of his kayaks for sale on on eBay or somewhere, maybe from a Qajaq USA post. Sean says that he had received a lot of inquires regarding the authenticity of his King Island heritage and his kayaks. Well, I can tell you that this guy is the real thing, except that when he started out building there were no elders who knew anything about kayak making to teach him, so everything he knows actually came from Corey Freedman!

Traditional kayak builder Marc Daniels at Triibal Journey 2006
Traditional kayak builder Marc Daniels

When the time came an announcement was made: "Everyone get in the water!" I paddled alongside listening to the singing and drums from the canoes. Unlike last year, when I inadvertantly found myself paddling in the middle of the whole show in front of hundreds of cheering people gathered at the beach as the canoes came into view and overtook me, I kept a respectable distance near the spectator boats, occasionally drafting off a motor boat. Still after I got close to the crowd I couldn't resist showing off a few rolls before paddling away.

Traditional Salish Canoe at Tribal Journey 2006

Dubside: Opposite Arm Roll

I was cutting some video of Dubside's rolling demo at SSTIKS 2006 this morning and thought I would share a clip of the Opposite Arm Roll which is a hand roll using the opposite arm.  I've been to a number of Dubside's rolling demos and each time he comes up with something new.

This roll can also be done with the paddle or norsaq -- probably simliar to the cross arm roll (tallit paarlatsillugit paateqarluni/masikkut) . I gotta try that!

[NOTE: This video has been updated. Orginally shot in standard video, it has been upscaled to HD 1080p]



Blogging From Sisimiut


The posts from Greenland are coming in as the Games are about to begin. Pictures can be found on Tom Milani's blog, qajariaq. Tom Sharp has been posting Commando Communiques on, and on the Qajaq USA forum. Some headlines:

Freya gains marathon advantage due to rough water -- Alison Sigethy and Freya the only two women to finish.

Greenland teenagers check out Dubside's hair.

The international team dines on dolfin and seal -- at a Chinese restaurant.

[PIC from Greenland Rolling with Dubside]



Notes on Rolling


Big surprise: I can do more rolls in my strip baidarka than I can in my Greenland skin-on-frame, Misterie.  Moonlight Dancer was not built to be a rolling boat. Yes, I did recess the cockpit to make laybacks easier, but the depth at the backrest is still 8 3/4 inches from the inside hull to the top of the coaming. So who knows why -- the round hull, improved "secondary stability", even deck shape might make a difference.  What design features make a good rolling kayak? I think this topic has been discussed extensively in the Qajaq USA forum a number of times, and is also covered in Dubside's new rolling video. Basically the features include:

Low back deck and coaming (for layback rolls)
Flat bottom (for stability during recovery)
Low seat (to lower the center of gravity for forward finishing rolls)
Reasonable beam (It's a misconception that a good rolling kayak has a very narrow beam. A wide beam enables you to spread your knees apart and tuck forward more for forward finishing rolls.)
Good contact of your thighs and knees with the masik, deck, or knee braces for the "hipsnap".

But how about the shape of the deck and the gunwale flare? Will a peaked deck help rolling compared to a flat deck?  Will more gunwale flare help compared to a gunwale that has more of a vertical angle?  How about hard chines vs a round hull?  Does an upswept bow and stern help or hurt? How much does difference does the overall weight of the kayak make?  There are so many other factors to consider. 

With Moonlight Dancer I've been able to hit aariammillugu (spine roll) consistently, as well as my offside siukkut tunusummillugu (standard roll with paddle behind the neck), and for the first time today, kingukkut tunusummillugu (reverse sweep roll with paddle behind neck). The rolls seem to happen much more slowly than in Misterie, and I don't have the problem of stalling on my side during a capsize, even though Moonlight Dancer is only 2 pound heavier. 

I thought I would never get  kingukkut tunusummillugu. It's not easy to describe or even understand what makes it successful. The trick for me seems to be to hold the paddle in as much as an extended position as possible, arch my back after capsize and reach the paddle up to the surface as much as possible, sweep until the paddle is about 45 degrees from the long axis of the kayak, initiate the hipsnap while tucking forward and turning my head to look inboard and try to touch my ear to my knee. The paddle starts on the surface of the water then dives toward the kayak at the end, and turning the head allows the full motion of the paddle toward the kayak. Timing is critical. Lowering the seat helps a lot. While I was on the water I deflated my inflatable Thermarest pad and it made a noticable difference in the ease of forward recovery.

I guess I really don't need my skin-on-frame anymore. Maybe it's time to recycle the frame into another kayak!   


The Lake Union Wooden Boat Festival 2006


I joined my friend Dick Mahler the other day for a little paddling trip to the Lake Union Wooden Boat Festival in Seattle. Dick has a condo just on the north shore of the lake right across the street from Gasworks Park, a convenient place to put-in. In addition to his three-piece Pygmy Arctic Tern 14 he has a custom wooden “Blazing Aspen” in storage at the local kayak store, a Feathercraft K1 expedition, and a couple Pakboats. He’s also got a bunch of Beale paddles and beautiful Aleut paddle carved by Jim Mitchell.  One bathroom in his condo is stuffed with gear: immersion wear, PFDs and stuff still in original packaging.  It looks like he's preparing for a major expedition.


That day he took his 14 ft Pakboat Puffin out to assemble in the parking garage. It’s 26 lbs and fits in a duffle bag. It assembles like putting up a tent. Two folding aluminum poles slide into the skin for the gunwales, and one serves as the keelson. There are no chine stringers. Dick discovers one of the plastic pegs on an aluminum deck beam has broken off. If it were made out of wood we could just drill a couple of holes and lash it together. There is still a lot to be said for ancient Inuit engineering! Oh well, hopefully the skin and inflatable sponsons will hold it together. Once the frame is assembled inside the hull skin, the deck is attached along the shear with Velcro. I notice a couple small holes in the deck and point them out to Dick. He says it must have gotten a little beat up when it was sent to Chris Cuningham for the Sea Kayaker Magazine article -- yes, this is the actual Pakboat used in the review!




Finally on the lake we paddle a mile to the far end to the Center for Wooden Boats.

On this holiday weekend the water is crowded with boat traffic: yachts, sailboats, kayaks, canoes, and those amphibious tour bus “ducks”. Around the Center for Wooden Boats the traffic gets more interesting: a steam launch called The Alien Queen, a 14 ft tugboat Rascal, an umiak, and a couple skin-on-frame baidarkas, one just newly finished. Dick stops to talk with just about every person who asks about his Pakboat. We paddle close to the floats and admire the big collection of classic wooden speedboats. I love the brightwork, chrome and glossy paint.

On land there is even more to see. One strip kayak builder has his kayak rotisserie on display. It’s powered by an electric motor and used for varnishing. Rod Tait from Orca Boats is there, as well as Joe Greenley of Redfish Kayaks. Joe is showing off the new design, the Golden. It has an adjustable resistance back support (more resistance for touring, and less for rolling) made out of his characteristic pinstriped wood strips and finished like a piece of sculpture.  By the way, I’ve actually never demoed any of Joe’s kayaks before because I’ve always been too afraid I’d scratch them. 


We find Corey Freedman under the shelter standing in spruce wood shavings, finishing up his Aleut paddle carving class.  We talk about the kid that just finished his baidarka. It took him 11 days to make it. Corey says it typically takes 8.5 days to build one. To someone who spent the last 9-10 months making a strip boat the difference of 2.5 days is pretty insignificant.   

Corey isn’t afraid to talk about Greenland style’s dirty little secret (also mentioned by Brian Schulz and Warren):  “Greenland kayaks all paddle like shit.”  He says the upswept bow and stern catch the wind and they all weathercock. The overhanging ends are wasted length. If you cut the ends off and trim it more aft you might get a kayak that paddles well. Of course, then if you just add a round bottom and bifid bow it becomes a baidarka. Some speculate that Greenland kayaks were meant to weathercock to keep the hunter downwind of the prey. They might have been made with a narrow beam to keep the paddles from hitting the sides and making noise that would scare away animals. Whatever the reasons for the design they were probably specialized tools not meant to be used the way recreational kayakers use them today.


On the trip back Dick wants to try Moonlight Dancer. I worry that he might not be able to fit so we try it out on the grass. 

“This is absolutely the best fitting kayak I have ever been in!” he says. 

“How's you’re roll?”  I ask. 

“Not so good,” he says.  “Why? Is she really tender?” 

I get in the Pakboat. The tracking is a little loose but I can manage it. Dick says it might be because of the broken deck beam. When we get back to Gasworks Park I get out and sit on the foredeck of Moonlight Dancer to stabilize and help Dick get out. He’s stuck!

“Try twisting your legs off to the side,” I say.

He twists and turns, pushing out and lying back. “This isn’t funny anymore!” he says. “I’m REALLY STUCK!”

“Well, if you got in you can get out,” I say. Then after several attempts at scraping his kneecaps off I get an idea and unbuckle the backrest, snapping it loose. It gives him the extra inch to squeeze out. Good thing he didn’t capsize out there or I'd be practicing the Hand of God.  Whew!

Check out more of my pictures of the Lake Union Wooden Boat Festival here.

A Better World Through Greenland Style


Warren had an interesting story about his BCU experience quite a few years ago. He was in a BCU 3 star class on Orcas Island and brought along his Greenland paddle. The instructor was this British guy he likes to call “Nigel” (not his real name). Apparently Nigel didn’t like the Greenland stick and told Warren to put it away –it couldn’t possibly perform all the BCU strokes anyway. Well Warren refused to put it away and when it came time to do the backwards figure eight Warren sped through the course faster than anyone and Nigel said “OK, enough of that” and cut the exercise off short. Then when taking out, Nigel ran down to the beach to help Warren carry his kayak (because you ALWAYS have at least two people carry a boat in the BCU) and Nigel lead Warren to a place in the weeds and put his boat down far away from everyone else’s. Warrent was so angry about the bullshit being thrown at him he didn’t go back for the rest of the course the next day. It’s just another one of those stories about nasty instructors that have given the BCU the reputation for being rigid and dogmatic, although since then I suspect the BCU has softened up, simply because it has had to deal with the growing popularity of Greenland style. After reading the Qajaq USA thread about, I get the feeling that many Qajaq USA members see Greenland style as the rebel movement, the weed growing up though the concrete of the BCU-NDK-Nigel Foster Sea Kayaking-Industrial Complex.  But really, it’s all kayaking, so as Warren says, “It’s all good.”

The Legendary Warren Williamson


After my modifications to the hatches and padeyes on my Laughing Loon Shooting Star cedar strip baidarka, Moonlight Dancer, my compartments stay bone dry.  The hatches are supertight. I actually have to slide my Gerber knife under the hatch cover and carefully twist it to get them to open. When I break the seal you can hear a satisfying puff of air as the pressure equalizes. Too much of a good thing -- I love my baidarka! 

There was a predicted 5.7 knot ebb at Deception Pass today – a great opportunity to try out Moonlight Dancer in rough water. I leave home early and arrive expecting a few more kayakers to be at the put-in at Bowman Bay, but I’m alone. It was warm and sunny in Tacoma but cold and foggy here. Another rule I should have followed: always bring extra fleece, even in the middle of summer. I spend fifteen minutes practicing a few rolls in the bay to loosen up and get comfortable being in Moonlight Dancer again, then set off for the Pass.

Deception Island is hidden in fog. A gentle swell breaks against the cliffs. I see the bridge and Canoe Pass. Still no other kayakers. Oh well, I have the whole place to myself. I paddle along the shore inside the kelp, then sprint out into the current, brace downstream and do a low brace turn, ride the current through standing waves, then catch the eddy back close to shore to start another round.  Moonlight Dancer feels good in the waves.


After playing I ride the current back to Bowman Bay, but along the way I run into another paddler with a Greenland stick and a tuilik. It’s Warren Wailliamson. He’s in a 19.5 ft Superior Kayaks stitch-and-glue Arctic Hawk SS.  Even though I’ve been out for two hours already I join him to go back to the Pass. It’s harder paddling upstream now that the current is at its max. He takes off far ahead of me.

Warren is legendary at the Pass, so to paddle with him is an opportunity that shouldn’t be missed. He probably goes there every day that he’s not working. (Actually I think he’s been on an extended vacation the last couple years.) As we approach the bridge he surfs the standing waves – sooo smooth! The waves push him upstream to the narrowest part of Canoe Pass. He fires off a a number of rolls one after another…with a norsaq…in the middle of the 5.7 knot current. I sit in the kelp bed and watch. While other people go to a pool to practice rolls, Warren comes here. 

Again I paddle into the current. The waves are bigger now. I turn to face upstream and get on the face on a big green wave. I sprint to keep from going backward. I hear the roar of chaotic whitewater behind me.  Even though you are surfing you can’t feel any forward motion at all. The only way to know is by visual cues. Moonlight Dancer holds a straight course on the wave. This is good! I turn downstream, punch through the waves and fall into innaqatsineq, before recovering to catch the eddy back.

During a strong flood current big whirlpools form. Warren says he’s been sucked into them up to his armpits. He developed a special roll to recover, which involves lying on the back deck, sculling to the surface, then flipping over to an innaqatsineq position, sculling up and recovering, similar to the “back deck” roll. The flood currents can really push you into the rocks so Warren will only take his Anas Acuta.


Back at Bowman Bay I take out and have lunch. Despite the lingering fog, the beach is filled with more people than I’ve ever seen here before. Warren stays in the water and practices rolls. He told me earlier that in flatwater he only practices hand rolls now, both forward and layback recovery. He says once you know those then everything else is "icing on the cake". He has literally a different twist on the forward recovery, which has eluded me despite a lot of practice. After capsizing he tucks forward but facing up until his face is just beneath the water, then unwinds his body in a powerful twist that scoops the kayak under him. I’ll have to try that with my norsaq tomorrow.

After lunch I get back in the water and try a few rolls myself. Then as I’m climbing back up the bank I see filmmaker Tom Sharp and Dubside! They’ve come to stop at the place where it all started: Bowman Bay, the location of the rolling and ropes videos. In fact, I first met Tom here when they were filming. Tom’s station wagon is packed and he’s just picked up Dubside for their trip to the Greenland National Kayaking Championships.  Their flight leaves tomorrow. We all say goodbye and good luck. One last thing: they leave me with a copy of the Greenland Rolling with Dubside DVD.  Awesome!