I've got a real treat for you! I spent all weekend cutting a little movie of my Greenland rolls. Thanks to my daughter for operating the camera (listen carefully and you can hear her humming in the background, trying to keep herself entertained). She was generously rewarded with a Starbucks Frappuccino. Ah, flat water and a foggy day, when there is no horizon where the sea meets the sky! I love the illusion of vast emptiness. A homemade skin boat and a wooden paddle. What more do you really need? Say what you want, that it's just parlor tricks, it's not sea kayaking, or that it's a fantastic waste of time. (Whatever you do, don't even suggest that it's part of Modern Sea Kayaking®). This is Greenland Style.
These days I go to work in the dark and (if I'm lucky) get out in time to enjoy the last hour of sunlight. While driving home today I finally decide I'm going to start paddling at night. I choose my usual route, to the light house and back. It is a beautiful evening. The water is perfectly still. First I paddle along close to the waterside houses. In the darkness your other senses are heightened. Odors from kitchens and laundry rooms mix with the smell of old wood piles and the sea. I hear the splash and barking of a distant harbor seal. By the light of the moon I can see the ripples on the water in front of me. I can't tell how fast I'm going. It feels slow then suddenly I'm closing in on a mooring buoy and then the silhouette of a old wooden fishing boat appears. The biolumenescence is out. My paddle stirs up white clouds. The crest of my bow wave glows. When I hit an especially bright spot the water sparkles.
Kayaking for me has always meant freedom. Why should I confine myself indoors after dark when there is still plenty of time left in the day? It sounds so scary, like what if something happens? No one will see me! The truth is you shouldn't fool yourself into thinking that anyone will actually see you in the daylight anyway, especially if you need help. You're always out there on your own, day or night.
I've read a few boatbuilding manuals over the last year. One of the things they say consistently is that building a boat can be a huge project. In order to get through it you have to break it down into several small managable steps. If you try to visualize the entire project you may be so overwhelmed by the enormity, you may never even get started. But by working steadily and consistently a little bit every day you will eventually get it done. Building a boat can be difficult, but cutting wood, spreading epoxy, painting and sanding are easy. Great things are accomplished one step at a time.
So what does that have to do with rolling? The pic is kingukkut tunusummillugu by the way. A year ago I would have never thought that I would be able to do some of the rolls I can do now. I don't feel like I've been training particularly hard at it, just getting in the water and having fun. I might go out for an hour at a time and feel like I didn't accomplish anything. It doesn't make for much of a workout. To make it worthwhile I'll try something new -- like taking a chance at that impossible roll. The process of learning a new roll for me goes something like this: First I practice capsizing in the setup position. After I get the capsize down (in those lightweight skin-on-frames, it actually can take a lot of twisting and sculling just to get under), then I'll try the sweep slowly, telling myself that it doesn't matter that I won't get up. I just want to practice the motion and avoid injuring myself. The recovery is simple -- it's going to be either laying back or leaning forward. From then on it's just a matter of trying it out with variations, like adding more power and adjusting the paddle position and the timing. Oh yeah, sometimes I'll review the roll on video in Rolling with Maligiaq or Greenland Rolling with Dubside or where ever I can find it on the internet. Then comes the moment when I'll get it for the very first time. That moment convinces me that it really isn't impossible. From then on it's just a matter of practice to be able to do it consistently.
I really believe video is a great way to examine and evaluate your rolling ability. If nothing else you'll find out quickly if you have any unsightly mannerisms like slouching, picking your nose, or spitting in the water. After all, rolling is not kayaking (to repeat that phrase I've so often heard) -- it's actually performance art, so you gotta look good! Isn't that the whole point?
I thought I'd share this video clip of my rudimentary elbow roll (oops, I mean, ikusaannarmik pukusuk patillugu). I do it in two parts. Can you balance brace with your hand on the back of your head? Well, then you are halfway there! I roll to a balance brace, then slither onto the back deck. What I need to work on is less slithering and more hipsnap for that second half.
Today's paddle: I left from Thea's Landing and paddled along the Tacoma waterfront. It was totally flat water and very industrial, but there were a lot of rotting piles and docks to play around and practice bow rudders and hanging draws.
Thea's Landing Park is named after Thea Christiansen Foss, founder of the Foss Maritime Company, the largest tugboat company on the West Coast. She started the business in 1889 with a rowboat she purchased for $5 from a fisherman down on his luck.
There are very few things that we really own in this lifetime. It’s more like we rent and borrow. I find myself always giving away old toys, clothes, furniture, home electronics, books, and selling off kayaks. If I haven’t used something in the past year, then I start questioning whether I really need it. A few days ago I finally sold our Pygmy Osprey Triple. I had plans of taking the it out again with the kids in the San Juans for another summertime tour, camping on the outer islands and looking for whales. After a lot of frustration trying to get them in it even for a little day trip at the neighborhood beach, I finally admitted to myself that they were not at all interested. We don’t even own our kids -- they are definitely their own persons. It’s hard to let go of the memories and dreams of what might have been. Oh well, at least it went to a good family who I expect will get a lot of enjoyment out of it, instead of sitting forlorn in the driveway. It was another successful Craigslist transaction by the way, sold in 18 days. Unfortunately, I heard that they’ll start charging for that service in the near future. [PICS: captured frames from the video of the first time launching the triple]
Getting rid of your stuff every once in a while helps to become less attached to material things and let go of the past. That leads me to a discussion of the Sunk Cost Fallacy. Sunk Cost is the cost that has been incurred that is irretrievable. Economists say that since the sunk cost cannot be recovered it shouldn’t play a part in rational decision making. Just as an example, let’s say I’ve invested a lot, both financially and emotionally, in preparing to take the kids on a long summer kayak tour. But there are still a number of expenses that need to be taken care of, such as proper kayak outfitting and extra camping gear. When it starts to become clear that they really don’t want to go, I have to make a choice between sinking more money into the hopeless project or giving it up entirely. Economics proposes that the fact that I’ve already spent a lot of resources on the project should have nothing to do with my decision. Realistically, humans do not behave in that rational manner. Instead, after investing a lot into a project, they tend to be more optimistic that the project will succeed (known as the “overly optimistic probability bias”), and sometimes, just continue on in order to save face. They also fall into the Sunk Cost Fallacy, continuing on in order not to “waste” the resources already spent on a failing project, even though doing so means sinking more money into a hole. That was just one example -- maybe not the best one because I can and did recover some of my cost by selling stuff on Craigslist. This flawed decision making occurs all the time, and partly is resposible for cost overruns in big government projects. I bet you can think of some good examples.
The other day Dick and I did an experiment with a kayak he has been keeping in storage for the past few years. This is the Evolution#1, an 18ft long high volume fast expedition kayak constructed from plywood over a minimal internal frame. It was made by "Blazing Aspen Kayaks" in Olympia, and I think the builder has moved on to other pursuits. Although he named it Evolution#1 I'm not aware that there are any more of them and it may be a one off. It weighs 45 lbs and used to be painted red, but now is green with some areas left bright finished. Below the waterline the hull is coated with a very tough abrasion resistant black epoxy/silica/graphite mixture. It has hard chines and is concave between the chines and the keelson (like the old Anas Acuta), so it simulates the shape of a skin-on-frame hull in the water.
Dick brought the Evolution#1 to me to have a small hole in the rear bulkhead repaired (caused by forcing some gear into the aft compartment) and to test it out with some water ballast. The reason he hasn't been using it is because it feels very tender empty. If it still didn't feel stable after the ballast then he was prepared to put it up for sale on Craigslist.
Dick got seven mylar bags free from his local Starbucks. When completely filled with water each bag weighs 12 lbs. They are difficult to fill completely, even with a hose, so the total added weight was probably around 70-80 pounds. Success! They made an incredible difference in stability. It still didn't turn very well but we both felt like we could have paddled it all day.
The day after his wife disappeared in a kayaking accident, an
Anchorage man answered his door to find two grim-faced Alaska State
Troopers. "We're sorry Mr. Wilkens, but we have some information
about your wife," said one trooper.
"Tell me! Did you find her?" Wilkens asked nervously.
The troopers looked at each other… Then one said, "We have some bad
news, some good news, and some really great news. Which do you want
to hear first?"
Fearing the worst, an ashen Mr. Wilkens said, "Give me the bad news
The trooper said, "I'm sorry to tell you, sir, but this morning we
found your wife's body in Kachemak Bay."
"Oh my God!" exclaimed Wilkens. Swallowing hard, he asked, "What's
the good news?"
The trooper continued, "When we pulled her up she had 12 twenty-five
pound king crabs and 6 good-size Dungeness crabs clinging to her."
Stunned, Mr. Wilkens demanded, "If that's the good news, what's the
The trooper said, "We're going to pull her up again tomorrow."
I just wanted to post this picture, graciously sent to me from the folks at the Gig Harbor Peninsula Historical Society and Museum. Please send them a donation of your choosing. But I also want to say that in the wake of the recent Qajaq USA thread about BCU Gordon Brown's inflammatory statement that "there is no place in modern sea kayaking" for those "lollipopstick" Greenland paddles, I am left questioning where I fit. You wonder if those Brits would try to purchase the rights to the very term "Sea Kayak" if they could. Their paddling expertise is matched only by their arrogance! Fine. We can just call ourselves postmodern sea kayakers (credit to Ben Fuller who proposed the term), paddlers who merge modern materials with traditional design, reconciling the past with the present. It is a very entertaining thread, by the way, with Gordon Brown himself responding.
There is no work for me today so I pack up early and drive north to Deception Pass in the dark. Unfortunately, in order to get up there I have to drive through the heart of Seattle at rush hour. The traffic turns what is usually a two-hour trip into three hours. But I get to Bowman Bay in time: I’ll make it to the Pass for the 10:52 6.3 knot ebb. The beach is empty. No one here I know. Did I misread the tidal current table? The water looks so smooth -- totally slack. No problem. I’m just killing time anyway. I paddle along the cliffs exploring every little nook and cranny. Hey, I’m rock gardening. Look – it’s a sea arch!
* * *
“You’ve never seen this before? It’s bull kelp,” I said. “I’ve heard you can eat it. Some people will boil it and eat it in pasta.”
I pulled off a leaf and bit into it. It wasn’t as salty as I thought it would be, rather, crisp and mild, like cabbage.
Dubside didn’t try it. He just held a leaf in his hand and picked at it.
* * *
After paddling at the Pass a few times it’s difficult to get too excited about paddling in flat water. The water here is so alive. As I paddle I watch a whirlpool form and then break up into smaller whirlpools, and finally turn into a boil. I play in Canoe Pass, facing against the current and maneuvering with stern rudders and hanging draws, rolling in the waves.
Later I haul out and sit on a small pebble beach against a driftwood log. These moments are what I like about touring, even though this is just a little day trip: sitting with my legs outstretched on the sand, briney, wet and tired from paddling, sipping water and nibbling on a stale Clif bar with the warm sun on my face. Priceless.