Previous month:
October 2006
Next month:
December 2006

Jack London and a Fish Story

Asl_g420_l93v68_lutke-crop2I found a real internet treasure:  Short stories on The World of Jack London site.  I haven’t had time to browse the whole site but I found one interesting story with a baidarka in it called Nam-Bok, the Unveracious. It’s not too sympathetic to pre-contact Native Alaskans.  They are depicted as a backward, ignorant, closed-minded, superstitious, and wretched people.  Well, it was written in 1902.  Another entertaining story is Small Boat Sailing.  After reading that I’m really inspired to build that sailboat I’ve been planning.

*   *   *

I finally worked up the energy to scrape the snow off the qajaq and go for a paddle this afternoon.  The cold and dark and snow are paralyzing.  I miss summer but remind myself that kayaks are arctic craft.  The wind churned up the water over the past couple days.  Today however it was dead calm so it would have been a shame not to go out.  The most dangerous part was walking to the water on the icy road wearing slippery neoprene booties.  Logs littered the narrow beach – big ones still tied together with rusty cables and entire trees torn fresh from crumbling bluffs.  I paddled around the pier giving the sole fisherman wide berth and headed for the lighthouse.  I decided not to practice any rolls today.

During the weekend at Neah Bay, Leon taught us the “cross deck bow jam”, which I practiced today.  If I recall correctly it goes something like this:  Work up some speed.  Place a blade against the opposite side of the kayak at the bow (with the power face against the gunwale, if using a Euroblade... I think), and slide it down the side of the kayak into the water.  Angle the blade so that the rear edge is away from the kayak.  This maneuver turns the bow away from the paddle side - very effective with a Greenland paddle.  After you’ve tried it a few times combine it with a sweep and edging to start the turn before initiating the bow jam.  But hold on tight because it can create a very powerful turn.  I find it even more effective than a bow rudder.  I wish I had a picture of it.  You’ll find a description of the bow jam in the BCU Handbook in the canoe skills section.

As I was paddling along the state park beach I saw a salmon, lazily swimming along the bottom.  It wasn’t startled at all by me and I followed it closely, coaxing it into even shallower water.  When I was in about a foot deep I just reached down quickly and grabbed its tail.  I didn’t have hold of it very long before it thrashed out of my gloved hands.  It must have been 20 inches long!  If I had some kind of spear I definitely would have caught it.  Oh well, I don’t even eat fish anyway!

Spielberg and Seamanship 101

Jaws4I watched Jaws the other day with my son for the first time in several years.  Fun movie.   It was the film that kept from swimming in the deep part of my grandmother's swimming pool when I was 11.  I told my son beforehand that shark attacks are extremely rare worldwide, and unheard of in this part of North America.  I would have liked to tell him that no great white shark has ever been spotted in Puget Sound, but I would be wrong.   In December 2002, Bob Salatino saw a 20 ft great white shark while fishing off Point Defiance.  In fact, it jumped up out of the water chasing the flasher on the end of his line while he was in his 16 ft boat.  Scary!  Experts have assured the public that a shark in these waters is a rare anomaly.

Jaws2Jaws1One thing I love about Spielberg films is the verisimilitude, the depth of research that goes into the details.  Did you ever listen closely to the background chatter that goes on in the scene in ET where the extraterrestrial dies?   It is a very accurate portrayal of the resuscitation protocol for cardiac arrest (modified a little for a space alien, of course).  Back then other filmmakers really didn't care if they got it right -- only health care professionals would notice anyway.  In Close Encounters of the Third Kind Spielberg hired UFO expert J. Allen Hynek as a consultant, and no other major motion picture since has more accurately portrayed the state-of-the-art of ufology, except maybe The X-Files series.  Hey, I'm really dating myself here talking about all my favorite old movies!

Another example from Jaws: on the deleted scenes I found an interesting shot with a guy sitting on the dock coiling a line around his arm.  He was conspicuously placed in the middle of the frame.  In this scene a crowd of people are hurrying get on the water to kill the shark for a $3000 reward.  What was the whole point of this deleted shot?  Well, one of the first things I learned on my first sailing lesson was how to coil a line.  My friend and instructor told me, a sailor coils "with the sun", that is,  in the direction the sun travels, I think.  Don't ask me why.  It's important to slightly rotate the line with one hand so that it lies neatly and doesn't twist into a figure eight.  He also told me that whatever you do, absolutely do not coil it around your arm like a farm boy!  I think the whole point of that shot was to demonstrate how lubberly these amateur fishermen were.  Only sailors would understand the reference though.

Jaws3_1One last thing: I don't know if it's his salty language, reckless nature, or refusal to wear a lifejacket, but that crusty old fisherman Quint sure reminds me of Warren for some reason!  ;-)

Point Defiance to Quartermaster Harbor

Quartermasterharbor3Paddled from Owen Beach at Point Defiance to Burton Acres Park on Vashon Island today with the local traditional paddling gang.  The forecast predicted rain and snow but we were blessed with pale, cold sunlight.  Distance 13 mn round trip, averaging 3.6 knots according to Mike's GPS.  A pleasant alternative to the holiday's orgy of consumption.Quartermasterharbor4Quartermasterharbor1

Keeping Out Of Trouble

DeeptroubleOne of my favorite kayaking books, and one of the books I highly recommend to any sea kayaker, is Deep Trouble: True Stories and Their Lessons, by Matt Broze and George Gronseth.  It’s a compilation of incident reports published in Sea Kayaker magazine, harrowing stories of death and near death by blunt force injury, drowning, and hypothermia, especially interesting for me because so many of the cases occurred right here in the Pacific Northwest.  Thumbing through it now I realize that a lot of what I first learned about sea kayaking safety probably came from that book. Nothing teaches a lesson like a gripping story of a trip gone horribly wrong.  I’d like to see more of these incident report compilations.  Isn’t anyone out there ready to write Deep Trouble 2?

It’s probably not easy to collect these stories.  Understandably, people are reluctant to talk about lapses in their judgment and report near misses, injuries and deaths.  The situation that our 4-star class found itself in last April, dealing with an acute coronary event on the water, would have made an exemplary incident management story worthy of Sea Kayaker Magazine.  I haven’t heard of any plans to write it up though.

Early in my private practice I wrote a case report describing a very rare life threatening malfunction of oxygen supply lines that occurred in our community hospital.  It was actually a classic anesthesia complication with a new twist.  The premier anesthesia journal immediately accepted it.  I received my issue in the mail just before a department meeting and I proudly arrived with the copy in hand.  “Look, guys!”  I said.  “We’re famous!”  Well, the word got around to the hospital CEO and he wasn’t thrilled.  He called my partner and coauthor into his office that day for a good thrashing that was also meant for me.  Corporate boneheads!  They have no appreciation for scientific publication or for promoting the safety of medicine.  All they care about is the bottom line and liability.  Civilization does not advance on greed and fear, fools!

I wonder if there is a certain profile for kayakers who get into incidents.  Is it beginners who lack basic instruction, intermediate paddlers who know just enough to get themselves into trouble, or advanced paddlers who pursue it?  Chris Cunningham wrote an editorial in Sea Kayaker a while back describing the Risk Homeostasis Theory which seems to be making rounds in the kayak literature, yet is not much more than a controversial unproven hypothesis.   The theory basically states that individuals have an inbuilt target level of acceptable risk which does not change.  The consequence is that as your kayak training advances, you will paddle in more challenging conditions so that the level of risk you are exposed to remains the same.  It’s hard to believe that as I learn more, a feedback mechanism kicks in which encourages riskier behavior.  And as I understand it, the theory applies to one’s entire life activities, so as I become a safer kayaker, I might take greater risks using the tablesaw or something like that.  Maybe the theory is plausible because it actually applies to the small segment of highly skilled kayakers who train solely for purpose of pushing their limits in extreme conditions.  If you're on the water primarily because you like touring, camping, photography, birdwatching, fishing, racing, or boatbuilding, and actually stay home during Small Craft Advisories, don’t worry – the theory doesn’t apply to you.


Who are the people in your neighborhood?

DashpointwomenOne afternoon in the summer while I was on the water but not far from the neighborhood fishing pier I saw a sloop approach from across the channel.  It sailed in very close to the pier, which was a little alarming.  It came about just before the pier and a young woman jumped off and started swimming to the beach as the boat sailed away and all the guys on board waved to her.  I paddled up to her and asked what was going on.  She said that was how she had gotten on the sailboat earlier in the day, swimming, since they didn’t have a dinghy.  She said she was OK swimming, really, and that she lives in the green house across the street. (Hmmm, I guess sailors do have more fun!)

During one of the beautiful last days of autumn when the days started to get shorter but before the Pacific Northwest Gloom set in I was out paddling and saw another kayaker in a short green plastic boat.  She was paddling slowly and would occasionally stop and look like she was talking to a seal.  It turned out that there was another woman in a full body wetsuit swimming along side her.  She said she had never done this before and usually kept to shallow water, but this time I think they were trying to swim out to the Brown’s Point lighthouse.  That was Terry and Janet.

The same day as I approached the beach I saw a man, woman, and two small boys in a little wooden rowboat.  It was a newly completed Pygmy stitch and glue wineglass wherry on her first voyage.  That family lives just up the hill.

There is a retired Texas oilman who lives on one of the houses just off the public beach.  His hobby is pole vaulting.  I’m guessing he’s in his 70s. 

*   *   *   

This neighboorhood dates back to the turn of the century.  Most of the activity on Dash Point back then involved the amusement and sports of picnickers from Tacoma.  People would rent row boats from the Foss Launch Company to make an afternoon visit or even an overnight stay.

In the summer of 1927 the residents started the annual Dash Point Dock Dinner:

It was called a "Hoop-Te-Doo" and for a few years was an in-community festivity. After Roy Allen donated the materials and the labor for a 40-foot high dive and 15-foot springboard, the dock dinner took on a water carnival atmosphere. By 1934 the range of activities at the various dinners included diving demonstrations, swimming races, boat racing, pole walking, tugs-of-war, a bathing beauty contest, and a dance in the hall. In 1936 the dock dinner was expanded to a two day event and added to the main events were a street dance and band concert. The dock dinners were held every year until 1940 when everyone's way of life was interrupted by World War II.

A spectacular and very beautiful custom was adopted by the Dash Point residents during the 1920s. The Community Club purchased Japanese lanterns and candles which were placed along the dock and on the porches of homes lining the beach. During the summer all lanterns were lit from dusk (when the last waves of the steamer hit the beach) until 11 p.m. This practice lasted for almost 10 years and was a very beautiful sight to behold.

[From the Points Northeast Historical Society]


Stormtroopers_1Bullmanbeach3The marine weather forecast at the west entrance to the Strait of Juan de Fuca:

West wind 10-20 knots, rising to 15 to 25 knots in the afternoon.  West swell 11 ft at 14 seconds.  Wind waves 1-3 ft rising to 2-4 ft later today.  Showers likely.  Chance of Thunderstorms.

Bullmanbeach2We sit in a room at the Bullman Beach Inn while our instructor Matt writes on a whiteboard placed against the wall.  He's drawn a big target on on the board with an outer green circle representing “Go”, an inner yellow circle representing “Go With Caution” and a central red circle representing “No Go”.  This is risk assessment.  For the wind he places a dot in the red center.  We keep listing individual factors (wind, swell, surf, currents, tides, group ability, etc.) and placing dots where we think they belong on the target until we arrive at a scattergram which graphically depicts what our decision should be.  All the while we occasionally glance out a large window overlooking the sea and watch the surf on the beach grow bigger.

MattinsurfA strong Pacific storm rolled over Washington this weekend, resulting in continued flooding, ferry cancellations and delays, and the first ever cancellation of the Head of the Lake Regatta in Seattle, a 26-year-old event billed as the largest fall rowing regatta west of the Mississippi.  According to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer:

GroupWinds churned up 2- to 5- foot swells in Lake Washington and Lake Union, making conditions unsafe for rowing, regatta director Ben Porter said.

Two to 5 ft swell on Lake Union?  Yeah, right! It just goes to show you that everyone tends to overestimate wave height.

We carry our fully-loaded kayaks to the narrow beach.  Gee, the surf sure looks a lot bigger up close!  Someone spots the barnacle-encrusted back of a gray whale surfacing.  There are some huge waves that break farther out on a reef, and maybe a small area beyond the immediate surf zone that is consistently free of breaking waves.  Leon Sommé sends Matt out to see what it’s like.  He breaks out and makes it back in OK but it’s not pretty.  So that’s definitely a “No Go”.  It’s a bit of a disappointment because for most of us getting more surf zone experience in this class is top priority.  But tomorrow we’ll get another chance.  We load up the kayaks on the cars for a trip to the protected harbor at Neah Bay.

LeonskayakTowingThis is my second time taking the Body Boat Blade BCU 4-Star training course.  The first time was last April.  Hopefully it’s not as if I’m picking up where I left off in the spring, because I haven’t practiced any towing, rescues, navigation or much journeying since then.  My goal this time was to try out my Greenland paddles in rough conditions, try out a Romany, and get more comfortable in surf.  I’m also playing BCU stormtrooper and testing out the items in my upgraded kit.  My oversized Kokatat cag comes in handy as we sit on the beach and have lunch in the middle of a thunderstorm.  We had almost gone out into the harbor just before the lightning started to strike. 

PaddlesignalsThe thunderstorm passes.  We get on the water and warm up surfing the 1 ft waves in the harbor.  It’s amazing how much energy is contained in such small waves -- it might turn out to be the best surfing all weekend.  We proceed to towing and rock garden exercises, and then paddle out into open water to watch huge swells break across the reef. Shawna Franklin finds the wreck of an old plywood kayak on the rocks.

While paddling into the wind Matt asks me if he could try my Superior Carbon Greenland paddle.  I trade for his crooked shaft Werner Ikelos.  How am I supposed to hold that thing?  I mean, where do I put my hands?  I figure it out after a few minutes, at least enough to go forward.  It feels so light, with significantly less grip on the water compared to the GP.  Matt remarks how little windage the Superior GP has and also how it seems to have quite a bit of bite, “almost like a wing blade".  What a surprise!  I felt like I was able to get plenty of acceleration with the GP, but when towing it tended to slip and ventilate.  I learned to avoid this by putting the power gradually during the stroke, in the middle rather than early on.  I wonder how much difference there is between the Ikelos and the GP in their tendency to slip under increasing loads.

BullmanbeachRomanysThe Romany feels good.  It’s very maneuverable and easy to keep on edge.  I’m not used to the high deck though and I tend to bump it occasionally with my Greenland paddle.  The hard fiberglass seat is amazingly comfortable for all day paddling and I find that I’m not even using the backrest.  I would definitely get one with a bulkhead footrest instead of adjustable footrests though.  Of course I’m partial to wood, but I admit that there is beauty in brightly-colored plastic set against the big swells of a dark ocean and the angry gray sky.

Macs and PCs

Macandpc7Despite a forecast of winds up to 40 knots and 4 ft waves it turned out to be a nice weekend – overcast but dry, calm, and unseasonably warm.  Not everyone wanted it that way though.  I got together Sunday with seven guys from the Sea Kayak Skill Building Northwest (SKSB-NW), Warren and Brian Schulz to play in the flood at Deception Pass.  Brian had driven up 7 hours from Manzanita just to try out Warren’s baidarkas in preparation for another grand expedition.  He specifically wanted to try them out in the wind, but there wasn’t any.  I was happy though, not having had any experience in the flood current.  I didn’t really want to deal with wind against current phenomena and any other kind of associated ugliness in addition to navigating around an unfamiliar seascape.

I had changed my mind about the trip a few times the day before.  The forecast was nasty but the weather out the window looked nothing like the gale that was predicted.  Friends told me that it was very windy at the Pass and even Dubside bailed after hearing the forecast.  I had asked him earlier if he was interested in driving up with me.  He told me that Shawna and Leon from Body Boat Blade had cancelled their Deception Pass class the day before.  In addition, his Feathercraft Wisper needed repairs.  He had spent all the previous day in Seattle trying to get some plastic to manufacture a new frame. So I had cancelled the trip and then changed my mind.

How many times did I ever make it to a beach or get on the water then cancel my trip because of conditions?  Never, I think.  I must not be pushing my limits enough.

Macandpc6I showed up at Bowman Bay and the SKSB guys were all there in their Romanys, Explorers, and Poseidons, chatting about their latest trip to Anglesey to get their 5-Star.   As they paddled off I stayed and waited for Warren with Brian.  Warren finally showed up but I headed out alone, anxious to get going and knowing that he and Brian would quickly catch up with me.  The SKSB guys were on the other side of Canoe Pass, a narrow channel which turns sharply around Pass Island.  I rode the current in.  The water was comfortably flat but it pushed right into a  sheer rock cliff.  That cliff made me uneasy.   I had visions of being sucked into it, capsizing and being dragged upside down along the rocks.  Maybe more than wind and waves I worry about colliding with rocks and other kayakers, a concern especially in this narrow channel.  It turned out that the water didn't behave like that at all: once I got right up to the cliff it boiled up, stopped me and pushed me away.  I would catch the eddy and paddle back to Pass Island, get in line and catch my breath to punch out again.

Macandpc2Someone yelled that a couple other kayaks were coming through the pass when Warren and Brian showed up in the baidarkas.  They played around awhile before Warren approached me and said, "Doesn't this remind you of those Mac and PC commercials?"  (By the way, my favorite of the ads is the one about making home movies, titled Better Results.) 

People can feel very strongly about their choice of computers.  Do you consider yourself a Mac or a PC person?  Did you switch at some point in your life?  Or can you honestly say you enjoy using both?   I've always been a Mac user and have had to endure the taunts and oppression of the PC majority for a large part of my life -- you know the type, the guys who talk endlessly about the speed of their CPU and size of their hard drive, but really don't do anything with their computers and don't have a creative bone in their body.  The last thing I want is to see the same phenomenon happen in sea kayaking between BCU-style (aka "Modern Sea Kayakers") and Greenland Style traditionalists. 

Macandpc5I think Warren's point is, like a Mac, sea kayaking can be more user friendly.  So at the risk of stirring up controversy and maybe even offending some people, I'll make a small list of what I personally don't like about the BCU approach.

First thing, is too much kit.

Macandpc1Warren is a kayaking minimalist.  I think the only extra gear he carries is a spare paddle.  No helmet, no PFD.  He says his tuilik provides plenty of extra floatation.  Is he crazy?  It is certainly quite a contrast with the recommended BCU kit, which to quote the  handbook, includes "at close hand and available at short notice the following: map and compass, some form of shelter, basic first aid kit, basic repair kit, hot drink, whistle, towing system, spare food, flares, spare paddles.  Elsewhere in the kayak the following should also be carried (for when you are ashore): lunch, both food and drink, comprehensive first aid kit, comprehensive repair kit, torch, dry warm clothing and shoes, money for phone, food or drink."  Some might add to that sunglasses, sun block, lip salve, pogies/gloves, and a VHF radio.  "The equipment that is carried does not vary too much whether you are intending to go out for a day trip or a multi-day tour."  I was amazed when Leon Sommé first showed me all the kit he kept in his Explorer, clothes and food for an unplanned night stay in the wilderness and this amazing stuff called Denso Tape.  I admit if I ever got stuck on an island and was dying of hypothermia I'd like to be paddling with someone who carried all that stuff, but I personally don't want to pack like that for every little trip even if I could fit it all in my kayak.

Macandpc4Secondly, those Brit boats are too damn heavy!  They have to be because they have to withstand being dropped in the water with so much kit!  Having seen them crushed against the rocks, I can tell you that all that fiberglass doesn't make them indestructible.  Which would you rather have anyway, an 80 pound fiberglass kayak (including gear) crushing your head against the shore in surf, or a flexible 30 pound fabric-covered skinboat?  I'm just guessing at the weight of the fiberglass boat.  Funny thing, Sea Kayaking UK doesn't even publish the weight of their boats on their website.  Could it be that they don't want you to know?

When I got tired of waiting for the flood current to die down Sunday so we could start paddling home, I just climbed up onto the rocky shore and portaged across the rocks.  I can't say that it was very elegant, stumbling around with a kayak on my head, but with a 29 pound boat, it was possible.

Lastly, not enough emphasis on rolling skills.  Did you know that Gordon Brown devotes one paragraph to rolling in his Sea Kayaking chapter in the BCU handbook?  A couple guys capsized and missed their rolls Sunday. Not a big deal because they are so efficient at rescues, but there is room for improvement there.  In fact, I think traditional paddlers should definitely practice more of those rescues, since they are so much more difficult with a flooded skinboat and an ocean cockpit.