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November 2006
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January 2007

Ahoy to the World!

Christmasship5Christmasship6Seattle Raft and Kayak hosted a paddle to see The Christmas Ship tonight and listen to the Vivace! Cathedrals Choir.   SRK has been in business for at least a couple years, but I didn't find out about them until they hosted the Deception Pass Dash the other weekend.  Their shop is in a convenient location on Lake Washington with lots of storage and parking space, but a little difficult to find unless you know exactly where to look.  Now I know where to get a decent helmet.  Another cool thing: their resident kayak builder Pete makes Pygmy kayaks to order.  It's about time someone tried making some money doing that!  One word of advice, Pete: skin-on-frame boats go together much faster and I understand the profit margin is bigger too.

Christmasship2The Christmas Ship has been a tradition in my own neighborhood, but I've never watched the concert on the water before.  People gather on the Dash Point beach and set their folding chairs up around a bonfire.   We don't get nearly as many boats following The Christmas Ship as they do on Lake Washington.  Tonight there was a big parade of lighted ships.  It stopped where a crowd was gathered at O. O. Denny Park.   Our little group of ten kayaks harrassed the drunken boaters on the power yachts for free beer (I scored a can of Bud Light).  We rafted up and passed around a flask, then weaved around the boats during the concert.  How could I even think of passing this up to do some last minute Christmas shopping?  What a beautiful night!

Merry Christmas!


Surviving the Storm

FlappyWe made it through Friday’s storm OK.  Even the canopy I set up in the backyard survived the 60 mph gusts (no, I did not attempt to paddle in it).  The canopy is a 10 x 20 ft tent I put up so I could empty out the garage of kayaks and tools.  I wanted to use the garage space to build a little sailboat, but as it turned out we needed the space for all the furniture we cleared of out of basement, which started to flood during the last storm… It’s a long story. 

After listening to the wind blow all night we woke up Friday morning and had no power.  I managed to drive to work through a maze of fallen trees and crowded blacked-out intersections.  Over a million people lost power.  People have been striken with carbon monoxide poisoning while heating their homes with charcoal briquettes, and have set their houses on fire using candles.  Half of our own neighborhood is still in the dark, and will be bracing against the plummeting temperature tonight.  The other half squander precious electricity on Christmas lights and giant inflatable penguins.  Oh, the injustice of it all!

It was very pleasant being at work, so I lingered long after my work was done, having coffee and browsing the Internet.  Just about everyone on staff had lost power at home so people took turns taking hot showers.  I killed time thumbing through an issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine in the lounge.  The editorial was very interesting.  It started out:

It’s a good time to be a boater.  An activity that not long ago required substantial expertise and experience is today accessible to just about anyone with the requisite finances.  Major barriers like accurate positioning, reliable communications, and easy short-handed maneuvering have been overcome, thanks to advances in engineering and technology.  Indeed there are few real challenges left… 

It went on to talk about how the last barrier to carefree boating was how to get your spouse or significant other interested in the boat.  Hey, there are some things all boat owners have in common!

If you ever get a chance to look through Power & Motoryacht it’s easy to get the idea that the phrase “just about anyone with the requisite finances” must refer to the super rich, because those fiberglass and steel monsters featured in the magazine aren’t so much boats as they are floating luxury condominiums for the corporate elite.

I found it funny because recently I started a subscription to WoodenBoat magazine.  The editorial in this month’s issue, titled “A Grounding in the Past” talked about the importance of traditional navigational skills, such as using a sextant, almanac, and sight reduction tables: 

It is cheering to see that as technology zooms ahead leaving some of us bewildered, some technocrats are looking back and acknowledging that traditional skills are not irrelevant.  I believe that this backward look is not a matter of mere nostalgia.  After all, captains of large commercial or military vessels are not noted for their tendency to dwell in cloudland…

The articles in WoodenBoat are typically about launching classic boats that some old geezer has spent the last 10 years restoring. 

The modern and the traditional.  Although motor yachters and wooden boat sailors might share the same ocean (and same problems dealing with significant others), it otherwise seems like they don’t live in the same universe.  It brings up the question of why one goes into boating (or sea kayaking) in the first place. 

Personally, I like building kayaks, which I believe is a worthwhile pursuit in and of itself, even if you hardly ever paddle, although learning as much as you can about paddling in all kinds of conditions will probably help you build better boats.  We all have our own reasons.  As long as safety is not an issue, I respect the reasons of others to choose to pursue whatever aspect of sea kayaking they are interested in, and resist those that would like to narrowly define it, make it exclusive and impose hierarchical control.  Who is to say what “serious” sea kayaking (or even “Greenland style”) really is?  I personally don’t even like calling it a “sport”.

I’ll probably always be building small boats, and the more traditional the better.  The WoodenBoat author said it best: “Traditional methods are just plain more fun.  We enjoy what we have worked for more than what has merely been given to us.” 

*   *   *

By the way, here is a real internet treasure:  Bowditch – the American Practical Navigator.  I first heard about the book when Shawna and Leon brought a copy to 4-Star training.  At 550 pages it’s an impressive tome that contains everything.  And I really mean everything.  It is available in its entirety as pdf online!

Sleeper Cell

PoolTonight: a rare look at Dubside’s boot camp for the Greenland Style Revolutionary Front.  Twelve long boats in a pool.  The lifeguards don't suspect anything.  Prominent members of the sea kayaking world are present  - their identities will not be revealed.  We train under cover of the night.

At the appointed hour everyone lines their boats up side by side.  Dubside stands at the edge of the pool and barks out orders in Greenlandic: “Paatip kallua tuermillugu illuinnarmik!”

“What did he say? I can’t hear anything with this tuilik on!”

We have trouble deciphering the code, but attempt to perform the maneuver anyway.  Dubside keeps score.

Afterwards, we disperse and regroup at an undisclosed location.  This is Headquarters.  The entrance is hidden in a quiet corner off an ordinary street – a nondescript door marked only with a Qajaq USA sticker.  The kayaks on our cars threaten to expose us.  We park in the church parking lot nearby.

It’s a spartan room.  A Feathercraft Kahuna hangs from the ceiling.  A collection of norsaqs are arranged along a wall, like guns on a rack.  In the corner is an iMac – the propaganda machine stamping out copies of Greenland Rolling with Dubside, a thousand mind-bombs delivered by priority mail.

We sit on balance boards and watch videos of Greenland, from Greenland.  There is talk about upcoming operations: a sortie to Florida, Spain, possibly Iceland.  There are no frontiers in this struggle.  Other nations of the world summon Dubside's modest efforts.  He exports revolution.

Someone mentions Gordon Brown.  This is followed by a curse, and two minutes of hate.  Brown has called for the disenfranchisement of members of The Movement.  While sympathy for our populist cause continues to grow, so does worldwide British hegemony.  It is inevitable that the two will clash. 

Down to business.  Dubside tabulates our scores on a whiteboard.  The total is 51 points for the team.  At least three people in the group must perform the roll correctly for the roll to count.  Next time we’ll do better.  It’s a difficult struggle, fighting a revolution, especially one financed by selling T-shirts and DVDs.

We exchange critical data: a DVD and a videotape.  Finally, I deliver a black parcel from our contact in the south, a copy of the new Manifesto.

“Thanks, comrade.  It's a beautiful text -- truly a great leap forward.” 

Mission accomplished.

The Little Baidarka That Could

Dpdash7Dpdash5I entered my first kayak race Sunday, the first annual Deception Pass Dash, courtesy of Seattle Raft and Kayak.  It’s good to have an event in December to look forward to, other than floating around the Lake Union houseboats singing Christmas carols at night (although I must admit it was pretty fun the last time I did that). 

At Sunday noon about 40 racers meet at Bowman Bay.  The route is posted on a poster-sized chart: start at Bowman Bay, paddle counterclockwise around Deception Island, through the Pass, then counterclockwise around Strawberry Island…

Hey, wait a minute!  "I didn’t know we were going around Strawberry Island!" I say.

“Yeah”, someone says to me.  “Five nautical miles total.  We should be back here in an hour.”

I get a sinking feeling.  I’ve never been around Strawberry Island.

I unload Moonlight Dancer from the car. 

“Are you racing in that?

I sense a hint of incredulity.  “Well, yeah.”  I say.

“Pretty boat.  What’s with the funny bow?”

A bunch of racers have carried their surfskis to the beach and are already on the water.  Warren is there with his Arctic Hawk SS.  “Whoa!  Did you see that?" he says.  "Those guys are FAST!”

I suit up.  I’m going to get hot, I think.  I put on my drysuit, sprayskirt, PFD, hat and glasses.  I walk around but I’m still cold.  I decide I better put on more fleece.  I take everything off again.

Dpdash6Dpdash3It's high noon.  They call a meeting for racers.  The race starts at 1:00.  They tell us the starting line will be between the end of the dock and the first mooring buoy.  There will be a five minute warning of five short whistle blows, a two minute warning of two whistle blows, then the signal for the start will be one long blow.

I get on the water to warm up.  I see Henry Romer in his Anas Acuta.

“Why didn’t you bring your skin-on-frame, Henry?”  I ask.  “The other day when you had it I couldn’t keep up with you.”

“There’s always a possibility it could get hairy out there,” he says.

Dpdash4People start to get positioned along the line.  Dubside can’t resist doing qaannap ataatigut ipilaarlugu while waiting in line.  Leon Sommé is in the front cockpit of a NDK Triton with a big smile on his face, squirting people with a water cannon.  I hear two whistle blows.  Was that the two minute signal?  What happened to the five-minute warning?

“Hey, guys, what kind of paddles are those?”  someone asks.

“Greenland paddles!” I say.

One long whistle blast.  Water splashes.  A mad rush of adrenaline.  Quick – draft behind the double! The wake pushes me sideways.  Don’t slow down just keep going! I edge to track straight, just inches from kayaks on either side of me.  I can’t imagine keeping up this pace for 5 miles.  Just keep it up until the island…

Earlier Warren asked me what my strategy was going to be.  Strategy?  How about go as fast as you can?

We make it through the kelp beds and around Deception Island.  The Pass comes into view.  Now I feel a headwind.  Someone has paddled way off to the south, maybe trying to get in the lee of the land, or make use of the remnants of the flood current.  It looks slack to me.  Warren is way ahead, off to the north.  What is he doing?  He must know something – this is his backyard.   

After two miles I’m warmed up and feel like I’ve hit my cruising speed.  Someone in a Mariner Express HV inches up behind me. 

“Beautiful kayak,” he says.


He passes me.  It doesn’t look like he’s working hard at all.  I try to draft behind him as long as I can.  Occasionally he glances back.  He speeds up.  I think he’s trying to shake me.  Eventually I fall behind.

In this race the slower you go, the slower you go.  As you make your way into the Pass, the ebb continues to build, slowing you down and pushing you further behind.  As I reach Pass Island I can feel it, some gentle swirling and boiling.  I dig in and step up my cadence, following the Mariner through the kelp.  Just before Strawberry Island the current grows stronger.  I just need to make it around Strawberry -- it’s all downhill from there.  Reach forward high angle dig in bury the blade plant your foot torso rotation punch the deck belly crunch.  My right leg has gone numb.

Racing is all psychological, I tell myself -- the part that isn’t all conditioning, that is.  It’s ignoring the pain, heat, and paresthesias.  Will the next stroke kill you?   If not then you can keep going, barring major tissue injury. 

I'm over the hump and heading back through the Pass, getting a little help from the building ebb.  I’m at Deception Island again.  The last leg. 

Someone in a Wilderness Tempest 170 passes me.  "Nice kayak," he says. 

Somehow those guys with Euroblades all look like they are on a lazy Sunday afternoon paddle, just one slow stroke after another.  Where is their speed coming from?

Dpdash1Dpdash2The finish line approaches.  I can make out a small crowd on the dock.  I glance over my shoulder.  A kayak closes in on me.  Not again!  The feeling has come back to my leg.  I sprint.  I am not going to let anyone else pass me!  I hear scattered clapping from the dock.  Did I finish?  I keep paddling just to make sure.  Then I stop and glide…

I collapse into a balance brace and close my eyes.  I’m floating weightless.  The cold soaks through my knit cap, into my scalp, into my head.  The wake from a passing kayak moves through me.  I rest on a giant waterbed and can’t help breaking into a big smile.

[See the results of the Deception Pass Dash here]