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Alexius Baidarka Journey

Screenshot_6A while ago I saw this posted on the Qajaq USA forum, but didn't bother watching the movie trailer.  I recommend taking the time to download one of the movie files from the Alexius Baidarka Journey site before viewing it: the movie seemed to have problems streaming for me. 

Swedish craftsman Lars Alexius plans a 5000 km solo expedition along the Canadian coastline from Kodiak Island, Alaska to Northern California in a baidarka made of driftwood and canvas.  Check out the kit he's bringing: clothes handmade of cotton waterproofed with beeswax and oil, skins and furs, underwear made from old wool military blankets, flint for fire, and a laptop and camera of course, but no credit card.  He plans to hunt, fish, and live off the sea.  It would be pretty damn amazing if he pulls it off.  I sure hope he gets started.  Check out his skimpy sponsors list.  Hey where are all the Kokatat, NDK, Werner, Snapdragon, Clif Bar logos?  Oh, I guess he won't be needing them for the trip... which is the whole point isn't it?

Bow Seat

BowseatThe Joel White Pooduck Skiff is still coming together, although painfully slowly it seems.  The reason is that I'm not following the plans for the interior but making it up myself.  So I end up spending a lot of time standing around looking at the boat trying to decide how I'm going to go on to the next step.  When I think I have it figured out I do what boat builders naturally do -- get on my hands and knees and draw it out full size on the floor.

The original plans called for simple thwarts screwed into blocks on either side of the hull.  It's supposed to be an easy-to-build cheap plywood boat anyway!  Of course, I had to use this as an opportunity to show off a little fancy woodworking and added a multipaneled bow seat.  The stern seat will also be multipaneled.  Pictured is also the thwart that will serve as the "mast partner", so I still need to cut a hole in the middle for the mast.  The thwart is simply a 1x10 plank of vertical grain douglas fir cut to size.  Yes, the cost of all this beautiful wood keeps adding up!

Centerboard Trunk

StemtreatmentI've made a little progress on my Joel White Pooduck Skiff.  Before I go into that I'd like to mention a few things about finding wood for boat building.  I like to go to my local lumberyard or big box home improvement store for wood most of the time just because it's convenient.  I can usually find clear western red cedar in long lengths, mahogany, red oak, and clear vertical grain douglas fir there.  I buy wood a little at a time as I need it because I'm too lazy to sit down with the plans and calculate all the wood I need and buy it all at once.  It's not the most efficient way and sometimes I end up using scraps of what I already have instead of what's recommended, like when I laminated the stem and frame from the yellow cedar I already had instead of fir or mahogany.  Sometimes though you really want to get the right wood and can't find a source.  Well I finally found the ultimate specialty supplier of boat wood.  I had ordered wood from Edensaw before but only recently did they open up a Seattle location (actually Kent) which makes it much easier to shop for wood.  Although the main Edensaw location and mill is in Port Townsend, the Seattle warehouse is a wood worker's dream -- rows and rows of exotic wood planks, plywood, woodworking tools, and even some epoxy products.  I stopped by for the first time the other day and picked up a big board of Honduran mahogany, a sheet of Meranti Hydrotek marine plywood, and some spar-grade Sitka spruce rough cut 2x4s.   Whatever wood you need they have it, and if they don't have it they'll get it for you.  Be sure to take advantage of their free delivery for big orders.

Cbt1Cbt2Cbt3Building the centerboard trunk presents a challenge because is has a moving part (the centerboard), fits through a hole in the bottom of the boat, is subject to a lot of stress from the centerboard, and is prone to rot and leaks.  One alternative to using a centerboard is to use a daggerboard, which does not slide up if it hits bottom.  Since I wanted to be able to use the skiff in very shallow water I decided to go with the centerboard.  I also like the convenience of having the board stored within the trunk.

I actually built the trunk twice.  The first time I used red oak for the bed logs and cut them a little too low.  The conventional wisdom is that red oak is "totally unsuitable" for wooden boat building.  It is very porus and has poor rot resistance.  By the way, I think it is that porosity which makes red oak the gold standard for steam bending, and it makes great ribs for skin-on-frame kayaks.  But it would probably have been a poor choice for the bed logs which hold the trunk to the hull and are always wet.  It could rot from the inside of the trunk, and the rot would be difficult to detect and repair.  So I trashed the first trunk and built it again with Honduran mahogany.  I had thought about keeping the first trunk and encapsulating the whole thing with epoxy and fiberglass which might have been OK but in the end didn't want to bother with all that.   My understanding is that if wood is encapsulated well then it doesn't matter how poor it's rot resistance is because the wood never gets wet.  For instance, Pygmy kayaks are made with Okume plywood which has poor rot resistance but they do fine.  I was also afraid of cracks developing in the epoxy and fiberglass from all the stresses on the trunk from the centerboard.   The trunk is expected to move a little.  For instance, it is  attached to the hull with screws and 3M 5200 marine adhesive, which provides a permanent, yet flexible, bond. 

Well, it's starting to look like furniture.  Now to get to work on the seats.

A Glimpse of SSTIKS

Sstiks2007If you were at the 6th annual South Sound Tradional Inuit Kayak Symposium you might have seen me wandering around the beach with my video camera, desperately trying to keep the lens dry.  It's a wonder my camera survived all that rain!  Well, here is what I came up with, a little glimpse of the action at the beach. That's John Petersen of Shaman Kayaks trying out one of Harvey Golden's replica kayaks.  Enjoy!

Rock Pile

Wasp3Wasp1Wasp2Now for the conclusion of our lazy paddling tour…

Ricardo and I packed up our kayaks and drove across Orcas Island to Deer Harbor.  We planned to put in there and explore the Wasp Islands.  Along the way we stopped at Orcas Island Pottery.  Apparently the pottery studio is an Orcas Island institution that must not be missed.  It's hidden away in a wooded area with a beautiful view across the water northwest to Waldron Island.  They have a treehouse and big Native American wood carving in the Northwest Coast style.  It looks like an Orca.  Notice the traditional "salmon-trout's-head" inner ovoid and nostril (I never understood why whales are depicted with nostrils).   But it’s missing the characteristic blow hole (sorry, I can’t help to be such a nit picker, haha). 

Wasp4Wasp6Wasp5The water around the Wasp Islands is a great place to mess around and literally get yourself lost.  We didn’t bring along our chart or compass, but it’s a fun place to practice navigation if you have the patience for that.  A good destination is Yellow Island, which is a wildlife preserve owned by the Nature Conservancy.  The wildlife there actually only consists of birds, since there are no mammals on the island.  It's open to the public.  Groups of six or more are requested to make reservations.  Visitors in kayaks can land on any one of the three pebble beaches on the island, but are expected to remain on the trails. 

The Island Keeper came out of his cabin and we had a long chat with him.  He had a deep tan and wore a green watch cap, blue down vest with some feathers sticking out and jeans.  He said he has been living on that little rock for over nine years!

So how do you fill your days as Island Keeper, I wondered.  Well, he has a small vegetable garden and the power boat equivalent of a pickup truck.  It's not too far to the marina.  Who knows -- maybe he actually spends every evening in town shooting pool at the tavern!

The Island Keeper said a couple years back a professional captain put a 100 ft classic luxury yacht on the reef northwest of Nob Island.  He was from the East Coast and had $50,000 worth of electronic equipment recently installed in the boat.  Obviously no amount of equipment will help you if you don't pay attention to the charts and have no local knowledge!  I bet there was no small amount of schadenfreude about that going around at the time, at least until the potential of the wreck spilling all its fuel became apparent.

I think that was one of the ten most dangerous spots listed on that placemat I saw at Lieber Haven.  I guess that’s why the locals have nicknamed the Wasp Islands the “Rock Pile”.

If you are interested, the entire photo album of our trip can be viewed here.


Sstiks1Sstiks3Sstiks2Sstiks4Sstiks5Sstiks6Sstiks7Sstiks8I need to interrupt my San Juans Stories yet again to say that I had another amazing SSTIKS experience this year, despite only attending on one very wet Saturday.  I was amazed at how many kayaks were set out on the beach before the opening ceremonies, and then later in the water during the instruction sessions.  Mike Hanks thought that attendence could reach 150, compared to 100 last year.  Sorry to sound like such a rabid revolutionary, but we are witnessing the efflorescence of Greenland Style! 

If you have the opportunity to go to SSTIKS and are also familiar with the mainstream kayak symposium scene you will notice immediately that the traditional kayak symposium experience is unlike any other.  Where are all the dealers and kayak manufacturer's reps with their colorful banners and tents?  This is a gathering of a grassroots movement, whose members are motivated not by profit but simply by enthusiasm for the tradition.  It's so hard to contain our enthusiasm that we can't help drawing our kids and entire families into it. 

Where are the booths selling drysuits, PFDs and exotic kayak vacations in Costa Rica?  The kind of stuff for sale here are things like willow shoots for making baidarka ribs, cans of pine tar, pieces of caribou antler, an authentic Qaannat Kattuffiat jacket from Greenland, a draw knife, and a norsaq/harpoon assembly.  These items were donated for the SSTIKS auction to raise money for next year's event. 

In fact, I donated one of my own kayaks, Necromancer, for the auction.  My personal reason was because it was simply too painful to see her sitting in my storage canopy at home, in perfect condition, but unused for nearly two years.  I needed to get rid of her and move on.  I had thought about trying to sell her on eBay or Craigslist, but in the end I thought the best way to find someone who would really appreciate her would be to auction her off at SSTIKS.  Then the money raised would also go to a good cause.  So congrats to Tim Mattson for his winning bid -- I hope she gives you plenty of good years on the water!

Also congratulations to my friend Dick, for finally getting his roll down!

Check out the second-to-last picture -- that's Greenland National Kayak Championship 2006 competitor Alison Sigethy sitting in my kayak!  She flew in from Virginia to attend SSTIKS, and when she needed a kayak to teach the advanced rolling class I offered mine.  It was a real pleasure to meet her.  I probably wouldn't have gotten the opportunity if Dubside hadn't tapped me on the shoulder and said, "You're in the rolling demo with Alison and me."  So there I was rolling between Dubside and Alison at SSTIKS!  Can you imagine a tougher crowd to play for (with the exception of Greenland?)  If this sort of thing is going to happen more often I better start learning more rolls!

Lieber Haven

Obstruction1Obstruction2Obstruction3Obstruction4Obstruction5Obstruction6First a little factoid: Did you know that Orcas Island didn’t get it’s name from the whale, but actually is a shortened form of the name of the viceroy of Mexico, Juan Vicente de Güemes Padilla Horcasitas y Aguayo, 2nd Count of Revillagigedo, who sent an exploration expedition under Francisco de Eliza to the Pacific Northwest in 1791?

On the north shore of Obstruction Pass lies Lieber Haven, a resort with individual cabins that offers kayak and boat rentals.  It’s located next to a public launch ramp and looks like it hasn’t changed since the 1970s.  In addition to selling snacks, beer and wine inside the little store they have laminated placemats for sale showing the location of the ten most dangerous reefs in the San Juans, art made from cut up aluminum pop cans and little plastic toy Orcas that squeek.

Lieber Haven is the home of the 72 ft schooner Lieber Schwan.  The Schwan is high and dry and undergoing repairs right now, but other than missing a rudder she looks like all she needs is a new coat of paint.  According to the innkeeper, Sherry, during the Hanukkah Eve Wind Storm last fall the combination of big waves and high tide tore the rudder of the Lieber Schwan off, totally destroyed their docks, and smashed a few boats to pieces.  Only a single line remained to keep their tugboat, Kittie B, from floating away.

Sherry seemed to know just about everything about wooden boats and sail rigging.  She and Ricardo ended up carrying on a conversation in "nautical speak" that was way above my head.  She also pointed out where the rips would be during the flood current, and directed us to a shallow area across Peavine Pass just off Blakely Island which would give us a great view of bottom creatures from our kayaks.  Despite all that, plus having lived and worked on Obstruction Pass for decades, she still couldn’t tell me which direction the current runs when it floods, and still uses the old unreliable method of using the high and low water times to estimate the time and speed of the max current.   She obviously hasn’t heard of Capt’n Jacks Tide and Current Almanac!

Later we paddled in close around Obstruction Island and must have seen two dozen racoons on the shore -- no kidding!  I was told by a kayak guide once that racoons are nocturnal, so if you see one up and about in broad daylight it's probably sick with rabies.  Obviously, that can't be true, unless the whole population in the San Juans is infected.  I bet with all their rummaging through garbage and getting into everything they must make living on the island unbearable.

Well I've been posting pretty regularly lately but now I'm off to SSTIKS for the weekend.  See you there!

Sailing Interlude

ReyHere is something a little different: a short video taken by my friend Rey of our sailing excursion with a few friends this past Memorial Day.  It’s the same old bay in which I always paddle, but somehow the water seems bluer, the air warmer, and the chicks sexier with a big boat!  ;-)

[Music: “Twango” by Teisco Del Rey]

Orcas Island

Doebay1Doebay3Doebay2Doebay4BodyboatbladeA couple years ago I discovered an immutable law of sea kayaking: on any overnight trip you will always forget to bring one critical piece of gear.  On this trip it was my sleeping bag.  We had planned to stay in the hostel anyway, so it was not a problem, although I couldn’t help thinking about how I would have managed if we had planned to camp out anywhere.

I’ve written before that the hostel at Doe Bay is the best deal in the San Juans.  For $30 a night you get a real bed with linen in a heated cabin with two bathrooms and a small kitchen.  No one really stays there, so you’re likely to have the whole place to yourself.  And if you do have to share the room it might be with a young European woman who is traveling around the San Juans on a bicycle. 

Of course no trip to Orcas Island is complete without a stop at Body Boat Blade.  Leon was sitting at the chart table with six students: Kayak Camp was in session.  Steve Ulrich was there, creator of a fabulous 1935 Sisimuit aluminum folder (based on plate 46 in Harvey Golden’s Kayaks of Greenland).  Ricardo was interested in getting a shirt so Shawna showed us the latest in base layers -- Ibex merino wool.  It keeps you warm and dry, with natural stretch and doesn’t collect odors like synthetics.  She told us that on their recent trip on Vancouver Island she wore the same shirt for a week and it still didn’t stink.  Plus it’s machine washable.  Feels just like synthetics too.  Amazing stuff!

I was really temped to get a shirt but instead picked up a Capt'n Jacks Tide & Current Alamanac and a headlamp to replace the one I lost in the water last Christmas.  If you ever get a chance to stop by the Body Boat Blade store be sure to check out the used gear bin.  I found a blue Kokatat Gore-Tex Expedition Drysuit for sale.  It was in pretty good condition, definitely better than the one I sent back to Kokatat for repair.  There was a patch on the inside of one of the socks and a little wear on the sole on the other foot, but the seams and gaskets all looked good.  They were asking something over $600 for it.

Ricardo bought me a hat.  So I may not have a BCU patch on my PFD, but now I have the next best thing --  a Body Boat Blade hat!  Around here that gets you respect and opens doors.  So despite my curious-looking boat, wooden paddle, and rubber dress people will know I’m a serious kayaker!  It’s like, “Oh, you know Shawna and Leon?  Sure, go ahead and use our beach!”

Burrows Island

Burrowsisland5Burrowsisland1Burrowsisland3Burrowsisland6Burrowsisland4Burrowsisland2I invited my friend Ricardo to join me this past few days for a trip to the San Juans.  We were prepared to paddle across Rosario Strait to my favorite little resort on Orcas Island, but the wind picked up and the forecast called for thunderstorms so I thought it would be better to take the ferry.  After arriving in Anacortes I suggested we take a short paddle from Washington Park to the Burrows Island Light Station while waiting for the ferry.  It would break up what would otherwise be several hours in transit and let us take advantage of what remained of a beautiful, warm sunny day.

This is kayaking country!  While we were unloading our boats on the beach a large group of kayakers arrived from the water.  Here's a little tip if you travel with a wooden kayak: expect to spend plenty of time fielding questions from strangers about your boat.

There are usually tidal rips just south of Fidalgo Head in Burrows Passage.  Strong currents aren’t just isolated to Deception Pass:  they are everywhere around here.  Depending on the direction and strength of the wind, you can find some interesting water to play in.

Usually I’ll see plenty of wildlife on the rocky shores off of Fidalgo Head.  Seals, of course, and eagles.  The last time I was there I silently followed a family of five sea otters swimming around until they finally ran onto shore -- there is always something new.  Ricardo was a little disappointed not to see anything until we spotted a pair of homo sapiens buck naked and mating on the exposed ledge of a cliff.  They must not have heard us as we floated silently on the flood current.  Since I understand that members of this species can be easily startled, and also are typically modest in their mating habits, I blew my whistle to warn them we were coming.  They didn’t seem to care and just kept at it: apparently they were coming too.  [Sorry, no pics!]