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The Skinboat School

Skinboats5Skinboats6Class is in session at the Skinboat School in Anacortes.  Ricardo and I dropped by on school founder Corey Freedman as he stitched the skin on a new baidarka while another instructor carved paddles.  I was amazed by the number of skin-on-frame kayaks there were, in all states of construction, as well as the junkyard of forgotten kayaks and umiaks in back. 

Corey specializes in the baidarka design, but also makes the occasional Greenland qajaq.  I saw a sleek low-volume one and asked if it was a replica.

"I don't do that stuff," he said.  "I make boats for real people, not ghosts."

Compared to the baidarka, I don't think he finds the construction of the Greenland qajaq very exciting, or their design very good either. 

Note the treehouse: homage to George Dyson?

Skinboats7Skinboats1We also took a peak at Spiritline, the retail arm of the Skinboat School and a leading supplier of "skin kits" to the skin-on-frame crowd.  Because of it's flexibility and toughness, Corey's "Goop", a 100% solids two-part polyurethane, is probably the gold standard for waterproofing nylon skins.  Stacks of Part A and Part B plastic containers await shipment to builders all over the continent.  No one knows where he gets the stuff: it is rumored to be an intermediate step in the production of an industrial polyurethane used to seal concrete.


Progress on the Pooduck

Interior1Interior3Interior4Interior2Cb1Just a few pics  to show off the progress on the interior of my Joel White Pooduck Skiff.  The multipanel bow and stern seats are finished (western red cedar), as are the mast partner and middle thwart (Douglas fir). The seats are a little more complicated than in the original plans, primarily for aesthetic reasons, but also to make them easy to remove  when it comes time to repaint and revarnish.

Note that the centerboard trunk is off center.  The centerboard slides down on the starboard side of the keel, which will be attached with the boat upside down again once the interior is completed.

I had to get out just about every clamp I owned to glue in the spacers for the inwales. 

And I learned a new skill: lead casting.  The centerboard is made of meranti marine plywood and the plans call for a lead weight in the board to keep it down.  I routed out a deep pocket in the board and screwed on a piece of plywood with a 1 inch diameter hole in the middle to make the top of the mold.  I found some coils of lead at the fishing supply department of my local big box sporting goods store and melted them down in an old can on a hot plate.  Lead melts very easily (at 621.5 deg F).  I then poured it into the mold.  Easy!

When it had cooled I unscrewed the top of the mold.  See how the wood is scorched?  I planed the surface of the weight smooth and glued the weight in with thickened epoxy.  The whole centerboard is then sheathed in fiberglass and epoxy, then painted.


Thieves Hit Kayak Academy Shed!

From the Qajaq USA forum:

4 Sea Kayaks and Gear Stolen from Issaquah Paddle Sports/Kayak Academy Kayak Shed the Night of July 16th (Monday) located at Lake Sammamish St Park Swim Beach.

Kayaks Stolen:

WILDERNESS SYSTEMS TEMPEST 180 Pro-kayaksport hatches. Color: orange deck/white hull/black seam. Serial # WEMRXA31J607

IMPEX MONTAUK Carbon/Kevlar – Color: yellow deck/white hull/sunburst seam. Serial # unknown

IMPEX ASSATEAGUE Fiberglass –Color: yellow deck/white hull/ black seam. Serial # unknown

IMPEX CURRITUCK Fiberglass –Color: ocean blue/white hull/black seam. Serial # 4004G0CNR

All four kayaks have a unique bilge pump holder under the deck in front of the cockpit. This pump holder consists of bungee cord attached to the under side of the deck with four #6 stainless steel bolts. These four tiny bolt heads in a rectangle pattern are plainly visible on the deck even when viewed from several feet away.

Gear Stolen – Kokatat ProFit Tour Men’s L with Kokatat Tow Rope, Kokatat Tributary System, Wenaka Knife, MsFit Guide WM with lotus tow system, Kokatat Back Pocket, Dry bag with flares, Guardian Light, Docs Ear Plugs; Werner Ikelos 220cm, Kokatat Farmer Jane’s WS,WM,WL, Kokatat dry suit GFE-D WXLS color: Plum/Black, GFE-R XL color: gray, Chota Haul Sack included Kokatat Spray skirt, Adventure Medical first aid kit, 2 Otter boxes with safety and repair materials inside, Garmin E-trex GPS, Kestrel 4000 Weather Pocket Meter, Kokatat Pogies and Leatherman-Juice.

Any information appreciated: 206-527-1825.


Olga4Olga3Olga1Olga2Last stop on our tour: Olga.  There's a public dock and an old general store that serves sandwiches and coffee.   And yes, we did dump our garbage there.

It was a welcome break after trying to motor north against the a very strong ebb current.  Even with the wind in our favor we wasted 2 hours and probably a couple gallons of gas going 3 nm before giving up and turning around.  That was my mistake.  It would have been OK once the tide turned but then we would have had to fight the flood as we turned south in the afternoon anyway.

Not visible from the dock but just a short walk up the street is Orcas Island Artworks and Café Olga in a renovated strawberry packing plant.  Orcas Island Artworks features local arts and crafts from 60 local artists, including block prints by Body Boat Blade’s Shawna Franklin. The café has excellent pies. 

Check out the boat made from an old sailboat hull and a lawnmower.  We were lucky enough to be there to take a little video when the guys who built it fired it up!

Return to Doe Bay

First this important notice:  Ricardo has found the GIS for San Juan County on the web.  With it you can find tax parcels, ownership, aerial photos, and contour lines.  Try out the interactive map.  It will tell you the market value of the land and who owns it.  It may prove useful for finding public waterfront land on which to land your kayak!  Another solution may be to submit a formal request for information to the San Juan County assessor’s office. 

Rosario3Rosario1Rosario2As the cold front closed in Ricardo and I stopped outside of Doe Bay.  Although there was good holding ground there, there wasn’t a lot of shelter from the wind coming from the south.  Ricardo dropped the anchor and we dragged it around for a few minutes before I decided we should go to the more sheltered cove beyond the next point.  We successfullly anchored and rowed in on the dinghy, trying not to draw attention.  It was a bit of a wet ride. 

Doe Bay has no mooring buoys, no float, no dinghy dock, and as I’ve noted before, a rocky beach.  At the resort office I asked if they had ever thought of putting out a few mooring buoys or a dock.  Apparently they had given it plenty of thought and decided against it.  For one thing, a dock just seems to invite power boaters to stop by and drop off their garbage.  They didn’t want to make it too easy for them.  Also, because of concerns about the environmental impact, permits for mooring buoys are becoming more difficult to obtain in the San Juans.  Plus, they said it would cost about $30,000 per buoy!  On the other hand, they were also concerned about how anchors would scar the eelgrass beds, especially when dropped by those who don’t know how to use them properly and just drag them around.  Oops!  Well, I guess you can still leave a big environmental footprint even in a 20 ft sailboat.

As it started to rain, we set off for the ritual bath at the famous soaking tubs, which were a little crowded this time.  Although Ricardo found it thoroughly relaxing, I thought the conversation was a bit dull, so after a while I left him there and set off to get a drink at the bar.  I must admit that having done the naked hot tub thing quite a few times before, I think it’s gotten kind of old.  Honestly, I’d rather talk to a fully-clothed Canadian girl than a naked American one.  Canadians girls are much friendlier and are less prone to display that toxic attitude.  There I go, spreading that tired "foreign women are better" meme, as if we all needed yet another reason to leave the country!  Well, both Ricardo and Jim, the boat repair guy at the Charters Northwest, share my observation, so maybe there's something to it!

By the way, information about emigrating to Canada can be found here.  ;-)

The wind and waves made for a rough night sleeping in the V-berth.  I guess I was worried about the anchor more than anything.  Occasionally I would take a peak outside to make sure we weren’t dragging and getting closer to the cliff.  In the middle of the night, when I emptied my pee bottle over the side, I set off a spectacular bright cloud of bioluminescence!

Lopez Island

Lopez Island is known for it’s beautiful rocky southern shoreline, characterized by high cliffs and several islets.  Because of rocks awash I tended to be overly careful about going in close to shore in a big boat (as evidenced by the complete absence of any good pictures of the cliffs).  Here is one area where sea kayaking really shines over being in a big boat: one can paddle in close to shore, literally touch the cliffs and play among the rocks, if you don’t mind getting an occasional scratch on your hull. 

Lopez4Lopez3South Lopez is exposed to the swells and the SW wind blowing 15 miles across the Strait of Juan de Fuca, so I’ve been cautious about paddling there alone.  Plus getting there is a little inconvenient.  It requires crossing Rosario Strait from Anacortes, or taking the ferry to Lopez.  There are really no public facilities in South Lopez – no public beaches, campsites, or marinas.  So as far as kayaking goes it’s a very scenic destination, but in a relatively inhospitable area of the San Juan Islands.

Right on cue, while we were leaving Mackaye Harbor talking about how great it would be to explore this area in a kayak, we spotted a kayaker.  From a distance I could recognize a Greenland paddle, so I took a look with Ricardo’s binoculars and couldn’t believe my eyes.  It was Warren!  I’m sure he didn’t expect to see me hailing him from the bow pulpit of a sailboat!  He had paddled across Rosario Strait from Anacortes, headed toward Friday Harbor through Cattle Pass.  The tidal race at Cattle Pass can be pretty rough, especially when the current opposes the wind.  Body Boat Blade regularly conducts tidal current workshops there, for those who have graduated from playing at Deception Pass.  Warren said it only took him an hour flat to ride the ebb current from Anacortes to the south end of Lopez Island, a distance of at least 6 nm.  Once at Friday Harbor he was going to take the ferry back to Anacortes, which is free on the return trip, by the way.  He told us the story of how just a few days earlier he was paddling up from Deception Pass to Burrows Island and ran into a pod of Orcas.  One of them dove under his kayak and surfaced right under him, the dorsal fin an arms length away, bumping his kayak as it came up.

We rounded the southeast end of the island and continued north through Rosario Strait.  Over the last couple of days we had been experiencing a “heat wave’ but now a cold front was following close on our heels.  “When you face the wind, the high pressure zone is on your left,” Ricardo said, reciting the chapter in Chapman’s that he had recently read when we were trying to figure out the weather.  “Clouds moving right to left indicate that the weather will deteriorate.”

Indeed it would.

[For those interested in the practical considerations for making the 18 nm paddle from Anacortes to Friday Harbor:  Warren recommends parking in the Washington State Ferry terminal upper lot at Anacortes, in the back corner.  It costs 10 dollars for the day.  Carry your kayak down a trail at the back corner through the woods down to the water.  In Friday Harbor there are kayak slips on the public dock and also a public boat ramp.  You must bring wheels for your kayak to push it on the ferry.  You’ll get to be the first on and the first to get off. Back at Anacortes you just push your kayak back up to the parking lot.  It’s very close.]


Day number four and the wind was blowing from the northwest.  It was going to be warm and clear, and the current ebbing in the afternoon -- good conditions for making the crossing to Victoria, BC.

Victoria1Victoria3Victoria2Victoria4Victoria5One thing I learned again on this trip was respect for tidal currents.  In a kayak, even a one knot current can make a difference in trip planning.  After all, that’s typically one third of your cruising speed.  I was reminded that the currents can reach up to 4.7 knots in the channels around the islands.  It can be dangerous if you aren’t keeping track of the slack and maximum current times in a kayak.  Even in a small boat with an outboard engine, failure to plan for the currents can get you into big trouble.

Just off Discovery Island, entering the Strait of Juan de Fuca from Haro Strait, I saw a sailboat some distance in front of us come to a virtual stop.  We followed them and suddenly slowed from 6 knots to 2.5 -3 knots with the outboard running: we had entered a tidal rip with a 3 knot opposing current.  Even in the 15 mile wide Strait of Juan de Fuca, the water can appear completely flat but be moving.  When the current was with us, we would be moving at an unbelievable 11 knots!

We entered Victoria late afternoon.  Zodiacs from the “Prince of Whales” whale watching tours sped by.  Ricardo hailed the Harbour Authority on the VHF radio and got us a spot in the Inner Harbour in front of the Empress Hotel.  As we pulled up the marina girl was waiting at the end of the float, standing in her red and white uniform, ready for us to throw her a line.  Now that’s service!

As we tied up, the young skipper of the 27 ft sloop parked next to ours came out to meet us.  He had recently set off on a single-handed journey around Vancouver Island and was already looking pretty salty -- broad brimmed straw hat, beginnings of a beard and barefoot.  On the foredeck of his boat was a kayak that he was using as a tender, in the cockpit a propane BBQ grill clamped to the rail, and cardboard boxes, which had contained the radar he had just purchased and was installing.  Apparently $1500 will get you radar and make those crossings at night and fog a little more comfortable.  With only $500 you can get an electronic autopilot, probably also a wise purchase.  He had cut a hole in the floor of his cabin to give him room to stand up, and so was surprised how roomy Alacrity was inside for such a small boat.  I would have suggested we all have a drink at the Bengal Lounge, the chic colonial watering hole where all the old Canadian explorers hang out, but he looked like he had some plans with the kayak-guide girlfriend he had just met.

The Inner Harbour was like a carnival: jugglers, street performers, craft vendors, little green Victoria Harbour Ferry Boats shuttling people around, float planes taking off, and of course the “Prince of Whales” Zodiacs coming and going every minute.  The action continued late into the night, when the drums of the street musicians seemed to get louder, especially from the V-berth of the boat, until midnight when they suddenly stopped.



Roche Harbor is America

Rh6My two favorite places in the San Juans are Roche Harbor and Doe Bay.  One is a resort built around a historic hotel and world-class marina, the legacy of John S McMillin, a Tacoma lawyer and friend of President Teddy Roosevelt who made a fortune mining the richest and largest deposit of lime in the Northwest.  The other is an "alternative" retreat center with on-site organic garden and yoga studio, whose emphasis is on ethical treatment of guests, staff and the land.  Funny that they are so different.  What does that say about my contradictory nature? 

Rh3Rh7Rh8Roche Harbor has grown quite a bit since the last time I was there.  An entirely new building, Quarryman Hall, has sprung up next to the Hotel de Haro.  It houses the new Afterglow Spa and Dominique's House, a high-end home furnishings store.  The million-dollar cottages on the hill are finished and work has begun on construction of entirely new neighborhoods around the resort.

Walking around the marina is an experience in itself.  It’s a grand promenade.  Tourists stroll and gawk at the massive power yachts, Italian runabouts with fine leather interiors, high tech racing sloops, and even a classic wooden schooner here and there.  Owners with long-term moorage have their names posted on plaques by their slips.  Dock attendants help boaters cart their luggage and groceries, and even walk their dogs.  Other marinas usually have a “pump-out” dock where one ties up to empty the head’s holding tank.  But in Roche Harbor, the pump-out station comes to you: the M.V. Phecal Phreak will empty your tank while you rest easy in your teak deck chair.  No need to worry – the dock hands take care of everything!

Rh2Rh1If you are in the market for a yacht there are some nice boats for sale there.  One of the most unique is Plum Duff, a cold-molded wooden yacht custom designed and built in Port Townsend.  Several Native American masks carved in the traditional Pacific Coast style decorate the pilot house. 

I wonder what it must feel like to spend a couple million on a very fine power yacht only to have a bigger, better, and newer one pull up next to yours?

In the morning the carillon of bells of the Chapel of Our Lady of Good Voyage, the only privately owned Catholic chapel in the United States, rings out Broadway tunes.  Later in the day you can usually find a wedding party gathered in the immaculate garden in front of the hotel.  Every evening at sunset a team performs the famous Roche Harbor “Colors Ceremony”, retiring the British, Canadian, and American flags for the night while playing the national anthems of each country as well as Colonel Bogey’s March.  At the end a cannon fires and the sun sets, like clockwork.

Roche Harbor is a revealing slice of America: it's indulgent, opulent and grand, a celebration of the wealth and industry of our forefathers.  In Disneyesque fashion, it recreates Mainstreet USA with brand new nineteenth century townhouses complete with broadband internet.  Sure, anyone is free to park their boat in guest moorage, stroll the docks and outdoor market, and enjoy the Colors Ceremony.  But the true owners of this world are the few members of the Old-Boy Skull-and-Bones network, those who are privy to the arcane Masonic symbolism and inscriptions on the McMillin Mausoleum:

OCT 28, 1855 – NOV 3, 1936

I wonder if this nostalgia for late nineteenth century America extends beyond the period’s furnishings and architectural style to its pre-New Deal socioeconomic structure as well.




Come sail with us on "Alacrity", a 20 ft Pacific Seacraft Flicka, though Canada's Gulf Islands.  We speed along "wing and wing", then are becalmed just outside of Otter Bay, North Pender Island, when a pod of Orca whales swims by!


Kayaks of Norway

PirateI'd like to interrupt my cruising travelogue to offer congratulations to Jørn Thomas Holth of Norway, who sent this picture of his recently completed Greenland kayak, built using a few of my recommendations. He says it is just what he was looking for in a rolling kayak.  I love the black skin and uncluttered deck.  He has called it The Pirate  :-)

I've finally uploaded the plans for the South Greenland kayak, actually an East Greenland kayak, surveyed by Howard Chapelle in 1948, and featured in Adney and Chapelle's book, The Bark Canoes and Skin Boats of North America, figure 208.  *Whew*, that's a long description.  You know, the plans for The Jewel.  For lack of a better name (and I think there are others out there) I've just started calling the original kayak C208.  Harvey Golden said that he surveyed the same kayak also.  He might even have included it in his book Kayaks of Greenland.  I'll have to take a closer look through his book to see if I can find it (honestly, I haven't read it yet).

The plans I've uploaded for C208 consist of the lines drawing in jpg (30 in x 8 in).  I've also included four pdf files which are the same lines drawing divided into letter-size pages.  The idea is that you can print them out on regular paper and piece them together using the reference marks I've included on the drawing.

The files can be found on my file-sharing page here.

The plans for C208 can also be ordered directly from The Smithsonian.  It may take a couple months and the address and price may change (I think the address on their web site is incorrect).  Here is a copy of my order from last summer:

Ship Plans
Smithsonian Institution
National Museum of American History
Behring Center
P.O. Box 37012
AHB-5301/MRC 628
Washington, D.C. 20013-7012

To Whom It May Concern:

Please accept my order for Plan no. BC-89 (South Greenland Kayak) on page 43 of the Ship Plan List, Maritime Collection, to be shipped to my home address above.

I have enclosed a check payment of $15.

Thank you.