Deception Pass Dash 2014

Deception Pass Dash 2014 from Baby Seal Films on Vimeo.

I registered for the Deception Pass Dash as a racer, but just before the race I decided that I would rather not participate but instead watch from shore and record it on video. It is such a stunningly beautiful location that, as a racer, I have always envied the spectators and especially photographers who got to watch it from the top of one of the surrounding cliffs or the bridge.

There is so much going on during the race that it’s easy to loose focus trying to cover everything, so I just picked one spot along the shore to sit with my camera on a tripod. I hiked to a grassy clearing along the west entrance to the Pass with a view to the south. I was able to see the paddlers as they rounded Deception Island, went through the Pass and returned through Canoe Pass along shore. It turned out to be a perfectly clear but breezy day. In the meantime, Katya was shooting at Bowman Bay, capturing the spectacular start of the race and the paddlers as they crossed the finish line.

Just before the race, we did brief interviews with a few of the racers. I’ve been shooting with a Canon 7D II and I really love the ruggedness and slow motion capabilities of this camera. Slow motion gives you time as a viewer to really appreciate the image and motion. It just makes everything look cool! I predict that everyone will be using it for everything from now on, so try it while you can before people get tired of it and it becomes another passing fad, like time-lapse.

The idea behind this video was simplicity. Finishing it in black and white is part of that. Katya has extensive experience with black and white photography from the film era, so I relied on her for “color grading”. I like the monochrome effect for the on-the-water shots because it cancels out the overpowering bright blue of the water.

Special thanks go out to the paddlers who agreed to be interviewed: Michelle Sheffer, Jed Hawks, Barb and George Gronseth, David Price, Warren Williamson, David Cocker, and Minnie Fontenelle.


Why We Paddle: The 6th Annual Deception Pass Dash

Why We Paddle: The 6th Annual Deception Pass Dash (2011) from Baby Seal Films on Vimeo.

I have paddled in the Deception Pass Dash every year since the first race in 2006. At that time only about 40 paddlers entered. Since then it has grown into a large  two-day festival with about 150 boats, including surfskis, sea kayaks, outrigger canoes, paddleboards and rowing shells. It is easy to come up with reasons why so many people are attracted to this race -- the challenge of paddling in strong tidal currents, the possibility of rough winter storm conditions, the stunning beauty of the Pass, and the excitement and sense of camaraderie that comes from participating with so many other paddlers.

I wanted to commemorate the 6th annual Deception Pass Dash with a video and came up with "Why We Paddle". It was a joy working with my friend Katya, who shot most of the video, and interviewing a handful of racers about what attracts them to paddlesports. Many thanks to the people we interviewed and especially to members of The Pitchfork Revolution, who contributed the music for the soundtrack.


It's Summer Again, in November

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Wednesday’s high of 74 degrees at Sea-Tac airport broke the record for Nov. 3 set 40 years ago in 1970. It also matched the all-time high temperature for November. The last time a November day was as warm was in 1949. So let's hear it for global warming! It was perfect day to play outside, especially because the predicted max ebb current was -7.7 knots at Deception Pass. As usual, I showed up a little late to the party. George Gronseth and Maligiaq were already there with a group of students from Greenland Week. By the way, did you know that Canoe and Kayak magazine has named Maligiaq the best kayaker in the world? If you have the weekend free, don't miss Kayak Academy's Greenland Kayak Competition this Friday, Saturday and Sunday at Lake Sammamish. Jeff Renner, chief meteorologist for KING5 news will the be emcee!

At 4PM Saturday there will be a rolling demo by the masters, then we will all meet at a local pub for brews and dinner before the evening presentation (open to the public) by native arts specialist and kayak builder Kiliii Yu. Kiliii will talk about his 30 day trip in a traditional skin-on-frame kayak along the exposed west coast of Vancouver Island. The trip was entirely self-supported and he fished and foraged along the way, gathering shellfish and whatever else he could find when the tide went out. It should be a fantastic presentation, if only because Kiliii is an amazing photographer.

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Even with the current at this speed, on a calm day the water can be totally flat. There were no standing waves to surf. Playing around means peeling out over and over again -- a lot like just trying to hop onto a fast moving sidewalk without falling over. You can practice doing this forwards and backwards, bracing with your paddle or just with your hands, or with just edging the boat, using no hands at all.

Maximum current is when you get the big whirlpools. They form at the edge of the boils. When a boil starts to surge up, which occurs periodically, you will start to see a depression in the water where the boil collides with the main current. The depression will deepen into a whirlpool, up to about 3 feet deep. You can run your kayak over it and get sucked in by the stern, and it will twist you around. The suction is so strong that if you capsize it may be impossible to roll up until it releases you.They don't last long and will release you in a few seconds.They come in series though so don't be surprised if you escape from one only to fall right into another one. You know, after doing some river running, these whirlpools don't scare me anymore. Yes, it's all a matter of perspective. If you ever want to overcome your fear of something, just try doing something even more scary.

 

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4th Annual Deception Pass Dash (2009) Video

Deception Pass Dash 2009 from Baby Seal Films on Vimeo.

Thanks to David Tiller for taking this video. He froze his butt off standing on the Deception Pass bridge to get these shots. I love photography and sometimes it kills me that I can't be several places at once -- competing in the race plus covering it from several locations and angles, and taking stills. Unfortunately because of dead batteries and other last-minute technical difficulties I don't have any on-the-water shots this year, unlike last year. The water wasn't that exciting anyway. (By the way, did anyone happen to find the little Sticky Pod suction cup camera mount I lost on the beach?  Let me know.)


Highlights from the 2009 Deception Pass Dash

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A huge crowd showed up for the 4th Annual Deception Pass Dash this year -- 158 paddlers! Conditions were totally calm. No wind. There wasn’t much current to deal with going through the Pass either, even though the max ebb later in the day was predicted at −7.3 knots.

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I finished with my best time ever: 62 min 47 sec for the 6 nm course! The secret is my Epic 18X Ultra kayak and wing paddle combination. Conditioning helps, obviously. I guess all that training I did over the past year did some good after all. I also had to get used to using a feathered wing blade after using a Greenland paddle exclusively for years.

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The trick for me in the race was to find someone just a little faster than me to draft behind. I played that game from the very beginning. When you have it tuned just right you just glide behind the person in front of you with little effort. The challenge is keeping on course. It’s natural to focus your attention on their stern the whole time but I think it's better to watch their bow because it will give you a better idea of which direction they are headed. Sometimes they'll try to suddenly speed ahead and shake you off. Other times they’ll just stop to take their hat or gloves off and you have to swerve to keep from crashing into them.

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Check out the stand up paddle board dude with the big hair! A couple guys who completed the race soon after I did had been kneeling on their boards and using their hands the whole time. Impressive, sure, but if you aren't using a paddle does it really qualify as a “paddlesport”?

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I got to meet President of Epic Kayaks, Greg Barton. He finished in 46 min 24 sec and won the race. Of course I gushed all about how much I love my Epic. He told me that the long awaited new Epic Track Master Plus steering system with the pivoting stern and deployable secondary rudder will be available very soon, maybe in a couple weeks! I can’t wait to get the kit and retrofit my kayak with it. When I was out a week ago paddling off of Point Defiance in some rough water with the Kayak Academy crowd, George Gronseth said that my rudder was out of the water much of the time.

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Sterling Donalson was there showing off his latest Illusion design. Sterling lowered the deck behind the cockpit to make layback rolls easier. It makes a ridiculously easy to roll kayak even easier. He also located the skeg right behind the cockpit. The skeg box sits to the left of the day hatch compartment. The bulkhead separating the day hatch compartment from the aft compartment is actually “L”− shaped. It’s a beautiful design.

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Stay tuned, video to follow!

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Using SCUBA For Kayak Rolling Practice

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I met a sea kayaker today at Deception Pass who had designed and constructed a scuba system for kayaking. He put a small air tank in the day hatch compartment of his Chatham 16, secured it with inflatable bags so it wouldn't roll around, and ran an air hose out of a a custom hatch cover to amouth piece held under the bungees on the deck. With this apparatus he could stay underwater a very long time. He made it to help his rolling practice, so he could take his time, concentrate on technique and not have to worry about coming up for air.  

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When learning to roll I think it's important to remove all distractions so you can concentrate on technique.  I recommend practicing in warm pool with a dive mask, so that you are comfortable and can see clearly underwater, and don't have water running in your nose. The scuba adds the additional comfort of not having to worry about breathing.

Another trick I've heard about is to use a snorkel connected to a tube that runs down your sprayskirt into the cockpit. While capsized you can breathe the air inside the cockpit. Exhaled carbon dioxide will build up in the circuit, the amount depending on the length and diameter of the tubing. So if you are under a long time, you might find yourself having to breathe deeper to achieve adequate gas exchange. I've never tried it so I can't say much more about it. For paddlers who are just learning to roll it's probably too much to deal with. Try it at your own risk.

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Building a Custom Stitch and Glue West Greenland Kayak

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Warren Williamson recently showed me the drawing of a kayak he plans to build. It’s one of many boats he has designed using a 3D modeling program called Rhino: a West Greenland style kayak, intended for “stitch−and−glue” construction. Using Rhino, Warren is able to develop a 3D model from a 2D lines drawing of a kayak, and then expand the panels to produce a “.dxf” file which can be plugged into a CNC router to produce panels in plywood. He has arranged all the parts of the kayak (bottom and side panels, deck, coaming and lip, hatches, bulkheads, and temporary station forms) so that they will fit onto three 4x8 plywood sheets.

 

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In his workshop Warren showed me the resulting plywood parts, precisely cut out of 4mm BS 1088 Joubert/French marine plywood, just like in the drawings. This is the good stuff he said, not like the plywood that comes from China, which is also rated BS 1088 but has a more fragile face veneer. The owner and CEO of Chesepeake Light Craft, John Harris, agreed to cut and ship these panels for him for a small fee. The panels look remarkably thin and they all fit in a flat cardboard box. I am amazed how little lumber is needed for this kayak. I can tell it’s going to be sleek, low volume, and high performance. 
 
An experienced boatbuilder and graduate of the Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding, Warren has planned this project out to the last detail. I hope to follow the construction of his kayak closely as it progresses.

 

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Warren and I spent the afternoon playing in the ebb at Deception Pass. The kayak he used, an Arctic Hawk SS, was designed and meticulously hand-crafted by Mark Rogers of Superior Kayaks. Although it looks like a plywood stitch−and−glue kayak I can’t really call it that because Rogers uses “stitchless” construction. He omits the wires that are used to hold the plywood panels in place while they are joined together with fiberglass and epoxy. The result is that the Arctic Hawk SS has none of the visible holes that are the artifact of typical stitch−and glue−construction. There is not one blemish that distracts from the gorgeous bright−finished wood.
 
When the current reached it max (around 6.8 knots) Warren showed me a spot at the Whidbey Island side of the Pass where a submerged rock kicked the water up into a small wave. In my skin−on−frame East Greenland kayak, I struggled to get on and surf the wave. The current tended to catch my bow and wash me away. After a few attempts I learned to lean back to be able to more easily swing my bow right into the current, and then lean forward to stay on the wave. I worked on getting a feel for surfing, and for slicing my paddle into the water by my stern to act as a rudder. I suppressed the instinct to keep slapping the surface to brace. When perfectly tuned, you can stay in one spot as the water rushes underneath you, without even touching the water with the paddle.
 
As the current died down to half max in Deception Pass, we paddled to Canoe Pass and joined a group of paddlers from NWOC. Surprisingly, the waves were bigger there than they were earlier at max. Warren said that can be the case when the wind blows from the west. At its maximum, the current is so strong that it flattens out the waves. As it slows down, an opposing wind and swell kick them up again.
 
Conditions were perfect for riding waves. I would slide down them and shoot upstream, do a few rolls, let the current wash me backwards, and then work my way back upstream, weaving among the half−dozen or so kayakers riding the waves along the way.
 
I’ve recently subscribed to Warren’s minimalism when it comes to gear: no pfd, no helmet. Just a tuilik. I enjoy a much greater freedom of movement. It seems to help me summon the playfulness of a rolling session in conditions that really call for it.
 
VIDEO: Warren riding the wave at Deception Pass, then performing kingup apummaatigut “behind−the−back” roll
 

Warren Williamson: Behind the Back Roll from Baby Seal Films on Vimeo.


Big Flood Day

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The current tables predicted another 7.0 knot flood current at Deception Pass for this weekend so I loaded up my Shooting Star baidarka on the car and drove up in the morning. I had never seen the water level at Bowman Bay so low before. It was actually a bit of a hike across the beach to get to the water. While paddling to the Pass I noticed a number of rocks along the shore had been uncovered where you normally would find tidal rips at higher tide.

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When I made it to the Room of Doom I ran into Warren Williamson, National Greenland Kayaking Champion Maligiaq Padilla, Heather, Lucas, and Helen Wilson (in the blue helmet). Helen is an accomplished coastal paddler but hadn't played in tidal races before. She flew up from California for the weekend to get some experience in the Pass. If her name sounds familiar you may recall that she placed first in the woman's division in the rolling competition at the Greenland National Kayaking Championships in 2008.

 

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I was quite pleased with my choice of kayak and gear for the day. The baidarka is faster than my skin-on-frame so paddling against the current was easier.  The round hull is also much smoother in rough water. I wore my tuilik over my drysuit which made for a more pleasant time rolling or just hanging out underwater (it keeps water out of my ears better than a surf hood). One disadvantage with wearing the tuilik is that my helmet doesn't fit over it. 

 

I had planned to bring my tow rope but forgot it. Wearing it just hasn't become a habit for me. I wanted to use it to tie my kayak to shore so I could leave it in the water at Canoe Pass while having lunch.  That way I would avoid having to drag it onto the barnacle-encrusted rocks. Fortunately, I was able to improvise by removing one end of my perimeter grab line and tying it to a rock. I used my PFD as a fender.

 

Later Helen and I tried to slog through Canoe Pass to head back to Bowman Bay but the current was still too strong. Maligiaq, Heather and Lucas has already gone back by way of a portage. Since they were in lightweight skin boats it was easy. Instead we tied a rope to our kayaks and pulled them upstream while scrambling along the shore. Warren happened to have a rope in his day hatch, but it was another situation where a real tow rope could have come in handy.

 

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Afterwards we stopped by at the Skin Boat School and checked out one of the kayaks Maligiaq has been working on. Funny thing: Greenlanders build them just like we do! The the deck beams and gunwales are joined using square bamboo pegs (actually chopsticks). I noticed he used a little Gorilla Glue to hold the breasthooks in place.


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Check it out: years of playing the Pass have seriously chewed up the stern of Warren's Anas Acuta! He said the tip of it actually broke off completely once. Fast-cure epoxy can fix anything!

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Here's a pic of the gang after a dinner and a few beers at the Rock Fish Grill and Brewery in Anacortes -- a great way to end to another great day of paddling!