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!

Sea Kayaking in Bowman Bay and Beyond

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I ran into National Greenland Kayaking Champion Maligiaq and Warren Williamson at Bowman Bay on Friday. The other paddler in the upside baidarka is Cullen who has been working with Corey Freedman at the Skinboat School.

Maligiaq is in the area working 17 hours a day building kayaks at the school, but also has been able to take some time to play around in the Pass. That afternoon they were at the Room of Doom in a 7.0 knot flood. Warren says it took him 7 years to figure out how to deal with this place, but it took Maligiaq "about 7 minutes." He was doing under-the-hull-sculling rolls in the middle of giant whirlpools.

Tom Sharp and Corey had staked out positions with HD cameras on the shore and on the bridge. The idea was to take pictures of Warren and Maligiaq in traditional skinboats. Hopefully we'll get to see the video of that soon!

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I was hoping to join them but arrived late. Instead I paddled alone around Deception Island, into the Pass where I played around a little, then back to Deception Island, then north along the shore from Bowman Bay. You can find a number of sea caves just north of Bowman Bay. It's made up of tall cliffs and tiny pocket beaches -- one of the most scenic stretches of shoreline around in my opinion. With almost no kelp along there at this time of year, you enjoy an unobstructed path right along the rocks and feel more of the surge action.

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Just one more pic of Warren Williamson getting sucked into a whirlpool at the "Room of Doom"!

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Sea Kayaking in Deception Pass: The Room of Doom

Sea Kayaking in Deception Pass: The Room of Doom from Baby Seal Films on Vimeo.

I played at the infamous "Room of Doom" at Deception Pass the other day for the first time! The "Room" is an area just east of the bridge on the Whidbey Island side of the Pass where the water boils up and forms large whirlpools during a flood current. Yes, this is where the big boys (and girls) play! I brought my Greenland boat at slack and waited for the current to build. Quite a few other kayakers showed up as well.

At first I thought the idea was to paddle through the boils right next to the cliff and peel out into the current. Later I realized that you want to let the huge whirlpools that form between the main current and boils suck you in and see if you can stay upright and escape them. Have you heard those horror stories of paddlers coming out of their boats and getting sucked in up to their necks in the whirlpools? This is where it happens!

Warren Williamson told me that over the years he would go to the Room of Doom on big flood and challenge those whirlpools to hold him down so he couldn’t roll up. This is where he developed the technique of not trying to roll all the way up, but just get to a sculling brace. In a big whirlpool it can be impossible to recover with a complete roll, but one can usually get to a sculling brace. He said that there have been many times when he was stuck upside down in a really big whirlpool and he would get to a brace to catch a breath, lying on his back and looking up at the sky. He could feel the whirlpool grow stronger, as if to say, “I’ll get you yet, you little f**ker"!”

Warren has requested that after he dies his body be cremated and ashes put in a little container, and that his friends take him to the Room of Doom on a really big flood and throw him into the biggest whirlpool. Maybe then if you listen carefully you'll hear the whirlpools say, “At last, we got that little f**ker!”

I sat out the strongest part of the flood to shoot this video. The soundtrack is the Gothic Blues song "Room of Doom".


BREAKING NEWS: Tom Sharp Speaks

 

This YouTube video is just in from Tom himself.  While standing on a picnic table in front of 150 kayakers, at the Deception Pass Dash, he denounces Qajaq USA, declares the demise of Dubside.net, then proceeds to hand out all the remaining inventory of DVDs for free.  People snatch them up like zombies scavenging a corpse.
 
This was a particularly poignant moment for me. I was also there when Tom began shooting video of Dubside on the ropes for Qajaasaarneq, and shot the video I used for This is Warren.  It started and ended at Bowman Bay.  
 
I think there are very few people who have done more to popularize Greenland Style kayaking in recent years than Tom and Dubside have with the publication of their three videos Qajaasaarneq, Greenland Rolling with Dubside, and Modern Greenland Kayaking.  It is very unfortunate that kayakers in the future will probably no longer have access to these videos, except maybe as rare bootleg copies.  

Deception Pass Dash 2008: A Totally Epic Race!

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Here is a picture of my new kayak. It is the first production kayak I've ever owned. All my others were skin-on-frame or homemade wooden composites. So yeah I actually did make that paradigm shift after all.  I think the whole time I was looking for that perfect playful low volume rough water kayak I must have really wanted a fast touring boat. When a friend let me try his Epic Endurance I was so impressed by the comfort, speed and maneuverability that I knew that this was the type of kayak I needed to go farther and faster. Hey if it's good enough for Freya Hoffmeister it must be good enough for me!  I know this kayak is ugly as hell but I think once I start covering the deck with corporate logo stickers it will look much better.

I had my Epic for week before the Deception Pass Dash and had only paddled it 4 times. During that week I switched back and forth between using my Werner Ikelos blade and my Superior Kayaks carbon Greenland paddle. I think I hadn't used my Werner for at least a couple years (since the Baja Incident), but I convinced myself that by using it I could paddle something like 0.2-0.3 knots faster. It was actually not very easy to determine that because of all the confounding currents on Puget Sound. 

 

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Using my Werner in the race turned out to be the biggest mistake of the day. For one thing I am pretty rusty with it for rolling. For another the conditions turned out to be pretty challenging.  Lisa J recently posted the recorded wind speed in knots on the SKSB-NW message board:

 

"The strongest conditions of the last 48 hours reported by Smith Island were: Sun 12/07/08 SW 7 @ 956, W 14.77 G20.855 @ 1056, SW 13.9 @ 1156, SW 19.11 G26 @ 1256. That was right about the time of the race and probably consistent with the carnage, including a jet skier at the end. Patrol boats reported 5' breaking at that south end of Deception Pass Island before the last boater came though and we all came back through 6+' cresting waves from all directions half the way back into Bowman at about noon."   

The steep waves reflecting off of Deception Island demanded a lot of bracing.  Just after rounding Deception Island I pulled out into a protected spot and switched to my Greenland paddle. That cost me a couple minutes but WOW did I feel so much better! I felt like I was ready for anything and I was finally able to take advantage of the Epic 18x's speed on flatter water. Pushing against the ebb current was not a problem this year compared to last and being able to precisely control tracking with the rudder was a real pleasure. 

There was a brief moment of relief when the safety crew around Strawberry Island told us "It's all downhill from here!" Of course they didn't count on the wind channeling through Canoe Pass, the steep standing waves in the channel, and all the chaotic water around Deception Island that we had just gone through before. It was actually a much tougher fight back with the wind and waves in your face but totally exhilarating.  
 
There was a guy surfing the standing waves in the middle of Canoe Pass. I don't know if he was part of the rescue team or what.  It wouldn't have surprised me if he was a racer.  More than a few people must have been tempted to forget the race completely and take advantage of the rare opportunity to play in such fantastic conditions.

 

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Some results:
 
There were 126 racers.
Thirty-two did not finish.
I finished 12th out of 16 in my class ("fast sea kayak") with a time of 87 min 12 sec.  I was the last in my class who finished.
According to my GPS the course was 5.93 nm.
 
Fifty-two percent of those in high performance kayaks ("surf-skis") did not finish compared to 25% of those in fast sea kayaks and 22.5% in sea kayaks.  
 
The video below was filmed by Dubside from the Bowman Bay dock and the on water footage was taken from the back of my kayak.

 

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Third Annual Deception Pass Dash (2008) Part 1 from Baby Seal Films on Vimeo.

 

 

Third Annual Deception Pass Dash (2008) Part 2 from Baby Seal Films on Vimeo.


Countdown to the 3rd Annual Deception Pass Dash (2008)

Four more days until the big race. The latest news is that 110 paddlers are signed up for the race on Sunday. It is going to be one huge party! Hopefully there will be places to park and that the logistics of getting everyone signed in and on the water in time works out. 

I was out yesterday afternoon in my Shooting Star baidarka training hard and testing out gear with a couple friends in Seattle. We raced from Lake Union through the Montlake Cut to Lake Washington and back. I usually pooh-pooh lake paddling but one cool thing about messing around in Seattle is that there are plenty of slow moving power boats around that you can draft behind. I was effortlessly doing 5.3 knots behind one of them! It's a real "gas" as long as you can stand a mouthful of diesel exhaust.   

Here is the weather report for Sunday:  
 
NORTHERN INLAND WATERS INCLUDING THE SAN JUAN ISLANDS-
300 PM PST WED DEC 3 2008
 
SUN...SW WIND 15 TO 25 KT. WIND WAVES 2 TO 4 FT.

If you remember last year there was a high wind and surf warning for the Whidbey Island area the night before. It was a bitter, cold and brutal fight but 76 paddlers slogged through it, although a few didn't finish, due to the strong ebb current, not necessarily the windy conditions. So it will be really interesting to see how things unfold this year.

Here is a pic of me with Bill Walker at the awards ceremony last year.  I won a dry bag!

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ADDENDUM:  There are now 119 people signed up and the DPD crew says "The weather looks good for Sunday, a few showers but 49 balmy degrees, with a 10mph SW breeze. Perfect. "   Interesting about that a big discrepency between their reports and mine.

New Video: Deception Pass Merry Go Round

Deception Pass Merry Go Round from Baby Seal Films on Vimeo.

Freya Hoffmeister (in black drysuit and red Illusion), Warren Williamson (wooden Arctic Hawk SS), Reg Lake, Chris Mitchell, myself in cedar strip Shooting Star baidarka, and a few others tear it up in the tidal race (7.3 knot ebb) at Canoe Pass. Also features a guy named Chris in a squirt boat. 
 
I didn't put a big effort into the videography here -- just set my camera on a tripod and let it run.  I also used a helmet cam for the first time and it was basically a total failure.  The images were shaky and crooked, and there was always water on the lens.  I managed to salvage a few awful seconds out an entire hour of crappy video though.

November Sea Kayak Party at Deception Pass

I slept in and missed the morning pool session so at the last minute I decided I would go to Deception Pass.  It turned out to be a beautiful sunny day and there were more kayakers playing there than I have ever seen (the picture below only shows a small part of the crowd). Most of the people were there with local kayaking clubs, not classes, so the skill level was high all around.  

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IceKap Weekend: Deception Pass

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I got up at 5AM Sunday to break camp and cross over to Anacortes during slack water. As I shoved off the sky started to grow brighter and it began to rain. Except for the raindrops on the surface the water was completely still. A porpoise swam by. A warm breeze blew gently from the south. An early morning ferry passed close in front of me. From what I could see in the windows, it was mostly empty except for a handful of passengers. I saw no other boats on the water.
 
After landing and unpacking back in Washington Park, I drove down to Deception Pass to find some rough water. I grabbed a  second breakfast then took a nap in my car at the Bowman Bay boat launch. Later I was awakened by the arrival of a group of kayakers and a van pulling a trailer with about a dozen kayaks. When they started doing warm-up exercises in a circle on the grass I decided I would get going. 

I warmed up by doing a few rolls in Bowman Bay. I’m used to an “ocean sized” cockpit but even with the large cockpit I felt that I could get a good grip on the underside of the deck of the IceKap with my knees. It felt a little stiff doing layback rolls (I think the backband was a bit restrictive) but forward finishing rolls were very easy, and the IceKap felt like it wanted to just pop back upright. 

Then I sprinted toward Deception Island, with the skeg down. It seemed faster today, probably because the boat was empty. I wish I knew how fast I was going this time, but unfortunately the battery cover on my GPS came off and it got wet. It twisted off because I had a lanyard attached to the battery cover lock.  Lesson#5: Electronics will fail.
 
The IceKap’s maneuverability made for easy paddling around the rocks and kelp at Deception Island. I pulled the skeg up when I approached the Island. I didn’t notice any weather cocking with the skeg up when I left the Island and headed into the Pass with the wind at my beam.

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I timed the trip so I would enter the Pass at slack, but still had to work against the growing ebb, paddling close to the rocky shore and taking advantage of back eddies when I could, and sprinting through the current when I had to. I really loved the IceKap’s agility here. The light weight made for quick acceleration and turning. Did I mention that Sterling says the IceKap will turn 360 degrees in three strokes? 

Playing in the current was a real pleasure. Edging was smooth, and the IceKap felt very stable in the waves, despite the hard chines and 19.5 in beam. Once in a while some standing waves would pop up as the current evolved. They weren’t big enough to do any surfing on but it was fun to roll around in them.

Lesson#6: In rough water the IceKap really shines!

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Finally the kayaking class arrived. Soon after, a whale watching boat came in close to watch the kayakers. I couldn’t resist showing off for the tourists. I did the trick where I appear to capsize accidentally and then stay under for as long as possible before slowly rolling back up. If you’ve ever watched someone else do that it’s unnerving because you don’t know if the guy is drowning or what. Another cool trick is to paddle into the current and then fall into a balance brace. The current carries you floating on your back and it feels like you’re flying (I learned that from Shawna and Leon of Body Boat Blade). 

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So in conclusion I think the IceKap is an awesome kayak! I was unsure the first day out, but the second day at the Pass really convinced me that it is really as good as people say it is, for Greenland style rolling, playing in rough water, and light camping. Apparently it excels in the surf and in very nasty outer coastal conditions as well, although I can't speak from any experience on that. It's also fully equipped to do the BCU thing. So if that’s your paddling style than I highly recommend it. In addition, the state−of−the−art lightweight construction makes a difference in performance as well as in the ease of cartopping and resistance to getting holes in the hull. I would definitely buy an IceKap myself, and still might someday, but I guess I realized from this experience that I have a number of low volume rolling/light touring boats already and didn’t really need another one. Maybe what I really wanted was something different, like a fast boat with enough volume for multiday touring.  Or maybe it's because I just can't get emotional about a boat that's not made out of wood.

Do you think I could get Sterling to sell me a license to build an IceKap in vacuum-bagged cedar strip?

The Legendary Warren Williamson

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After my modifications to the hatches and padeyes on my Laughing Loon Shooting Star cedar strip baidarka, Moonlight Dancer, my compartments stay bone dry.  The hatches are supertight. I actually have to slide my Gerber knife under the hatch cover and carefully twist it to get them to open. When I break the seal you can hear a satisfying puff of air as the pressure equalizes. Too much of a good thing -- I love my baidarka! 

There was a predicted 5.7 knot ebb at Deception Pass today – a great opportunity to try out Moonlight Dancer in rough water. I leave home early and arrive expecting a few more kayakers to be at the put-in at Bowman Bay, but I’m alone. It was warm and sunny in Tacoma but cold and foggy here. Another rule I should have followed: always bring extra fleece, even in the middle of summer. I spend fifteen minutes practicing a few rolls in the bay to loosen up and get comfortable being in Moonlight Dancer again, then set off for the Pass.

Deception Island is hidden in fog. A gentle swell breaks against the cliffs. I see the bridge and Canoe Pass. Still no other kayakers. Oh well, I have the whole place to myself. I paddle along the shore inside the kelp, then sprint out into the current, brace downstream and do a low brace turn, ride the current through standing waves, then catch the eddy back close to shore to start another round.  Moonlight Dancer feels good in the waves.

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After playing I ride the current back to Bowman Bay, but along the way I run into another paddler with a Greenland stick and a tuilik. It’s Warren Wailliamson. He’s in a 19.5 ft Superior Kayaks stitch-and-glue Arctic Hawk SS.  Even though I’ve been out for two hours already I join him to go back to the Pass. It’s harder paddling upstream now that the current is at its max. He takes off far ahead of me.

Warren is legendary at the Pass, so to paddle with him is an opportunity that shouldn’t be missed. He probably goes there every day that he’s not working. (Actually I think he’s been on an extended vacation the last couple years.) As we approach the bridge he surfs the standing waves – sooo smooth! The waves push him upstream to the narrowest part of Canoe Pass. He fires off a a number of rolls one after another…with a norsaq…in the middle of the 5.7 knot current. I sit in the kelp bed and watch. While other people go to a pool to practice rolls, Warren comes here. 

Again I paddle into the current. The waves are bigger now. I turn to face upstream and get on the face on a big green wave. I sprint to keep from going backward. I hear the roar of chaotic whitewater behind me.  Even though you are surfing you can’t feel any forward motion at all. The only way to know is by visual cues. Moonlight Dancer holds a straight course on the wave. This is good! I turn downstream, punch through the waves and fall into innaqatsineq, before recovering to catch the eddy back.

During a strong flood current big whirlpools form. Warren says he’s been sucked into them up to his armpits. He developed a special roll to recover, which involves lying on the back deck, sculling to the surface, then flipping over to an innaqatsineq position, sculling up and recovering, similar to the “back deck” roll. The flood currents can really push you into the rocks so Warren will only take his Anas Acuta.

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Back at Bowman Bay I take out and have lunch. Despite the lingering fog, the beach is filled with more people than I’ve ever seen here before. Warren stays in the water and practices rolls. He told me earlier that in flatwater he only practices hand rolls now, both forward and layback recovery. He says once you know those then everything else is "icing on the cake". He has literally a different twist on the forward recovery, which has eluded me despite a lot of practice. After capsizing he tucks forward but facing up until his face is just beneath the water, then unwinds his body in a powerful twist that scoops the kayak under him. I’ll have to try that with my norsaq tomorrow.

After lunch I get back in the water and try a few rolls myself. Then as I’m climbing back up the bank I see filmmaker Tom Sharp and Dubside! They’ve come to stop at the place where it all started: Bowman Bay, the location of the rolling and ropes videos. In fact, I first met Tom here when they were filming. Tom’s station wagon is packed and he’s just picked up Dubside for their trip to the Greenland National Kayaking Championships.  Their flight leaves tomorrow. We all say goodbye and good luck. One last thing: they leave me with a copy of the Greenland Rolling with Dubside DVD.  Awesome!