Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Surly Ice Monster Truck Mk. II

It came, it cracked and it returned. In less than three weeks the new frame arrived and Foxcomp switched the components directly related to the frame. I mounted the remaining components and the result is shown below. The black version isn't quite as striking as the previous blue one, which was color matched to the rims, but it is still aesthetically quite pleasing.

It isn't built up in full tractor mode currently. For that it would need the 2XL tires, which really are substantially bigger than the Surly Buds currently mounted. It is now getting ready to go over the hills and far away, a little over a week from now.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Choosing a kayak once again

This is becoming a bad habit, but I once again found myself looking at a new kayak. I wrote a little more about that a year ago, including a list of possible alternatives for me and I'm not going to repeat all that. After that pondering I returned the cracked Zegul Arrow Play to the shop and bought a new kayak, a Seabird Scott MV HDPE, which I still think was a good buy. I wrote a little about it here.

The plastic Seabird Scott, however good it is, is still not really enough to be my number one performance kayak. For that I really want a composite kayak. I also sold the Aquarius Sea Lion last spring, even though it fullfilled most of my requirements. The main thing not good enough was the cockpit opening, which was too short for my long legs.

In the beginning of the summer I got the Venture Capella 173, as a replacement for the Arrow Play. The Capella 173 was actually in most aspect a very good kayak: It was fast, stable, roomy, manouverable and good in hard conditions. I've written a little about it here. It is now sold, since despite all its good sides I couldn't get the seating position I wanted in it.

And thus I once again was looking for kayaks. Just to recall the problem, I'm quite tall at 192 cm with long legs. I'm also somewhat heavy at a little above 100 kg, with a few kilos extra, but that is less of a problem. My main problem is to get a long enough cockpit to be able to get my legs in after having a least partly seated down in the kayak. Most of the better performance oriented Brit kayaks (I'm schooled in the British kayak tradition) fail this requirement. I'm not willing to give up this requirement, since that means giving up a number of opportunities like rodeo self rescues, working ladder rescues and reasonable surf launches and landings. There are big kayaks, but I don't want a freight ship. I've seen enough people in too big kayaks having real problems when the wind increases to want to avoid that.

Some more observations after this summer tests:

  • The Tiderace cockpit is just too short. 1-2 cm longer and it would be fine, but now it's not good enough. It could possibly be modified, but I'm not really willing to start modifying a kayak that is really expensive.
  • The Zegul Arrow Bara seemed to be an excellent kayak, but ultimately I didn't have any reason to trust the Zegul quality. Last year's experience left a bad taste and several sources confirmed my impression. 
One manufacturer that interested me was Skim Kayaks. Several friends have Skim kayaks and they look very good. Nobody had the model I was interested in, though, and it took a while get an opportunity to test the Skim Beaufort.

I did manage a short test during the guide course a two weeks ago, but wasn't overwhelmed. Juho Paaso had his kayak customized and my legs didn't really fit good enough behind the moved back front bulkhead. Picture by Petri Lindström.

I realized that the short test paddle I had done was not enough to get an impression of the Skim Beaufort, so when other circumstances took me close to Hanko on last Sunday, the final day of this years Hanko Sea Kayak Gathering, which I otherwise didn't have time to attend, I took some time to visit Skim's stand there. I tested the Beaufort a little better, checking out things like speed, directional stability, rollability, stability and turnability. Juho Paaso took a few pictures.

The Skim Beaufort turned out to be easy to roll. On the first attempt I didn't know this and used enough power to have me almost capsize on the other side. The roll below seems to show a test with a bit too little power, indicated by the paddle going to far back and sinking too much.  

The hull has a slight V bottom, probably moderate V by today's terminology, since shallow V seems to mean flat bottom nowadays.

By default the Beaufort cockpit opening was too short, but I had a discussion with the designer, Evert Aartsen, and we came up with a way to modify it to be long enough. Less that a week later I put in an order for it, with a modified cockpit and some other small modifications. I'll go to the factory in October to fetch it.

I'm quite excited about this kayak and there definitely is an added value in being able to talk directly to the manufacturer, which resides in Kokkola in Finland. Fortunately I'm quite busy in the nearest future, otherwise the wait would be long.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

A four day sea kayaking guide course

I spent last week's Thursday to Sunday on a sea kayaking guide course in the archipelago of Ingå/Inkoo. In the Finnish canoeing association, Suomen melonta- ja Soutuliitto ry, the guide level is based on a four day course and an assessment weekend. I actually passed the assessment last fall, but still had the course left to do, if I wanted the sea kayak guide level (avovesimelontaopas) in the Finnish system and not only the NIL sea kayak guide level. A somewhat inflexible system and it feels a little funny taking the course after having passed the assessment, but the things practiced during these courses can never be practiced too much and I looked forward to learn from Anssi Nupponen from RollingKayak. Every instructor have their own systems and this far I've mostly had Benjamin Donner as my instructor. The course turned out to be excellent.

The prerequisite for the course was EPP3/BCU3* level skills, which meant that we had a fairly homogenous group. Everyone also got along very well, and we had lots of fun even though the course was quite intensive. I won't go through everything in detail, but rather show some glimpses from the course. Not all pictures are great, since we spent a lot of time in the water as well, which is not easy on camera gear.

We met on Thursday morning at nine. After introductions we packed our kayaks and got going.

It didn't take long before things started to happen.

We landed and set camp for the rest of the week at Stora Fagerö. After lunch we went out with empty kayaks for more training, now that we had some wind. We started with some basic towing...

... and scooping up an unconscious paddler.

No pictures from the rest of the day, which focused on personal skills in waves. Rolls, rodeo entries and some pair rescues.

Early in the morning.

Going through the next day.

The fog didn't seem to disappear, so Anssi switched the planned night paddling to fog paddling, which I think was a good choice. Always make the most of the circumstances.

Coming up to a lateral mark after having been on compass course.

Almost everyone got to lead a section going on compass only.

On the final leg before lunch I got a (simulated) mild heart attack. As a sea kayak guide you are expected to recognize this and manage the situation on sea.

Picture by Tarja Paavola.

During lunch, the sun finally broke through the fog.

After lunch it was my turn to lead the group. Some standard (simulated) incidents occurred, like a kayak getting a big leaking hole in the hull and a paddler with wave-fobia capsizing.

Picture by Petri Lindström.

 And paddling with only half of a spare paddle.

The landing on the Sadeln island was made in British style, i.e. you swim to the beach towing the kayak, getting ashore first and then dragging the kayak up.

Picture by Petri Lindström

The island had an open cabin...

... as well as a loo with a view.

After a Brit style landing follows a British launch: Push the kayak into the water, with the tow line attached and then get into the water yourself. Enter the kayak e.g. through a rodeo entry.

The rest of the day was an 8 km open water crossing back to Stora Fagerö. There was a number of incidents, with a hysteric diabetic finally going unconscious etc.

The rest of the night went with dinner and some theory.

Saturday was mostly dedicated to learn how to teach techniques to others. Not really an easy task and there are many aspects to consider.

Some more incident management in the afternoon. Here my rear hatch had disappeared into the sea.

Nope, the storm cag was of no use here.

Finally some use for the inflatable paddle floats. No problems paddling after this, since there was only limited space for water in the rear compartment now.

Saturday evening had a big thunderstorm pass us. No pictures, though, due to the limited camera equipment.

After a while the sun returned, though another rain front would still pass during the night.

Sunday again saw a little more wind, which naturally suited us well for more incident management training. It is really amazing how much can happen at the sea.

Before lunch we again used the waves for some pair rescues and personal skill training with rolls and stuff.

Surf landing, new for some of the participants. Not a big surf, but a slightly suboptimal landing place.


Surf launch. With the right timing it was quite easy.

Now it was time for the Grande Finale.

I was to simulate dislocating my shoulder after a failed high brace. My acting was faultless, but happened mostly under water, so I couldn't hear any possible applauses. I was scooped back into the kayak and could help only with one arm myself. It was still fun, but at this point the others made a mistake, which would cause things to escalate later.

Picture by Juho Paaso.

I was towed, but the mistake made was not to empty my kayak. After a scoop rescue the cockpit is full of water. None of us was very warm before this, even in our drysuits, but sitting in water did cause some simulated hypothermia for me. Naturally this wasn't it, and there were other capsizes as well.

After having sat in water for 30 minutes my simulated hypothermia became a little worse and I couldn't hold on to the kayak supporting me, resulting in us both capsizing. From now on everything went downwards. We again had a (simulated) diabetic towing us and when she ran out of energy there was really a lot of things going on at the same time, and everything took too long. At this point I was actually coming closer to real hypothermia myself and started to shiver a little. I would have given it maybe five more minutes myself, since I do have some experience about how I react, but Anssi could naturally not trust that and called the exercise off. There was nothing more to be learned from taking it too far. My kayak was emptied with three pumps and I took off as fast as I could towards a landing place a few hundred meters away, with Anssi coming with me hoping that I would not capsize in the waves. I walked and jumped and then changed into dry clothes and warmed myself in the sun and on the warm cliffs and eventually got my warmth back, while we went through the case. I seldom get low on energy when paddling, and also had plenty of energy this time, so I recovered quite fast. In my experience mild hypothermia with no energy left in the body is a lot worse and it usually takes hours to get the warmth back.

A good exercise anyway, in part slightly unrealistic since so much happened, but on the other hand more severe accidents happen just like that. Some problem grows bigger and leads to a chain reaction where the end result can be really bad.

After this we just paddled to the camp, packed down everything and paddled back to our starting point, where Anssi held one-to-one feedback sessions for us.

All in all a really good course. Thanks to Anssi for the instructions and everyone else for good company and a lot of fun.

PS: Some gear ponderings.

I think I have a fairly good setup for harder use. The Northwater paddle britches keep the spare paddle firmly on the front deck and the spare paddle is still very easy to get out. In between the spare paddles halves I have a pump, which also stays firmly there. There were some other pumps, paddle floats and spare paddles floating around, but the only thing that didn't always stay in place for me was a sponge in the cockpit. The foredeck setup is seen here.

Behind the seat I have an inflatable paddle float, that can be locked to the backrest. A paddle float isn't really of much use for its primary purpose, but it has other uses. (I think a lot of people get a false sense of security from having a paddle float, since it isn't easy to use. A rodeo reentry would be a better choice for most people).

The Reed spraydeck is otherwise nice, but it is much too slow to fasten, and therefore a poor choice for exercises like in this course.

The hf Throw tow is an excellent tool for a sea kayak guide, but the rope is too long (15 m) for Finnish purposes. The instructions say that you can put it through the rigging of the kayak to be towed and then pull it pack and clip it onto you, giving a double rope, but that is just a recipe for a really horrible rope mess (I've tried it a couple of times). A much better way to shorten it is to put an extra loop about halfway and then clip that rope into the bottom of the rope bag with a carabiner.

And finally, we discovered that my hf Throw tow looked like this, after three years of use. It could have broken any time, which in a real situation could potentially be really bad. I'm having it fixed now.

That's it.