SOME OF MY BEST KAYAKING IDEAS
I have had the opportunity to kayak on longer trips with a variety of people and each time I learn new things. There seems a better way to do everything. All of these have significantly improved my kayaking and camping experience.
1. Nautical charts. These are indispensable for kayak navigation. As each chart costs $20 and long trips often require 3-5 charts, this gets expensive. I use the available kayaking and small boating guides along with trip reports from magazines to write all the necessary details onto the large marine charts – camping spots and landing details in red, water issues in blue, land issues in black, and flora/fauna issues in green. I fold these in half and store them in a cheap cardboard artist folio (by cutting off the white border of the charts, the charts just fit the folio). You can then make 11×17 colour photocopies on heavy weight paper and then seal them with oil based Thompsons Water Seal. I don’t bother with this water proofing. I make 11×17 colour photocopies of the route to be taken with small overlaps. Each chart is given a sequential number and the edge of charts are labeled with the number of adjoining charts. All are stored in the chart holder in order. Some days (like the 60 km day we had in Haida Gwaii), I went through 5 sheets. The expensive charts are left at home. There is no need to waterproof the paper if the chart holder is guaranteed to be dry. Each day, I organize the charts for the day and write the tides and current turn times and speeds on the chart. Everything I need to make any decision on the water is right in front of me.
2. Seal Line Chart Holder.
This full size chart holder is constructed of lightweight plastic that allows a four fold watertight seal closed with a strong Velcro cover. This system is much easier to close securely than the zip-lock type closure on older chart holders. It is absolutely watertight as evidenced by keeping my simple paper photocopy charts dry during capsizes. My only criticism is that it is so lightweight (even with up to 20 pages of charts) that it catches the wind and blows around easily. I use double-sided carabiners to attach the chart holder to my bungees.
3. Tide tables from the Internet.
These offer several advantages from the printed tide table and current tables. Time is corrected for daylight savings time. Tables for intermediate stations are available. They are free except for printing costs. They print much larger and I write the appropriate tides and currents on my photocopied charts of the day.
4. Write down the weather report.
Get into the habit of writing down the present, extended, and sea state weather reports. It is amazing how short your memory can be for the exact numbers when the reports are so long and so many numbers repeated. It takes practice to write a shorthand version that gets all the important info. I write a daily diary and try to include it as part of that entry.
Southern Vancouver Island includes the US report for Juan de Fuca Strait. Their reports are so much better than the Canadian ones. They give the wind speeds and wave heights for individual parts of the day, separate wave height into wind wave and swell, and list the frequency of the swell, and all that info is included for the one destination in one single go, rather than listening to 3 parts of the forecast for information on any one site in the Canadian reports.
5. Weather station location map.
Weather reports are given listing ocean buoys, land weather stations, lighthouses, and bodies of water that can be confusing and dangerous when you don’t get the weather right. If not listening to weather reports regularly, it is difficult to keep all the stations straight – which ones are far off shore and which lighthouses don’t provide regional weather but more local weather. Obtain a copy of all the weather stations so that you know their location and what that weather means for you. The best map of weather stations for the west coast of Canada is at http://ec.gc.ca/publications and look for the Marine Weather Guide. Plasticize to take on all trips. There is an incomplete one on page 12 of the “BC Coast Explorer North, Port Hardy to Bamfield”, by Coast and Kayak Magazine.
6. Garmin GPS Map 62S with Blue Chart.
I have owned a GPS for over a decade and have barely used it. I am not into technical stuff. But there is only one way to paddle in fog or to have long crossings where the destination is over the horizon. For day-to-day paddling, I only turn it on to determine my ground speed and occasionally find my location in confusing situations. My charts have much better detail, all the information I need to paddle, and they don’t consume batteries.
With this GPS, I also purchased the Ram windshield suction cup holder. A secure roller lock holds the GPS. GPS position is adjusted two ways with a single knob. I secure both to my boat with a tether. This suction lock is very secure as it stayed in place on my deck through 2 capsizes.
7. Tilley Hat.
Insured against loss and replaced free if it wears out, the Tilley Hat is the hat to wear kayaking. Made of 10 oz cotton duck with brass hardware, the hat floats, repels all rain even when wetted out, blocks 100% of UV rays, won’t shrink, and is handcrafted with Canadian persnicketness (it says that right in the hat). With a unique backstrap and chinstrap, the hat is guaranteed to stay on in all wind conditions. I capsized with it on, made a wet exit and reentered the boat without worrying about my Tilley staying on. I needed a new hat and all I could find at the time was a thin nylon hat with a floppy brim. It provided no protection in a wind or blowing rain. The Tilley’s stiff brim provides optimal wind and rain protection. It is recommended that you wash the hat frequently and air dry it. I store my name and email address along with a $20 bill in a small plastic bag in the pocket in the crown of the hat.
8. Polarized sunglasses.
These are recommended for kayaking as they reduce water glare better. Seeing all the underwater life is also easier.
9. Footwear for kayaking.
I haven’t found the perfect answer. My feet get very cold in Keens. My long neoprene boots are expensive and inevitably get water in them somehow but they remain warm. They require wearing wool socks and then develop unacceptable smells. Neoprene booties keep your feet wet producing swamp or bathtub foot. The best answer may be Teva 5 Finger Water Shoes as they drain, your toes stay warm as they are covered, and the sole is fairly substantial making for reasonable hiking shoes on the muddy trails of the “wet” coast. Solid pedal rudder systems use toe movement that would work well with these. Another good option are Kokatat Launch Socks – Gore-tex and neoprene knee high socks best worn with sandals. They look like gaiters and the baggy tops are not terribly attractive but they are effective.
10. Fleece stretch kayak tops.
I have two of these, one by Bomber Gear and one by Mysterioso that I use with my farmer John wetsuit. They are unbelievably warm. I have had three capsizes in cold water, once without a paddling jacket, was in the water for at least 15 minutes each time and stayed relatively warm each time. I was able to empty the boat, keep paddling to safer waters, and never shiver. However, I am a ‘warm’ person.
11. Wet suit or dry suit?
Because of the cold water in the Pacific Northwest, it is necessary to wear immersion protection to prevent hypothermia. Dry suits obviously provide the best protection but have disadvantages a. expensive b. the gaskets and zippers wear out c. going to the bathroom difficult d. very hot in warm water (must roll to get cool). As a result I prefer a wet suit with a pee zipper. Instead of a farmer Jane, women might prefer a two-piece wet suit.
12. Taper bags.
These Seal Line bags fit nicely into the bow or stern of boats. I use one in my bow to hold all my clothes.
KAYAK AND PADDLES
13. Rudder vs Skeg kayak.
I bought my first kayak, a Current Designs Solstice GT in 1999 after visiting a sea kayak festival where I was able to paddle many boats. However my kayaking experience was minimal and this large boat with great primary stability felt the least “jittery” so that is what I bought. It has little rocker and is difficult to maneuver and turn into the wind. It is not easy to paddle without a rudder. The cockpit is huge and fills with scads of water in a capsize.
On a recent kayak trip around Cape Scott, I was with Ian Heath, an experienced kayaker who has a religious fervor in the skeg vs. rudder debate. He and his partner, Barbara Brooks were paddling Valley Nordkapps specially ordered by Ian and equipped with a mounted pump with a handle and a deck compass. The kayaks rarely touch solid ground and are in immaculate condition.
Ian had previously criticized my boat as apparently Current Design kayaks are not glassed on the inside and outside and have been known to fracture in two in surf landings. On this trip, we often had following seas and as rudders end up out of the water some of the time, Ian’s opinion is that they are much less controllable than a skegged boat. Their worst experience was with Feathercraft Katsilanos, a much narrower boat than mine.
With following seas, it tended to pivot on the top of the swell and become unstable.
So I did some research on the Internet. In the end, the conclusion is clear – a rudder is better, especially for expedition kayaking – better turning, higher speed because of less need to paddle on one side to correct direction, handles adverse conditions better, and have more storage space (a skeg takes up appreciable space in the rear compartment). The skeg boat is better for day tripping and for paddling technique because of fixed foot braces (rudder systems can have fixed foot braces with the Smart Track rudder system, or other gas peddle/tiller systems), weight, aesthetics, simplicity, and cost. It was a draw on malfunction/reparability. To me the skeg advantages are only significant in regard to the fixed footbrace issue and the other four advantages are not very important.
The handling advantages of a rudder system easily make it the best. Paul Caffyn used a skeg boat around New Zealand and then a ruddered kayak (both Valley Nordkapps) when circumnavigating Australia and the ruddered boat won hands down in his opinion.
I believe there is a lot of emotion over this issue. All articles stressed being able to handle your boat using neither.
Here are some comments from Barbara Brooks, an experienced kayaker who has owned many kinds of boats. “Rudders have weak points, the pin and cables. The cables need to be inspected before trips with extra cables along for backup. I have had the pivot pin break in the middle of a tricky crossing and required a tow. I have had my rudder damaged by another paddler on land. I have had a near capsize with my bow tangling in the cables on another boat.
I have paddled ruddered boats that have fixed foot rest and rudder controls. The rudder controls were prone to becoming stiff and difficult to move with your toes. With fixed foot rests it also means that the boat has to be custom fit to the paddler making it less versatile. With our skeg boats we adjust the boat to different paddlers using different foot plugs (foam foot rests).
I am interested to read what Paul Caffyn says, since our Nordkapp with the skeg is the only Nordkapp I have recently paddled. The drastic improvement in the sea worthiness overshadowed the skeg/rudder issue. With our boats the thin stern would not lend itself to a rudder, would have to be cut off changing the whole design of the boat. We have rudders on the Feathercraft Katsilanos, which also have a fine stern. The rudder is very weak in following rough seas meaning that it can be out of the water 50% of the time and the boat becomes quite uncontrollable.
I was always happy with rudders on boats except in rough following seas, in those conditions I think there is an improvement with the skeg. No matter what equipment I am in, these are very difficult paddling conditions.”
14. Bilge pump system that allows bracing and isn’t through your spray skirt.
The most significant part of a capsize is not getting back in your boat but emptying the cockpit of all that water in rough conditions. A proper T rescue seems difficult to do properly and takes significant practice in a loaded boat. It is possible for the swimmer to empty his boat by going to his bow, placing his paddle over his shoulder (about half way), and while doing a leg kick and vigorous pull of the paddle down into the water, to at least partially empty the boat and flip it upright all in one move.
I have a voluminous cockpit in my Current Designs Solstice GT High Volume kayak. It is 25” wide with at least 18” in front of my feet where I wedge my sleeping bag when paddling. That makes for a lot of pumping.
In rough seas, one almost always ends up getting sideways to the waves so it is best to have the rescuing boat up weather.
It is also then necessary to keep your spray skirt on and to have the pump down the front of your spray skirt. This is not the most effective pumping angle and only easily allows you to pump out to the level of the seat when the bottom of the pump has to be angled forward creating an almost impossible angle with the top of the pump forced against your body. It can be very fatiguing and dangerous with all the instability caused by a boat full of water that requires rafting up to pump safely.
On my last trip around Cape Scott, I paddled with Ian Heath and Barbara Brooks who have Valley Nordkapp kayaks. Their boats have a built-in pump that sits immediately in front of the cockpit and a hose that drops directly down between their legs to be fixed under the seat. A small metal handle fits into its own slot on the right side of the boat. The handle is inserted into the pump and allows one to brace, keep you facing into the waves and pump at the same time. Because the cockpit is so low volume (21” wide and no room in front of feet), it is possible to empty the boat in 2 minutes. This is a huge improvement over my boat and much safer. One problem is that they do not carry normal bilge pumps so can’t provide a spare if yours is lost.
More popular foot pumps are also available on Valley kayaks.
Some kayaks have electric pumps but I would be concerned about battery failure, lack of charge, or pump failure in a salt environment.
15. Under deck bag.
This is useful for storing all sorts of things one needs on the water – sunscreen, lip sunscreen, snacks, sun glasses. It rarely gets in the way.
16. Greenland Paddle.
I recently purchased a beautiful carbon fibre Greenland paddle by Superior Kayaks – 90” (229 cm) long and 26 oz in weight. After reading a review of Greenland paddles, this model sounded the best and it has not disappointed me. There is absolutely no flutter and it is super light. Paddling is a low arm stroke with a higher cadence suitable for long distance touring. I am not able to maintain the same pace as I can with my normal paddle. It is foam cored so it floats and is two-piece with a Lendal Padlock joint system (uses a 3mm hex wrench, the button is recessed so your hand glides smoothly along the shaft). The shoulder is a very comfortable place for your hands and provides a wide surface to push against. The low profile offers little resistance to the wind. The paddle slips through your hands for its entire length offering more options for sweep strokes, bracing and rolling. The grip section is oval and quite large (1½ x 1¼”), and at the limit for my hand size.
17. Paddle Leash.
In a capsize, especially in rough seas, it is very difficult to control both your boat and paddle. The rescuer also has to have a safe place to stow his paddle during the rescue. Danger of entanglement is often cited as the reason to not use a leash but that has been not an issue with me. It is important to undo the leash prior to landing especially in surf. Most people’s spare paddle is of such poor quality that losing your best paddle could become significant.
18. Noodles. These swimming pool play toys make great rollers. They make it possible to move full boats up and down beaches alone without damaging the boat. Virtually every time you launch or land, your noodle will be of value. One noodle is sufficient but two can work best – simply place one under the working end, lift up the other end and slide and roll your boat where you want it. Sand is best but rock beaches can be improved by moving crucial rocks on your path. They are a necessity for the single kayaker who would have to unload his boat to move it far.
Not all noodles are created equal. Only the ones that are thick will stand up to the abuse they are subjected to and be thick enough to keep your boat off the rocks. Even then the middle eventually loses its integrity and they need to be replaced. I cut one noodle into three lengths and carry two short lengths if possible.
19. Carry straps. Moving even partially loaded boats can be a chore and a common cause of back injury when kayaking. Never pick up a loaded boat by the toggles. With three or four paddlers in your group, you can move loaded boats with good carry straps. These are two types of home-made straps using seat belt nylon straps:
a. Simple – Sew the seat belt to enclose small loops of rope joined with whipping twine and glue, and a plastic electrical tube slipped over the whipped part for handles. (designed by Ian Heath)
b. Adjustable – Add a plastic adjustment to the strap to use the carry straps for both doubles and singles. Make the functional length of strap shorter – one end is sewn around ½ inch PVC and the other passed through a cut-out in a second PVC pipe so that the strap can be lengthened. Use thin rope loops to add ¾ inch PVC pipe handles to each side. (designed by Ted Oldham)
20. Beach Tarp. Buy the cheapest small nylon tarp or piece of plastic you can find to put on the beach to keep all your stuff clean when loading and unloading. It is not necessary on nice rock beaches but very useful on sand. Also useful anytime you need things quickly covered, it can be “door mat” in front of the door of your tent, or a sun shelter. Mine is very cheap thin nylon and consumes little space in my boat.
21. IKEA Bags. These large tote bags are indispensable for hauling around all the stuff in your boat. Made of blue nylon with short and long carry straps, they are virtually indestructible. Able to carry a lot of gear, with 2 bags, one can almost manage one carry from your boat to your campsite. When empty they consume little space. They are the last things that go into each hatch before the cover is closed.
Expensive, rarely used but necessary, and rapidly outdated, flares can be frustrating to keep updating. Have a fireworks night on a beach in the wilderness to practice firing your flares, use the outdated ones and have some fun. Make sure that you do it when there is no wind or fire danger. I am not sure if this is illegal??
An interesting flare to have is a parachute flare. They are large and shoot to 1000 meters. Fit it into a homemade watertight tube made from PVC plumbing tubing.
23. Waterproof binoculars.
There is no need for more than 7 power binoculars in a kayak because of movement. They can be useful for assessing water conditions in the open ocean and of course for viewing wildlife.
24. Hydration system on PFD.
It is well accepted that the best way to keep hydrated is with a system that allows regular small drinks on demand. It is especially important in difficult paddling conditions where you may not be able to undo a spray skirt or take your hands off your paddles. Platypus makes an expensive system for kayaking, or it is easy to make one at home with some nylon and strapping. Use a 1-litre bladder to keep the weight down.
25. Peeing in your boat (and tent).
The last thing you always do before launching is take a pee. It is important sometimes to be able to paddle long distances without landing. Men generally have an easy time of this and using a pee bottle is easy in the boat. Large Gatorade bottles have a wider mouth and work well. Several years ago, I bought a size 14 Farmer Jane wetsuit with a full crotch zip not available in the men’s model. It is worth its weight in gold. As I age, my holding time is decreasing and this wet suit makes it so easy. A pee bottle works great in my tent too.
How this works for women should be dealt with by someone with experience. It would be worthwhile information for most women. It may be possible with a She Wee and a bottle.
26. Clear sunscreen.
I have always disliked greasy cream based sunscreens. Ombrelle Transparent SPF 30 is clear and minimally greasy. It can be applied quickly just before paddling and the slipperiness wears off rapidly. It blocks both UVA and UVB. Store in a small squeeze bottle so it takes up little room.
27. Photocopy bird book.
There are many seabirds on the water and they all look like small dark “ducks”. I make color photocopies of the appropriate pages from my Sibley Field Guide to Birds – Western North America. Over the course of a trip, especially on the outer coast, I have learned to recognize most of the species.
A book on the animals and plants on the seashore “Exploring the Seashore” by Gloria Snively is a great, well-organized book with many color photos. It is useful for birds and tide pooling.