Sunday, October 31, 2010

Trick or treat

Treating ourselves to a beautiful day

I don't know if is because this is a spooky time of year but my new Olympus Stylus Tough 6020 camera has been behaving oddly.

New, out of the box, when the camera is turned on there's an "Olympus" welcome message displayed on screen. Its just useless waste of time when taking pictures but can be turned off, which I did. On a recent trip right out of the blue it got turned on again so I had to figure out how to turn it off again.

On the same trip, the camera just went from taking 14 megapixel pictures to 2 megapixel which was unknown to me until I downloaded the shots after I got home. Very odd.

Yesterday I showed up at St. Philips for some more windy day play with what I thought was a fully charged battery. It was fully discharged so I got no pictures. I was dumbfounded because I watched the charging indicator light go off.

I don't know if it was something I did inadvertently or if there's a software glitch but I'll be keeping a close eye on it. So, while I had a treat playing in the waves my camera was playing tricks on me.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Faster pussycat

Malcolm with the afterburners on

Malcolm is a speed demon; he's said as much. He tries to get every ounce of speed out of his paddle. Its a question I've mulled over in my mind ... what is the upper boundary of speed in a seakayak?

Singles Olympic kayak racers compete in two events, the K1 500 and 1,000 metres. They paddle, on average, 18.5 kms/hr (10.25 knots) in the 500 and 16 (8.75) in the 1,000. That's on a silky smooth course in ultra sleek racing yaks. Those speeds can't be maintained over longer, day-paddle distances.

We don't paddle racing boats and we're not Olympic caliber athletes (if we were we'd be there competing wouldn't we?). What can we hope for?

It depends on a lot of things. Sea state, wind and paddle direction and penchant for speed. It seems to me that I can paddle downwind in a following sea twice as fast as into the same conditions. Paddling downwind its possible to let it all hang out. Upwind requires pacing oneself. Paddling too hard upwind runs the risk of running out of gas before reaching the destination.

Its nice to have a measure of paddling speed because it gives an indication of progress in developing an efficient paddle style. Ultimately, it comes down to efficiency. Efficiency provides the greatest speed possible in any given condition on the water because we can't always wait for calm conditions like Olympic racers do.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Are you experienced?

Pete in the foam

Good judgement and experience are two key tools we use for kayaking safety. Experience builds both paddling skills and good judgement.

We're coming up on the anniversary of an adventure a group of us had Remembrance Day of last year. In a nutshell, I planned on staying close in the cove at St. Philips and did not check the weather forecast. Without giving thought to the possibility the weather could change we paddled away from the cove and got caught 5 kms away in Topsail in a howling wind and driving snow squalls. We got off the water safely but re-uniting with our vehicles was an inconvenience. It was a lesson learned.

In an on-line article at Seakayker Magazine for October 2010, Tsunami Ranger Michael Powers describes a harrowing experience he had lost at sea in a thick fog and by himself. I was surprised at the poor decision making given his obvious ability and experience. Its something I'd expect from someone totally inexperienced. After reading it I forgave myself the mistake I made last year because if Michael Powers can make a gaffe like that then anyone can. I take my hat off to him though for recounting the escapade for the benefit of paddlers everywhere.

Most of us make mistakes. The key is not to repeat them, to do so means experience counts for nothing.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Sunshine, lollipops and rainbows

A pot of gold at the end of the rainbow?

Friday, a klunk in the rear end and a wonky brake peddle told me I had brake issues to deal with. Up early Saturday to install new brake shoes with an eye on meeting some guys for some windy day paddling. The job went to script so I was able to meet Dean and Gary for a couple of hours of bouncing around in the waves.

Inside the cove it was calm, outside it was blowing with whitecaps everywhere. Paddle into the wind, turn and catch some wicked surf rides back. That was literally the pot at the end of the rainbow - pay your dues and take the reward.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Rolling practice

And he's up

Earlier this week Malcolm stated on our paddling newsgroup that he goofed off at pool practice and only did 30 rolls. His intention was to do 50 at each pool night.

I've wondered how many rolls is enough to practice. I've wondered how many others do in a session.

In the past I'd do a half dozen and consider that enough. Maybe not. I've recently started to use a nose clip and shoot for 20 or so. I think if I did more I'd tire, get sloppy and lose the good mechanics. I do 5 and then go practice something else before getting another 5 and so on.

Fifty seems like a lot. I don't think I'll get up to that number but everyone is different.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Burried treasure

Contorted beds of Bell Island

The sedimentary rocks of Bell Island island were laid down in the lower Ordovician period almost 490 million years ago. Beds of oolitic hematite are interbedded higher up in the sequence that outcrop on the west side of the island. The reddish rocks were used for many years as ballast for ships sailing across the Atlantic but it wasn't until 1895 that the first small shipment of ore was sent to Halifax.

Bell Island, once the largest iron ore mine in the world, produced 79 million tons of ore until it closed in 1966. It didn't close because ore ran out. No, it was a casualty of open pit mining that made it more economical to produce iron ore elsewhere in the world, including Labrador.

Estimates of ore remaining underground range from 2,500,000,000 to 10,000,000,000 tons. Yes, that's billions of tons.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The gift of life

The G man

Life is a gift. Some people I think sense that more than others. Gerard is one of those. The G man's infectious enthusiasm will lift the spirits of anyone.

I sense this gift of life strongly also. Life is a gift but I also have the gift of life to give. Yesterday I gave blood . I hadn't given as frequently lately because of a couple of piercings, however, I'm in the clear to donate again.

My unit of blood will benefit up to 5 people who may need it because of chemotherapy treatments, heart operations etc, etc. Its a good feeling that makes me feel more alive (if that's possible).

Sunday, October 17, 2010

3 island hop, skip and jump

Getting ready at Topsail Beach

There are three islands in Conception Bay grouped within about 5 kms of each other. I suggested a paddle to to each one, a sort of triple play as in baseball. The idea was to step out on each one to tag the base.

Group of Seven

There were eight of us.

It was calm

The paddle out to the islands meant 4 crossings. There's something that I find appealing about a crossing especially sitting in the middle of the bay. It feels like I'm in my own world and no one can intrude upon it. There are no "honey-do" lists out here, there are no phone calls from call centers trying to bum a contribution for some cause, there are not deadlines.

Arriving at Little Bell Island

A 4.5 km paddle from Topsail Beach and we arrive at first base 35 minutes later. We all got out to complete the tag.

Off to Bell Island

Each of the islands have towering cliffs of Ordovician sandstones and siltstones ...

Arriving at Bell Island

and, you can really see the individual beds in the cliffs of Bell Island. Each bed contains different grain sizes that indicate a change in depositional environment.

Lunch stop on Bell Island

We landed here for lunch and to tag up on second base.

Heading for Kelly's Island

After lunch we paddled southerly towards Kelly's Island. We were promised rain and increasing winds in the afternoon but the weather was holding.

Arriving at Kelly's Island

The cliffs here at Kelly's Island were stained with rust caused by oxidation of the hematite rich rocks. Iron ore was mined on Bell Island and while they rocks are related, there's no ore to mine here. Rumour has it that pirate treasure is burried on the island though.

Group shot

We landed to tag third base.

Here's the group today (l2R) Gene, Sean, Gerard, Clyde, Dean, Dennis, Hazen and myself. We're on Kelly's Island, the third of the islands visited today to complete the triple play. We put in and paddled the 6 kms back to home base at Topsail Beach in 60 minutes, a pretty good pace. Those 6 put the total for the day at 22.5. Thanks guys for a great paddle.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Snake in the grass

Laying low in the grass

Last Saturday Dean and I put in alongside the road in a patch of grass at Salmonier Arm. It was an unusual put-in because we usually put in on a beach or slipway. It was worth a picture because the boat looked a bit like a predator laying in the grass. A predator with a bloody nose.

A bloody nose caused by a few too many bumps into rocks. I remember the first ding, I cringed. I've now accepted that these things are bound to happen when trying to get into tight places. Not that I've become reckless but a kayak is meant to be used.

Friday, October 15, 2010

First frost

Fall colours

We're well into fall and nights are getting colder. It was cold enough last night that we had our first frost. I woke up this morning and looked across the road at my neighbour's house. There was frost on his roof.

The normal average daily temperature is 10C so its still warm for paddling but the cold nights will quickly cool down the water.

It can be a melancholy time of year for warm weather people and they will move paddling activities to the pool. As we slide towards winter the number of paddlers around here will gradually thin out until there's only a core group of about 10 of us paddling.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Upside down thing

Labrador skin on frame kayak

At The Rooms last night (Newfoundland and Labrador's Museum, Art Gallery etc) and got a shot of this authentic Labrador skin on frame suspended from the ceiling. Its actually in the roll position, just not in the water.

I recall many years ago at University I swam a lot. One thing I gradually managed to work up to was to swim the length of the 25 yard long pool underwater. I don't know if that's something I could do today - I haven't tried. But it proved to me that dunk time can be expanded by training.

A roll takes just seconds to perform. A missed first attempt usually results in panic because the urge to breath is strong. There are articles available that deal with mental and physical techniques to extent time underwater and remain calm. These techniques, like any aspect of kayaking, should be practiced.

When I practice rolls at Topsail Pond I include "warm-up" time underwater. I use a plastic bottle as a substitute for an avataq which allows me to come up when the oxygen in my lungs runs out. Roll over, count to 10, resurface. Roll over, count to 20, resurface. You get the picture.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Sunshine on my shoulder

Exposed rocks

Middle Cove is my favourite place in the whole world. I grew up minutes from the beach and spent hours upon hours here or climbing up and down the cliffs that surround the cove. I believe I might know every rock.

I come here regularly to sit and think. It is a place that's conducive to reflection and grounding oneself. But not today. Today sister Kathy and I took a short hike along part of the East coast Trail towards Torbay. It was cool but sunny. As we walked along on the edge of the cliffs I could feel the sunshine on my shoulders. We stopped to look and savour. It was a time to be in the moment.

Wind blown

Along on the tops of the cliffs some of the trees succumbed to the wind and salt spray.

A great place to paddle

Motion is midway between Middle Cove and Torbay. Its a great little paddle to do on an evening or afternoon. The rocks and shoals offshore add to the kayak experience.

On the rocks

At Motion we scrambled down onto the rocks that sloped towards the sea. A different take on "rock hopping"!

Spilling over the rocks

Motion comes by its name honestly. There doesn't have to be much swell there to have some action among the rocks.

At Motion we stopped and took our time hiking back to Middle Cove. It was a perfect day for a hike and to feel the sunshine on my shoulders. Sunshine on my shoulders always makes me happy.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Its in the cadence

In the lee of the barges

Saturday Dean and I paddled almost 11 kms into an increasingly stiff wind. It was going to be a bit of a workout until we decided to turn and ride the wind back.

Occasionally I would stop to take pictures and I'd lose ground to Dean.

I generally have a low paddling cadence at between 26 - 28 strokes per minute. I'd have to put extra umph into each stroke just to catch up. At one point I watched Dean's cadence; he was much quicker than I was. I increased mine to match his and found it easier to lose the gap.

I knew, of course, that an increased paddle cadence results in increased speed but I didn't realize how much quicker Dean was paddling. A high paddle cadence is a must paddling into the wind to maintain speed because forward movement slows when the paddle is not in the water and the wind is trying to blow the entire lot downwind.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

A shot in the arm

Salmonier Arm (NRC map)

The forecast was for 15 knot SW winds. Dean suggested Salmonier Arm in St. Mary's Bay. Here the wind would be blowing straight into the Arm. None of the other regular group were interested so it was just the two of us.

The raison d'etre for the destination was that we could paddle as long as we liked into the wind and when satiated, we'd have the wind behind us to propel us back. We put in near the bidge at St. Catherine's with the objective of paddling 10+ kms to St. Joseph's - paddling with the Saints *lol*.

Looking out the Arm

The was only a light breeze in the upper reaches of the Arm where we put in and it was sunny. Further up the Arm the wind increased and off and on rain clouds passed overhead to dump on us.

The Arm is not naturally scenic with low laying land on both sides. No cliffs, no caves. It is what it is. It was a paddle but not one of my favourite paddle destinations.

Not too shabby

All along the Arm people have built their versions of Paradise. Some able to build sizeable mansions, others with more modest means have to be content with cabins.

Tugboat Annie

This tugboat was tied on behind a couple of barges at Mount Carmel. It was calm here whereas to the left in the open arm the wind whipped up the sea. I asked Dean to hold up a minute to get this shot but I was really about taking a moment respite.

Between a rock and a rock

Two hours paddling into the wind and St. Joseph's reached we were ready for lunch and a break. We got out our lunches and cowered behind the rock outcropping to eat. Every minute or so a large wave would break and spray water over us. It didn't matter; we laughed at ourselves for being so clever to pick this place to stop.

And, it rained

Back on the water with the wind behind us, clouds crept in and the sky opened up. We paddled a while in rain but before long the sun came out and followed us all the way back to Salmonier. A total of 21.+ kms paddled, half into the wind and half in varying weather. Not that scenic but a great paddle in any case.

Back at the car there was a message on my windshield from KNL member Paul H. Unknown to us, he's building a summer home close to where we put-in and asked us to drop in before going home. Very nice spot and now a place to refrigerate our beer for a cold one the next time we paddle here.

Friday, October 8, 2010

End of a good thing

Clyde and I wait for Tobias

Well, last evening was the last Thursday evening of practice at St. Philips. A group of us have been meeting Thursday evenings since early April to practice rescues and strokes or just for the social part of kayaking. The sun sets close to 6:30 these days and with most coming from work, the time on the water was getting shorter.

Like all good things, they have to come to an end at some point. I'm sure the core group of us will still get together impromptu on weekends when its not fit for day paddles. But for this year the scheduled program is done.

Tobias under a threatening sky

The practice last night was something unplanned. Yes, we decided to paddle upwind for a bit and then fly back with the wind behind us on a following sea. The unplanned part was that a good bit of the paddle back was in the dark.

Darkness with winds gusting at 30+ knots certainly added an element of challenge. It required me to be quicker in response to each time the boat moved; it felt like I had a blindfold on. Interesting with a twist.

So, all in all it was a good season of practice in St. Philips. I know I enjoyed the practice and the company and in the process maybe moved my skill level up even just one small notch.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

My clear deck

My deck, as seen from the "bridge"

Pretty much every kayaker I see has something on their deck. Be it a water bottle, deck caddy with goodies in it, or a spare paddle, pump or clip on compass. I usually like to keep my deck clear, like my mind is when I'm on the water.

One thing I've added is a bungee across the front hatch that acts as a paddle park when taking pictures or when helping paddle mates etc.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Tragedy at sea

Catching some surfing action

Saturday Gary and I had a paddle in conditions and some surf practice afterwards. At almost 2:30 we called it a day.

A few hours later, 15 kilometers to the north, two men in a 5 meter zodiac would run into trouble in the same conditions. Their outboard motor failed. As they tried to place an anchor, the zodiac broached, swamped and tipped over. One managed to swim to shore, the other is still missing.

The sea can be very unforgiving when unanticipated things happen. That is why I practice, practice and practice. Even when good judgement is exercised the sea can be unpredictable and if that happens skills had better match the conditions.

While not second guessing, I wondered if they had a sea anchor or drogue on board they may have been able to keep the zodiac headed into the seas. It would have been quicker to deploy. I wondered too if I should invest in one.

Just a few times a sea anchor would come in handy in wind and heavy seas:
  • If I injured myself, it would keep me from drifting onto rocks or away allowing help to arrive quicker.
  • After rafting up, it could give extra time to attend to someone in distress or prevent the loss of hard gained ground.
  • It could be deployed to take a rest if winds of unexpected strength or duration occurred.
  • Putting out the sea anchor would hold the kayak heading into the waves to deal with equipment failures, pump out the cockpit etc.
There's lots of other possible scenarios when dealing with wind and big seas. Should it be part of a standard kit for kayakers? Why not?

Sunday, October 3, 2010


Plodding upwind

I remember when I was a (younger) kid pulling my toboggan uphill with the reward of the downhill ride. It was considered play then and it went on for hours.

Yesterday was something like that. Gary and I paddled for almost an hour into a steady headwind of 15 knots with gusts to 20. The sea was fully developed with wind waves of almost a metre. The key to paddling upwind I've found is to keep a constant rhythm. Occasionally larger waves rolled in and the bow would plop down into the trough to break the rhythm. It was invigorating.

Flying downwind

Within sight of Topsail the sun came out as we turned to paddle broadside to the waves out into the bay to get the waves directly behind us for the ride back. The surf rides downwind were the reward for the work upwind. I felt like a kid again but with more expensive toys.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

14 vs. 8

Jon is sharper

Surely a 14 megapixel camera must produce better, sharper pictures than an 8 megapixel? The 8 mp 850SW pictures are 1920 X 1080 pixels whereas a 14 mp 6020 is 4288 X 3612.

Some product reviews imply that the picture quality of the 6020 isn't what it should be considering its a 14 megapixel camera or what it should be compared to its competition.

I shot the above picture of Jon Thursday evening. I was disappointed with the sharpness of the picture after downloading even though I was using image stabilization. A couple of factors may be at play in the shot: I had to get used to what feels like a different shutter action and the light was poor. The low light level would have slowed the shutter speed requiring a steady hand for a longer period.

Interestingly, the width of an 8 is .5625 of the length versus .8424 of the 14. But, regardless of the camera, numbers and stats etc, it still comes down to the photographer. I'm anxious to see what results I get in brighter conditions. Stay tuned!

Friday, October 1, 2010

Trying out the new camera

The first shot

I was looking forward to Thursday evening to try out my new camera.

The Olympus Stylus Tough 6020 looks and feels more rugged than my old Stylus 850SW. I found some other differences too. Some that don't affect picture taking so much and some that do. For example, the button that selects the program is gone and controlled now by software.

I did find the camera is a bit slower to power up and be ready to take pictures. I also felt there was a delay between pressing the shutter release button and when the shutter actually closed, especially when the flash was needed to fill in. Just my impressions but I'm sure there are lots of consumer reports that maybe I should go check out.

In any case I was happy to be on the water again with a waterproof camera.

Gerard in his new boat

We had seven for our usual Thursday evening paddle, one of which was Gerard. Gerrard guides for The Outfitters in Bay Bulls and seemed to be glad to be paddling somewhere else and in his new P&H Sirius.

The winds were calm and there was only going to be about an hour of daylight so we decided to paddle up the shore for 30 minutes and turn back.

Clyde in the rocks

The light started to fade. At St. Thomas Cove we turned around and paddled back to St. Philips. The failing light seemed to add a bluish tinge to the picture?

In the dark

By the time we got back to the river to rinse the salt out of our gear it had gotten dark. It was like the bottom fell out of the light.

An entertaining evening in more than one way. The paddle itself was entertaining and I found out it will take some getting used to the new camera. That's like anything new, it take a little while before it begins to feel familiar but so far, so good.