Wednesday, January 28, 2015

"Kabloona in the Yellow Kayak" - a book review

I recently read Don Starkell's book "Paddle to the Arctic".  He was accompanied by Victoria Jason ( 2 years; 1991 and 1992) and Fred Reffler (1 year; 1991) for part of the journey.  Victoria had to leave the expedition in the second year due to edema.  Don carried on alone almost making it to Tuktoyuktok before winter set in.  He lost most of his fingers and toes due to severe frostbite.

Don subsequently passed away.  It limits my assessment of this part of Victoria's Arctic experience as a toxic experience for her.  I'll leave it at that.

Through that book, I discovered Victoria also wrote a book about her experience of paddling through the entire Northwest Passage which she completed, solo, in the years 1993 and 1994. In 1993 she paddled down the MacKenzie River from Fort Providence and across the Arctic Coast to Paulatuk.  In 1994 she completed the passage by paddling from Paulatok to Gjoa Haven.

Victoria's book also recounts her 1991 and 1992 trip with Don and Fred.  I knew the plot from reading Don's book but I wanted to get her side of the story.  My take away from those chapters was a feeling of sadness, sadness that a trip of discovery should be spoiled by sour group dynamics, none of it her doing.  The lesson is be careful to pick easy going companions with common goals.

I looked forward to the logbook style details of the solo part of her crossing.  Her true spirit sprang from the pages.  She met numerous people along the journey, welcomed everywhere and establishing rewarding relationships at every meeting.  She writes of challenging passages and crossing, interactions with wildlife such as grizzly bears, foxes and seals to name a few.

The logbook style doesn't make for long reading sessions.  I found I had to put the book down from time to time.  The style however makes it easy to pick the story up and maps accompany so the reader can follow the progress of the trip.  There are numerous high quality colour photos to add context to the text.

I found it an incredible, inspirational journey that took great courage to make solo.  It made my week long journeys make me feel "I am not worthy".  I rejoiced with her on her journey of discovery, both the physical landscape and personal, maybe as compensation for her earlier difficulties.  Through it all she developed a deep attachment to the environment which was easy to feel.

Its a must read for not only kayakers but all adventurers.  I felt like I would have enjoyed paddling with her but sadly that will never happen.  Victoria Jason passed away in May 2000 due to a brain tumour at 55 years of age.  A life cut short too soon but a life with goals reached.

Thank you Victoria Jason.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

The thing about winter paddling

It was -8C and -13C with the wind chill.  Its winter time.  That its cold is to be expected.

The fresh water from the river is lighter than the salt sea water.  It formed frozen patches.  Looks cold.  Too uncomfortable to paddle?  No.  Admittedly winter paddling is not as comfortable as summer paddling.  But, it is not complete misery either.  Provided of course a few adjustments are made.

The first adjustment I make is I put my dry suit on at home over a base layer of polypro and a second fleece layer.  By the time I arrive at the put-in I'm warm from heat in the car.

I wear thin wool gloves and a winter coat to get the kayak ready so that I don't start off cold.

A neoprene skull cap is a must to prevent "cold shock" or the "gasp reflex" in the event of a capsize.  A helmet on top of that prevents heat loss through the head.

I prefer neoprene mitts over gloves.  My fingers find togetherness more comfortable than gloves where the cold wind blows between the fingers.

On really cold days, like when the temperature goes below -20C, I bring a thermos of hot water to pour into my mitts just before I step into the kayak.  That gives me a warm start.

Its cool starting out and the wind can sting on the face but its surprising how quick a bit of physical activity can generate body heat.

If we stop for a break I have along an oversized winter coat that fits over the PFD.  I take off my neoprene mitts, stuff them under the PFD next to my body and wear woolen mitts.  The neoprene mitts are toasty warm when getting underway again.

Finally, at take-out, I keep myself protected from the cold.  Latent body heat lasts for a bit if quick enough getting out of the paddling gear.  On the coldest days, I put woolen mitts on right after I take my neoprenes off, don my winter coat as soon as I take off the top of my drysuit et, etc.

Winter paddling can be quite enjoyable with a bit of forethought.  The best part is - no flies!

I'd be interested in any other suggestions if anyone wants to share.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

The end of days

My first kayak camp trip of any consequence was in 2009 when Stan and I did a one night, over weekend, trip to Lobster Cove in Long Harbour, Fortune Bay.  It was a trip of short duration but it was the launching pad to longer satisfying trips.

In 2010 I took the leap into the deep end with Ralph and Stan on a four day trip along the exposed south coast of Newfoundland from Harbour Le Cou to Burgeo.

The year 2011 saw Cyde, Dean, Hazen and myself doing a three day circumnavigation of Long Island in Placentia Bay.  It was an impromptu three day weekend trip out of Arnolds Cove preceded by an overnight camp-out along the highway close to Arnolds Cove.

We could see Merasheen Island from Long Island when we were there in 2011.  We resolved then to circumnavigate Merasheen east of Long Island in 2012.  It was the longest trip yet taking six days with Clyde, Dean, Hazen and Neville.

The target in 2013 was a circumnavigation of New World Island and North and South Twillingate Islands.  This time I accompanied Brian, Dean, Neville and Hazen on a five day trip to the exposed northeast coast of the island.  It ended with a gut busting 50 km fifth day paddle with the final 25 km into a howling wind.

That brings me up to date in 2014 with the seven day trip across the north end of Fortune Bay.

It may seem like a nostalgic look over the trips I've done but that's not where I'm going.  We are currently looking after my wife's mother for a little while until she can be placed in a longer care facility.  She is nearing the end of her life.  Its not a tear jerker for she has lived a full life of 92 years.  Its a reminder for me to squeeze every last drop out of this fantastic pass time while I can.

With that in my foremost on my mind, yesterday, Saturday, I met Dean, Neville, Hazen to plan this year's kayak camp trip.  The winner is again Placentia Bay but a different part of it.  Its going to be a tour of a number of resettled communities some of which will be Oderin, Isle Valen, St. Kyrans, St. Leonards, Clattice Harbour.  With good fortune and timing (from the popular Newfoundland folk song "The Ryans and The Pittmans"):
We'll rant and we'll roar like true Newfoundlanders
We'll rant and we'll roar on deck and below
Until we see bottom inside the two sunkers
When straight through the Channel to Toslow we'll go.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Black and white world

Friday night into Saturday morning it rained buckets going sideways driven by 100 km/hr winds.  Getting up in the morning it looked dismal.  About 10:00 it started to snow and the wind dropped.  The evolving wintery scene outside looked peaceful.  It called Mr. Reliable and he was in.  Then Terry mailed to say he would meet us also.

The snow began to accumulate on the ground and the kayaks,  It was ideal paddling weather.

We paddled out into the void, snow blowing in our faces.  Small waves started to eat away the snow accumulated on the deck.

It continued to snow but the small wind waves washed away all the snow on the deck.

To my disappointment, the falling snow stopped as the wind dropped.  Nevertheless, the fallen snow made sure it looked like winter.

Walls of icicles mixed with snow.  Above the rocks, the trees were lightly dusted.

Dean gave an emphatic thumbs up for the conditions.

Terry stayed close to shore in the chop.

A brief stop and we returned.  The temperature was -4C and -10C with the windchill.  We left before we got chilled.

So, that was our first paddle for the year.  Ten days in but it was an overall excellent day.

Dean also has shots of the day on his blog.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

My mahoosive paddle year

My last paddle for 2014 was a December 28th paddle with Clyde and Neville in wind and choppy seas.  Sort of representative of the year overall.

So, the numbers are in and the verdict is it was a mahoosive paddle year.

I was in my kayak 90 times.  I had 59 day paddles totaling 1050 kms, I went to 8 pool sessions, 14 practices (non-paddles) in St. Philips Thursday evenings, 5 bounces in St. Philips and 2 times on Topsail Pond.  The bounces were slogs into strong winds and large waves for return surf rides.

Of the 59 day paddles, 27 were out of St. Philips to either Portugal Cove or Topsail Beach contributing 306 kms to the overall total.  These were usually in windy conditions; four were solo.

The remaining 32 day paddles averaged 23 kms per trip.

My most constant paddle companions were: Dean (36), Hazen (24), Neville (19), Brian (16) and Clyde (12).  Dean has me paddling with him 43 times but includes some Thursday evenings for which I didn't note who attended.

I paddled four times with newcomer Terry and expect to more frequently in 2015.

I find keeping a rough log interesting as it helps me set goals for the new year ahead.  That will take some thought over the next few days.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Paddling with Rudolph

Some of us have been meeting in St Philips on Christmas Eve for a short paddle since 2009.  Its a chance to clear the cobwebs after all the hectic lead-up to Christmas and to put some credits in for the eating which we were about to take part in over the holiday season.

Rudolph was kind enough to slot us in before having to guide Santa's sleigh on his world wide tour.

We were having a green Christmas but it looked different from ...

... a year ago when we had considerably more snow on the ground.  It was also before Rudolph bloodied his nose last Christmas Eve by running into a rock upside down *lol*  Anyway ...

... this was another year with six of us taking part.  Hazen did his bit to Christmassy up the event by securing a wreath on his deck.  Must remember to suggest next year we decorate our kayaks for the event.

It wasn't about any big paddle.  There was the slightest of winds from the north so we took our time going towards Portugal Cove.  While there was no snow it was cool enough for icicles as Terry explores.

Sean closest and Brian.

Dale joined us for his first Christmas Eve paddle.  Always enjoy other people taking an interest in somewhat of a novelty event.

Sean and Hazen.  All Hazen wants for Christmas is a new hip and his Torngat kayak repaired to look like new.

An hour later taking our time we look into Portugal Cove before ...

... returning to St. Philips and diving into the Christmas festivities.

Hope everyone had a great Christmas and have a safe paddling season in 2015.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Top 10 paddles of 2014 - #1

And the number one paddle of 2014 is, ta da ... a 7 day trip in Fortune Bay in July.  On Saturday Dean, Neville, Hazen and I took the ferry from Bay LÀrgent to Pools Cove with the intention of exploring every bay on the paddle back to Bay LÀrgent.  We arrived later in the day at Pools Cove so we only paddled a short distance to Lake Cove to set up camp.

It was a brilliant sunny morning Sunday when we set out to explore Bay du Nord River and visit the resettled community also named Bay du Nord.  Afterwards we paddled to Parsons Cove where we camped logging 27 kms.

On Monday we hugged the shoreline, stopped in Lally Cove and camped in Doctors Harbour.  A further 25 kms on.

Tuesday started out overcast and after probing into Belle Harbour we ended up 24 kms later in Rencontre East where we had a walk about and a take-out supper.  As we made our way to Rencontre East the fog set in and ...

Was still with us on Wednesday when we awoke.  The good weather was behind us and up to the day we had calm seas.  On the way to Long Harbour the wind came up and so did the wind waves.  We stopped to have lunch and a look around the resettled community of Stones Cove and the cemetery at Crants Cove before setting up camp in Long Harbour.

Thursday we stayed put in Long Harbour paddling 10 kms into the fjord like indentation of the sea before returning to our campsite for the night.

On Friday, the seventh day of our trip, we looked out at Long Harbour, which is somewhat protected, to see whitecaps.  We discussed options and in the end decided to give it a go.  Once we were out of Long Harbour seas were sizeable but we nevertheless decided conditions were within our capabilities.

We finished the trip 150 kms later in Bay LÀrgent where the sun reappeared as we unloaded the kayaks to return home.

This was our so-called big trip for the year.  We had a bit of everything in terms of weather, we had excellent campsites, we had a whole lot of laughs and an overall awesome trip.  There was never a question it was going to be my top paddle for the year.