Tuesday, November 13, 2012

A Harbinger for an Ancient Legacy


Recently, the science of kayak hull design has taken and interesting turn which brings together aspects of the kayak and surfski into new exciting high performance craft that promises to shape the future and change the way we paddle.  In this article, I present some background information and dive into design features of the Epic 18x which I believe is the most compelling hybrid design to date.

The kayak is a remarkable invention of the Inuit people allowing them to thrive in barren, hostile lands, not otherwise suitable for habitation.   This powerful tool while bountiful with its benefits, demanded a discipline and strict set of age old skills.  Modern renditions of the kayak gave this remarkable craft to the masses and introduced them to the rich Greenland traditions and discipline.  But nothing from the past is immune to the scrutiny of science, as paddlers demanded greater performance and mastery of the seas.  As science and technology have influenced the kayak, the surfski, having come from a very different past, faced an even more profound transformation, producing remarkable paddle craft capable of achieving high speeds on the rough ocean, not only squeezing efficiency from the paddler's every stroke, but augmenting it with energy captured from the sea itself.  As the quest for kayak speed progressed, high speed flat water racing kayaks emerged, achieving high speeds, but leaving the paddler with a much less seaworthy craft as optimizations for speed sculpted away its traditional rough water handling features.   However, the kayak industry is now taking a long look at the surfski and finding ways to adopt its remarkable design elements.  Recently, one kayak manufacturer introduced an exciting new iteration of its kayak that is every bit a kayak above the waterline, but every bit a surfski below the waterline.  While new designs are common, the paddling community took notice as this new radical design achieved staggering speeds and proved itself a formidable expedition kayak.   However, as with the racing kayak, there are always tradeoffs in exchange for gains.  But, for the first time, a near hybrid design emerged, capable of being paddled like a kayak or surfski on the ocean,  casting a shadow on the pedigree of two rich and storied legacies and their legendary disciplines.

The surf ski sprouted from modern western culture along the coast of 20th century Australia.  As the populations ventured into the turbulent surf,  a need arose for a suitable lifesaving craft capable of negotiating the surf.  In New South Wales, Harry McLaren and his brother Jack in 1916 built sit atop, hand paddle boards to navigate the family's oyster beds.   Variations of these craft were later used for lifesaving and proved much more agile than 5 person surf boats that required a high degree of skill.   In time, lifesavers realized a double surf ski could do most everything a life boat could.  These early surf skis were very wide and bare little resemblance to those in use today. With little reverence for its past, the surf ski was transformed into a high speed, ocean going paddle craft for recreational and racing purposes.  The length grew to increase the waterline for speed and provide more stability when smashing through the waves.  To reduce drag, hulls were narrowed and the "swede" hull design which places the point of maximum beam behind the cockpit was implemented.  With the point of maximum beam behind the cockpit, water inertia and friction on the hull is reduced as water is moved out of the way more slowly over a longer wedge.  The swede hull also places the paddler closer to the water for a better vertical stroke by locating the cockpit in a more narrow part of the hull.  The iconic pointed ends and most of the rocker that allowed Greenland kayaks to keep their bows above the waves in rough seas are sacrificed in favor of a much longer waterline for speed.  To replace the missing rocker and the up-swept ends, the bow was made much more buoyant by squaring it off and making it taller.  These efficiencies, the lack of rocker and extended hull length, allows surfskis to put their full length on the water and achieve a greater bow angle and more effectively harness the gravity off the face of a wave to add significant speed to the overall average.  Wave riding skills are an intricate part of surfski discipline.  Surf skis have no edging control, so secondary stability and chines in the hull that produce a distinct secondary stability are not required by surfski technique.  Instead, a smooth rounded hull is used to reduce the wetted surface, thereby further reducing water friction.  But this requires more technique and a strict discipline to keep them upright.  Stability is attained through bracing and proper posture centered over the keel.  Typically, the paddler will lean forward to utilize the strongest torso muscles with knees close together, head pointed forward, chin up.  A rudder provides all directional movement and must be available at all times.  Surfski designs increased rudder availability by relocating the rudder forward of the stern to keep it in the water on steep waves that often lift the stern.  Unlike kayaks, surf skis have not attained a payload capacity and serve a short duration paddling purpose.  Surfskis are very different from a kayaks and demand a different skill set and paddling style.  Surf ski Discipline, and technique has evolved into two primary goals: keeping upright, and maximizing forward thrust.  Sprint kayaks share a similar technique with surfskis on flat water.  A proper stroke is crucial: Blade entry, catch, and follow through.  Also important, is a technique to maximize the efficient transfer of energy to the hull.  Surfskis are paddled with a wing paddle.  Forward lean with strong torso rotation is needed to utilize the core muscles for a sustained strong drive.  Good technique will propagate the rotation to the seat and transmit the energy through the legs which pump up and down to deliver energy to the hull through the foot pegs. Surfskis are not rolled, but are easily remounted from deep water.

As the relentless persistence of science sculpted the kayak,  new designs took shape along the same path of technological optimization as the surfski.  However, the purpose of the kayak is very different.  Not primarily designed for speed, the kayak was created for much more practical purposes and survival, including transportation, hunting, and fishing in rough waters, requiring maneuverability, stealth, and high degree of seaworthiness.  The Inuits solution: a highly rockered, upward pointed hull ends kept the kayak from diving into large waves, but reduced the waterline of the craft which was not that important.  The pronounced "V" shape of its hull and chines had little primary stability, but added a reliable secondary stability. The pronounced rockered "V" shaped hull also helped these kayaks track straight, and turn easy with edging.  Greenland kayaks have no skeg or rudder.  However, the pronounced "V" adds wetted surface and water friction to the hull which is not a problem for the Inuit style kayak.   East Greenland kayaks were flatter with little rocker giving them more speed with a longer waterline, but were less suitable for rougher waters as the rockerless pointed bow did not have enough buoyancy to lift above the waves.  Greenland kayaks fit snug to the paddler allowing a more symbiotic relation between paddler and craft for easy, quicker edging control and rolling in the event of a capsize. However, they had little room for gear.  Unlike surfskis, kayaks do not require a highly disciplined posture and steep paddle angle.  A lower paddle angle allows a wide unobstructed view angle for hunting, fishing, and keeping other paddlers in sight.  Kayaks can be righted with a brace or a roll.  Historically, the Inuits had no method for reentering their kayaks, since being separated from one's kayak meant certain death in the ice cold waters.  Their very lives relied on their rolls and other righting skills.  Modern kayaking allows the wet exit as a last line safety measure, in turn several methods for kayak reentry were added.   British style kayaks brought the kayak to the masses, while attempting to retain the spirit and characteristics of the original Greenland design.  The symbiotic fit is exchanged for a high volume hull to accommodate a generous amount of gear and paddlers of all shapes and sizes.  Thigh braces restore some of the body extension fit of Greenland kayaks.  West coast kayaks from the western American coast similarly retain the pointed bow and rocker, but add a rudder to a flattened stern to reduce weather-cocking in the high winds of the western American waters.

The designs and techniques of kayaks and surfskis evolved separately and are very different.  As they differ in their purpose, their benefits are mutually exclusive to each other.  Paddlers are left at a fork in the road to decide what they want and what they are willing to live without.  Similarly, their circles of paddlers are divided along the same lines.  Slowly, kayak manufactures started dabbling with design aspects of both paddle craft, adopting bits and pieces at a time.  To make a truly hybrid design was a difficult task fought with several technical challenges.  Moreover, they each require different skill sets and disciplines.  Kayak manufacturers began to adopt a very limited number of surfski features, yielding limited gains since these features on a kayak could not be paddled in the manner for which they were originally designed.   At Epic Kayaks, the two founders,  both surf ski champions, over a period of years, ventured so far as to entirely do away with the kayak hull in favor of a swede style surf ski hull in their 18x and 16x models, resulting in kayaks that bare little to no resemblance to their traditional roots, and perform far different than kayaks of Greenland lineage.  They were not the first to try this, but they went further by designing every facit of the craft to give surfski and kayak paddlers what they need to paddle the kayak in the manner befitting both crafts.
 
To satisfy surfski paddlers a reliable rudder that stays submerged and engaged in heavy waves was needed.  While a bottom mounted rudder works quite well for both uses, it cannot be retracted and is therefore unsuitable for most kayak purposes.  The most difficult task for Epic was coming up with a rudder design that would satisfy surfski requirements and fold away to preserve a kayak experience.  Their solution led them down a path to a rudder design unlike any other.  The stern of the hull was severed and turned into the movable portion of the rudder, housing a retractable spring loaded surfski blade, which could be extended from the bottom, forward from the stern.  When not used, the blade retracted into the stern section which in turn, locked into the center position to become the ridged stern of the kayak.  Their solution raised eyebrows in the industry.  While not a perfect surfski rudder, it went a long way to satisfy requirements of a hybrid craft and solved a long standing rudder problem of surfskis and kayaks with a spring retractable blade that moves out of the way when hit by an obstacle, and returns to place when the obstacle was gone.  Obstacles cause standard kayak rudders to kick up and not reset.  Standard surfski rudders just break off unless a stern mounted surf rudder is used.

Epic also did away with the iconic pointed bow and stern of a kayak in favor of the swede surfski hull with an elongated water line and a large  buoyant bow to keep it from burying under the waves.  The large single continuous foot brace facilitates energy transfer through the legs, and elongated cockpit coaming to allow the paddler to easily paddle the kayak like a kayak or surfski/racing K1 with plenty of room to extend the knees through the opening of the coaming enabling the paddler to pump energy into the hull with the legs and rotate down to the seat.  Padded knee holds just under the coaming sides allow the paddler to quickly switch from a surf ski posture to brace for a roll in the event of a capsize.  For a more kayak feel, the seat could be slid forward to allow a smaller paddler's legs to go further under the deck to better contact the hull for bracing and rolling.   Epic designed the seat to retain the functionality and feel of both a kayak and surfski, with smooth bare contoured fiberglass, allowing the surfski paddler a smooth surface to rotate on the seat to engage the lower back muscles and drive energy through the large foot brace.   Like many greenland style kayaks and surfskis, the back is low with little back support.  There is a lumbar pad for the lower back that does an adequate job of support while allowing a good layback roll.   Paddle blade cut-outs on the forward deck were added so the surfski paddler can initiate the catch phase with a vertical stroke close to the hull.  For the kayaker, the craft performed like a kayak responding well to edging, and very easy to roll.  However, as the large coaming provides the surfski paddler with extra room, this further reduces the symbiotic relationship kayak paddlers have with their kayaks, leaving the kayak paddler to alter their bracing technique to grip the undersides of the large coaming with the knees.  The large coaming may also let the paddler come out of the seat during a roll if the paddler does not sufficiently brace their knees against the sides of the cockpit.  To compensate, Epic heavily padded the underside of the deck around the front and sides of the cockpit.  They also put the seat on an ajustable track.  With the lower wetted rounded hull design, the kayak does not hold its course as well with the rudder up, but the rudder is extremely effective in all conditions.  The surfski paddler has what is needed to assume a proper posture, paddle stroke, plus a  reliable forward mounted rudder.  The hull responds like a surfski hull in the sea as it is able to catch waves and not bounce from the bow in rough seas like a high rocker kayak.  The rounded swede hull will likely unsettle beginner and intermediate paddlers initially in rough conditions with its much lower primary stability.  However, when loaded for an expedition, the kayak is quite stable, and rides comfortably at the expense of much of its blazing speed when riding empty.  To capture a little more secondary stability, Epic flared out the gunwales above the waterline behind the cockpit at the widest point of the kayak where the secondary stability emanates.  If the kayak does capsize,  it rolls very easily.  Paddlers of all types will enjoy being placed closer to the water as surfski paddlers expect for their vertical stroke since the cockpit is at a narrower point in the hull.  The 18x is not a beginner kayak, but is one a paddler can grow into and not outgrow.

For expedition use, the kayak rides very stable in the water.  The elongated cockpit makes it very easy to exit and enter.  The newer latch style hatches hold tighter and keep the compartments dryer.  They are also very easy to open and secure shut.  The hinged day hatch is especially convenient which stays fastened and has only one latch.

In an industry with hundreds of kayaks of different shapes, sizes, and specializations, the introduction of a new quirky looking design hardly raises much notice.  However, in 2009, paddler Frya Hoffmeister circumnavigated the continent of Australia (8570 miles) in an Epic 18x sport, and shaved more than a month off the time of the only other previous successful attempt by Paul Caffyn.   The paddling community finally accepted the Epic 18x as a serious expedition kayak and began to debate the merits of fast expedition kayaks.  Epic later went full circle and introduced the V8 surfski which adds a surfski top to the "18x Sport" kayak hull.  While this new kayak could never be the perfect solution or satisfy all the intricate demands of both types of craft, it did integrate the spirit of both a kayak and a surfski in an interesting way.  Harnessing all the benefits of this design will place extra demands on the paddler to expand their skill set to encompass at least a subset of kayak and surski techniques.  For their efforts, the paddler can wield a full featured kayak with the speed and prowess of a surfski when empty that settles down to a stable serious expedition kayak when loaded.

These are exciting times to be a paddler with advances in water dynamics and the melding of kayak and surfski technologies.  Only the future will tell if the Epic design will stand as a milestone in the evolution of the kayak, or be seen as a first deep foray into the realm of a true hybrid craft.  Several kayaks have penetrated the market utilizing aspects of both technologies in their own creative ways.  With the success of the Epic 18x, we will certainly see manufacturers committed to produce more hybrid type craft to take paddlers farther and faster.  Along this journey, paddlers will find they too must evolve to meet the skill set demands of these new craft.  Farther down the road refinements will likely mainstream hybrid design kayaks and push kayakers farther away from a 4000 year old legacy and discipline into one created for the modern age.  Only the future will tell if the traditional kayak will fade into irrelevance and be relegated to the romantic fascination of a few.

Copyright 2012 Lyman A Copps

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Kayaking with the Big Kids




Several years ago, I wanted to skill up so that I could do more open water paddling, I ran in to a Catch-22. Most of the recreational paddlers I started paddling with weren't interested in ocean paddling, and the more skilled paddlers I knew routinely closed paddles to those they determined to be "less skilled." I don't think it helped that I was a woman and that most of the sea kayakers were guys. For a while, I felt like I had to drag my husband out on every paddle with the "serious" guy paddlers as some sort of chaperone to prove to the guys and their significant others that I was actually there to kayak.* I found it to be a truly miserable time. I tried to recruit folks from my rec kayaking community to skill up without success and I had limited success "breaking in" to what began to feel like the "big kid" paddles. 

So how did I blast through the impasse? Well, two ways. First, I went out and skilled up the best way I knew how: I routinely invited those paddlers I knew to be more skilled on paddles that I planned. A lot of the time, I didn't know what I was doing. Some of them very rightly told me that, but I was not to be deterred. Once some folks determined that I was determined to get on the ocean, others took the time to correct me AND to offer the resources on where to obtain the correct information. They referenced great resources like saltwatertides.com, leant me nautical charts, and offered insight on the local knowledge they had gained over the years. Most importantly, a few excellent kayakers even began going out with me on the water, then the trips I planned, and supported me in ocean trips even before I knew how to roll. 

The second thing I did was actively work to develop my skills in more formal settings. I found instructors I worked well with and sought out their knowledge. I found that I worked very well with teachers who could clearly demonstrate, who did not overwhelm me with excessive talking, and who had a kind and gentle good humor that kept a nervous learner eager to learn. I almost gave up kayaking after a negative first experience, but Lamar Hudgens at Barrier Island Kayaks showed me that I could do the things I wanted to do AND have a great time. As a result, I've bought two kayaks from him and gone to numerous symposia at his shop.

One very important lesson I learned was that the more skilled kayakers weren't shutting me out of fun trips and adventures because they were cliquish. They were shutting me out because they feared for their safety and the safety of the group. A solid, skilled group of paddlers can only support a few who are less skilled--it's simply a matter of safety. For instance, I planned, or tried to plan, a trip to circumnavigate Bald Head Island in 2009. It was tough for me, even once I got more skilled paddlers to come along; the strong personalities of folks and what I interpreted at the time as an "officious" tone nearly drove me to cancel. But I stuck it out, and as a result, I got to do my first real ocean journey of 20 miles around the Cape of Bald Head.

So where does safety come in to the story? Well, in lots of places. I discovered on that trip that even the skilled paddlers had limits and they (and I) weren't yet aware of mine. They sometimes capsized during surf landings; they didn't always adhere to plan and sometimes took off on their own; some didn't pack enough water. On this trip I discovered that I become violently seasick in ocean swell. I also learned that I could paddle through 5 foot swells, vomit 20 times, and paddle ten miles without bailing out. (Now, seasick medication keeps me happily afloat.) I can't say what the others learned, but I learned I was a lot tougher than I thought and that the "big kid" paddlers still had plenty to learn too. That heartened me considerably. They didn't know it all. They simply knew more than I did and had more practice. With classes and people to practice with, I knew I could learn what they had.




So, if you're new to skilling up, take heart and be persistent. And if you're more skilled, remember what it felt like when you weren't and invite those who are lesser skilled on some of the more challenging, technical paddles. That way, our community continues to grow and to flourish.

Dawn S's account of the Bald Head Adventure is here:Bald Head Island

*My husband became an excellent kayaker in the process. :)



Thursday, November 8, 2012

Who Are You?

Guest Contribution:
Virginia


Kayakers kayak for different reasons: some of us love to kayak on glassy water and drift along quietly;
some of us like to kayak down rivers; some like to cover lots of miles; some of us like a bit of whitewater; some of us like surf and swell.




In a big community like CKC, it's important to remember that what often works well for one paddler might not work at all for another. Luckily, we mostly know one another from trips, symposia, or the CKC forums and so we are respectful, generous, and kind.

Whatever your kayaking interest, you'll often find at some point you want to “skill up” a bit. Before you sign up for a class or symposium, do some homework on yourself and some fieldwork on your chosen venue and instructor. This can help you spend your hard-earned money wisely and emerge more satisfied with your learning experience.

First, ask yourself what sort of student you are.

Do you do better one on one than in a large group? If so, individual lessons might work better at first than a symposium class with 8 students.

Do you tend to be a thinker and need to understand things theoretically prior to attempting to execute them? Or do you tend to just want to watch and then do? Make sure that both you and your instructor know this in advance. Then you can help your instructor create the best class for your needs.

Do you have any fears? This is important and often overlooked.
For me personally, I wasn't told by the first company I trained with that I was going to learn wet exits with a sprayskirt on. I'd been bullied and trapped underwater as a kid and the idea of being upside down in a skirted kayak seemed overwhelming. Luckily, my instructor (Robert Smith) just sat with me through it, and was reassuring, so it all worked out. But it would have been better if I had known to get details on what would happen that day and to clearly disclose my fears. Now, I'm happy as a clam underwater, but it took me a long time to feel at ease. I need instructors who are patient and not punitive. Now, I seek out those I have heard are patient and encouraging and quickly discard those that are not. It's just what works for me.

Do you have any physical limitations? If so, let your instructor know. Many instructors also have adaptive skills training.

Then, ask yourself what, specifically, you hope to gain from the class. It helps to clarify your goals.

Perhaps you want to be able to turn your kayak with ease in the wind.  Perhaps you want to learn to climb back in your kayak. Perhaps you want to learn to roll. Perhaps you want to learn to surf.



These are all great things to learn and all of them take some time to master. You might dip your toe in at a symposium and get a taste of each. You might take one class a time, then go off and practice with your kayak friends from CKC. For me, I like to learn one thing at a time.

Finally, get some local knowledge. Ask others who know you and whose skills you admire which instructor they think would be a good fit for you.
Look at the kayak forums and websites. Who is more structured? Who tends to be gentle and soft spoken? Who tends to demonstrate strokes clearly and effectively? Who is excellent at navigation? Who is an excellent rolling instructor? Once you've selected a teacher, try to talk with them a bit beforehand.




Teachers and students are individual. A great fit is key to both developing your skills and enjoying learning.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Campfire Stew

This is a tradition with me, as long as I have been camping.  It involves me tossing it together while I pack my gear, boats and car the night before a trip.  By the time the car is packed, the stew is ready to head off for the first night of camping.  Usually, the first night involves settingup camp, possibly unloading a boat, finding out where things are.  This is the night for something that can be heated up and eaten right away.  When I have brought this, it seems like many people have a variation on this theme, and tell me about their ideas.  Here is mine.
Saute 2 pounds of hamburg.  Drain well. Saute one huge Vidalia onion up in the leftover oil.
Add 1 bag of frozen green beans, one bag of peas, 2 bags of corn, two large cans of diced tomatoes,
When adding herbs, I always prefer fresh, but use what you have.  Add 1 1/2 tsp. of thyme, oregano, basil, margoram, black pepper and salt. Simmer and adjust seasonings. 
This is very simple, but everyone always eats it--hearty and practical, and good for camping.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Lessons Learned from Surfing

SURFING SEA KAYAKS!

There's probably nothing more fun (to some of us adrenaline junkies) than surfing the perfect wave.

That said, and after a surf day that was chock full of lessons learned from observation, I'd like to share these pointers.  Please feel free to add your own comments and knowledge!


·        Assess the waves when you arrive first.  Are they dumping?  What is the timing between them?  What are the conditions?
·        Assess the beach –
a.      Piers? Jetties? Obstacles?
b.      Crowded with people?  Is it safe for them if you surf?
·        Assess the weather
a.      Wind – which direction and where will you get blown
b.      Rip current formed by strong wind?
c.      T-storm likely?
·        Assess your kayak surf group
a.      Skills
b.      Safety
c.      Courtesy
·        Rules
a.      No ‘parking’ down wave of another kayak
b.      No rescues in the surf impact zone
c.      After riding a wave, turn and make a loop out of the ‘flight pattern’ of other kayakers
d.      Be alert for swimmers and surfers on the wave, and do not snake their wave
·        Surf  exit
a.      Stand ocean side of the kayak
·        Getting dumped in the surf
a.      Get on the ocean side of your kayak, not the beach side
b.      Do not put fingers in the toggle loop
c.      Let the kayak go  – you’ll dislocate or injure your shoulder or hand attempting to hang onto it
d.      Do not attempt a ‘pole roll’ near the beach…another good way to injure a shoulder
·        Rescues in swells or at sea
  1. Be Careful!

Monday, November 5, 2012

Fall brings Falling temps = Hypothermia Risk


Each year, needless deaths occur from hypothermia.  The ACA states that 70% of drownings could have been avoided if the victim was wearing a PFD.  This doesn't reflect the number who may not have died of cold shock or hypothermia had they been properly dressed for immersion.

So here's my general rule:  If you do not wish to swim in the water as you are dressed, then you should not be kayaking (or SUP) in the water....doesn't matter how experienced you are.

Capsizes happen... kayaking is a wet sport... if you are not dressed for the water temps, you are risking your life.  Hypothermia robs your body of heat, mental acuity and physical dexterity.

Try this test.  plunge your hand into a bucket of ice water for up to 5 minutes and see if you can still pick up a penny....sounds so simple, right?  Most heat loss occurs from head, neck, hands and torso.  Know the H.E.L.P position.... better yet... don't put yourself at risk.

Options to wear based on water temperature :
• Drysuit
• Wetsuit
• Paddling Jacket or Drytop
• Neoprene hood, gloves, socks
• Heavy neoprene boots
• Fleece undergarment for Drysuit
• Warm paddling hat
• Rashguard or wicking under layer

You may also wish to carry a cag, bivvy bag, or shelter, matches or lighter, thermos of hot tea, and warm change of clothing.  Knowing how to help someone else who is showing symptoms of hypothermia may help save their life.

Need more information?  Almost every kayaking website like ours, has informaton devoted to cold weather.  You'll find a helpful temperature chart and compelling video on the above link.  Feel free to post references to share!





Sunday, November 4, 2012

OCRACOKE


If you love islands, visit this one. It is the jewel in North Carolina's crown.

Ocracoke Island is the next island south of Hatteras. But it's very different: no beach houses. None! All of the island's population -  the 700 or so year-rounders and the thousands of summer visitors -- are clumped around the picturesque harbor, Silver Lake, on the soundside. The gorgeous Atlantic shore is part of the Hatteras National Seashore. Nothing but dunes, sea oats, and breaking waves for miles and miles. In Ocracoke village there are modern structures alongside old ones but no highrises and no McMansions. And this is the magic: there is NO road access. You take a car ferry to Ocracoke -- or your own boat -- or you don't go. If you take the ferry from Cedar Island or Swan Quarter on the mainland, you'll ride for more than 2 hours and lose all sight of land. When you arrive at Ocracoke on its thin sliver of sand, you know you've reached the end of the New World. Next stop, France! (In fact, there's a famous story of a North Carolina kayaker who capsized in Oregon Inlet farther north; months later his kayak did wash up in France with his wallet still aboard! CKC member Dawn was there; ask her to tell the story!)
Here's the car ferry turning in Silver Lake.


The best time to go to Ocracoke is October, in my opinion. We were there the weekend before Hurricane Sandy drove a couple of feet of water up into Ocracoke village. For us, it was all warm water, blue skies, no crowds. We rented a pet-friendly cottage, quaint on the outside, modern enough within.

And here was a piece of yard art that hurt to see -- a beautiful, well-built wooden skiff. It was last registered in 2001.  Lovely sheer line. The bottom has some rocker too. On Ocracoke these wooden skiffs have been replaced by flat-bottomed fiberglass Carolina Skiffs -- great commercial fishing platforms for the extremely shallow waters 
of Pamlico Sound. But strangely enough, over on the mainland, from Cedar Island down to Harker's Island you still see these wooden skiffs floating on their moorings. They're in use even today. It pains me to see a great old wooden skiff left to rot. Better to give it a Viking funeral, I say, and send it up in flames. But I'm a landlubber and I'm in love with the beauty of wooden boats. Those watermen are not nearly so sentimental about the tools of their trade.

I went kayaking only one day during our 4 days on the island. The soundside was calm as glass on our first day, so that was my window of opportunity. North of the big pine hammock at mid-island, Hwy 12 crosses 5 salt creeks in quick succession. 
One of them, Parker's, has a small sand landing by the bridge. That's where I launched. (Note:  This is public land, but a commercial fisherman constructed the landing. If you go to Ocracoke, never block any water access, any sand road, with your car. Always park out of the way. We're visitors; the Ocracokers need water access to make their livings.)

It was early morning when I launched my light skin-on-frame kayak and began a slow paddle back down the sound to our cottage. The mirror-like water was light gray and the clouds were the identical  color. There was no horizon line. The sound of voices from distant boats floated over the water to me, though I could barely see the boats. It was a great paddle that day.  I saw one Peregrine Falcon up close as it flew low over Hwy 12, heading south. Falcons migrate with their prey, the shorebirds. I saw 3 Diamondback Terrapins and 1 sea turtle (species unknown) in the water. I also saw a greenish needlefish and 4 rays -- maybe stingrays but I'm not sure. My kayak floated just inches above the rays but they didn't move. Only their gill covers pulsed open and shut. For much of my paddle the water was barely a foot deep. For large stretches behind Ocracoke Island that's the depth for a mile offshore. You could get out and walk if you wanted. In fact, the Pamlico Sound is shallow overall; the deepest spot is 22 feet. The car ferries have to follow narrow dredged channels in and out of harbors. 

Later we walked on the Atlantic beach where large swells crashed in. But the utter tranquility of that soundside paddle stayed with me for the rest of my time on Ocracoke. 

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Younger Paddlers?


There’s a thread on the Carolina Kayak Clubs forum titled “Where are the Younger Paddlers?”, indeed it does seems most of us are middle aged or older.  This is also true for other kayaking groups I belong to as well.   Many believe sea kayaking to be a sport for the more mature, with the extra time and money to enjoy the sport.

Not just a concern in our kayak club, but discussed among other outdoor clubs as well.  Paddling.net also just published an article by Cliff Jacobson on this topic called ‘Grey Hairs’, lamenting on the fact that we are missing the youth in our outdoor activities, and  wondering if “we're raising a generation of youngsters who love malls more than trees” putting some blame on our educational expectations that no long include field trips and away from school activities.

Adventure Kayak Magazine had an article in their Early Summer 2012 Issue by Tim Galloway titled “Where are all the Younger Paddlers Paddling?”.   Galloway (who is 23 says) “To get younger people into the sport, it needs to be seen as exciting and challenging, requiring us to let go of the stereotypical notions of flat water and sunrises, and accept the multiple facets of sea kayaking”.

If we want to see some younger folks join in, we have to take some responsibility to show them the way.   Start at home with family.  A couple of weekends ago when my son Alan (age 26) and niece Morgan (age 17) were both visiting, we spent a morning on our lake.  It was Morgan’s first time paddling, she was a natural.




Friday, November 2, 2012

Fifty Miles By Sea




I posted the entire article of our June 2011 50 mile ocean expedition.  From my experience, this was one of those few trips in the life of a paddler that fundamentally changes their perspective of their place on the water.  On the first day, our group encountered the roughest ocean conditions we had ever faced, far beyond our comfort zones.   As we found our place in the landscape of these hostile waters, I learned to work with the dynamics of the sea to paddle with greater confidence rather than fight and react to the relentless pounding of the waves.  In a later article I will cover what I learned.  I hope you will enjoy our story. 

On the final weekend in June 2011, 5 paddlers came together to fulfill a longtime dream for one.  Lee had long envisioned an ocean paddle expedition on the Atlantic from the banks of his house in Swansboro, North Carolina to the most eastward extent of the shoreline at Cape Lookout,  Into a notorious region known as the "Graveyard of the Atlantic" for its legacy of storms, battles, pirates, and many shoals causing unusually nasty waves having wrecked more than 2000 ships and boats of all types over the last 400 years.  Much of the region along the Shackleford Banks has changed little in 400 years.  Lee was anxious to complete the ocean paddle to take care of "unfinished business" from a similar failed expedition last year, where strong storms kept us off the ocean and hunkered down on an uninhabited island. Lee invited four additional paddlers : Dawn, Barrett, Chris, and myself.  All quite experienced.

Late afternoon on June 24th, we began to stage our expedition from Lee's waterfront back yard two miles inland. At that time strong winds were blowing and the pounding surf at the beach could be heard all the way from the sea.  All were anxious that night knowing in just a matter of hours, we would be facing the beast head-on.  I suggested driving over to Emerald Isle to scout the inlet.  Dawn said "if you do, you won't go".  The surf was forecast to be very high with five to seven foot seas the next day making surf landings difficult and risky.  That evening, we carefully and creatively loaded our kayaks for the possibility of not returning to shore for the first day's 32+ mile duration. Also, everything needed during the day must be within arm's reach and must be quickly accessible so you are not off your guard when hit broadside by a breaking wave. The task ahead was daunting.  Leave through the Bogue Inlet at low tide in the face of rough seas crashing against its shoals, paddle over thirty sea miles, before entering and crossing one of the busiest inlets on the east coast before reaching our campsite on the Shackleford banks. If the Beaufort inlet was too dangerous, we were prepared to cross in front and paddle nine more miles to the safety of a natural harbor at Cape Lookout.  An early departure at sunrise was planned. Over the night, very little sleep was had as we listened to the crashing waves from our beds. In my case anxiety got the best of me.  All of us knew to reach tomorrow's destination would summon every bit of our skills and take a bit of good fortune.

The following morning at 5:55 am, five kayaks set off for the inlet under the promise of a golden sunrise.  The wind had diminished and I felt better sitting in my kayak, satisfied with my preparations and was anxious to get started.  We made our way toward the inlet in good spirits, crossing the ICW, and skirting Dudley Island.  The sound of the crashing breakers grew louder as we drew closer to the inlet.  As we passed between Emerald Isle and Bear Island, the breakers showed their teeth as the tide drew us closer.  We remained tight in formation so we could communicate, and searched for a clear passage to sea.  There was none. Inlets naturally form shoals from the sand carried in and out with the tidal cycles forming a sometimes hellish gauntlet of breakers.  We could not see what the seas were like behind the shoal break, or new how far out the breakers went. So our plan was to hug Emerald Isle and slip away from the shoal break by moving away from the inlet down the coast, just beyond the reach of the surf.  We maintained formation as we sneaked between the high island surf and the breakers from the shoals.  But all too soon, our luck ran out and we were forced to make a run to sea.  The kayaks broke formation and headed out to sea facing the teeth of the breakers head on.  We were hammered as we slowly inched our way out,  losing sight each other, as each padder was on their own until passing the last of the breakers.  Once clear, we looked around to see who made it, reassembled, and pressed on, relieved that everyone had made it, leaving the gauntlet behind us, earning our place on the ocean, and feeling the task ahead was doable with the much anticipated hostile inlet passage behind us. 

The ocean beyond the inlet was sharp pointed waves, breaking whitecaps at times, with 17 mph winds from the southeast which gave us following seas over our right shoulders the remainder of the day.  Smoother seas were forecast the next day.  The seas were very rocky. We saw no other boats for nearly the entire first day's distance.  Shaken by our passage through the inlet, we sought safety in deeper water, angling our kayaks parallel to the deep rollers on the trip out which kept the boats level as we moved away from the shore to a distance between 1.5 and 2 miles from shore.  The ocean turned from green to a deep clear blue, leaving the sediment of the surf and breakers behind.  We then turned straight east running down the coast, our speed increased with the following waves to between 4.0-5 mph.  Shaking off the turbulent start, and feeling relieved to be under way, all of us began to settle into our new environment at sea.  For the first time, we took in the views and enjoyed the splendor of the rising sun over a vast emptiness.  The sea reflecting its twisting rays on the heaving waves.  The land was far away and featureless, disappearing in the trough of the large rollers. The waves even at 1.5 miles out were blown very sharp and tall by the wind. On one occasion, I planted my paddle down, and it did not hit the water.  Occasionally, wave-tops would break over the side of our kayaks. So we spread our formation to prevent the waves from tossing one on top of another, but kept close enough to ensure everyone was safe.  Rarely, could you see everyone at one time as we constantly moved over the waves through the troughs.  We were reassured by our arsenal of safety equipment including VHF radios, satellite tracking beacons, horns, flares, and family monitoring our progress on the internet.

Anyone traveling on the ocean in a small craft will soon notice its rhythms.  Waves exist in groups of different sizes known to mariners as "wave sets".  At times, a set of waves 10 to 12 feet would hit broadside forcing us to frequently brace our kayaks.  As the day progressed bracing became more of a subconscious action.  Calmer sets afforded an opportunity to take care of various tasks, grab a fist full of trail mix, a couple of crackers, or sip some water from the hydration unit.  Each task was quickly handled since one hand off the paddle would leave the kayak vulnerable.  When reaching for food, I would store several bites in my mouth and consume the food over the next couple of minutes. I was relying on my 3 liter hydration unit to last most of the day.  When depleted, I had several bottles stored under my sea-sock in my cockpit to fall back on.  I had a bottle for bathroom breaks at sea.  My pantry was in my deck bag, as was some safety equipment during surf passages.  My Feathercraft K1 was designed for the sea, but I still worked a small safety brace in with each stroke for safety.  We were well over a mile out and the last thing you wanted to do was go over and possibly put another paddler at risk attempting a deep water rescue.  Everyone at all times kept a wary eye on the unsettled wave train for rogue waves cracking over our heads and other bothersome waves.  Over the course of first day, several waves broke over our kayaks.  Each time, we were

 quick with the low brace.
As the day progressed, the tall wave sets became less frequent and we were putting several miles behind us.  However, at 15 miles into the estimated 32 miles, the pounding of the breakers in the inlet and the large rollers far from shore had taken its toll, and Lee requested a surf landing.  Also,  Barrett's rear storage compartment taking on water.  At the time of the decision, were still 1.5 miles off shore and could not see the surf, but we all knew it would be bad, and dreaded the looming confrontation.  Two miles later as we came close to shore, the waves grew behind us.  The surf was breaking far out from the beach,  we ran the gauntlet one by one.  Lee and Chris made great surf landings.  The rest of us met with misfortune on the way in and were tossed from our kayaks.  When near shore I looked over my shoulder, and saw Barrett's kayak nearly vertically standing on its nose on a monster wave and feared for his safety.  However, he made it to shore none the worse for wear.

Despite the rough landing, we all made it to shore and enjoyed the beach for nearly an hour.  Beach goers admired our equipment and posed for photographs in front of our kayaks.  Barrett emptied his kayak and secured his hatch, and Lee was feeling much better after replenishing his electrolytes and felt able to complete the journey to Shackleford Banks.  I replenished my on-hand provisions, topping off my hydration unit with one of the two 3 liter tanks in my storage hold. We ate lunch since it was 11:00 and the only time we would touch land until the day's paddle was over after 17 more miles.  I was rather surprised how much water I had consumed at sea.  Once our break was over, we readied our kayaks for sea and launched through the rough surf which relentlessly pounded us for nearly 100 yards out.

Once more we were underway, and cruised only a 500 yards to a quarter mile from shore.  The closer proximity to shore put us more at risk for breaking waves.   Over the remainder of the day's paddle had a few narrow escapes.  We headed east passing Atlantic beach.  As we approached the Ft. Macon (a civil war fort at the end of Emerald Isle) and the Beaufort Inlet, the waves had once again increased to around 8 to 12 feet.  At this point, we were more comfortable in these seas. We were quickly approaching Beaufort Inlet (one of the busiest inlets on the east coast).  Last year when we crossed the Beaufort inlet, we felt like mice crossing a freeway.  However, this time, the rough seas left the inlet nearly devoid of traffic. But large breakers were guarding the flanks of the channel, leaving us with a choice of heading back out to sea a mile to clear the breakers and ride the 40 ft deep channel in, or sneak around the rock jetty along Ft. Macon into the inlet.  We decided to sneak in the back door.  By this time, the tide was going in and we rode it past the breakers, crossed the channel and made our way across the inlet to the uninhabited Shackleford Banks where we planned to camp.

We pulled our kayaks up to a protected beach and set up camp, relieved that we survived the paddle without serious incident, and no rescues.  We were settling in as the daytime boaters were packing to go home.  We had traveled 34 miles and had only 10 more to Cape Lookout ahead of us.  My hands were very badly blistered and swollen, resembling ground chuck.

We took a much overdue swim and prepared to cook a wonderful Fajita dinner.  Barrett and Chris had bought some thick stakes which Lee had sliced and froze the night before.  The steak and vegetables were put into a flexible cooler and packed for the trip. We carried along 2 frying pans.  I brought along my Jet Boil with an attachment to accommodate the large pans.  Lee was the master cook for the night and made simply the best outdoor dinner I ever remember having.  We walked around to the ocean side and checked out the Shackleford side of the inlet for our departure the next day, and turned in early from what was very remarkable day.  As the last of the daytime boaters left, peace and the gentile sound of the water descende on our camp site. A gentle breeze cooled the approaching evening. We were tired. The distanced paddled in the ocean was the farthest that Lee and I had ever done in one day, and was the furthest offshore any of us had paddled.

As the sun rose on sunday, we were pleasantly rewarded for the previous day's perseverance with placid glass like seas, promising smooth passage.  After breakfast, we broke camp and set off at 8:00 am for the 11 mile trip to the Cape Lookout light.  After hitting some strange currents in the inlet, the tide swept us ouclear of the inlet and into the ocean, where we set course east once again on a straight line to Cape Lookout along a featureless, barren Shackleford banks.

The 10 miles to the "Bight" (what the locals call the bay) was easy, but hot as there was no wind, and a very hot sun.  After 5 miles,  we spotted the lighthouse on the horizon amid a rather hazy sky left from long burning forest fires a hundred miles to the southwest.  My hands were still swollen and hurting from the previous day, but in consideration of the splendid day on hand, I had little to complain about. 

Finally, we entered the bight, and made our way to the lighthouse.  The whole area was crawling with day-trippers. We crossed the Barden channel and pulled up on a nice little protected beach near the lighthouse.  By that time we spotted two kayakers with greenland paddles.  Our shuttle drivers, Bill Bremer his wife Laura, who had stayed in the comfort of Lee's house, enjoying the fine restaurants of Swansboro, arrived in their kayaks from the takeout to escort us the last leg to Harker's Island.  They had launched at 10:20 after staging Lee's Van and kayak trailer for the Hour and 15 minute drive back to the start of the expedition, and arrived within 10 minutes of us at the lighthouse.

After spending some time on the Beach and eating lunch, we set off on the last leg with the long traveled ocean to our backs, we made though the Barden Inlet and past the inland marsh of Shackleford Banks where we found ourselves among the fabled shackleford horses who paid us no mind, but rewarded us with their stately presence.  After being shipwrecked 400 years ago by the spanish and surviving countless hurricanes, they seemed no worse for ware and content without anyone's help.  We followed the channel to Harker's Island where our vehicle and kayak trailer was waiting.



At journey's end we sat for a minute reflecting all we had done and the places traveled over the two days. The tide had favored us through the 4 inlet passages. Over the last 2 days, I had grown remarkably in my paddling experience and confidence.  We encountered the sea and her many wiles on her terms of which she afforded us safe passage, allowing us to experience living on the edge out at sea as countless mariners before, and wind down with a splendid placid journey on one of the Atlantic's most beautiful coastlines and marsh. Seems hardly possible two days could be enough for all we have done.  However, the lasting effects, of what we have learned and experienced these two days will carry forth for a lifetime.
  

Copyright 2012 Lyman  A Copps