Sunday, February 26, 2017

Strokes Notes: Why I feather

(This is the first in what I hope will be a series of entries describing my take on some issues related to kayaking technique. It is a series aimed at others like me: strokes nerds. You know who you are. You've watched that Roger Schumann bow rudder video 13 times, and you've spent days trying to figure out if the inside or outside edge works better on your hanging draw. Pretty much all of my decisions about paddling style involve an agonizing analytical thought process. That's just how my brain works. So if you're a strokes nerd like me, maybe you'll find something interesting or even useful in these entries. And if you're not a strokes nerd... well, you've been warned...)

To feather, or not to feather? That is the question. As far as I’m concerned, you can pry my feathered paddle from my cold, dead hands. And in this entry I'm going to tell you why. I expect not everyone will agree with this position, so I invite counter-arguments, objections, and general rebuttal in the comments section. Or maybe someone will be moved to write a similar blog entry defending the unfeathered paddle. So here, in no particular order, are the three primary reasons that I feather my paddle.

1. I feather because it just feels right. 

Once I made the decision to feather, it took me about a week or so to develop a feel for a feathered paddle. That was a pretty miserable week. Switching from unfeathered to feathered is an awkward experience, and it takes some dedication until your strokes feel normal again. The good news is that once you've gotten a few weeks of feathered paddling under your belt, you'll forget why it felt so weird to begin with. The bad news is that you can easily remind yourself how weird it felt by just unfeathering again. At this point I've been paddling with a feather for over 3 years, and I hate, hate, HATE going back to unfeathered paddling. 

The point here is that there is nothing "natural" about an unfeathered paddle. I'd wager that my feathered paddle feels every bit as natural in my hands as an unfeathered paddle may feel in someone else's. And this goes for just about every important aspect of paddling. After 3 years of feathering I'm convinced that my body knows instinctively where my hands are on my paddle and how my blades are oriented at all times. I have no reason to think that the feather ever causes me to misapply a stroke, or to miss a critical brace or a roll. This, of course, is a common argument against the feather, that it introduces uncertainly in bracing because the two blades are oriented differently with respect to the water. I'm willing to concede this point only in a very limited sense. I believe the notion that a feathered paddle makes bracing more difficult applies primarily to "practice bracing." Here's the scenario: You're in a class, sitting in a good low brace position with your elbows up and the back faces of your blades perfectly parallel to the water's surface on both sides. In that position you're ready to do your "demonstration quality" low braces. But if your paddle is feathered, one of your blades will always be angled awkwardly toward the water, setting you up to miss a brace on that side; you've got to keep adjusting your blade angle every time you switch sides for another brace. The problem with this argument is that bracing almost never works that way. Here's the reality: You're paddling forward in rough water, you've just finished off a stroke on your right side, and you're hit with a surprise wave that throws you over onto your left. Quick!--how is your left blade oriented with respect to the water? Feather or no feather, your body has to know without thinking how to shift the angles of that left arm--shoulder, elbow, wrist--to position the blade for a good, safe, solid brace. There's nothing automatic about this but that practice makes it so. 

So I paddle with the feather because it just feels right. Calm water or rough, paddling straight or carving turns, high brace or low brace. It always feels right to have my paddle feathered, because 3 years of practice have made it so. An unfeathered paddle--not so much. In fact, I'm willing to bet that if I went out in rough water right now with an unfeathered paddle I'd be VERY prone to miss a brace when I needed it. No thanks.

You may have noticed that this isn’t so much an answer to the question “Why feather?” as it is an answer to the question “Why not feather?” Fair enough. But I’m not done yet… 

2. I feather because headwinds are a drag. 

You've probably all heard this argument: With a feathered paddle, the off water blade is conveniently angled to slice through a strong headwind. This claim is pretty obviously true, but it almost always invites counterarguments. For one thing, the beneficial effect of the feather would obviously be most pronounced with a 90 degree feather, and hardly anyone paddles with a 90 degree feather. For another, the feather is only reliably helpful in a perfect headwind. In any kind of crosswind, a feathered blade may be just as likely to catch the wind as an unfeathered one. In fact, it’s possible that a strong crosswind on a feathered blade might even have a destabilizing effect by pushing the paddler over sideways. And wouldn't an unfeathered paddle actually give you an advantage in a tailwind? This is also all true. But if that means it's all a wash, then why am I just so happy to have a feathered paddle in my hands when that wind kicks up in my face?

While it's obviously true that the wind can come from anywhere, wind resistance will have its most pronounced effect countering your forward movement. And the thing moving forward most is your off-water (top) hand; not only is your boat moving into the wind, but that hand is moving forward relative to the boat. If you haven't thought a lot about how headwinds affect you on the water, it's worth checking out this short Wikipedia article on "apparent wind". Basically, if there's a 10 mph wind blowing in my face and I'm paddling forward at 3 mph, I'm feeling a 13 mph headwind. If my off-water hand is moving forward at another 3 mph relative to my boat (just a random estimate, I'd guess it's probably quite a bit faster than this, depending on cadence), then my hand is pushing against a 16 mph wind. That’s a lot of resistance on the off water blade if it’s squared to the wind. (Based on the surface area of my Werner Cyprus, it works out to about 0.43 pounds of resistance with every stroke.) In contrast, if I had a 10 mph tailwind in the same situation, my off water hand would only feel a 4 mph wind pushing it from the back. Headwinds have a whole lot more effect on you than tailwinds. The result is that having your blade squared to a headwind will not only slow the boat down, the blade effectively acting as a mini sail, but that it will also put significantly greater strain on your shoulder as you attempt to push that blade forward into the wind. Half a pound of resistance doesn’t sound like much, but try doing 10,000 reps. That’s a workout you probably don't need. 

So yes, how much a feather helps you does depend on where the wind is coming from and how your blade is angled relative to it. But the feather provides relief when you MOST need it, when the wind is right in your face. It could prevent your trip from becoming a very prolonged and potentially exhausting set of shoulder presses. 

3. I feather because I don't want to break my wrists.

This one is a bit more complicated.

Try this experiment. Grab a two-piece paddle, ideally one with a loose ferrule that allows you to easily rotate the two halves of the shaft relative to each other. Sit on a bench, stool, or chair, something that will allow you to get into a catch position with your paddle. Now lock the paddle in the unfeathered position (zero degree feather angle) and hold it like you’re ready to paddle. Your hands should be out in front of you, with the power faces of both blades facing toward you. Maintaining a firm grip on the paddle shaft with both hands (don’t let the paddle shaft rotate in your hands), move yourself into the catch position on your left side, with the left blade down toward the "water" and the right blade up in recovery. Now look at your top wrist. Unless you’re some kind of freak of nature, it will be bent. In fact, if you have a high angle stroke, it may be bent uncomfortably. Now, separate the two halves of the paddle so that they are still connected but free to rotate relative to each other, with the ferrule unlocked. Do the same thing, coming to a catch position, but keep both of your wrists locked in the unbent, neutral position. You will notice that as you move to the catch, the two halves of the paddle shaft rotate relative to each other. Stop again at the catch position; your top wrist should be unbent, but now your blades are feathered. That angle between the two blades is your natural feather angle--it is the angle you should feather your blades so that you don't have to break your wrists on your forward stroke.

The ergonomics of the forward stroke are such that the off-water wrist will tend to break at the catch; again, this is more dramatic the higher the angle of the stroke. An unfeathered paddle combined with a firm grip on the shaft are thus a recipe for unnecessary strain on the wrists. If you paddle this way with a very low angled stroke, the bend in the wrists may not even be noticeable. But with a higher angle stroke, this approach could result not only inefficiency, but also tendinitis.  

There are actually two solutions to this ergonomic problem. Mine, as you might have guessed, is to feather my paddle. I've found that a 45 degree feather is a pretty natural angle for my typical stroke, which is relatively high angle. I maintain my right hand as my control hand at all times during the forward stroke; my right hand holds the paddle in place and my paddle shaft just rotates freely in my left hand. With this arrangement, whether I'm catching on my right or my left the blade is always in a good solid catch position while my off-water wrist can stay safe and neutral. The remarkable thing about this is that my wrists and hands don't have to do anything to position my blade for the catch. The rotation of my body and the movement of my arms on the recovery is sufficient to put my blade right where it needs to be, on either side.

The second solution is, I imagine, almost universal among kayakers who don't want to feather their paddles. You simply forget about the firm grip--or, more precisely, you switch the control hand with every stroke. With this approach, the hands are held loosely on the paddle shaft (usually a good idea in any case), and with each stroke the on-water hand becomes the control hand. This allows the paddle to remain unfeathered and the wrists to maintain a neutral unbent angle, and still enables effective catches on both sides. It will work with any angle stroke, though the degree to which the hands must work to shift blade angle is more pronounced with a high angle stroke. (If you want to see a good demonstration of how this control hand switching approach works, check out this video. It's a good explanation of what many kayakers probably do without thinking about it.)

Why do I prefer the feathered paddle solution? My reasoning is based on a simple premise: Every sprint kayaker in the world can't be wrong. If switching control hands is a viable option, why wouldn't world class sprinters adopt it just as frequently as the alternative? My guess is that the answer has something to do with the challenges associated with finding the catch efficiently, especially at high cadences. With an appropriately feathered paddle the hands don't have to do anything to put the blade in a strong catch position, everything is determined by the ergonomics of the forward stroke. In contrast, if you're alternating control hands the hands are doing lots of work, with every stroke, to find the catch. Obviously this is doable, but what would happen if one adopted this approach at 120 strokes per minute? During a sprint the first inches of drive are absolutely critical, and there is very little room for error at the catch; the paddler must have confidence that the blade is entering the water at exactly the right angle to apply pressure immediately. I suspect it could be very difficult to accomplish this by alternating control hands at very high cadence. And maybe this is why kayak racers appear to be one group that is unanimous on the “to feather or not to feather” question. They just cannot afford even slight uncertainty at the catch. And what better way to eliminate that uncertainty than to make the catch position automatic? Just "set it and forget it”: determine the right feather angle for your stroke and you'll have a perfect catch every time without your hands or your blade needing to do any work at all. 

So I feather because it gives me confidence in my catch, at any speed and any cadence, without having to worry about poor ergonomics. All I have to do is focus on my forward stroke form, and my feather takes care of finding the catch for me. 

These are my reasons for sticking with the feather. It should be clear from what I've said above that these reasons depend quite a bit on my own paddling style. Since I adopt a high angle stroke, the ergonomic benefits of the feather are considerable and, at the same time, I can employ a large enough feather angle that it makes a significant difference in a headwind. If you use a low angle stroke, you will have an entirely different set of criteria on which to base your decision. I'm sure that there are plenty of other arguments both for and against feathering that I've not addressed here, and there are also lots of details that I've left out of the above account, since I figure not many people want to read a 12 page treatise on paddle feathering. In the end, of course, your decision to feather or not to feather is yours. But as with all such decisions related to paddling skills, I recommend that you make it for good reasons, and not simply because someone told you there's a “right” way to do it. So if you’ve been wondering about why someone might feather a paddle, I invite you to think about the reasons I've laid out here. And then think about the reasons not to feather. And then get out on the water and practice, practice, practice until you find what works best for you.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Trip Report: Cedar Island to Portsmouth and Ocracoke

On Friday, April 29 Lee Toler led a group of four paddlers, including myself, John Keeter, and Chris Rezac on a trip to Ocracoke Island. Lee had outlined a plan that would take us around the island in three days, and after some email exchanges to discuss options we agreed on an ambitious but achievable itinerary. We would leave from the Cedar Island ferry terminal near mid-day on the 29th (after a 4 hour drive from Raleigh) and make the crossing to Portsmouth Island, camping on the beaches lining Ocracoke Inlet. The second day would take us out the inlet and northeast along Ocracoke on the ocean side, reentering the sound through Hatteras inlet and staying on the south end of Hatteras Island. On the third day we would paddle southwest on the sound side, camping just south of Ocracoke Harbor. We would finish on Monday by loading our boats on the ferry for the return ride to Cedar Island and the drive back to Raleigh. Lee had timed tides to give us favorable currents into and out of the inlets and the winds, though forecast to run against us in both directions, would be relatively tame at 10-15 miles per hour. So despite the roughly 60 miles total distance we all felt comfortable in our ability to handle the conditions. In the end, we would have nearly completed the 35 mile circumnavigation of Ocracoke Island, but for the several miles between Springer’s Point and Ocracoke Inlet.

Cedar Island ferry terminal
We launched as planned around noon on Friday under grey skies. We had encountered some rain on the drive to Cedar Island, but it had stopped by the time we got our paddles wet. Our plan was to paddle a straight course to the north end of Portsmouth Island. This would take us far enough out into the Sound that land would be barely visible, if at all. So we were to be guided by compass for the first leg of our trip. A moderate breeze off our front quarter and some light 1-2 foot swells from the same direction kept trying to draw us off course, but with occasional corrections we were able to maintain our heading. The breeze and spray kept me cool and comfortable in my drysuit (water temperatures were still in the low 60s, cold enough to be cautious), and the clouds gradually opened up to reveal patches of blue sky. All in all a very pleasant day on the water.

Until I got seasick. If you’re ever considering getting seasick, I have some advice: Don’t do it. Few things can ruin an enjoyable day of paddling more than the firm conviction that you’d rather die than spend another minute in your boat. In my limited experience with coastal paddling I’ve encountered seasickness about one out of every 5 times I paddle. So my advice isn’t entirely facetious; I have now decided that a 20% chance of being miserable isn’t worth the risk, and I’ll be taking Dramamine before every coastal paddle. I’ve never yet gotten seasick on a day when I’ve taken it, so it seems to be effective for me and has no apparent negative side effects. Unfortunately, while I had packed Dramamine in my first aid kit and even had a pill accessible in my pdf “ouch pouch,” I had decided not to take one prior to launch. Which leads to my second bit of advice: If you do get seasick, let your fellow paddlers know right away. It’s somewhat embarrassing to get seasick on a paddle like this—it is sea kayaking, after all, and hard to accept the fact that your body just can’t handle the “sea” part—and the inclination is to keep quiet and hope beyond reason that it’ll just go away. It won’t. In fact, it will almost certainly get worse. It’s far better to let your group know about the problem before you’re utterly incapacitated. Once I knew things were going downhill I drew up alongside Lee to let him know, at which point we all discussed options and planned to adjust our course to head toward the Core Banks and shallow water. This would take us a bit out of our way, but we’d still be heading in the right general direction.

Pitstop in shallow water in the Sound
As any nautical chart will show, there is a lot of very shallow water in the northern Core Sound. We were still quite a ways from solid marsh when we reached water shallow enough for me to hop out and stand next to my boat. The relief was immediate. We spent the next 30 minutes or so taking water and snacks and experimenting with various approaches to peeing from a boat while wearing a drysuit (experimental results available on request). Eventually I felt well enough to continue, and we headed off. I would have to stop one more time before we reached our destination, on the edge of a marsh prior to reaching Portsmouth Island. Fortunately I was able to continue paddling the entire time. The group decision to find shallow water and take additional stops allowed me to avoid the more debilitating effects of seasickness. In the end, I suspect that the extra distance and rest stops ended up delaying us much less than if I had needed a nurse boat and a tow.  In retrospect, given our plan for a long crossing without opportunity to land I definitely should have taken a Dramamine before launch to remove any risk; if shallow water hadn't been an option, things could have gotten much worse for me and the group.

Setting up camp on Portsmouth Island
We reached our landing on Portsmouth Island after 18 miles of paddling and well before dark. Once on sandy beach I made a full recovery, and we were all able to find a site and set up camp at a leisurely pace while the sun set. We pitched tents in the dunes just off the beach, and aside from some mild uncertainty about the likelihood of the tide overtopping the dunes (it would not), we spent a very pleasant evening refueling and resting. The campsite was mercifully free of mosquitoes. Portsmouth Island has a rather infamous reputation, and I had troubled myself by reading online horror stories of mosquito-plagued outings prior to the trip. But the breeze and the early season conspired to keep us bug-free, and to provide us with perfect camping conditions.

Portsmouth Island campsite
The next morning (after dutifully taking my Dramamine) we headed out Ocracoke inlet on the outgoing tide, taking a pretty steep ferry angle across the inlet to avoid getting swept out to sea. Before heading out we spent some time surveying the sandbars and breakers to find the safest route out to open water. We proceeding cautiously, pausing occasionally to discuss options and try to locate a calm path around the point. Our patience paid off, and we ended up getting outside without incident, following a relatively surf-free passage that cut inside an offshore break.

Once on the ocean side we headed northeast along the Ocracoke coast, directly into the wind. Fortunately the wind was as forecast, around 15 miles per hour. Having dealt with worse wind before I felt that we were making decent time, probably moving along at 3 miles per hour or better. But the markers on land seemed to tell a different story. After several hours of paddling we appeared to be making little progress, and decided to make a surf landing to take stock of the situation and get some food and rest. The landing was not entirely uneventful; the second boat in got tumbled in the surf after landing, coming up on top of the first boat and causing some minor damage. An important lesson learned: Spacing and timing are critical for surf landings. With so much beach available to us we should have been spread out much more. Also: Loaded boats and surf are a risky combination. It’s hard to control a loaded boat once you’re out of it, and the surf never seems to care that you haven’t quite gotten your boat out of the water before the next wave breaks.

On the beach we consulted Lee’s GPS, and were dismayed to learn that we had made it only about one third of the way up the island. We were barely averaging 2 miles per hour. Over the remainder of that day we pieced together an explanation. We had been fighting not only wind, but strong littoral or “longshore” current caused by swell approaching the coast at an angle. The northeast wind had been blowing for several days, building up 3 to 4 foot swell coming from that direction, nearly right in our faces. The associated current was running against us parallel to shore, and had been slowing us much more than we anticipated based solely on the wind. This effect was later confirmed by some other boaters we ran into, who commented on the strong longshore current to the southwest. Some quick calculations revealed that even if we kept up our current speed we wouldn’t reach Hatteras Inlet until the tide had turned against us. We discussed the possibility of continuing onward and camping instead at the north end of Ocracoke before entering the inlet, but we soon rejected this option. It would have gotten us in late after a grueling paddle, we didn’t know what would be available in terms of campsites, and (most problematic) we had all planned only for enough water to last through one night and couldn’t be guaranteed resupply. So the group opted to head back; we would reenter Ocracoke Inlet and camp at Springer’s Point, where we had originally planned to camp on the third night.

The experience presented a sobering lesson in the importance and challenge of accurately judging speed in conditions. The strength of the littoral current and its effect on our progress was surprising to all of us. Had we not been near shore with ample opportunities to judge land speed using obvious markers (water towers and other structures), we could have seriously overestimated our distance traveled and been in real trouble mistiming tides at the next inlet.

After launching through the surf we headed back to the southwest, flying downwind (and down current) and topping out at speeds over 6 miles per hour. We re-entered the inlet the same way we exited—cautiously, looking again for the path we had taken on the way out. We hit a bit more surf in this direction, which John took as the perfect opportunity to execute his first combat roll. After rounding the point it was a smooth paddle, mostly shielded from the northeast wind, to a calm beach landing at Springer’s Point. After setting up camp we walked through the nature preserve into Ocracoke and rewarded ourselves for 18.5 miles of hard paddling and judicious planning with pizza, beer, and ice cream.

Springer's Point beach
Since our plan for circumnavigation was shot, we mulled over a number of options for the next day. Unfortunately tides would not be conducive to heading out the inlet again, even just for a day of surf play. And a long paddle back to the takeout at Cedar Island just seemed like a lot of effort without the promise of anything new—plus, the wind was forecast to shift 180 degrees overnight, and would be right in our faces for a trip back across the Sound. So we decided to get up late, have breakfast in Ocracoke, and take the early afternoon ferry back to Cedar Island. From there Lee, John, and I would drive over to Lee’s place to spend the night, followed by a Monday morning surf session at Bogue Inlet. Chris decided to head home Sunday night, saving his vacation day for another trip.

Just one quick note on the ferry from Ocracoke to Cedar Island: It is outrageously inexpensive. One dollar gets you on board as a walk-on, and bikes cost a mere $2 more. Kayaks, mysteriously, are free.

Tides again worked for us at Bogue Inlet on Monday morning; we let the tail end of the outgoing tide carry us out in the morning, and rode the beginnings of the flood back in the early afternoon. Surf was at about 2-4 feet, perfect for a few hours of practice catching waves, bracing, and perfecting our rolls. John and I, both relatively new to the surf zone, found the conditions just right to challenge ourselves and build confidence in rougher water. At the start of the flood tide the water just outside the inlet turned confused, with a small area of clapotis and waves breaking from multiple directions, ideal for practicing timely bracing and boat and blade awareness. It turned out to be a fortuitous addition to the trip, something we wouldn’t have gotten had conditions not forced us to deviate from our original plan. It was a great end to a great weekend--challenging paddling, fantastic early summer camping, and good group decision-making made for an enjoyable trip and a valuable learning experience.

Taking a break from the surf at Bogue Inlet (photo by John Keeter)

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Journey Across The Pamlico

The Pamlico Sound is the largest lagoon on the US east coast.  When Italian explorer Giovanni da Varrazzano reached the Pamlico Sound in 1524 he thought he was in the Pacific Ocean.  His report caused many errors in the naming of places on the map of North America.  Its vast size and numerous shoals present many dangers and rough ocean conditions.  For 2 years Lee endeavored to lead a kayak trip to cross the Pamlico Sound.  Such a trip would carry with it dangers inherent in an major open water crossing.  A paddler would have no place to bail out, rest, perform repairs, and have no shelter from storms and high winds.  The trip would also require a reliable weather window and excellent navigation practices.   In 2013 the time for the long anticipated trip came, but risky weather forced Lee to cancel the trip entirely.   He scheduled a second attempt the following year on July 12th, 2014 to leave from a public boating ramp at Stumpy Point on the mainland and cross the Pamlico Sound to the town of Rodanthe on North Carolina’s Outer Banks and return in the next 2 days when the weather permitted.  We estimated the crossing would be around 18 miles each direction with each crossing lasting a duration of 4.5 - 6 hours.  Our destination was Rodanthe Water Sports campground on the sound front and accessible directly by our kayaks.   To bolster our navigational tools, Lee studied surrounding landmarks that would be visible far out at sea.  He noted our destination was next to a water tank and near a radio tower.  He estimated the towers would be visible once we were 5 miles from shore on a relatively clear day.  Lee also picked out landmarks at our departure site to aid navigation home.  A water tank and a cell antenna a mile inland were the only distinguishing landmarks that could be seen 
at a distance for the return trip.  In preparation, I created two routes and downloaded them into my GPS a few nights before departure.  Lee had briefly contemplated leaving for Rodanthe from the port town of Engelhard which would  ve been an open crossing of 28 miles instead of the 18 miles we had planned if we had a south-west wind pushing us the entire way.  However, the winds that day were to be 10-15 mph from the north-east .  So we decided to depart from the originally planned site at Stumpy Point and deal with the wind and waves on our left beam.

Our departure point from the mainland was a wildlife
 ramp on a swampy rural hook shaped peninsula named Stumpy Point.  There were no stores or lodging facilities for 20 miles, so we staged our trip from the near by town of Engelhard which was dealing with a cleanup after hurricane Arthur passed by a a week earlier.  Mosquitos were everywhere, so the marina we had planned to camp at seemed even less inviting.  Soon after we arrived in Englelhard, we learned Chris would be meeting us at Stumpy Point for the departure.  On a whim, Lee and I decided to abandon our campsite plans and stay at the Hotel Engelhard overnight where we enjoyed good company and a hearty hot breakfast the next morning.    We started our day at 6:00 am and left for Stumpy Point after our hearty breakfast for a planned 8:00 am launch.  Driving the lonely road to the launch site we left civilization behind and contemplated the trip ahead as we stared into long empty road across a flat treeless landscape.  Chris was at the boat ramp as we arrived to begin the careful packing process of loading our kayaks for the trip.  Everything we needed along the way had to be easily accessible from the cockpit of a pitching kayak since we would not stop or get out of our kayaks until we landed in the Outer Banks.  All my food was in small plastic containers so I could grab them quickly from my day hatch.  I rigged 2 hydration systems with tubes inches from my mouth.  A 3 liter bladder strapped behind the cockpit, and a secondary 1.5 liter bladder inside my PFD.  I 
was not to use the water in my PFD until the 3 liter hydration unit was empty since it was my emergency water supply in case I was separated from my kayak and lost. I had both a VHF radio with an emergency location system and a SARSAT Personal Location Beacon.  I also carried 4 flares and a signal mirror in the front compartment of my PFD.  Attached to the side was my trusty whistle.  As we packed the NE wind penetrated the trees to remind us that this was not to be a calm day.  I worked hard all winter perfecting a bomb proof roll recovery at the pool and practiced often in the lake and during trips to ensure a good chance of recovery in the event of a capsize. 

We departed for our crossing at 8:45 am under the
morning sun through the tranquil waters inside the hook of Stumpy Point heading toward the point.   When we reached the point, the wind and waves were waiting for us as our kayaks slammed by the 1 ft chop on the left beam.  Once around the point, we set course to the town of Rodanthe on the Outer Banks far over an empty horizon.  The water flew over our kayaks, accented in gold by the morning sun.  For the entire trip each way I had my GPS route pointer displayed page.  Once my kayak was on course, I immediately took a compass bering to our destination in case my GPS should fail and checked it periodically along the way.  For the trip over we held to bering 120 degrees.  I found the compass was easier to steer my kayak by as the GPS screen was slow to correct 
 at times to the pitching kayak which made the route pointer seem to point erratically.   The waves and wind made their presence known as waves crashed into the port side of our kayaks and spilled over the deck.  My normally less stable kayak was a little bit more stable with the kayak loaded with gear and fresh water.  Despite the waves and wind hitting us, we were making way at a good 4.2-4.7 mph as our bows pitched over the waves.  The morning sun reflection from the waves and flying spray was beautiful.  With the pitching, we had to remain vigilant about staying on course with no visible landmarks to guide us.  Lee stressed that we should err our path to the
north to counter the inevitable southward drift of our kayaks caused by the wind and waves on our left beam.   I adjusted my paddle cadence to match the period of the waves to ensure my paddle was in the proper bracing position at all times to prevent a sudden capsize.  Lee periodically looked back to determine how far out from shore he could see our return trip landmarks.   As we moved beyond the sight of land I became more comfortable relying on my navigation instruments. 

At 4.5 miles out we sited the tall water tank next to our destination which was our landmark from the outer Banks.  Our kayaks pointed strait at the landmark as it was first sighted  reassured me my navigation instruments were spot on.  From then on we were able to visually navigate as we were most comfortable doing even though we were still a long way from spotting land.  The wind was a little stronger and the waves steepened as we were far from any shore.  As the trip wore on, the miles seemed to tick off slower as our landmark so far away was in no hurry to move closer.  We could not stop, so everything we did had to be accomplished very quickly and deliberately.  Every time a hand was taken off the paddle left us vulnerable to being knocked over by one of the constant barrage of waves hitting our beam.  Through the entire trip we always gripped our paddles firmly by at least one hand.  This trip was only the second expedition for my Epic Kayak and the first in rough water.  I found accessing my food more challenging than anticipated.  So I had to curtail my meals until the seas subsided enough to safely reach for my food.  The resulting loss of calories would later catch up with me. 

As we drew closer, we could start seeing more land features.  Radio antennas appeared from obscurity, later houses, business, and other land features appeared and at long last land.  The NE wind hitting us from the side all day was coming directly from the Atlantic, so as we drew closer to the Outer Banks the shrinking fetch lessened the size of the waves.  We could feel ourselves getting closer to the Outer Banks.  The beautiful sand dunes from the national seashore painted the island with a sparkling stroke of gold.   We saw navigation markers to the Oregon Inlet pass by as we directly headed to our destination.  Having no been able to replace the energy I lost was starting to take its toll and my pace slowed considerably
as I began to struggle the last few miles.  As we neared the shore, our kayaks passed into shallow water and saw jet skis, standup boards and the puzzled looks of people at play wondering where these three kayaks appearing from the abyss came from.  We landed on a gentle beach exactly 4.5 hours after launch and traveled 17.3 miles.  The staff on hand was kind enough to help us carry our loaded kayaks from the water’s edge to a grassy spot at the top of the bluff.  After nearly 5 hours we arrived and were starving hungry after a non stop trip.  We wasted no time unloading and pitching our tents so we could clean up and find some much needed food.   We walked next door to Lisa’s Pizza in Rodanthe where
 the 3 of us ate 2 large pizzas.  After which, we sat and savored the air conditioning for a while before leaving to find Chris some ice-cream.  We hit a few shops, then walked a mile north to see “Serendipity” where the movie “Nights in Rodanthe” was filmed.  The house had been moved from its romantic spot at the ocean’s edge to a safer lot inland.  We made our way to the beach and took in the sights of the beautifully quaint Rodanthe beach for a while and made our way back to the campground in time to watch a most beautiful sunset over the Pamlico Sound.  Before going to bed, we made preparations for a very early departure back the next morning.  This would be our only weather window since the
weather was forecast to deteriorate after noon.  For my part, I hoped and prayed for a calmer less rocky trip home.  After plugging in the route back on my GPS I started getting ready for bed.  We had a most exhilarating and satisfying day and slept well that night. 

The following morning, we departed Rodanthe at 7:15 am in crystal calm conditions.  The golden light of the sun cast a warm glow as we departed familiar surroundings into what appeared to be the imaginary realm of a dream where the sky  water were indistinguishable and objects real and imaginary appeared before us.  Waves at a distance refracted off the horizon and appeared as land before vanishing.  Clouds reflected off the water looked like a continuous sky above and below.  The silence was peaceful, but its emptiness lent it to a most surreal environment we passed into.  There were also the familiar sights of pelicans plunging after fish.  Once again we started with no landmarks and relied entirely on our navigation instruments.  I took my compass bering for the trip back across the sound .  We followed herring 300 back as we plugged forward through the dream like landscape.  We spotted many unexplained objects and anomalies.  What looked like a big block of pilings or a barge ahead of us was likely trees far over the horizon magnified by the air at the water’s surface.  As we paddled on, the tranquil conditions continued.  Unlike the trip over, we could actually converse in a normal voice as we found ourselves truly alone miles from anywhere. or anything.  We spotted a red marker on the same bering as our destination so we used it as a visual landmark knowing it was stationary, but not really knowing what it was until we were almost upon it.  It turned out to be a channel marker to the Oregon Inlet.  Once we passed it we once again navigated by our instruments until at 12.7 miles into the trip, we spotted our Stumpy Point landmark on the correct compass bering and backed up by my GPS route pointer. But It was very far away and we were a long way from spotting real land.  When visibility improved, we saw the lonely Bodie Island lighthouse to the north at a distance.  We were able to make our way back 
faster with the calm conditions and afforded more freedoms
to leisurly grab for food, drinks, lotion without worry of a capsize in rough waters.  But there was little to no wind to cool
us.  At one point Lee left his kayak and took a quick swim. I

considered rolling my kayak, but did not want to get my camera wet. 

After more miles ticked off, we could see tree covered
 land and soon after, a 5 mph South East wind kicked up.  As drew closer to our landmark, I noticed my GPS route pointer starting to diverge.  We were heading for what appeared to be the point just left of our landmark, but my route pointer was continuing to diverge.  I soon realized we made the error to use our landmark as a spot on marker for our destination when in reality,  it was a mile or so from our destination.  We corrected our course to my route which I set to a waypoint at the tip of Stumpy Point.  Finally, the end was near and the wind was picking up as though the Pamlico was not willing to let us go without a fight.   But soon we rounded the point and entered the protected waters inside the point and leisurely paddled the calm last quarter mile to the ramp and the end of our trip, arriving back at 11:35 am.  Very shortly after our return our weather window closed as we observed torrent water from where we came with numerous whitecaps. 

Over the two days of this trip each one of us had paddled the farthest we had ever done without stopping or setting foot on land. We had traveled 35 miles according to my GPS at an average of 3.7 mph.   I had learned much about navigation and the importance of researching landmarks in preparation.  Preparation will make your trip much easier.  I also was reminded of the importance of replenishing the calories burned.  Toward the end of the trip over, I found myself running low on energy and struggling near the end.   Know your body and give it what it needs.  We had a great time on Rodanthe and enjoyed good food.  The passages we well planned went well with no evil surprises.  Our passage home was a surreal experience at times.  One I have never experienced before.  In summary, we were rewarded with a intimate perspective and experience that only a kayak can offer: to be one with every nuance of the sea with a front row seat to her vast emptiness, might and brilliance.     

Kayaks:  QCC Q700X,  Epic 18x,  P&H Bahiya

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Yoga for Paddlers

Reason #21. Yoga Makes us Better Paddlers by: 
         •Increasing our flexibility/torso rotation
      •Increasing our balance 
      •Prevents injury and delays age related physical ailments so       we can paddle for years to come
      •Helps us to focus and relax (when is focus important?) Big    seas, interesting conditions, navigating whitewater, combat    roll
      •When we are focused and relax, we have better performance

Why Do I Practice Yoga? 
After years of endurance horse back riding injuries and a serious whiplash injury that permanently straightened my neck vertebrae, I had very limited neck rotation and chronic back/shoulder pain
YOGA keeps me paddling and has increased my flexibility to allow me to roll, never would I have been able to do that without it
Yoga greatly enhances my connection w/
         mind, body, spirit, boat, nature
         and the water

Yoga Makes You More Grateful

When and Where? 
In a studio
Every day
At home
Shore side before entering a boat
In the boat (KAY-YOGA)
After paddling
Whenever sore, stiff, hurting
In the early morning
At your desk
In the evening
With your family
By yourself
With strangers in a class
Outside is the BEST! J 

Chris fit at 53

I am grateful for kayaking

Yoga isn't Just for Women! 
From Men’s Fitness Magazine, professional athletes who practice yoga:
Shaquille O’Neal Basketball
LeBron James Basketball
Ray Lewis Football
Victor Crews Football
Mike Krzyzewski Basketball
New Zealand Rugby teams
Philadelphia Eagles
Evan Longoria Baseball
Kevin Garrett Basketball
Vernon Lewis Football
Kevin Love Basketball
Joe Taft 

Men, Proceed with a Small Note of Caution:
 NY Times
Yoga for men can be harmful IF:
They ignore aches and pains
Force themselves into poses that they are not ready for (being more muscular than women, they tend to do this)
Don’t jump into advanced poses too quickly
Women naturally have more flexibility, men have more muscle and less flexibility
Begin with a certified YOGA instructor, beginner classes

Where to Start? 
Your local studio: we have partnered with mind/body/fitness yoga in Greensboro at 
At home: