Monday, May 29, 2006

My New Stick, even in the Surf

Seems more and more paddlers these days are trying out and using Greenland Paddles (GP). I suspect some of this new popularity has to do with the newer presence of Greenland Instructors at most of the larger Kayaking Symposiums over the past couple years. Bill Bremmer and I, long time advocates of the GP, spent years trying to get others in our local group to give them a try. Still in the minority, but not alone anymore, many have now bought or made their own GPs. A few articles on GPs: one, two, three.

Bill is now making GPs for sale. Having paddled with a Betsy Bay Greenlander (which is laminated) for the past 8 years, I now wanted a more natural unfinished (oiled only) and shouldered GP made from one piece of wood. Bill's paddles are all completely hand made, custom crafted to fit, using Red Cedar he orders from the West Coats. I'm pleased to have been one of his first customers. If you interested in a paddle from Bill, contact me through this blog and I'll forward your email.

Bill showing off his new paddle.

Some photos of my new paddle.

This weekend, I took my new paddle to the coast, wanting to try it out in the surf. I'd planned to meet up with Bill, Dee, Scott, Thomas, Yolana, and Jason (8yrs old). We paddled from Barrier Island Kayaks in Swansboro, over to Bear Island. Check out Jason's skin-on-frame kayak and GP that his Dad (Thomas) made him. Jason was quite a paddler. His Mom and Dad started him out in their double at age 2. See more and much better photos of Jason's kayak.

While Yolana and Jason fished (and caught 3 baby sharks), we spent the day playing in in the surf. Condition were excellent, 2-3 foot "bumpy lumpy stuff" as Bill refers to this size. Perfect for all out fun.

Thomas catching a wave, with his home made GP.

Dee heading out.

Scott waiting for another ride. Scott was my WaterTribe Everglades Challenge 2005 partner, known as BilgePump.

Next weekend, more surfing for me at Barrier Island Kayaks 2006 Southern Outer Banks Sea Kayak Symposium 6/1-4, with Nigel Dennis, Russel Farrow, Tom Nichols (just to name a few). This is Lamar Hudgens 3rd annual Symposium. I've been to all three and wouldn't miss it.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Challenge Over! Still Loving the Kruger???

I'd been fascinated with the Kruger Canoes since seeing them during my first WaterTribe Everglades Challenge in 2004. Admittedly it was not love at first sight. As a sea kayaker, I preferred a lower volume, a nice tight fit, responsiveness, and the comfort of having worked and practiced rescues and rolling in surf and rough water.

For the past few years, my choice of sea kayak has been NDK's Romany or Explorer. Still, I choose not to use my sea kayak in the WaterTribe Ultimate Florida Challenge (UFC), and instead paddled a Kruger Canoe, a boat up until 8 months before the Challenge, I had never even paddled. So, was I happy with my choice.

I chose the Kruger Dreamcatcher for the UFC because everything I had read and researched, and saw, in my previous Everglades Challenges had me believing that a Kruger would be the driest and most comfortable boat to paddle, for 40 miles a day, everyday for 30 days, compared to a typical sea kayak. It's size also offered the additional bonus of letting me bike tow the portage rather than walk-tow the 40 miles.

Previous posts on this blog about the Dreamcatcher include, "A Kruger and Me", excerpts from a trip report of a week long paddle on Lake Michigan with Mark Przedwojewski (owner and builder of Kruger Canoes). This was my introduction to the Dreamcatcher. "What's up with the Kruger?" is a posting that highlights parts of a review in Paddler Magazine's Nov/Dec 2005 issue on "Decked Touring and Tripping Canoes", which included a review of the Kruger Canoes.

The Kruger lived up to all my expectations. No chafing, no blisters, most days 18 hrs, one day as many as 23 hrs in the boat, on the water without getting out, I was comfortable all day, every day. During the UFC, I thought I'd alternate between the single blade and double blade paddles I brought. I rarely pulled out the double blade. This boat is fun to paddle with the single blade, and I believe it allowed me to do the distances without injury. This is quite an endorsement from a long committed Greenland paddler.

The Challenge ended. While training, I hadn't paddled my Explorer for 9 months. But I have been paddling it quite a bit since I've been back, and plan to spend the next 2 weekends on the coast playing with it in the surf. Then two weekends ago I had an incredible urge to get out and paddle my Dreamcatcher. It was a great Saturday on the lake, much like visiting with an old friend. My Explorer might be more playful for a few hours, but the Dreamcatcher surprises me all the time. It's such a great traveler, I can't wait to start planning some trips with it soon.

Paddling the Dreamcatcher always draws questions from sea kayakers. Questions often based on misinformation, ignorance and/or narrow mindedness. I think most see canoes only as being being paddled on calm lakes or rivers. They don't realize that there is a whole history of expedition in touring canoes. Most that rival and actually best the current sea kayaking expeditions that are so popular right now, and which are getting a lot of press.

"The World's Top Canoe Expeditions", from Paddling Online May/June 2002, has a great article listing and describing the world's top canoe trips. It's well worth the short read. Almost all these expeditions include traveling the worlds Oceans, or our Great Lakes. Included among them are a couple of the the many expeditions paddled by Verlen Kruger (designer and founder of Kruger Canoes), including his Ultimate Canoe Challenge, 28,000 miles in 3 1/2 years.

Verlin, along with Steve Landick, paddled down the length of the Missouri River, up the Illinois, across the Great Lakes and out into the Atlantic. They then paddled along the Eastern Seaboard, around the Florida Keys and along the Gulf Coast before paddling back up the Mississippi. They then reached the Arctic Ocean, paddled and portaged across Alaska, carrying their canoes and supplies over infamous Chilkoot Pass before descending to the Pacific Ocean. The Inside Passage was next, all the way down the west coast of North America and around the tip of the Baja Peninsula. They reached the mouth of the Colorado River then portaged up the Grand Canyon, they proceeded across the U.S. and Canada before returning to Michigan. This in Kruger Canoes.

And then there is always the "But can you roll it?" question. No, I can't, thought I am fairly skilled at rolling. Recently a very popular and very skilled award winning Greenland rolling instructor took an unexpected swim at my favorite play ground, Bougue Inlet. Leone Somme, 5*BCU paddler, swam during the Iceland Expedition with Shawna Franklin and Chris Duff. Nothing is guaranteed. Any really well trained sea kayaker knows it's not about your roll, but about your ability to rescue. The BCU4* and BCU5* training classes are not about rolling, but all about safety, decision making, rescue, and leadership.

I've actually found the Dreamcatcher to be a much more stable boat in rough water. There were many occasions during the UFC where I was in conditions that would have required bracing and good control in my Explorer, the Dreamcatcher didn't seem to notice. Of course I did take a swim in the Dreamcatcher when the Manatee flipped me.

Am I still happy and loving the Kruger? Absolutely!

Friday, May 19, 2006

New Toy on the Lake

Wednesday evenings at Jordan Lake, my local kayaking group has regular 6 mile fitness paddles. These are just starting up again now that the weather is warmer. By summer, we'll have as many as 20 paddlers coming out.

A couple weeks ago, there were only eight of us. A little rolling practice to start, than at 6:30 we left the beach. Once under the bridge, we had some great wind and the Lake was white capped and choppy, making for a good workout, and a fun time.

But we were not the only ones out there enjoying the evening. What a surprise to see a couple biking on the lake. They are putting a whole new spin on "Off Road Biking".

After our paddle, I spoke with this couple who owns Triangle Hydrobikes. They were unfazed by the chop and wind waves, and said they often go out at the beach, and have even biked up the Mississippi River.

After we ended our paddle, a few of us even tried the hydrobike out and took a short spin. Yup, it feels just like biking, on the water. The hydrobikes come as a single or double configuration. We're told they can average 4-6 miles per hour. They felt very stable.

Lots of fun, but I admit I have too many other things on my wish list right now. I'm hoping for a Balogh sail rig for my Kruger Deamcatcher, I'd also like to have a double Kruger Cruiser (I really love these Kruger Canoes). I've always wanted a Feathercraft Khatsalano, and I still need to finish my Greenland skin-on frame. Did I mention I've been talking a lot about small sailboats, something trailer-able that sleeps two :)

Back to Wednesday night. It was a beautiful evening paddling on the Lake.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

The Scariest Moments during the Challenge

Certainly an incredible adventure, and lots of fun. But, participating in the WaterTribe Ultimate Challenge was also scary. The question I'm most asked is "What was the scariest thing during the Challenge?". I can't really identify one thing that was the "scariest", as each seemed to be the most scary at the time.

Naturally I was worried about sharks, alligators, rough inlets, bad weather, getting injured, and being a woman alone. These were the things I was most scared of before the Challenge began. But once on the water, there was other things to really worry about, and very little time to spend thinking of these things.

I've listed below the scariest moments, or things I was most scared of during the Challenge, in the order of how they appeared.

1 - Leaving Key Largo for Miami. Leaving the familiar route of the Everglades Challenge, paddling away from Key Largo at 5 am early that Sunday morning, in the dark, by myself, I was petrified. Chief had asked me to wake him, and he saw me off, wishing me well. This was the real beginning of my personal challenge. See Paul's posting of my adventures on that day at DAY9.

2 - Paddling alone at night in the dark. This is one of the hardest things during any WaterTribe Challenge. To meet the deadlines you have to paddle late into every night, sometimes paddling all night long. Distances are distorted, navigation markers are hard to see, every light looks like a red or green navigation light. And though recreational boat traffic is low, the barges and other working boats are out (and not expecting you on the water).

Locating potential and safe camping sites in the dark is also quite stressful. My first night after leaving Key Largo, a few miles South of Miami, I found what looked like a nice park through a small opening in some bushes. I paddled through the bushes and waded onto shore pulling my Dreamcatcher up, right behind a small sign. I walked in front of the sign thinking it would name the park. Much to my horror, the sign warned me of crocodiles in the area.

3 – A barge encounter near Cape Canaveral. It was late, ~1 am, I had sat on shore most of the day due to high winds, and was now planning to paddle through the night. I was closely following the Intracoastal Waterways (ICW) navigation aids to stay on course. A large and quiet barge was coming towards me. Only seeing a small white light ahead, and not hearing anything, it was almost in front of me when I realized what it was. They also saw me, flashing me with their spotlight while looking for the navigation markers. I paddled over to the left to move away from them, but had read the chart backwards at a point where the channel made a turn. Oops! I cut the barge off about 50 yds in front of it, paddling as hard as I could when I realized my mistake. I can still hear the Captain cursing me out over his load speaker as he was forced to turn a bit off channel to avoid me.

4 – Coming into shallow water to camp, every night after the Manatee encounter. At 4am, paddling in fairly shallow water down Mosquito Lagoon (the same morning of the barge encounter), I paddled over and awoke a large sleeping manatee. All of a sudden I heard a huge explosion, my stern was lifted out of the water a couple feet. The next thing I knew, the Dreamcatcher and I were upside down.

Many have commented on how scared I must have been. Actually I was too busy reacting (pumping water, getting to shore, changing wet clothes) to be scared. But every night after that, needing to paddle to shore to find camp, I was very nervous and anxious. And noisy, as from then on, I'd paddle 3-4 strokes than bang the paddle on the side of the boat to wake up every thing up on my way in.

5. Crossing the many Inlets on the East Coast. I'd chosen to follow the ICW up the East Coast (I believe most of the challengers also followed this route), figuring this a safer route then dealing with potentially bad weather on the outside and avoiding having to come in the Inlets. Crossing the inlets were the most challenging, there was often boat traffic, including large ships, navigational challenges (many intersecting channels going in different directions) and large tidal influences. It seemed that every time I came to an inlet, it was night, and I had to cross in the dark. Very scary. Photos below are aerial shots of Sebastian, St Lucie, and the Port Everglades Inlets.

"A half dozen boaters die each year using South Florida Inlets. Boaters should have good seamanship skills before using inlets. Strong currents and shoaling (in the inlets and just beyond the jetties) are common Florida inlet dangers." as reported on this SITE, that describes the many inlets on the East Coast of Florida.

6 - The fog (and dark and cold) on the Suwannee River, 3 nights in a row. There are often trees down and branches overhanging on the banks of the River creating what could be a very dangerous situation. There was also no moon the nights we were on the Rivers, it was very dark. Three nights in a row, on the Suwannee, in the pitch dark, the fog was so thick, that we often couldn't even see the outline of the tree line. Even more frightening because there were constant turns on the River, sometimes as often as every 50 yds. These nights were also some of the coldest, with lows in the 30s. One night the fog was so bad, that DrKayak, RiverJohn, and I had to raft up and float, knowing we were going in the right direction because of the current, but worried if we hit a bank, we needed to be together, in case there was trouble.

And there were often trees and stumps in the middle of the river.

7 - Alligators. OK, and I was scared of alligators too (we saw 8 alligators, heard coyotes every night, and heard a bobcat one night).

8 – The shrimp boat/commercial fishing fleet encounter on the Gulf 4 miles from shore. After leaving the final checkpoint at Cedar Key, DrKayak and I managed to get past the man-made spoil islands going out about 6 miles from shore at Florida Power just before sundown. From here, my planed route was to stay about 3-4 miles from shore, any closer and we would be in very shallow water in this area of the Gulf. Little did we know that we were paddling right through a commercial fishing zone, and the fleet had just arrived.

We suddenly found ourselves spending an hour continually trying to avoid a large shrimp boat. No matter which way we moved, it seemed to move right on us. It started to get very stressful, and very scary. In the dark, we could not be sure it could see us. At one point it got so close that DrKayak yelled to me "paddle fast to the right, quick". By this time I'd had it, I simply replied "No! I'm not moving any more, he is too fast". Now the boat was less than 15 yds away, and the Captain yelled out to us "Are you guys OK". Boy did I let him have it. His response, "I can't hear you over the engines. You really shouldn't be out here. I see you have lights on, but there are lots of big fishing boats out here, it's pretty dangerous". We moved into the shallow waters and stayed closer to shore for the rest of the trip down the Gulf to Tampa Bay. It took a few hours before our heart rate returned to normal.

In Summary: It's interesting to go back and look at a posting I wrote last December as I was training. This was titled 'Dealing with the Mental Challenges'. In this posting I talked about the things I was most scared of. Seems many of them were the things I had to deal with during the Challenge. Even then I worried about paddling alone, in the dark, and finding camping spots.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

I'm Injured After All

It seems I did not complete the WaterTribe Ultimate Challenge unscathed. I've just been diagnosed with a pelvic stress fracture, attributed to the portage section of the Challenge.

I had a really hard time during the portage. When practicing taking my bike apart and putting it back together, I did not realize there was one little part that the gear cable needed to pass through (it was always in place). During the packing and unpacking in Florida, the cable must have come out. When I got the bike put together for the portage, I had a problem. I not only couldn't change gears, the bike was stuck in the hardest gear.

I both walked (pushing the bike and boat) and biked in the dark for 8 miles, till I gave up in frustration and pulled over for the night, wanting to wait till morning when I could see and try and fix the problem I jury rigged a fix that at least gave me the next lowest gear, though not the granny gear I needed to comfortably tow the load. I still did not understanding the real problem. I completed the remaining 38 miles of the portage by alternating biking 1-2 miles and walking a couple 100 yds (this to let the burn out of my thighs).

The first video in the Challenge Viewer of the WaterTibe website, titled "Chief - The Three Amigos do the Portage....", really gives you a sense of my frustration and difficulties. After the portage I complained a bit about a sore hip, no big surprise, pushing all that weight. I gave it a month to heal, thinking it more a muscle or tendinitis, and finally went for some x-rays. Diagnosis: Pelvic Stress Fracture on Right.

Nothing to be done but wait for it to heal. I'll have to limit my weight bearing activities, but I'm okay to swim, bike, and paddle. Pretty good since this is all I want to do anyway.

The Doc said "just let pain be your guide". Ha! he doesn't know me very well. I have a very high tolerance for pain, which is what gets me into this kind of trouble in the first place. This is not my first overuse stress fracture. A previous runner and triathlete, I now have titanium rods the length of both my tibia's from stress fractures brought on by distance running.

Then there was the time I ............

Monday, May 08, 2006

Spring Web Cleaning

Spring is here, I've been WEB house cleaning. Notice anything different?

This blog doesn't really have a new look, but a new title and focus. The WaterTribe Ultimate Florida Challenge is over. I'll be posting lots of stories and lessons learned, but, also trip reports and other more general paddling related stories, a new title was in order.

Choosing this new title was not that easy. I decided to stay away from only using the general term "Paddling". And, though I consider myself more a sea kayaker, I also wanted to honor Kruger Canoes. Mark Przedwojewski "ManitouCruiser" kept his word, and upon my finishing the Challenge, his old Kruger Dreamcatcher became mine to keep. I'm already planning expeditions for it, and of course there are always the future WaterTribe Challenges....

I also plan to make some changes to my website. Originally devoted to the Challenge, I'll keep an archive site available for awhile, but I am planning to create a newer version that will complement this blog. This time I'll figure out how to post photo albums. I'll let you know when the changes are all in place.

So now it's time to focus on some new challenges. One of my major goals for this coming year is to work on speed and efficiency. See my previous posting regards this. I'll also include a training log that is updated daily, much like I had when training for the Challenge. Nothing keeps you more honest than a journal for accountability.

I also had some fun family time this weekend, my daughter and I went paddling together Saturday afternoon on the lake.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Newfoundland Expedition

One of my favorite kayaking trips was my expedition to Newfoundland in July 2003. Good friends and paddling partners Dan Colodney, John March, and I, spent 2 weeks paddling the remote South West Coast, from Port-Aux-Basques to Burgeo. Our original plan was to continue to Francios returning to Port-Aux-Basque by ferry. Coastal fog that summer was horrible, upon arriving in Burgeo and with no hope of a change in the weather, we quickly changed our plan, and spent our last week paddling in Notre Dam Bay on the North Coast. We've always said we would return to finish the trip, and more. The current plan is for summer 2008.

Wendy Killoran, a school teacher from London, Ontario, is just beginning her exciting circumnavigation of Newfoundland. She is beginning at Isle Aux Morts, traveling counter clockwise, 1700 miles (2700+ km). Wendy plans to complete the expedition within a 3 month period. Freya Hoffmeister from Germany will be paddling with her to St Johns.

A regularly updated journal of Wendy's adventures can be found at 'Round the Rock', published on Justine Curgenven's Cackle TV Productions Web Blog. I will be reading their website regularly, and anxiously waiting my return.

Wendy is best known for having completed a shorter solo circumnavigation of Prince Edward Island (PEI), 370 miles (600 km) in 15 days. Her article on that story is published in QAYAK, the newsletter of the Great Lakes Sea Kayaking Association.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Paddle Faster?

The final race results of the Ultimate Florida Challenge is pictured below (from the WaterTribe website). There were 3 sets of finishing times, 19 days, 26 days, and 29 days. There was a 10 day difference between the 1st place finishers, and those in the final group (me), not an insignificant amount.

I recently started a new thread on the WaterTribe forum titled I want to be faster. There is a wealth of information offered in this thread for the paddler who is interested in expeditioning, endurance paddling or small boat sailing, and/or racing. It's well worth the read. In fact, the forum in general is always an incredible source of information, boat design, paddle choices, camping gear, sail rigs, everything; not just limited to the WaterTribe Challenges. These folks are the experts.

2005 Everglades Challenge Finishers at Key Largo Awards Ceremony

Please do not mistake my query to mean I was disappointed in my performance. I am thrilled about my Challenge, and very pleased with my accomplishment. I never hoped for more than to finish; I not only finished, I finished happy and healthy. I’ve said it before, there are very few things I am more proud of than being a WaterTribe veteran. I’m not a “racer’, and not really interested in racing, I like expedition, camping, and long distance paddling. I like personal challenges, and, I guess I like hanging around some of these racers :)

As is true of most paddlers, I am always interested in the continued work of improving technique, speed, and efficiency. Towards that end I'll keep on working, and will develop a more formal training plan, and may even keep track of my accomplishments on Marek's (Wayfarer) Virtual Training Page. So I plan to follow the advice offered in the thread, and throughout the forum. And I'll see you on the beach in Tampa Bay next year for the 2007 Everglades Challenge.

Back on the Water with my GP

I'm finally back on the water, after having recovered from a horrible cold. A couple weeks ago I attended a Greenland Rolling class offered by Sherri Perry and Turner Wilson hosted at Barrier Island Kayaks in Swansboro. It was great fun, a class I highly recommend. Using their "teaching boats", skin-on-frame or modified lower volume Betsy Bay kayaks, all were rolling and bracing, including first timers.


I've been a committed GP paddler for many years now, in fact it's the only seakayaking paddle I own. I even use it for longboat surfing in my NDK Explorer. During the WaterTribe Ultimate Challenge, I primarily used a single blade paddle for the dryness, but, I did also use a GP that my husband Paul made for me specifically to use with the wider Kruger Dreamcatcher.

Quite a few years ago I even started to build a skin-on-frame kayak. It's actually almost completed, but, I wasn't happy with the tightness of the skin application, and had planned to re-skin it. Turner convinced me to finish it out, and get over trying to make it perfect. Hopefully I'll have it on the water soon. Photos: frame completed, and testing out frame with saran wrap cover. See Fred Brown's Qajaq Page for more photos and story of kayak building.