Monday, December 31, 2007

Happy New Year!!

The very best wishes for you and yours in 2008!

West Greenland Kayak Design

During the last visit at the Ethnological Museum in Leiden I learnt something new about traditional kayak design. I thought the upswept bow and stern had to do with the rougher waters the West Greenland hunters paddled in - but that proved to be a common misunderstanding. In the Museum the following text was displayed along with some traditional kayaks:

"...Kayaks are different from region to region. Kayaks from West Greenland have bows and sterns that curl up. The kayak from East Greenland is the flattest. That was first attributed to environmental factors, but a researcher recently discovered that the protruding points disappeared everywhere when weapons arrived. With guns, hunters sometimes shot through the point of their kayak and went down. Spears and harpoons are thrown overhead, high over the bow. When guns came into general use, the West Greenland Kayak was already less in use, so it was less influenced by that.
When hunting for narwhals, mostly in Northern Greenland, kayaks now take precedence and traditional harpoons are still used. In East-Greenland people still live from hunting plentiful seals of various species - using guns and motorboats."
Museum Volkenkunde, Leiden , 2007 -"ALS HET IJS SMELT".

Valley says the Pintail is based on the classical lines of the Igdlorssuit Kayaks, but with rounded bilge hull sections. Igdlorssuit is the old name for Illorsuit - a place in West Greenland). In fact the relationship between the Greenland Design and the Pintail is more indirect. First was the Valley Anas Acuta (a hard chined kayak - more close to the original skin boat) and later Valley rounded off the chines and added a bit of beam - the Pintail was born. In an interesting interview in Ocean Paddler nr. 5 Nigel Dennis explains how he was involved in this evolution - somehow the NDK Romany is also related.

Since this last day of the year I am the very proud owner of an Anas Acuta - the white kayak next to the faithful Kajakwoerden Pintail. I am sure I am going to have a lot of fun with this new toy in 2008!

More history of the Anas Acuta and the Pintail kayak:
Memory Lane - blog item by Douglas Wilcox
Bryan Hansel on

Sunday, December 30, 2007

A perfect december paddling day

The last days of the year are calm: the office is closed - no chance to work (even if I would have liked to...). We spent the Christmas days with family and friends in Holland and Germany - very nice and "Gemütlich" - but now that I am home again - I can't sit still anymore - I want to get out! Yesterday I took a break on the racing bike (it was hard work with a westerly wind up to 5-6 Bft.) and today a winter paddle on the Grecht with Guus.
The ice has disappeared quickly. The picture below is taken behind our home in Woerden a week ago. According to Guus, big parts of the Grecht were still frozen just two days ago. Today there was no ice left. Let's enjoy a few paddling days! Severe frost is predicted (ice skating time?!) for the second part of the week.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Testing touring paddles

There is a strange thing between seakayakers and paddles. As a lot of kayakers experiment with different boat-designs and change kayaks during their kayaking career, most stick to their (first) paddle. The type of paddle you are using however, can have serious effect on paddling-pleasure and efficiency. Strange that most seakayakers don't experiment more with paddles.

One of the reasons for this might be that good occasions to try out different paddles are rare. Most people will give you a go in their kayak, but do hesitate to lent their paddle. Dutch kayak-gear suppliers (and as a matter of fact there is only one Dutch kayak-dealer that has a wider range of touring paddles in store...) don't offer test paddles. If you are seriously interested, and the chef has a good day, he might give you the chance to try out a paddle a few minutes on the lake before his store, but that's all. When you are about to invest 300 euro's or more in a new paddle there should be a better occasion to get a good impression of its qualities!

So I was lucky when I had this year the opportunity to try out a series of elite class touring paddles over a longer period. The tested paddles represent the top of the range of Lendal, Werner and Epic:
- Lendal Kinetic Wing - Paddlock system;
- Lendal Kinetic Touring - Varilock system;
- Werner Ikelos;
- Werner Cyprus;
- Epic Mid Wing Full Carbon Stiff (Blue) Shaft Length-Lock™.
Common on these paddles is that it are full carbon breakdown-versions, retail prices vary from around 350 to almost 600 euro's (the low exchange-course of the Dollar hasn't worked out in the price tags in the European kayak-stores). I used the paddles on canals and lakes around Woerden, at sea in surf and swell, on short paddles and multiple day tours, under circumstances varying from flat water to the rough stuff. Enough for a good impression. It won’t be long before there is a successor for my good old Lendal Nordkapp.

I am not going to do a review of the tested paddles, nor to do any advise on which one to choose. What’s perfect for me, doesn’t necessarily fit you. Choosing a paddle is personal: What’s the intended use, what’s the paddle style? Physical constitution, condition, power of the kayaker and type and size of the kayak - are just some of the factors that have influence on the performance of a paddle design and size. With this in mind, I like to share some of mine observations.

Wing blade vs. conventional blade:
A real advantage of the wing design is the very powerful catch and the lift it generates when it’s pulled through the water. The wing design forces to paddle in a efficient high angle style. I do love it – and see obvious advantages - also for touring use. I suppose most wing blades are designed for use in a fast racing kayak. The combination of a seakayak with a racing wing (my Brasca I) doesn’t suit me: to heavy – I lack power! I found the smaller blades of the Epic Mid Wing a perfect match with the bigger resistance of a seakayak. The Epic paddles give also a more robust impression for daily use than the ultra-light but fragile construction of the racing wing. That, despite the advantages in efficiency, the wing paddle won’t be my first choice for seakayaking has to do with the handling: forwards paddling, sweep strokes, bracing and rolling are no problem, but with the more playful moves like draw strokes, bow and stern rudders the wing blade sometimes has naughty surprises for me: sometimes it suddenly catched the water and took me of balance – the blade shape is non-forgiving. This is where the semi-wing design of the Lendal Kinetic Wing shows his advantages: it still needs some attention with the special moves, but it’s far more forgiving than a real Wing. With some practice it’s possible to perform most of the more playful moves with this paddle. But it is a compromise: the semi-wing design doesn’t offer a similar catch and lift as a real wing. It doesn’t force you in the high angle wing style like a wing does: it requires more concentration on your paddling technique to really benefit from it’s design.

Blade size: size really matters!
From the first minute I loved the refreshing light action of the small blades of the Werner Cyprus. The lighter action gives a dynamic impression and invites to accelerate continuously. But how do the smaller blades work out on efficiency? I find it very difficult to draw a conclusion on this aspect. I had no problem keeping up with faster groups with the smaller blade. But solo paddling and extensively measuring speed with the GPS I measured a drop of touring speed of about 10% when using the smaller blades. I suppose I do compensate this with paddling in a slightly higher rev when paddling in a group. And that brings it to the point - what is more fatiguing on a long distance: paddling in a slightly higher rev, or applying a bit more power on every stroke? My conclusion is that - as I still feel fit after paddling 40 km’s with the rather big Lendal Nordkapps – slightly larger blades fit me better. Length of the paddle is relevant too: I prefer a shorter paddle because of it’s handling – for the more playful moves and because it invites to a high angle style. ( I still notice much touring kayakers using long paddles of 2.20 cm or even longer, doing more low action sweep strokes than high angle power strokes).

Foam core blades:

The Werner and the Lendal Kinetic Wing blades offer, due to their foam core, noticeable more flotation than I was used to. It feels a bit different on the first moves but it’s great: planting in the blade feels very secure and pulling the blade out the water goes swiftly and effortless. The added buoyancy was also welcome with rolling and with the balance brace.

Cranked shaft/straight shaft:
I always paddled a straight shaft and never had any complaints about the ergonomics, but I was very curious about the handling of the modern ergonomic designs. The Werner cranked shaft felt very natural with forward paddling, bracing, rolling, rudders and draw strokes from the very first moment. I didn’t need any time to get used to it. But did it really feel “better” than a traditional shaft? Hard to say, for me handling was very similar and the only thing I can say about performance is that I didn’t notice much of a difference. Strangely enough the similar cranked shaft of the Lendal paddles took some time for me to get used to. I really needed two or three days to get used to it and to relax my grip on the paddle. But as I got used to it – the Lendal Paddle gave with forward paddling a feeling of higher efficiency - due to the increased leverage? I don’t know what the subtle differences are between the Lendal and the Werner crank shaft. Perhaps it’s all between the ears?

Ferrule systems:
All the tested paddles offer advanced systems to split the paddles. On high priced paddles like these it's almost a must -> to stow it safely away from eagerly eyes in your car or the cockpit of the kayak! All systems have proven to be reliable after long and extensive use. With the Lendal Varilock system you can not only vary the feather of the paddle but also the length. A minor disadvantage of the Lendal system is that an extra tool is needed to secure it – risking that at the moment that you need it – it won’t be there. But for private use that’s not a big issue – once you have found your ideal feather and length you won’t change it a lot anyhow.

The carbon blades make the paddles considerably lighter than I am used to. The difference with my Glass-Nylon Lendal Nordkapp is up to 350 grams... So after paddling one of these ultra light paddles my own paddle felt dramtically heavy. But luckily only for the first 10 minutes - and than I was used again to the extra weight. (But the light feelinhg won't be forgotten ;-).

1. It sure is worth experimenting with different paddle designs. Even minor details like the diameter and texture of the shaft, the way it's ovalized have effect. When I started comparing the different designs I wanted to make my choices as objective as possible. I did try to measure speed, stroke frequency, effect on heart rate etc. But going on I found out that something as subjective as "the feel" became the most significant criterion for me. I am no competition paddler - I want paddle that gives me the most fun: of course it should be effective in forward paddling, but it should also give a good feel and feedback with the so called special manoeuvres. 2. Are these "top of the range paddles" worth the extra money, compared with their middle range equivalents? - Yes they do - especially in the handling and feel they offer advantages. Ok, you can also look upon it in another way: compared to a decent standard paddle: the 10% extra fun will cost you 100% extra money... Make up your mind yourself, try it out...
3. "Don't blame your paddle" - sure there are (more or less subtle) differences in performance between the paddles - but no paddle will make a slow paddler a fast one (or a bad roller a good roller) - technique, power and condition are far more crucial!

With special thanks to Axel, Bernhard and Freya for letting me use the tested paddles over a long period!!

Monday, December 17, 2007

A bit frost - consequences...

A bit frost is enough to to cover the cold sheltered waterways around Woerden with a (for kayakers) nasty layer of ice. I planned to do some paddle testing later this week, but because of the expected frost during the next few days I did the speed-tests today. This afternoon I could still paddle about 2 km's "icefree" from the boathouse of KV Wyrda. One more cold night and it's over.
I paddled the 2 km-course vice versa with two different paddles and checked the speed-differences with a GPS. The boathouse is in the center of Woerden: it must have been an odd sight: this solitary kayaker paddling alternating slow and fast along the "ice-fields", returning every 10 minutes at the pier, running to the boathouse, changing paddles, and paddling again. The neighbors don't wonder anymore: they have gotten used to me.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

The big thaw - consequences for residents of the North Pole

I am fond of the National Museum of Ethnology in Leiden. Due to the extensive ethnological research work on the hunting communities in the arctic by the famous previous Dutch curators Nico Tinbergen and Gert Nooter the museum has an impressive collection of the arctic region - amongst which interesting kayaks and umyaqs. In his standard work on Greenland kayaks Harvey Golden has also described some of the kayaks in Leiden.

The big Thaw is a now running temporary exposition in the Dutch National Museum of Ethnology- Leiden: Our climate is changing. The ice is melting. The cause and effect is a topic discussed in the news every day. How will the world be in 50 years? The Museum of Ethnology is not making any predictions but is looking at and listening to those who are directly involved. Greenland, Canada, Alaska, Lapland and Siberia. The residents of these polar areas speak at length in interviews conducted specially for this exhibition. They talk about their country and culture, the present and the past. The Netherlands will also be affected by the melting ice. That is why the exhibition is also about the Netherlands. What does the possible rise in sea level mean for us?

This morning I visited "The big Thaw" with Lieke. The timing was perfect: last week some new scientific reports about the increasing speed of melting ice on the North Pole, yesterday the climate conference in Bali closed with a surprising positive deal, today the first ice on the water in Holland and the weekend started with my own broken "arctic" kayak trip.

This short wide kayak is from East-Siberia, a very manoeuvrable hunting boat to navigate between floating ice, used in combination with a sledge

Fascinating is the ease in which the Inuit people seem to adapt new technology and combine it with their traditional lifestyle. Adaptation is in the genes of these people: their culture has survived dramatic changes, we can learn a lesson from them!

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Little surprises...

Sometimes things turn out a bit different than expected. So did the little wintry kayak expedition in the German Bight.

The first surprise was on the radio on Thursday when I was driving north, heading to Horumersiel. I thought Astrid was the "Glücksfee", but the meteorologists on German radio were speaking about the "Bernhilde-high pressure zone". What's in a name? It didn't make a big difference though, the weather was perfect.

The second surprise had a bigger impact. I was invited to this kayak trip that was announced as a "challenging seakayaktrip": winter conditions, open bivouacs on remote places, night paddling, long distances. The organizer had clearly stated this trip was meant for well prepared, advanced paddlers with a good physical and mental condition. It surprised me highly that, ready for departure late Thursday-evening in the darkness, one of the participants told this was his first paddle out on sea ever. He paddled a traditional skin-on-frame low volume Greenland qayaq, in which he couldn't pack a decent winter outfit -no cooker and tent for instance... The organizer decided nevertheless to depart with the complete group: (1) the novice could use some equipment of the 3 other paddlers, (2) tide was coming in so we had to hurry to get away and (3) it was only a short distance under sheltered conditions till the first stop. We paddled two hours out, made camp as planned at midnight. Because everyone used tiny 1 person-shelters, the novice sea kayaker could only sleep under my tarp. That's better than nothing, but not comfortable in winter! We got up at half past four in the morning - time to get ready for the big crossing of over 25 nautical miles. At six in the morning, after breaking down the camp and stowing the gear in the kayaks, the organizer made the only reasonable decision: to paddle back to the harbour in order to bring the novice back. Because we had to wait some hours until tide was running in, this gave us enough time to make a walk and to explore the island in darkness. Sun came up after 8 o'clock. Back in the harbour I felt no desire anymore to paddle. Strange, that rarely happens to me! I decided the trip was over for me.

This may sound as if I am very disappointed and didn't have a good time. That's not the case. I had two wonderful days in company of good friends which formed a strong team together. The night-paddle on Thursday-evening was spectacular, I enjoyed sliding down the mud in the harbour (we left near low tide), paddling under a starry sky, a fun midnight picnic under open sky, exploring one of the hidden treasures of the German Wadden-region in the early morning and midwinter rolling exercises out at sea and many more nice moments. Of course I am a bit disappointed I didn't paddle along the promised historic lighthouses in the German Bight (the Lighthouse "Roter Sand" is a absolute highlight). But: "things happen". I'll be back soon, and I picked up some new ideas for future paddles.

Everyone had his own lessons from this experiences. The organizer realized it was a mistake to accept a new unknown paddler on a trip like this. The novice seakayaker learned that good skills and condition are not enough - good practice and equipment are also essential. (Our novice seakayaker isn't a novice in kayaking: he is an advanced white-water paddler and an expert in greenland style rolling, but new to seakayaking. He had dramatically underestimated winter-paddling and wasn't familiar the habits and (safety- and group-) procedures of of seakayaking).
Driving back to the Netherlands I had plenty of time to reflect on the reason behind my feeling the trip was over for me at the moment we returned in the harbour. Was I tired, was it the temptation of the warm comfortable car, were it all the duties waiting for me at home or... ? This may all have contributed a bit, but what affected me most was the feeling I lost control...

PS: given English is not my native language, I found it hard to put my refections on this trip into the right words: it's difficult to bring in the nuances. I sure don't intend to make anyone black! Being smart afterwards is always to easy...

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Welcome Astrid!

A short message just before packing the car to leave to Horumersiel. In the evening starts a winter kayak trip with German friends. This time we miss the good company of Freya and her Feuerzangenbowle. Freya is paddling down under and enjoys the "Vorweihnachtszeit" in New-Zealand summer conditions. Read her blog about her New Zealand Circumnavigation. She is making great progress.
"Astrid" is the new and only female company this time. In Germany High Pressure zones are named since around 1950. In the beginning High Pressure Zones were female and Low Pressure Zones male. But in the last years the Germans decided to change this every year. Background is some kind of political correctness: no discrimination - in one year a man brings us good weather, in the other year a woman. I am happy with "Astrid", she came just in time - the last weeks weather was bad around here. We are covering some large distances the next few days, so calm weather is welcome.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

A new addition to the kayak-library

Pesda Press just missed Sinterklaas, but it also makes a perfect Christmas-gift: the second edition of Franco Ferrero's book "Sea kayak navigation - a practical manual" has been released this week.

My kayak library slowly outgrows the bookshelf. So why bother with a new book regarding navigation skills? What does Franco's new book add to the comprehensive work on Coastal Navigation of Rietveld en van Groeningen or the excellent Kayak Navigation of David Burch?
The first book is the official Dutch learning guide for Coastal Navigation for sailing- and motorboats. The basics skills of navigation don't depend on the type of craft your using, but the book of Rietveld and van Groeningen covers a lot of stuff less relevant for kayaking. David Burch's book is dedicated to sea kayaking and offers a lot of practical little hints for figuring out where you are while keeping both hands on the paddle...
What I like about the new book of Franco Ferrero is (1) it's being compact and focusing on the essentials and (2) the wonderful illustrations. The explanation is very visual and directly chart related with only simple calculations. I am quit good at maths (supposed to be uncommon for a jurist?) and tend to think in formulas and more complex vector-diagrams. Sometimes I suppose everyone does... So for teaching others Franco's book is a welcome help. And beyond that, it's just a pleasure reading such a good book written by an enthusiast and very competent paddler and author.
The BCU recommends Franco Ferrero's book as supporting material for the courses for the 4 and 5 star awards. I can assure you it's also good for the NKB Zeevaardigheid and Zeevaardigheid-Extra-courses!

To get the book in time as a Christmas-Gift you can order a copy with Pesda-Press. I have no commercial interests here, but have experienced that these guys are really swift workers. Orders in before Sunday 16th December are likely to be delivered in time (in UK - outside UK, you should rush now).

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Picture of the Day

Picture by Gerard Tel

Gerard drew attention to this picture posted on the website of the Marex Offshore Review. The photo was taken on the way back home to Groningen from the NKB Zeekamp Vlieland in September. The kayaker is Patrick in his Q-boat built by Valley, Nottingham, England. The supply Vessel is the Shelf Express built by Damen Shipyards, Gorinchem, Netherlands.