Friday, December 21, 2007

Christmas cheer

Cheerio for Christmas, folks. I'll be back early in the new year.

It'll be a busy week or so. We fly out back to San Diego way pre-sparrow fart on Sunday to catch up with FliesWithKiwiBird's family. And good friends with their new wee ones are heading in from Homer, San Francisco and Boulder. And our wee one gets to see for the second time this year his great-grand mothers. And it's also his christening, so a bit of everything for everyone.

Hope you remain safe out there, and I look forward to catching up with you all, anon.

I'll leave you with one of NZ's favourite Christmas carols, from Fred Dagg:

We three kings of Orient are
One on a tractor, two in a car
One on a scooter
Tooting his hooter
Following yonder star

Star of wonder
Star of bright
Star of bewdy, she'll be right
Star of glory, that's the story
Following yonder star.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Just a bit crook

Not too much happening, this end - have been struck with some dreaded lurgey, which has kept me off the water - haven't even had a chance to test the new boat. Have ordered from Ozzie a few new bits of gear for it, though - three new hatches, including the oval fibreglass aft top hatch, a cockpit cover and a spray skirt (or spray cover as the more testosterone-challenged Australasians call them).

We've also been busy with the Christmas festivities, thanking those that have meant a great deal to us this year. Yesterday we hosted the wee one's Little Gym group - great fun having seven or eight wee ones crawling around exploring new toys and territory and big people. Biggest problem was making sure everyone left with the kiddie they arrived with.

And everyone "up north" will be pleased to know that the week-long summer heat wave that hit us collapsed in fine form on Saturday. Hello winter! (Thankgoodness we fly out to San Diego next week...)

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

She's gone

Hate to see a grown man cry when he has to sell his boat. And I feel honored that I’ll be the one to look after it for him.

Dan has his own fencing business, and like most self-employed folks, times can get tight and boats have to be sold to help pay the rent. I was lucky enough to be first in line to write a cheque out for Dan. Though little did I know that SandyBottom was right behind me, and FliesWithKiwiBird hadn’t quite heard me when I mentioned I was taking the cheque book to work with me that morning…

Dan even delivered the boat to my office yesterday.

Thus I’m now the proud owner of a Mirage 19 to add to the fleet. It’s probably a 1997, when Paul Hewitson was originally making Mirage kayaks in North Carolina. He then took the concept to Australia, and Mirage Sea Kayaks Australia is testament to his excellent reputation today. It was a Mirage kayak Andrew McAuley paddled, and Paul that Andrew worked with to help develop the boat.

Later that evening Dan even sent me the lyrics to Hall & Oates’s lyrics, She’s Gone. I very nearly wept.

She's Gone Oh I, Oh I'd
better learn how to face it

She's Gone Oh I, Oh I'd
pay the devil to replace her

She's Gone - what went wrong

And now I’m in a similar dilemma to SandyBottom, which boat do I use for next year’s Everglades Challenge – the Sisson or the Mirage… Kiwi vs. Ozzie…? Help!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007


Just finished reading Alan Gurney’s history of the compass, called, quite rightly, Compass: A Story of Exploration and Innovation (2004).

Well worth the read, Gurney covers the thousand years of events that finally lead to what we now use in all manner of getting from points A to B, blithely unaware of the thousands of lives and ships lost in the pursuit of perfecting this ingenious piece of equipment. And the pure bloody-mindedness in one compass-maker’s assertion over another that his compass was the only one – and it only took many more losses of ships and lives to prove who was finally right.

From lodestone, to dry-card compass, to liquid compass, to gyrocompass – reflected in our own personal lives by the small liquid orb we unerringly trust on the foredeck of our kayaks.

I dip my paddle to those who lives were dedicated to developing what Victor Hugo so sweetly called, “the soul of the ship”.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Skegs: failed rudders...

I’ve been avidly watching Freya's progress around NZ’s South Island, or the “mainland” as the South Islanders like to call it. Keeping up with how her equipment’s coping is always interesting, as with any expedition. One bit of her gear that’s pretty much given up the ghost, and is awaiting replacement, is her skeg. Only a few days into her trip she encountered problems with, what she so colourfully called, “this f*&%^% skeg”.

I’ve often wondered at this archaic European (read: British), and somewhat also American, fixation for a skeg, as someone (Kiwi) once called “a failed rudder”. They often go wrong and the skeg box takes up valuable room in the aft hatch.

As naval architect John Winters notes, “because a rudder can develop greater lift by increasing the angle of attack relative to the flow, it is more effective than a skeg.”

Many of my local paddling pals have skegs, and are always tut-tutting at rudder users, mainly complaining that we have none of the skills necessary to paddle without a rudder. Pshaw! That’s near the same mentality that had the British struggling in their amateur way towards the South Pole, decrying those who did have the correct gear and experience for the job. Many rudder users started off with skegs, and dutifully learned those skills. Now that many of us have upgraded to rudders, we can appreciate the benefits that a rudder can add to the kayaking experience, particularly on an expedition-type trip with rough and windy conditions.

As Paul Caffyn explained, having completed circumnavigations of New Zealand, Australia, Ireland, the UK, Japan and this year part of Greenland, he averaged 31 miles per day in kayaks with no skeg or rudder, 34 miles per day in kayaks with skegs, and 39 miles per day in kayaks with rudders.

I’m sure that Freya will have noticed around the coast of NZ, that all the Kiwi boats which join her for a few hours have rudders. This isn’t because Kiwi paddlers don’t have skeg-only-related skills, it’s because they know what’s best for the tough conditions the NZ coastline and weather throws at them. Justine and Barry will also find this. Give them their credit, the Ozzies feel just the same – Laurie Ford is a true rudder proponent, refining them now for nigh on 30 years for his local Tassie conditions.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Just like summer

Amazing day out on the lake today - not a breath of wind, with temperatures at 22C (72F). I mean, this is supposed to be nearing the darkest days of winter, and here we are, bang in the middle of a heat wave. Even more surprisingly, tomorrow's forecast is for 25C (77F), and it's going to be like that for the rest of the week. Not four days ago I was wiping ice rain from my front windscreen.

Didn't even bother dressing for immersion - think I would have passed out.

SandyBottom was also out there, doing a 20-miler to the dam and back, but our paths didn't cross.

I'm starting to feel a bit guilty with my blogger pals waaay up north feeling the real pain of winter.

So to make up for my guilty pleasure, the motor went on the back window of the '92 4-Runner, which means I can't open the back door. At least it happened upon returning to my put-in and not before. I'm trying to figure out whether this is something I can fix myself, having just spent three hours earlier this week replacing a side lamp and front main headlamp - taking the grill right off, which I swear has never been done from when the car was originally built, and unbolting the main lamp took most of the time. But at 171,000 miles, I'll let it run to the ground - it's a great means of transport.

Friday, December 7, 2007

A few favourite quotes

Looking back through some files, I found a few of my old favourite kayaking-related quotes - always good to keep life in some perspective.

“No one paddles to be rescued.”
I think this was Sam Crowley, but he touches on a theme dear to my heart. Kayaking is about self-sufficiency, thus we each have a responsibility for our own personal safety.

And in that vein, no one can beat good ol’ Tassie, Laurie Ford:
“Any misguided fool who goes to sea with the implicit belief that someone will come to their rescue, is a bloody idiot.”

“No one, in my opinion, should embark on the open ocean, the Antarctic, or any wilderness for that matter, not prepared to get out of trouble by his own efforts. By voluntarily challenging the elements he automatically assumes the responsibility for his own safety. He should not expect anyone to risk life and property on his behalf. The very idea of possible rescue is debilitating to the will; it should be replaced by self reliance.”
David Lewis

Mind you, a few years after he said this, David did set off his EPIRB when sails were shredded and fuel gone, off the coast of NZ, and they accepted fuel to stooge back to the Bay of Islands. Reading his autobiography, Shapes on the Wind, a few weeks ago, I don't think he ever really forgave himself for doing so.

I have this one on my office wall...
"Never put your body where your mind hasn’t been first.”
Chris Duff

And this one...
”Inspiration without nuts and bolts practicality and bit-by-bit efficiency is futile.”
Audrey Sutherland

“The fact is, in real canoeing, that is, in wild and unknown lands, you find no smooth roads to wheel a boat upon…”
John MacGregor

“Sea kayaking is about journeying. Sea kayaking is about exploring. Sea kayaking is about sharing experiences and memories with others. There is more to sea kayaking than just paddling.”
Pete Dingle

“Paddling efficiently must be every one’s aim.”
Laurie Ford

“If I have learned one thing in my 54 years, it is that it is very good for the character to engage in sports which put your life in danger from time to time. It breeds a saneness in dealing with day to day trivialities which probably cannot be got in any other way, and a habit of quick decisions.”
Nevil Shute

Laurie Ford also thought, in relation to Nevil Shute (his favourite author, and one of mine) and putting your life in danger, that “… if you are not doing so - then you are not being adventurous.”

“Wherever there is a channel for water, there is a road for the canoe.”
Henry David Thoreau

"In theory there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice there is."
Yogi Berra

"... a skeg is a failed rudder."
Sandy, Qajaq NZ

"I want some adventure."
Kristen, 1990, while sitting on Southbank on the Thames, London, on her way into work.
"I want to go shopping."
Theresa (flatmate, worked in same C&L office), in response.

Any of your own?

Thursday, December 6, 2007

National Jandal Day

80% of Kiwis own a pair or more of jandals - this Kiwi has at least four pairs lying around somewhere - so what better way to raise money for Surf Life Saving New Zealand, than to pay to wear your jandals to work. For tomorrow (today in NZ) is the inaugural National Jandal Day!

Jandals are an icon in NZ - Ozzies call them thongs, as do the French, Yanks are more likely to call them flip-flops, as do the Brits. In Hawaii they're called slippers and in Guam zorries... But they're that ubiquitous bit of summer clothing that nearly every Kiwi finds an essential piece of wardrobe kit.

The modern design rubber jandal was first patented in New Zealand in 1957 by Maurice Yock. On a trip to Hong Kong, Mr Yock had seen a similar product called a Japanese Sandal manufactured from plastic by John Cowie & Co. The Japanese were wearing their "Japanese Sandals" made of woven and wooden bases for centuries before the word "Jandal" was coined. And legend has it that the word jandal came from the combination of Japanese sandals: Japanese + sandals = jandals.

And, of course, the Ozzies think they invented the jandal - didn't, of course.

National Jandal Day is all for a good cause. Last year 1,440 lives were saved by NZ's Surf Lifeguards. NZ has a drowning rate twice that per capita of Australia, which is pretty shocking, so let's hope everyone wears their jandals to work today!

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

All I want for Christmas...

... are abs like Greg Barton. Well, so the latest Canoe & Kayak Buyers Guide for 2008 promised me I could have. I figure, with core muscles like his, I'll smoke the competition in next year's Everglades Challenge. (And the magazine also promised great apres-paddle results too!)

So on Monday, after a few weeks (read: nearly a month) of inactivity due to a few jollies to Florida and NZ, I started Greg's eight stomach-crunch exercise program. Apparently the difference between Greg and we mere mortals is that he does each of his eight crunches for 60 seconds, and we do them for only 30 seconds. Well, I'll have to report that I'm still at the mere mortal level, after another session this morning.

But it must be doing something, because when I walk around the office or sneeze, I swear I can feel every individual core muscle.
So in the interest of sharing the pain, here we go - 60 seconds each, no stopping between changeovers...
  1. Lay flat on the floor with legs slightly bent, and crunch your stomach to 30 degrees.
  2. Lift your knees to your chest and touch elbows with each rep.
  3. Now lift your legs in the air so your body forms an "L" and point your hands forward, palms-down just off the ground. Keep crunching!
  4. Keep your legs in the air and put your hands behind your head. Bring your legs up to meet your elbows with every crunch.
  5. Now bend your knees and continue crunching in a bicycle motion, twisting so you bring your opposite knee to your elbow with each crunch.
  6. Lay on your back with one foot flat on the floor close to your buttocks. Cross the other leg on your knee. Twist while crunching so your elbow touches your crossing knee.
  7. Repeat with your other leg crossed.
  8. Back to the "L" position with hands extended, and flutter kick while you crunch, touching your toes with the opposite hand each time.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Winter paddling

Excellent couple of hours paddle out on the lake yesterday (“You’re only back a week and you think you’re going paddling?”), partly to test out my new SPOT satellite tracker, courtesy of my fabulous Everglades Challenge sponsor, BubbaGirl. But more of that when I'm done testing.

Cool air temps around C10, but flat calm to start off with. Trouble is, when you’re dressing for immersion, you tend to cook once you get a bit of steam up. And I have to giggle a bit with the expensive breathable gear we love to buy, and then we throw a non-breathable PDF and neoprene sprayskirt over most of our torsos.

But I’d rather be toasty than hypothermic, so headed off with a skin layer of Icebreaker merino, followed by a Mysterioso M-tech top, Fuzzy Rubber on that, topped off with a semi-dry Rapidstyle spray jacket. For leggings I wore Mysterioso M-tech with a pair of Fuzzy Rubber Sticky Buns pants over that. On my feet, a pair of SmartWool liner socks, waterproof socks over that, encased with a pair of NRS Boundary shoes. Hands wise, a pair of 2mm neoprene gloves from Kayak Tom and, wrapped around my Greenland paddle, a pair of 3mm Rapidstyle metalite mitts. Taking my beanie and Tilley hat off my head did help cool me down a bit. And I drank heaps.

The wind had got up a bit by the time I got back to the put in, and I felt decidedly chilled by the time I had the boat back atop the ol’ 4-Runner, which made me feel a wee bit better. I’m not built for long-term (read: any term) immersion in dang chilly waters, so while I’m winter paddling, dressing for immersion it is.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Silly buggers

"Silly buggers". A term of endearment in NZ, and Australia, said with a bit of a smile and slight twist of the head, adding a touch of respect. But that's what you could probably call Justin Jones and James Castrission, currently paddling their custom-built tandem kayak across the Tasman Sea, on an expedition called "Crossing the Ditch" - a colloquism given to crossing the Tasman.

They left Oz on November 13 and hoped to reach Auckland by Christmas Day, pretty good timing for the 2200km trip. But fairly constant headwinds and tricky currents are taking their toll, adding another 800kms to the tally and making that deadline date probably unreachable. Today, they're about half-way across.

Increased fatigue and waning morale have taken a toll on the expedition. The pair report three indicators each night to their support team to gauge their current stamina. On a scale of one to 10, they each rate today their physical fitness as a seven but their mental toughness and fatigue levels have dropped to five and below.

The toll on their equipment's hurting as well - the salt water's buggering up their rudder cables, and their automatic desalinator pump and cabin bilge pump have given up, taking valuable paddling time away to resort to manual pumping for both.

There's been a bit of controversy (what's new) over whether it's a true "kayak" they're paddling; but who really cares. They're doing it, they're hurting, and I hope they make it. Others haven't.

[Photo above of the boys leaving Forster, Australia on November 13. That's a Mirage kayak seeing them off, a modified version of which Andrew McAuley attempted his Tasman crossing in.]

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Back home

It was a magical sail back to Whitianga, and we took two days over it, trying to prolong the time away. Practically no wind at all from Barrier to Mercury Bay, so we motor-sailed along with sails up on auto pilot, watching the view, having a cuppa and reading away.

Then the dolphins found us. I'd never seen so many this year, as well as NZ's wee blue penguin. Always an absolute delight to see them all popping up everywhere. Penguins are smaller in size the further north you go - with the warmer waters - so New Zealand's are quite tiny creatures, compared with Antarctica's beauties.

A day after returning to Whitianga and enjoying the garden and views for the last time, we drove to my sister Clio's in the Waikato for an early Christmas, after visiting mum's memorial stone on the way, and then up to Auckland to fly away home. Rather special was that my mum's three older sisters, all living in Auckland, crammed into the car and saw me off at Auckland International. A few more obligatory tears. They're all in their 80s as well, widows, one with severe MS, and you just don't know if you'll get to hug them again.

I arrived in Los Angeles before I'd left Auckland; and 24 hours after leaving NZ, I was sneaking into bed, at midnight, with the family fast asleep. Home's fine.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Further north

We turned the bow north, up to Great Barrier Island (Aotea), colloquially known as "the Barrier" (or "the bloody Barrier", as a local song goes) . About 900 people live on the Barrier, commonly thought of as all a bit kooky - folks who may not normally want to fit into a more urban, commercially oriented lifestyle. I mean, there's no bloody power on the Barrier! Everyone has to have their own generator - that's kooky enough ;) But if you're into small diesel-powered generators, this is the place to be - they're wonders of machinery and many an hour is spent, over a few (home-brewed) beers, tut-tutting over one another's old fly-wheeled generators (can you hear 'em?).

Tryphena is normally our destination at the Barrier - dad has good friends there - Bro's moved on, but Brian's still there. He rowed out and had a cuppa (tea) and a slice or two of my sister-in-law's marvellous Christmas cake - dad and Brian can talk boats for hours, and I always enjoy catching up with him. He has Hobbit feet - hasn't worn shoes for decades - but he's found that Crocs can sometimes be useful, except on pine needles.

The sail up was great - not quite enough wind, so we kicked in the diesel to help us along and keep the bow up. Looking back to Mercury slipping behind us, I checked on the chart to find out the distance between Mercury and the Barrier - 23 miles. It struck me that what has always seemed to be "way up there" was now a distance that I normally paddle in a day; and during an Everglades Challenge, can be sometimes a third of a day. In fact something that absolutely grabbed me this trip home, was the absolutely fabulous sea kayaking around the NZ coastline and offshore islands. Sigh.

Just before Tryphena we stopped for a few hours in a secluded bay. Dad's been cruising this coastline for nigh on 65 years, and me near 40, but neither of us had visited here before. It was magic - a sandy yellow beach with its own stream, nikau palms and tee-tree. Quite typically we even left dad's jumper on the beach, which we picked up the next morning.

Our last morning in Tryphena was one in a million - flat calm with not a breath of wind, and a clear view of the bottom - not often one gets to see one's own anchor nesting below.

We headed back south...

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Sailing away

Nearly a week after I arrived, dad and I packed up the boat and headed off from the marina. The forecast wasn't brilliant - stiff westerlies to nor'westerlies - but we were keen to get away. A following wind took us out Mercury Bay (so-called by Captain James Cook as this was where he observed the transit of Mercury) and around the point. We decided to reef with some good looking swells and white caps charging across between the point and Great Mercury Island, our destination. We were plastered! A tight board with 35-40 knots, we were glad of the extra reefs as the spray flew. And typically, we loved every minute of it.

We spent the next six days stooging around the island, before we headed north to Great Barrier Island. Nary a fish, cray, paua or mussel passed our lips - so much for my plans to live off the seas - with high springs and a metre easterly swell, the best laid rocks and plans didn't quite work out. But amazing what one can do with potatoes, carrots, kumara, pumpkin, eggs, a tin of salmon and a pinch of curry powder. And some wine...

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Time with the whanau

Just returned from a few weeks back in Aoteoroa visiting whanau, primarily dad to check up on a few health issues, and then hopefully a week or so out on the boat up the coast. My sister Clio very kindly picked me up from Auckland International, after the obligatory few tears as the big wheels touched town, and drove me to dad's, tucked away in Whitianga on the Coromandel Peninsula. We spent a few days resting up, visiting the clinic, listening to the ever-wonderful Kim Hill on National Radio, and soaking up a few rays. For someone born in 1921, the old man's looking remarkably spry (with a local friend who sometimes comes to visit).

I'll post a few tales and photos of the trip over the next few days, but to wet your whistle, here's a panorama from the deck of the house, overlooking Mercury Bay and Whitianga township.


Monday, November 5, 2007

Me too!

Okay, that’s it. I’ve had enough of all these sheilas heading off to NZ and paddling in MY waters. I’m going too, tomorrow. To Aoteoroa, the land of Minties, Jaffas, Pineapple Lumps, real chocolate, hokey pokey ice cream and the best vino. And spring.

For the first time dad’s admitted that he’s starting to feel his age. Not bad for 86. But if I could just get him to lay down the chain saw for his winter season’s supply of firewood and pay someone to lug all the rolls up the bank, I reckon he’d feel a lot better, and perhaps even reduce what he calls his “cardiac incidents”. But it’s hard to convince someone of this who indignantly proclaims that he’s always done every thing for himself, ALWAYS!

So I’m leaving the family and paddle at home – we’ll take his new grandson back some time next year, when he’s crawling and really creating havoc – and spending a few weeks to catch up. And hopefully we’ll even get away up the coast in the boat for a week or so.

So this ol’ blog will probably be a bit quiet until after Thanksgiving. But dad and I’ll raise a glass to you all.

And the photo? That’s dad’s home built sander, out in his workshop.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Leave of absence...

Just when I'm getting back into the swing with the blog, I'm off first thing tomorrow - to Orlando. It's our annual meeting, with delegates flying in from mostly all around the US, but did find someone via a blog mention flying out from Moscow at 0530 this morning to join us. That's dedication.

Back in a few days...

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

You'll never guess...

Writing about mum yesterday reminded me of one of the stories I phoned her about, the “you'll never guess what just happened!” calls. I was living in NYC at the time, transferred from London for two years to establish a development and alumni office for University College London, working from my apartment.

Most nights I ate sushi two doors down, on 3rd Ave, just below 80th. Apparently the place closed down a week or so after I left – pals said that my two years of eating there had kept it afloat. Most nights I ate at the sushi bar, as the lead chef, a Japanese waiting for a Green Card, had taken a bit of a shine to me and slipped me new morsels to experiment on. (If anyone can read Japanese, I still haven’t been able to translate the message he wrote on a baseball he gave me one evening.)

Anyway, the bar soon filled up with a young group of lads, whose parents and elders moved into the back room to eat in more quiet. They were from Uruguay, and dead mad about rugby. Ha, and here was the Kiwi also dead mad on rugby. We immediately set about saving the world. The boys were college students (what Americans call high school and us college) and desperately wanted to put together a tour of NZ to play school boy rugby. Did I know anyone who could help? Of course, I said – NZ’s a small place. I wrote down on a paper napkin the names of the principals of the schools I knew – Tauranga Boys’ College where my mum had taught for 16 years and was senior mistress; Hamilton Boys’ High where an old colleague of mum’s was now principal and was once an All Black; Selwyn College, in Auckland, where an uncle had taught maths; and Auckland Boys’ Grammar, where the ex-husband had gone. They were thrilled and tucked the napkin away.

“Would you like to meet my dad?”, the young man asked. “He’s also a rugby player. In fact, he was the young medical student, Roberto Canessa, who was on the plane that crashed in the Andes in 1972.” I gaped at Canessa junior. The story of the young rugby players who had survived for 72 days in the Andes had been one of the great stories of my childhood, and I had avidly read and re-read Piers Paul Read’s book, Alive, when it was published in 1974. “I would love to meet him”, I replied. Canessa junior slipped off his bar school and soon returned with his dad. He was quite short in stature, about 5ft4, but trim and strong looking. He beamed as he shook my hand, delighted to meet a Kiwi. The feeling was mutual. Roberto talked a little about his experience trapped on the mountain, but became even more animated when he told me about his talks to local Uruguayan school children, telling them of their struggles and fortitude and comradeship, taking with him relics of their stay on the mountain. I felt honored to have met him.

A few hours later I returned two doors up 3rd Ave to my apartment, raced up to the eighth floor and rang mum in NZ, saying, “you’ll never guess what just happened!”

Monday, October 29, 2007


Shame to see Wendy Killoran and Rene Siendel's split on their paddle around Sardinia. In previous entries, Wendy had mentioned her frustration with Rene's apparently different approach to speed and day's distance covered. And now it seems to have come to a head, with Rene heading back home, and Wendy leaving to paddle solo.

Paddling on a long term expedition with a partner is a lot like a marriage, and not only in the more traditional sense of the word. Going into it with eyes wide open, a big heart, lots of respect and patience are key ingredients. This is perhaps why engagements (for expeditions and life!) are so helpful - do we pull together? Can we laugh at the same problems and cry at the same joys? Will the faster of the two slow down to enjoy the walk with the slower one? Will we be there for each other when either of us really needs it the most?

Not everyone can paddle, or live, alone. And, of course, some can and do. Those who do paddle solo are often those with a very happy partnership back home - maybe they are also the happiest soloists? Knowing that there's someone at home who loves them that they can share all their experiences with on their return?

One of my biggest feelings of loss when my mum died at far too young an age, now just six years ago, was that I couldn't call her anymore from somewhere in the world and say "Mum, you'll never guess what just happened!", and spend hours with her laughing on the phone over it. I have someone else to share those stories with now, and often we've experienced them together, especially since I learned to walk slower; and perhaps that's also why I'm happy to paddle solo when the opportunity arises.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Weekend reading

Just finished reading Bruce Henderson's 2005 book, True North: Peary, Cook, and the Race to the Pole. While more of an Antarctica nut (the Southern Hemisphere thing), I'll still read anything to do with snowy, cold, arduous, polar adventure. And this tale is no exception.

Must admit, I was completely ignorant of the race for the North Pole, or the "Big Nail" as it was named by the Eskimo tribes of Greenland. And this is a sadder race than most, with what appears to be a rewrite of history that seems fairly widely accepted now, that Dr. Frederick A. Cook did reach the North Pole first, and that Robert Peary may not even have done so at all.

On his return, Cook was asked, if deep down in his heart did he believe he had made his goal, and whether he had indeed set his foot right on the North Pole. His response made me smile: "Oh, I couldn't say that. I got to where there wasn't any latitude."

The saddest part of the entire tale is not only the behaviour of Peary during and after his last attempt for what he considered was rightfully only his to attain, but the despicable behaviour of his financial backers, his sponsors, who we know so well nowadays as pretty well integral to any modern expedition. Nothing was different even in the early twentieth century. Those businessmen belonging to the Peary Arctic Club and National Geographic, among others, destroyed the reputation of a seemingly honest man, even to the point of refuting Cook's earlier claim to being the first to summit Mt. McKinley. At least National Geographic later apologized for its actions, in 1988.

(Then again, what may really be the most saddest part of the book, is the warning that with the Arctic ice cap's current melting rate of 9% per decade as the world's climate grows warmer, that ice cap will disappear before the end of this century.)

But the tale of true adventure and hardship shines through for both Cook and Peary - nothing can detract from that. "Lost in a landless, spiritless world, in which the sky, the weather, the sun and all was a mystery," wrote Cook of his fears as he made his way.

And I also appreciate that the tale is yet not completely resolved, and may never be. Ah, the stuff of true adventure and hardship.

Friday, October 26, 2007

This way or that?

Brilliant op-ed in the New York Times today, titled "The Outsourced Brain".

"I have melded my mind with the heavens, communed with the universal consciousness, and experienced the inner calm that externalization brings, and it all started because I bought a car with a G.P.S. ... After a few weeks, it occurred to me that I could no longer get anywhere without [the GPS]. Any trip slightly out of the ordinary had me typing the address into her system and then blissfully following her satellite-fed commands. I found that I was quickly shedding all vestiges of geographic knowledge."

Obviously tongue-in-cheek in some respects, but this does stir my consciousness. How dependent are we becoming on the technology we use every day, and then of that, that which we take with us on our expeditions (sounds more adventurous than "trips" ;) - our GPS, EPIRB, VHF, cell phone, iPod, camera, Blackberry, Nokia NSeries, etc?

Some of these acronyms are definitely necessities from a safety perspective. But are we overloading our senses just that bit too much when we take away with us everything else to barrage our senses - what we may now also think of as necessities?

And then are we losing our last "vestiges of geographic knowledge"? This may even scare me more - losing that innate sense of "being there" that is so integral to actually being out on water with just a paddle to steer me by.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

New talent on the block

A huge welcome to new paddling talent, Super Boo! Do have a look at her new blog. Many of you may be keen followers of her dad and his blog, Capt' of the O'Dark 30, so it's great to see an 11-year-old out making her own adventures happen, and dragging big daddy along with her!

And all for a good cause - not only her only self-awareness of the fun of life, but also raising awareness for breast cancer, of which her mother is currently fighting.

Big adventures are on the horizon for this wee lass, some which can't even yet be talked about! (I hate it when other folks write things like that on their blogs ;) So stay tuned!

Friday, October 19, 2007

Blogger's block

After some fierce words from the Capt'n, I figured I'd better put fingers to keyboard. It's got to be a blogger's block of some sort - perhaps a new phrase for the lexicon. There's certainly been a fair bit running on inside my head, which I could have made a few comments on. Dang it, I couldn't even find the time to do so on Blog Action Day. I've even been out on the water since the last entry, but that went by the by.

Mostly, it's been block thrown in with little time. Work's a bit busy at the moment (what's new), with our upcoming annual meeting in Orlando in a fortnight and various other projects on the boil. And, of course, there's this wee 5.5-month-old at home that seems to take up an inordinate amount of time. Go figure. I have him for an hour in the morning, after getting up at 0530 (waaay pre-sparrow fart) to take the dog for a four-mile run, so FliesWithKiwiBird can catch up on some sleep; and then as soon as I get home from the office around 5pm, he's mine until we share bath, books and bed (I now know Brown Bear, Brown Bear and Goodnight Moon off by heart). During the weekends, I have him pretty much most of the time, to give FliesWithKiwiBird a much needed break. And frankly, the wee one doesn't care two hoots whether I have a daily blog commitment or not. But above all that, he's just so darn-gone-gorgeous!

So there you go. There are my excuses. At least the world keeps turning without me. Phew.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Learning from tragedy

Two experienced kayakers have died in Howe Sound, northwest of Vancouver. I'm not keen on going into the wherewithalls - it's well covered in this newspaper report and others - and I'm sure all the forums will soon be well abuzz.

But once more we can learn from the tragic mistakes made, and work to make bloody sure that this isn't you or me in the same position. As always, it comes down to wearing the right gear for the sport and the occasion, and not dicking around with the weather.

People depend on us coming home at the end of the day.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Four more years

Turned out not to just be the day we wore black to support the All Blacks' quarter-final match against France in the Rugby World Cup currently being played in Europe, but a day of mourning as well.

Earlier in the day, the Aussies had been trounced by England 10-12, the same England who had lost 36-0 to the Springboks earlier in the tournament. That was a real shocker. And then last night the favourites to win the Cup, the NZ All Blacks, lost to France 18-20. Couldn't believe it. We were all over at Pete and Lauren's watching the match - the wee one wearing his black NZ shirt for the first time. Pete's a Maori - how amazing is that - two Kiwis in Durham (there are more) and we live behind each other.

Never mind that the Pommy ref was just terrible, even allowing a forward pass try from the French, and not carrying through the penalty for NZ in the dying seconds of the game, we just didn't play well enough.

The bookies, and fans, had us tipped to win. And somewhere in the US is a very unhappy chappie who's just lost $4.2M.

But we'll continue to wear black. For another four years.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Shopping for gear

Sigh. The ever-so-slight shiver that runs through one’s spine when new gear is wanted. Nay, necessary, even. And every kayaker needs a PFD. For a couple of years I’ve happily worn Patagonia’s Lotus, now discontinued. But I noticed the other day, after nearly losing a wee maglight torch and my ever-so-necessary stick of chapstick, that the bottom of the zip pocket had frayed away to near nothing.

Of course, we never get too sad about having to replace gear, because that means some happy hours spent researching just the right replacement. Which I did. When the wee one is asleep in his sling across my shoulders, I’ve devised a system where I can rest the laptop on top of a good-sized carton, and then that atop the dining room table. Thus standing I’m just the right height to ‘research’ and not disturb the sleeping babe, who, of course, will know how to Google just as soon as he can sit up and move a mouse all by himself.

I needed a few more pockets this time, and bigger ones too. I particularly wanted a pocket that would fit my McMurdo 406 PLB EPRIB, not the smallest in its field, thus not having to carry it in a bumbag around my waist. I also wanted another separate pocket for my VHF. And then another pocket for a few other goodies, such as a whistle, stick or two of chapstick and three or four small flares. I’ll still carry the bumbag, but that’s for snacks and a bit of this and that – that system worked really well in this year’s Everglades Challenge. And if the new PFD could be yellow, to match my boat (I’m a girl) and to stand out in a potential rescue situation, even better.

A few happy hours later, Kokatat’s MsFIT Tour PFD it was. All the pockets I wanted and one more to boot, and I also like the fact that you can have it clipped across your chest with the two chest straps and the zip undone, and apparently you’re still USCG-deemed safe – for those hot steamy days. And it comes in yellow – mango for the fruits among us.

Being an REI purchase, and having saved every receipt ever spent on all my kayaking-related gear over the last two and a bit years (just to shock myself one cold rainy winter day when I add it all up), I trotted off to our local REI and turned in the old PFD for the new one awaiting me – I’d previously ordered it on line (using last month’s members’ special 20% discount offer) and taken advantage of the free shipping. And I learned that I didn’t even need the receipt as every one of my purchases is stored away on REI’s system. Rather scary. But what I loved is the no questions asked – you’ve used the kit for over two years, it falls to pieces, and presto, you’ve a new – maybe even better – one.

Oh, and actually using it to paddle in? A dream. Hardly even knew I had it on.

Sigh. The smell of new gear.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Out on Wednesdays

Just stunning out on the lake Wednesday. I get into the office pre-sparrow fart so I can leave earlier, usually around 1500, to be paddling by 1540 or so. There was a slight breeze on my tail for the first two miles from Ebeneezer's put in to New Hope Overlook, and then it died. Which was just fine as I'd forgotten my sail. I've been dying to test out the new base I'd had made for me in California - but more on that when I've actually tested it out!

For the first time in months there were rain clouds on the horizon, but they slowly drifted off to the south (lucky South Carolina, if so), leaving us as dry as ever. Once more, the level of the lake's dropped, and even more counties have banned any watering or car washing whatsoever. In Durham County here, we're restricted to certain watering times on Wednesdays and Saturdays. We're also allowed to top up the pool, but I'm inclined to think that's rather a silly thing to be allowed to do when others are suffering, including Durhamites, so we're not.

The pink hues as the sun slowly died behind the clouds made for beautiful reflections as I made it back to Ebeneezer, 12 miles later.

It's good to get out on Wednesdays.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

NZ's the place to be

Just amazing. No woman has ever paddled around New Zealand's South Island, and only three men have, and now three sheilas are making a go of it, all within the next few months.

I mentioned Freya Hoffmeister's journey a few posts back, and now the renowned Justine Curgenven (Wales) and to me unknown Barbro Lindman (Sweden) are also taking up the challenge.

My responses are entirely irrational:
  • One was fine, now three are 'competing', and I'm not one of them
  • Three sheilas and not one of them is a Kiwi, and I'm not one of them (but I'm a Kiwi)
  • This trip is probably one of the most challenging any paddler could make, and I'm not one of them
  • With the most beautiful scenery to view, and I'm not one of them
Kia Kaha!