Saturday, April 28, 2007

Kiwi bird

I thought folks may like to see what a 'real' Kiwi bird looks like - the feathered variety with long beak rather than the one with the ski-jump nose (or Cape Cod look-a-like, as my 5th form geography teacher once described it).

The Kiwi's the sole survivor of the now-extinct moa - both flightless. If you'd like to read more on the moa, Mike Dickison, a fellow Kiwi at Duke, has an excellent web site.

The shot above was taken on Stewart Island, NZ's 'third island', right below the South Island. My brother-in-law, David, was on a deer hunting trip with a group of mates.

Here's also a shot of a local crayfish (kōura). You don't normally see them this size further up the two islands (the 'mainland'). What a feast that must have been!

Friday, April 27, 2007

Great day for a paddle

For the first time since WaterTribe's Everglades Challenge in early March, I paddled. Last night I was given a pass - the nursery's finished (well, still got to put those cupboard doors back on), the crib's up and the carry chair has been professionally fitted into the back seat of the car. Only 12 more days to go...

Scarpering off work early, I met Jane at Ebeneezer put in on
Jordan Lake. We're incredibly lucky in North Carolina to have some marvelously huge man-made lakes without any foreshore development that twist and whirl to open up vistas that make a heart swell - just don't look east to the nuclear plant puffing away.

A good head wind for the first half of the trip as we steamed through the 'narrows' of New Hope Overlook, which is open for camping but only attainable by foot or by water, on our way to the dam. And nearly flew home on the following wind.

There were blue herons, American eagles high aloft (the lake is one of the largest summertime homes of the bald eagle), fish ajumping, fair winds and warm sun - what more could a paddler wish for?

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Losing can be winning

Along with many of my fellow Kiwi, I had high hopes that NZ's Black Caps, our national cricket team, may have won their semifinal World Cup match against Sri Lanka. Just maybe... we could beat our record of getting no further than a semifinal.

Alas, it was not meant to be, losing by a rather dismal 81 runs. And the photo above is of captain Stephen Fleming being dismissed after only one run. (He later resigned as captain of the one-day test team.)

Now, this may mean nothing at all to those Yanks who pop in every now and then and peruse this blog. Cricket? Isn't that a chirping insect?

I won't go into the intricacies of this wonderful game, but explain why losing, in this instance, can be a great win.

As many of you may/should know, there's a pretty grim factional spat going on in Sri Lanka with the Sri Lankan Government on one side and the Tamil Tigers on the other. But here's where cricket kept the peace, if for even a few hours. The Government soldiers and Tamil Tiger rebels held a truce yesterday so they could watch their national cricket side beat the Black Caps and thus advance to the World Cup final.

The Tigers held true to their word of not attacking while the cricket was on as they "would be watching the match".

However, it was short-lived as just five hours after the match two policemen were killed in a roadside bomb attack.

So I'm glad (a wee bit) we lost.

Sri Lanka's playing Australia in the final on Sunday (our U.S. Monday). Just imagine if Sri Lanka wins. Could this perhaps mean a longer-lasting truce?

It could be... cricket!

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Lest we forget

They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

Anzac Day, on 25 April (which is today in NZ), is commemorated as the anniversary of the 1915 landing of New Zealand and Australian troops during the First World War at Gallipoli, on the western coast of Turkey. Many will remember the campaign as a shocking mess, with elderly British army leaders sending the young Aussie and Kiwi soldiers off to their deaths.

Anzac Day commemorates New Zealanders killed in war and to honour returned servicemen and women. The day has similar importance in Australia, New Zealand's partner in the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps at Gallipoli and, in many respects, the campaign played an important part in fostering a sense of national identity for both NZ and Australia.

By the time the eight-month long Gallipoli campaign ended, over 120,000 men had died: more than 80,000 Turkish soldiers, 44,000 British and French soldiers, and over 8500 Australians. Among the dead were 2721 young New Zealanders, about a quarter of those who had landed on the peninsula.

Mel Gibson’s 1981 film, Gallipoli, which I sob through the ending, is a poignant salute to those who fell. The Turks remember as well. When I visited Turkey in 1990, showing my NZ passport, they refused to accept the visa entry fee.

Shortly after my dad’s mum emigrated from Edinburgh in the early 1900s – I remember her as a dour Scots woman – she lived in Middlemarch in the South Island, and was nanny to a well-to-do local family. It was rumoured that the father of the family committed suicide by jumping from his bell tower. He had been one of the generals at Gallipoli.

Anzac Day’s something special in NZ. It’s a day of remembering, and the poignant saying for the day has long been “lest we forget”. Many folks buy the red poppy sold by the Returned Services Association (RSA) to pin to their lapels, representing Gallipoli’s red poppies. Dawn memorial services are held throughout the country, and a growing number of young Kiwis and Aussies join these services, as well as making the yearly pilgrimage to Gallipoli itself.

The Anzac Day ceremony is rich in tradition and ritual. It is, essentially, a military funeral, with all the solemnity and symbolism such an event entails: uniformed service personnel standing motionless around a memorial, with heads bowed and weapons reversed; a bier of wreaths laid by the mourners; the chaplain reading the words from the military burial service; the firing of three volleys; and the playing of the Last Post, followed by a prayer, hymn, and benediction.

NZ’s last WWI soldier died a few years ago - my late grandfather, my mum's dad, lost two brothers in WWI, one from the effects of mustard gas - and those veterans from WWII are slowly passing away too. My dad, at 86, is still hanging in there though. He served in the Pacific, at Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands, and Green Island.

Lest we forget.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Don't leave your boat

There’s a sad story playing out off the east coast of Australia, where a 12m catamaran, the Kaz II, has been found adrift and its three-person crew missing.

When the Coastguard boarded the boat, via a chopper drop and a good swim, the engine was found idling, table laid for dinner, a laptop and other computers open running, but no people. The headsail's shredded and the main sheet looks as though it's parted company with its traveler, but it doesn't take much to do that on an untended boat. Interestingly, there's also a reef in the main, and that could be a whisper pole hanging from the mast on the port side - perhaps they'd poled the headsail out on a down wind reach.

Media is reporting that the liferaft is missing, but there’s yet been no confirmation whether the cat did have a liferaft or not. I can't see an empty cradle anywhere on the foredeck where a liferaft would normally be secured. There is a RIB hanging from the stern on davits, still with its outboard.

This tale is a poignant reminder when at sea in a kayak or a yacht – don’t leave your boat, unless it’s sinking from under you. In most cases, the boat will survive. And always wear a lifeline.

When I was skippering a bareboat off the Turkish coast in 1990, we were told of a charter yacht that had similarly been found adrift. The Med had been flat calm and nor were there any signs of a struggle. What rescuers did find though, were lots of finger nail scratch marks along the side of the hull, just above the waterline. Apparently the crew had all jumped overboard for a swim, but had forgotten to hang a boarding ladder.

I thought that perhaps this is what had happened in this case, but watching the video, you can see that the Coastguard swimmer has little trouble climbing up one of the hull’s low transoms. But what I do find curious is that there’s one fender hanging over the starboard side of the cat, and another three hanging over the port side. Dad never let us leave our fenders over the side of the boat for more than a minute once we’d left the jetty!

Prior to this year’s Everglades Challenge, EC superstar SandyBottom had advised me to have a line of some sort attaching me to my kayak. And I took her at her word. In fact, Andrew McAuley’s loss compounded that decision. I had an old climbing tape, less than a metre long, looped around the side of my PFD, with a carabiner to clip the other end to the kayak’s safety lines. I felt just that little bit safer, knowing that if anything really bad did happen, I wouldn’t be separated from my boat, or at least I’d be found with my boat.

* Six hours later: The more I think about this case - and it's been plaguing me all day - the more I believe that this is probably a very sad case where one of the crew has fallen overboard, another tried to help him (two were brothers), and the other fell over trying to save all of them. I've seen it before where a person's fallen overboard, and another has automatically jumped straight over the side without a thought in the world in an attempt to save them. And I have a sneaking suspicion that this could have happened shortly after first leaving port when winds were gusting 30knots, particularly because the reef is still in the main. It appears that conditions have been perfect for sailing once that 30knots blew over.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Messing about in boats #3

Perhaps today’s children are too cocooned. There certainly seems to be much mentioned on folks’ worries regarding children’s obesity, and their obsessions with cell phones, text-messaging, video games and MySpace. Maybe it was easier raising children back in the sixties, particularly in NZ where TVs were not the norm and, if so, were black and white with only one channel.

Late fifties: my dad has finished building a 32-foot Kathryn Anne Woolacott designed yacht, Aries. It has taken him nearly five years, in a shed up the side of the house.
1960: mum and dad marry.
1961: I come along.
1962: my sister Clio arrives.
1963: dad closes down his cabinet-making business at the back of the house, mum’s parents move down from Auckland and live in the house, and for the next few years we sail the east coast of the North Island.
1965: my brother Rob is born. The family joke is that we just row mum ashore in time. Dad attaches a wringer to Aries’ transom so we can wash and wring nappies/diapers, to dry on the boat’s rigging.
1966: I’m about to turn five and thus due to start school. With some sadness the family sails home. I start primary school, dad reopens his business, mum’s parents move into a flat next door, mum raises a family before she goes back to part-time and then full-time secondary school teaching.

I’m a great believer that kids are extremely resilient, that you can take them anywhere from a very early age and pretty much throw them in any deep end. It takes parents who know what they’re doing, that’s certain, but as parents, we’ve also got to take the responsibility of introducing our kids to all the wonders and adventures outside the home and mall. And hopefully that sense of adventure will grow as they do.

I’ll never forget mum’s reaction in 1989 when I told her that I’d entered a two-month yacht race from Auckland to Fukuoka: “Why can’t my kids be boring like everyone else’s!”

If you’re interested in another look at kids at sea, my brother Rob wrote an article on the very subject a few years back.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Messing about in boats #2

It was about four years after the sale of Reveries that I managed to buy another boat. In the meantime I’d graduated with my Masters in geography, moved from the North Island to Christchurch in the South Island with the windsurfer on the car roof, married and separated, and then transferred with the then Coopers & Lybrand up to Auckland.

Auckland – City of Sails! Gotta have a boat in Auckland! I dragged all my pennies together, borrowed some from my parents at a fair interest rate and hit the For Sale ads in The New Zealand Herald. I bought a Raven, a 27-foot NZ class design by Owen Woolley. And I went for a fiberglass hull rather than wood. Ouch, but with my work schedule, easy-care glass was necessary to get the most out of my sailing.

Houdini was everything I wanted – flush deck, four berths, full headroom and then some, 15hp diesel, wee galley, large cockpit, and all the sails. She even boasted a spinnaker. I transferred her from a swing mooring I’d had laid in Orakei Bay to a rented marina berth up at Gulf Harbour in Whangaparaoa – nearly an hour’s drive in those days, but much closer to the cruising grounds of the Hauraki Gulf (America’s Cup sailing territory!) and with an excellent hardstand and traveller for easy hauling out.

I didn’t need to do too much to the boat when I bought it – it was a bit run down but sailable. I put in new carpet, made some bookcases and a new cabinet to fit a VHF unit and a stereo, a new chilly bin and an anchor locker. And I learned how to bleed a diesel.

One morning I came down to the marina to find that friends had added some stickers to the transom. My boat was now called Mrs. Houdini. Apparently that’s what all the marina staff had been calling me.

If not solo, I’d often take friends out for long weekend cruises – I’d dive for scallops, paua or crays, and with a few bottles of NZ vino in the chilly bin, we’d be set. They were great days.

Two years later (1989), I left the country, via Westhaven Marina, on a two month yacht race from Auckland to Japan. Good friends sold Mrs. Houdini for me, good enough to realize before me that I wouldn’t be coming back to NZ for probably some time...

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Island memories

A couple of folks asked where was the setting that I’d photographed my dad in, in my previous blog entry. Matt’s Creek, on Great Mercury Island, off the Coromandel Peninsula of the North Island, NZ.

But it’s no mere island. Mercury holds an almost mystical awe for our family. It’s where our parents first met, in Mercury Cove, the island’s main but small harbour. It’s where our parents got engaged. It’s where we spent five to six weeks every year over the Chistmas (summer) holidays sailing, swimming, diving, rambling, and basically having the best time a kid could imagine. The island has sandy southern beaches with clear crystal water, towering white cliffs, hidden wee coves where you know there’s a hidden cray or paua, rocky beaches perfect for fossicking, clear water streams, and the fishing used to be entirely dependable.

I still can’t believe my luck that every now and then over the last few years, I’ve been able to take my partner there, out with dad, on his yacht. And five years ago, it’s where dad and I spread mum’s ashes.

It used to be a bit of a slog up the east coast to get to Mercury when we lived in Tauranga. But our parents decided to make the Coromandel, and Mercury, their cruising grounds when they retired to Whitianga in the mid-eighties. For 15 years they sailed a 45-foot Woolacott around the Mercs.

It’s not often that lives revolve around one place, or connect around just one place. But Mercury seems to be that place. My brother sometimes takes his wife and two children out there, borrowing dad’s yacht for a week or two. And we wonder if his children will develop such a connection.

Chart sourced from Land Information New Zealand data. Crown Copyright Reserved. NOT TO BE USED FOR NAVIGATION

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Age no barrier

One of the most enlightening and exciting features associated with this year’s Everglades Challenge, and of previous years, is that age is no barrier to having a right rip of a time.

Many sports still have the ‘oldies’ strutting their stuff, but sports associated with “messing about in boats” may well have a higher share. And I think this is one of my key loves about sea kayaking – it doesn’t matter how old I get, and how well I’ve thrashed my body over the years with the climbing, backpacking and ski mountaineering, I should still be able to keep paddling.

What first brought this to mind was a story in today’s NZ Herald that two Japanese yachties have been plucked to safety by a NZ ship near Guam, in what appears to be pretty rough conditions. The younger crew member of the stricken 11m yacht was 67. His mate was 72. Both were partially deaf. One suffers from high blood pressure and has reduced mobility due to the steel plates he has inserted in his back.

My dad (right) is 86 next week and is still sailing his 32ft Davidson around the NZ coastline for weeks on end.

One particular crew comes to mind in this year’s EC - Tyro and PaddleCarver (photo above) – whose combined ages add up around 146.

And Audrey Sutherland, at 85 the Grandma Moses of paddling, is still doing her thing.

I’m not criticising the fact that the two Japanese, on their way across the Pacific to NZ, had to be rescued, but celebrating their attitude to life.

As my grandfather so rightly said: “You’re a long time dead.”

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

It's rough for the Kiwi Easter Bunny

Even though we appreciated the scrumptious Easter eggs the Easter Bunny left us as wee kids, who even signed the letters we wrote her with coloured paw pads, we were still Kiwis through and through with a general distaste for the hoppity pests.

So we good ol’ Kiwis sure know how to host the Great Alexandra Easter Bunny Hunt. (DISCLAIMER: Stop reading now if you’re of a sensitive mind.)

Alexandra’s a community in Otago, way down in the South Island. Last weekend was the 15th annual Easter Bunny Hunt, where teams of hunters are spread out over local farms and sheep stations, and have 24 hours to bag as many of the buggers as they can.

This year, 400 hunters shot more than 16,000 bunnies, a bit down on last year’s 22,000.

Just like the British colonial settlers brought gorse to NZ, thinking it a terrifically useful substitute for fencing and now another national pest, rabbits were introduced for hunting sport and to remind the Poms of home. Now, rabbits are among farmers' worst enemies in drought-prone Otago, where grass is scarce.

And I can’t help passing on the faintly quixotic e-mail address for the organizer: – true spirit!

Monday, April 9, 2007

Keep a lookout

One of my favourite radio shows as a kid was the BBC comedy, "I’m Sorry, I’ll Read That Again”. One of the best lines from one episode is from a chap who’s up the lookout.
Narrator: “Suddenly, there was a cry from the lookout.”
Lookout: “Look out!”
Capt'n: "What is it?
Lookout: "An iceberg."
Sound effects: major crunching of ice on wooden hull.
Lookout: “Don't worry. It's gone now.”

An acccident on NZ’s Waitemata Harbour last year left a salutary lesson to kayakers, and boaters. An 8m powerboat, travelling at 16 knots was about 60m away from Stuart Chrisp's yellow kayak when he waved his bright yellow paddle and shouted a warning.

Obviously, shouting at a boat with twin props and doing 16 knots means you’re not going to be heard. And blowing the obligatory whistle attached to your PFD is a waste of time in most circumstances. There’s really not a lot a kayaker can do when caught in such a predicament. Thus the onus is on the bigger and faster boats to do the right thing – keep a lookout and adjust their speed.

Skipper of the powerboat was a rear commodore of the Royal NZ Yacht Squadron (RNZYS), who should have known better. Last week he pleaded guilty in the Auckland District Court to failing to keep a proper lookout, and failing to consider the obligations of the vessel he was in charge of. Interestingly, he’s believed to be the first person in NZ to be prosecuted for colliding with a kayaker. I don’t know if that’s the case elsewhere in the world.

On the skipper’s side, as soon as he heard the "thump" of the kayak under the boat, he fished Chrisp out of the water. But that, quite rightly, wasn’t good enough for the Court.

Overall, it’s a good warning for boaties with fast and powerful boats; collision regulations clearly state that you must keep a proper and effective lookout and adjust your speed accordingly. Please. But it also means that we kayakers have got to be always keeping a wary eye out in areas with heavier boat traffic.

And Chrisp? Apart from the fact that he seriously thought he wasn’t going to see his wife and three kids ever again, he was whisked off to hospital with severe bruising and a locked back and, as any good Kiwi would, said he was in “bloody agony”.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Cool kids

In a previous life, just a few years ago, I used to work for Sally Ride, America’s first woman in space. Sally’s San Diego-based company is Sally Ride Science, and she’s dedicated to supporting girls’ and boys’ interests in science, math and technology, but particularly in making a difference in girls' lives, and in society's perceptions of their roles in technical fields.

One of my responsibilities was to manage TOYchallenge, the coolest program for middle school girls and boys to design and build their very own toy or game. It was the best way we could introduce kids to the wonders of engineering and the design process. This is TOYchallenge’s fifth year, and when I took it over in its second year, I had the great honor and pleasure of meeting four very smart kids, Alyssa, Amy, Kaycee and Nicholas, who called themselves the Waveriders. Their prototype toy was “Boogie2Boogie”, and Janice, mum to Alyssa and Amy, was the team’s unstoppable coach.

The team figured that body boards, commonly known as Boogie Boards, were not well designed for kids, if at all. Older riders ride on the face of waves, farther out from the shore. Kids enjoy body boarding the breakers, the "white water," near the shore. So the team designed a board specifically for riding those breakers. Shaped almost like a boomerang, kids fit easily ‘into’ the board, adding to their safety. What’s also fun is that two boards can be strapped together via Velcro pads, so that friends can boogie together. And what’s really cool, especially for parents who often yell themselves hoarse trying to get their kids’ attention, is that each board has a red signal light on it. Parents just push the signal box they hold in their hands, and the red light flashes on the board.

Needless to say, the team co-won the 2004 National competition for best toy. Their prize was probably one of the best any child, or adult, could receive. Hasbro, founding sponsor of TOYchallenge, made each of them look-a-like dolls, right down to Amy’s glasses and freckles.

Since Boogie2Boogie’s debut in 2003, the team and its toy has gone on to international acclaim. They’ve been written about in books, on websites and on TV, including the BBC and CNN interviews with Miles O’Brien and Sally Ride. By Kids For Kids is even marketing Boogie2Boogie, hopefully soon to be hitting a shelf near you. And what is just amazing, is that the actual prototype boogie2boogies are currently on display at the California Museum for history, women & the arts.

A few months ago Alyssa and Kaycee were interviewed by Disney Movies, to highlight kids who are inventors. That snippet is just out now on the Internet, and I’d be very proud if you’d all take the time to quickly view the short segment. Click to access Disney's Movie Surfers website. Then click the right-hand ‘Spotlight Adventure’, “Meet the Robinsons”.

Aren’t kids cool?

Photo 1: The team displays their prototype for the very first time in 2003 at TOYchallenge 2004’s regionals, held at ASU, with Sally Ride. Photo 2: The Waveriders and their Hasbro look-a-like figures.

Friday, April 6, 2007

Where's Dana Chladek?

“I’m not a big thinker. I just paddle.” — Dana Chladek

Like many of you out there, our kayaking or whitewater wardrobes wouldn’t be complete without a few items of Fuzzy Rubber from Dana Chladek’s company, Rapidstyle. I for one love the stuff. And who can beat ‘sticky buns’ as a product name.

Dana’s a hugely talented woman. She emigrated from the former Czechoslovakia at age 5, and is a Dartmouth graduate. She’s a polyglot, and an awesome white-water kayaker, having taken up paddling at 13. She was a Bronze Medalist in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics and Silver Medalist in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. She’s also a two time silver medalist in the World Championships and World Cup Champion. All that experience went into what we know as fuzzy rubber and metalite, under the umbrella of her company, Rapidstyle.

But Rapidstyle seems to have vanished off the face of the Internet. I first got a bit worried about nine months ago, when Dana hadn’t updated her site from taking pre-Christmas orders, for 2005. I checked it regularly – nothing had changed on the home page - but now the site’s gone altogether.

So, I went into hunting mode just that bit more, and spoke with Marty at The Jersey Paddler. He confirmed that Dana closed Rapidstyle down about a year ago, and is now concentrating on her children. Can’t fault that! Marty says they’ve got a wee bit of fuzzy rubber left in stock, but that’ll be it after that’s sold.

Thanks, Dana, for all you’ve done with Rapidstyle, and hopefully we’ll see you, and the kids, back on the water soon – and perhaps back in business too!

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Go the black boats!

A bit bigger than our ol’ kayaks, but the opening fleet race of the Louis Vuitton Cup, which is the beginning of the countdown to the America’s Cup – started today off Valencia.

And this Kiwi is wrapped!

Those with long memories may remember NZ’s heartache when we lost the cup in 2003 to the Swiss boat, Alinghi, skippered by Kiwi Russell Coutts, who had been the winning skipper on the Kiwi boats that successfully defended the cup in 2000, and had wrested the Cup from America in 1995, in San Diego.

Folks back home were pretty upset that Coutts had bailed out on his own country – Dave Dobbyn’s hit song, Loyal, was almost the NZ national anthem – but the Black Magic crew was not prepared, and multiple gear failures played out to the ultimate failure, losing all the final races to the Swiss. How could anyone forget Black Magic’s cockpit filling up with water and being bailed out with a bucket! We wept.

So the eyes of New Zealand, and many other yachties around the world, are watching with bated breath as the countdown to the America’s Cup now plays out.

But if going by the great new artwork on Team NZ’s new black boats' keels – the ubiquitous Buzzy Bee and the NZ flag – we are good to go!

* Both photos by Chris Cameron.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Greenland rules

Jane, one of my great pals, has finally seen the light. She’s now the proud owner of her very own Greenland paddle, made especially for her by our mutual friend, Bill Bremer.

Bill also made my Greenland paddle, which I used in this year’s Everglades Challenge, and goes by the corporate nomenclature of Lumpy Paddles.

One of the best trips Jane and I had together, with our fellow paddler, Dee, was a five-day NC trip from Cedar Island in Pamlico Sound, punching up and out Ocracoke Inlet, down the coast, surfing back in New Drum Inlet, and then a circumnavigation of Cedar Island via Thorofare Bay. We had a great adventure paddling down the coast, surf landings and camping on the wonderful wild beaches of the North Core Banks.