Friday, February 29, 2008

On the Beach

As of 14:15 2/29/08 all the competitors are on the beach. Says KiwiBird, “All the colors are just fantastic, and it’s so wonderful to see everyone again. Lots of hugs. Alan and Paul just dragged Dawn Patrol to the beach; they were the last ones. We have the Skippers’ meeting at 15:00, and then we all have to be off the beach by 18:00. Everything is ready and looking great!” Not sure, but I'm thinking that's KneadingWater to the left.--Floatsome

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Wait, This is Florida, It's Supposed to Be Warm

Triangle Transit Authority (aka KiwiBird, SandyBottom, DancesWithSandyBottom and SOS) arrived in Tampa last night about 9:00 and spent a restful night camped near Fort Desoto Point. This morning was cold! KB, shown above, sported four layers of Icebreaker fleece below a windbreaker. “I’m still coughing, but who cares?”

The day’s activities included shopping for groceries for Dawn, hardware for Dawn Patrol and IPA for the 18:00 shindig at campsite 3 (SavannahDan and PaddleMaker). It’s a little more than 36 hours until launch!--Floatsome

Hello Fort Desoto

What may turn out to be the most difficult leg of the event—at least for SandyBottom, DanceWithSandyBottom and SOS—is now in the record books. KB’s SPOT reported in this morning at 27'37.98" N and 82'43.338" W, which is just across Mullet Key Bayou from Desoto Point. Shown above, Kristen and Dawn launch at chez KB/DWKB/WO, Durham, NC. Dawn Patrol brings up the rear.--Floatsome

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

They're (Almost) Off!

herself may yet grace this page this morning, but just in case, as you may surmise, things aren’t exactly to plan. To paraphrase John Denver, "All my dry bags are packed, I’m ready to go." But as of 0800 2/27/08, they’re not yet leaving on a jet plane or even a van:
We went around to Dawn and Paul's last night, with a fab dinner FWKB had made, and home-made tiramasu! to help feed Dawn, Paul and Alan, working feverishly on the new Core Sound 20, now named Dawn Patrol, sans artwork at this stage. Unloaded all my gear and came home.
The good news is that we finally succeeded in a SPOT check-in yesterday afternoon, and I got Google Earth to run on my home laptop, so we blogfans should be able to keep an eye on KiwiBird as she plies her way toward Key Largo. Stay tuned.—Floatsome.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Best laid plans...

When I worked for astronaut Sally Ride, the second question the middle school girls would ask her at the Sally Ride Science Festivals we held all around the country was, "How do you go to the toilet in space?" These sorts of questions are important to children, and my own childlike questioning must still be strong, as I never tired of the question, Sally's skill at answering, and the children's (and their parents') reactions; and I still get frustrated when reading adventure stories on or in sea, land, air or space, when they don't cover this basic question. How are we supposed to learn anything when we find ourselves in the same situation?

A lot of the time you have to figure it out for yourself (at least NASA has a manual). When I started climbing in the 90s, invariably a month's expedition would land sometime inside my menstrual cycle. I can still vividly remember having to change a tampon, standing in crampons on a 40 degree French Alps glacier, roped in with two young lads. When they figured that if they didn't help me out in this procedure, with a well-watched rope, that we could all go down together, we became pretty firm friends; and they became very soliticious to my needs for the rest of the trip. (One chap's girl-friend even wrote me after the trip, asking me what had happened to her man, as he was a much nicer person on his return.)

And I also learned the hard way that packing tampons on the last few days of a summit push, just in case my period started early, doesn't really add that many grams to a pack. Never will I forget, squatting on an open col at 19,600 ft on Peru's Huascaran, in a howling gale in the middle of the night, with ice flying all around, watching blood drip on to pure white ice.

For last year's Everglades Challenge, I packed a couple of in-cockpit pee systems I thought would have me covered. They didn't - couldn't get enough height sitting in my cockpit's pod seat. So I used a sponge and wore just a baggy pair of shorts. Worked brilliantly; except on day 3 when it was rough enough that I couldn't take my hands off my paddle. So I just peed in my boat as I paddled, and pumped it away with my foot pump. It felt quite liberating.

This year, I'd timed everything to realise that bang in the middle of the race I was going to start my period. This was going to be interesting, not normally stepping ashore each day for up to 16 hours or so. Well, perhaps approaching menopause (at least that's what FliesWithKB taunts me with) is a good thing, as last night my period came early, and I could unpack all those tampons that I'd solicitously packed away. Anything to save a few grams!

PS. the photo's tagged an earlier date, but the shot was taken at Bobby's just last week.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Can I come too?

An unhurried weekend getting everything packed up into a few manageable piles, to load 0500 Wednesday morning into Dawn's van. I'm finding it hard to believe that, just like last year, those three "manageable piles" will all fit inside the boat, or be worn. Though it is a slightly lighter load than last year - I did learn a few tricks.

The nervousness has finally turned into excitement, with the healthy nervousness remaining. Pete, a fellow Kiwi - a Maori - who lives behind us, married to Lauren, who's currently on a month's contract in the Congo, came around for dinner last night, and showed me all the exercises I should have been doing. Better late than never, and it just got me more excited about next year's Everglades Challenge.

What I am looking forward to, is the four days we'll all have together after the race, exploring the Keys, where none of us has yet visited. I'm packing a mask and snorkel.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Island of the Lost

I've had a bit more time for reading lately, since I've been confined to the warmth of the lounge rather than the cool of the lake in an attempt to get the breathing sorted out. Yesterday I read Joan Druett's 2007 book, Island of the Lost.

A fellow Kiwi, and a maritime historian, Druett's written a can't-put-it-down story of two 1860s shipwrecks on the godforsaken Auckland Island, 459kms (285 miles) south of New Zealand. In this part of the Southern Ocean, pretty much not a day goes by without a good howling gale and freezing rain.

Unbeknownst to either party, the five-man crew of the Grafton is shipwrecked at the bottom of Auckland Island, and a disparate group of 19 from the Invercauld at the top, not 32kms (20 miles) apart.

The different approaches to survival and comradeship are key to the story, the crew of the Grafton working together for nearly two years to build a cabin, a tannery and a forge, to make tools to build a boat. All with their bare hands.

The Invercauld's 19 whittles down to three, for want of leadership and with a great dose of laziness.

One of the reasons I love a great adventure yarn like this is to learn how folks do physically and psychologically survive under such conditions, just in case I ever end up in a similar predicament.

Hey, you never know!

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Two hands only, please

While we're getting ready to set out on our own two handed race, New Zealand's had to postpone the start of the Two Handed Round North Island Race. Due to start yesterday afternoon (today U.S. time) off Auckland's Devonport (where my own 1989 Auckland-Fukuoka race started), howling winds now means a Sunday start (today U.S. time...).

This is a race well worth keeping an eye out on. The race only runs every three years, and the 24 two-man crews sail their yachts around the North Island in four legs, with stopovers at Manganui, Wellington and Napier.

I've heard that in previous races the start of some legs have been delayed due to crews having too good a time partying...

You can keep up with the race at the organizer's site, SSANZ (Shorthanded Sailing Association of New Zealand); and the crew of the Thompson 850 Waka, Jonty Cullinane and Josh Tucker, are blogging for The New Zealand Herald throughout the race.

Of course, whenever hearing about how many hands you are allowed to employ during a sailing race, it reminds me of a skit from one of our old family favourite 1970s UK TV shows, The Two Ronnies. At the end of each episode they'd read the news. This particular news item went something like this:

Ronnie Corbett: There's been a dramatic development in the Round the World Single Handed Race currently being sailed.
Ronnie Barker: Yes. One of the contestants has been disqualified.
Ronnie Corbett: He was found to have been using two hands.

Ronnie Corbett: It's a good night from me...
Ronnie Barker: ...and a good night from him.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Can you SPOT me now?

Can't say enough how impressed I've been lately with SPOT's customer service. I'd been having a few online problems with my personal account at I rang customer service and was immediately connected to Gayle.

I have fallen in love with this woman - never have I experienced such helpful, courteous, customer service - doesn't take much these days, does it?

Gayle explained how I could update my default page without getting the constant error message I was frustratingly experiencing. And then I happened to mention that every other time I was pushing my OK button, red lights would flash. Seems I had a malfunction. (Apparently I'm one of only four SPOTters to have experienced this particular problem.)

I explained to Gayle that I had a 300+ mile kayak race in a week and was leaving for Florida next Wednesday. This was yesterday. When I got home from work today, waiting for me was a demo SPOT unit, on loan for the race, overnighted from California. (I have to return my own unit to the manufacturer, not SPOT Inc.)

And in the box was a chocolate. (Have I mentioned that I've fallen in love with this woman?)

Another wee touch, to cap it all off, when I called Gayle (I now have her direct line, on my mobile) to let her know that I'd received the unit (and to profess my undying love for her) and ask her how to transfer the new unit's serial number to my personal SPOT account, she'd already done that for me.

Gotta tell you, I'm enjoying my SPOT.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Nine more sleeps

I’m finding it hard to believe that this year’s Everglades Challenge is set to kick off in just nine sleeps. I’m hoping that the nervousness I'm feeling is that healthy nervousness one gets before doing something that could be slightly dodgy and a fair bit challenging; to keep me on my toes and thinking, thinking on whether I’ve packed all the right gear, and psychology, to get me from Tampa Bay to Key Largo and out of any possible scrapes.

I’m not in the best of shape, health and fitness wise, in comparison to last year. The cold/flu bug going around has hit hard locally, and I’ve succumbed twice in the last month. And the second cold brought my old asthma on, which has me merrily puffing away on all sorts of junk many times a day to try and beat it. I’m somewhat delusionally lucky that I’m not a full-blown “asthmatic”; I just cough and gasp like hell for a couple of weeks after any cold, and only take my meds when needed.

So not a hell of a lot of training has been going on.

But I’m a great fan of Chris Duff’s mantra, “Never put your body where your mind hasn’t been first.” At least this time my body has once been there, but I’m still sleeplessly running through the entire route by memory, and matching that with my Blue Charts and Google Earth.

Dawn and I drive down to Tampa Bay together on Wednesday next week, the race starting 0700 on Saturday, March 1. Fingers crossed I’ll be breathing right by then!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Hereeee's David

As FliesWithKiwiBird and the wee one will be driving madly around Florida during this year's Everglades Challenge, delivering SandyBottom's van to the finish line at Key Largo, I found myself without a blog-keeper for the six to seven days of the race.

But all was not lost! I have a fabulous friend and work colleague, David (with a new WaterTribe name of Floatsome), who will be my right-hand mouse. David will also be receiving my check-in phone calls and SPOT signals - hopefully not the Alert 9-1-1 - so will have absolute power over letting you all know just where I am and what I had for breakfast. Well, let's hope it'll be a bit more exciting than that.

Hopefully we'll also be seeing David competing in 2009's Everglades Challenge - he more than likely will be buying from me the Mirage 19 I have safely tucked away for him. A total fitness guru, David has more marathons, triathlons and an Ironman under his belt than you can poke a stick at.

BTW, that's David on the right, Brian in the middle, and me on the left, half-way through the 2006 Tour de Cure.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Can you find me now?

The value of carrying a 406Mhz EPIRB has once again come to light off the coast of New Zealand. Ten French sailors rescued from a capsized racing trimaran 145km east of Dunedin are back on dry land. The 32m Groupama III was taking part in the Jules Verne Round the World Yacht Race when it overturned.

Now, a few years ago, being French, we Kiwis may well have left them, but even though memories linger, you have to move forward.

RCCNZ mission coordinator Keith Allen said the incident highlighted the value of people carrying this variety of EPIRB, which had greatly assisted in the rescue."Because the 406Mhz variety EPIRB is able to be detected by satellite within minutes, it gives rescuers an accurate position very quickly, which greatly speeds up any emergency response," he said.

"The fact that the beacon was also registered with up to date ownership details, meant that rescue agencies knew straight away who was in trouble and were able to make contact with them."

A 406Mhz PLB is compulsory for every competitor in the upcoming Everglades Challenge, so it's kind of nice to see it working in action. In fact, any kayaker doing any serious offshore kayaking should pack one away with them. I even take mine with me on road trips. Remember those women last year, in two separate occasions, who drove off the road and weren't found for a week or so...

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Rowing to Latitude

Have just finished reading Jill Fredston’s book, Rowing to Latitude: Journeys Along the Arctic’s Edge; and then dived straight into her later book, Snowstruck: In the Grip of Avalanches. Both are excellent reads, particularly the former for us water babies.

If you’re just into the multi-miled journeys that she and partner Doug Fesler row and paddle through, you’ll be gripped. And there’s also some poignant takes on life and life’s journeys tucked away here and there.

She has some excellent reflections on risk, but that’s a topic covered many times in like-blogs. What I particularly found of scaring interest is her take on the perception of what’s “truly wild.” Here they are, paddling in Norway: “Rowing the coast was like walking into a kitchen hungry and reaching for a perfect red apple, anticipating sweetness, only to find that the apple is made of wood. The experience frightened us to the marrow. It made us realize that… centuries of human habitation have nibbled away not only at the earth but our perception of what constitutes nature. When we do not miss what is absent because we have never known it to be there, we will have lost our baseline for recognizing what is truly wild. [my italics] In its domestication, nature will have become just another human fabrication.”

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Hot, miserable, amazing

“The first thing I learned was that the man who has water on the mountain is king,” says hiking enthusiast Dana Law. “Water is absolutely the most important thing you’ll have in Southern California, because this really is the land without water. When I saw my first mountain spring I was totally shocked. It’s the most amazing, unusual thing I’d ever seen.”

My dear San Diego friend Dana, is soon to be speaking at La Jolla’s Ridford Library to talk about his experiences hiking the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). He’s hiked 974 miles of the trail over the course of 22 separate journeys. I’m proud to say I’ve done a couple of t
hose journeys with him.

You can read more about his experiences on
his blog, and more about his upcoming talk from the San Diego Weekly Reader.

And you can read some of Dana and my earlier hiking tales here.

Dana’s wife says I’m the only other woman he’s allowed to share a tent with.

Monday, February 11, 2008

The NFCT calls...

Oh, to be young and a student again. One of my favourite paddling trails, the Northern Forest Canoe Trail, is looking for five keen, talented interns to work with them this summer. Pass on the good word if you know of anyone who may be interested.

The NFCT is an historic 740-mile water trail through New York, Vermont, Quebec, New Hampshire and Maine, and high on my one-day-to-do-list.

Three Stewardship Interns will help to maintain the Northern Forest Canoe Trail, coordinate volunteer work trips, and will have opportunities to mentor with professionals in the fields of natural resource management, ecotourism, recreation, outdoor education and environmental policy. Candidates must be self-sufficient and love being outdoors. Paddling experience strongly preferred.

The Program Intern will assist NFCT staff with the wide variety of activities that happen in the busy Waitsfield, Vermont office. The intern will primarily help coordinate stewardship programs, but will also assist with outreach, membership, Web site, publicity and communications with volunteers and paddlers.

The Youth Program Intern will help coordinate and lead NFCT’s new Northern Forest Explorers Youth Program in Maine. The intern will assist licensed guides with all aspects of trip preparation and leadership, and will conduct educational programming with students aged 10-14. Paddling experience strongly preferred.

The dates and details vary for each type of internship, but all will receive a $1200 stipend. More details and the applications are at posted on the Stewardship page of the NFCT Web site. Applications due February 29, 2008.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Night sky

It's good to be alive.

After some serious negotiation I managed to transact a Friday's evening paddle, a night under the stars, and a Saturday morning on the water.

Hit the lake Friday at 1600 - not a breath of wind, not even a stir of a gasp - warm airs - almost a kiss on the face - one of those magic evenings. Saw the sun set over my right shoulder, birds nestling down for the night on the waters - not too fussed at my passing. Dark hit, and a new moon ahigh, reflected on the absolute still waters beside me.

There's something about paddling at night - complete self dependence, touched with a slight tingle of... fear, perhaps. I certainly jumped when the boat hit floating debris. But such a clear night, I could almost speak to every star.

Slept like a log on my new Exped down mat - holy grail - probably would have been pretty chilled without it, fully dressed in Icebreaker inside my bag. Didn't bother with a hot breakfast - snacked on some apricots and a Clif Bar as I packed, and on the water by 0700.

A touch of pink on the water, just for a few seconds; and not a whisper of breeze nor another boat or even a gasp for a few hours. And returning home, a useful breeze - nothing fancy, but enough to raise the sail - to help get me home.

Made me appreciate, if you don't paddle, you don't get there, but if you do paddle, you do, and you feel.

Ah, it's good to be alive.

Friday, February 8, 2008

New gear #2

Another new bit of gear, and ethos, I’m packing with me for this year’s Everglades Challenge, is a personal waste system, and a pledge to pack it all out.

I’ve recently written an article, soon to be published by Sea Kayaker magazine, reviewing five or six poop systems that we kayakers can use while paddling out in the wild. And I must admit, testing the systems and writing the article has changed my own views on my personal responsibilities to lessening my impact in as many ways as possible.

So I’ll be including with all my EC gear, six or seven (I’m a pretty regular kind of gal) Phillips Environmental WAG Bag waste kits. (WAG stands for Waste Alleviation and Gelling). What I really like about these kits is that they're completely biodegradable once deposited anywhere destined for landfill.

I asked my fellow EC paddlers on the Watertribe discussion forum what their thoughts were on this sensitive subject, and a few folks wrote back with some interesting thoughts. One main point being that you don’t have to buy expensive systems to follow this ethos – newspaper and a ziplock or ordinary plastic bag will do the trick.

But something that did disappoint me a wee bit is that folks argued that if it’s allowed by “the authorities” to poop above high tide etc, then that’s okay to do so. My point here is that if we all keep pooping in the wild, even where we’re allowed to, it’s all one day going to come back and bite us in the… rear end.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

An ode to the horseshoe crab

FliesWithKiwiBird and I first visited North Carolina for a fortnight’s summer holiday in 2004. (Little did we know that just over a year later we would be moving there, lock, stock and kayak from San Diego and living, it seems, somewhat permanently.) On that holiday, we made a visit to the state’s Outer Banks. From Hatteras Island we hopped aboard a small water taxi and shot across Pamlico Sound. Dropped off on the inside shore of Shackelford Island, we were left free to wander for a good few hours.

I remember being astounded by the warmth of the Atlantic Ocean – in which I just had to skinny dip – the magnificent unspoiled dunes, wild horses, and the shells we gathered as we wandered.

And then a treasure find of all treasures. On the way back to our pick-up point, I found a large, prehistoric-looking, brown, curve-backed shell creature with a long pointy tail. It was obviously just the shell, as no body resided beneath. I’d never seen anything like it in all my life! Clutching it to me, insistent that it come back with us on the plane, I asked our water taxi captain what on earth it was. “‘Orseshoe crab,” he smiled. “As old as the ‘ills, and ‘undreds of ‘em ‘round ‘ere. Though that’s a ‘tic’ly big ‘un.” And back it did go home with me.

Now that I’ve kayaked the shallow warm waters of Pamlico Sound where they congregate like mussels on a rock, and wandered Shackelford’s beach many a time, I’ve found lots of dead horseshoe crab shells, of all sizes (but none as big as my first treasure). And I’ve sometimes found them alive, in the water’s shallows, trying to upright themselves in the surf – always glad to tip them over with my toes and help them on their way again.

So a week or so ago, I was all ears when National Geographic News reported that a newfound fossil species of horseshoe crab (left photo above) dates back at least 455 million years - roughly a hundred million years earlier than horseshoe crabs were previously thought to exist.

The ancient animal is remarkably similar to modern horseshoe crabs (right), according to the team that found the fossils in Manitoba, Canada.

Photograph courtesy G. Young, the Manitoba Museum (left); D. Rudkin, Royal Ontario Museum (right)

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Messin' about

There's something about watching a boat being built - no matter what size - from keelson to tuck (something my dad used to say) - from actual reality, seeing something grow, to even watching the efforts of others online.

Keeping an eye on SOS and DancesWithSandyBottom building their Core Sound 20 is a real delight. But over the last few years, I've also been watching another boat. Every time I've driven to or returned from the put in at Ebeneezer at Lake Jordan, I've kept an eye out on a cruising launch being built out in someone's yard. Being a yachtie myself, I can still admire the sleek lines and very racey bow flare. And I had to smile, when the grandchild appeared beside it one day.

So this last weekend, I actually stopped and took some photos.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Water weekend

A beautiful weekend here, with temperatures near C20 (mid 60sF), thus what could be better than both Saturday and Sunday paddling out on the lake. It all felt as though it was coming together nicely for the upcoming Everglades Challenge, though I'll start loading the boat up/down with weight for the rest of this month's paddling.

I don't remember seeing so many normally coastal birds this time of the year, so far inland. There were definitely more shags (cormorants) than normal; and hundreds of what I took to be Forster's Tern, with its nearly all-white plumage and forked tail. In the absolute still of the lake, with not a breath of wind for mostly both days, their soft plummage littered the water.

I even bumped into SandyBottom on Sunday, out in the middle of the lake. In her Kruger, she has a very distinctive silhouette. With all the training she's being doing, she's lost a fair bit of weight and is looking quite hot! I'll never forget first meeting her on the beach at Lake Jordan a few years ago, and marvelling at this canoe/kayak thing she was paddling, training for then the Everglades Challenge and Ultimate Florida Challenge. Either will FliesWithKiwiBird...

We talked about the logistics of getting bodies, boats and gear down to Tampa Bay at the end of the month, and then picking up the van and trailer for SOS and DancesWithSandyBottom's yet-to-be-finished Core Sound 20. This year, FliesWithKiwiBird is going to fly down, with the wee one, pick up the van and trailer and take a couple of days to drive everything down to the finish line at Key Largo. It will be quite a family affair!

And I finally got the SPOT satellite tracker sussed. But more on that tomorrow.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Someplace hidden

A few entries ago I recommended keeping an eye on Barbara and Wally's Web site, a Canadian couple cycling recliners around New Zealand.

Their photos and experiences keep getting better and better, but what tickled me in their most recent entry (p12), is that during their tour around Stewart Island, NZ's "third island", they bumped into Tom Hennessy.

Tom, of course, is famous for his Hennessy Hammocks, loved by kayakers (and others) around the world. I have a yellow one - to match my boat - great for emergency purposes if waved about; probably not so hot for stealth camping.

An American transplant to Canada, Tom now lives half the time on Stewart Island during the southern hemisphere's summer and cold, wintry months of British Columbia, and heads back to BC for the northern hemisphere summer.

It's a small world.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Rowing naked

Writing yesterday’s blog entry brought back a few memories. It’s 1996, and I’ve recently taken up a new position at University College London as deputy director of the development office. Surfing the Internet, I see that Sir Chay Blythe is setting up a new trans-Atlantic rowing challenge, in two-person, set-design boats. A bit more research and I find out that there’s a Kiwi entry on the books, and the chap’s looking for a team-mate. I send this Rob Hamill an e-mail, and a few days later he calls me back from Hamilton, NZ, with me in London, UK. It’s a done deal, and I just have to get a few months off…

Having just started this new position, my boss goes to UCL’s provost to discuss the proposal. She comes back with a negative, but a new, better contract, and a conviction that they really are trying to save my life.

I call Rob back and tell him the sad news.

Next year, Rob Hamill and Phil Stubbs – in Kiwi Challenge – win the inaugural trans-Atlantic rowing race, in 41 days and two hours. Their chalk-and-cheese relationship doesn’t survive the distance.

December 1998 and planning another trans-Atlantic challenge with Steve Westlake, Phil is killed
when his light plane nosedives into Karekare beach.

Unbeknownst to me, living in the UK for five years before returning home for the first time to visit my whanau, Phil’s dad, Dave Stubbs, and his wife Sonja, both keen yachties, are two of my parents’ closest friends, living close to each other in Whitianga on the Coromandel Peninsula. Dave and I chat long about Phil on that visit, and still keep in touch.

Rob publishes The Naked Rower, describing his 1997 trans-Atlantic rowing adventure. It turns out that rowing naked, sitting on NZ sheepskin, keeps away the salt sea boils so often afflicting those in constantly moving, wet, salty conditions.

Life’s its own great story.