Monday, December 31, 2012

Green Machine Monsters

The Wee One's US grandfather bought him a Huffy Green Machine for Christmas. Had never heard of them before. It only took me about 20-30 minutes to put it all together.

I then spent two days--Christmas and Boxing Day--standing in around C4/F40 acting as point guard while he rode it around our quiet streets. Thankfully the bucket seat adjusts very easily so I could have the occasional turn, to help warm me up every once in a while. But that made both of us frustrated.

Enough was enough! The very next day I took matters into my own hands, did a quick Google search--could have waited ten days for a pink one (hmmm)--but two hours was long enough--jumped in the 4Runner, drove to the local Toys' R Us, and bought my very own Green Machine.

On explaining my impulsiveness to FliesWithKiwiBird, I outlined the benefits of the WeeOne now being able to play with his mates.

Have I mentioned how much fun these Green Machines are?! And what great exercise they are?!

Oh, and you should see my spinning 180s...

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Everglades Challenge 2012

It was my sixth Everglades Challenge (EC) this year, and for the first time Chief’s words rang true: the hardest part of the Challenge is getting to the beach. My family was going to make a holiday around the race this year, seeing me off at Fort De Soto, and then spending a relaxing week on the beach at the finish line at Key Largo. But days before we were to depart our son was diagnosed with a rare and potentially fatal kidney ‘disease’, and the night before we were to leave my partner developed a terrible case of strep throat. It was only that Wednesday night before we decided I would indeed make a go of this year’s EC, leaving the next morning at 0500 for the solo 12 hour drive from Durham, NC to Tampa Bay, FL.

The best part of any WaterTribe event is catching up with all the old salts who are now firm friends. After loading up all our boats on the beach at Fort De Soto on Friday, everyone met up for that afternoon’s Captains' Meeting. This year was a record number of entrants with 15 boats registered for the 70-mile Ultra Marathon to Checkpoint One, 60 boats entered for the 300-mile EC, with another 11 registered for the 1,200-mile Ultimate Florida Challenge (UFC), all spread across five classes.

My stomach developed a few grumbles that night, but I thought nothing of it. I’d had a bout of the norovirus sweeping Duke’s campus a few weeks previously, and a colonoscopy on the Monday before leaving, so attributed it to my stomach returning to normal.

Saturday morning, we were all on the beach before sunrise, waiting for the 0700 gun—or in this case, bagpipes—to go off. We were facing a pretty stiff southerly, so at least warm, of about 35 knots, so it would be a bit choppy heading across Tampa Bay. Chief even walked down the line, shouting that we didn’t have to leave the beach if we deemed it too rough. But we were off--not all of us--a few decided to stay on the beach, one of them being a UFC entrant.

For the eight miles across Tampa Bay, it was quite a slog. Average speed was only around 1.5 to 2.4mph, and it was very wet ride, with waves rolling in around 3-4 feet at times.And then there were the tides...

To keep me going, I need to eat every hour or so, and I sip regularly on my Gatorade. My stomach started feeling queasy after about 30 minutes of paddling. I know sea sickness, and this wasn’t that. After a couple of hours of hard paddling I was hungry, but could only manage a few mouthfuls of energy bar before feeling even more nauseous. For the rest of the day, every time I tried to eat or drink, I felt sick. One of my personal “challenges” is that I have a very sensitive vagal nerve: if I vomit, or inadvertently swallow something that hits the nerve, I pass out (and I’ve really beaten myself up in the past, with some uncontrolled landings). And I can’t do that in a kayak in the middle of a rough sea.

After eight hours of paddling and only 20 miles of distance covered in very strong headwinds, I decided to pull over at Longboat Key, around 1630 hours. Little did I realize that this was Longboat Key Club & Resort, a gated AAA “luxurious and private setting for boating enthusiasts, resort guests and members at our exclusive Florida resort”.

I dragged my boat up a sandbagged ramp between the rip rap (to the left of the photo behind the shelter of the mangroves), and bumped into Doug and Leslie, who were on winter break from Minnesota, staying with Leslie’s mum, just a mile or so up the road. I explained my situation and did they think it would be possible for me to stay the night somewhere here, to see how I felt in the morning? Come along to the restaurant they said, and perhaps there’s someone there who can help. Come on in, said Kiki, the restaurant manager. You’d better come out here, I responded as I dripped all over the walkway (I’m still fully garbed in kayak gear at this stage). Once again I explained my plight and why I was indeed here. No problem, Kiki responded. Pitch your tent anywhere you like over there, and I’ll let the night manager know you’re here.

Saying good evening to Doug and Leslie, I wandered back to my boat, to find Whale pulling up to fill up his water bottles at one of the marina’s hoses. I let him know that I’d be staying the night here, to see how I felt in the morning. And off he paddled, around Florida.

I pitched my tent behind the lee of an electrical box. Don waved at me from his 65 footer launch just across from me, and asked if I was okay. I told him my story. We have to go to the theatre this evening, but if you’re awake by 10:30, you can shelter in the cockpit here, and then have a shower and spend the night with us.

The kindness of strangers is extremely heartwarming.

I was in my tent by 1930 hours, so missed Don’s hospitality. All I could eat, or in this case drink, was an Ensure Plus (350 calories), which with half of a Nature Valley oats bar forced down around six hours previously was all I’d eaten all day.

It blew pretty consistently all night. Around 0500 the expected northerly front hit. First a few drops of rain, then some thunder and lightning, and then the wind. I had a bit of my tent inner zipped down for some fresh air. “The” gust tore up under my fly and not only unzipped the entire entrance but took down the inner of the tent and lifted the windward side of the fly. I lost three stakes. There was dust and sand flying everywhere, and for about ten minutes I lay against the fly to keep the entire tent—and me—blowing off the marina. During a lull I made a dash to my kayak—which had been turned 180 degrees in the wind—and dug out my deeper sand stakes to restake the tent. An hour or so later I emerged, to see some pretty impressive white caps running down Sarasota Bay. It would have been just fine to leave, with a following wind and sea, but I still couldn’t eat, and my stomach still felt terrible.

Don emerged from his boat and waved me over. Come and have a cup of tea and some scrambled eggs. And for the next four hours Chicagoans Don and Sue looked after me extremely well. I can’t thank them enough. Their heartfelt generosity and terrific life stories very much made up for the fact that I knew my EC had come to an end.

On SandyBottom's trailer, with Don and Sue's launch in the background.

And to cap it all off, SandyBottom and SOS—in Mosquito—still hadn’t left the beach, and she would be at the marina soon after noon to come and pick me up. (Thank you, Dawn!)

We also picked up TwinSpirit on the way back; with OneEyedJake helping.

I never thought I’d feel so… relaxed, about dropping out. I surprised myself. Perhaps because you have to be fairly rational in such a situation. If you can’t eat or drink when you need to be paddling at least 15 hours—mostly more—a day, if you’re feeling pretty damn crook, if you can at least drop out when there’s somewhere--and someone--nearby to help you and you don’t have to endanger other folks in the middle of nowhere, then it’s really a no-brainer.

It took me another ten days to come right.

The conditions for this year’s EC were the worst ever in the ten-year history of the event. Only 25 boats completed the event, with eight of those entered in the UFC. More than anything, I feel a bit sad not having had the experience of paddling in those conditions, and completing the hardest ever EC.

I can’t wait until next year!

Sunday, March 4, 2012

There'll Be a Next Time

KiwiBird called FliesWithKiwiBird shortly ago. She's still feeling poorly, her tent blew over early this morning, and the winds are awful--major white caps in the marina. The fact that she was having scrambled eggs on a yacht may have made that decision a little more comfortable.

SandyBottom is on the way to pick her up and return her to Ft. DeSoto. SB and SOS don't plan to head out until tonight, at the earliest. It's not a long drive, as you can see. KB is on Longboat Key at the bottom of the map, and Ft. Desoto is on the spit of land at the top left.

For now, I'm signing off. Hope to be doing the North Carolina Challenge with KiwiBird, SandyBottom, SOS, DancesWithSandyBottom and the rest of my WaterTribe friends in the fall.


Sunday Morning Update

I have not heard from Kristen this morning, but I'm not surprised. When I checked the weather at the Venice NOAA Data Buoy, winds were 32 kts. out of the NW, gusting to the 39 kts. For those not familiar with nautical winds, that's moderate to fresh gale, 32 to 45 miles per hour. Time to hunker down.

Only a few boats are underway at this point, with only two competitors (Class 5 catamarans) past Checkpoint 1--and not far past it. My history with the Everglades Challenge only goes back to KiwiBird's first, six years ago, but this is by far the worst weather I've seen.

Update: Just talked to SandyBottom, who is still at Ft. DeSoto and doesn't plan to leave until this evening at the earliest. KB called her this morning, to find out what they're up to. KB's still trying to decide what to do. Her health is still not 100%, but she knows it will be a downwind sail for at least a couple of days. KB will call in to Dawn or me at 0900 with a plan.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Bedding Down

Just had a call from KB. She is having some stomach issues and has decided to stop for the night. She is in a populated area where she has been given permission to pitch her tent, and is cleaning up and settling in for food or rest.

The conditions today were horrible, and many people are having trouble.

Entering Sarasota Bay

She's at the top of Sarasota Bay, and I expect she'll stay east of the mangrove to avoid the powerboats in the intracoastal waterway. Conditions have gotten considerably tougher. Winds are out of the south and have built to 18-19 knots at the NOAA data buoy at Venice. As far as I can tell, she's still paddling with TwinSpirit, and Hammerstroke and Sundance may be there as well.

Across Tampa Bay

I had a Check OK message from KB a few minutes ago; the above shows her position at 1012. She appears to be near TwinSpirit but among many other paddlers as well. Speeds were not very high crossing the bay, so it must have been pretty tough going. For the rest of the day she'll have protection from seas, if not from winds.

I missed a call from SandyBottom about 0900. The last Spot message was yesterday at 17:14, so I judge they are still working on the boat and haven't started. That's not necessarily a problem, since they can easily make Checkpoint 1 by noon tomorrow if they leave by dark tonight.

On the Way

KB activated her Spot about 0630 and launched at 0700. By now she should be crossing the Tampa Bay shipping channel. The weather in St. Pete is overcast, some fog, 74 degrees F, with winds out of the south at 10-15 mph. Winds are predicted to increase to 15-20 with gusts to 30--just the sort of conditions she thrives in.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Quick Update

Had a short talk with KB about about an hour ago. All is well with her, but SOS and SandyBottom's test sail this afternoon turned up some leaks. Undaunted, they were all still headed out for Italian food.

This is my first attempt at posting from my iPad, which will be my only means after Tuesday. Hope it works!


On the Beach

Looks like a nice day at Ft. Desoto, although it's a bit nippy or the mozzies are fierce (or both). Behind KB's boat, that's TwinSpirit's craft. Note the white Pacific Action Sail. TS has been a sailor all her life and wasn't satisfied with the shape of the standard PAS sail, so she made her own out of a high-tech product called Cuben fiber (should I spell that "fibre"?). Farthest away, that may be Scareman's double, which he paddles solo. I've never met him, but I know he's a big man (1.93 m or 6'4" if I recall correctly). He was checkpoint manager for last year's NCC and according to all accounts did a bang-up job, including helping clear trees from Harlowe Canal.

Safely Arrived at Ft. DeSoto

Although a might fuzzy, this photo documents presence at Ft. DeSoto State Park. That's SandyBottom approaching the camera and the Stewarts' van to left. I am mystified by the red vessel on the trailer.

One of the stronger traditions of the EC is breakfast--specifically, eggs benedict--at the Village Inn in St. Petersburg. Only fried chicken in Georgia can rival the ceremony. Once again, that's SandyBottom on the far side of the table. To Dawn's left is TwinSpirit, also a Triangle-area paddler. This will be TwinSpirit's first EC, but she finished a very difficult NCC2011 in good form.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

She's off!

KiwiBird departed for Florida and the Everglades Challenge about 0500 this morning. Sorry, no photographs to post, as I was still at home and fast asleep.

Unfortunately, FliesWithKiwiBird and the (not so) Wee One stayed behind. In the end, it seemed wiser to keep him near Duke and medical care, despite his great progress toward recovery from PSGN.

It's about a 1,100-kilometer (700-mile) drive, so she should arrive at Fort DeSoto before dark, including a stop for fried chicken in Georgia. Tonight will be spent in reunions and introductions to new WaterTribers. Tomorrow is for boat loading, inspections (from which she is exempt) and the competitors' meeting. A trip to West Marine is also pretty standard, so maybe she'll shag parts for SandyBottom, SOS and DancesWithSandyBottom, who are still working on Mosquito, their SOS-designed and team-built trimaran. My hunch is that Mosquito will feel right at home.

I'll post here as I have news, but I also encourage you to visit the new WaterTribe web site, where racer logs and and position maps are housed.


Saturday, February 25, 2012

Gear list

They say that half's the battle's getting to the beach to compete in the Everglades Challenge. I've usually found that half the fun is packing. But it's been a wee bit more stressful than usual in the last week or so--our son has been diagnosed with a rare kidney disease--Poststreptococcal glomerulonephritis (PSGN)--which has no treatment. But he now seems to be on the mend. So we still hope to be leaving for Florida on Thursday, ready for race start on Saturday, March 3....

But on the hope that we will be heading down to Florida, I've finished packing. And for the first time, I've completed a gear list, with weights. I can't believe how much can fit in a 5.32m (17.5') kayak!

I've heard through the WaterTribe forum that with this warm winter we're experiencing that the mosquitoes are going to be bad this year, particularly in the Everglades. Thus another first is spraying my tent and some clothes with Permethrin. I'll be interested to see how that works.

The new Flat Earth 1sqm sail is all up and ready, but I won't have a chance to test it out before the race starts. That would be too easy.

Next wee hurdle: I have a colonoscopy on Monday....

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Sail work

Incredibly beautiful in North Carolina today--even had shorts and a T-shirt on this afternoon. And it's the middle of winter...

So perfect weather to finally get the new 1 sqm Flat Earth Sail rigged. David (Floatsome) came around to help. Thankfully, we only had to drill two new holes, for the eye strap for the mast's back stay and sheet pulley (below). Everything else I could use from my Pacific Action Sail.

I also swapped out the side strap units from the PAS's base, for the deck buttons that FES supplied (below)--and those will take the two side stays for the mast. You can watch a good video on how to use the deck buttons here. (That's also the red mast step you can see below.)

We couldn't set the whole rig up properly to view, as the glue has a few more hours/days to cure.

Hopefully I may have a chance to actually test the rig out on the water very soon. This year's Everglades Challenge starts March 3!

Monday, February 13, 2012

SPOT upgrade

After five years using the original SPOT (below), I've now upgraded to the new SPOT 2 (above).

It's definitely a worthwhile upgrade. I found a great deal online at Best Buy, even though it's the silver rather than the orange version (apparently, orange sells 10:1 over silver), but when you're saving around $70, silver's just dandy.

So, what's better? First, the weight. The new version weighs 147 gms (5.2 oz), while the old one is... quite a bit heavier. I'm carrying it on the deck of my kayak, so the weight doesn't really affect me overall, but if I was an ultralight backpacker, every gram makes a difference.

It's also much smaller, thus taking three (lithium) AAA batteries, rather than two AAs.

But what I really love about the new SPOT 2 is that you can have your Tracking on and still send an OK message at the same time, and this year's Everglades Challenge has a new rule that we need to send an OK every 4-6 hours (for insurance purposes).

With the old SPOT, it was a 20 minute process--try this at 0200 after you've been paddling for 18 or more hours...
You can't send an OK message if the tracking in enabled, and you can't go back to tracking mode immediately after pressing the "OK" button. To send an "OK" the user must first disable tracking mode. This is done by either restarting the device (off and then on) or by holding down the OK button for 3-5 seconds--in which case 3 blinking red LED and then a solid LED indicate tracking mode is turning off. Once tracking is deactivated (or the unit restarted), the device is in standby mode with only the power LED flashing. Now the user can press the button to send an "OK" message. It often takes 10 mins to transmit the okay message (in triplicate) and SPOT International recommends waiting 20 minutes. The SPOT device attempts to send the "OK" message 3 times: the first one usually is sent out during the first minute (you can tell because the OK LED goes solid for a few seconds). Once the three attempts have been transmitted, the second light stops blinking and the SPOT returns to standby mode. So, now with the unit back in standby with only the power light LED blinking, you know you can now activate tracking mode. Alternatively, to ensure that the "OK" was sent, the recommended method is to wait 20 minutes after pressing the "OK" button before activating tracking.

Get my drift?

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Sail changes

I've been a Pacific Action Sail (PAS) kayaker for over five years, but this year I'm making a change from the PAS to the Flat Earth Sail (FES). Both sails are 1 sqm, which is the maximum for Class 1 of WaterTribe's Everglades Challenge (EC).

I had three sails to choose from, which I believe are up to the rigours of an EC: the New Zealand designed and made PAS (as above), the Australian designed and made FES, and the American Balogh Sail Design's (BSD) 1 sqm. I have all three sitting here at home with me, and all three have varying capabilities.

The BSD is probably the best "sail" unit there is, but for me--a solo kayaker--I came to the hard conclusion that BSD's rig is a bit too complicated, high and heavy for my needs. And to stow it, I would need to get out of my boat and dismantle and tuck everything away in an already small, pod-seated cockpit. If I had a Kruger canoe, this would be a different conversation. BSD's Dave was also keen for me to fit the rig behind me, but then I wouldn't be able to trim or watch my luff as easily.

I have really enjoyed the PAS--my first EC I hit a consistent 25 kph (15.5 mph) in high winds and following seas! With my sailing experience, I believe I've been able to get more out of it than most, particularly closer up to windward. And being able to easily deploy the sail from the cockpit has been very useful. The sail is nylon, and I've found it's distorted over time; and PAS is not going to transfer to more typical sail material anytime soon.

I haven't yet had a chance to test my new Code Zero-styled FES (that's Dawn (SandyBottom) using hers above), but all the video and reviews I've watched and read with the sail in use has me excited about the possibilities. The sail shape and rigging concept is very Tasmanian--the folks who have really pushed sea/sailing kayaking to its limits. Like the PAS, the unit can be deployed from the cockpit. And FES users attest to being able to point up to windward quite a bit higher. Technically, it's 122cm (48") high, the boom is 87.63cm (34.5”), and the top batten (of two) is 119cm (47")--the lower batten acts as the boom. Sail material for the Code Zero is a white trilaminate sail material, which means it only comes in white.

Just like the PAS, the FES depresses the thin fibreglass of my for'deck. For the PAS, I had a unit made that the PAS rested on (see top photo). For the FES, I am extremely grateful that Alan (SOS) and Paul (DancesWithSandyBottom) Stewart have spirited my boat away to Graeme Byrnes' (Roo) boatyard--where Alan works--and are strengthening the underdeck with epoxy. I don't envy them this weekend--temperatures were down to -6C (20F) last night, with only around 4C (40F) today, albeit sunny. In the photo above, you can see the SpongeBob Pants-looking heater atop the for'ad hatch, trying to dry the epoxy!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

New kayaking gear

I've reached a point in my paddling, and particularly in my readiness for WaterTribe's annual Everglades Challenge, that I don't actually need any new gear. Which is a pretty sad state of affairs.

But every now and then, someone releases a new piece of equipment that can make camping life just that wee bit easier, especially when it's 0200 hours, you've been paddling non-stop for 19 hours--probably against tides and with a head wind--and all you want to do is scoff something down, put up your tent and jump straight into your pit--even if only for a couple of hours.

With my tender hips, I've long given up the thinnish Thermarests that can conveniently be blown up by mouth (in an EC there's no time to let your mats self inflate). For the past five year's kayak camping--and past five ECs--I've been a die-hard Exped down mat user, which because of its internal down, can't be inflated by mouth. I have one of the older Exped 7s, where the mat's bag is also its bellows. It can take about five or so minutes to inflate the mat, considering I'm cramped into a small one-person tent, and the bellow's adapter sometimes slips off the mat's nozzle.

Thus I recently discovered Camp-Tek's Microburst. My Microburst arrived in the mail yesterday afternoon, and I've been playing with it ever since. Upon opening, the Microburst is beautifully packaged (see photo below), and comes with real English instructions. It also has an adapter for the Stephenson Warmlite (which is the smaller piece of equipment in the photo below). The Microburst comes with its own wee ripstop nylon bag (with drawcord), which keeps the inflater flap from opening by mistake (though it's recommended you store the machine without its batteries, and with the flexible inflater protruding).

Microburst takes two AAA batteries and weighs 65.2gms (2.3ozs, including batteries). For longer camping trips, Camp-Tek recommends using lithium batteries, and with that you should get about 25 inflations. All the technology behind the wee engine's rotors and engine can be read on Camp-Tek's website.

Cutting to the chase, this beauty filled my Exped 7 in about 90 seconds.

You may have to be a bit careful if you're stealth camping, as it is an engine. But it's not overly noisy; and heck, it only runs for the few seconds it takes to get the inflater onto your nozzle, and then the two minutes or less to inflate your mat.

Highly recommended!