Sunday, August 5, 2012

What's Next?

So, over this past spring and summer I have been musing and debating (okay, I'll admit to obsessing) what boat to build next. Truthfully, I have quite a list of boats I want to build. Give me a Petrel, please! - But hey,  first things first: The most important criterion for my next build is that my wife will be happy, comfortable and safe paddling in it. 

Nick Schade's Solo microBootlegger - the ultimate leisure kayak
Initially, after studying the catalog and Nick Schade's on-line information, I had pretty much determined that I would probably want to build the Solo micoBootlegger, another drop-dead beautiful design by Nick Schade, a complete strip build. The 14' Solo version is a recent adaptation for single paddlers of the 17' microBootlegger which is best paddled by two in tandem.  I liked the appearance, the performance specs as well as the fact that it required the next step up in terms of construction from my hybrid Night Heron

Unfortunately, there was not a single microBootlegger in attendance at the most recent OkoumeFest and CLC did not have any microBootlegger demo-boats either. Bummer!

Note to CLC: consider adding a microBootlegger to your demo fleet.

Paddling Dan Thaler's Great Auk 14
On the other hand, my friend Dan Thaler brought his newly-built, award-winning 14 foot Great Auk to the OkoumeFest. While the basic design of the boat did not have the old-world elegance of the microBootlegger, the Auk has a very practical, straight-lined kayak shape.

Dan let me test paddle his boat and without question, the Auk performed exceedingly well in terms of tracking, maneuverability and stability. It was just fun to paddle. So, clearly, this was a boat I should be considering.

Even so, I was still leaning toward the microBootlegger (simply smitten with the design!) even though I had not seen or tested an actual specimen. I did however have a chance to chat with Nick Schade during the OkoumeFest about this design.

Unexpectedly, a third design appeared on my kayak radar screen. Earlier this summer, Joey Schott from CLC had had an opportunity to paddle together with Nick Schade off Jamestown, RI at Ft. Wetherhill. Nick suggested to Joey to use the 14' 6" Shearwater Sport designed by his brother Eric Schade.

When I described to Joey what type of boat I was looking to build for Iris, he suggested that I include the Shearwater Sport on my short list. I was hesitant at first simply because I was really hoping to build an all-strip boat. However, after reading the details about this exceedingly versatile kayak design, I came to the conclusion that this boat might indeed be the most suitable match for Iris.

Moreover, based on Joey's description, I realized that the boat might occasionally also be very useful to me such as when I have a chance to learn paddling in big water, or simply for a leisurely bird-watching paddle.

This is my new SWS getting wet for the first time
Building another hybrid kayak certainly won't hurt me. I have lots to learn and the hybrid offers plenty of opportunities to hone my skills.  I also like the idea of building one of Eric Schade's boats.

After a couple of weeks of  further 'yak-trospection, I went ahead and ordered the Shearwater Sport Hybrid kit which had been sitting in my garage, patiently awaiting the arrival of fall.

In the meantime, back to the drawing board - doodling with possible deck designs!

Iris is fond of Navajo designs and I was hoping to somehow invoke that First Nations spirit. The stylized "thunderbird" motif used by CLC on the front deck of one of their demo Shearwaters seemed perfect for that purpose and hard to improve on. So I decided to start with that and then develop my own counterpoint for the back deck. 

Here the SWS is finished - ready to go to sea

Monday, July 23, 2012

River Paddling - Herons Here

Okay, I am not talking about rapids and white water paddling. That is an altogether different subject, one I know nothing about.

But even the generally more stately flow of the Allegheny and Ohio Rivers needs to be reckoned with when planning a paddling route on flowing water.

As a newbie, I expected the up-river paddle to be invariably more arduous then the down-river run. Well, I've paddled this venue often enough to learn that this ain't necessarily so.

My flat-water paddling experience had already taught me the importance of wind direction. As a long-time sailor this was a no-brainer! When it comes to smooth-flow river paddling a building breeze may quickly have an overriding effect. When the wind blows down river, the ride will be all the faster. When the wind blows against the current, watch out! 

There is an easy way to find out which is stronger. Simply launch into the river and then don't paddle but instead see which way you drift. Strong winds against the river current will make for steeper, choppier waves and may actually allow you to surf upstream. When you don't paddle you will actually drift upstream.  That's fine going upstream but expect rough going paddling down stream.

From my house, I can be on the Ohio near the Point downtown Pittsburgh in 15-20 minutes. Without question for me this is the quickest access to paddling water.

She will have her own Shearwater Sport next season - promise!
I would love to have ready access to ocean swells and bigger water but in absence of that I definitely prefer the exploration of pastoral settings, backwaters, gunk-holes, swampy boggs and undulating, rural rivers to urban paddling.

YET, Pittsburgh paddling is very attractive all the same. Besides, while the abundance of power boaters don't replicated ocean swells,  they do provide a certain quota of choppy conditions. Near downtown, big powerboat wakes bounce off the walls and ricochet in ways that can be quite exciting on a sea kayak.

When one of those monstrous river chariots roars by from behind, I try to position my boat so that I can surf the wake. In on-coming situations I try to bisect the wake and then catch and surf the ricochet to propel me on.

Surfing in an 18 foot knife (as it were) is definitely an acquired taste and involves nimble paddling, some bracing as well as heeling the hull one way or the other in order to stay on track. Without question, there is an addictive aspect to this exercise. Though I have not yet had the pleasure of big surf, I imaging big water paddling to be like that - only a lot more so!

Anyway! On Saturday I set out for a nice afternoon river paddle accompanied by an ominous forecast and threatening clouds. I figured, worst case scenario: I get wet. Big deal! That might be a welcome relief from the high humidity.

So here I was merrily paddling along going upstream on the Allegheny when I hear the swoosh of paddles coming up from behind me. Gosh, I was not expecting someone to be catching up with me... not on those little recreational yellow mellows, anyway.

So as I turned my head I immediately recognized what it was... it was a S&G Night Heron, energetically paddled by its builder, Jim Noel.

Imagine that: two Night Herons on the Allegheny, skimming the waters side by side!

What a delight!. As we paddled we talked shop and enjoyed the sight of these two elegant birds rustling their feathers.

Jim had build his Stitch and Glue version of the Night Heron in the traditional method, staining various segments of the plywood in contrasting colors thereby providing an artistic high-light to his boat.  Obviously, the boat was built for serious battle, reinforced with Kevlar bow and stern runners and a graphite bottom.

Frankly, I was having trouble keeping up with Jim. Clearly he had been working on his stroke and stamina quite a bit already. Actually, he was preparing for upcoming week's Presque Isle paddle event which involves an all day paddle of 20+ miles around the peninsula.

Yea, I'd say that I have my work cut out for me if I want to go paddle together with Jim for any distance.  I have no doubt that it'll be worth the effort.

Jim Noel's S&G Night Heron

My birding report: Herons are here in Western PA.

Friday, June 8, 2012

OkoumeFest 2012

The OkoumeFest 2012 was another spectacular boat-builders happening. By now, the folks at CLC have it down pat - almost routine in accommodating a great number of visitors, it is really awe-inspiring! Everything happens with apparent ease.

Working in the logistics field by profession, I know that a major effort is involved and I appreciate how the CLC staff makes everyone feel right at home.

Chatting with Nick Schade in a sea of kayaks
Having attended the previous year, I knew I did not want to miss this one if I could help it!!!

Where else can you stand in a sea of kayaks while discussing the finer points of the prismatic coefficient of your kayak with designer Nick Schade?

Events began on Friday afternoon with a shop tour, presentations and demonstrations by Nick Schade, Eric Schade, John Harris and the CLC staff.

A fine cook-out with all the fixings concludes  the official program.

On Saturday morning all CLC demo boats are brought to the Matapeake State Park beach on Kent Island.

There you can paddle, sail, test, discuss and compare to your heart's content.

Testing the kayak trimaran
Nick and Eric Schade as well as John Harris and all of the CLC staff are on hand. All are gracious and will happily talk shop or go out for a paddle.

Many builders bring their own boats

and there is a lot of show and tell.

Everyone's handiwork is duly admired.

At one point during the day I had a chance to paddle together with Nick the 16.5 foot Mill Creek tandem kayak. This is a very different style of kayak... with very traditional looks, it offers a lot of versatility in use, including a sailing rig and the option of installing a sliding seat rowing unit.

The day concludes with awards for the best boats brought by builders.The Best In Show award went to an astonishing Hybrid Night Heron by a young architect.

His execution was virtually flawless. Pictures really cannot capture the level of perfection. Hats off!

Here is link to the official CLC OkoumeFest Recap Pictures.

Camping is available at the Park for those who wish to be there right from the get-go.

On this occasion I chose to avail myself of this opportunity and had a chance to admire the setting sun over the Chesapeake Bay.

My objectives for this time were first of all to meet in person Joey and my new friends at CLC and, of course, show them the fruits of my labor. - I did!

Obviously, I was also hoping to pick up lots of tips, tricks and inspiration for future builds. - Indeed, I did!

I also wanted to get a test sail on Pocketship which I was considering to build at some point IF I determined that it fully met my expected needs in terms of accommodations, performance and sailing characteristics. The Pocketship is no small feat in terms of building time and financial investment so I would need to be totally smitten.

In short, I decided that as perfect and beautiful as Pocketship is in many ways, it did not have "my name written on it". Sailing conditions were wonderful whilst aboard and Geoff, the attending skipper, let me helm and trim most of the time so that I got a great feel for the boat. This is an incredible versatile and seaworthy pocket cruiser that may fulfill many a sailor's most secret dreams.- Check!

Finally I was scouting for kayak designs I would want to build some day and specifically to decide on my next build - my next winter project as it were - a kayak for Iris. Unfortunately, an example of the microBootlegger was not on-hand, so I did  not have a chance to test the boat which esthetically speaking pleases me immensely. - Nada Check!

I know that I'll want to build a Petrel. That's for sure! But before I undertake that boat I'll want to develop more boat building skill and experience. I test paddled it last year but did not have the perspective then to appreciate the difference between the Night Heron and the Petrel. The Petrel is a 17 footer with a lot more rocker than the Night Heron. What the nimble-footed Petrel lacks in inherent speed (as compared to the 18' NH) it more than makes up in astonishing agility. This is a kayak for big water which will provide special thrills for experienced paddlers.

The Guillemot Expedition in middle with red bungees
Another boat I found absolutely amazing was the 19' Guillemot Expedition. I believe that the demo boat actually was one built by Nick Schade himself. What a ride!?

So, anyway - I have not decided yet on which boat to build for Iris... I have narrowed the field of options, the solo microBootlegger, the Great Auk 14 or most recently the Hybrid Shearwater Sport. All three are in the 14 foot range.

Paddling Dan Thaler's Great Auk 14
My friend Dan Thaler built a gorgeous 14' Auk which I paddled at the OkoumeFest. It is a very satisfying design. In flat water it'll be faster than either of the other two designs.

The microBootlegger on the other hand is strictly a recreational kayak that is said to track well with its almost canoe-shaped bottom. In terms of appearance, this design would be my first choice.

But then there is the Shearwater Sport which is an extremely versatile, stable and nimble kayak designed by Eric Schade (Nick's brother - boat design talent clearly runs in the family!) It is available in the hybrid format which allows for some boat building creativity. The other two designs are fully strip-plank designs and therefore would be a new, interesting challenge for me.

In due time the right choice will present itself, I trust.- Ha! - and as Joey suggested: quite possibly, any one of them would be the right choice. Nice!

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Sycamore and More

So, on Saturday of the Memorial Day Weekend I paddled to Sycamore Island.  Located in the Allegheny River north of Pittsburgh, between Verona and Blawnox, this river island is covered by silver maples and managed as uninhabited wilderness area by the Allegheny Land Trust.

To begin with, I had to find a convenient launching point. The Three Rivers Water Trail was my resource and according to it, #12 on Arch Avenue in Verona seemed to be the best option. It was not difficult to get there from the South Hills of Pittsburgh.

Paddling past Sycamore Island
When I arrived at the parking lot of the Steel City Rowing Club I was welcomed by a bunch of friendly and hospitable members of the Rowing Club. The extra low rowing dock was also perfect for launching my Night Heron.

You can see the Island from the dock, so paddling across was certainly not going to constitute the entire day's outing.

At the dock I also met Mike Cooper who together with his dog Porter was headed over to the Island in his canoe. He offered to take some pictures. 

After paddling over to Sycamore Island and admiring the lush growth and listening to the abundance of birds, I headed along the more narrow channel along the island downstream toward Highland Bridge.

On my return upriver the elongated Island showed its narrow side and...

it looked inviting...
so I decided to stop for lunch.


Fortified with an apple and a banana, I headed back out on the main channel.

By then power boaters had woken up and started to cruise around the river. While I much prefer the quiet, non-polluting sort of boating, I quite enjoyed surfing the wake of some of these monsters - aptly named River Warrior and such. In flat waters the wake travels far and I did not have to be close to the buzzers to harness their aquatic disturbances.

So I paddled past the launch and then up North past Verona and Oakmont and under the Hulton Bridge on the narrow channel of another long Island.

As opposed to Sycamore Island, this one is rimmed with cottages which of course each have their own private dock. I have no doubt that these little weekend refuges are handed down over generations to remain a convenient family hang-out.

Approaching the PA Turnpike bridge, there are a number of small islands

and shallow areas

which apparently is quite the power boaters rendezvous spot.

It is beautiful and could be serene on a weekday.

On this 90 degree day, it was THE place to be. I lingered for a while to absorb the scenery and to rest from a hot paddle upstream before turning around downriver this time by way of the main channel back to the Steel City Rowing Club launch.

I have done a number of kayak outings since the last blog entry. All I can say is that paddling the Night Heron is sheer joy! - The slightest wave will induce the hull to surf and though the boat does not have a skegg, the hull tracks and carves turns very well. When you power up the boat with a few strokes, the boat simple takes off.

All told, it was a 12 mile paddle. Without a doubt, this outing was delightful and

...I will be back for Sycamore.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Paddling in Pittsburgh

This past Saturday afternoon I took my Night Heron on the Three Rivers. I had really been looking forward to this.

For the uninitiated non-Pittsburgher, this terms refers to the confluence of the Allegheny River descending out of the North and the silty Monongahela River arriving from the South.

They meet at "The Point" right by the point of Pittsburgh's Golden Triangle where they join hands to become the mighty Ohio River. So, it's two rivers but three names... hence the Three Rivers.

It was a gorgeous day, mid 70's and not too windy. I had scouted out an excellent launching point, not pretty but very convenient and to boot "kayak-friendly" as professed to me by the resident marina operator. Free parking so close to down-town certainly was a plus. This marina is located right behind a couple of warehouses off of Beaver Avenue on Pittsburgh's North Side - on the Ohio River a bit beyond the West End Bridge.

My plan was to paddle up the Ohio toward Downtown and then north on the Allegheny past the Convention Center, the Heinz Plant, all the way to Washington's Landing, the Three Rivers Rowing Association and around the island (formerly known as Herrs Island) and back.

Right after I launched and started paddling in the Ohio toward the Point, it became clear that the river current was considerable. Making progress was not as hard as paddling against a 25 knot wind, but nevertheless, it required a bit of an extra effort.

Okay, I was there for a nice workout and I was in for it and or up to it - as you like.

Visitors always rave about Downtown Pittsburgh, coming through the Fort Pitt Tunnels and being welcomed by a truly stunning sight of Downtown... while others exclaim over the exquisite view  of the City from Mt Washington. Well, the appearance of the skyline is no less spectacular from sea-level - as it were.

Early May is the peak Warbler migration season and I was delighted to hear and see a myriad of these feathery migrants visiting around Washington's Landing.

All told I only paddled about nine miles but the first half of the trip took twice as long as the return even though I paddled more leisurely.

I've been working on my paddle stroke and think that I am making some progress. 

There are other parts of the Allegheny I look forward to exploring.

Sycamore Island (now managed by the Allegheny Land Trust) will be my next destination.

Of course, I'll have to launch further up the Allegheny River.

For a better perspective of the Three Rivers, I am adding a picture of The Point some months before when I would not have wanted to go paddling and at any rate, the Night Heron was not yet ready.