Saturday, December 14, 2013

New Lesson in Woods

The first waves of winter have swept over Western, PA - prematurely if you ask me. On my last paddle in early December I noticed that all of the smaller coves on Lake Arthur were already closed for business i.e. covered with ice. While we had a short reprieve from winter with a day in the 50's, the water temperature had already plummeted to 37 degrees F.  A good dry suit is essential safety gear in those conditions.

While it was sort of fun paddling right along the edge of the ice and Eskimo rolling in what I can only imagine to simulate Greenland water conditions, I did face up to the fact that this would probably be my last paddle of the season - lest I follow the migratory birds for southern climes - not a bad idea!

Dan Thaler's award-winning feather-light Petrel
But here I am settling in to a new winter project. The 17' Petrel is another Nick Schade kayak designed for agility and big water but versatile enough to do lots of other things very well. I won't repeat here descriptions of this fabulous boat as already described on Nick's own page as well as in the on-line Chesapeake Light Craft catalog.

Paddling Dan Thaler's Petrel at the 2013 O-Fest

I had been attracted to this gorgeous design a long time ago - both in appearance and in paddling characteristics - but felt inadequately prepared to build a complete cedar strip boat... as opposed to the two hybrid boats which had okoume plywood hulls and a cedar deck. Even now I look at some of my boat-building friends and their perfect craftsmanship and down-right artistry and wonder whether I am ready.

At the last OkoumeFest I had the good fortune to paddle the Petrel built by my friend Dan Thaler of Moonlight Marine. I then resolved that it was indeed time to muster my courage and build my own Petrel. At first glance the Petrel may look very similar to the Night Heron but this really is quite a different boat. A foot shorter, a lot more rocker and a fuller bow and stern sections... you'd recognize the difference as soon as you start paddling.

Strong-back and forms are in place. Ready to strip!
Good craftsmanship is gained by experience and what is experience if not lessons in what works and what does not. So, off to another lesson "in the woods".

Those who have followed my previous two kayak builds will have noticed that I used some creative quasi-decorative techniques which in a way superimposed themselves onto the basic shape of the boat... artistic embellishments so to speak.

Fitting the bevel of the sheer strip

In contrast to my previous builds, I did not map out a master plan for what exactly I will do with the Petrel strips. However I have resolved to focus on the natural contours of the shell and lines of the wood.

The sheer and first couple of strips are in place.

If I am successful, the beautiful shape of the Petrel will speak for itself.

Think of it like a musician playing a piece of music by another composer.

He will be most successful if he is able to let the music simply flow through his performance - enhanced yet uninhibited.

Easier said than done!

Friday, October 4, 2013

Paddling in Pittsburgh 2

Paddling on the Three Rivers around Pittsburgh can be entirely delightful. And this past summer I have had plenty of opportunities to do so. Of course, before launching you have to pay attention of the flow speed. Beyond a certain speed it can become rather dicey as I found out on one occasion.

Though the flow of the Ohio seemed mighty fast as I launched I decided to give it a try and made decent progress until I reached the first bridge on the Allegheny. The water turbulence and vortices all around and behind the bridge foundations were a lot more than I felt comfortable with on a solo paddle. Not surprisingly the Kayak Pittsburgh Rental was closed for the day.

When in doubt I now check on-line before I head out. Recently I purchased a water proof camera and found that it also takes some decent short video clips when properly mounted on the front deck.

Paddling on the Allegheny down river toward town offers some excitement when power boats zoom past you leaving significant waves in their wake. For me cheap thrills is what I calls them :-)

As you get closer to town, the waves typically are more confused and agitated while they ricochet from the sides of the gradually narrowing river. Obviously, it pays to remain alert in an 18 foot long and 20 inch wide kayak, it makes for fast and fun paddling. So, don't get distracted by the roaring of power boats or the rumbling of the train crossing the bridge.

As you zoom past Pittsburgh's skyline you can already see the fountain at the point where the Allegheny joins the Monongahela to become the Ohio.

Once on the Ohio, a glance back toward town is a must. Here I paddle back toward the point, right along the line where Monongahela and Allegheny meet.

On September 27th 2013, Pittsburgh became the welcoming host of a very peculiar migratory fowl, a rubber duckling - about 40 feet tall. The critter will be here for a while and the town is abuzz! Needless to say, we had to meet this visitor in a fly-by greeting.

And we did  along Iris' rubber ducky and great crowds of duck-admiring 'burghers.

Friday, September 13, 2013


When I started this blog it was for the simple purpose of documenting the trials and tribulations of constructing the Nick Schade designed Night Heron Hybrid.

As my night-time boat building reality is unfolding, it seems more fitting to co-opt these pages to become my general kayaking blog - building and repairing, paddling, learning related skills and perhaps a little adventure here and there.

First I have to share some not-so-new news.

This past May, I brought my most recent winter project, the Shearwater Sport Hybrid, to the 2013 OkoumeFest. There were many amazing entries.To my surprise and delight, my boat received the "Best in Show" award.

My friend Dan Thaler from Moonlight Marine had received this award two years before for his fabulous Shearwater 16 Hybrid which he had built for his wife. This year his new magnificent and featherlight Petrel earned the "Best Kayak" award. Illustrious company indeed!

So, Iris has enjoyed paddling her new 'yak and we have done a number of outings. We also joined the "outcast paddlers", an informal group of experienced sea kayakers here in the Western PA area.

In order to join them on some river runs (in potentially shallow water) I purchased a used 16' rotomolded kayak. Hey, you can't blame me now... these guy don't bring their kevlar composite babies on these outings either!

I must confess that my paddling passion has sneakily impinged on my sailing time. I would never have believed that to be possible. But here I am, happily practicing my braces and more recently rolls. I am also working on my endurance paddling... all the while winds are beckoning all around me. There is much I still have to learn.

Last winter I purchased a dry suit after much belly-aching over the shocking price of such gear... and I have come to realize that aside from marrying my wife, it was one of the best decisions I ever made. Okay, I can now safely and comfortably extend my paddling season by two months - moreover, without a doubt, the water temperatures in early April or late November would be a lot more shocking - if not fatal.

After paddling my Night Heron for two seasons now I am gaining skills and understanding which make for safer kayaking. At the same time the old truism still applies: the more you know that more you realize how much you don't yet know. To that extent I have become a (card carrying) member the American Canoe Association which provides an excellent reference and guide to further develop paddling skills and experience.

Along those lines I have come to the conclusion that the ability to roll a kayak is an essential element of kayaking safety. Even if you have an unsuccessful roll after an unexpected dump, you will develop a more confident relationship with all of the elements involved.

Finally, I am sorry to announce that after several years of using my small digital camera near water, it finally decided to get wet and - alas - cease to function. Since I do not see fit to use my phone camera on the water, I finally succumbed and acquired a waterproof camera.

In my next blog I will share a few sample clips of an outing on the "Three Rivers".