Wednesday 26 February 2014

Rob Mercer - Sea Kayak Sailing & Safety

Rob recently had an article published in the UK's premium sea kayaking magazine Ocean Paddler. The article gives a timely run down on the aspects of safety that need to be considered for anyone keen to get into kayak sailing on the open sea, especially poignant when seen in the light of a couple of recent near misses around our home waters. 

Now that we are stocking Flat Earth Kayak Sails it's worth reminding prospective customers of the skills & protocols you need to have in place before you head out onto the sea with your sail fitted.

You can read the article in it's entirety HERE.  It has plenty of local input from paddlers like Andrew Eddy, Shaan Gresser and Matt Bezzina, & provides plenty of food for thought.

Tuesday 25 February 2014

Rock & Roll Swings Around

Only ten days to go to the annual NSW Sea Kayak Club's Rock & Roll Weekend, this year back at the spiritual home of the event, Bateman's Bay.
Last year there were over 200 registered participants & the weather & Nelson Bay seascape conspired to give paddlers a taste of everything.
This year organisers have a bumper program heavy with trips & instruction, and guest speakers Ben Woodcock & David Williamson. 

Who you ask? 

Between them, and together mostly, they have paddled unsupported from New Caledonia to Australia, Australia to East Timor, circumnavigated Tasmania with a western Bass Strait crossing to start & an eastern Bass Strait crossing to finish, as well as a host of other non paddling adventures.

Later this year they have a grand trip planned, paddling from New Zealand to Australia via Lord Howe Island & Norfolk Island. You can see details of this adventure HERE.

The event kicks off with the traditional Beer & Pizza welcome party, which this year has a Hawaiian theme. Organisers have employed extra security to ensure the free beer only goes to attendees wearing floral attire. There are some seriously good prizes for the best dressed, and no, not just a slice of Hawaiian Pizza.

Ben & David will speak at the Saturday night dinner, and I'll admit to being very pleased to see some home grown paddlers topping the bill at Rock & Roll.

Sunday night is the second annual Pogies, a short paddling film festival that last year nearly brought the marquee down. I have entered a film this year, focusing on a crucial element of paddling that needs urgent attention. You'll have to be there to see it.

For the 7th year in a row we are the major sponsor of Rock & Roll. We're proud to have supported this premier event so closely for such a long time & look forward to a ripper of a weekend. It's now gone beyond being a parochial club event & has morphed instead into one with a healthy interstate roll up, last year a phalanx of Queenslanders & even a few Sandgropers made it across, and this year there looks like being a big turn out from our Victorian friends.

You need to be a member of the NSW Sea Kayak Club or an affiliate interstate member to attend, but the good news is you can join & pay for RnR in one go. Even if the club had nothing else to offer for the whole year, attendance at Rock & Roll would get you back your membership fees in pure instruction alone.

You can register for Rock & Roll through the club website HERE.

To quote John Lennon - "If you tried to give rock and roll another name, you might call it 'Chuck Berry'. It's that good!

Sunday 23 February 2014

Rob Mercer - Shooting the Breeze with Flat Earth Sails

The plan was for me to tie the kite line through the bow toggle of the other kayak and then add a loop back to the cockpit to act as a quick release if things didn’t go too well.

The parafoil soared up and away on the brisk SE wind and after the initial burst of acceleration it became clear that the kayak was now planing across the water at phenomenal speed but absolutely out of control.

I paddled after it with all my might realizing that my mate wouldn’t be able to let go of the paddle and that the force on the line was going to make it impossible for him to get off this ride without a knife. Unfortunately I had the knife and I couldn’t catch him.

Even when the boat capsized he was still being dragged toward the cliffs just north of Coogee where I finally reached him just shy of the rocks to cut him loose, allowing the unruly flying object to plunge into the sea.

We spent the rest of the afternoon untangling, cleaning, untangling and folding the ingenious, puzzle of spectra, nylon and carbon fibre before hastily returning it to the shopkeeper.

Looking back on the various contraptions I have seen kayakers use to harness the breeze is a little like watching old scratchy archive movie reels of the early flying machines. Indeed touring kayaks and sea going canoes predating the Wright Brothers carried sail as a matter of course, the “Rob Roy” was a notable example.

In Tasmania sails have been standard equipment for sea kayaks from the beginning whereas locally they have only seen a steady increase in popularity over the last twenty or so years.

 In this time I have seen parafoil kites, V sails great and small, tarps draped over spare paddles, Andrew Eddy’s unique modified lateen, sprit sails, mini spinnakers, jibs and of course, golf umbrellas tucked under the deck lines, an approach used to great effect by Karl Noonan when he paddled from Sydney to Hobart in the late 90’s. There is even the story touted by a Hawkesbury Classic veteran that decades ago a protest was lodged against an open canoeist who stood up and opened his knee length rain jacket “flasher style” whenever his course down river provided a tailwind!

The reality is that all of the above would have provided some downwind push to a greater or lesser extent but without fail, the sails that have earned a following have been simple, unobtrusive, predictable and purpose built.

From a personal perspective I enjoy paddling. I like the art of making my boat work well in the waves and enjoy the feel of the paddle in the water. The way my boat dances if I use the right combination of edge and paddle to work with the waves is so important to me that a sail that limits this freedom is too much of a compromise.

The first sail I really enjoyed using was made to a design pioneered by Doug Fraser and refined by Norm Sanders, both prominent NSWSKC instructors in the mid nineties.

The real genius of the design actually had little to do with the shape of the sail itself, but rather the inclusion of a universal joint allowing the sail to be rigged ready for deployment from the cockpit yet far enough forward so that even with the sail working there was no impact on normal paddling technique.

My first homemade version of this sail was just a flat single sheet of rip-stop nylon, two sailboard battens, with a sawn off broomstick for a mast. I was amazed at how it allowed me to catch almost every wave going my way. Then I discovered how well it worked at making a heavily loaded boat feel lighter in the water.

A more refined version of the sail also worked a treat in equalizing the speed differences between paddlers based on strength alone so that lighter, less powerful paddlers with good technique could suddenly keep up or even lead the way when the breezes were helpful. I remember on our Cape York expedition when Sharon often lead the pack on windy days, released from fighting against the heavy load of her boat she would fly along using her agility to easily match or overtake her more muscular paddling companions.

I note with amusement that most of the stalwarts that used to criticize the sailors seem to pack one when heading off on a trip these days. Some unkind folks point out they aren’t getting any younger, whilst some of the reformed anti sailors themselves refer to it as a “safety device” just in case they need to do a long tow blah, blah..
I have even heard some with rare candor confess that they tired of watching their sailing companions having all the fun. 

I must admit with the advent of the new fast tourers, in particular the Tarans and Paces, I seldom sail on a day trip. The boats work so well downwind that I can’t see the point, but when I load one of them up for a multiday adventure the sail is always fitted and ready to go.
On our North Reef trip we all used the Flat Earth code Zero 80s and found they were outstanding in terms of crosswind performance as well as amazing drive downwind.

The cut of the Flat Earth Sails is the result of years of incremental improvement by Mick and for a nominal 0.8 square metre this is the most stable and powerful design I have used. I can’t imagine needing bigger on a single kayak. For lighter paddlers, the less experienced, or those expecting to paddle bigger winds, the 0.7square metre version will give you similar performance to other 0.8 or even 0.9 sails that I have used and may make a better choice than the CZ80.

These sails will give you the extra push to surf more runners and lift your average speeds, especially if you have good form with your strokes and braces.  Just thinking about the hull bouncing along with plumes of spray off the bow and the waves rising at my stern has me looking at charts and planning my next adventure…………. 

Kayak sailing is not something that you will do safely without good bracing and self-rescue skills, so even with these new easier to use designs some practice bracing in rough water is vital before you start sailing. When you feel ready always sail with a buddy, practice releasing control and hauling lines, and under supervision practice capsize and self rescue drills.  Unless you have planned it, always think about how far you are travelling under sail before you reach the point that you can’t paddle the same distance back into the wind.

Monday 17 February 2014

Cooktown to Kokoda

A few months back we were contacted by Paul & Carlo, asking about expedition boats for a trip they & a few mates had in the pipeline. Three of them, Mike, Carlo & Paul, were accomplished ski paddlers, coming through the surf clubs around Newcastle, while the fourth, Mark, 'would beat them all if they were on horses'!

They were planning a multi-faceted expedition that involved a mountain bike ride from Cooktown to Cape York, a crossing of the Torres Strait to PNG, then a trek over the Kokoda Track.

Rob has extensive experience of top-end paddling & the demands that this challenging part of the world can throw up, and we struck up an instant rapport with them whilst discussing what would be involved in pulling off the paddling part of their adventure.
After a memorable test paddle & some pointed instruction from Rob, the guys snaffled our last three Rockpool Tarans, whilst Mark decided on the Tiderace Pace 17 Tour with it's inherently more sympathetic performance, better suited to his lower base skill level. None of them had any real sea kayaking experience, and over the past few months they've been out working on skills as a group. This has included learning to use their Flat Earth Sails, busting a few moves in the Newcastle surf, and soon they'll be zeroing in on the navigation & seamanship skills required to successfully cross the Torres Strait & the myriad tidal and wind obstacles that this complex place can pose.

There is a deeper purpose to their journey however, as outlined so eloquently on their just-launched website:

"In 2006 Paul Murdoch’s wife Sue died from breast cancer, leaving behind a loving father and two young boys. Sue was everything to her 3 boys and is dearly missed.
Paul and Sue had been childhood sweethearts and following Sue’s death Paul wanted to do something memorable and challenging to remember Sue. 
We had tossed up a number of ideas and then Paul heard of a small group of elite athletes who had ridden mountain bikes from Cape Tribulation to Cape York, sea kayaked to PNG and ran the Kokoda trail. They achieved all this in less than two weeks.
Paul was inspired by their adventure and we are now undertaking our own adventure in memory of Sue and with a desire to reach out to the communities of Cape York and the Torres Strait and raise the awareness of breast cancer."

They have been hard at their training over the past few months with the aim of setting out on bikes from Cooktown in early August. When I say training, I mean training, check out their blog HERE to see the sort of application required to bring an adventure like this one to life.
The thing that struck me about these guys is their infectious enthusiasm & a rollicking good sense of humour & fearlessness. Their stories of taking their boats down to Nobbys & into the surf the first day they had them, were confirmation enough that they weren't going to be leaving much in the tank. I love the fact that they've set a goal, and now they're doing everything the right way towards achieving it, and doing it in style.
Their website (HERE) is a cracking read, with information on their journey, their team members & their support of the McGrath Foundation, for whom so far they have managed to raise over $6000.

In a paddling landscape cluttered with all kinds of bold journeys, this one stands out for me as a unique & heartfelt expedition, with all the elements of a true adventure. Keep an eye out for the guys' regular updates & join Rob & I in wishing them well on their journey.

Thursday 13 February 2014

Flat Earth Sails & Expedition Kayaks

Mick Macrobb, Mr Flat Earth Sails, is one of the good guys in the kayaking world. He has built his business from a genuine cottage industry, into an internationally known brand that, in the small world of sea kayaking, has become a household name. At the recent Paddle Expo in Germany, Mick's sails were front & centre on at least three manufacturers display stands, and were attracting interest from all & sundry.

Back in 2011 Rob asked Mick to make us a set of Code Zero 80 sails for our North Reef Expedition. Not being much of a sailor, kayak or otherwise, I thought it was an unnecessary  complication for a trip that was going to be very technically demanding anyway. I made my ambivalence known to Rob, who looked me square in the eye & said 'Mate, you just don't understand how much fun it is paddling in those big winds with a sail!'.
Mark & Rob head for North Reef (pic by Chris James)
The debate ended there, and despite only having a 30 minute refresher on the harbour with my new Flat Earth Sail, I very quickly came to understand just what a fantastic thing it is to use one with a fully loaded boat on long days at sea. Technical in the conditons we paddled on that trip, maybe, but fun, oh man what fun.

Even when the winds were on our beam, we found that by putting the sails up, as well as increasing our visibility to one another in perpetually rough water, the pressure the wind would exert on the sail even from side-on was enough to alter the trim of our loaded boats, and greatly alleviate the dreaded glide-stopper an extra 50kg in your kayak creates.

As for the days when conditions did line up, the only thing that comes close to the thrill of whistling along on a howling sea with your sail up is paddling an elite ocean racing ski in steep & unidirectional following conditions. And lets face it, that's not exactly the most accesible thrill for most of us.
Rob on the 95km crossing to Lady Elliot Island
The video below shows the day on our trip when the moons aligned, and we had a steady trade wind gusting over 20 knots, pushing a freshly developed sea right up our hooters. This would have been a fast day anyway, but the sails gave us that little extra push to crack pretty much every runner we lined up. Put simply, as good a day on the ocean as you could imagine.

We are now stocking Mick's Code Zero sails, in both the 70 & 80 size. Apart from designs & shapes that are specifically designed to work with kayaks, the great appeal of Flat Earth Sails is the materials & Mick's famous workmanship. The sails are made from a new tri-laminate sail cloth, offering improved shape holding properties. 

The Code Zero 80 is the all-rounder sea kayak sail, and the most popular, at .8 sqm. The sail has a good drive, with a fuller cut than traditional sails. This sail is available through our ONLINE STORE for $390 including delivery.

The Code Zero 70 is the small sail of the range, at .7 sqm, perfect for coastal exploration trips and expeditions. With a newly designed shape, the '70 has plenty of drive, and is ideally suited to smaller paddlers and low volume sea kayaks . This sail has a fuller cut in the head, and with its shorter mast means all your drive is concentrated lower than the '80. The '70 is available through our ONLINE STORE for $380 including delivery.

Code Zero sails are available in White with a spectra ripstop pattern and colored trim. We have stock on the shelf and offer free overnight delivery.

Monday 10 February 2014

Oscar Chalupsky Clinic, March 16

We recently had Oscar in town for a series of clinics on paddling technique & theory. We ran the session down at Watson's Bay, with the backdrop of Sydney Harbour & clam flat water allowing a detailed run through of Oscar's unique take on how to make a surf ski work.

A crew of 16 paddlers, all except one of whom have gotten into surfski in the past couple of years, took part in the three hour session where Oscar covered the basics of forward stroke for surf kski, remounts, and a broad history of the evolution of the wing paddle. In essence, he gave us a pointed, simple lesson on bio mechanics, and their application to maximising your forward paddling efficiency & balance, for paddling surf ski in the environment for which they were designed, the ocean. I wrote a summary of the afternoon & evening HERE

Despite the fact that I've been paddling at a reasonable level for years, and have a sound understanding of the bio mechanics of a good forward stroke, I still took away a few pearls from Oscar's instruction that have greatly improved my rough water ski paddling. They're little things, but they have made a big difference.

Oscar is coming back next month, & once again we'll be hosting a paddle clinic down at the picturesque Watson's Bay, from 3pm to 6pm on Sunday afternoon, March 16.
Oscar has promised a basic skills & technique session, with the final part of the afternoon dedicated to the theory & practicalities of downwind paddling, a skill that Oscar has developed to world champion status a dozen times over his decades-long paddling career.

The course will cover the following:

1. Introduction to surf ski paddling technique

2. Basic’s of the surf ski forward stroke, the theory of the wing paddle and the theory of the forward stroke.

3. Using the paddle for stability, and setting up your ski.

4. Remounts.

5. Stroke drills & correction, complete with a full set of easy-to-follow notes.

6. Personalised technique critic

7. Balance & when to upgrade to a faster boat

8. Learn Oscar's gym exercises, you get notes for these

9. Learn Oscar's training programs for races and how to race. 

Price is $150 per person, including drill sheets, exercise program, and a 'Coached by Chalupsky' high vis cap.

Please contact Mark on 0417924478 or to book your spot.

Monday 3 February 2014

Royally Challenged

The Royal Challenge is a gruelling paddle-run-paddle event traversing Sydney's Royal National Park. The race was originally planned for late November 2013, but a week of heavy rain forced organisers to postpone it to the weekend just gone.
I came across the guy who runs the show, Steve Southwell, whilst out paddling on Port Hacking just prior to the previous Challenge. He told me to have a go; I thought the idea of running 22km was nuts, and then, somewhat ashamed of my dismissal of the whole idea, decided maybe life was too short to write off something that lots of people do every day.
Steve Southwell, laying down the pre race briefing
So, instead of taking my girls to their winter running club early each Sunday morning and sipping a coffee, I signed up & began the long, slow journey to build my running from zero, hopefully to be able to complete the half marathon trail run that is the crux of the Royal Challenge.
Along the way I convinced/cajoled Rob into entering the race with our paddling buddy Alan Thurman as his partner, as the race is open to teams of two or four. Considering out of 110 competitors there were only 14 of us doing the entire thing on our own, I think the teams thing is a good idea!
So, finally, Saturday dawned sunny & clear, and we all found ourselves on the banks of the upper Hacking river slipping on our fruit tingles singlets ready for the start.
Steve briefed us on race protocols and at 7am we were off. 
I had planned to get in behind someone on the first 10.5km ski leg & conserve a bit of energy, knowing that the most serious part of it all for me was probably going to be the back end of the run. One day I'll have a race plan that works, but again this wasn't that day, as I had an entourage drafting me for much of the distance. Regardless it wasn't a tough paddle & I felt pretty cheery slipping on my shoes at the transition for the run.
Action from the first ski leg (pic by Grant from Monopod Photography)
I had strained my calf, rather stupidly going for a gentle soft sand run on the previous Thursday, so I was a little worried that it might go again. Some intensive work from my Chiro on Thursday & rest, ice & compression seemed to have done the trick, the first 11km of the run leg went by without any pain, and I started eyeing off a much better time that I had planned. The cooling breeze from all of the runners going past me was also a great help.
End of the run, phew.
The back 11km though, oh man. I could have easily been on a different course, because  suddenly there were big bloody hills that weren't there on the first lap, and the encouraging words from other competitors went from a respectful 'doing well mate' to more like 'come on big fella', 'dig deep', 'nearly there' etc etc.
My run training had gone as far as 18km, so the final 4km of this race were always going to be unknown territory. And I suppose if you're heading into the unknown, it's only natural to spend a bit more time enjoying it right? That's my excuse anyway. My speed dropped to about 8kmh, my calf started to hurt, and it was all a bit grim over the final half hour back to the river.
Back on the ski for the run home was a welcome return to something I can do. I slugged it out to the turning mark, then got a ride (finally) back on the wake of another paddler, all the way home to the finish. I was so frazzled at the end of the run that I paddled the last hour on the ski wearing sunnies with only one lens, and didn't notice! On reflection it did all look a bit weird & 3D out there.
My time was 4:38, just outside what I thought I was capable of doing (as is my tradition), but tempered a little by the fact that there was a phantom 1.4km extra in the run leg. Not just any phantom either, an evil phantom.
End of the race, in 3D!
Alan & Rob had their own trials. Poor Al turned up with those very cool NRL black tape thingys on his calf, which was also dodgy. He blitzed the first half of the run before it blew up, and hobbled the last 11km in a lot of pain. Alan in pain on one leg still hobbles faster than I run on two good ones.
Alan finishes the run on one leg.
Rob managed to send a local fisherman apoplectic by neatly catching the guy's best lure on his rudder & careening off with the line unreeling. In fairness the bloke had lobbed it squarely in front of him seconds before he shot past, so all is fair in love & fish. He also snagged some weed attached to a P-Plate, which forced him to shore to untangle the mess. Despite all that, he still did both ski legs in a combined time under two hours, not bad for an old fella.
Rob powers home to finish.
My lasting impression of the race was admiration for fellow competitors, especially the runners who seem to bounce along the trail like it's actually fun. It was was won by Adriel Young, 'Bacon' from Bondi Rescue for the uninitiated, ahead of Pro Kayaks Matt Blundell. These guys ran past me several times over the four laps of the course, and it was a pleasure to watch them do their thang.
Pain is temporary, smiles all round at the finish.
The race was conducted with a lovely sense of inclusiveness & fun, with excellent safety protocols in place, & concluded with a damn good party in the evening at Cronulla RSL.
Hard? Hell yeah, about as hard as it gets in fact, and I was grateful in the tough moments to have done so much training, and for a history of having done & finished a few hard things.
If you're a paddler like me looking for an achievable and worthwhile challenge, something substantial to aim at even when you can only train 'Dad-style' (in short bursts of time partitioned away from heavy work & family commitments), then this race should be at the top of the list. The team competitors also seemed to be having a much better time than us idiots in the green singlets.
Congrat's to all of the participants & organisers, for both a great event & for raising over $16,000 for the KIDs Foundation, and thanks again to everyone who so generously supported my fundraising.

The Velocimiser Sea Kayak Foil Rudder

After two solid years of R&D, we can finally announce a series of successful sea trials of our new foiling sea kayak rudder, The Velocim...