Friday, April 25, 2008

Norm's Bait Shop to the Golden Bear

Yesterday, I took my friend Mark out for his first paddle. As you can tell from the pictures, we had a pretty ideal experience, and I hope that he's hooked for life. :)

Based on the tides, I recommended that we be in the water on our way around 10am. This took advantage of the outgoing tide to get us to the strait (at the mouth of the Napa River). Then we paddled to the Golden Bear. The Golden Bear is the California Maritime Academy's training ship, and it is a beauty. It is docked near the two bridge spans (was three for a while) that cross the strait. That was the plan anyway, but water was still moving out of the strait well after low tide at 10:57am. Ah, but I have read that this can happen. It is important to understand the difference between tides and currents. Even though at noon, one hour after the low tide, you would expect the flood to have started, and by the rule of twelfths we would have theoretically had a helping tide taking us toward the bridges. Instead, we had a 1 knot current ebbing against us. That's not a strong tide, and we easily paddled against it to get to the prize, but it is interesting to note that there may be exceptions to what you would expect from the tide table alone. That's why you want to check a chart!

We turned around at the Golden Bear, and then the current coming out of the Carquinez Strait pushed us back along to the Napa River mouth again. This was a lot nicer than paddling. Once we turned into the river, the tide was behind us again (in our favor).

The winds were minimal. Most of the time it was very still, and we were grateful for the cooling breeze. The wind did come out of the West, so it was a cross breeze as we paddled up the Napa River. So, we put down our skegs, and this helped us keep on straight lines. The weather was warmer, if not hot! Especially when you consider that we're dressed for the possibility of ending up in the water.

Here's a Google Map of the route:

View Larger Map
I used Google My Maps to create the line, and it gave me a distance of 2.86 miles each way. I'd say we did 6 miles, because we followed the coast more closely than the line shows. Good job for your first paddle, Mark!

What to Bring
Here's the list of items that I told Mark to bring for his first paddle, and in hindsight, he seemed well equiped. Though he noted that he was very warm, this was due to being prepared for an unplanned trip into the water, so that is to be expected. For our beautiful weather in the high 60s F, here are the items I asked Mark to bring:
  1. Wear a long sleeved shirt of synthetic quick-dry fabric.
  2. Baseball cap or wide brimmed hat.
  3. Sunglasses
  4. Put on sunscreen before you dress (face, ears, under your chin, back of neck, and backs of hands.
  5. Wear water-shoes or Teva-like sandals that can get wet.
  6. Bring a towel and a complete change of dry clothes. These go in a dry bag that goes in your cargo hold just in case.
  7. If you have a wetsuit, bring it. I'll wear mine.
  8. If you have gloves (bicycling, workout, neoprene) that you don't mind getting wet (they will) then bring them to ward off blisters.
  9. Bottle of water and snacks. We can buy lunch at Glen Cove, but it's nice to have snacks with you, too.
To help me plan the trip, I grabbed the tides from:

Tides for Vallejo, Mare Island Strait starting with April 24, 2008.

Day        High      Tide  Height   Sunrise    Moon  Time      % Moon
/Low Time Feet Sunset Visible

Th 24 High 3:32 AM 5.5 6:20 AM Set 8:39 AM 89
24 Low 10:57 AM -0.3 7:54 PM
24 High 6:12 PM 4.0
24 Low 10:36 PM 2.7

I didn't check a chart for the currents, though this would have been prudent. This route is right in my backyard, and is very well know to me. But a chart probably would have shown the Carquinez Strait current.

Weather (Always check the weather!) 4/24/2008:

A mainly sunny sky. High 67F. Winds NW at 10 to 15 mph.

Barometer was steady. Falling could indicate a storm coming. We were prepared to scrap the trip for another day if the wind picked up.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Book Review: The New Kayak Shop

Title: The New Kayak Shop
Author: Chris Kulczycki
ISBN-10: 0071357866

I picked this book up out of curiosity, but once I started reading, I was hooked. For the most part, this book succeeds in making all the steps involved in building a plywood kayak understandable to someone like me, who does not have woodworking skills. Even if you don't plan to build one, you will be tempted to do so once you learn how easy it is. When you see how beautiful the wooden kayaks look, you will want one out of sheer envy. And you will fantasize about the cachet of saying that you built it yourself. Chris also writes about the effect that woodworking has on him, and you will want to try it to know that level of relaxation and satisfaction.

There are some terms that the author takes for granted that you will know, but there's no harm in doing your own research for the few items that you don't understand. Some terms are used before they are defined. I'll help you out with one. The "stems" are the ends of the kayak. The bow and stern are the stems. Some tools may be unfamiliar, but you can look them up. For instance, I had no idea what a spokeshave was.

The most exciting feature of the book is that it actually contains the complete plans for building three different designs of wooden plywood kayak. The bill of materials needed are also provided. Now, Chris doesn't recommend you build from the plans in the book alone, in fact he says you're fool if you do, but you could! The benefits of buying the plans are that they are easier to read, templates for some of the parts are provided that you can trace onto your plywood, and you get to call for help if you've paid for the plans. Chris' company, Chesapeake Light Craft, sells the plans, and also sells complete kits, precut, for you to build. A tantalizing option!

In addition to learning about building a kayak, you will also learn many facets of kayak design and trade offs that occur for different characteristics. These boats are beautiful and exciting, and you get the feeling that the wooden kayaks have a soul, and that they are alive. If you are building your own kayak, please comment here, I would love to find out how it goes for you. If I start to build my own, believe me, I will write about it here.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Book Review: Complete Sea Kayak Touring

Title: Complete Sea Kayak Touring (paperback, 2nd Ed.)
Author: Jonathan Hanson
ISBN-10: 0071461280

I read this book cover to cover and did not want to put it down. I was very disappointed when it seemed to end suddenly and the next pages were additional resources in the appendix. The title is accurate. This is a complete guide to Sea Kayak Touring. Everything in the book is useful for any sea kayaker, but it is of particular value to those who are planning to spend one or more nights on a sea kayak trip. All topics I can imagine are well covered from equipment, clothing, technique, rescues, provisioning, packing, seamanship, navigation, repair, customization, storage, rack and travel, camping... You name it!

The author has decades of experience as a sea kayaker and professional guide, and this gives great credibility to his advice and opinions. His trips, which range from the Arctic Circle to Baja California, have provided him with a repertoire of anecdotes that he sprinkles throughout the text. I found myself laughing out loud at some of these stories, and reading them to others.

Jon gives you both sides to every controversy, and admits to his own biases, sometimes very humorously. You'll come away with both sides and armed with the facts to make your own decisions, such as, "Should I buy a kayak with a rudder, a skeg or neither?" There are many such areas of sea kayaking that can confuse the beginner. You will come away with confidence in your knowledge to evaluate the alternatives out there.

The book has a strong commitment to safety. Sometimes it may seem excessively so, but you can decide for yourself how many parachute flares to carry on your expedition. Jon makes the recommendations. Certainly, if you are in the arctic waters yourself far from any help, all of the recommended equipment will be of some comfort to you. Jon provides you the criteria to evaluate what equipment you will need in what situation.

Another very appealing feature of Jon's writing is his sensitivity toward wildlife, and low impact camping. He advises appropriate behavior when paddling with sea mammals, and in responsible camp, and fire site selection.

Although I borrowed this book from the library, I now want it on my shelf for future reference. This book is a must read and also a must have. So, I'm adding it to my wishlist.

Disclosure: I am an affiliate with various retailers on the internet, so I may make a commission on the purchase of certain items that I recommend.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Tomales Bay II - April 12, 2008

Yesterday a group of four of us met up at 9am, loaded our kayaks into a RAM 2500, and drove from Vallejo to Nick's Cove on Tomales Bay. We were in the water by 10:45am. The paddle was planned to let the tides work for us. The high tide was at 4:35am, with the low tide at 12:22pm, with the following high tide at 7:31pm (these are for the mouth of Tomales Bay). This lets the tide take us out. From the iWindsurf site, we know that the wind tends to pick up in the early afternoon in a southerly direction, meaning that the tide will turn, and the wind will be at our backs for the return trip (yes!). I like to plan my paddles this way, so that you go out with the tide, turn around during the slack (or close to it) then let the tide bring you back. Sometimes currents lag behind the tides, so you have to know your location, and charts can help you figure this out.

Be sure to check out the public Picasa album for this trip! Just click on the embedded slide show below. I didn't get pictures of the leopard shark I saw in the shallows, or the river otter we saw running on the beach, or the Tule Elk that we saw on the ridges of Tomales Point, but I did get lots of great pics of the bay, and a starfish.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Websites for Wind and Water Temperature

Here are a couple of tremendously useful websites for planning your kayaking trip. When deciding whether you should do your trip, you need to consider the wind conditions, and what they are likely to do. If the wind is below 10 mph, then it should be a good day paddling. But if the pressure (barometer) is decreasing, then a storm might be coming in, so look carefully at the forecast. Wind conditions are usually calmest very early in the morning, with wind speed increasing throughout the day. Once you've decided it is time to go out, you now need to decide how to dress. Dress for the water temperature. This can be tricky to figure out, but I found a website with a great marine forecast. If you have your own resources, perhaps better or also useful, please share them in the comments. While you are out on the water, you can monitor weather conditions on the VHF weather band.

Winds is a website for windsurfers, but they maintain wind meters in many locations and offer free memberships. You can monitor the real time wind speed of your destination before you go. Any weather website will give you the winds for the nearest city or town to your put in, but iWindsurf measures the wind at the water, so it is much more useful. Always check the barometer and if it is dropping, then a storm may be coming in.

Water Temperature
I found water temperatures hard to find until I found the Weather Underground. Search for a large city near your put in if the small town closest isn't available. Look for the marine forecast link. This will tell you the water temperature if available. If you can't find the water temp for your exact area, look for some readings around your area, and guesstimate. The idea is to be prepared to perform a self rescue in water of that temperature. The amount of time a person can survive in cold water depends on a number of factors, so don't trust any published tables (one of which I link to in an earlier post). It depends on your body fat, how accustomed you are to cold water, how you react to shock, your mental state of mind, your swimming ability, and many other factors. I personally wear a farmer john wetsuit whenever the water is below 60, even in hot weather. You can peel it down to your waist if you want, then put your PFD back on. But this means you'll have to perform your self rescue with a cold upper body. Only zip the wetsuit back up if you can do so safely. Consider that if you capsized, the conditions that caused you to flip might make it unsafe for you to take off your PFD to zip your wetsuit back up. I always paddle with my wetsuit zipped up, and with my PFD on snugly.

Suisun City - Peytonia Slough

On April 10, 2008, I paddled solo on Peytonia Slough, part of an ecological preserve, and then east into Hill Slough. You put in at the boat ramp in Suisun City, and there are a certain number of free parking spaces for vehicles without trailers. If you don't get one of these, then you pay $5. There are restrooms at the boat ramp, and plenty of floating docks to put in from.

Surprisingly, the entire route was navigable at low tide. I think it would be interesting to do this paddle again with the tide reaching the high point at the end of Hill Slough, then come out of it after slack when the water is ebbing.

I saw more wildlife on this trip than I had on any before. I took pictures of some of the creatures, including some of a sloat crossing the slough. Unfortunately, the sloat pics are blurry, but recognizable. I also saw muskrat, but wasn't able to get pictures. This is the first time I've seen a sloat or a muskrat with my own eyes. Often during the paddle, I would round a bend and hear a splash on the far shore. Turtles could spot me for a hundred feet, and immediately drop in the water. I did get some good pics of one turtle before he dropped off of the bank.

Toward the end of the route I was in the flight path for Travis Air Force Base (click on the image above to see the dotted red line that traces the route). Check it out with Google Earth, and you will see what I mean. The end of Hill Slough it right in the flight path. The big jets were coming in for landing every ten minutes at one point. I could see the landing gear come down. On one jet, I saw the refueling tube sticking out the back. These jets caused me to turn around due to the noise.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

How to Install a Thule Roof Rack on a '97 Honda Civic

This turned out to be more fun than I planned (meaning it was a little harder that I thought it was going to be). That may be due to the choice of model or manufacturer, but I'll get into that. I own a Thule xSporter rack that is on my partner's Ford pickup. It works great, but that truck is often not around when I want to go on a solo paddle. So, I researched what rack options were available to me. Naturally I started at REI, because I'm often there, and they have great service for these things. Perhaps they even install racks, I don't know, I didn't ask. I wanted to install it myself. Now my hands are very sore, but I'm getting ahead of the story.

Since I already own a Thule, I started with their fit guide (like a small phone book), which is on a table at the REI store in Berkeley that I go to. You search for your model of car, and it will tell you the exact Thule parts you need for your vehicle. Yes, they have a rack for my car that is recommended for kayaks (the load limit is 130 pounds and should be enough for two kayaks). They have two options, fancy or simple. By fancy, I mean they have Aero load bars that are oval and are kind of cool, and simple means plain square black load bars. Since it is a '97 Honda, I'm just looking for the minimum investment to get my kayak to the water. The simple configuration is about $310 (plus tax). I think the fancy setup was $50 more, and maybe would have been easier to install. Anybody out there tried to install an Aero roof rack on a car with a fit kit? I'd love to hear from you.

I also decided to check out at least one option, so I priced the same setup from Yakima. I was very please that for the same $310, Yakima would throw in a faring for no extra charge (a $60 value, Thule charges $65 for a similar faring). For a while, my mind was made up, when a friend told me that the Yakima is made in China, and I might try to buy American Made. With a little research, I found on the Thule About page this statement, "From this decision grew the strategy to design and manufacture products in the USA for the US market." So, based on this statement, I decided to say bye to the faring, and go with Thule.

You can also access the fit guides for both Thule and Yakima on the Internet. You can probably find them at the respective websites, but I go to REI's, click on kayaking, then click on car racks. From there, the links for either Thule or Yakima are on the left.

I ordered everything I needed from REI, and waited for the rack to be delivered to my local REI store (no shipping costs this way). I picked it up yesterday and guess what. At least it isn't made in China. The feet are made in the U.S.A., but the fit kit and load stops are made in Sweden, and the lock tumblers are made in Belgium. I couldn't find any indication of where the load bars were made. So, at least I sent a little business to countrymen, but not as much as I wanted.

It took me about three hours to assemble and install the rack on my Honda. The hardest part was clamping the feet onto the load bars. It takes sheer strength, and I just had to keep at it, applying my body wait through my thumbs to get the clamps to click closed. My thumbs are painfully sore today. I did get the rack onto the car, and today drove a distance with it. The fit kit ties the feet pedestals which sit on the roof, to the door frame. The fit kit clamps are so snug, that the doors close right over them. When I shake the rack to test it, the whole car moves on the shocks. It is that solid. I have complete confidence putting my kayak up there.

There are a lot of options for kayak mounting like rollers and cradles, but they add another $160 (and up) to the price. I opted for a set of 4 load stops for $50. We use these on the xSporter, and they keep the kayaks from moving side to side on the racks. Plus, you can strap right through the load stops, which means a very snug tie up.

Tomorrow, I'll put the kayak up there and take it to the water, to start getting my money's worth from the rack. Can't wait! I'll post some pictures later. Gotta wash the car first.

Added May 10, 2008: WARNING My thumb on my right hand still hurts from clamping the feet onto the load bars. DO NOT use your hand as shown in the instructions. It requires too much force. The easy way to do this without injuring yourself is to use the fit clip and screw to pull the unit together until it clicks, but first you have to pivot the female bolt inside the unit. Twisting the screw through the fit clip will compress the unit around the load bar and click it into place. I only discovered this when installing on the car, but you can just as easily do this in the assembly area before you go out to the car. Inside the foot, the screw goes into a female bolt that is on a pivot. The bolt must be pivoted into the proper direction so that the screw may pass through the fit clip at the proper angle. Without the fit clip, insert the screw into the bolt and pivot it. Then remove the screw and put the fit clip on. Then reinsert the screw to ensure the proper angle. Now tighten the screw until the unit clicks into place around the load bar.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Lake Berryessa

We did this wonderful paddle in the Summer (July 7, 2007). We headed out early in the morning to the put in. I found the put-in using Google. Just search for, "Lake Berryessa boat ramp". I like to find a public ramp that we can use for free. I also use Wikimapia for satellite imagery, because it let's me use more of my screen for displaying satellite images than Google Maps does. But Google Maps generates driving directions very easily, so I use both.

We woke up a little on the early side, and had a big breakfast. It's always a good idea to fuel up as much as you can before you hit the road. We packed food for the boats, and got all of the kayakingThule Xsporter Truck Rack gear together.

We put the Thule rack on the truck. Since the rack is worth over $500, and it's easy to put on, we only put it on when we need it. It takes us about 10 minutes to put the rack on the truck. Then we put the rack cross bars in the up position, and load up the kayaks. We bring the rack key along so that once we've unloaded the kayaks for the paddle, we lower the posts, and lock them into the down position.

It's a nice drive to Lake Berryessa from Vallejo, just under an hour, and very pretty. There is a boat ramp at Capell Cove, and it's free to use. We didn't use the boat ramp or floating dock though, because there is a nice beach put-in that we prefer. Vehicles with trailers line up to use the ramp, and by using the beach, we stay out of their way. We prefer nosing the kayak into the lake, getting in, then shoving off. The picture on the left shows you where Capell Cove is, and the following picture zooms in on the parking lot. The beach is just below the red arrow on the picture. Incidentally, the red arrow shows where the vehicles with trailers line up.

From here we paddled out to the lake, which is fresh water, and very large, with lots of coves to explore. I highly recommend carrying a map. We were able to identify the various branches of the lake, and wouldn't have had any idea where we were going without the map. Though we could have followed the shoreline back to the boat ramp, it can get a little confusing if you didn't pay attention on the way out.

This picture shows the route that we took. There are a great many motorboats on the lake, especially in Summer. We saw many other kayakers, too, and they were good company.

There is a cove along the way where we stopped for lunch, and we also practiced our self rescues. We'd dump out of our kayaks, then pull ourselves up behind the cockpit, and straddle the kayak facing the bow. Then scoot forward until your butt is over the seat, then you sit yourself down, then bring the legs in. We did this a few times each. Then you use the pump and/or sponge to get the water out of the cockpit. This was good for our kayaks because they're use to salt water, and the fresh water really is a lot nicer. When it dries you don't have that powdery salt all over everything.

This picture is taken at the beach where we stopped to have lunch. It's in a little cove, so there is no boat traffic close to shore, so it is a sheltered place to practice rescues. In Summer, the water, at least the top layer, is quite warm and pleasant to take a spill in.

Here's Kevin just off shore.

That's my Necky Looksha on shore.