Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Aleut Cockpit Size

Someone on one of the facebook groups I'm on posted a video of an Aleut paddler paddling his kayak around in a circle. The video is a copy of a movie segment shot by a US Navy cinematographer in the early part of the 20th century. Mostly, the video is unremarkable. Unfortunately I can't share it. But several things about it are remarkable.  The first is that it may be the only movie footage of an Aleut paddling.  The second is that it shows the paddler getting in and out of his boat. The third is that the paddle is quite long.
This is a still photo, possible of the paddler in the video.
What I found eye-opening about the video was the way that the paddler got in and out of his boat.  Although Aleut kayaks seem to have had a more or less standard cockpit size of about 24 inches, a size that requires me to sit on the back deck of the kayak and carefully slide forward with my legs straight out before me and lower myself into the cockpit by the strength of my arms. 
What the video makes apparent is that whatever the size of the paddler and the size of the cockpit, the combination was such that the paddler could just step into the cockpit with one leg, sit down and then pull his other leg into the cockpit and extend it.  The way he got into the kayak looked pretty much the same as someone getting into an open canoe or a modern recreational kayak with a long cockpit.
Large cockpits have some disadvantages, mostly that they require large spray skirts that are harder to keep secure in rough water with waves breaking on the kayak than smaller skirts, but getting in and out of a kayak easily is a distinct advantage for launching and landing on a beach where waves are breaking.
The other thing worth noting about the video was that the paddler both launched and landed with the kayak floating in the water, not resting on the beach.  He was wearing long boots that allowed him to step into the water without getting his feet wet.  He also seemed to have quite good balance and agility so that he could step into and out of his kayak without a doing a  lot of bracing with his paddle the way I have to do.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011


Call it what you will.  Call it scavenging which has a negative connotation and calls up visions of vultures, or call it re-use or re-cycling or re-purposing, all of which are more fashionable terms for the same thing.  Regardless, of what you call it, once upon a time, it was the one and only way to get materials to build a boat, especially in the arctic where boat materials did not grow and had to be scavenged on the beach.
You can view scavenging as an act of desperation or opportunism or some other unsavory name, but whatever you want to think of it, it is still going on as illustrated in the following photos.
Fellow kayaker, Tony who launches his kayaks at the Encinal boat ramp told me that he met the guy who has been removing steel fence posts from the rock wall next to the boat ramp.  Supposedly he got a few hundred bucks for them.  First he strips off the fencing.

Then he uses a pipe cutter to cut the poles.  Then he hauls them off to a scrap metal dealer.
And when he's all done, more of the fence is gone.  I must admit the rock wall looks better without the fence.

Meanwhile, just on the other side of the wall is what is left of the sunken boat.  Someone has been sawing sections of it off.  I'm sure it's not the plastic hull they're after.  I imagine it's the stuff that's bolted to the plastic that they want like jam cleats and winches and whatnot.  Easier to disassemble back at the garage.
Just recently, I read somewhere of a theory that says essentialy that nature favors processes that speed up the work or entropy.  Left to the strictly physical processes like oxidation and abrasion, the fence and the sunken boat would probably have been sitting as is for another few decades. But with the aid of scavengers, the job of entropy has been favorably accelerated.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Ask not for Whom the Bell Tolls

Some time back, a memorial appeared on the fence near Encinal boat ramp. The fence is on one side of the jetty that juts out into the bay.  The jetty is used by people to fish from. Fellow kayaker Tony had heard that the memorial was for one of the fishermen who had died of a heart attack at that place. Yesterday was the first time I looked closely at the memorial.
 The man's name was Suli.
He was apparently not very old.

The wind was blowing when I took the pictures and the chimes were tinkling.

Suli was a fisherman and so there were fish.
And while I was shooting pictures, someone came up and poured some beer into that cup.  Suli was his friend. They had fished together.  I asked if that was Suli's cup.  It was. But Suli was not a coffee drinker.  He liked beer and brandy. Hence the refill his friend was giving him.

Suli's kids and wife. Suli knew he was in trouble and had tried to call his wife from his cell phone.  He got her answering machine and sang her a Tongan love song before he died.
 Suli, rest in peace.

Boat Salvage

The saga of Tiller the Hun continues.  As you may remember, Tiller the Hun dragged its anchor in a winter storm, ran into the rocks and sank.  There were some salvage efforts encouraged in part by extreme low winter tides that exposed a good part of the Tiller's hull.  But those had ceased.
Yesterday, I passed the Tiller again and discovered more activity around the Tiller.  At first, it looked like another boat had tried to sink itself in the same spot as the Tiller. 
Fellow kayakers Glen and Tony were in the area and had spoken to the person that the apparent new wreck belonged to.  Apparently, it was not a wreck at all, but a salvage attempt.
According to Tony, the owner of the salvage vessel was hoping to drag the Tiller into shallow water where he could dismantle it at his leisure and without having to put on diving gear. So the salvager tied his salvage craft to the Tiller and waited for the tide to come in.  Apparently, he misjudged the weight of the Tiller because once the tide came in, his boat, instead of lifting the Tiller had one end of it dragged under water.  

At one point, the salvager jumped up and down on the dry end of the salvage boat, perhaps to shake something loose, but failing at his attempt, abandoned the salvage effort for the time being and went ashore on his rubber raft.
I didn't stick around for low tide to see how things would go.  The transom of the Tiller was entirely gone.
And the back end of the salvage craft was sticking out of the water like a duck feeding in the mud.  Well, almost.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Mariner's Catalog

Before there was an internet and the world wide web, there was the Mariner's Catalog. The Mariner's Catalog was something like a Whole Earth Catalog devoted entirely to things nautical.  Along with reviews of tools and other nautical gear, the catalog had short articles by people like Pete Culler and John Gardner along with musings and commentary by the editors, Peter Spectre, George Putz and Dave Getchell.

Along with photos of the products the catalogs also contained lots of the kinds of old engravings that used to adorn books and magazines before the invention of photogravure.  The net effect is altogether charming and engrossing. 
This kind of publication no longer makes sense in the age of the internet.  Everyone with an opinion or even those without have a blog to voice them and online shopping has made these catalogs redundant.  Still, I find them charming and just bought the first four volumes on the internet. 

Aleut Paddle Orientation, Again

I had previously seen this photo of Unangan (Aleut) paddlers in George Dyson's book, Baidarka.  But most recently for the first time, I saw a high resolution version of this photo on David Zimmerly's web site.  And sure enough, the two paddlers whose paddles are showing both are paddling ridged side of the paddle forward.
Same with this group.  They are also both paddling ridge forward.  You can't see the ridge on the back paddle but you can see the elevated part of the loom facing forward.
So, is there a right way and a wrong way to hold an Aleut paddle?  The answer is still no I think, but perhaps we can say that for a cruising stroke, ridge forward and flat side back was the most common orientation. When I paddle with an Aleut paddle, I sometimes switch back and forth between the two orientations because they stress different sets of muscles and I can give one set a rest by switching.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Double Baidarkas

Sebastian Von Nagel recently finished  his latest double Baidarka,  ulux^tax^ in Unangam Tunuu. Some pictures follow.
Sebastian with three of his skin on frame boats. The framework of the playboat in front was built almost entirely from recycled IKEA furniture.  Sebastian's son Julian did the building under his father's tutelage. Just back of Sebastian is the double that he and I built together and all the way in back is Sebastian's latest double creation that is an evolution from the first double and incorporates a number of Sebastian's innovations.

One of Sebastian's innovations was the use of epoxy as a sealer for the hull material. Not that epoxy as a hull material is an innovation in itself, but the use of epoxy on top of a nylon fabric is something of an innovation.  I had always avoided epoxy under the assumption that it would be too stiff, but one or two layers on top of a flexible fabric maintains flexibility.

Sebastian combined an opaque colorant with the translucent epoxy which makes for an interesting effect when viewed from the inside of the boat.

Here's a view of two doubles together. Two things worth pointing out.  One is the position and spacing of the cockpits.  The other is the upturn of the nose forward of the front cockpit.

Here's another view of the latest double.  Note both the upturn of the bow and the long fore-deck.

Which gets me to the point where theory ends and practice begins.  A boat no matter how good in theory needs to perform on the water. Let me enumerate the features and how they impact performance.

Perhaps one of the most obvious innovations of the ulux^tax^ is the positioning of the cockpits.  The back cockpit is close to the stern and the spacing of the cockpits is far enough apart so the two paddlers can paddle without having their paddles collide.  One of the problems with a double where the paddlers are too close together is that both of them have to be synchronized.  This is a good idea in theory, but unless the strength of the two paddlers is matched to their paddles, they will most likely be wanting to paddle at different cadences.
Placing the back cockpit far back allows the front cockpit to move back as well while at the same time maintaining good separation between them.  Having the front cockpit far enough back tends to keep the front paddler drier.  The upturn of the bow also keeps the bow from spearing into steep wave fronts.  Sebastian and I took his latest double out on SF Bay on a day when the wind was blowing 25 mph and the water was choppy and any water thrown up by the bow would have blown into my face.  But thanks to the upturn of the bow, this didn't happen and the ride was remarkably dry.
The upturn of the bow also elevates the keel line at the bow so the first two feet or even more of the baidarka are out of the water.  While this reduces the length at the water line, it makes it a little easier to turn such a long boat.  The far back position of the rear paddler also makes it easier to turn such a long boat.  
The ulux^tax^ was also well tuned to rough water paddling.  The relatively narrow hull sits fairly deeply in the water and when Sebastian and I paddled sideways to the waves, the boat seemed practically indifferent to the waves.  There was none of the pitching from side to side that you normally get with a wide, flat bottomed boat in rough water.  
When the ulux^tax^ is pointed into the waves, the two feet of bow that hang in the air on flat water act as reserve buoyancy and get to provide lift without burying into the face of the wave.  Anytime you bury the bow of the boat in a wave you lose more momentum than if you don't.  Not burying the bow also avoids throwing water into the air which then doesn't get picked up by the wind and thrown into the front paddler's face. 
One final point.  The volume of a kayak also becomes an issue in rough water and strong wind.  Any part of the kayak above the water line along with the bodies of the paddlers act like a sail and retard forward progress against the wind.  Kayakers need to be able to maintain forward motion or risk being blown into a hostile shoreline.  Double kayaks are great for long trips because of their large carrying capacity, but when paddled empty, they can easily have too much sail area which then becomes a liability in a strong wind.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

San Francisco Old and New

When viewed from Alameda through binoculars, San Francisco appears to be made of two parts, an old part and a new part.
The old part, visible behind one of the towers of the Bay Bridge is low to the ground and lets you see the landscape beyond and the shape of the land beneath it.
The new part is composed of tall buildings that obscure everything but themselves.
I prefer the old part.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

An Afternoon on the Estuary

Saturday I spent some time on the Alameda-Oakland estuary.  It's a narrow body of water that separates Alameda from Oakland.
The postcard looks eastward down the estuary roughly 80 years ago. The white arrows show my route, a circumnavigation of Coast Guard Island, formerly, Government Island. Oakland lies to the left and Alameda to the right.

The Alaska Packers salmon fleet used to overwinter here.

Wooden sailing ships preceded the plastic version.

Jack London kept his boat, the Snark here prior to taking off for the South Seas and writing The Cruise of the Snark.
A little ways up the estuary is the Archer Daniels Midland flower mill.
Which was formerly the Sperry Flower Mill.  Apparently Californians at bread even a century ago.
On Saturday, the estuary was more calm and less crowded with boats than in the post cards.  Coast Guard Island lies just ahead.  The view is to the west.  Normally there would be three or four Coast Guard cutters docking at the island, but this week they seem to have gone somewhere.
Here is the bridge that connects coast guard island to Oakland. Just off to the right is a marina and between the marina and the bridge is an area that is out of the shipping lanes and a place where boats can moor. In the past, there were seldom any boats here, but about a year ago, boats from the marinas would start anchoring here, apparently no longer able to pay the rent.  
One of the boats was tied up to a pier for a few weeks and then sank or was scuttled.  It's been like this for a year now.  
But perhaps because of hard economic times,  the free, mobile and unencumbered fleet of derelict boats is increasing.  In all, there were about 8 boats moored here without benefit of access to electricity or water.  But the rent is cheap.

And when you need to get to land, you use this improvised dock with water bottle floatation. I think this counts for post-apocalyptic.

And tied to a ramp is a raft or punt.

I don't think it sank.  The tide was just high.  The fellow who owned it tied it just a little too tight to the dock and when the tide came in, the side of this beauty was caught under the ramp.  Note the outboard motor mount at the back of the raft.

And when you don't have a motor or gas, there's locks for oars. The whole thing was quite well constructed but abandoned and appropriated by the free boat crew.

And then I stopped taking pictures and got busy paddling, once around Coast Guard Island.