Sunday, January 30, 2011

Paddle Storage

I finally came up with a scheme for storing my paddles at the new shop location. There they are tucked away in the rafters of the mezzanine I built.  One thing about making your own paddles is that you always have enough or in my case, I can always think of more variations that I want to try out.  The perfect paddle is ever elusive.

staying warm

I just ran into this photo on the internet and was reminded of some similar photos I took a few years ago of my own cold weather paddling gear. 

This is a photo someone took of the clothes that someone from the Canadian Arctic would wear in winter. There's a parka there, boots, gloves, fur pants and even a pair of long johns.

This is a photo I took a few years ago of the gear I would wear back in Wisconsin to go paddling on Lake Michigan in the winter.  We used to go paddling as long as the temperature stayed above 15 degrees F, that's about -10 degrees C.  When it got any colder paddling became difficult, mostly because ice would build up on everything from the boat to the paddle and clothes became stiff like cardboard to the point where movement became difficult.  But mostly the multiple layers made immersion in the water possible.  The water, of course never got below 32 degrees F (0 degrees C).

And there's my paddling jacket flanked by boots and gloves and at the top, a hood.  We always used to go to dive shops for the neoprene gear because they had heavier duty stuff than the kayak stores. 

The Dorset Culture, up the Arctic without a Kayak

The Dorset culture is named after Cape Dorset, the place in the Canadian Arctic where the first artifacts from that culture were found.  The Dorset are thought to have occupied the region from 500 BC to AD 1500. A small subgroup of the culture is believed to have survived in Newfoundland until 1903.

The Dorset are believed to have had a fairly complex stone tool technology but lacked drills, bows and arrows, dog sleds and possibly also kayaks.  Whether the Dorset did not use drills, bows and arrows, dogsleds and kayaks by choice like the Amish who make conscious decisions about what technology to adopt or whether they abandoned certain technologies for practical reasons like access to sufficient sources of wood or whether knowledge of these technologies were lost as the result of some disaster is not known.  It

Twentieth Century Inuk with bow and arrow, a technology that the Dorset lacked.

What is interesting is that the Dorset were able to survive without all the technology which we tend to think of as quintessentially Arctic.  Apparently, the Dorset were especially well adapted to hunting on the ice and thrived in an era of great cold when ice could be found year round.  So lack of a kayak may not have been a problem.  Apparently, the Dorset culture went into decline when the climate became warmer starting around AD 800.  There was less ice to hunt from and Dorset groups had to migrate farther north to find year-round ice. If the Dorset culture had adapted especially to hunting from the ice, they would not have had any use for kayaks. 

An ice-based seal hunter of recent times, using a hunting method that the Dorset may have taught to the newly arrived Inuit.

Around AD 1000 Thule Inuit also started migrating east from Alaska. Whether they displaced the Dorset or whether the Dorset went into decline for other reason is not known. By AD 1500, the Dorset culture was essentially gone except for the small remnant that survived in Newfoundland until 1903.

Ancient People of the Arctic

You can't really click to look inside. You will have to go to Amazon to do that, but that's the cover of Ancient People of the Arctic, Robert McGhee, author, a book I would highly recommend to anyone interested in the prehistory of the Canadian Arctic. The title is a little misleading since it suggests that it covers all of the Arctic.  It doesn't.  Its focus is on present day Canada.  Still, you will find lots of good stuff here.  There isn't much about kayaks here, but plenty of other amazing stuff.
The main insight that the book offered to me was the notion of what makes a place a good place to live.  Why would anyone choose to live in the Arctic?  The answer apparently is availability of food.  The Arctic was a place where you could catch lots of sea mammals and therefore have a diet rich in protein and fat.  Climate was a secondary consideration.  Nowadays, we think of places like Southern California as desirable places to live, based mostly on year-round pleasant temperatures.  Perhaps, now that we can ship food from elsewhere and move water around to raise crops in the desert, but two thousand years ago the Canadian Arctic may have looked  more attractive to a people that had the appropriate technology to exploit the food resources of the region and stay warm. Californians meanwhile were subsisting on a diet consisting mostly of grass seed and the occasional rabbit or deer.
The Arctic may well have been a homeland of choice rather than a consolation prize for late arrivals unable to move into territory already occupied by paleo Indians.


I'm thinking the coppiced tree behind our shop is a Blackwood.  See here for lots of pictures.  Seems to be an import from Australia that thrives in California's coastal climate.

The picture above is from the cited site.  Picture of local blackwood below:

It's not in bloom yet but you can see the flower buds.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Boat Launch Party

Diane organized a picnic to celebrate the launching of her boat.  A number of her friends came and a bunch of other skin boaters came an brought their boats. Christian is in the background with the boat he built at the same time as Diane.

Tim trying out Diane's boat.  Riding low due to occupant exceeding design displacement. Good for sneaking up on wildlife though.

 Here's Joe in his low profile Greenlander.

 And Joan giving it a whirl.

 And Nobuto with noise maker to drive off bad water spirits.

Diane up close to her new boat.  Note green grass, an indication that it is winter in California and has been raining.

 Inside the cockpit.

 And people brought babies.
Christian (l) and Stefan (r) hauling off Christian's boat.  Boat's nose sharing cab space.

And here's the zoomed out view.  Bye.
Good time was had by all, thanks to everyone who brought food and drink and good cheer.

Kayak Trailer

Diane built a ten foot kayak partly for ease of storage and partly for light weight and partly because she wanted to be able to trailer it behind her bicycle, her primary mode of transport aside from walking.  The kayak will be her primary mode of water transport.

The base of the kayak trailer is the undercarriage of a folding baby buggy.
Linkage to the bike is via a piece of plastic tubing and of course bicycle innertube lashings.

Only problem with release 1.0 of the bike trailer is that the kayak sits up too high and the springs in the buggy suspensions enable a back and forth oscillation in response to the pedaling action of the bike rider.  Release 2.0 coming up soon.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Inadvertent Coppicing.

The other day I was out front of the shop looking for twigs and I zeroed in on this particular tree in the corner of the lot. It looked like a volunteer, seeds blown in or dropped by birds.  I have no idea what the species is, some sort of non-native evergreen whose seed escaped from somebody's yard.

Anyway, when I examined the tree more closely, I found out that someone once before had decided that they didn't want the tree that close to the building and had chopped it down leaving a 6 inch stump protruding out of the ground.  The root system was still intact and of course sent up new sprouts which now are two to three inches in diameter and 15 feet tall.  Inadvertent coppicing.

The Lashomatic Video

I took this video a few years ago.  Quality is so so, but it gets a few points across.  The main point is that the lashing of hull stringers to ribs does not need to be odious or tedious.  The key is to have a good lashing pattern and to have one hand inside the boat and one outside the boat.  If you watch closely, you will see that this particular lashing pattern is quite simple.  What makes is simple is that the string is constantly moves in a counterclockwise direction.  Sometimes it backs up on itself to cinch the previous turn down but the overall motion is consistently counterclockwise. There is no magic to the counterclockwise part.  You could just as well do this lashing clockwise, especially if you are left-handed.
The other thing that makes this lashing fast is that you have one hand inside the boat and one hand outside the boat.  That way you just pass the string back and forth between hands.  The only thing that goes back and forth is the string.  The hands stay in place, and that's what makes this lashing fast. How fast?  Under one minute. The camera I had at the time, a Canon G2 would cut out after thirty seconds of video.  That's all it would do.  Back then memory was more scarce.
What gets cut out at the end of the video because of the thirty second time constraint is the tying off of the string.  Three half hitches and it's done. You throw your hands in the air when you're done like in calf roping and the clock stops.
One thing about this lashing pattern is that it's not particularly immobilizing, but that doesn't really matter.  The point of the lashing is just to hold the parts in place until you get the skin on.  Once the skin is on, it provides the pressure to keep the stringers from moving around.  And if you want really immobile lashings, just paint your handiwork with water based varnish when you're all done.  That stuff is like glue and will make for more immobile lashings than more fancy and more cumbersome lashing patterns.

New Baidarka (Iqyax^) Model

I am working on a model of an Unangan (Aleut) kayak. The model is half scale which means that the gunwales are 7 feet long. Half scale sounds pretty big, but then that's only linear scale.  If we're talking volume, it's one eighth scale.
Anyway, half scale works pretty well for kayaks.  It's big enough that you can use most of the same tools you would use for a full scale kayak, but it's small enough that you can put it in your living room or den or wherever it is that you keep boat models in your house.
I'm not really a big fan of boat models from both the maker side and the consumer side.  From the maker side, an accurate model is almost as much work as a full scale kayak and when you're done, you can't use it, except as a knick-knack.
From the consumer perspective, a kayak model is an expensive knick-knack.  Usually, the consumer is reluctant to pay for what it costs to do the model accurately, so the maker cuts corners and produces something that superficially resembles the real thing.  If you do collect boat models, the thing to do is to get models made for the early boat loads of tourists.  The makers didn't know any better yet and made accurate models.  Then they found out they could make superficial models much more easily and sell more especially if they cut their prices.
But that's not really relevant here.  The reason I make boat models is that it is a way of exploring the construction process.  If the model turns out to be a clunker, nothing much is lost.  Actually, making full scale clunker kayaks is not about what you have lost, but rather about what you have gained, namely a kayak you  don't want to paddle. It then becomes a storage problem or something you are reluctant to unleash on the public.  Svend Ulstrup, Danish boat builder used to solve the problem the Viking way, he set boats on fire.  I don't have the heart to do that.
So stay tuned for more photos of the model in progress.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Sticks and Boat Hooks

I'm about to make more boat sticks, having given the last two away.  Boat sticks come in a lot of forms depending on what you want to do with them.  The one shown above is a retrieval stick that I had carved about 15 years ago when I went on a camping trip on Lake Michigan.  You can put hatches on the deck of a skin on frame kayak, but I don't bother.  I prefer to jam stuff into the boat from the cockpit.  Only thing is that to get stuff back out of the kayak, you either have to turn it on end or you have to make yourself a retrieval hook.  And if you're smart, you packed stuff in bags that have some kind of loop on them for the retrieval hook to latch on to.

Here is a picture copied from Edward William Nelson's book, The Eskimo About Bering Strait. These boat hooks were used for a variety of purposes, from pulling your kayak up to an ice floe to dragging a seal to your kayak to getting it back out of your kayak after you've stuffed it inside.  Designs varied based on application and local preferences.

And then there is a third kind of boat stick, a plain one with no hook on it.  I use them to get into and out of my kayak.  Usually people just use their paddle to steady the boat but that is hard on the paddle.  Sometimes when you aren't paying attention, your paddle breaks when you put too much weight on it.  So a stick is good.  six foot is a good length. Exact diameter depends on the wood.  Whatever it is, it should be strong enough for you to lean on it without breaking it.  I'll post pictures as soon as I make another one.

Monday, January 10, 2011

The Aleutian Kayak

I'm finally putting out a second edition of my how-to book, The Aleutian Kayak.  It is an online edition for now, kind of a stripped down version of the original but with improvements.

You can look at my progress so far by going HERE. 
So far, I've got an introduction up, a chapter on planning and a chapter on making gunwales.  A chapter on building the deck will come next.  And before you know it, the whole book will be there.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

How's the cleanup going? part n

The Navy is still cleaning up the former Alameda Naval Air station.  It is a sight to behold, something on the order of the building of the pyramids.  Doesn't involve nearly as many people, but we have machinery that can do the work of hundreds if not thousands of people.

Here is a view of the seaplane lagoon from the top of our shop in building 29.  The bottom of the lagoon is reportedly lined with mud that has considerable amounts of toxic solvents and a small amount of radium in it. At some  point, contractors will pump the mud and the toxins it contains up onto land and then haul it off someplace else where it will still be toxic but not near any people who have access to a politician.

So the scheme as it appears, is to pump the mud out of the lagoon, but to keep the toxins from re-entering the ground when they get on land by making the ground impervious.  Hence, the concrete will be topped off with asphalt, shown here in large piles.

Here's the crew with a paving machine with an asphalt truck backed up to it.

And here is the paving machine putting the asphalt down on a layer of plastic sheeting.  I suppose the sheeting will make it easier to pull up the asphalt when the job is done. 
Mind you, I am not critical of toxic cleanup.  What I am critical of is that we are focusing on cleanup and not on prevention.  Regardless of how well we manage our toxins, they will end up somewhere once we create them.  So why not think twice about manufacturing them in the first place.  Can we do without the stuff that we need the toxins for? 

Sailing away

Yesterday, I went out paddling with Joe Karr, the Bohemian Blacksmith.  He couldn't get to his kayak, so I put him in my junior baidarkalounger, the one with 30 inch beam.  Joe has been working on a sail for his Greenland kayak so I brought along the George Dyson style sail that my friend Steve Kaspar had given me.  I figured Joe might like to play with this particular sail and kayak combo till he gets his own going.  
There was no wind to speak of. Still, Joe was doing about one knot, enough to get some sense of the mechanics of the sail.
Setting sail was initially a failure.  Since there wasn't any wind when we started out, I just threw the sail with all the lines all tangled up in the bottom of the boat and then later, when we were on the water, I tried to rig the contraption on the bow of Joe's boat from the kayak I was sitting in.  Getting all the lines untangled proved to be just too much from the narrow deck of my kayak.  So we paddled over to the beach where we were able to manage the untangling.  Part of the problem with sailing, too many lines.  This sail had six separate lines that you had to tend to.  One sheet to control sail angle, a halyard to raise the sail and a third line for reefing the sail and the same thing on the other side.  Good when it finally works, but a real pain when it's laying in the bottom of the boat with the lines all tangled up and you're trying to deploy it from a confined space with minimal mobility.  Best to get it working at the dock.

And here he is from another angle.  This was also my first chance to see this particular boat in action, to see how it trimmed.  It worked pretty well actually. 
But the best part was just being out, even though it was cold by Bay Area standards, 40 degrees maybe.  But ideal paddling weather.  Usually when the sun is out, the problem is getting overheated when wearing any kind of wetsuit or drysuit.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

A tale of two boats

We did a float test on the ten foot pseudo-baidarka the other day.  Here are some photos and comments.
The boat on the left was inspired by the one on the right.  Diane built the boat on the left.

Here's a rear view of the two boats.  I added a skeg to the one on the left to make it track better.  The one on the right, the new one has an integral skeg.
Here's the new boat afloat.  It is covered in linen with several layers of varnish. It's still wrinkled here.  After we paddled it we found that the fabric still wasn't completely sealed so it was leaking.  But once wet, the wrinkles went away.  That's the good part about plant fibers, they tighten up when wet unlike nylon which does the reverse, namely loosens up.  How annoying.

The two sisters on the beach, about to launch.

Here's the boat in action. Plenty of freeboard. Should be interesting to see how it does in some windblown chop.  Hard to find that this time of year.  
I tried the boat as well.  I am a little heavy for it just as I am a little heavy for the other ten footer that inspired this one.  I would either need a little more beam or a little more length for my weight.  I would also go a little wider on the stern, maybe ten inches instead of six. But for a person under 150 pounds, a ten footer with a 24 inch beam can be a reasonable boat.  It is certainly light and easy to get around corners.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Two New Kayaks

Over the last month or so, students built two new boats.  These turned out quite nice. Both are baidarka variants, that is, inspired by an Aleut kayak design.

Christian's boat in the foreground and Diane's boat in the background.

This is Diane's boat, all of 10 feet long.

Diane's boat again from a different angle. Christian's boat in the foreground.

A view of the inside of Christian's boat with all the ribs in place.

 Christian with the completed frame, 15 feet long.

 Christian's boat with the skin on.

Diane wants to be able to sail her boat down the road so we put in a mast step.  The round dowel is a temporary stand-in for the mast.  Diane was opting for linen lashings.

Diane's boat with its skin on.

Closeup on the nose.

Boat lumber

About a week ago, I planted this year's willow crop.  Just stuck a bunch of sticks in the ground and am waiting for them to root and in spring, start sprouting.  After that, it will be up to them to find water. If they grow, the shoots should be useful as boat ribs and maybe hull stringers.

This one is a pussy willow, already fixed up with roots, given to me by a friend. It should do well.

These are some of the unrooted willow twigs that I just stuck into the ground.  I planted maybe 50 of them.  If they all go, or even half of them, it will be quite a plantation.  The willow twigs are circled by the white loops.  I found it necessary to add those because the willow twigs against a green background are almost invisible.