Friday, February 25, 2011

California Condor

This past weekend we went camping at Pinnacles National Monument.  A national monument is like a National park only it's been established by a president rather than a congress. Pinnacles was established by Teddy Roosevelt who was a president.
As you can see from the photo above, Pinnacles is a rugged place.  It features along with exposed rock, some of the few remaining specimens of the California Condor. At one time, the condor tribe was down to 20 some individuals. Now it is up to about 300 individuals.
When we went to the Pinnacles, a place we had never been to before, we hoped to see some condors but figured that we would have to be extremely lucky to do so.
Well, we got lucky, or maybe you don't have to be all that lucky because condors love the Pinnacles.  Condors don't like to flap their wings or otherwise exert themselves.  They prefer to land in a spot from which they can launch into space and then just steer for an updraft which will elevate them to a height from which they can see something large and dead. 

On our third day at the Pinnacles we did the hike up to the top of the Pinnacles a place from which we might be able to spot some condors according to the rangers.  Up we went, and there sitting on a rock was a large bird the looked like it might be a condor.
I took some pictures, put the camera in playback mode and zoomed in and sure enough, this bird had a number on it, a sure sign that it was a condor.

This is a picture of the condor in flight. You can see the wing patches - white on the black feathers. This is still number 43. Now I need to point out that there are also a lot of turkey vultures around and at a distance, condors are hard to tell from the vultures.  Once you've seen a condor, you can tell it from a vulture.  And if nothing else, if you've got good binoculars, you can tell them apart because condors have numbers on them. 
Imagine you have to teach an alien how to tell football players from ordinary humans.  Probably the easiest way is to tell the alien that football players have numbers on them.

One last photo. Condors have 9 foot wing spans.  
Post Script:
I just went to the library and checked out a book on Condors.  It was written at a point when the Condor population was down to twenty some birds.  I hope to find out more about what their chances are for survival on their own.  Keeping them alive right now is a multi million dollar effort.  A lot of that money comes from private donations.  And I hope the people who are working on this project are successful and get to put themselves out of a job.  
More on this in the future.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Grow your own Boat

The grow your own boat project is going well so far.  All the willow twigs I have stuck in the ground along the fence line at the shop have sprouted except for the ones that shop neighbor Tim's dog Shasta has dug up. Shasta loves to dig up ground squirrel burrows.  So, at last count, I have something like 50 willow plants growing.  There will probably be several withes per plant, probably enough total to make a basket. I think boat rib size twigs take at least two years to grow. We will find out.

Here's a typical sprout. I have one row growing north south of which this is a specimen. I have another row growing east west which is getting shaded by ice plants and is a little slower coming up.

And here's a shot down the east-west row, an attempt to show more than one plant at a time.  Problem is that green is a marvelous camo color for a green background.

And among all this stuff, a mushroom pops up as well.  Don't know what it's called, but a mycelium is a good thing to have in a plot where you are trying to grow something.  That white thing next to the mushroom is a piece of plastic foam.  Don't know what the significance of that is other than that plastic is ubiquitous and we need some plastic eating mushrooms.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

post apocalyptic homeless flesh eating zombies

Here we go.
If you are at all into post apocalypticism, check out the March issue of Harper's magazine. William Vollman, author of numerous books has an article about camping out with homeless people in Sacramento, CA, his home town. 
Just about anyone who is into post apocalypticism can probably find some homeless campout spots in their home town.  These seem to be more popular in California where the weather is mild.  It's raining right now and gets near freezing at night but at least, there's no snow on the ground.  If you want to do some post-apocalyptic exploration, you can probably spend a night in some homeless camp and see whether you really like the idea of post apocalyptic living or not.  Or you can just buy the Harpers issue and read about it.  Or you can forget about the whole thing and watch the trailer about flesh eating zombies.

Two years before the mast in a post apocalyptic kayak trailer

I was checking the stats on my blog and I found that the kayak trailer blog entry had the most hits lately followed by post apocalyptic look and feel followed by two years before the mast.
Now I think what happens is that people search for certain things and then they follow the links and when the link takes them to my page,  I get a hit.  I suspect that most of these hits are sorry, wrong number kind of hits.  What I'm posting about isn't really what they're looking for. 
For instance, people searching for kayak trailer probably are searching for something you can tow behind a car, not something you can tow behind a bicycle.  And people searching for post apocalyptic are probably searching for who knows what, perhaps descriptions of the rapture? Flesh eating Zombies? 
Come to thing of it, I should do at least one blog on flesh eating zombies and see what happens to my page hits.  Two years before the mast with flesh eating zombies.  I will work on that.  Have to get some video or at least photos. 
stay tuned

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Two years before the mast

Two Years Before the Mast is Richard Henry Dana's account of collecting cow hides in California between 1834 and 1836.  The book is considered a classic.  I read it for the first time about a year ago.  If you've never read the book or never even heard about it before, you can go on the internet to find out more about it.  If you have a Kindle, you can even get a free copy of it.  Or you can go to your library.  I'm not trying to plug the book, mind you.  If you live in California, the book probably holds more interest for you than if you live in say, Iowa.  In any case, I live in California now and so the book has more interest to me than the average citizen of Iowa because it talks about places that are more familiar to me than to the citizens of Iowa.
A little side note here before I go on with this narrative.  Perhaps because Dana's book is out of copyright, publishers can't make much money on it so they don't want to pay extra to get a picture of a boat that actually resembles the one that Dana sailed on.  Dana sailed on a brig which is a two masted, square rigged vessel.  Good luck finding one of those on the cover of his book.
Things were different in the California of 1834 than they are in the California of today.  The gold rush had not started yet.  San Francisco was not a city yet.  Nothing was the same as it is now except for the weather. 
Dana writes about the winter storms, south-easters.  They brought rain and high winds.  They still do.  We just had one of these storms.  Dana tells us that when his ship saw a south easter coming on, the captain would take her out to sea.  The coast was not safe.  California has few natural harbors.  Far off the coast was the safest place to be in a storm that was blowing landward.  It still might be. 
When I got to the shop today, one of the guys told me that Eric, a guy who lives on a  sailboat had been looking for me.  His boat had just sunk. I don't know why Eric was looking for me.  The guys in the shop hadn't taken good notes.
So when I was done doing what I had to do at the shop, I drove down to where Eric's boat had been anchored.  Sure enough, Eric's boat was up on the rocks and had a big hole in it.  Eric wasn't around but some other people were working on his boat,  pumping water out of it.  A bunch of his gear was piled up on shore, including the rowing scull he used as a tender.
And then I was wondering, what kind of sailor was Eric? Didn't he know about the dangers of a lee shore, hadn't he read Two Years Before the Mast?  Maybe he thought he was in a safe anchorage.  But he wasn't. 
And last year another boat was anchored in the same place as Eric and about the same time of year, a winter storm came in and blew his boat into the rocks and sank it. 
When I first moved to the Bay area, I was surprised that people called rainy weather a rain storm.  It never really rains all that hard but I guess it blows hard enough to drive boats up on the rocks just like 200 years ago. Maybe I'll give the next guy that anchors off that rock wall in the winter a copy of Two Years Before the Mast.

Bill Samson Builds Baidarka

Bill Samson posted a trailer on youtube for a video he did on building his latest baidarka replica.  Watch now.
The video can be ordered at the address posted at the end of the trailer.


Springtime is approaching in the northern hemisphere, at least it seems to be at some latitudes.  Hard to believe in some parts of the US where people are still up to their armpits in snow.  Still, the earth is persisting in its peregrinations about the sun. And sooner or later the earth will be tilted toward the sun sufficiently where the trees around latitude 45 will get the message and start pumping sap up their trunks and people of that region will be tapping them to get their sap which they will boil down and put into bottles which other people will take to pour the contents on their breakfast arrangements. 
I am thinking of this mostly because I am packing for a camping trip and in looking for bottles to transport such things as soy sauce, I have run across a little bottle shaped like a log cabin that once contained maple syrup from New Hampshire where the sap will soon be rising.
If you are snow bound, take heart. Spring is near.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

That post apocalyptic third world look and feel

I'm working on the part of the Aleutian Kayak that has to do with bending wood. And so I went and took some pictures of old  steam boxes down at the shop.  They're not really that old. They've been used maybe a dozen times. But they've sat outside for a year and the effects are starting to show.

Which got me to thinking, what is it about them that makes them look third world.  Certainly, pictures like these don't inspire confidence in someone from a first world culture who is used to shiny plastic tools and chrome etc. There are even whole websites devoted to making fun of people who improvise temporary or permanent solutions in the home fixit department.  And I don't know if it's still on the air, but there was this TV show out of Canada called The Red Green show about two guys who did a lot of fixes with duct tape.

Here's another picture, this one a closeup on an 8 foot long steambox for heating wood for coamings.

So why do these things look so third world?  I suppose the duct tape is a big factor, as is the foam insulation, as is the weathered look from sitting outside.  The foam is starting to come apart, the duct tape is failing and the wood is turning gray and splitting.
So what is it that makes us contemptuous of this sort of thing?  All I can say is that it has to do with money.  The rich have contempt for the poor. The poor manage as best they can given the resources that they have.  The rich hire someone to do things for them. And they have money for big houses with lots of storage and big lots for erecting sheds that keep stuff out of view and out of the sun where it starts deteriorating.
The third world builder on the other hand has to store some stuff outside because he has no inside storage and so the sun and rain start to go to work on his stuff. 
And the third world builder is not that interested in the stuff itself.  His stuff is a means to an end, not a status symbol.
So what's my excuse for having steam boxes that look distinctively third world?  I guess the reason is that a lot of the stuff I build is provisional.  It is a first cut.  I build, not being sure if the thing will even work, so I don't invest a lot of time and resources in it.  The steam boxes were made out of whatever was laying around at the time.  The long steam box was made out of 3/4 inch lumber and some 1/4 inch paneling.  The 1/4 inch paneling  was too thin and leaked out too much heat so the box never got hot enough.  Hence the insulation taped to the outside of the box.  It is now fully functional.  But it has spent some time outside after the latest move and the sun is starting to do its work. 
So what's the lesson here?  One is that 3/4 inch wood or even better, exterior plywood all around is optimal, both for standing up to the steam and potentially, outside storage and for holding the heat in.  The foam insulation works as well but starts looking shabby after a while.  So freshen it all up with duct tape every so often until it falls apart.  So the life span is maybe half a decade with a minimal outlay of time or money.
If I wanted to go to the lumber yard and get 3/4 inch plywood, that would give me a steam box good for at least a decade, if not more.  The downside is the trip to the lumberyard and the pain of lifting a four by eight sheet of plywood.  That stuff weighs a ton and is the kind of thing that leaves your back hurting for days after you lift it on top of your car. So who knows, the third world solution has a lot of appeal, not the least of which is that your scrap pile gets smaller, not bigger as it would if I went to the lumber yard and picked up a full four by eight panel of plywood. 

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Kayak Transport

Former shop mate Sebastian just mailed me a bunch of pictures from our move a year ago.  We had a bunch of kayaks to store temporarily till we got our shop set up.  Neighbor Dean graciously offered us some space back of his building which was just next door to ours. It was close enough so that we could use the bicycle trailer to move kayaks, as it turned out, we could manage 4 at a time.

And then we had to move the kayaks from behind Dean's building to our new shop, a little too far for the bicycle cart, so we used the Honda instead.

Friday, February 4, 2011


It's spring time in Alameda.  The ume (Japanes apricots) are blossoming, first time since we got them.  Perhaps the blossoms will turn into fruit.  Then we can pickle them.  Stay tuned.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

New Chapter of The Aleutian Kayak Released

I have released the deck building chapter of The Aleutian Kayak. Check it out

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

More Kayak Sailing

Here we go again.  More kayak sailing attempts. I was using my friend Tim Anderson's lug rig to test out kayak sailing for myself, but he took it back so it was time for me to make my own rig using John Bull's book, Sail your Canoe as a guide.  I'm starting out with a lateen rig.  I have two kayaks with mast steps and fair beam, 32 inches and 30 inches. 
My approach to rigging the kayaks for sail is to hack away at the problem without any good idea of what I'm doing.  Ideally, I would have done a design first.  I know the basic principles like how big the sail should be, where it should be on the boat and so on. And I have some books that describe the different sailing rigs suitable for a small boat. 
But that's not how I did it, at least not this time around.  I made a sail based on John Bull's book using materials I had available to me.  The sail ended up being about 8 feet on a side because that was the length of spar material I had laying around, redwood from reclaimed deck lumber that my friend Steve had donated. I know that nobody ever uses redwood for boat applications.  Apparently too soft and doesn't hold screws well etc.  Still, there it was, lovely old growth redwood with tight grain and a marvelous deep color.  It would have been a shame to not use it for something nautical.  If you're going to cut down an old growth tree, better to use it for something less earthbound than fence posts or rain gutters.  And friend Tim had donated a several damaged wind surfer kites from which I salvaged sail material for a new life as a kayak sail.
The kite construction is very ingenious and I tried to borrow some of the technology for my sail, like instead of punching holes in the edge of the sail and putting grommets in the holes using straps or string sewn to the edge of the sail to make loops through which I ran lines to attach the sail to its spar. We'll see how that works out.  I mean, it works for now.  The question is how it will hold up over time. 

And here is the same approach used on the corner of the sail, a loop instead of a grommet. My guess is that grommets go back to the days of cotton sail and hemp lines neither of which were as strong as more modern materials.

And here is the rig deployed on the boat.  One thing I learned is to test out rig configuration back at the shop with the boat sitting on the ground.  My old method was to haul everything down to the beach only to find out that things didn't fit together whereupon I had to haul everything back to the shop to "resolve the issues" as they like to say in the corporate world.
The center of effort of the sail looks to be a bit far forward, ok for going downwind but in need of an additional sail in back to bring the center of effort back far enough where a leeboard deployed somewhere around the middle of the cockpit would do some good.
The other problem with this configuration is that the mast step is a bit far forward of the front of the cockpit so that tending the sail is difficult.  But we're learning. 

In any case, there the boat sits on its bed of ice plans dreaming of its impending outing with the new sail.