Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Low Entropy Boat Building

Entropy has generally had a lot of bad press.  Entropy is seen as something undesirable, as a general increase of disorder in the universe.  But, as people like Nobel Prize winner Ilya Prigogine have been pointing out, order in the universe is created by burning energy and creating entropy.  You get a local decrease in entropy or increase in order and organization by a larger net increase in entropy.
So things like culture and technology arise from the burning of energy and the creation of entropy. So if more entropy also means more order and organization, why should we opt for low entropy boat building? That is, why should we do things like build skin boats instead of plastic roto-molded boats?  Interesting question, I think.  While hi-tech (high entropy) boat building produces some fabulous boats, lo-tech (low entropy) boat building is a hedge against energy scarcity.  That is, sometimes it is interesting to design boats for low energy scenarios, for environments where energy is scarce, or for some reason or other, you just don't want to use a lot of energy for esthetic reasons like you don't like the noise that high entropy machinery makes.

Why Aleuts don't build kayaks any more

Aleuts build kayaks up to about WWII and maybe a little after.  Today, the practice of building kayaks in the Aleutians has stopped.  There are many reasons why the building has stopped, but the primary one no doubt is economics - the kayak has become economically irrelevant in the lives of the Aleuts.  Other kinds of boats have replaced the kayak.  This becomes apparent when one spends any amount of time in an Aleut village like Sand Point.  The major activity nowadays is fishing and to make money at fishing in today's world one needs a commercial fishing boat, not a kayak. See evidence below.

There is also the fact that if you spend a good deal of time out on the water in your fishing boat, you are not likely to want to go out in a kayak in your spare time. But if you are working in Anchorage at a desk job, then maybe going out in a kayak on weekends might seem more attractive. 

What is possible, contd.

On our last day in Sand Point, we found some dry suits airing out on the railing of the motel we were staying at, the Anchor Inn. At first we thought they belonged to some kayakers, but in talking to the owners of the dry suits, we discovered that they belonged to some jet skiers who were using jet skis to travel from Seattle to Nome. The trip is apparently being financed by a cable TV network which will air a show on the trip sometime in 2012. Partial video below.
After talking to the jet skiers we went down to the harbor to look at their rigs.
Expedition logo

Here's the jet skis and Mike Livingston for scale.

Due to the general unavailability of gasoline en route, each ski had six extra 5 gallon tanks.    
After Sand Point, these guys were headed for King Cove and after that to False Pass where they would cross from the Pacific into the Bering Sea.
So OK, it's a stunt of sorts to travel from Seattle to Nome by jet ski.  For one thing, there aren't enough places to get gas. At one point, these guys had to get gas flown in to them, but other than that, doing the trip by jet ski isn't much different than traveling somewhere by motorcycle. 
So does this mean that we will now start seeing jet skis being used for long trips along our coasts, or to cross to Hawaii from LA?  Who knows.  It is possible no doubt long as you can get someone to bring them gas.

Monday, August 22, 2011

What is possible?

The current boat I am working on is yet another iteration of what I like to think of as my version of the perfect bay boat, bay kayak, that is.
One version of the bay boat, a canoe with outrigger for stability. However, too slow for long distances.
The perfect boat, for my current purposes at least is a boat that is fast enough to do a six mile bay crossing in a reasonable amount of time.  The boat also has to be car-toppable and be human powered, that is propelled by oars or paddles.  By reasonable amount of time, I mean that I want a boat that I can paddle at 4 mph.  Average speed will be less due to aimless drifting and beverage breaks, but if I can push the boat at 4 mph without making it an athletic event, then I will be happy. The boat also has to be reasonably stable, that is stable enough that I can stop and rest or take a photograph without having to do fancy bracing with the paddle or put another way, a boat that does not require my constant effort to keep it upright.
The outrigger canoe afloat.  On flat water, it is stable enough to stand up in.
Of course, speed and stability are conflicting requirements in a boat and so they need to be balanced for the proper compromise. The canoe with outrigger pictured above is not a proper bay boat because it is too slow. But it would make an ok fishing platform. In any case, I am sure that the boat I am currently working on will be a reasonable bay boat.
Which brings me to my main point, namely, what is possible?
San Francisco, six miles distant.
What I would like to do is periodically paddle over to San Francisco, in a boat that can do the trip in an hour and a half each way.  If it is summer and the trip over is started before 11, there will be little wind.  The trip back on the other hand will have lots of wind, although it will be a tail wind, 20 to 25mph being common. So if I start at home, drive to where my kayak is, launch it, that is half an hour added on to the 1.5 hour trip over for a total round trip of 4 hours.  If we add another hour for lounging about at the destination, perhaps to have a cup of coffee, then the whole trip will be about 5 hours.  If we add another hour for dallying along the way, then the total trip will turn into a 6 hour event, that is, 6 hours to go to San Francisco for a cup of coffee.
And once again, we have to ask ourselves, what is possible?  It isn't the physical constraints that make a paddle to San Francisco for a cup of coffee such a rare event.  It is more a matter of how much time it takes.  I can take a one hour paddle by launching off the boat ramp which is half a mile from my house. Total elapsed time for launching and landing is half an hour. So I could do a one hour paddle in 1-1/2 hours.
I do in fact do the short paddle near my house fairly often and the paddle to San Francisco only rarely.  What is possible in part has to do with how much time I allow myself for paddling.  When I think of the people whom I know that do more extensive paddles, they are invariably single people with few responsibilities other than to themselves.  So what is possible?  Perhaps what we allow ourselves.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Polynesian Boats in SF Bay

 There's a bunch of Polynesian boats that have just showed up in SF Bay this past week.  I went to visit them yesterday and here's some pictures I took.  Their website is http://www.pacificvoyagers.org/
The hulls of the boats are fiberglass and resin, but the decks and other topside trim is wood. 
The venture was financed by a German philanthropist including the building of the boats and all else that is involved, but the people on the boats are from the traditional canoe voyaging countries and it is great to see them undertaking such a voyage.  Apparently they have GPS on board, but it is used as backup -  navigators on board try to come up with the right course to sail which is then confirmed or corrected by the GPS.  

 Here's a part of the steering oar.  When under way, someone has to hang on to this.  It's about six inches in diameter and a hunk of wood, but balanced so the person steering isn't supporting all the weight.

the amazon book store

I notice I still have the Amazon book store banner up at the top of my page.  Some of my readers have software that blocks that sort of thing so they probably never even noticed in the first place.
In any case, the state of California is going to try to extract state sales tax from online vendors selling stuff in California.  They will approach Amazon and say, hey, how much have you sold in CA this year and how about handing over the sales tax.  Amazon is balking and one of the things they did is discontinue their program of paying a percentage of sales generated through links to people who live in California.  So if you do click on one of the book links I have put up and buy a book from Amazon, I no longer get a percentage.  Still, I may keep the book store up there because it's a convenient place to list books that I have found interesting or useful.
But discontinuing the commission program seems like a bad idea.  Perhaps Amazon was hoping that people like myself who have made a buck fifty in the past year will write impassioned letters to their legislators.  Probably won't happen.  It's probably good for Amazon to pay taxes.  We buyers will pay more for our stuff, but on the other hand,  Amazon will have less of an unfair advantage over local retailers. And California won't have to lay off so many teachers and librarians. 

Friday, August 5, 2011

Sand Point bent wood hats

Here's a few photos of bent wood hats made in Sand Point.  Bent wood hat instructor for the camp was Peter Devine.  He had inherited some of the bending jigs made by Andrew Gronholdt who was one of the key people who revived the art of Aleut bent wood hat making. For more on Andrew Gronholdt, see the wikipedia page.
 This is a selection of Peter's designs.

 This is a bending jig for short visors made by Andrew Gronholdt.

 Peter was also experimenting with using baleen as hat making material.  The source of this baleen was apparently a minke whale that had washed up on the beach. Although the baleen is dark, the frayed fibrous edges are essentially blond.

 A student adding feathers to a short visor he had made.

 Hats are carved from quarter inch thick cotton wood which is thinned out in selected places for easier bending.  After the hat blanks are carved, they are soaked in boiling water and then bent on a form.  Stones hold the hat blanks under water.  The smooth stones were found by Peter in the stomach of a sea lion.  The darker rough stones are from Atka.

And finally, a student wearing one of his finished hats next to the finished iqyax^ (Unangan kayak.)

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Aleutian China

 Sand Point has one restaurant and two cafes, both of which seem to be closed more than open, at least when we needed them.  Above, the sign for the Aleutian China, which you might guess serves Chinese food.  Throughout the week we were fed our three squares at culture camp, but on weekends, that is Saturday and Sunday we were off and had to fend for ourselves, so our choice was primarily, the Aleutian China.  I was prepared for the worst, but the cooking at the Aleutian China was actually pretty good.  I have tasted worse here in the SF bay area. 
 The Aleutian China is locatated in the same building as the AC Value Center. The AC Value Center is both a super market, check cashing center and general merchandise emporium.

This sign here indicates that the Aleutian China is open for business.
Here is John sucking down a milk shake for desert.
And finally, a view of Unga Island out the window.

Sand Point, Alaska

 I've just gotten back from Sand Point Alaska where I spent the last two weeks at the Sand Point Culture Camp.  I had hoped over the period of the last month to post dispatches from both the Urban Unagax^ Culture Camp in Anchorage and the culture camp in Sand Point, but in both places, days were long and the internet connections were problematic, so that the dispatches just didn't happen.  So here they are, retroactively.  I should mention that I traveled to Sand Point together with Mike Livingston and John Petersen.  Mike was the person instrumental in getting John and myself to Sand Point.  John is a fellow kayak builder and he and I built an Unangan kayak.  Mike taught model kayak building.
Photo above is one of many views of Sand Point in the foreground and Unga Island in the background. Unga Island is considerably larger than Popov Island where Sand Point, town of roughly 900 people is located.  Unga was probably more important as an Aleut living place before the arrival of the Russians, but today, Unga is uninhabited. 
 Weather for the first week was mostly cloudy with frequent rain and only intermittent sunshine.  Temps were in the fifties.  On this, a fairly typical day, the clouds thinned a little around 9 pm when these pictures were taken and the sun poked through to dramatically light up selected portions of the landscape.  Looks lovely of course and is somewhat cheering after a full day of low hanging clouds and persistent gloom.

Here's another view of town from a sea-level vantage point.  Shortly after taking this picture, a woman came out of a nearby house and we talked to her for a while.  Turned out she knew me.  We had met in Akutan a few years ago.  Then she went back in her house and brought out some smoked salmon for us to take with us.
Here's John with his smoked salmon in front of a portable smoke house.  I don't know exactly how this smoke house works or why it is on wheels or what the function of those racks on the side of the house are, but the discoloration to the left and top of the door are a pretty good indicator that smoke leaked out the door at some point. 
So that's it for today.  Much more to come soon.  Like a report on the boat building, the launch, a hike on the island, fishing and more.