27 May 2009

SHOP: foot pegs modification

Now, really, what's there to talk about foot pegs?
Modify foot pegs? com'on...
Actually yes.
I am not interested in foot pegs that control rudders; it's the static foot pegs for skeg boats that I want to write about.
For proper efficient paddling one needs solid foot pegs.
While most novices will think that kayaking involves a lot of arm strength they eventually discover that I kayak is propelled by the torso rotation and legs.
Your feet must make decent contact with the pegs.
Too far away and a lot of your potential power is not directed to boat propulsion.
Pegs that are too flimsy and flexible also aren't much good.
Most high end kayaks have Werner (also called Yakima) foot pegs.
Those pegs are probably the best that are commercially available.
I can hear the purists say that a proper kayak should have a bulkhead as point of contact for your feet; that option is usually feasible for custom built boats.
For the rest of us that want to use adjustable foot pegs there are two solutions on improving the standard pegs.
If you are a rather tall person and your pegs will sit close to the bulkhead I think that a bar spanning across the width of the kayak to the other peg is a good option.

The above solution allows me to have more positions for my feet that are often jammed under the deck (size 12 US) wearing paddling shoes.
I can still adjust the reach of the bar by sliding the pegs.
An aluminum curved and profiled bar is cut to length and attached with stainless steel bolts onto the plastic pegs. Since most kayaks are tapered and the hull shape is converging, the hole on the aluminum bar will have to be slotted to allow reach adjustment.
If your pegs are however positioned somewhere half way on the rail you probably want to utilize the room left in front of your feet and the bulkhead.
Having a bar there will probably prevent positioning of items (dry bags, water etc) if space is at premium on a long trip.
A lot of expeditioners have to use all available space on a kayak to carry the necessary food, water and gear.
Therefore the Werner pegs have to be individually modified.
The surface area on a Werner peg is rather small with sharp edges.
A lot of people lament sore feet when paddling in booties with rather soft soles.
Greg Schwarz, a kayaker that can see improvement in all stock items, has modified his Avocet LV pegs.
Using foam core (expanded polystyrene) fiberglass and epoxy he has shaped a perfectly fitting modified Werner peg.

color matched (to deck) epoxy with slip resistant finish

25 May 2009

SHOP: eye candy

Have you ever been to a motorshow?
I have not since cars are not my thing, but I know that some folks are bent on nice cars.
So bent that they like to customize them.
For whatever reason (sometimes to improve performance, other times to improve looks and occasionally just to stand out of the crowd) there is on display work that makes a car lover just drool over.
Meet Greg Schwarz.
He loves kayaks.
He does to kayaks what people to do to cars.

Retired boat builder he has traded his sailing boat for a kayaks (he got some spare change out of it... :-)
His love is for British style boats; small ones.
Well, Greg Schwarz's work is simply worthy of admiration.
He can fabricate out of epoxy, glass and carbon items that are just out of this world.
His work is impeccable and often innovative.
The latest work is his Nordkapp LV's coaming.

The standard coaming has been modified just slightly and covered with carbon cloth.

Nothing is more (technoporn) sexy than clear coated carbon.
The finish is so pefectly smooth and shiny.
A real pleasure to look at.

Just for the record: it took Greg 3 weeks to create this coaming.

18 May 2009

Sea kayak for skills development

I have experienced it myself and observed it over time in others but last weekend paddle certainly cemented my opinion: a good kayak will improve your skills.

Occasionally there is a paddler skilled and talented enough to make any kayak perform well but for the more common mortal often a decent kayak will improve things out of sight.
That moment for me occurred when I switched from a ruddered kayak to a skegged one.
Now, I know that a good tradesman never blames his tools but I don't call myself a good tradesman, actually an average one. I will seek the best tool I can get.
At the time there were only a handful of rudderless kayaks in my area.
All of them were too small and I could not test paddle them.
Finally I found a kayak that fitted me and had a skeg.

The skeg alone is not the ultimate component in a great kayak but generally is associated with tighter fitting cockpit complemented with decent thigh braces.
I found that if a kayak is loose it generally can not be edged and consequently is a dog to control (I am talking mongrel kind of dog here...).
I had enough of just cruising paddling. Speed has never been my goal nor have been bragging rights of how fast I can go (no GPS speed readings for me).
I see a kayak as a vessel for adventure and fun.
Since I regard adventure as a long trip that often my time constraints won't allow it, the fun factor has to be high when paddling a kayak.
Enter the surf zone.
Bracing Smurfy (c)
Since the local conditions don't offer rebound and rock gardens I have to content myself with surf alone.
In my ruddered kayaks I could not surf; they just were not built for that.
The design of a ruddered boat is such that even by retracting the rudder on the deck those kayaks just were not happy in rough conditions.
Needless to say that some were built too light and the surf would damage them easily but I never felt right in my ruddered kayaks.
So, when finally I came across a kayak that would fit me and that was a true British style kayak I bought it without test paddling.
I still remember my first paddle in it: bloody brilliant.
I have never looked back.

So, when a paddling buddy's skills started to improve in his considerably well fitted kayak I took him in conditions that were slightly beyond his skill level.
I would be there to pull him out of the drink, if necessary.
He did great but could only go so far in his ruddered kayak. *
He wanted more but eventually realized that he needed a better kayak to get there.
My buddy then paddled one of my boats and found it much more responsive than his ruddered one.
He wanted one.
And he was lucky to get the very last for sale in Australia.
Last Sunday we all met at our local surfing spot, him in his new Impex.
The conditions were gentle and very suited for a maiden voyage in a new boat, a new style of boat too.
I was expecting some initial embarrassment for him while trying to work out the skeg concept and the higher maneuverability of his new kayak.
It was amazing to witness the marked improvement in skills almost immediately.
He started to surf the gentle waves and quickly progressed to steeped and bigger ones.
Something I have not seen him do in his old kayak.
His comment after a short time paddling in the gentle surf:
"...I can't believe how much more maneuverable this kayak is and how much more fun I can have..."
Skills building in Smurfy (c)
I don't have any pictures of him surfing the bigger waves because that smile was worth a thousand words.

PS Readers have questioned my wisdom in selecting such low waters for skill development for my buddy. I am no expert but that's how I was taught by instructor Gary Forrest as seen in this video here

* PS MAY10: a very good article on how to improve skills in a ruddered kayak: here

12 May 2009

Photography: digital cameras and viewfinders

Why have manufacturers abandoned the viewfinder on just about all compact cameras and soon on basic DSLRs?
What is wrong with the trusty little viewfinder?
Actually, a lot.

My photographic education started when there was no other option than a viewfinder (or back plate on a field camera for studio work).
Not knowing better I assumed that's how it is and you live with it.
Some manufacturers (Nikon) tried to make the viewfinder more user friendly (bigger) but it still required bringing your eye to it and placing it close to your face.
There were times that a viewfinder was useless when shooting close to the ground or raising my camera high up above eye level to get a better vantage point.

self portrait
Those were the days of film photography as well.
Unless somebody else was paying for the materials you ought to be rather careful snapping away trying to get a decent image and wasting all that costly film.
And finally one day I lost my beautiful Nikon titanium body range find camera.
Devastated at first only now I realize it was the best thing it could have happened to me.
See, I was acting like an old coot (I still do :-) and did not want to embrace the new digital photography (mind you, at the time 1.3 megapixels was regarded as "high resolution" !).
Eventually I borrowed some compact digital cameras and joined "the enemy".
Never looked back.
But let's go back to the viewfinder.

So what's wrong with the viewfinder?
If you take pictures of landscapes with all the time in the world, probably nothing.
But for my style of images where speed is essential and the subject is often a human element the viewfinder is dead.
Years ago when I started using my Hasselblad I noticed a marked difference in portrait photography.
Nothing to do with the insanely sharp lenses but much more to do with the waist level viewfinder.
When photographing people it is vital that your subject can see your face.
Only a highly trained actor can overcome the psychological disturbing factor of being viewed by a person that does not show his/her face.
For a moment, imagine having somebody staring and talking to you with his/her face covered by a hood.
Most people would feel very uncomfortable.
When reviewing my old images taken with a SLR with viewfinder I notice a certain stiffness and "posed" behaviour that makes the image staged.
However, going to a studio photoshoot where human models were involved I noticed that once the camera was set up on the tripod the photographer then stepped away from the viewfinder and faced the model talking to them "face to face".
From the Hasselblad days to now digital LCD screens (used only as reference for composition) my subject can see my face.
I talk to them and they can see my eyes.
My pictures now show a much more relaxed and natural portrait.
I never hide behind the camera anymore. I don't need to.
I can view the composition of the image I am about to take somewhere away from my face and can interact with my subject in a natural way.
Results speak for themselves.

05 May 2009

Can your kayak take this?

photo by: akasharkbow (used under Creative Commons license)

I am not sure that all kayaks can take this.

While most of us probably will never have anybody dancing on the deck of the kayak consider if your deck is strong enough to accept the weight of a fully loaded kayak in a rescue situation.

Too often I see decks of kayaks that are just a little bit on the light side being the consequence of the endless pursuit of a light craft.

And soon the spider cracks and the split seam appear...