Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Tiderace Xtra vs Valley Gemini SP RM - Surf Session

Rob & I headed to our favourite sea kayak surf spot, the Bundeena Bar, on the strength of yesterday's forecast 2-4m SE swell & 10-12 second wave period.

An intense east coast low had obliterated Sydney's beaches for all but the biggest wave adrenaline junkies, but a fast run-out tide mid-morning delivered us as good a set of fat waves as you could hope to find.
Mark goes the aerial route in the Xtra.
We spent about 90 minutes putting the Tiderace Xtra & Valley Gemini SP RM through their respective paces. I was getting my head around the Xtra, having only previously paddled it briefly & only on some very gentle surf at Bateman's Bay, whilst Rob went for it in the Gemini, pushing the hull as far as he could.
Rob about to 'go dark' in the Gemini RM
The results are on the short video above, some acrobatics, some fast & controlled rides in these neat little play sea kayaks, some biffo, and thankfully some un-airable language censored from a family website. Suffice to say there is a reckless Rescue Board paddler somwhere in Sydney who will be having nightmares about mild mannered snow haired men who go bad.

My impressions of the Xtra in some surf that presented a few more challenges? The super flat hull planes like you can't believe as long as you can get it into the sweet spot. The best course of action is to keep it simple, don't over edge, just make small adjustments. Like the Xcite it adjusts direction one way or the other with tiniest amount of edge & a well time stern rudder or draw, and for a beginner surfer it would provide the most sympathetic route possible into the fraught world of sea kayak surfing.

Enjoy the fruits of our hard work, making absolutely sure these boats we're selling you good folks are as good as the manufacturers say, and don't feel too sorry for us having to put in such toil.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

The North Shore Atlantic Returns...!

There was a welcome inclusion in our latest shipment from the UK, which landed yesterday, in the form of new stock of the North Shore Atlantic.

I was asked recently why we had brought this much-loved, stable & sympathetic skeg design back into the country after selling our last one a few years ago, and before I could answer, the guy who asked the question said, 'latent demand, right?'

I nodded & smiled, it's as simple as that really.

Back when we decided to cut the boat from our stock range we felt we had surrounded it with boats that we more extreme at the play end like the Gemini & Xtra, faster at the Tour end like the old Aquanaut & new fast tourers, and figured people may not be interested in the rough water all rounder, that at it's essence looks after less skilled or new paddlers.

We then had a tremendous resurgence in interest in this genre of boat with the arrival of the Tiderace Xcite, and people have been asking ever since, will be you bringing the Atlantic back into the country any time soon?'

So, by popular demand, they are now here, in a range of colours, priced very keenly in an era when our dollar is slowly slouching, at $3790 for North Shore's light, stiff & strong standard Diolen layup. You can see the colours on our Kayak Prices & Stock page.

We have a demo on hand for anyone wanting to either re-acquaint, or test out this little gem of a boat.

Ocean Paddler Magazine in the UK wrote an excellent article which I feel nicely summarises the virtues of the North Shore Atlantic, which you can read HERE.

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Eden to Bondi, Without Landing

Now that they're all set, I can release the news that Rob Mercer, Johnny Lee & Mick MacRobb are about push out through the surf at Eden, on the far south coast, aiming to touch the sand next, non-stop, 450km to the north on Bondi Beach in Sydney.
Mick & John enjoying a last brew this morning in Eden 'both in tip-top shape'
They have been training secretly for months, ironing out bugs in a sleeping system involving a three boat raft, developed for them by Thermosleep in Sweden.

All three have been training intensely, monitoring heart rates, comparing performance notes & getting into tip top shape for a paddle of over 450km that they're aiming to finish inside 7 days.

Mick packing his new Pace 17 in preparation for 'The Everest of Kayaking'
Rob was upbeat about their chances last night, here's his thoughts:

"I've never seen Mick in such great shape, & John has been a machine lately in his resistance training & downwind efforts. Unfortunately the first couple of days out of Eden have headwinds forecast, so I'm at a distinct disadvantage, with my routine nowadays involving downwind paddling only. Hopefully the other two guys can give me some advice on headwind technique, or it's going to be a slow start. The sleeping system is now sorted, although John is something of a 'loud' sleeper. We're planning on a maximum 4 hours per night in the Thermosleep set up, which should get us there in reasonable shape"

Join me in wishing the guys well, and tune in to our Facebook page for a daily update of their progress, for this challenge, a new 'Everest of Kayaking'.

Monday, 31 March 2014

Kayak for Kids, A Breath of Fresh Air

I'd consciously finished my season of races & events after last weekend's Bay Runner Race at Cronulla, a long summer of sorts that began with the Hydrothon, and included some fantastic days out like the Myall Classic, Hawkesbury Classic, the 20 Beaches & the Royal Challenge.
It's been a rewarding few months, with something slightly different on the horizon to train for, an excuse to keep getting out on the road or the trail or the sea or the river & keep in shape.
I asked paddling mate Steve Dawson what he was doing over winter, as he & his wife Kate do the entire Marathon Series in various craft ranged on the their back lawn (umm.... 16 of them to be precise), and he mentioned the Kayak for Kids Race as being a good one & a lot of fun.
I entered a few days before, expecting nothing much more than what is on offer at the series of B-lining ski races that are increasingly populating each summer weekend.
What a surprise then to rock up to Blues Point Reserve early on Sunday morning & see such a vast & diverse flotilla of craft on the banks of the harbour, getting set for the 16km race.
Steve's traditional pre-race Macarena.
Everything from the 3-person plastic sit on tops - as Steve says 'design consideration #1, stackability' - to wide rec boats, sea kayaks & a few skis.
The golden thread of this race is the 3 person boats. They're crewed mostly by non paddlers, again not something I was too up with until I heard eventual winner Matt Blundell doing the pre-race briefing & carefully describing how to correctly orient the paddle!
They're the first ones off, and a king tide combined with some ferry wash to make this a brilliant spectacle, as one by one, kind of like penguins launching off a rock, the crews piloted their boats down the sandstone steps & into the breaking clapotis.
Fun & games as the teams boats take to the water.
I swear I saw three women paddling off with the handbags tucked neatly into the footwells, an assortment of garbage bags storing (hopefully not very) valuables, and defying Matt's professional instruction, a fair proportion of competitors with the paddle backwards! 
One thing I didn't see was a jut-jawed frown though, this was a big bunch of people having a big bunch of fun.
It was quite a sight, hundreds of little yellow boats bobbing up & down, framed neatly by the Opera House & Harbour Bridge.
The 'own your own' boat class was next, & we negotiated the same launch & paddled towards the Harbour Bridge awaiting the start. Compared to the more serious races, it was great to see so many different boats out on the harbour. I was especially pleased to see so many sea kayaks, & if I'd known the race was so inclusive I would have left the ski at home & brought one too.
Is there a better paddle race panorama anywhere on the planet?
I was trying to work out how the organsiers managed to get the claimed 17km out of a course that was maybe 13km at best, but the serpentine route went right into several harbour beaches (to facilitate the crew changes in the 3-person teams event), and essentially hugged the foreshore all the way around to Middle Head. 
The Kayak for Kids race course.
The first can was an interesting experience. I paddled in full tilt, a bit consumed with the slightly faster guy in front of me & the slightly faster guy closing in on me from behind, looking up only when I saw what looked like the M3 on a Friday at peak hour, except all yellow. The concept of rounding the can anti clockwise was loosely followed at best, and I think more than a few of us puffing along & staring at our GPS's felt a little silly at 'racing' in the midst of such a hilarious scene.
I applied a couple of friendly 'direction assists' to get both my ski, & the yellow boats in my path pointing the right way, & I was away again.
The weather gods had been kind to a field possibly not too conditioned to moving water, & it was as calm a day on the harbour as you could hope for. I took the closest line as I could to the sandstone cliffs that ring Sydney Harbour, enjoying being up so close in the benign seas & wind.
The Marquee City at the finish.
The finish was welcome after racing the last few legs into an outgoing tide, on what was yet another unseasonably hot & humid Sydney day.
Organisers had built a marquee city at the finish, with free drinks & sausage sangers, and the presentations featured several parents of kids for whom the Lifestart charity has clearly made a difference. It was nice to have the charity which underpins the entire event put so elegantly, and eloquently, into the picture.
Kate & Steve did really well, finishing 7th overall as the 3rd double home. Another honourable mention goes to Les Westerweller, who told me as we sat at the start line he wanted to break 2 hours, yet bolted home in 1:46 on his V8. Not bad for an old bloke Les!
Yet another another mention however to Emiel Temmerman, who picked up his V10 Sport on Friday having paddled it once - EVER - with no other paddling background at all, and paddled/swam home in 2 hours. If that's not inspiration enough to get out & have a go I don't know what is!
I'll definitely do this one again, it was fun, traversed a varied and scenic course, and considering the much lower skills base of many of the participants, was quite brilliantly run. Thanks also to my mum Suzanne, who volunteered to drive the car for Steve, Kate & I & save us the long shuffle & parking fines!

Monday, 24 March 2014

What the Cool Paddlers are Wearing....

The new range of NRS colours & fabrics keeps on rolling in. Later this week we land the short sleeved version of our new relaxed fit H2Core Paddle Shirt, an surprise instant hit with the obviously latent market out there who prefer their paddling garments worn a bit looser.

There are two colours to start with, both unmissable on the water or in the cafe, Lime with Grey trims, and Crystal Blue with Grey trims. They're selling for $45 through the Summer Wear page on our ONLINE STORE.

The second new arrival is the H2Core Lightweight Hoodie. A marginal paddling garment maybe.......but definitely a winner in the apres paddling stakes. Made with the same versatile 9 oz. technical fabric as the dedicated paddling tops, combining comfort and breathability with just enough warmth to take the chill off on cooler days as well as advanced sun protection for SUP, kayaking, and other active water sports.

The H2Core Lightweight Hoodie is available in the Light Grey/Charcoal colourway pictures, for $85 including national delivery, through our ONLINE STORE (under the Winter Wear category).

Thursday, 20 March 2014

The Mitchell Blades Bombora Returns...!

A most welcome delivery this morning from our long term supplier & buddy in Cheshire, Lance Mitchell, of Mitchell Blades.
Lance's paddle business has grown out of all proportion due to the meticulous workmanship he puts into every blade, and we've been out of stock for a couple of months awaiting some new paddles, which Lance has been fine tuning using a new manufacturing process.

Today they arrived, and if it was possible, these new Bombora paddles have an even more lustrous appearance, the blade has a slightly more foiled face & the weight is down on the traditional bomb proof layup. 

The Bombora shape has long been a favourite, blending as it does a strong & aggressive catch, with a mid sized blade (approx 670sqcm), and a light exit through the cutaway neck. It's the paddle we recommend if you're hard on your paddles, and in all the years we've been selling them, we're yet to see a single structural failure in a blade layup. Considering some of the people we know who are out there using them & what they've put them through, that's a mighty reflection on the committment to quality from this small but highly regarded paddle maker.

Lance has also done away with the old Vario Lock system for joining the split shafts, instead opting for a US manufactured joiner, similar to the Epic lever lock but made entirely from a lightweight alloy.
The new alloy lever lock fitting on all Mitchell Blades
We've got plenty of stock in the straight ($595) & crank ($625) shafts, available in lengths from 205-215cm, and 210-220cm. You can order through the Paddles page of our ONLINE STORE.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

New Arrival - The NRS H2Core™ Lightweight Paddle Shirt

Our latest arrival from NRS's revamped lineup of paddling gear is now available through our online store, the NRS H2Core™ Lightweight Paddle Shirt. A brand new fabric offers the same comfort and breathability as our Silkweight fabrics, but with more warmth and protection. A relaxed fit allows easy layering over and under the garment.

Unlike our other NRS layering garments, this one is designed to be worn loose. 

The garment features a versatile 9 oz. technical fabric combining comfort and breathability with just enough warmth to take the chill off on cooler days.

The cut integrates friction-free zones under the arms to ensure comfortable paddling, & the fabric also provides advanced sun protection which wicks moisture away from the skin, breathes freely and dries quickly for cool comfort on the water.

The NRS H2Core™ Lightweight Paddle Shirt is available now through our ONLINE STORE for $70 including national delivery. You can check your size through the sizing tables HERE.

Check out the video below for an explanation of the entire new range of NRS H2Core apparel.

Friday, 14 March 2014

Rock & Roll 2014

The annual NSW Sea Kayak Club's Rock & Roll weekend returned to Bateman's Bay this year, a venue that has a bit of everything for sea paddlers, with excellent water access & a camp ground at Batehaven that is a beaut.

As is our tradition, I collected Gary Forrest from the airport on Thursday, & we drove the trailer of boats & EK gear, four hours down the coast to the event.
Gazza & Mick
As is also becoming more common, there were plenty of paddlers already there, despite the official start being the following day, which meant we not only had helping hands to set up, but also a few extra people to have some fun with in the evening, at what has become the 'unofficial' opening ceremony.

Friday dawned clear & bright despite an iffy forecast, and as the day wore on & our display took shape, more & more paddlers arrived with the early evening 'Beer & Pizza' party looming. This year's theme was Hawaii, and in full swing things did look like something in like Blue Hawaii, except there were a lot of blokes in coloured shirts who looked a bit like Max Cady in Cape Fear.
Max Cady - the template for all men at a Hawaiian shirt party
Owen having a 'coffee' at 9pm on Beer & Pizza night. Marty isn't fooled.
The EK 'Welcome to RnR' Beer & Pizza Party
Winners of the best dressed awards went to Nerissa & Shawn, a bright & cheery island mermaid &, umm, a Rastafarian Polynesian white-guy ukulele player.

The following two days on the water were pretty memorable, from the perspective of getting club paddlers out to sea, exploring offshore islands, pushing boundaries around rocks & surf, all within the excellent safety boundaries set by the club. I'll let the pics tell the story.
Wade pays the Toll
Nice waves at Surf Beach
Tollgate Rock Gardening
Nerissa heads for Black Rock
Mick in his new toy
Saturday paddlers head to Black Rock
John punching out of Surf Beach
Weaving through the volcanic rocks at the Tollgate Islands
Sea Cave at the Tollgates
Claus at 17kmh
Dave enjoying the warm water
On the Saturday evening we were treated to the extraordinary tale of David Williamson & Ben Woodcock's paddle from Australia to East Timor. 
Saturday dinner.
This was an 800km trip across the Timor Sea, battling a slowly disintegrating double kayak. They also touched briefly on their epic journey from New Caledonia to Australia years earlier, once again in a bog-standard production plastic double, one of the great ocean paddling feats, & one of the least publicised. For those of you interested in that tale, Ben has sent me a copy of the log he wrote soon after completing the journey, which is in his own words:
"an unedited version from the day I wrote it 2 days after the trip in 2004. Please be aware it is not in any way the same format as I would write today or as in depth as I would like, but it is authentic. This gives the outline of the trip and some perspective of my emotions etc."
Ben's tale is HERE, and a large PDF file with pics of their trip is HERE.
Their next adventure is an island hop across the Tasman Sea, from the top of NZ's North Island to Norfolk Island, then Lord Howe Island, then landfall in Australia on the north coast of NSW. You can read all about the trip preparations HERE. Just a bit of an island hop.

On Sunday morning I went for a quick spin with Mick MacRobb, Robin & Bob from the Victorian Sea Kayak Club. Bob paddles a beautiful skin on frame Greenland boat with his own hand made paddles, and had a few tricks up his sleeve.
Bob - Mischief Man
The best one was paddling up to a fishing boat & asking the crusty old buggers on board if they wanted him to check for any fish. Before they could tell him to bugger off, he capsized, and spent rather a while upside down, only resurfacing after they started to make some quite alarming noises. Now he had their attention, he pointed them about 20 meters to the North, 'big school of squid over there fellas'. Classic.

Sunday was the second annual Pogies, a short film festival which on both occasions has managed to bring the house down. I entered my own issues-based film, 'Why Don't Sea Kayakers Wear Budgie Smugglers', but unfortunately lost out to Fernando's more paddling focused effort (you can see Fer's excellent video HERE).

Once again, a well run, extremely well attended (over 160 paddlers), and fun, four day paddling weekend.

We have now been the major sponsor of Rock & Roll for 8 unbroken years, but the truth is, EK or not we'd be there as participants. If you're a sea paddler from anywhere in the country & you haven't been to one you truly don't know what you're missing. 

Congrat's to the club, organiser David Linco & his wing man Neil Gow for running such a seamless show, and thanks muchly to Sharon for keeping Rob & I pointing in the right direction all weekend. Well, most of the weekend....
Our favourite Wahine.

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Kayaking Film Festival Marred by Budgie Smuggler Controversy

The annual 'Pogies' the sea kayaking film festival equivalent to the Academy Awards held each year at the NSW Sea Kayaking Club's Rock & Roll Event, was marred by a controversial decision by judges to award second place to a film confronting one of the biggest issues facing the sport.
The Pogies crowd, before the controvery started.
In deciding to award the Gold Pogie to a film made by Fernando featuring action, tremendous paddling skills and excellent editing, over one raising dark & difficult questions, the judges showed that substance matters little in the world of kayaking art house.

Luckily, we can submit this film, by Sunderpants Products, for the broad kayaking world to pass their own judgements.

We urge you to make up your own mind.

**note, of course we are taking the micky, you can see the actual winner, Fer's video HERE, damn impressive eh...?

Thursday, 27 February 2014

Greg Simson - Tassie's First Taran

Tassie paddler & mate Greg Simson sent us his thoughts on over a year of paddling his Rockpool Taran in the rough waters of his home state.
Well. The Taran has been my go-to kayak for a bit over a year now. After a trip to Wales I put in an order for one with Expedition Kayaks as soon as I was back in Australia.
Back in 2012 I visited Anglesea on the way back to Oz from Greenland and as well as visiting the Rockpool factory and yarning with the owner, Mike Webb, I had the good fortune to paddle with, and talk with the Taran’s designer, John Willacy. I got to paddle his Taran in its home waters and hear how the Taran came into being and why it is the design it is. I was sold.

A few months later and a Taran bought in to Australia by Expedition Kayaks was in my hands.  I didn’t want to wait to place a custom order and ordered a standard layup and configuration from their stock at the time. Thanks to Mark and Rob for putting up with endless questions prior to choosing a particular kayak and for the excellent service associated with the purchase. 
So how has it stood up after living with it for a while? I find the Taran comfortable and capable, far more than I am, but I’m getting there. I have used it for fitness paddling, day trips and a few shorter extended trips, even done a few races.  I live in southern Tasmania and have paddled the Taran in conditions varying from calm to 30kn winds and messy seas.  I still enjoy paddling it and as a consequence my other kayaks (5 to choose from) are left hanging in the shed.  They haven’t seen much water time since the Taran arrived. 

The Taran is responsive and forgiving and encourages me to improve my skills. In some ways it makes me look a lot better than I am, it edges well and rolls easily, it is a kayak that will reward you if you want to extend yourself. It has the most comfortable cockpit fit for me of all the kayaks I have tried, it enables a straight leg , high knee stroke for power and easy solid engagement with the thigh braces when required. 

The only minor niggle is that the cockpit doesn’t drain completely when inverted because of an internal lip but I can live with that, it’s only one or two sponges worth.  It responds to the rudder quite differently to other kayaks I have tried. With a bow and stern that are relatively free of the water it seems to rotate around the flat mid section of the hull and so can turn quite quickly rather than carving a long arcing turn like most other sea kayaks I have tried. 

I paddle with a club that has regular fitness paddles and when I put my mind to it, the Taran is always up the front of the pack and when the conditions are downwind I think it is fair to say it leaves the others for dead.  Maybe I should just say that it excels downwind. Just last night I was out in a 17kn  gusting to 30kn tailwind and in front of  all but one fellow paddler who had their sails up.  I have paddled quite a few kayaks and owned a Valley Rapier for a while but for me the Taran is faster and much easier to paddle in the more varied, real world conditions of wind, waves, and swell. The hatches have remained bone dry even in rough conditions and after rolling and rescue practice.
Because I have been enjoying the kayak as it is, I haven’t made any modifications to it yet, there has been no need.  No electric bilge pump , no sail etc. The Taran has established a reputation as a fast expedition craft and whilst I have undertaken a few month-long trips in other boats I am yet to use the Taran on an expedition. 

I have no reason to doubt it will suit me in this role as well,  I just haven’t done many longer trips since the Taran arrived. I will fit it out accordingly when the need arises. I have used it on several multiday trips though and paddled it well loaded. It swallowed my gear effortlessly. It’s performance characteristics didn’t change substantially. Still fast, manoeuvrable and responsive to the rudder. 

On my last trip I managed to hook onto a point break and had the best surf run I have had in my paddling life so far. The kayak was loaded with camping gear, unused firewood, and a full complement of safety gear, but while the rest of the group was paddling back with a 10-15kn wind on the beam I was playing, catching wind waves at right angles to the direction of travel for most of the morning and still keeping up with group progress. As we rounded a point, a pair of open water swells unexpectedly passed through and stood up. The first passed under us and broke ahead, I ramped up the speed and caught the second swell and was rewarded with a long run that pushed me about 500m ahead of the group on the smooth, clean wavefront until it dissipated. No-one else caught the free ride. The Taran had accelerated well and once on the wave I couldn’t get the paddle in fast enough to keep up with the speed of the wave and so just sat the zone, stable, no fuss, no spray, just a lot of speed and a certain amount of elation. Even from that distance I’m sure they could see the grin on my face when I turned around to see where everyone else was.  

I was impressed then and I am still pleasantly surprised whenever I take it out and get a good downwind session.  As with all craft, there are compromises and let’s just say there are other kayaks more suited for photography at sea. I feel more comfortable keeping at least one hand on the paddle when there is a bit of chop about, but that said, it suits its design brief admirably.
I will be keeping the Taran for quite a while yet, it still excites me to get it out and go for a paddle and that is something I do regularly at least twice a week, year round in all conditions. I think I have found the right craft to keep me happy for quite a while yet. 

Greg Simson, February 2014. 

Greg has been paddling the cool & turbulent waters of his home state for many years, and has some big trips to his credit, including a crossing of Eastern Bass Strait, the rugged Tasmanian West Coast, and a Greenland Expedition in 2012. He's a strong, technically sound sea paddler, former Commodore (yes, quite brilliantly that's what they call it down there instead of 'President') of the Tasmanian Sea Canoeing Club & an allround good fella!

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Rob Mercer - Sea Kayak Sailing & Safety

Rob recently had an article published in the UK's premium sea kayaking magazine Ocean Paddler. The article gives a timely run down on the aspects of safety that need to be considered for anyone keen to get into kayak sailing on the open sea, especially poignant when seen in the light of a couple of recent near misses around our home waters. 

Now that we are stocking Flat Earth Kayak Sails it's worth reminding prospective customers of the skills & protocols you need to have in place before you head out onto the sea with your sail fitted.

You can read the article in it's entirety HERE.  It has plenty of local input from paddlers like Andrew Eddy, Shaan Gresser and Matt Bezzina, & provides plenty of food for thought.

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Rock & Roll Swings Around

Only ten days to go to the annual NSW Sea Kayak Club's Rock & Roll Weekend, this year back at the spiritual home of the event, Bateman's Bay.
Last year there were over 200 registered participants & the weather & Nelson Bay seascape conspired to give paddlers a taste of everything.
This year organisers have a bumper program heavy with trips & instruction, and guest speakers Ben Woodcock & David Williamson. 

Who you ask? 

Between them, and together mostly, they have paddled unsupported from New Caledonia to Australia, Australia to East Timor, circumnavigated Tasmania with a western Bass Strait crossing to start & an eastern Bass Strait crossing to finish, as well as a host of other non paddling adventures.

Later this year they have a grand trip planned, paddling from New Zealand to Australia via Lord Howe Island & Norfolk Island. You can see details of this adventure HERE.

The event kicks off with the traditional Beer & Pizza welcome party, which this year has a Hawaiian theme. Organisers have employed extra security to ensure the free beer only goes to attendees wearing floral attire. There are some seriously good prizes for the best dressed, and no, not just a slice of Hawaiian Pizza.

Ben & David will speak at the Saturday night dinner, and I'll admit to being very pleased to see some home grown paddlers topping the bill at Rock & Roll.

Sunday night is the second annual Pogies, a short paddling film festival that last year nearly brought the marquee down. I have entered a film this year, focusing on a crucial element of paddling that needs urgent attention. You'll have to be there to see it.

For the 7th year in a row we are the major sponsor of Rock & Roll. We're proud to have supported this premier event so closely for such a long time & look forward to a ripper of a weekend. It's now gone beyond being a parochial club event & has morphed instead into one with a healthy interstate roll up, last year a phalanx of Queenslanders & even a few Sandgropers made it across, and this year there looks like being a big turn out from our Victorian friends.

You need to be a member of the NSW Sea Kayak Club or an affiliate interstate member to attend, but the good news is you can join & pay for RnR in one go. Even if the club had nothing else to offer for the whole year, attendance at Rock & Roll would get you back your membership fees in pure instruction alone.

You can register for Rock & Roll through the club website HERE.

To quote John Lennon - "If you tried to give rock and roll another name, you might call it 'Chuck Berry'. It's that good!

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Rob Mercer - Shooting the Breeze with Flat Earth Sails

The plan was for me to tie the kite line through the bow toggle of the other kayak and then add a loop back to the cockpit to act as a quick release if things didn’t go too well.

The parafoil soared up and away on the brisk SE wind and after the initial burst of acceleration it became clear that the kayak was now planing across the water at phenomenal speed but absolutely out of control.

I paddled after it with all my might realizing that my mate wouldn’t be able to let go of the paddle and that the force on the line was going to make it impossible for him to get off this ride without a knife. Unfortunately I had the knife and I couldn’t catch him.

Even when the boat capsized he was still being dragged toward the cliffs just north of Coogee where I finally reached him just shy of the rocks to cut him loose, allowing the unruly flying object to plunge into the sea.

We spent the rest of the afternoon untangling, cleaning, untangling and folding the ingenious, puzzle of spectra, nylon and carbon fibre before hastily returning it to the shopkeeper.

Looking back on the various contraptions I have seen kayakers use to harness the breeze is a little like watching old scratchy archive movie reels of the early flying machines. Indeed touring kayaks and sea going canoes predating the Wright Brothers carried sail as a matter of course, the “Rob Roy” was a notable example.

In Tasmania sails have been standard equipment for sea kayaks from the beginning whereas locally they have only seen a steady increase in popularity over the last twenty or so years.

 In this time I have seen parafoil kites, V sails great and small, tarps draped over spare paddles, Andrew Eddy’s unique modified lateen, sprit sails, mini spinnakers, jibs and of course, golf umbrellas tucked under the deck lines, an approach used to great effect by Karl Noonan when he paddled from Sydney to Hobart in the late 90’s. There is even the story touted by a Hawkesbury Classic veteran that decades ago a protest was lodged against an open canoeist who stood up and opened his knee length rain jacket “flasher style” whenever his course down river provided a tailwind!

The reality is that all of the above would have provided some downwind push to a greater or lesser extent but without fail, the sails that have earned a following have been simple, unobtrusive, predictable and purpose built.

From a personal perspective I enjoy paddling. I like the art of making my boat work well in the waves and enjoy the feel of the paddle in the water. The way my boat dances if I use the right combination of edge and paddle to work with the waves is so important to me that a sail that limits this freedom is too much of a compromise.

The first sail I really enjoyed using was made to a design pioneered by Doug Fraser and refined by Norm Sanders, both prominent NSWSKC instructors in the mid nineties.

The real genius of the design actually had little to do with the shape of the sail itself, but rather the inclusion of a universal joint allowing the sail to be rigged ready for deployment from the cockpit yet far enough forward so that even with the sail working there was no impact on normal paddling technique.

My first homemade version of this sail was just a flat single sheet of rip-stop nylon, two sailboard battens, with a sawn off broomstick for a mast. I was amazed at how it allowed me to catch almost every wave going my way. Then I discovered how well it worked at making a heavily loaded boat feel lighter in the water.

A more refined version of the sail also worked a treat in equalizing the speed differences between paddlers based on strength alone so that lighter, less powerful paddlers with good technique could suddenly keep up or even lead the way when the breezes were helpful. I remember on our Cape York expedition when Sharon often lead the pack on windy days, released from fighting against the heavy load of her boat she would fly along using her agility to easily match or overtake her more muscular paddling companions.

I note with amusement that most of the stalwarts that used to criticize the sailors seem to pack one when heading off on a trip these days. Some unkind folks point out they aren’t getting any younger, whilst some of the reformed anti sailors themselves refer to it as a “safety device” just in case they need to do a long tow blah, blah..
I have even heard some with rare candor confess that they tired of watching their sailing companions having all the fun. 

I must admit with the advent of the new fast tourers, in particular the Tarans and Paces, I seldom sail on a day trip. The boats work so well downwind that I can’t see the point, but when I load one of them up for a multiday adventure the sail is always fitted and ready to go.
On our North Reef trip we all used the Flat Earth code Zero 80s and found they were outstanding in terms of crosswind performance as well as amazing drive downwind.

The cut of the Flat Earth Sails is the result of years of incremental improvement by Mick and for a nominal 0.8 square metre this is the most stable and powerful design I have used. I can’t imagine needing bigger on a single kayak. For lighter paddlers, the less experienced, or those expecting to paddle bigger winds, the 0.7square metre version will give you similar performance to other 0.8 or even 0.9 sails that I have used and may make a better choice than the CZ80.

These sails will give you the extra push to surf more runners and lift your average speeds, especially if you have good form with your strokes and braces.  Just thinking about the hull bouncing along with plumes of spray off the bow and the waves rising at my stern has me looking at charts and planning my next adventure…………. 

Kayak sailing is not something that you will do safely without good bracing and self-rescue skills, so even with these new easier to use designs some practice bracing in rough water is vital before you start sailing. When you feel ready always sail with a buddy, practice releasing control and hauling lines, and under supervision practice capsize and self rescue drills.  Unless you have planned it, always think about how far you are travelling under sail before you reach the point that you can’t paddle the same distance back into the wind.