— Brinestorm

September, 2013 Monthly archive

This month has been an embarrassment of riches for those of us that explore the briny plains of the sea. No fewer than three pretty pimp products have crossed my path in the last few weeks. I own, and have reviewed, none of these products, but it’s pretty great that we paddlers and water explorers have so many options and opportunities these days.

So, what are these interesting new products?

Nikon 1 AW

Nikon 1 AW. [Image by Nikon]

Nikon 1 AW [Image by Nikon]

Waterproof cameras are usually point-and-shoots: Little manual control, fixed (and often slow) lenses, and they don’t shoot raw (they only produce compressed, 8-bit JPEG images). Nikon is aiming to change all that with the mirrorless Nikon 1 AW. Check the shortlist of features: Waterproof, interchangeable lenses, shoots RAW, shutter speeds up to 1/16,000, 15fps motor drive, 1080p video at 30fps…it’s a lot to promise. If Nikon really delivers, this could be a genre-defining camera.

I’ll be the first to admit that no one is going to change lenses on a camera like this while on the water, but this aspect could make the Nikon 1 AW the only camera you need for an expedition. I’ll be anxiously awaiting reports on its battery life, especially. $800 retail is pricey compared to waterproof point-and-shoots, but the flexibility and modularity you get could be pretty interesting. However, due to its form factor and cost, I don’t see this being strapped to many peoples’ boats when options like the GoPro HD Hero 3 are available.

New Trent Powerpak Xtreme

New Trent Powerpak Xtreme [Image by New Trent]

New Trent Powerpak Xtreme [Image by New Trent]

I got my first New Trent battery by surprise, as a gift…and holy crap, has it been great. It kept my iPhone and three GoPro batteries charged during my two-week expedition on Vancouver Island, and has never given me a lick of trouble. Of course, such things are best kept in waterproof containers like Pelican cases or Otter Boxes…they’re too fragile and sensitive to be trusted to dry bags alone. And a 12,000 mAh battery is a pretty beefy thing: I can charge an iPad gen4 off of it no less than three times before the charge has been drained. It’s been instrumental in keeping me charged and recording in the backcountry.

Well, New Trent is now shipping the New Trent Powerpak Xtreme, and have even made it generally waterproof. While I still wouldn’t trust a drybag for any power cables, this certainly would make me less worried about the integrity of the battery itself. But will its port covers really protect its inner guts?

If initial reports and tests prove positive, this could become the definitive USB-interface battery to beat. Now that so many digital devices, from phones to cameras, can be recharged from a 5V USB source, the New Trent Powerpak Xtreme will certainly be a device to keep an eye on.


Road Shower

Road Shower [Image by Joel Cotton]

We’ve all been there: We’re covered in sand from a surf session. Eel grass covers our boots and boat. Muddy silt coats the bottom of our kayaks. Salt encrusts our hair and eye sockets. It’s such a pleasure to have something to rinse off with before you get your boat on the car, much less doff your drysuit, before you drive away. Joel Cotton of Silt, Colorado proposes a new solution, now being funded on Kickstarter: The Road Shower.

The Road Shower is a solar-heated, pressurized water storage and shower unit that mounts to car rack systems, with a standard multi-setting garden hose sprayer at the end of a flexible, food-grade hose. The whole unit, when filled, should only add about 40-60lbs. to your rack’s total load, which for most people should be fine.

As for me, I’ve always used a simple agricultural hand-pump tank sprayer: It warms the water in the car on a sunny day, is pressurized, and works great. But the Rack Shower doesn’t require pumping like an ag sprayer, and is mounted on top of your car, making it easier to get all that salt water and sand off your roof. The Road Shower also has amuch higher capacity, so it’s great for paddling couples or doing a full body, boat, and car top rinse, and then some. The Kickstarter campaign will offer price points that are lower than MSRP post-Kickstarter, according to Cotton, so if this is of interest, fund that shit ands support individual innovators!


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I and four other paddlers did a two-week kayak camping trip to the west coast of Vancouver Island. We were there from late June through early July. Because we traveled from Northern California with our own boats and equipment, we drove 2,280 miles round-trip in order to paddle less than 60 miles.

Oh, but what an amazing sixty miles. In the video above you’ll see us launching and landing via a crane aboard a diesel freighter, encountering a mola mola after I ran over it (which I chronicled previously), hiking on Nootka Island, riding a rusty “zipline,” feeding anenomes, tidepooling, and doing a whole lot of paddling in conditions that varied from long, steep swell to placid waters, from sunshine to heavy rain, from clear skies to dense fog.

All I can offer from this experience are slices of my own perspective over those two wonderful, intense weeks. To get the barest sense of being there, you can watch the short film in this post (or on Vimeo – either way, viewing it in HD at full screen is recommended), or view my photos on Flickr. While I’ve written about the boat I used and the mods I made to it in the past, be sure to keep an eye on this space (and my Twitter and Facebook accounts) for more lessons and learnings from planning and executing our own trip.

Stay tuned for more soon!

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In the midst of a crossing from the Cuttle Islands to the Brooks Peninsula on the west coast of Vancouver Island, in the summer of 2013, my rudder struck something.

I knew there weren’t any submerged rocks, according to our chart. I immediately spun around and saw a fin in the water behind me. My mind started reeling with what it could be…of course, going to the worst case scenarios first (orca?!?!)…

I had just glided over an ocean sunfish, or mola mola, coming to the surface to bask. I was not prepared to see a typically tropical pelagic fish that usually lives 600-2000 feet below sea level on a day paddle! The sunfish was about four or five feet in diameter, a bit smaller than an average adult male, but it probably weighed more than my fully loaded expedition boat.

Mola Mola in the Monterey Bay Aquarium; this specimen was at least ten to fifteen feed long. (Photo by yours truly.)

Mola Mola in the Monterey Bay Aquarium. (Photo by me.)

It was lazily flopping its top fin around after I struck it (not that it seemed to mind getting clipped by a kayak). It’s thought that the sunfish’s basking behavior is to warm itself after feeding in the depths (they mainly eat jellyfish), but they’ve also been observed to float near kelp to be cleaned of parasites by wrasses. Even more intriguing, seabirds have been seen to peck parasites off sunfish, and it’s theorized that fin flapping is to attract gulls to engage in this activity.

With our white hulls and shallow draft, did this mola mola think that we were birds? Did the fish even care we were there? Regardless of the reason, the sunfish let us watch it for three to five minutes before righting itself and sinking slowly out of sight. It was a magical, bizarre chance encounter with what I consider one of the strangest fish in the world.

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Just because you might get an assisted rescue doesn't mean that you shouldn't be able to be a comfortable, active participant in your own rescue!

Just because you might get an assisted rescue doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be able to be a comfortable, active participant in your own rescue!

No (hu)man is an island, so the saying goes, and so it goes with paddling: Solo kayaking is a pretty risky endeavor, so many paddlers go out in teams or groups. But even in a group, kayakers must learn to be reasonably self-sufficient in order to not just build trust and stay safe, but to have fun.

Self-sufficiency means being able to take care of yourself in the conditions you’re expecting. You’ll notice that this is all relative. This could mean knowing a paddle float re-entry or knowing 16 different kinds of rolls, depending on the kind of paddling you expect to do. Self-sufficiency breeds confidence in yourself and engenders trust in your fellow paddlers.

In the photo above, I am the one in need of rescue – that’s my hand and point of view from the water, as a swimmer. I ran a pourover and weighted my boat too far forward, landing nose first into a suckhole on the other side of the rock. (You do have perimeter deck lines on your kayak, right?) I blew several braces and rolls in active water in a rock garden (note to self, and readers: Sculling brace/roll probably would have worked great in that highly aerated water!), and I was assisted by two nearby friends. Had they not been there, though, I’d still have had a number of options. Swim with my boat tethered to me with a cowtail. Wrap my legs around my boat and swim with it to calmer waters. Wait until the hydraulics flushed me into an area with less surge and execute a cowboy scramble. Catch my breath and do a re-entry and roll. But, with two nearby paddling companions, we did a boring ol’ t-rescue. Because I knew I had other options, I was totally comfortable and not the least bit scared (and had the conditions been any bigger, I’d not have run that feature at all).

It’s All Relative

There is no one-size-fits-all Self Sufficient Kayaker merit badge. Self-sufficiency on a calm lake with no wind is different than self-sufficiency in coastal conditions with twelve-foot, 24-second swell and 30-knot winds. Both are equally valid, assuming your level of self-sufficiency is matched to the conditions that you find yourself in. (The subjective nature of risk is why I take care not to begrudge anyone their flat-water mellow paddles, nor dismiss stormy-weather paddling as reckless antics.)

I’d go so far as to argue that experience and judgement is more important than skill. Can’t execute a cowboy scramble rescue in active water? Then at least make sure you never get separated from your boat and paddle. Or, if help isn’t coming quickly, fall back to a paddle float rescue. When help does come, you can be an active participant in your recovery by following directions and communicating actively with your rescuer – heck, you can even tell your rescuer exactly what you want or need, if you choose to be recovered in a specific way. If you only know one or two rescue techniques, but you’ve practiced them enough to have them be second nature, then you’re probably better off than knowing a having been taught a dozen obscure rescue types that you never find the time practice. Remember, as stated in a previous article: You never rise to the occassion, you sink to the level of your training.

The key to all of this is effective self-assessment and risk assessment. This is a multi-faceted challenge: One must balance self-confidence with knowledge of one’s limits, fully consider worst-case scenarios without getting psyched out, and weigh the benefits of pushing your limits – which, of course, is how we all learn – while retaining a reasonable margin of safety. How this is done varies person to person, but the important thing is that it must happen. Risk blindness and overconfidence can put people’s lives in danger, not the least of which could be your own.

Self-Sufficiency and Group Paddling

But here’s the thing: If something really does go wrong and you’re paddling with a group, you’re not on your own, are you? Everyone will surely rally to help, right? That’s why we kayak in groups, after all. So how does self-sufficiency matter if most of us tend to paddle in mutually-supportive groups?

Imagine a scenario in which there are multiple capsizes in a short amount of time; this could be due to a sneaker wave, sudden winds, or a panicked swimmer. Alternatively, conditions could split up your group, creating individuals that are too far apart from each other to render assistance. These scenarios are all very real ones. The reality is that shit happens, and you may need to stabilize your situation before anyone can help you.

If you are self-sufficient and you’re not as bad off as others in the situation, executing your own recovery puts you back in the game and adds you to the resources your group has in an emergency. You can do whatever you are able, be it simply looking outside for more big waves or helping get people back in dry boats doing t-rescues. Either stabilize your own situation or that of someone else. Just don’t be a liability. (Heck, in BASK, we have an annual Rodeo in which a team-based “all-in” capsize scenario is a game, which is a great way to learn these lessons!)

Make Recoverable, Responsible Mistakes

We all need help from time to time, and no sensible kayaker can argue against that. Errors in judgement happen all the time; usually the cost of these errors is minor, but not always. The sea is a fickle mistress. Mistakes happen. However, it’s your responsibility to both assess the potential worst-case scenarios to any decision, and to reasonably be to able look after yourself and recover from casual mishaps for the given conditions you encounter. Learn from every mistake. Invest the time to post-mortem rescues, recoveries, and mishaps. Be open to well-intentioned critique without getting defensive. Over time you’ll make fewer mistakes, build trust with others, and most importantly, you will build trust with yourself.

Your fellow paddling partners are putting their trust in you: Don’t betray that trust. Otherwise you should hire a guide who is obligated to watch out for you regardless of your skill level.

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