— Brinestorm


This is a packing test for my 2-week Vancouver Island trip.
I wound up using at least five more dry bags than shown here!

This is the second in a series of articles detailing what I learned on a 2-week kayak journey on the West Coast of Vancouver Island, a trip with four others that ranged from the South Brooks Peninsula to the northern tip of Nootka Island.

Of course, if you’re camping out of a kayak, you need to find a way to pack all your stuff in your boat. But what many inexperienced kayak campers don’t realize is that you need to re-pack your boat every. Single. Day. Doing this every day for two weeks solid makes you pretty self-critical of your packing strategy!

Having just gone through this myself, I thought I’d offer my own take on some of the harrowed, classic kayaking strategies and some new discoveries I made on my own.

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My QCC Q700x in between the main islands of the Bunsby Group, West Coast, Vancouver Island.

My QCC Q700x in between the main islands of the Bunsby Group, West Coast, Vancouver Island.

It’s been almost a year since my last post, and since my 2-week trip to Vancouver Island. I thought I’d share some of the learnings I had from that trip, across several articles. First, I’ll follow up where I left off: The boat I used for the trip, the QCC Q700x.

In short: It did great, overall.


The beaches that we encountered were usually broad and shallow. This meant that you can land and be within five boat lengths of your camp, but you have quite a haul in the morning when the waterline is now 20+ meters away when the tides turn. In this regard, the lightweight construction of the Q700x was dreamy. However, that also meant that caution – nay, paranoia – was needed when even thinking about moving the boat with any weight in it. No, you’re not supposed to move a fully loaded boat. But you’ve got to do some dragging or short-distance lifting when launching – hence my application of KeelEazy. But, after two weeks, no cracks, pops, or scary sounds.

A surprising frustration was actually the interior of the boat’s hatches. My right index finger had a preternatural ability to find exactly where that roughly-finished edge of carbon fiber was, getting a shard jammed under a fingernail quite a few times. Better attention to interior finishing would have saved me a few drops of blood, a lot of screaming, and plenty of obscenities. What’s more, the boat seems to be constructed with an outer core of fiberglass and an inner wrap of carbon fiber. This means, of course, that the interior of the boat is pitch black. I seriously thought I lost a couple of small bags (black, naturally) of expensive bits until I realized that they were all the way in the bow or stern compartments. One bag remained missing for 5 months until I found it again!

However, these interior misadventures also speak to the Q700x’s vast storage area. Without a skeg, the rear compartment is especially cavernous. However, the hatches and low deck heights confound all ability to get a rigid bear canister anywhere except in front of the footpegs in the cockpit. The rear hatch is big enough but the rear deck is too low, while the front hatch is too small but has the appropriate volume within. By using flexible Ursacks, I managed to fit all my food and smelly bits just fine.

While QCC doesn’t publish volumes on their website, I’d say that the interior hatch volumes on the Q700x total between 190 and 210 cubic liters.


As mentioned previously, the deck of the Q700x is low. The benefit to this is an extremely comfortable low-angle touring stroke; I was often using an 84″ Greenland paddle with a short loom, and it was comfortable to use such a short paddle all day long. However, this wound up somehow straining my legs in a strange way, probably because I couldn’t raise my knees very high. My guess is that the pressure on my hamstrings from the upswept front edge of the seat pan caused both my hamstrings and the muscles around my sit bones to ache and spasm. By the end of the trip, I couldn’t paddle more than 90 minutes without stopping to lift my behind out of the seat and stretch.

I actually carved up part of my sleeping pad and made “donuts” of closed-cell foam to try and alleviate the pressure on my sit bones while also raising my bum slightly. This helped a little. After the trip, I switched out my standard Skwoosh gel seat pad with a thicker one, but that hasn’t helped. I just think that my legs need more bend than the Q700x’s low deck will allow.

The hatch design of the Q700x makes them tough to pry off if your hands are wet and you’re exhausted from a day’s paddling, but they were extremely dry during the trip. Their design does catch a lot of debris right around where the “weather strippping” attempts to make a seal, so I found myself cleaning the hatch lips a lot with my fingers before launching. Pebbles and sand were everywhere.

Q700x in the Cuttle Islands. One of my top five favorite campsites ever!

Q700x in the Cuttle Islands. One of my top five favorite campsites ever!

Handling and Performance

With a short 84″ Greenland paddle, touring was comfortable but slow; that paddle is my “rock gardening GP,” anyway. With a standard-sized Euro paddle, I was off like a rocket. Sustaining high speed was nearly effortless, and I constantly had to throttle down to stay with my companions. The Q700x’s low, soft chines don’t impart the world’s best secondary stability, but I never capsized accidentally in any conditions, and the boat just generally wanted to remain upright. Twitchy at first, confidence inducing with some experience. Its extreme length and plumb bow sliced right through waves, but I didn’t detect a particularly splashy paddling experience.

The biggest conditions we encountered were off Tachu Point, where a long underwater spit causes swell to rise up and break nearly a mile offshore. We were able to avoid the worst of it by navigating around the spit with a marine GPS unit, but at times we found ourselves in very steep 2-3 meter swell. The Q700x yawed like crazy on wave crests, and didn’t really find its direction again until the rudder bit back into the wave face. But over time, it all kind of evened out: It was a frustrating lack of control at first, but over time (and with better timing on little sweep strokes on wave crests) a more relaxed attitude and cadence let the boat kind of find its own way, the yaws averaging out over an hour to really still hold a pretty good heading. But it did so with a noticeable lack of efficiency. Here’s where a skeg – or a rudder and a skeg – would have added a lot more efficiency and reduced yaw.

We did a little bit of following of the coastline on a choppy day – not rock gardening, exactly, but certainly up close and personal with rocks. Dynamic and fun, but as you might imagine, a boat with very little overall rocker that’s 18′ long just isn’t very maneuverable. It’s the tradeoff for its excellent speed. It was responsive enough when I exercised good judgement, gave it the time it needed, and used supportive sweep strokes with an aggressive edge or lean. If you want to play the terrain you expedition in, you should probably be looking at a Tiderace XPlore, a P&H Cetus, or similar.

Of course, the boat just wanted to surf in straight lines all the time…assuming the wave period is long enough to not bury the bow into the wave in front of you. Seriously, this boat outpaced much of the surf I was in – a weird sensation. Still, this is wonderful, exhilarating, and fast – what surf ski paddlers live for – until you realize you’re heading towards a kelp patch and all those kelpy bits are actually otters in your way. I think I caused them more stress and fright by cringing and yelling aloud that I didn’t want to smoosh one than I did caroming down wave faces at them. It’s kind of like sharing trails when you’re on a mountain bike: Yes, the downhill rush is addictive, and speed helps your progress over obstacles, but you never know if a person or dog’s around the corner, so using caution and reasonable speed is the wiser course of action.

To my credit, the only thing I struck with my kayak was a 5′-wide ocean sunfish (video!), but that was only because he came to the surface between my bow and stern, and I didn’t see him below the water when I first passed over him. My rudder just clipped him (which rises out of the way under pressure, so no harm done), and he laid around for about five minutes not seeming to have been bothered by it. I did actually land on a beach without seeing a bear and her cubs on it, but that’s a story for another day…

Overall Impressions

The Q700x is absolutely an expedition-worthy boat if you know how to treat it and if the boat fits your body. It’s fast, sufficiently stable (poor secondary but strong initial for a rounded hull), and swallows a metric crapton of supplies and gear if you can be a little finessed with your packing. My modifications made it more livable and flexible for a camping trip. It’s done fantastic as a double-duty boat for expeditions and kayak racing (which I do a couple of times a year). It’s not a balanced boat: Its design makes a statement and takes a stand. You need to know what you’re in for: A go-fast, go-straight, fun boat with a streamlined sensibility and good cargo capacity, albeit with shallow heights. I have no doubts or regrets on my decision to put my life in its hands for two weeks in a remote region.

However: I’m selling it. The ergonomics just didn’t work for me: I must have a boat that I can potentially be in for up to 15 hours a day with no discomfort. I also love rock gardening and ocean play, which the Q700x just doesn’t deliver. What’s going to be replacing it? If you follow me on Facebook, you already know, but that’s a blog post for the future.

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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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As mentioned earlier on this site, I picked up a used QCC Q700x in preparation for an upcoming trip along the west coast of Vancouver Island. I had a lot of very specific needs as a result of my upcoming Vancouver Island trip and I found the Q700x a willing subject for some lightweight customization. Here’s a list of minor modifications I did to my Q700x that made it better fit my needs.

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Not Quite Commonplace

I’ve been in the market for a boat that fits in the FSK – fast sea kayak – category. This broad category of boats is typified by being very long, very narrow, very fast, and able to hold a healthy amount of cargo. I can neither afford nor store one expedition boat and one racing boat – I needed a kayak that exhibited characteristics of both but didn’t have huge tradeoffs that made it suck for both extended trips and competiton.

This is a burgeoning category for sea kayaks (filled with amazing boats like the Tiderace Xplore, Epic 18x Sport, Rockpool Taran, Current Designs Nomad GTS, and many more), yet in the big scheme of things, it’s a pretty niche market. Looking for such a craft in the Bay Area is like trying to find dedicated downhill-only mountain bikes in a Kansas bicycle shop. It was really hard to find any examples of these boats to try here in Northern California. It’s even hard to find common large-volume expedition boats around here, even the standard-volume Valley Nordkapp and the P&H Cetus HV!

An upcoming summer trip made me want to pull the trigger sooner than later, though: I’m not about to put my life in a craft that I’ve not gotten to know pretty well, and waiting for boats to arrive with unsure delivery dates felt like a gamble. (I’ll keep paddling competing craft as they become available!)

On the East Coast and in the Midwest, QCC is a well-known American brand, but you don’t see many here on the West Coast. Their kayaks are odd ducks for those of us that love ocean whitewater, rock gardens, and who use highly maneuverable day-tripping kayaks like the P&H Delphin. QCC boats have nearly plumb bows, little visible rocker (what QCC recommends should be called “upsweep” – whatever, we all call it rocker), and a rudder. QCC’s largest boat, the Q700x, is a full 18 feet long and only 21″ wide.

It was a good match for my needs. I wanted a fast, race-worthy boat that also could support me for at least a week at a time without resupply. It had a set of design compromises that I was willing to live with. I had a chance to use a friend’s Q700x for a test paddle, and then to buy one on the used market (this is the first used boat I’ve ever owned: Model year 2008).  Sold.

It’ll put me in a different class for competitions, but I’m ready for the (probably very humbling) challenge!

Overall Impressions

This boat had only been launched three times by its previous (only) owner, so it was in great shape. I found the manufacturing to be decent; there are gaps in the sealant around the rear bulkhead, and the deck seam isn’t as clean as those found on, say, Current Designs kayaks. Its carbon-kevlar layup is thin, make no mistake, more flexible and lighter than what I’m used to with British-style boats from manufacturers like P&H. I’m an ultralight backpacker, so weight capacity isn’t that big of an issue, but I’ll have to treat it with more care than my P&H Capella 163.

In terms of handling it feels somewhat similar to an Epic 18X, from an end-consumer perspective as a result of testing boats (meaning short amounts of time in the saddle of each). More on its first full day on the water is below.

I was pleased to see that this boat didn’t have traditional push-the-footpeg-to-turn rudder controls. The Smart Track rudder is quite effective for its size, and its toe-pedal steering is a godsend for those of us who are serious about leg drive during the forward stroke. For long crossings and racing, rudders offer an efficiency that’s hard to beat by reducing the amount of corrective strokes you need to take. I’ve not been in a ruddered boat for about three years, but I’m looking forward to something different after many British-style, skegged boats (which I still adore, and prefer, for day tripping).


Fit and Cargo

QCC boats have another interesting attribute: The cockpit sizes are the same across a wide range of boat sizes. I suppose that I’m considered a “smaller paddler” by manufacturers’ standards: 5’11”, 160 lbs., 32″ inseam, US size 8.5 (Euro 42) feet…and yet this long boat fits very well. Few kayak manufacturers seem to make  big-cargo boats for not-so-big paddlers, since most manufacturers scale up cockpit dimensions with hatch dimensions. Not so with the Q700x, which (for me) results in positive contact with the deck, making for more confident maneuvering, edging, and rolling.

QCC doesn’t publish storage or hatch volumes on their website, but in my initial packing tests, I managed to fit at least 70L of dry bags in the front hatch and 90L of dry bags in the rear, with many gaps that could easily be filled with other gear. I’d guess that these would be something like 85L front and 115L rear if published as manufacturer’s specs. There is no day hatch or “glove box” front hatch. While I won’t miss either, the large front and rear hatches are a burden to open and seal properly while on the water, partially due to how tightly they seal. This is good for peace of mind, and a challenge if a hatch needs to be opened in an emergency. Proper placement of possibly-needed items is going to be important.

For committed wilderness campers, note that the front compartment would fit a bear canister, but the front hatch is 1″ too narrow…while the rear hatch will swallow one but the rear compartment is 0.5″ too shallow. If you fit one in front of the footpegs, be warned that you can’t put the footpegs farther than four notches forward without the rudder controls pushing against the bear canister, preventing the rudder from working properly. You’ll probably need an inseam of 30″ or less to make that work. I’ll be getting several flexible Ursacks in order to properly prevent critters from being fed while on camping trips.

On the Water

As of this writing, I’m still finding my way around the Q700x, but I opted for a rather intense maiden voyage: A 34-nautical-mile non-race endurance event called “The Gonzo,” in which paddlers must reach every island in the San Francisco Bay (there are about 15 of them).


Winds were never over 12kt and generated wind waves less than 18″ high, but they varied from abeam to following to headwinds. I paddled it with a Greenland paddle (84″ long, 20″ loom, 3.625″ wide) and a wing paddle (set to 210cm), carrying only about 10 pounds of cargo.

The boat was well-mannered in these conditions. I’d characterize the Q700x as having low-to-medium primary stability at rest, excellent primary stability underway, and medium secondary stability. It has a nearly rounded hull and soft chines of good height, adding to its stability on edge, and its low deck prevents excessive freeboard when unloaded. It fits my paddling style and sense of balance quite well. It’s the kind of boat you need to stay loose in, and just let it ride, trusting its inherent ability to stay upright. It loves to run downwind and can surf even the tiniest of following waves or swell. Sure, it’s an 18′ boat with little rocker, so it doesn’t turn on a dime, but edged it turns decently considering its length, especially when the rudder was retracted.

Speaking of its length: Hell yeah, it’s fast. It’s already earned the nickname “Bottlerocket” after the first paddle. Long + narrow + soft chines = speed, usually. With a wing paddle and a strong paddler, it’s like a javelin, especially on downwind runs with small following seas.

The small cockpit fit well, and its low front deck allowed for comfortable low-angle cruising strokes. Its narrow beam made high-angle sprints a breeze. The boat is long enough that I could carry my full-size Greenland paddle as a spare with no overhang past the bow!

The rudder is extremely effective for its small size, and the gas pedal style footpegs were easy to reach and actuate. I can see why the Smart Track system has a loyal following. I should have remembered to retract the rudder foil and test for weathercocking, but I did not. With the rudder, if it weathercocked, it was not noticeable in the least. The Q700x has little freeboard for a kayak of its size, which might also help.

I found a little water in the rear hatch after 8 hours of splashy paddling, but I am guessing that came in from my cockpit via the bulkhead instead of the hatches due to some sloppy finishing described earlier in this article. The hatches do seal tightly – so tightly that one must take care making sure that the boat is laid flat somewhere for sealing and opening the hatches. A lot of leverage is needed to pop the hatch seal. Confidence-inducing, but it takes some work to remove!

This all bodes well for getting this boat into more exposed coastal waters and bigger conditions, which will definitely happen in the coming months! It will be interesting to see how it holds up on a 2-week trip alongside the other long, large-capacity boats of my paddling partners, including the Current Designs Isle and the Current Designs Infinity.

Up Next..!

My next article will cover some minor modifications to the Q700x that made it work better for me – and keep an eye on the blog this summer for more info on my adventures that will involve this interesting fast touring boat, and how my assessment of its behavior and performance evolves in different conditions. Stay tuned!

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LazerBrite: Far more flexible, bright, and useful than glowsticks, and way less disposable.

LazerBrite: Far more flexible, bright, and useful than glowsticks, and way less disposable.

Ever stop to think what happens to those glowsticks that you use for night paddles, outdoor raves, and other silly and sundry purposes? Well, you kind of just throw them away. They’re not treated as hazardous waste…but they probably should be.

Diphenyl oxalate, also known under the brand name Cyalume, is what makes many glowsticks work. It has been poorly studied regarding its environmental effects, but is widely known as an irritant that burns soft tissue and isn’t meant to be ingested. So that can’t be good. Non-Cyalume glowsticks may even use phthalates, which are seriously bad news, environmentally speaking. Regardless, they’re single-use items entirely made of plastic. Yay, humanity! Good job! I can’t, in good conscience, use them anymore.

Enter Lazerbrite.

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superfuzz_mensYES! Level Six was on somehow on the wavelength I was when I wrote my Rethinking Upper Body Insulation article. They announced their new Superfuzz line: Heavier insulation where your sprayskirt tunnel isn’t!

Brilliant, and about time.

It could STILL be better: Why not heavier fleece on the arms? Why not wool, so it won’t stink?

But that’s just nitpicking. It’s great to see a manufacturer really understand real-world thermal layering for paddlers. Active paddling PFDs have lower placement of floatation, making the shoulders more exposed, so placing heavier fleece on the chest and shoulders seems super smart! Comes in Men’s and Women’s, too! Hell yes, I’m ordering one!

Why is it the Canadians get it right so often, eh?

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Most kayakers I know use gloves when they’re paddling. Some detest gloves, opting instead for optimal contact with the paddle. To each his/her own, of course.

But me, I’m a glove guy. My hands prefer a low-friction buffer of fabric to help avoid blisters. And it’s taken a long time to settle on gloves I like.

Like so many things in paddling, it’s all quite personal, but here are the gloves I’ve used, and loved…or hated.

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Hey, Outdoor Clothing Industry: Can you please consider putting heavier-weight materials on the arms of your upper baselayer garments, and lighter-weight materials on the torso?

We paddlers wear PFD’s on our torsos, as well as spray skirt tunnels. Including a jacket/drysuit and a base layer, my body’s core is wrapped in four layers of material. This keeps the body’s core quite warm. When we’re in cold water, the torso tends not to get as cold as our arms. Even on cold days, after paddling for a few minutes, I get overheated in my torso, even if it’s so cold that I can’t feel my fingers.  Sweaty backs and numb hands is a really uncomfortable combo.

I’ve experimented with wearing the thinnest synthetic or wool t-shirts with fleece cycling sleeves, but this is fiddly at best and sometimes those sleeves are a bit constrictive. Low blood flow means colder arms, so that doesn’t always work out.

Imagine having a top made of Patagonia’s Capilene 1 on the torso and Capilene 3 on the arms. Or, even better, wool that’s two to three times as thick on the arms than the torso. This would help thermo-regulation in a major way and not create redundancy in terms of weight or material. A jersey cut would reduce chafing and let the sleeves cover the shoulders, which are not kept warm by most active-cut PFDs on the market.

The lesson here for paddling clothing and gear manufacturers is to think about undergarments as part of a larger system, the system of gear all us responsible kayakers are already wearing. This would help backpackers as well, who have half of their core covered in a pack, and cyclists, who need to vent from their backs on hot or intense rides.

You’d sell more vests, too! 🙂 I accept product royalty payments in turkey jerky and rye whiskey.

If you’re a paddler who’s found interesting ways to balance warmth and comfort while paddling, chime in with a comment below!

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Here in the San Francsico Bay Area, the Pyranha Fusion is an increasingly popular rock gardening kayak: It’s about 10′ long, intended for self-supported river running, but it has a skeg for tracking well in flat water. After trying one on the Mendocino coast (which you can see in an earlier blog post and video), its responsiveness and stability was awe-inspiring in ocean whitewater conditions. I knew I had to have one!

But, being a sea kayaker, I was struck by its total lack of perimeter lines. I’ve never seen a river kayak with perimeter lines, but nearly every serious sea kayak has them. When you need or practice rescues and recoveries as much as I do, they are absolutely essential for maintaining contact with your boat should you wet exit…or for someone else trying to recover your boat for you. In fact, a recent pool session revealed that a friend almost couldn’t even lift if after a capsize to do a T-rescue, as the front grab loop was the only place to get purchase.

So, I decided to add some perimeter lines to my brand new boat!

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