Out for a While

Everything described in these pictures is no more.  We had a complete burn-down house fire on April  17.  No house, no cars, no clothes — no boats.  I had just completed the outriggers too, which completed the entire design.  But my wife and I (and puppy) got out in time and are okay.  Things are just things and can be replaced.  All things will be made new!

I’ve got an order in for the new Think Evo II, which has some even sweeter lines than the original Evo.  The fire is a huge setback (obviously) in losing all the required expedition gear, but at least I’ll have a craft again to hit the water this summer.  My H2 got toasted, so I bought a Honda Fit for a quick replacement while we vagabond and figure out how to rebuild.  I love the little thing!  Just the savings on gas for the H2 is going to pay for the Fit.  I’m adding a roof rack.  Putting the  Evo II on top of this little thing is going to look hilarious, however.  I’ll post pictures, once I get it in July, it seems.

It is a different kind of adventure right now.  I miss my boat, but all is good.  It is just a time to stand strong and keep smiling.

Keep the faith!  Keep paddling!

Crazy but not stupid

Whether at work or play, I’m an adrenaline junkie.  Taking risk is required to push the envelope.  But managing risk is a better description of how to think right: shaking out problems before they get serious, planning alternatives, and always being ready for worst-case scenarios.  As I like to say, “I’m crazy but not stupid.”

As already seen in the pictures of past posts, almost everything requires some consideration of safety.  For example, quickly dowsing the sail, even if only 1 sqm, is critical for when winds and waves suddently kick up.  The akas also hold a backup paddle, a Werner Camano, in addition to my main use of an Epic Mid Wing Paddle.   I don’t like keeping a paddle leash on the wing paddle I use all the time, but leashes (one for each half)  keep the Camano tied to the akas.  More importantly, I would strap one to myself for sure if I needed the second paddle to go get the first!

The Water Tribe forum is full of the safety advice I am following.  The bright red Barracuda head warmer (I am wearing it in the picture of me in my first post) is one element I added after hearing the suggestion to carry an extra silicon cap – preferably bright – to help another triber if stuck in the water.  Hypothermia seems to be one of the greatest concerns for tribers, even in South Florida challenges or the North Carolina Challenge in late summer.   In his book Without a Paddle: Racing Twelve Hundred Miles Around Florida by Sea Kayak, triber “Sharkchow” (aka Warren Richey) hilariously recounts his concerns for the dangers of sharks, snakes, alligators, and other Floridians in the Ultimate Florida Challenge.  But hypothermia is more likely to get you on events.  Giving a head warmer to a fellow triber stuck in the water will help keep him warm, and the color makes her easier to find.  I opted for a more comfortable thermal-lined Barracuda rather than silicon cap, for myself when cold or for sharing when needed.

Another shared experience on the Water Tribe forum led me to mount 3 flares for immediate access.  One triber reported a situation where she ultimately needed to be rescued by the USCG.  Tough, she was in good shape to return to the Everglades Challenge.  However, before sending the SOS, she saw another boat in the far distance and wished she had quicker access to her flares when still swimming in the Gulf on Mexico with her equipment in an upside down kayak.  A picture in one of my earlier posts shows one Orion flair mounted to the front of my cockpit (on an aluminum tube crossmember mounted to the track of the foot brace).  I’ve placed two more, port and starboard, on the akas.  This makes three for USCG!

Of course, keeping safety equipment on my body is even better.  A Kokatak Paddling Suit keeps me warm, in the water and in the boat, since a surfski paddler remains very exposed to the elements on such a sit-on-top.  It is matched with Kokatat Seeker Booties, size 13 over foot-size 11 to give room to athletic socks and the dry-suit socks.  The blue sack behind the cockpit stores a pair of Glacier Gloves (among other things) when it gets colder.

A Stohlquit TREKKer keeps me floating.  Its high-back design is intended for sit-on-tops and its two bellowing pockets are good for stuffing 4-6 hours of food (snack bars, power gels, fruit leather, beef jerky, etc).    In addition to a handy NRS Co-pilot Kayak Knife (tethered), the jacket holds my worst-case rescue kit:  An ACR ResQLink+ Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) is my greatest comfort to have on the front of my shoulder strap.  A Spot Connect is mounted on the forward hatch as required equipment for OK messages and continuous tracking during a Water Tribe challenge, and the Spot has an SOS button.  I mounted it in front of me so I can keep an eye on its activity lights, especially to make sure it keeps its Bluetooth pairing with the iPhone on me.  The SOS signal is self-contained in the Spot itself, but its reliability doesn’t match a dedicated PLB, always on me.  It’s good to have both.

The backs of my shoulder straps carry a See-Me LED Strobe on one side and a pack with two Orion Dye Markers and a Coghland’s Emergency Survival Signaling Mirror on the other.   Although a bit extravagant, an Atwood Whistle is fine-built piece of stainless steel to round out this kit.   An ICOM M36 VHF handheld radio, which floats, is mounted behind me on the akas frame, and also has a Mini Gear Tether with Lanyard (West Marine) to keep attached to the boat – or to re-attach to me if I need to ditch.

Aside from the case of sinking, I want to stay connected to the boat!   Surfskis are notorious for how their light weight can have them blown away from the paddler, never able to swim fast enough to catch.   A leash is an absolute safety MUST.    Again, this has been a topic in the Water Tribe forum, reporting the recent demise of a paddler in Michigan, even with an ankle leash – which failed.  An ankle leash is typical, but I have opted for an extra heavy-duty XM Power Clip knee leash designed for stand up paddling (SUP).  Furthermore, I connect the leash to the boat with a Dyneema loop rather than a more standard cord.  As with the evolution of kiteboarding safety, surfski safety is also evolving, and I am waiting to see what manufactures have in the works for new leash systems.

Rudder control and repair is another issue.  Given the challenge “filters”, which often include shallow passages to ensure that “small craft” remain small, I have the option of a standard 9” rudder for open water or a 5” rudder for the shallows.  Having a backup rudder, either for either, is also good.  The second rudder is in a mount I constructed on the stern.  Both rudders have their own hand knob with a stop nut so that I don’t need to go hunting for a wrench to take the rudder on and off.  Similar to the light reflectors on the bow lights, I also added reflective sheets on both sides of the rudder holder.

A bungee loop is mounted to the back of the carrying frame, one end of which can be quickly disconnected and used to recover from a broken rudder control line.   By keeping this constant pressure on the side of the broken line, the peddle on the other side can still be used to steer back to land for a proper repair.  Loops in both Spectra control lines are  tied and good to go.

Spare control lines, the ubiquitous applicability of duct tape, various hypothermia and all other medical equipment are right behind me in an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink ditch bag.  I also carry a Stohlquist Re-traxt Tow Tether with 25’ of towrope.  It sits in the cockpit just in front of the foot brace, which is wasted space otherwise.  And then there are running lights, headlamps, an illuminated compass and other ways to know where you are going and avoid things that go bump in the night.  Lighting is an entire subject itself on the Water Tribe forum to stay safe out there, which I plan to do.


This is your surf ski on steriods

Here she is!  But I will not be happy with the esthetics of these pictures until everything is done.  The stern deck looks too heavy and is too heavy until I get the amas completed.  They are in the works.  Otherwise, this is everything from stem to stern.  (Click on the image for a larger view).

Running lights are on a bow mount and on top of a Leki pole (which doubles for portage and walking out if needed).  The Flat Earth Sail is a close color match to the Kevlar Evo and works great!  Because the boat has only one forward hatch, I’ve built a frame into the akas / crossmembers for all things not required to be kept dry in the hatch for camping.  Everything else I might ever need while on the water is near me.  I’m also carrying an extra, smaller rudder on the stern.

Yes, that is a pole spear mounted on the side.  I’ll get to that later, after describing the more likely-to-need things.  But here’s a joke:  When asking a woman with a bunch of weapons, “So what are you so afraid of?,” her response was, “Not a damn thing.”

Thanks to Mike and Flat Earth Kayak Sails (FEKS).  This is one of his 1 sqm sails, this size being the limit for Water Tribe events unless the sail can be reefed.    Also, given the small beam of a surfski, I’m not sure that anything larger could be carried.

There is absolutely no beam toward the bow, but mounting the sail to just in front of the cockpit (with room for the compass), the center of effort seems balanced, and the position gives me the widest reasonable point for the mast step and shrouds.   The mast “step” is a stainless steel bimini deck mount.  The shrouds are still a work-in-progress.  They are fine in light winds, but in gust of 20 knots and higher, the sail is pushed over.  I am soon going to add a second, lower pair of shroud lines, which should do the trick.  The deck loops are fat and low profile to avoid as much torque as possible.

The bungees from the mast to the bow are hard to see in the other pictures, but they pull the mast forward for me to stow the sail on the deck when not needed.  The bungees are pulled up and clipped around the sail with two S-biners.  If/when I get a higher aspect or larger FEKS, it will still fit nicely between the split bow lights.

The bungee also lets me pull the entire sail aft to immediately douse it if ever needed.

The bungee connects near the bow lift handle with a twisted shackle.  As one small lesson learned, I lost the pin once while setting things up on the sand.  So I added a short lanyard to it, and now it will even float (two small yellow floaters in the handle well)!

Cleats for the backstays are mounted on the tracks for the foot brace.

The block for the mainsheet is attached with a small Dyneema loop.  The line is always easy to find, but I’m not entirely happy with the location of the cleat.  At least with my drysuit on, the cleat is a bit too close to me and hard to reach with the suit’s puffiness.  On the other hand, a little practice and determination might give me the hang of it.

The centerline foam bracing is a nice thing about the mounting a sail on the Evo: there is no oil-canning of the deck.  You can see the centerline foam through the open hatch, including how I carved out some of the foam in order to more easily get equipment in and out.  Here is a look from the cockpit with the sail stowed.

The standard Evo hatch was only 4”, so one of the first transformations to an expedition surfski was to replace it with a 6” Sea Dog screw-in deck plate.  Nothing bigger will fit the area, but with a lot of shopping around, I was able to find equipment either small enough or thin enough to fit.  A Hennessy Expedition Hammock in snake skins is now a beautiful thing to me.  Equipment packing is a story for another time.


Hello world wide world!

I spend way to much time on computers, and anything to do with water refreshes my spirit, letting me touch the real world while blowing everything else out of my brain.  Thanks to the Water Tribe for such an opportunity to explore more of life, and to share a bit of mine.

I take the tribe’s mission as two-fold.  First is to explore one’s self in expeditionary challenges: to feel and push against physical and mental limits.   I’ve not yet participated in any tribe events and so I’ve not earned any right to talk about myself under real trial.  Even in training, I’d be too embarrassed right now to say much about my sessions.  But the tribe’s second mission includes exploration of small craft themselves: designing for the many constraints of expedition “filters.”  The first challenge is merely to prepare for an event, and so my current challenge is in getting to the starting line.

Paddling my Think Evo is a great and glorious exercise, and now that I have a dry suit (a requirement for a sit-on-top craft in tribe events), I’m getting back in shape this winter.  But much of my preparation since early this summer has been transforming a production surfki into an expedition surkski.  While not the typical and ideal craft for this group’s expeditions, building an expedition surfski has been a fascinating experiment, and most of my next posts will be about this particular kind of small craft and in fitting all of the required equipment it must hold.   Being on the water provides my real thrill, but merely thinking about such an expeditionary craft has been a blast.

As a “newbie” to paddling, I have enormous appreciation for the lessons shared in The Water Tribe blogs,  forums, and articles.  The challenge is not to win, but to finish, and finishing or not, then to share.  Many elements of my design have incorporated my pouring over the wisdom of other tribers – with particular focus on safety and survival.   Mad Dog might be crazy, but he’s not stupid!  Safety will be one of my topics throughout.

All comments are appreciated.  If I get any terminology wrong, let me know.  I hope to keep learning from others and share in return.  Just be kind; this is still very experimental, and much more will shake out through test and actual challenge.

But this is all soooo cool!  Enjoy!

Happy man in dry suit (required for sit-on-tops), with comfy, bright head warmer.

Long distance toy carrier, with room to share.