Archive for the 'women’s kayaking' Category

Jan 20 2012

Review of the Dagger Alchemy S

Last fall, we bought a Small and a Large Dagger Alchemy for our instructional fleet and have been using them for classes and lessons (and other fun adventures)

Of course, I had to indulge my “Goldilocks” tendencies and take the small one out for a test paddle – which actually ended up being more than one since I really enjoyed paddling it.

If I had one word to describe the Dagger Alchemy, it would be FUN!!!
Cate tests the Dagger Alchemy in the rock gardens.

Here is my review of the Dagger Alchemy – S (small).

The Dagger Alchemy is a 14 foot touring kayak designed for touring on both for flat and moving water. It is designed to be stable and maneuverable and suitable for paddlers of all skill levels. It has become a popular rock gardening boat among the Bay Area Sea Kayakers and can be seen in action in several of the Neptune’s Rangers’ videos.

Fit and ergonomics: The Alchemy is 14 feet long. I didn’t weigh it, but it felt much lighter than most plastic sea kayaks. Its lighter weight and shorter length really made it nice to transport, store, and carry when compared to our other plastic sea kayaks which are in the 16 foot range.

The first thing that I liked about the small Alchemy is that Jeff felt it was too tight of a fit for him (5′ 11″ and 150 pounds). He rarely feels that way about a boat and often gravitates toward smaller sized or low volume boats. On the other hand, most small sized boats are too big for me (5′ 4″ and 120 pounds).

The outfitting was quite comfortable and fairly adjustable. This is important for an instructional kayak and also for me as a petite paddler with short legs. I was able to get good thigh contact with the adjustable thigh hooks and was happy that the foot braces had shorter adjustments than what I needed (meaning we could use this boat for very small paddlers and kids). As I moved the boat around and sat in it, I was starting to really like it. I liked the low deck and was starting to feel that this was a boat truly designed for a smaller paddler.

My opinion changed when I went to put the spray deck on. The Alchemy has a large cockpit (similar in size to many whitewater kayaks). Putting the spray deck on was extremely difficult. There is a lot of space between the rear of the seat and the back of the cockpit combing making it very difficult to stretch and get the back of the spray deck on the combing. I have very good shoulder flexibility and putting this spray deck on was definitely tested it. After I got the spray deck on the back, I had a very long stretch to get it over the front of the cockpit combing. My fingertips don’t reach that far so I had to scrunch up in my seat to get the deck on. It was very frustrating to have to do a contortion act to get ones spray deck on. This photo shows the large cockpit.

Also when I sat in the boat, I realized that the day hatch was inaccessible due to the amount of space behind the seat and the day hatch. (I speculate that this isn’t an issue for those that are taller and have longer arms.)

: I paddled the Alchemy last fall on our typical Mendocino ocean kayaking adventures – rock gardening, surfing, and crabbing.

My initial reaction was “Gee this is FUN!!!” It is a lively boat in the swells and surf zone. It was very stable and wanted to be upright which is a good quality for beginning paddlers and those gaining confidence in moving water. This is particularly nice in the surf zone where many sea kayaks are a bit twitchy.

When surfing it, I really had to work to get it to edge and felt that I needed to weigh another 20-30 pounds get it to carve. Of course, Jeff hopped in it in the surf and got it to edge and carve (Jeff weighs more but is also a VERY skilled paddler). I worked at it and eventually carved a few nice turns.

When capsized, I was pleasantly surprised at how easy the Alchemy was to roll up. I could effortlessly hand roll it. I also discovered that the Alchemy is a great kayak for kayak crabbing. I was especially pleased that I could carry two of our non-collapsing pots on it due to the flat front deck.

Hull speed is an issue that I had with the Alchemy. I expected that it would be slower than a 16 foot sea kayak, but it was a lot slower. I found myself paddling harder than usual to keep up on flat water stretches and was dismayed at my lack of speed and ineffectiveness in a towing situation.

It didn’t have the speed that I was looking for when paddling out through the surf nor the speed that I needed to catch waves. I adapted and positioned myself on the waves and pour-overs like I would in my whitewater kayak.

For playing, the speed issue is something that I would adapt to. However when guiding or doing more extreme paddling when speed is necessary and others are depending upon me, this could be an issue.

Bottomline: The Dagger Alchemy is a fun kayak! I would recommend it to beginning and intermediate paddlers who are looking for a playful plastic sea kayak. It’s lightweight and shorter length make it convenient for transport and storage. It is comfortable with adjustable outfitting, and its stability is confidence inspiring for surf zone and rock garden play. I also think that the Alchemy would be a good choice for beginners who are leaning toward purchasing a recreational kayak but want a boat that is seaworthy.

For me – We have one, and I will play with it as it is lightweight, easy to transport, comfortable and fun. However, it won’t be my primary sea kayak for rock gardening due to its lack of speed and difficulty of the spray deck. I have to be able to put a spray deck on quickly and easily unassisted in all conditions (perhaps I should have Jeff video me contorting to put the spray deck on to demonstrate my point). If Dagger fixes the cockpit issue, I would probably revisit it as my sea kayak rock gardening boat.

If you’ve paddled the Alchemy or have questions or thoughts on it, feel free to comment on my Woman on Water Blog. If you are considering buying one, take one out for a test paddle.

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Jan 03 2012

A Series of Unexpected Events

Surreal would be my best adjective for 2011. Of course phenomenal paddling is to be expected when one’s regular paddling playground is the Mendocino Coast. However, 2011 seemed to be the year of the unexpected.
Jeff catches air and Kathe gets a saltwater facial.
As I reflect on 2011, I recall regularly thinking, “Really? Someone pinch me so that I know this is really happening.”
Cate and Amy coasteering on the Mendocino Coast.
From befriending a garter snake

Cate's friend Hairy.

to testing strip-built sea kayaks, 2011 was a bizarre year.
Cate takes the strip built sea kayak in the rocks.
Probably one of the most unexpected events of 2011 was helping Jeff salvage a sunken sit on top kayak from the bottom of Noyo Bay.
Salvaging a sunken sit on top kayak in Noyo Bay.
Equally unexpected was stepping my game up to run some Class IV whitewater.
Cate descends Double Drop on the Eel River.
My favorite adventure of 2011 was our 169 mile Paddle to the Sea on the Eel River. In 8 days, Jeff and I paddled whitewater kayaks from Lake Pillsbury to the Pacific Ocean on the Eel River.
Setting off on Day 2 from Hearst.
2011 was a year of fun and adventure but also of frustration (Tales from the Surf Zone) and disappointment (Skunked). And also sadness as 2 of my beloved pets – Button and Aften passed away. It is these moments that remind us that we are human and things aren’t meant to be perfect.
Aften's first kayak trip on Fort Bragg's Noyo River
What will 2012 bring? More fun adventures I hope. Jeff and I will be traveling a little bit more in 2012 and sharing the fun. In January, I am meeting with Risa Shimoda to consult with her on The Ladies’ Project. Later in January, we are road tripping with the toys to Bodega Bay for Crabfest 2012 sponsored by The Headwaters and Promar. In March, we will be sharing our Eel River Paddle to the Sea Adventure with several clubs including Explore North Coast.

Unexpected has been the positive response that I have gotten from readers of my blog. Initially, I was surprised that people were reading my blog. Thanks for reading and sharing the adventures. Here’s a link to some of our favorite photos of 2011.

Best wishes for fun and adventure in 2012.
Looking for Pearls?

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Nov 03 2011

Tales from the Surf Zone

Would you/Could you launch here?

This was the decision that I had to make. We had just finished 3 days of coaching and instructing at the Lumpy Waters Symposium and today was coaches’ play day. We critically looked at this surf zone. As we scouted from the parking lot, a lull hit. We deemed it doable. 20-30 minutes later we were dressed and on the beach and this is what it looked like.

(I’m not sure if this photo does it justice. Many armchair QB’s will say that this was nothing.)

There were some rips and areas with lots of whitewater and poorly formed waves, but it was the large dumping closeout waves on the outside that were intimidating. It was interesting to hear each paddler’s read on the water and the best line and strategy for getting out.

About 100 yards out there was a dumping monster wave that intimidated me. I felt confident that I could work my way through the frothing whitewater of the broken waves just to the north but was not certain that I could time it correctly to avoid being there when the monster reared. Much of this intrepidation came from an incident 3 days prior in which I was sucked out of my boat and had a long swim in to shore (more about this later). My heart said go for it but my gut said that I might be a liability to the group. I went with my gut and decided not to launch.

The first wave of paddlers hovered for a while just in front of the dumpers waiting for a lull and then tried to punch through. They ended up coming back in to regroup. It was validating to see Sean find the seam in the foam piles that I had selected as my line. I was supposed to launch in the 3rd group with Jeff and Bryant. They took Sean’s route and just made it over the top of the outside dumper as the monster reared up and crashed. I knew that I didn’t have their speed and power and very likely would have been caught in the monster’s big teeth.

As the guys disappeared from sight, I knew that I made the right decision but was pissed that I wasn’t out there. I contemplated taking a nap in the sun or going for a walk on the beach, but decided that this could be a learning experience so I sat and studied the surf zone and honed my water reading skills. I practiced picking routes and timing sets. Could I have made it out if I had sat and watched it longer? After having watched it for an hour, I had a sense of the lines and timing and was confident that I could launch but had made my decision to stay on the beach.

Some of my decision came from an experience that I had on Friday . . .

On Friday, we went out for a morning surf session in short boats. Prior to getting our boats, we walked along the beach and saw others launching from the north end. It was a relatively straight forward surf zone. We opted though not to drive up there but launch from the beach right in front of the house where we were staying. There was a significant rip there and a mid surf zone dumping closeout wave, but some nice peaks and shoulders on the outside that were quite alluring.

I looked at it for a moment and looked at Jeff and off we went. I found a rip that created a seam through the inside and was on my way out to those peaking waves on the outside. I saw the mid zone dumpers and felt certain that my line and speed would carry me between them. Just then one reared up in front of me. I guess I drifted slightly to the south and right into the impact zone. Rather than take the impact on my head and risk imploding my spraydeck, I attempted to duck dive under it by capsizing my boat. The plan was to sneak under it and roll up on the other side. My timing was a little late and I went cartwheeling over the falls upside down and backwards. I rolled up only to face the next thumper about to crash on my head. I purposely capsized again and expected the same maytagging but instead felt suspended in the wave and then sucked out of my boat. I was dismayed and grabbed for the cockpit combing to hold myself in but the wave had other plans and ripped me out.

Jeff was just 10 yards to the north of me and avoided this whole experience. Another paddling buddy was 10 yards to the north of him ended up out of his boat too. Due to the rip currents and trying to swim out of a rip with a boat full of water, it was a long swim in to shore. When I made it to shore, I was glad to be out of the grips of the sucking currents but felt invigorated. It has been awhile since I had a good swim in the ocean. There’s nothing like a little cold water immersion to make one feel alive.

Chalk these 2 up to experience. Paddling is about skill but it is also about experience – applying ones paddling skills in situations/conditions and applying the knowledge gained through experiences to good decision making. I hated the decision that I made not to launch but I still think that it was the right one. Of course those that know me, know where much of my time and efforts will be spend this fall/winter training season.

PS Fall/winter training has already begun.

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Jul 26 2011

The Ladies’ Project

Yes, you’ve heard Goldilocks’ tale – “This kayak is too wide, this kayak is too deep, this kayak is too heavy, this kayak is too slow, this kayak is uncomfortable, I can’t reach the foot pedals, I can’t stretch a spray deck over the long cockpit, my butt doesn’t fit in the seat . . .” Gosh, the same thing happens when I try to shop for clothing in the men’s department. DUH!!! There are significant anatomical differences between men and women.

Of course, I am not the only Goldilocks. Many women paddlers face these same issues. There is no ladies’ department for kayaks so we end up shopping in the men’s department and making due with what we can find that fits best. In doing so, we compromise comfort and performance.

The learning curve for a beginner in whitewater kayaking is steep especially when trying to paddle boats that don’t fit properly. I remember my first lesson when the instructor was teaching edging and said to apply pressure with my right thigh in the brace. My thigh was no where near the thigh brace. Many women give up on paddling or are limited to flat water paddling because they don’t get the body-boat connection necessary for developing confidence and skills.

Kayak manufacturers have started offering more size options to accommodate a wider range of paddlers, but no one has really scientifically looked at how the anatomical differences of men and women (lower center of gravity, shorter arms and torso, lower muscle to weight ratio, different pelvic structure, and narrower shoulders) effect a kayak’s performance.

The Ladies’ Project is a step in this direction. Risa Shimoda is a whitewater paddler and advocate for rivers and whitewater accessibility. She has enlisted Carnegie Mellon University’s engineering and design department to take on the challenge of developing a kayak design for women. This fall, students will be posed with this challenge (provided the materials and lab fees can be raised).

Let‘s rally to help and be a part of this movement to further kayak design for women. Donations are being sought to cover the $7000 material and lab fees. $25 is the suggested donation amount but any amount will help fund this ground breaking project.

Even if a solution is not found – we are furthering awareness and knowledge. You can help make kayaking more accessible to women by spreading the word and making a donation by 7/31.

To donate to The Ladies‘ Project, click here.

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Apr 02 2010

And on the Seventh Day . . . We Paddled

And on the Seventh Day . . . We Paddled

It wasn’t a suped up DeLorean but my Toyota Tacoma that transported me for a week this month back in time. My destination wasn’t my small town America but the old Naval Air Station in Alameda.

For seven days (eight due to a material issue), I felt like I was immersed in a high school woodshop class. We were mostly using hand tools and techniques that the Inuits used to construct a skin on frame kayak. Many of our materials and tools were modern due to the fact that our goal was to finish these boats within a week. Our instructor’s philosophy is that one could spend all day completing a task with simple tools but that doesn’t leave much time for surfing.

Brian Schulz of Cape Falcon Kayak was our instructor. He is world renowned in the skin on frame boat design and construction. He usually teaches classes in his workshop in Manzanita, Oregon; however, he will take his tools and materials on the road to teach in other locations throughout the world. Recently Brian completed a class in Tasmania. Brian was recruited to teach a class in the San Francisco Bay area by several Bay Area Sea Kayakers (BASK) because of their interest in a specific design that he builds. The Mariner Coaster is a popular sea kayak in the Bay Area; and Brian has designed a skin on frame version called the F-1.

Why build a skin on frame kayak? Everyone has their own reasons. In our class, the main reasons were to have a lightweight kayak that handled rough waters well and could be built to fit a specific individual – sounds like I’m not the only Goldilocks kayaker. It was the Goldilocks in me that drew me to interest in Skin on Frame kayak construction. If the manufacturers didn’t build a boat that fit me and my paddling needs, then maybe I could. I had been researching skin on frame construction and was contemplating taking a stab at building one with a little help from my friend John who has built one with Wolfgang Brinck – Bay Area small boat builder and author of the Aleutian Kayak. Typical of one of my research projects, the kitchen table stacked up with books on skin on frame construction and the internet was scoured for information.

A class seemed like a great way to learn the ins and outs without lots of trials and tribulations. And then it happened . . . a post on the Bay Area Sea Kayaker’s online forum BUZZ appeared. Maryly posted that she wanted to take Brian’s class in the bay area to build a F-1 but was unable to. She queeried if some one be interested in taking the class and building an F-1 for her.” Ding-ding-ding . . . we have a winner (actually 2 – Maryly who gets an awesome custom skin on frame kayak and Cate who gets a hands on experience to learning how to build a skin on frame.)

It was awesome!!! Under Brian’s guidance and assistance, Gordon, LaRhee, and I shaped wood into a frame. Each of our kayaks were of the same design but being customized for the size of the paddler who would be paddling them.

For 3 days, we drilled holes, carved out mortices and tenons, steamed and bent wooden ribs, planed surfaces, and joined the pieces with wooden pegs and artificial sinew lashings. Many discussions ensued during the process including comparisons of the techniques and materials that we were using compared to the Inuits as well as discussions on paddling skills and techniques, philosophies of kayak instruction, sustainable organic farming, and whitewater kayaking.
At the end of day 4, our frames were completed and we had carved paddles. We put our woodworking tools away and got out needles and thread.

Day 5 was a fabric and sewing party. At the end of day 5, we had skinned our boats (balistic nylon not seal skins) and were wetting them to get the fabric to shrink into the shape of the frame. We wet the boats. Instead of water soaking into the fabric, it beaded up. !@#$% – the manufacturer sent us the wrong material. The need to reorder the fabric and reskin the boats became apparent so class was dismissed until the following weekend.

A little side trip 2 hangars down was in store – we ventured down to Hangar 1 for some vodka tasting to celebrate the early beginning of the weekend for us.

A week later, we returned to our little workshop among the hangars of the Alameda Naval Air Station. Reskinning the boats went quickly as we were now experienced boat skinners and this time the skins shrunk to fit the frame. The next morning, we treated the skins with “goop” a polyurethane mixture to seal them. On the 7th (actually 8th day), we outfitted the boats and paddled them.

And they paddled beautifully. Brian demonstrated some techniques with the Greenland Paddle and off we went. The kayak that I had built paddled smoothly in the water. The secondary stability was excellent. I practiced some edged turns with sweeps strokes and found the boat to be very responsive. The warm and sunny day inspired notions of getting my hair wet so I did some sculling and rolling and found the boat did exactly what I wanted it to do. I look forward to building my own and putting it through the measures of kayaking in the surf and rock gardens of the Mendocino Coast.

Maryly smiled from ear to ear as she paddled her new handmade kayak. When we were finished with our test paddle, it was really cool to see her effortlessly carry it from the water to her car Mission accomplished – a lightweight, custom fit kayak!!!

I can’t wait to build mine!!!

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Apr 12 2009

Just Call Me Goldilocks

Guess I am the Goldilocks of kayaking . . . constantly testing out this boat and that and being hopeful that eventually I will find one that will be “JUST RIGHT.”

When will I find the boat that is just right for me? Statistics say that the average height for US women is 5’3″ to 5’4″. So at 5’4.5″ why do I have so much difficulty finding a kayak that fits? Especially in the realm of whitewater kayaks. Sea kayaks by nature are narrower and manufacturers have started working on low volume designs that are more friendly smaller adults.

I just deleted a whole rant about whitewater kayaks but will save that for another day. Currently there is an Eskimo Kendo Starlight sitting in our boatbarn that Goldilocks thinks is going to be “JUST RIGHT.”

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Feb 28 2009

Rolling, Rolling, Rolling . . .

Yes, remastering the Eskimo Roll was my New Years Resolution. My partner Jeff says that it takes about 100 rolls to have a “reliable eskimo roll.” In January, I made an effort to do at least 3 rolls each time that I paddled. Of course being a perfectionist, this usually translated to 5 to 7 rolls. I would often ask for one of my paddling partners to spot me so that I could get an eskimo assist if I missed my rolls. They have been very supportive and encouraging.

This week I hit my 100th roll since January 1st. So do I feel that I have mastered the roll? Yes, I am very confident in my on-side roll. Lately I have started kayak surfing in a decked kayak (which I never thought would be in my paddling scope) and am having a lot of fun rolling in the surf. Jeff tells me that rolling in warm water is even more fun. Our water here on the Mendocino Coast is usually in the mid-50′s.

It was quite a commitment to make myself roll in that chilly water, but it has helped me to get used to it so that I am not shocked by it when I do roll over. I definitely recommend learning the eskimo roll in a pool with an instructor, goggles, and nose plugs. We had several sessions last fall at the Fort Bragg Recreation Center swimming pool and are looking forward to teaching rolling this summer at the STARR Community Center - Fort Bragg’s new aquatic center.

Rolling on though, now it’s time to work on the offside roll.

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