Friday, April 24, 2009

Mid-Atlantic Kayak Festival

I just registered for the MAKF that is coming up in mid-May. I first heard about the festival at ECCKF when one of the organizers was doing some shameless self-promotion. I was talking to him about the ACA (American Canoe Association) and BCU (British Canoe Union) classes I wanted to take and he handed me a card promoting the festival. This looks like a great festival and not only is it in my back yard, but this is the first year it is happening and they managed to get some really big names in the kayaking world to come down and participate as instructors. I am looking into doing the ACA L3 assessment as well as the BCU 3 Star training and the 3 Star assessment. Seems a little boring to just do training classes and assessments but I really want to have my skills as good as possible before going out on an expedition trip. I am really exited that they are offering a class over the lunch hour that discusses expedition trip planning. I can't wait to go to that talk and hear what is really involved with what I want to do.

The festival is happening up near Annapolis in Maryland at the YMCA camp. I have never been there before but it seems like a good location as it will offer housing, food and the bay is only 2 miles away. Having the bay so close means that classes that require rough water conditions can just paddle out to the bay and have the conditions if they are present. This is a big if as when I registered, I was actually told they may not have the conditions so I opted to not go for the 3 Star assessment but I stayed with the training as I think it will be a good class to take.

After registering, my classes will include the BCU 3 Star training on Friday which is the whole day. On Saturday I will be doing the ACA L3 assessment in the morning followed by incident management in the afternoon. Sunday I will have advanced strokes on the bay in the morning and a nature paddle in the afternoon. I opted for the nature paddle at the end as I felt I would likely be exhausted and there didn't really seem to be anything that I was interested in taking. It seems there are few people signed up at this point and chances are I can move classes around if something comes up. As this is the first year this festival is occurring, the small class sizes will mean more personal teaching then would otherwise have occurred has the classes booked up solid.

The reason I wanted to get both an ACA and BCU assessment is that I felt if I were to travel around the world, which is actually on the list of things to do, that a BCU personal achievement award would be worth more then an ACA achievement award. I feel that since the BCU system has been around for longer that more people around the world have heard of this and will know what exactly it means. The ACA L3 is not equivalent to the BCU 3 Star as I found out when I was discussing this with the coordinator during registration. The L3 training and assessment will all take place on calm water and is more an assessment of skill and precision. The 3 Star training and assessment takes place on rough water with 2-3 foot following seas and about 15-20 knot winds. This is an assessment of skills in conditions and not so much precision. The BCU recently changed their system and the old BCU 3 Star was on calm water but now the new 3 Star is closer to the old 4 Star. I will eventually have to get out on rough waters and train up to get a 3 Star. There are other festivals and still tie to work on skills. My fingers are crossed that I will pass my L3 assessment.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

East Coast Canoe and Kayak Festival, Day 3

The East Coast Canoe and Kayak festival is a three day event of the weekend. There are many classroom events, water classes, and demonstrations that occur over the whole festival. Last night was the big demonstration event with several of the instructors showcasing their skills in front of an audience. This is always the big demonstration worth going to as it is all in one place at one time with no other events going on to interfere with the viewing pleasure. Last night I watched Nigel Foster doing ballet with his kayak, moving it effortless through the water with barely any strokes. I watched Alison Sigethy rolling her boat over and over again with precision and grace. I watched Karen Knight glide around in a canoe, making it spin in circles, doing things with a canoe I never thought possible until I watched her doing it. And finally I watched Dubside demonstrate several of the Greenland rolls, with bricks, and candles, and at one point, both a brick and a candle.

Today being the last day of the festival, many people are packing up and getting ready to leave. I have a long day ahead of me on the ocean and have opted to stay an extra night and drive back in the morning when I expect to be a little less tired. My first class is an advanced open water workshop. This will only be my second time out on the ocean and my first real chance in my sea kayak. I was a little leery of signing up for the advanced class as I wasn't sure if I had the skills to participate. The put in was some distance from where we dropped off out boats and that meant a long carry. I buddied up with someone and we carried both boats down to the beach making it in only one trip. While I sometimes hate carrying two boats at once as it is hard on the hand, it was nice to know I didn't have to walk back through the shifting sand to get another boat. The ocean was really nice this morning and we stood on the beach getting our bearings and discussing the lay of the ocean before heading out. There was a nice light house and a line of surf along a sand bar. The conditions of the area were going to give up several challenging sections which was great. I felt I did quite well, although it was pointed out I have to be more aggressive when cresting a wave. The paddle was nice and I realized I prefer to paddle while quartering a wave rather then beam side to the wave. I did do a little surfing of the swells and had fun in general. I am glad I took the class as I feel I took away a lot from the class, both in terms of how best to manage a group and how to deal with the changing nature of the ocean.

My next and last class for the day was long boat surfing. I had really enjoyed the short boat surfing the day before with Nigel Foster, so I was looking forward to trying it with the long boat. My short boat is about 6 feet long and very maneuverable. My sea kayak is about 18 feet long and while it is maneuverable on flat water, it isn't that maneuverable. I wasn't sure what to expect from the class and while I am glad I was bumped to the more advanced section of the class, I think a few basics in the surf might have been helpful. The goal of the class was to get broach to the wave then turn the boat back into or away from the wave. The waves seemed to be left turning waves. I had a hard time convincing my boat to turn in any other direction once I was on the wave. So my left and weaker side got a good work out. Once I was broach to the wave, I did try to turn back to face out to the ocean, but it seemed once I initiated the maneuver, the boat just wanted to turn forward again. At least I was able to get the boat to turn to present a smaller area to the beach. I did get bowled over by one wave about two times, I was bowled over, then bowled back up then bowled over again and I managed to roll back up only to get bowled back over again. I finally rolled back up and was out of the wave. The instructor sat there and watched me as this happened, and that was what we talked about on the drive back to the festival grounds. He praised me for having the where with all to keep trying to come back up. I just didn't want to exit the boat in the big surf. I did have to exit at least twice, once because the surf had rolled me into an unrollable position, and another when I didn't come back up and was almost hitting the ground in the shallows.

Overall I felt I got much more out of the festival on the last two days then the first day. I had a great time and can't wait to play out on the ocean even more. I need to get out more in order to build up my confidence in myself and to get a better feel for how my boat reacts to the water and surf in ocean conditions. I will also have to get out on the ocean sometime with a loaded kayak to see how the kayak behaves when it is full of gear and added weight.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

East Coast Canoe and Kayak Festival, Day 2

Today is the second day at the festival and I was supposed to have a nice relaxing morning with no classes to worry about. Actually I was really looking forward to going to one of the classroom lectures to learn about gourmet backcountry cooking. Unfortunately, I received a phone call from a friend who decided at the last minute to drive down and enjoy the festival too. So I ended up running over to meet him at the camp office to get him set up, then showing him where we were set up so he could join us for supper then running back to the festival area and getting him set up with a kayak. I then set up KayakerBoy in my kayak and ran around to the other side of the pond so I could demo the slightly smaller version of my kayak.

I currently paddle an Impex Force Category 4 kayak. This is a really great boat and I bought the boat after trying a friend's Force 4. I found the boat handles very well, cuts through the water nicely and has great primary and secondary stability. Unfortunately at the time, I didn't notice I was sitting in the boat much higher then I should have. Basically I didn't weigh enough to sink the boat to the right water line. With a smaller profile in the water, I have been finding that the wind has been throwing me around in the water as if I am nothing. This is annoying as it means I have to do a lot of corrective strokes which is tiring. I didn't want to have to depend on the skeg but I find I have to in order to keep the boat tracking straight, whether there is wind or not.

I was really happy to learn that Impex now makes a Force 3 HV, which is a high volume version of their Force 3. I am a bit too big to fit the Force 3 and a bit too small to fit the Force 4. The Force 3 HV is a nice meeting point between these two boats and I was eager to take it out and give it a run. I did sit in the Force 3 to verify that it was in fact too tight for me to comfortably paddle. But the Force 3 HV was a dream. I could feel I was sitting lower in the water, that the boat was just as maneuverable (actually more as I fit it better), and tracked better with the mild wind. I would really like to take one out on a longer paddle and further explore the fit, especially since they are retailing for over 3,000$ new. This is the first season they are available. So I either have to buy one new and just suck up the price, or I will have to tough it out until the end of the season and see if any go on sale or if anyone sells one used.

While I was on the water playing with the new boat, I also took the time to show KayakerBoy some paddling techniques and help him get a little more comfortable with the boat and the different style of paddling. I dropped the boat back off and then had a quick lunch. My next class was at 2:00 which gave me a little time to relax, digest and dry out some of the gear I had been using.

My one and only class for the day was a short boat surfing class. I wasn't sure what to expect of the class but I have had Nigel Foster as an instructor before in the past and I think he is a nice instructor. I showed up a little early to discover I was the only person there so far. We eventually figured out that there was some confusion about where to meet for the class and most of the class was over at the small beach put in and not at the trip leaving area. Once we had everyone assembled, we hopped into the mini bus and off we went, to go find the ocean. And that was when we were warned that the traffic was terrible. Turns out there was a festival happening on the island and they closed off the main road into the town. We managed to get to the beach but we spent almost 2 hours in the bus. At least Nigel had a chance to go over the class basics that didn't require a boat so we could hit the water quickly. We were out on the water for almost an hour before we had to head back.

While it turned out to be a short class, it well worth the experience and fun. I learned that I liked to close my eyes when I punch through a wave, which isn't good. Waves actually form in shallow water so once we got out past the shelf, the waves were just gentle swells. Since waves do form in such shallow locations, it is crucial to tuck tight when rolling so nothing hits the bottom. I also learned that spitting is an art that I have to master if I want to stop spitting on my sleeve. While I did have my dry top on, it is still rather disgusting to spit out a mouth full of sea water onto myself or my boat. I also learned that surfing with a short boat is a ton of fun and I can't wait to get out and do it again. The short boat, in my case my white water Jackson Fun boat, was very easy to maneuver around in the surf.

Friday, April 17, 2009

East Coast Canoe and Kayak Festival, Day 1

A small group of us arrived last night at a semi reasonable hour. The drive was long and we were all tired plus there was still camp to set up and stuff to rearrange in the car to make things a little easier for the morning dash. I am glad I went and bought a nice large car camping tent. I used to just bring one of my backpacking tents, but I have realized over many kayak car camping trips, that changing in and out of wet clothes, especially neoprene in a very low tent is not easy or fun to do. I had to search around for a tent that met some basic criteria and I think I finally found it in the Kelty Green River 4 tent. While the tent does have a few issues such as shallow side pockets, I am happy with the generous height of the tent, the spacious interior (plenty of room for two people and tons of gear, three people with some gear, or four people in a pinch), and the vestibule is screened off and has privacy curtains. Next up might be to get some nice cozy cots.

Day one of any festival is always crazy. This one was no different. Morning came way too soon and I was still tired from the drive down. At least I had thought to bring ear plugs which I think helped get me enough sleep to survive. I started off the day in my paddling clothes as there was not going to be enough time to do the registration then run back to change. Plus we would have to drive to the registration area so there was no point in moving the car back and forth. I grabbed some lunch and stashed that in the car with the paddling stuff and off we went. Registration was relatively straight forward as I had done it early, but a few people needed to register for classes and the meal for Friday night and that took longer. We did manage to get it done before my class had to start but it was a little tight. KayakerBoy and I got the boats in the water and I had to introduce flat water techniques to him so he could play with my boat while I was in class. This also allowed me to have my other boat available at the beach for my second class. He is new to flat water and still pretty new to white water too. The sea kayak is quite different from a recreational flat water boat and a white water boat so it took him a bit of getting used to. I am hoping he can pick up enough skills as he is hopefully going to be my partner on this grand adventure. He signed up for a few of the beginner classes and also had enough time to explore the classroom lectures (that I have never had time to get to) and time to play with my boat on the water.

My first class was early in the morning considering there was registration to take care of first. I did manage to make it to the class in time. Today was supposed to be one of my more relaxed days but after the morning rush, I think that set the tone for the rest of the day. Basically running around trying to get things done. My first class was core strokes for white water paddlers. I have recently found a love for white water kayaking and have been trying to improve my skills quickly so I can play longer and safer on the river. I also feel that learning white water will further help my sea kayaking skills as I will be able to adapt to a changing water environment, I hope. I felt this class might be a good class to take to ensure I was doing things right and to learn new skills. In the end, I was above the level of the class. While each person comes in with a unique skill set, the instructor has to find the balance between teaching everyone something without teaching stuff that is too advanced for half of the class. I had this happen to me last year when I was at this festival. So while I didn't learn anything new, I did learn how to do some of my strokes better. While this is a good thing, I am not sure it was worth my time and money to take the class. I have a hard time determining which classes are appropriate for my level of skill. Mostly because I don't know what my skill level is. This is why I am eager to take a training class and do an assessment, then I will have a starting point for where I stand.

My second class was about the same as the first class, the skills taught were good to go over again and I did learn a few new things, but overall the course was a little slow for my skill set. I was actually rather disappointed by the first day's worth of classes. I hadn't been able to make it to any of the lectures and I barely had time to run around and check out the vendors. Day one down, only two days left. Hopefully the next few days will be more promising. I will be spending the next two days in courses out on the ocean which will be exciting, I just hope I am ready for it.

The rest of the day was taken up with loading the boats back up on the car and driving back to the campsite. We then had to hang up all the wet gear and get changed for dinner. We had registered for the dinner that night, which was bar-b-que. It was nice to be able to socialize with a few people I either already knew or had met last year. The talk after the meal was about a trip someone had taken that was called the "Vacation from Hell". He and a few of his friends had won a trip and ended up doing some paddling up in the Arctic. It was really interesting to watch and hear about some of their difficulties.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

East Coast Canoe and Kayak Festival

In growing to meet the challenge I feel I have laid down before myself, I will need to bolster my skills in order to handle paddling long distances on the ocean day after day. While I have paddled almost every weekend of the summer season last year, a majority of my paddling was on calm rivers or lakes. Not on the turbulent ocean. The ocean has its own life and dynamics, something I am not accustomed to but am eager to learn. And this adventure is all about learning and growing.

As one way to try to meet my goals of being able to physically handle a long distance paddle I have been looking at what festivals and courses are available in the area. Last year I went to the East Coast Canoe and Kayak Festival down in Charleston, SC. The drive is quite long, at nine hours, but the festival was well worth the trip last year. I had a very good time last year and my hopes are high again for this year. I am hoping to not only learn new skills, but to also have fun and play with the wide selection of boats available. I have started having some doubts that my boat is not appropriately sized for my weight (and losing weight doesn't help either) and as such it can be hard to handle on open water and windy conditions. While I can handle the boat, I find I have to do a lot of corrective strokes in order to maintain a straight track. Doing many corrective strokes detracts from the paddling and can be tiring over long distances. So either I need to get a boat more appropriate for my size/weight, or learn to better handle the boat. And along that line of thinking, a loaded boat handles far differently from an empty boat.

I looked into the pre- and post-festival offerings this year at the festival and was taken by the ACA L3 training and assessment class. At first I wasn't sure I wanted or needed this course. While I was interested in eventually being able to teach kayaking, I didn't know if it was worth taking a course that will only offer me a notch on the belt. In the end, I opted to pass on the ACA L3 training and assessment, but I did look into the Instructor Development Workshop and Instructor Certification Exam. Those turned out to be more what I was interested in over the long term if I want to get into teaching but alas they were quite expensive and I didn't think I was ready to take them. Plus I was positive I could find a school offering the classes more locally. So I added them to my list of things to do.

I eventually did register for 5 classes which is a little busy but still leaves me with some free time. I have two classes on Friday, one class on Saturday and two classes on the Sunday. My classes include doing 'core strokes for white water paddlers', 'intermediate fine tuning', 'short boat surfing', 'long boat surfing', and 'advanced open water paddling'. I finally managed to register for some of the ocean based classes and I am really looking forward to getting out on the ocean for the first time with my boat. I have had my boat for one complete season now and have only managed to get to the mouth of the ocean but not really on the ocean. As my dream for next year includes doing a two to three month expedition trip on the ocean, I will need ocean time and practice. This will hopefully be a good starting point.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

A girl, a kayak and a dream

I have a dream, who doesn't. My dream includes taking about a year off of work, quitting if I have to, and to do a kayaking expedition trip as well as finish hiking the southern section of the Appalachian Trail. After that, who knows where the wind will carry me but I would like to head over to New Zealand and Australia to do more kayaking and hiking out on the sunny blue waters of the south Pacific seas. In my mind, the kayak expedition trip will be about two to three months long and will either be a circumnavigation of some large island or following some inside passage of some group of islands. The options really can be limitless but I will have a time line to follow, budget to set and if I want to use my own boat and gear, then I am also limited by geography. It would not only cost too much to plan an expedition outside of North America but the logistics involved are likely to be much more intense. So for now I chose to make my first expedition trip within North America. I already have a few places in mind and will have to start doing some research on those places. I have set my research sites on either Vancouver Island or Newfoundland Island; both of which are in Canada, one on the east coast, the other on the west coast. Vancouver seems to be the better option right now as it will be less time-wise and distance-wise but has many options for increasing the length of the trip by simply continuing to follow the coast north up through the inside passage. My goals are to set up some timeline of when this will happen, bring up my ocean skill set so I can actually physically do this, and get the gear I will need to do this trip.

Why blog about this? There are a lot of people out there who can't do such adventures as these and they live on other peoples adventures, so I decided this is a good time to start sharing.
* First, this lets people see the planning process
* Second, to show anyone can grow to an adventure
* Third, to write about the adventure

Planning an Expedition
A lot of planning goes into setting up an expedition trip. Sometimes too much planning. I spent way too much time obsessing over the details of what I would and would not do on my thru-hike of the Appalachian trail that I think I lost sight of my goals with the planning. This time I am trying to balance the logistics involved in the planning with the unpredictability that happens once plans meet real life. I will have to go about procuring coastal maps and figuring out good places to resupply as well as spend nights, but I will not lay out such a strict timeline as weather, fatigue and sight-seeing will change everything. I want to enjoy myself on this trip not make a goal and feel I have nothing to show for it.

The immediate logistics that are cropping up are skills needed, equipment, food supplies, which trip and start date. Many things hinge on what trip to chose, and I think most of it boils down to Vancouver at this point since that is a shorter trip and will require less endurance. Based on some preliminary reading, Newfoundland will require at least three months of hard paddling just to do the circumnavigation. Whereas Vancouver will likely require about six weeks but there is then the inside passage that allows for lengthening the trip over a few more weeks, even up to another month.

The equipment needed for the trip is mostly independent of the trip chosen as both trips are on the ocean. Ocean travel generally requires dry suits even in the summer especially in more northern areas. A backup paddle, some dry bags and backpacking equipment should round out the equipment. The food is another issue. Until I figure out what trip will be the expedition, I can't determine if it will be possible to stop and resupply or if all the food needed will have to be carried.

The start date is somewhat flexible but the end date isn't. The expedition must finish before any fall and winter storms will start moving in. It is dangerous enough on the ocean in a small craft without having to worry about gale force winds, crashing waves and generally miserable weather. And depending on when weather moves in, that will determine the end date for the expedition.

My goals are to recharge myself from the everyday grind of life. And what better way then to get away from it all. My other goals will also include bringing up my skill set so I am confident in a knowledgeable way, not a cocky way. Up until this point, I have not really taken my kayak out on the ocean, the real ocean. I have been in protected marshy areas, and large bays, but not on the open ocean. The dynamics of the ocean are very different from those of a river or lake. There are waves and tide to contend with. Waves means it is more difficult to launch off a beach or to even land on a beach. The waves keep pushing and getting in and out of a constantly moving kayak will be a challenge to contend with. Tides are their own force and it will be important to be able to figure out where the high tide mark is so the campsite can be set up in the correct spot and kayaks will not float away overnight.

In order to start meeting some of my goals, I have started to register for local festivals and search out local training classes in order to bolster my skill set. I will be taking a few open water classes and doing some sea surfing. After that I will take a BCU 3 Star training class and try to assess for the 3 Star rating as well as the ACA L3 rating. This will mean I am capable of kayaking in conditions deemed 3 Star in difficulty. I will also be attending any other classes that seem useful to the expedition.

I love to write. Case in point, I wrote a novel during National Novel Writing Month, took me two months to write it but I successfully completed the month long challenge three years in a row, resulting in two novel length works to my name. Only one is self published right now, but it is the start of something new and exciting. I also wrote about my Appalachian Trail adventures which took place in 2005, my original blog entries are still available on my hiking blog for all to read and follow along on. The nice thing about the progression of the blog was that I also set that blog up well before my trip actually started and it is interesting to watch the progression of how I go from a happy carefree planner, to suddenly worry about pack weight, aching knees and not doing enough miles initially. Over time the hike changed me, made me see and appreciate things I hadn't noticed before. I am sure that will happen again on this trip. And I wish to share that personal adventure with people as well. The heart ache and joys of the trip is better shared with a community of friends

I hope that in doing this, people can follow from the beginning of the story and watch as I grow, adapt, change and eventually make that first paddle stroke on my great adventure. Maybe by doing this, I can inspire other people to pick up and do this as well. I found it very energizing to go off for a long distance thru-hike in the summer of 2005 and I think it is once again time to pick up and go off on a new adventure. A water adventure this time.

[Photo by: seidsvag]