Sunday, December 25, 2011

Thursday, December 22, 2011

New P&H skeg slider.

I have been testing the new P&H skeg slider (above). Some of the first generation of sliders (see photo below)  became increasingly difficult to operate, sometimes even after just a few days on the water.

In both photos, the slider is on the left side of the kayak and the bow is on the left of the photo. The basic mechanism lifts the skeg up by pulling the blue dyneema cord (against an elastic down-haul) as the slider is pushed forward. A ratchet holds the skeg slider in place until a lever disengages it. On the old slider this lever was on the sliders rear side, which meant you had to push it forward with your thumb as you pulled the slider back. Some people found this counter intuitive. On the new slider the ratchet lever is in front of the main slider. A quick pull back on the lever releases the ratchet as you pull the slider back.

This is a great improvement. The new slider works intuitively and easily. I was concerned that paddlers with a high paddling action might brush against it as they pulled the active blade back, close to the hull. However, this has not happened at all. The kayak I have been testing has a prototype of the new slider. The production version will have a slightly stiffer spring on the ratchet lever to reduce any  likelihood of accidental release.

A second change is from a stainless steel slider bar to a composite moulded one. Apparently the stainless steel ones were cut from a large roll of stainless steel wire. On some kayaks the rod began to bend back to its original slight curve (it had on the roll). This curve made the slider action stiffer. The new composite bar on my test kayak has given no problems at all.

A third (less obvious change) is that there is a little more clearance between the slider body and the channel it runs in. On a 2009 Cetus, the slider worked perfectly until I had done a couple of surf landings on the on the fine white shell sand beaches on the...

...west coast of Colonsay. The slider became just about impossible to move. The resultant heavy scores on the channel walls told their own story. I have not had the Cetus MV to Colonsay yet but it has been in smaller surf on sandy 

Culzean and Maidens Bays. There has been no scoring and the slider remains light and positive in use.

The Cetus MV is not a kayak that needs a lot of skeg in normal paddling but I have been using it with a sail... 
...and ease of skeg use is very helpful when sailing. 

I am delighted to report that the new slider has worked faultlessly even allowing for frequent and rapid micro adjustments to skeg angle in...

...force 4-5 winds with following, closely spaced seas.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Our finger tips were numb with the cold.

 As we turned back from Culzean...

 ...towards Maidens,...

...an approaching front...

...darkened the sky and...

...the temperature dropped like a stone. We entered Maidenhead Bay to the north of Turnberry and landed on the sands at the head of the bay. Our finger tips were numb with the cold but minds were refreshed by a great paddle in such glorious surroundings.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Turnberry to Culzean

After a leisurely lunch at Turnberry beach, we paddled out past the treacherous reefs again.

Beyond the reefs, the wind had dropped and we paddled below Turnberry lighthouse on relatively calm waters. The reefs of Turnberry Point and nearby Brest (or Bristo) Rocks were notorious as the graveyard of many ships making their way to and from the busy ports in the Firth of Clyde. The lighthouse engineers, David and Thomas Stevenson, recommended construction of a lighthouse on the point rather than on the offshore rocks and it was completed in 1873. In a rocky gully beneath the lighthouse, you can still see wooden rubbing strips bolted to the rocks. These were used by boats that delivered the building materials for the lighthouse.

We continued in a NW direction across Maidenhead Bay.

 The snow covered Arran Hills looked absolutely magnificent in the clear Arctic air.

 We made landfall near Port Carrick at the south end of Culzean Country Park and...

...continued as far as  Culzean Castle.

Blowing away the cobwebs with a chill wind from Valhalla and mulled wine.

Sunday dawned clear but with a 13 knot NW wind it was bitterly cold. We had intended launching at Seafield Ayr but the tide goes out a long way there and I have not been on the water  for 6 weeks because of continuing problems with my knees. So Tony and I continued south to Maidens for an easier launch. Unfortunately we missed Phil who was loading his kayak in the back garden and didn't hear our phone call. Arran's snow capped mountains were looking fantastic but that wind was coming straight from Valhalla.
              
From Maidens we turned south to round Turnberry Point. A north going spring tide against the wind meant some deliciously rough water off the lighthouse so there were no photos until we rounded the headland and were in the shelter of the reefs.

Turnberry beach, to the south of the lighthouse, proved an excellent sheltered spot for first luncheon washed down with warm mulled wine!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Kokatat GORE-TEX Expedition Dry Suit: long term test and review.

This is probably my most used bit of kayaking kit. My Kokatat GORE-TEX® Expedition Dry Suit is now entering its third winter, I bought it in October 2008. I own two other dry suits, a non breathable Dam X 3000 Series Kayaking Dry Suit,  which is very robust (ideal for WW kayaking, you can climb over barbed wire fences  and wade through thorn bushes on the way to the river in it) but for sea kayaking, it is too hot and inflexible to paddle any distance.  I also have a Palm Stikine, which is partially permeable to water vapour (breathable) but despite the best efforts of Palm's excellent warranty team, it is also partially permeable to water liquid (leaky).

Features.
The Kokatat has a front entry zip metal toothed zip which I initially found a bit awkward to start. Fully open, the zipper is high above your right shoulder. I keep the zip well lubed with zip lubricant and now have the knack to do it myself. The relief zip is worth every penny spent on it. There are handy zipped pockets on either shoulder with a security loop inside each. The only fault this suit has developed is that the stitching on one of these loops has become undone. These pockets will hold a small aquapac and I keep my car remote key in one and a small mobile phone in the other. There is another small pocket high on the left chest. There is a spray skirt tunnel that I never bother to use when sea kayaking. The latex gaskets show no sign of deterioration but I rinse the suit, inside and outside, with fresh water after every use making sure I give the latex a good wipe. Every few uses I wipe the latex with 303 Aerospace protectant, as recommended by Kokatat. The gaskets are protected from UV by being covered by cuffs at the wrists and neck. There is a GORE-TEX PacLite hood which is very well articulated so you can turn round without loosing vision. I don't use it often as I usually use a Lowe-Alpine Mountain cap in cold weather but it is really good in heavy rain or hail! The socks are also GORE-TEX and I get changed on a foam mat to avoid puncturing them on sharp grit underfoot. I use Lomo Aquaboots with this dry suit. The suit is reinforced on the seat, knees etc. and shows no sign of abrasion wear. A real feature of this suit is that it is not made in China in a factory powered by coal, it is made in the USA in an environmentally sound factory.

On the water.
The GORE-TEX material of the Kokatat suit is the most breathable I have worn on the water. This means that I can use it in warmer conditions than friends who have non GORE-TEX suits. In fact, I even use it in the Scottish early summer, when the water temperature is still cold. (I also use it in the Scottish late summer when the water has started to cool down again.) In June 2011 we went for an evening paddle along the SW coast of Dun in the St Kilda archipelago. I wore the Kokatat, a friend wore a two piece and swam after a swell broke over a reef. The resulting hypothermia drew that trip to an end. Interestingly, the paddler did have a dry suit on that trip, a Dam X, but did not wear it because it was too hot!

Paddling in winter a dry suit might keep you dry but it won't keep you warm on its own. You need to wear thermal insulation underneath. I use Fouth Element double layer Arctic fleece in the depths of winter. This will continue to keep you warm if it gets wet, after a suit tear for example. In spring and autumn I use Fourth Element single layer  Xerotherm fleece.

The cut of the Kokatat suit is so unrestrictive that I hardly notice I am wearing it, even when paddling hard. (A Kokatat Large is larger round the waist than a Palm Large.)

Even after practising rescues, my Kokatat is still bone dry in its third season. Because I have two very painful and unstable knee joints, which limit my mobility, I like having the added security of a dry suit. It might take me a bit longer to rescue/self rescue if I fluff a roll. Falling in to cold water is a real danger while sea kayaking. In spring especially, when the water is cold but the air temperature is higher, this Kokatat dry suit can still be worn comfortably in air temperatures in which other suits would have you boiling! It's even available in a choice of colours! You can have mango like mine or radish like my BA.

Just the weather for a dry suit, a cold NW wind with a wind chill of -7C.

Value for money.
It costs an arm and a leg but I think it has been one of my best sea kayaking purchases ever! In Scotland, you can get it from Sea Kayak ObanSystemX have recently been appointed UK distributor.

Overall score.
Score 12/10. It would have been 13/10 but for that security loop in a pocket coming undone!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Winter sunset over the Heads of Ayr.

 As we left the Heads of Ayr...

...the Sun began to set and as it got lower in the sky...

 ...the wind gradually dropped away.

 One by one, we paddled steadily to shore, each of us, lost in our own thoughts.

 After we pulled the kayaks from the water...

...Ayr Bay was left empty and alone, to the darkness of the approaching night.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

A time for reflection in Bracken Bay.

The Heads of Ayr are a major landmark on the Ayrshire coast and...

...are a well preserved lower carboniferous volcanic vent.

Bracken Bay is a wonderful place to stop...

...and catch the last of the sunshine on a winter day. The Cetus MV has really lovely lines.

We sat on an old tree trunk with hot soup and a warming malt whisky. The talk was of past expeditions and of those yet to come...

Monday, December 12, 2011

A convenient visit to the Heads.

When we left the pub at Dunure, the wind had moderated and was blowing at a pretty steady 10 knots, from the south.

Emerging from the windshadow of the cliffs and the castle, we launched the sails for an enjoyable run up to Ayr.

The great bulk of Ailsa Craig gradually...

 ...slipped astern as we...

... paddled and sailed our way up the Ayrshire coast.

 We were bound for the Heads of Ayr...

...which are situated some 4km north of Dunure.

This is a particularly scenic piece of coast and the beach below the Heads makes a very convenient stop, after a visit to Dunure.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

A timely low brace at Carnage Corner.

At Carnage Corner the waves ramped up blocking our view of the way ahead. Even from the crests, I frequently lost sight of Jim in the troughs. As the wave length shortened, Jim and I saw an opportunity to catch the others and really started to paddle hard to catch the waves for some decent surfing.

Then it happened. Just as he was applying a power stroke, two closely spaced waves lifted the bow and stern of Jim's Taran, leaving free air in the trough beneath his keel. He went over in a flash and from the wave crest, all I saw was the underside of Jim's keel. I thought a rescue would be inevitable but before I could drop the sail, Jim came back up. He was leaning heavily on a low brace, as the wave at his stern now hurled him forward.

It was a magnificent demonstration of Jim's skill and seamanship and we carried on as if nothing had happened. At this point, Jim is completely hidden in the trough just ahead of me.

The seas gradually moderated as we approached  Dunure castle but I noticed that Jim was no longer sprinting to catch the waves...

We had arranged to rendevous at Dunure harbour...

...where Phil assisted our landing in a surprising size of surf that was getting into the harbour.

David pumped his boat. Not from water that had got in round Carnage Corner but from getting swamped while landing...

...at the harbour. Jim approached cautiously as it would be a shame to...

...scratch his new Taran.

In the pub, we swapped tales of monster waves and congratulated ourselves on such a fine paddle. Then Jim told everyone about his timely low brace but we were concerned to hear he had hurt his wrist.