Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Assisted re-entry after a capsize with a Flat Earth kayak sail.

At the recent Flat Water Sea Kayak Symposium many of the people who did not try paddle sailing said they were put off because they feared the consequences of an accidental capsize and not being able to recover easily. Capsizes do not happen very frequently when paddle sailing and the paddle sailing groups had fewer capsizes than some of the other groups in the gusty F5 winds of the day.

I have practiced rolling with a sail (even managed some successfully!), solo re-entry and assisted re-entry and it really is not a big deal. However, practice scenarios are never that realistic so I recently took the opportunity to go for a short swim on the way back from a trip to...

...Ailsa Craig.

 A lovely little wind got up for a close reach back to the mainland, some 14km distant.

 Including circumnavigating the island, we covered a total of 33km, so we covered 19km on the way back without a break.

We made the crossing in line abreast so we could keep our eyes on each other, without turning round.

 This was the longest I had paddled since major knee surgery and my knee was absolutely killing me.

As we approached Bennane Head, about 1km off the mainland shore, the tide rate increased a little but the conditions were very benign. Certainly calm enough to get my Canon 5D mk3 out for this photo. After I put my camera away the pain in my knee was so bad I had to do something about it. I left the sail sheeted in to keep me moving, put the paddle down and put both hands behind the cockpit. I lifted my backside off the seat to stretch my sore leg. Unfortunately a little wavelet chose that moment (when I had a high centre of gravity) to come along and sploosh, I was in. I capsize frequently when surfing but this was the first time I had fallen in on a trip since 2005.

I was looking through the crystal clear green water before I could even think of where the paddle might be (at the end of a leash actually). So I bailed out. The water temperature was only 7.5C but I was wearing a drysuit with thermal protection under it. Nonetheless, it was not the ideal location to go swimming at Easter and so I started the recovery process with the kayak upside down, I let off the sail uphaul and tilted the mast back. This released the tension in the sheet (which I did not bother to uncleat). If you try to gather the boom directly to the mast, the sail fills with water like a great sea anchor. Instead I grabbed the top of the mast and started gathering the top of the leach towards it. Once I had the batten top and the mast tip in my hand I continued to gather the leach down to the boom. I then rolled the sail up and retained it with its elastic securing strap on deck.

I then rolled the kayak onto its side to prepare for a re-entry roll but I noticed the Mike (who had been paddle sailing in close formation) had dropped his sail and was preparing for an assisted re-entry. I righted the kayak then went to the stern and acted as a sea anchor so that my kayak blew away from me.

 This meant that Mike could easily approach my bow from downwind (I would not try this in surf).

Once contact was made, I swam and Mike twisted the kayaks into a T then I sank the stern to help Mike lift the bow and we both...

...twisted the kayak upside down to drain the cockpit. I have short legs and a custom bulkhead so there was not a lot of water inside anyway. If it had been rough I might not even have bothered emptying the kayak.

We now swam and twisted the kayaks parallel and bow to stern. I moved up to the cockpit and reached over with my stern hand and grabbed the nearest of Mike's cockpit lines.

I then swung my forward leg up inside the front of the cockpit and hooked my heel inside. I straightened my leg while pulling on Mike's deck line.

 This brought me out of the water and allowed me to grab Mike's deckline with the other hand.
I continued to roll over onto my front, lying on my back deck and keeping as low as possible while I got my other leg in.
 Now I rolled back the other way, sliding into the cockpit as I did so and...

 ...got my backside into the seat as soon as possible before...

  ...attaching the spraydeck,...

 ...grabbing the paddle and giving Mike a good push off.

 A couple of quick paddle strokes help reduce the apparent wind.

 Then I hoisted the sail and...

 ...paddle sailed the final kilometre back to...

...shore as if nothing had happened.

From falling in to getting the sail back up again was 3.5 minutes but most of that time I was in the kayak. The arrow points to the capsize. The SW going tide took us SW against the opposing SW wind.

So a capsize when paddle sailing is nothing to be bothered about. There are a number of lessons:
  • It is very easy to to get separated while paddle sailing so stay close, preferably in a line abreast.
  • Agree a working channel before the trip. We all had our VHFs on channels 16/72 dual watch and if necessary I could have called Mike or Phil on channel 72.
  • Although it was a sunny spring day, the water in the Firth of Cl;yde is at its coldest (7.5) in April. I was wearing a Kokatat Expedition dry suit with Fourth Element Xerotherm insulation under it. I did not get cold but if I had, I carried pogies and a neoprene hood in my forward day hatch.
  • I did not lose anything. My specs had a retaining loop and my hat had a chin strap. My 5D Mk3 camera remained bone dry in its deck mounted Ortlieb Aquacam large camera bag.
  • When in the water, don't bother trying to release the sheet, it will loosen automatically when the uphaul is uncleated. I like cleats without a fairlead like this:
One tug and the line is released. If you have a cleat with a fairlead, you might find it recleats as the line runs out through the fairlead.

  • When in the water don't attempt to fold the boom directly to the mast, it will catch a lot of heavy water, gather the leach gradually from the mast tip to the batten then the boom.
  • Otherwise it is a standard T recovery apart from the person re-entering going to the stern of his/her boat and being proactive in manouvering his/her kayak. (At the recent symposium I observed a number of assisted re-entries and was surprised by the number of people who make a beeline for the "rescuer's" bow then hang on to it as if they were copulating with it. This is neither a pretty sight nor a particularly effective strategy for a rapid re-entry!)
  • We have practiced re-entries, otherwise it may have taken longer.
  • Anyone can do this. I am in my seventh decade and until a month ago was laid up for seven months after major knee and ankle surgery, so I am hardly an athlete.
  • The bottom line is, do not let fear of a capsize put you off paddle sailing. With a couple of minor modifications, standard kayak re-entry methods work just fine.
  • In practice, when paddle sailing (at least for those of you who keep a hold of your paddle), the extra speed generates a huge amount of lift from a low brace and so you are very unlikely to capsize!

Have fun :o)

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Dr John Tolmie.

My long term friend, climbing partner, and work colleague Dr John Tolmie died in a tragic accident while climbing on Ben Nevis on Saturday 29th March. The funeral will be held tomorrow. I cannot imagine the sense of loss that his partner Cheryl and four sons, Nicholas, Matthew, Christopher and Adam, and his other relatives must be feeling.  I send my sincerest condolences to them.

John was one of the most considerate and exceptional people I have ever met. The clinical genetics department was a particularly happy place to work and John's good nature played a big part in making it like that. Although John was a geneticist he would still have made an outstanding doctor, whatever speciality he had chosen. He was the type of doctor a doctor would choose to go to. As a clinical geneticist, John was only too aware of the unpredictability of human life, which can often be so unexpected and challenging. Accidents happen in all aspects of life.  Sometimes it is hard making sense of it all but whatever happens, it is life and no matter what has happened in the past, it can also throw unexpected good things at us in the future. When their grief subsides, I wish John's family future happiness and great fondness in remembering the great times they shared with him.

I would like to take a moment or two to remember some of the times John and I shared together. We met in the genetics department at the University of Glasgow in 1975. We hit it off straight away and soon discovered our common interest in climbing. John and I never climbed particularly hard routes but we climbed together over the decades until our last climb together on the 19th of April 2003. You get to know a person's strengths and weaknesses when you go climbing with them and it was always a real pleasure to spend time with John. Unlike most climbing pairings, where there is a leader and a second, John and I had such similar approaches to climbing that we shared being leader. It was a true climbing partnership and we never argued. John was a very thoughtful and graceful climber. He seemed to glide his way up a climb, unlike me who huffed and puffed my way up.

At the same time that we were climbing, John and I were also training in different hospitals. We met at a medical meeting in London and afterwards decided to go to an Indian restaurant. It was the only occasion I ever saw John slightly rattled. London Indian restaurants serve a very different menu to those in Glasgow and we both ordered unfamiliar dishes. John fancied the duck dish but we smelled it long before it arrived at the table. John's plate of Bombay Duck consisted of slivers of salted, dried and long matured and particularly pungent fish, which had clearly not swum for a long time. John called the very polite waiter over.

"I am afraid there has been some mistake with my order, I ordered duck and this is not duck."

"Sir, it is most certainly duck, this is the finest of Bombay ducks."

"Well you will need to take it away, I can't eat it. As far as I am concerned, this is neither fish nor fowl!"

John and I shared many a laugh in the hills but very often at the top of a climb we would tell each other the "neither fish nor fowl" story and our laughter would echo round the mountains.

The first time my knee dislocated when climbing with John was on Integrity on Sron na Ciche in Coire Lagan in the Cuillin mountains of Skye about 2000. I managed to complete the climb but afterwards we dropped a grade or two on our outings. John never complained. On one memorable outing to the Great Ridge of Beinn Garbh in Ardgour there was a total eclipse of the sun when we were at the first belay. We chatted in the near total darkness and exchanged thoughts on our great love and appreciation of the mountains and climbing. On our last climb together we scrambled up the NW ridge of Bruach na Frithe in the Cuillin then went on to climb Naismith's route on the Basteir Tooth. Although it is an easy climb my knee dislocated twice. I had a long and painful descent. John patiently stayed with me and helped me down as the other members of our group descended ahead. It was long after dark that John and I got down and we both knew my climbing days were over.

Any time I passed John's door at work after that, we would exchange stories about his climbing trips and my trips in my new sport of sea kayaking. When I retired in 20011 John wrote in my card " When we are both retired and your knees are fixed we'll go climbing in the Cuillin again."

John, I don't know when it will be but our spirits will climb together in the Cuillin again...

John at the top of forty Foot Corner, NE buttress, Ben Nevis.

 First pitch Agag's Groove, Rannoch Wall, Buachaille Etive Mor, Glen Coe.

 Top pitch Agag's Groove.

 Traversing from the top of Rannoch Wall to descend Curved Ridge, Buchaille Etive Mor.

 Early morning start for Cir Mor, Glen Rosa Arran.

 Sou'wester Slabs, Cir Mor.

 Top of  Sou'wester Slabs.

 Arrow Route, Coire Lagan, Skye.

 Top of Arrow Route, John scouting the line of Integrity above. The Cioch, Coire Lagan, Skye.

 Ardverikie Wall, Binnein Shuas, Glen Spean.

 Fifth pitch Ardverikie Wall.

 Collie's Route, Coire Lagan, Skye.

 Eastern Buttress Direct, Coire Lagan, Skye.

 Pondering the route.

 Final wall Eastern Buttress Direct.

Myself and John, Loch Lagan Skye. Taken by my daughter Jennifer (who used to babysit for John before she insisted on coming with us!)

 John and friends Glen Rosa Arran.

Caliban's creep, Cir Mor, Arran.

John and friends setting off for the NW ridge of Bruach na Frithe Skye on our last climb together on Naismith's Route on Am Bastier, 19/4/2003.

John, thank you for so many happy days.

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Paddle sailing in Scottish Paddler

Scottish Paddler, the magazine of the Scottish Canoe Association arrived today. The front cover was taken last winter off the Heads of Ayr. It is looking south to Ailsa Craig with Phil in his P&H Quest and Flat Earth kayak sail in the foreground. We did not land at Ayr until well after dark. Kayak paddle sailing is definitely getting a higher profile here in Scotland. I had provided several alternative action paddle sailing photos but clearly this one caught the editor's eye.

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Trimming the sail, skeg and fore fin when paddle sailing.

Both Karitek and P&H are now supplying sea kayaks with a forward fin to increase upwind performance when paddle sailing. potentially this may confuse some paddlers so I spent the early part of last summer experimenting to find the best way to use the new fore fin with the conventional rear skeg.

It is important to note that the fore fin offers greatest performance benefits to shorter kayaks like the P&H Aries. The effect is much less pronounced in longer sea kayaks like the Cetus MV/HV which can paddle sail at about 45 degrees to the wind even without a forward fin. Secondly even in a short sea kayak like an Aries you can still have a great deal of fun and paddle sail at about 60 degrees to the wind without a forward fin. 

A final point to note is that you won't have much fun if you just sit there like a stookie and let the sail do the work. This is paddle sailing and just like motor sailing a yacht, your paddling will increase the apparent wind from the bow and this increases the efficiency of the sail.
Beating (and close reaching).
When beating into the wind the rear skeg should be fully up, and the forward skeg (if you have one) should be fully down. The sail should be sheeted in but not too tightly. You aim to sail as close to the wind as possible without the wind getting round the back of the leading edge (luff) of the sail and collapsing it. You can adjust the angle the kayak is sailing to the wind by altering the power on each side of your paddle stroke or by momentary edging. It is however important to keep the hull of the kayak flat on the water most of the time as the kayak will slow anytime it is edged (an edged kayak hull is less streamlined and offers more resistance to water flow). Also if you try to maintain your course by constant edging the sail will not be perpendicular to the wind and wind will spill from the top or bottom depending on which way you are edging, away from or towards the wind).Beating in winds of force 4 you will find that you need to lean your body towards the wind to counterbalance the sail. Your core muscles will get a real workout. You can also help to balance the force in the sail with your downwind paddle stroke by creating more lift by tilting the upper edge of the paddle blade slightly back during the stroke and resisting the lifting force with your arm. I find wing paddles give superior upwind stability and performance to either Euros or GPs.Using wings you will not only feel more stable when beating in F4+ winds, you will also be able to point higher due to their extra lift.

As soon as you are no longer trying to point as high into the wind as possible, you should lift the forward fin completely. It is only used fully up on most points of sailing or fully down when beating. On a course of about 65 to 75 degrees off the wind (close reaching) you should ease out the sheet a little until the luff is just on the point of collapsing then sheet in just until the luff is full and smooth. You can now maintain your chosen course by putting the rear skeg down just a little. If the kayak wants to turn into the wind (luff) put the skeg down just a little more. If the kayak wants to turn away from the wind then raise the skeg a little.

When the wind comes from the side (the bow is pointing 90 degrees off the wind) you are beam reaching. The sail should be further sheeted out until the luff is just full and not collapsing. The rear skeg should be put down a little further and trimmed up or down as above to maintain your course. You will find that the sail exerts less heeling force so the need to counterbalance with your weight and downwind paddle stroke is reduced.  From beam reaching to beating paddle sailing a kayak will not make it go faster than its displacement speed which increases with the waterline length of the kayak. In a short kayak like the Aries the maximum displacement speed is probably around 12 km/hr, no matter how fast a paddler you are or how strong the wind is blowing.

If you bear off the wind further, until you are travelling about 130 to 140 degrees off the wind, you will be broad reaching which is the fastest point of sailing. The sail will need to be sheeted out further and kept trimmed as above. The rear skeg should be put a little further down and as above trimmed to maintain your chosen course. There will be much less tipping force from the sail now and most of its power will be driving you forward. You will also find that the sail will make you feel more stable as unexpected waves catch you from behind. In these conditions I like to think of the sail as a big "air skeg".

The waves will now becoming from your rear quarter and the extra power of paddle sailing will allow you to catch more waves than when paddling alone. When you catch waves the kay will start to plane (rise out of the water) and you can exceed its displacement speed. The Aries planes particularly well and you will find that when planing you can travel up to 25km per hour. At this speed the apparent wind draws ahead and you will need to sheet the sail in to stop it luffing. When you come off the wave the kayak will drop off the plane and slow down so you need to sheet out again. I have my sheet cleat mounted just in front of the cockpit near the edge of the kayak. I find I can adjust the sheet quickly without disturbing my paddling too much.Once off the plane you want to catch another wave as soon as possible. You might find that the sail tries to push you up the back of the wave in front but don't waste effort trying to break through that wave it really is uphill! Wait until the bow drops into the trough and you can feel the next wave lift the stern. Lean forward and paddle as hard as you can to catch the wave. Once you have caught it you might need to sheet in the sail again. Once you are planing try and stay on the wave as long as possible. In F4 winds you will have enough power from paddle sailing to catch and plane on waves that are just not possible when paddling without a sail.As waves are seldom parallel you can often travel along a wave to where it is closer to the wave in front or even joins it. A burst of paddling should see you onto the wave in front then you can work your way along that looking for the opportunity to get onto the next wave in front. In shallow waters the waves often slow down and are not too big too overtake by climbing over their backs. Then in F4+ winds it is possible to paddle sail on a broad reach faster than the waves. Now you can look ahead to see which wave to catch.

When planing you might find your kayak's response to edging changes. For example in the Aries you sink the outside edge to turn when not planing but sink the inside edge when planing. (Windsurfers will be familiar with the concept. They sink the outside edge to turn in the non planing flare gybe and sink the inside edge to turn in the planing carve gybe.) As the wind increases to the top of F4 you will begin to feel more precarious on a broad reach. The trick is to keep paddling and to paddle as fast as you can. Paddle sailing is not a rest camp. The reason to travel fast is to reduce the force of the wind on the sail. When travelling really fast downwind on a wave you will even find that the sail back winds as the apparent wind (combination of the real wind and your boat speed) actually draws forward of the mast. In extreme conditions aggressive paddling makes things much easier. The worst thing you can do is to stop paddling and lean over to leeward in a trailing low brace position. This just slows your boat speed and the apparent wind stays behind and increases as you slow making you even more precarious. Think of the trailing low brace position as the foetal position...don't give up, keep paddling!

You can use any type of  paddle for paddle sailing: GP, Euro or wing. I enjoy using all three and at the recent Flat Water Symposium paddle sailors were using each with equal success. However, for downwind paddle sailing in F4+ conditions I use wing paddles. This is because I find that it is difficult to keep up the higher cadence required by GPs and Euros at planing speeds of 15 -25 km/hr. At the Flat Water Symposium the winds increased to F5 and it was noticeable that those using GPs were the first to give up paddling and settle into the "safe" trailing low brace position.

With the wind 180 degrees from the bow you are now running. The rear skeg should be fully down. The sail should be sheeted out but on a Flat Earth sail this does not mean the boom should always be at right angles to the fore and aft line of the kayak. As the wind increases the FE sail twists at the top of the trailing edge (roach) to spill wind in gusts. So as the wind increases you need to sheet in slightly to compensate for this twist (unless you are not looking to maximise your speed). On the run you will be travelling slower than on a broad reach but it is still possible to catch waves and plane. When this happens the fully sheeted out sail will very quickly backwind so be quick to sheet it in. Once you are on a wave you might want to increase your speed by  luffing into the wind and travelling on the wave on a broad reach. This will carry you off course but you can gybe round and broad reach back in the other in the other direction. Paradoxically this is called tacking downwind and is a lot of fun and a great way to keep reasonably close to someone in your group who is paddling downwind without a sail.

When sailing dead down wind with the skeg fully down and the sail fully sheeted out you might find that the kayak wants to turn round into the wind (luff) away from the side the sail is sheeted out on. Normally until now you have controlled luffing by putting the rear skeg further down. Now it is fully down so what do you do? This luffing on the run is a symptom that you are not running directly downwind. The wind from behind  is probably coming from slightly to the side that the sail is sheeted out on. This is called sailing by the lee. It is easily fixed by gybing the sail over to the other side.

Well that is enough to digest for the moment. Have fun and remember it is paddle sailing so no foetal positions please!

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Sea kayak paddle sailing and tacking upwind.

At the paddle sailing sessions at the recent Flat Water Symposium many people were surprised that it was possible to make progress to windward. I have previously asked the question "is it worth tacking upwind with a Flat Earth kayak sail?" At that time I thought that it was not, especially in lighter winds. I would like to revisit this question considering stronger winds and the use of recent forward fin developments.

In a long unmodified kayak, such as a Cetus (photo above), Taran 16 or Nordkapp LV, I have found that it is possible to paddle sail to about 45 degrees to the wind which is much the same as a dinghy like a Laser.

In shorter kayaks such as the P&H Aries (phopto above) the kayak can still beat upwind but it points about 15 degrees less high i.e. about 60 degrees to the wind. 

Geoff Turner from Kari-tek and Graham Mackereth from P&H have each developed forward fins ("ventral fin" and "forward board" respectively) to allow kayaks such as the Aries to point higher. I have carried out a number of experiments using the GPS to measure the effectiveness paddle sailing upwind in F4 and the effectiveness of the forward skeg and when best to use it.

This shows an Aries fitted with a forward fin in the fully down position and the rear skeg in the fully up position tacking 1km upwind from point A to point B. The wind was Force 4 with a fetch of about 50 km and there were short steep waves.

I used Garmin Mapsource program to analyse the data from my GPS tracklog.

The first thing to notice is that the angle between each tack is about 90 degrees which means that the Aries is now sailing about 45 degrees to the wind. The speed through the water was 6.7km/hr and the velocity from point A to point B was 5.1 km/hr.  In those wind and waves just paddling (without the sail) in a direct line from A to B my speed was 4.9 km/hr. In lighter winds I could have paddled the Aries about 7-8 km/hr into the wind and so it would not have been worth hoisting the sail and tacking.

This experiment (and others I have done) shows that in a good F4 on open water, tacking upwind with a sail  is marginally faster than just getting your head down and paddling directly into the wind and waves. What the figures don't show is how much more fun paddle sailing is. Also in this experiment I lost speed each time I tacked (which was 5 times). I could have gone from A to B using two longer legs and only 1 tack which would have further increased my speed. 

More tomorrow...