Monday, July 30, 2012

New Camera - Olympus TG-1

    Selecting a camera for kayaking requires compromise and decisions.  How much space to give to a camera?  How much worry about salt water or rough treatment?  Our answers are "not a lot", and "not a lot".

    The ability to survive rough treatment and a wet environment is why we've trusted Olympus waterproof Stylus Tough with our kayaking memories for many years.  Olympus Stylus Toughs tuck into a PFD pocket, survive rolling practice and take a decent picture.

    Mark started with a Stylus Tough 8000 in 2009.  In October of 2010, tired of seeing his camera always packed into my PFD, Mark purchased the Stylus Tough 8010, and kindly, let me pick which camera to use.

I've kept the 8000.  Mark has had the 8010, which takes better photos, but has a slow start time.  So when a recent trip to Best Buy displayed the Olympus TG-1 as the "first tough camera with a high speed lens" Mark was definitely interested.  He played with the camera in the store, filling the memory card in just a few minutes.  Before he bought, Mark came home to check out reviews on line.  The reviews were generally positive, so the next night we were back at Besy Buy to purchase the camera, and an additional memory card.

   Mark loves the rapid speed of the camera.  He's begun taking shoots in bursts so he can later select the best of the batch.  With the Orson Island trip he took over 200 shots - which he later whittled down to about 50 keepers.

Best features of the TG-1:
         Rapid fire quality shots.  Wildlife doesn't stand still for us, so we need a fast acting camera to increase our odds of capturing a decent shot.

        Fast start up time - up and shooting within 2 seconds.

        Better low-light performance - so less blurring on those evening shots.

        Colors seem to appear more dynamic - which means less messing around with image editing software.

        Still fits in a PFD pocket.
Olympus TG-1 attached to a PFD shoulder strap, ready to fit in a pocket

        Option for alternative lenses; a fish eye lens and a telephoto lens of almost twice the zoom.  There's also a lens convertor adapter which allows any 45mm filter to be used with these lenses.

        GPS records of where photos were taken.  

       Entertaining features:
    Enough modes to entertain a fast kayaker while the slower kayaker catches up. (I'll let you guess which is which.) 

    Locations of nearby attractions seem to be programmed in (for use with the GPS feature).  This allows for speculation:  Why is the Bangor Hose 5 Fire Museum considered an attraction and not the Orono Board Walk?  Is there a way to customize these notices?  Maybe to list boat launches?


       Lens is exposed all the time.  Though the lens is treated to resist spotting, shoving a lens in and out of a pocket makes it likely to get finger prints, water drops, etc. We'll need to figure out a way to carry a lens cloth with us to clean the lens periodically.

       Initial Memory with the camera is insufficient, an additional memory card must be priced into the purchase. However, memory is cheap - we got a sizable card for less than $20.

       The Olympic TG-1 takes 12 megapixel shots.  The lens is not such that it will allow us to capture every feather of an eagle perched in the top of a tree, but enough to tell a decent story.

I've thrown in a variety of shots from the Orson Island Trip to demonstrate the camera.  However, just like I do for all posts, image quality is cut down and pictures are trimmed to allow the photos to load faster. 

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Around Orson Island in Low Water

        When people think of summer in Maine, days like July 25 are the days they dream of:  low humidity, pleasant temperatures, a nice northwest breeze and a sky that goes forever.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Guess the Holiday

Nine decorated boats: Nine USA "Holidays" represented.  Can you guess which they are?
Hint:  "holiday" is used loosely.
Their balloons are yellow, purple and green.  Red balloons are another boat.
The other side of the boat says: "WINTER", and the small hut up front is labeled "Phil"

They also towed a rigid inflatable with a lonely witch in it
The girl's sign says "Shop 'Til You Drop" and she called out "Buy More Stuff!"

Holiday answers are given in the first comment.

What is this??   On July 21, Hamlin Marine in Hampden, Maine sponsored its first waterfront festival, including a holiday boat parade and a fishing tournament.  We arrived at the public launch just as the boat parade was coalescing.  Once gathered, they headed upriver to Bangor, at a pace so stately that we were able to paddle ahead of them and position ourselves by the Bangor docks.  That gave us the opportunity to call out to all the pilots and verify their chosen holidays.

We use Hampden's Boat Launch frequently as it provides easy all-tides access to the Penobscot River.  One paddle we've blogged about from there is The Canals of Bangor.  In addition to Hamlin Marine, McLaughlin's Seafood has a restaurant and take-out on-site. 

Friday, July 20, 2012

One Misty, Moisty Morning in Maine, off Naskeag Point

    Fog happens, even on the best of waters.  And when it does it provides a great opportunity to practice navigation.    There’s something quite satisfying about calculating an angle from the chart, estimating a time of arrival, heading off into the great white nothing and having land appear as predicted. 

   Much of the time, since we use charts printed with magnetic north lines on them, I can do a rough estimate of the angle required just by glancing at the chart, and verify by sighting the island.  But in a cocoon of white, precise measurements count. 

  We were practicing in Herrick Bay, between Naskeag Pt and Flye Pt; a small bay whose silence told us there were no lobster boats in the area.  And we were quite pleased with ourselves until we came upon this speck of land off Flye Point.   
    On our charts we read it to be an unnamed lump by 17, right off the point.  Flye, Gander and Goose Islands, 1/4 to 5/8 miles away were out of sight. 

     “150 to Gander,”  I announced and Mark agreed.  But just a short ways out, as land appeared, it was apparent we were off.  Charts were double checked, and excuses made.  My most common excuse is that over short distances just a slight misreading, from the edge of the island, instead of the center, makes a big difference.  But Mark was not happy, not until he made it home and checked Google Earth, when he could report, with satisfaction, that our charts were in error.
   Fog can have other magical moments;  just after launching from Naskeag Point a pod of six (or so) porpoises entered in.  In the quiet waters their distinctive “puffs” on surfacing made it easy to track them.  I sat there in the silence enjoying their presence.
   Not that fog is entirely wonderful.   Lobster boats were out, making crossing Eggemoggin Reach and Jericho Bay unappealing.   At 66F and 100% humidity, it was a clammy paddle.  And when a slight drizzle became a steady downpour we decided to cut our trip short. 

   A short while later, as we approached Naskeag Pt the rain lightened, so we continued on to a few more islands and lunch on Sellers.   
    The rain lifting was one example of the “don’t like the weather – wait five minutes” rule; which also came into play when we decided to check out Haven.  Haven is the mythical Maine location for a Steven King based television series formerly on the SyFy channel; worth watching for the beautiful coastal scenery alone.  Unfortunately, it’s filmed in southeast Nova Scotia, not Maine.  But on our charts, Haven was shown a mile west of Brooklin.  We drove through Haven hoping to find a church or grange with a “Haven sign” enshrouded in fog.  Sadly we didn’t spot any Haven signs, only a few large houses, and no fog.  The fog had temporarily lifted.  Google would later confirm that Haven was just an enclave of summer houses.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Stonington Maine: The Search for Jem's Island

 “Jem stayed up another hour charting courses to islands in every direction.  He stepped his way with parallel rules across shoals and channels, through the bays to islands called Sparrow and Bear, Scraggy and Bumpkin, Brimstone and Shag, Otter and Colt, Rabbit Ear and Drunken Ledge.  There was a kind of excitement that Jem felt when he drew these lines and knew that they actually meant something, they could actually guide him to new destinations.  The lines turned winter dreams into something real.”*

   Continuing with our wildly popular Kayak Trips Based on Obscure but Awesome Books, this week we went in search of “Jem’s Island.”    Jem’s Island is a children’s book written by Kathryn Laskey, author of many books, including the Guardians of Ga’Hoole series.

   Jem, a young boy living in Cleveland, has been promised an overnight kayak trip for himself and his dad off Deer Isle (Stonington) Maine.  He spends his winter, as many of us do, with charts by his bed, plotting various courses, selecting routes.   And in the end, instead of sticking to his planned route, and based on a mysterious channel leading to the interior, he selects an unnamed island he calls "No Name" to explore.

   We encountered this book years ago and relying on the names of some of the islands listed, searched for “Jem’s Island,” without success.    Then recently, I happened across the book again, only this time not the library-bound edition.  On this version, drawn on the front endpaper, was a simplified Deer Isle chart, with an island labeled “No Name”.    The hunt was on again!

   Comparing the sketch to charts, and looking at geological features on Google Earth, Mark determined that Ram Island was likely the “No Name” or “Jem’s Island” from the book. 

Safety Tip:  Maine’s coast and lakes are littered with Sheep and Ram islands.  The name is left over from when a herd would be transported to the island for the summer and left to fend for itself, safe from predators.  If you are ever in trouble, stating that your location is near “Ram Island” will provide little guidance to rescue personnel.

   Stonington has at least two Ram Islands in its archipelago; we were headed for the Ram island near Merchants island.  We launched from Old Quarry Ocean Adventures, where I finally had a chance to meet the awesome kayaker and writer,  Michael Daughtery of SeaKayak Stonington

   It was an incredible day for paddling, gentle breezes and a sky of endless blue.  The waters were unusually quiet; many of the lobstermen usually active in the area are awaiting the higher prices necessary to make their trips profitable. (EAT MORE LOBSTER!)
    Ram Island looks like the island drawn for the book, but so do many other small islands.   And though Ram Island had some unique rocks, nothing as dramatic as the book showed.   
   There is a channel through the rocks of Ram Island, which would be better explored at mid-to-high tide. 
Dead ending in the channel, a higher point in the tide cycle would take us over the seaweed covered rocks
    Ram is privately owned and not available for landing.  However, due to the foresight of Maine Bureau of Public Lands and organizations such as the Maine Island Trail Association, dozens of islands off Stonington are open. We took the time to enjoy three of them.  We had a quick break by this sleeping rock creature on Steve’s Island.
    Mark and I enjoyed a longer lunch break in the shade on Harbor Island.  Jem, of the book, dined on hard tack, but we opted for more palatable food.
Hanging out on Harbor, with a variety of islands as a backdrop
Looking Southeast from Harbor
    Then, before heading in, we stopped for a quick swim off Hell’s Half Acre.  You can tell it was a hot day by our willingness to dip into the icy July ocean waters.
 Any of the islands we landed on can be yours for a few hours, a day or even overnight, and, at least as far as I’m concerned,  you are welcome to rename them for the duration of your stay.

  I suspect Ram Island is “Jem’s Island,” but I won’t be sure until I’ve done a lot more exploring, a lot more charting courses and plotting lines to distant destinations.

* quote from Jem’s Island by Kathryn Laskey, pictures by Ronald Himler

Summary:  Launch from Old Quarry Ocean Adventures; parking, launch, toilets and showers available, along with a broad range of outdoor adventures.  High 5:30AM, launch shortly before 9AM, arrived at Ram just before 11 AM, close to low.  The “channel” on Ram is probably best mid tide.  We finished shortly before 2PM.  13 miles, 3 stops.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Thanks all!

Apparently there are lots of folks hoping for a light, inexpensive kayak.  Thanks to those who’ve mentioned the EK3 review at,   West of Ireland Sea Kayaking Association  and Le Kayak de Mer dans le Neaveau Monde  Kayak de Mer has an especially amusing response. noted that there is a secondary site for acquiring white water model kayaks, Foamie George

  Thanks to those who’ve tweeted this post, or linked it to their facebook page.  Especially thanks to Christopher Cunningham, editor of Sea Kayaker Magazine for playing along and being such a good sport. Every month I read Sea Kayaker's kayak reviews first, hoping that finally the ideal kayak has been made.  Now if only I could get the manufacturer’s response for the Miliip….

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Reviewing the Miliip EK3 Kayak

 First Glance
The Miliip EK3 “definitely looks like a kayak”.  The plastic “is like no other kayak material I have seen.”  At 0.9 ounces, the kayak is light, and easy to carry over head, which is a good thing since “front and rear toggles appear to be merely painted on.” 

Fit and Outfitting
Relative to its size, the EK3 has a large cockpit opening.  Sold with a splash deck, it is perhaps best described as an “semi-enclosed sit on top”.  The cockpit is well recessed into the boat, lowering the center of balance and increasing stability.  The seat is molded plastic, and the base of the cockpit features a divided compartment.  TLG liked that arrangement, “my feet felt locked in place.” However, “My feet were about the maximum size which could be accommodated by the kayak.”

Storage is minimal.  There are no compartments.  Though there are multiple bungees, their usefulness is limited; “hey, these are just painted on too!”

Stability and Maneuverability
The EK3 has an extremely flat bottom with a small protrusion on it.  This allowed for rapid rotation on a flat surface – “you could easily play ‘Spin the EK3.’”  The Miliip EK3 is a Swede-form, hard chine kayak with minimal flare.   Initial stability was rated as “Very high” while secondary stability was “nearly nonexistent.”

As to performance on the water, “it really wants to weathercock and turns with the slightest wave.”

Speed and Surf
Speed was “minimal at best, and could be described as “limited to current and wind motion.”  As to surfing, “that was probably the best use of the boat, it made a stable landing upon the rocky shore.”

(Editors note:  Minimal speed must be blamed in part due to the limitations of the paddler(TLG) and paddle.  While TLG has an excellent grasp of the paddler’s box – his commitment to stiff armed paddling is commendable- unfortunately his torso rotation is minimal.  In addition, his paddle is short for the boat, so he needs a sliding stroke to reach the water.  And while his cheerful nature is evident, I feel it is poor form for TLG to show up to the kayak trial wearing a wind surfing shirt. Fortunately it is mostly covered by his stylish black PFD.)

Rolling and Rescue
The high back of the EK3 hits the paddler in the lower rib cage.  TLG was unable to roll successfully with the EK3.  The only rescue which worked consistently was the Hand of God.

The Bottom Line
        At 7 ¾” length and 1 ¾” width,  the EK3 is not for everyone, but the low cost (less than $7) and light weight may make it attractive for some.  Available in only one color (Lilliputian Sunset) it is at least a very visible shade.  Bungees and toggles are painted on, and of limited use.  While the EK3 may appear to be suited for lakes and quiet bays, perhaps its best use is for trips of the imagination.
   EK3 is available locally at Union River Books and Toy Company, Ellsworth, ME

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Naskeag Pt to Orono Island - Brooklin Maine

      Sometimes it seems like so long since I've had lunch on an island.  Sat on it's granite shore while noshing on cheese puffs, cheese sticks and carrots.  So when I realized we had nothing scheduled for Sunday, I guarded that day like a pit bull, casting chores and invitations aside and headed to the ocean.

      By 9:20AM we were ready to paddle, launching just behind another couple and headed in the same direction.  Past Smuttynose and Mahoney Ledge before crossing the lobster buoy gardens of Jericho Bay to Opechee. 
    From Opechee and Swans Island are many ledges, many seals, more than a couple over-nighting sailboats, two narrow boat channels and at least one picture perfect pocket sized island.
     The shallow waters created bands of turquoise, which alternated with the dark blue.  
     Between the islands laughing gulls practiced their balancing acts. 
     We didn't quite make Swans Island, but instead looped about privately owned Orono Island.  Orono Island, named for Joseph Orono the blue eyed Penobscot Sachem thought to be a grandson of Baron Castine, is a lovely park-like island, surrounded by a huge school of small fish.  All along the shore the fish surrounded us, racing in various directions and, in their haste to flee, occaisionally pushed their schoolmates atop seaweed.  
  From there we paddled about Black Island, alongside Sheep and Pond.  Near Pond, after not seeing any seals for several minutes, a pup popped up beside my boat and stared at me with wide innocent eyes.  I explained to the pup that he should be terrified of kayaks, but he did not listen, popping up a few more times as we moved on.
    I thought we'd stay out all day, but by noon-thirty I'd had more than enough sun, so we headed back to Naskeag, landing shortly after 1PM.   I backed carefully, and a little regretfully, into this view to leave.  
   (Thanks to Durhamblogger for the rear view mirror idea)
   That was Sunday.  Now it's Tuesday, and it seems like so long since I've had lunch on an island....

   Summary:  Launch Naskeag Point, Brooklin.  Busy work launch, easiest to park on Sundays.  Portapottie, gravel launch.   Launch 9:20, about an hour after high, finish 1:15, one break.  11.3 miles.  We did get a chance to go to shore for a pleasant lunch on a MITA island.