Saturday, May 25, 2013

A Plethora of Paddles

     Eight paddles, five from beside our door and three from the back of our car.
 Going from from top to bottom, 8 quick quick reviews, and three thoughts on spare paddle selection:

     Northern Lights Paddle:  Mark purchased this three piece fiberglass GP to use on distant trips.  It's main benefit is that it fits into an airplane regulation sized bag.  It's also light and  it handles well, but there may be some leakage at one joint.  It's expensive enough that he doesn't often use it around here.

     Werner Adjustable 230.  We have a series of Werners (yes, we actually have more paddles than shown here.)  This has a nicely-locking ferule, locking in 15 degree increments.

   But, its not as flexible as paddles which allow length and angle variation.  It saw use before I purchased the Bending Branches, and then, as the Bending Branches aged, use again.  But I'd like it to be a little shorter, and prefer the Bending Branches shape.  This now spends most of its life as a spare.

     Mark-made red cedar GP with a take apart ferule.

The ferule was purchased from Chesapeake Light Craft.  It spends most of its life as a spare paddle.

     Boreal Design Aloonaq 230.  Our newest paddle.

Greenland paddles dump water over your hands with every stroke, which is tough on Mark in the winter.  This paddle, a very low-area Euro paddle, which may not be made anymore, will probably be his winter paddle.  He likes it because it is light and stiff and feels a lot like a Greenland paddle (but is drier - drip rings!) - but it's not as quiet as his GPs.   Now, where GPs shine is heading into wind.  They are wonderful on windy days.  And this paddle does well in wind too.  I took it out earlier this month heading into a south wind of a steady 20 knots with gusts to 32.  Going upwind, I felt like I'd found the low gear on a mountain bike.  It was just incredible.   I went upwind about a mile, by which time my top finger joints were beginning to complain.

 The shaft has wide spots to help with hand grip, but the edges are sharp.  I'm sure my finger pads would callus eventually, but I'm not really looking for thick finger pads.  The paddle also did well going downwind, I never felt like the waves were out-powering my stroke.

    Bending Branches Adjustable Angle and Length 225-240 Evening Breeze blade.

 I've put thousands of miles on this paddle. I love the shape of the blade, and how light it is.  But, if you're out in rugged conditions this is not the paddle for you.  The ferrule cam does not hold consistently.

    Obviously, it holds most of the time.  I sometimes think the designers felt the user would find the perfect position for the paddle and just keep it there.  But I don't.  I use a longer, flatter, paddle on lazy paddles, a shorter, more steeply feathered, paddle in strong winds or heading upstream in fast moving water.    The locking mechanism for this paddle sometimes takes dozens of tries to catch.  Sometimes it refuses to catch at all.  And a few times, when rolling, or paddling hard it  has slipped.
     Bending Branches sent us a new locking cam shortly after we purchased the paddle.  As that lock ran into trouble we've added tape to it's joint to make it less likely to slip.

    But, as it's gotten older it slips more and more.   The duct tape on the other section is what Mark used to assure it would stay in position when he was using it last winter.  This paddle doesn't get to visit the ocean any more.

    Epic Paddle,  Greg Barton Signature series, Relaxed Tour Blade Adjustable Angle and Length, 215-225. (Purchased at a discount because it was a second quality)

Elic Paddle, blending with a winter sky

  Look at that locking mechanism!  It's wonderful, easy to use, and thus far, no slippage when locked.  And this paddle is ever so light.    Mark doesn't care for the slick handle, but with my tender hands, the shaft feels perfect.  The blade is a little large, it takes a little more to power it through the water.  But this has become my main paddle.

   Mark-made Cedar paddle.  Mark has made quite a few of these, customizing a bit more with each iteration.  This is his main cedar paddle, light, but strong.

   Mark-made Ash paddle:  Four pounds, that's all I need to know.  But Mark claims that once the paddle gets moving, it just keeps going on its own.  And you can't beat it for fending off polar bears.

Three Thoughts about Spare Paddle Selection:

One:  Anything will do.  We use this philosophy on our river kayaks.  We rarely take those more than three miles from our home. How bad could using a crappy paddle be if you're just going three miles?  We have some pretty poor paddles as spares on the river kayaks.  One is a paddle which washed up on shore, the other is an older, heavier, paddle.

Two:  They need to be as good as your main paddle.  We have used this on our travel kayaks, starting after a thirteen mile paddle where Mark's GP snapped as he was getting into his kayak.  Paddles don't break often, but if they do, do you want your trip ruined?  Get a spare as close to your favorite as you can.
Three:  Use a spare to change up things during the trip.  Mark does this sometimes, taking his GP but carrying a Euro paddle spare to deal with patches of fast moving current.  And ever since that windy afternoon with the Boreal Design, this has seemed more appealing to me.  If the wind picked up unexpectedly, it would be so nice to take a break and use the Aloonaq, even just for a mile or two.            .

Monday, May 20, 2013

Rowing a Cornish Pilot Gig - National Maritime Day Belfast Maine

   So what is a Cornish Pilot Gig?

   It's a narrow  6 person rowing boat, traditionally made of elm, 32 feet long and almost 5 feet wide.  Cornish Pilot Gigs got their start off Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly.  It was as a general work boat, but was particularly used to race pilots out to vessels off the Atlantic.  The piloting job would often go to the first pilot to get to the vessel. 

   But if it looks familiar, it probably because these boats were also the design used for land-based life rescue craft.  When I see the Belle Fast  or Selkie race by, I can't help but recall the song, Grace Darling, and imagine Grace Darling and her father heading out in a similar craft to rescue sailors off the Farne Islands in 1838.

   The Selkie and Belle Fast are boats used by Come Boating in Belfast.  In 2012, Come Boating commissioned a third boat for the organization, the Malcolm G. , which was built in nearby Searsport and named for the man who started the rowing organization.

    That Belfast should have a rowing association is remarkable for many reasons.  Belfast is a small city, with a population in 2011 of only 6,671.  Despite that they have one of the few curling rinks in the area.  Secondly, if you've ever tried to put together a kayaking activity, you know how hard that it is to coordinate the schedules of just a few people.  Now imagine putting together an organization which needs seven people, six of whom will be sitting backwards.  Imagine further that you do this not once, but 22 times a week!  And you convince seven dedicated people to compete in races like the 20 mile Blackburn Challenge!   Impressive!

  I went to National Maritime Day, not only because I can't resist checking out big boats, but because I wanted to try a Cornish Pilot Gig.  And I wasn't alone.  Four other ladies were quick to sign up.

   We were led on our adventure by Jonathan, with Terry serving as rower 1.  We all know Durhamblogger is dedicated to kayak safety and wearing PFD's. I think he may have a kindred spirit in Terry, who has a life ring tattooed on her leg.

     Our Cornish Gig was the Selkie, otherwise known as the green boat.

     This is the Selkie at the Come Boating berth.  Note two of the seats have cushioning on them.
     This is the boat from another angle:

  Cornish Pilot Gigs are built based on the measurements of a 1838 gig, called the Teffry, which still races.  I'm a tall woman, the height of an average American male.  I suspect the original rowers may have been a bit smaller than me.  I don't know if the supports in the middle are part of the original design, or something added later.  I'm pretty sure the foam padding is not from the original design.
  Our first lessons were vocabulary.  The first term we learned was "laying on."  Before climbing aboard, one calls out "laying on."  Before getting off one calls out "laying off."  This allows the others on the boat to brace for rocking.
     Rower 5 is preparing to help Rower 6 (Terry) lay on.  I like this photo because it also shows the foot braces we'd use when rowing.
     Once we'd all laid on, the oars were distributed.  Oars are fiberglass shafts with wooden handles.  The oars are numbered. 

  Oarlock and rowers all faced the stern, only the coxswain faced forward.  We reviewed who were starboard and port rowers.  The boat side is determined by where the blade of the oar was, not which side the rower sat on.  And quite a bit of time was spent talking about crabbing.  Crabbing occurs when the angle of the blade is wrong.  Sometimes its because its been twisted, other times a wave hits it wrong.  If you've ever paddled a tandem with a child or handicapped individual, you probably know how much bracing you need if they get the blade angle wrong.  (that's why I recommend using Greenland style paddles in those cases.)  But on a Pilot Gig, if the blade angle is wrong the oar handle will knock you off your seat and throw the boat off rhythm.  Jonathan recommended yelling "Crab!" should that happen, and Terry confessed that should she crab, she might cry out a different four letter word.  In any case, we'd be forewarned.

   We put paddles up (held between our knees) while moving away from the dock, and got paddles ready, or in their oarlock once ready to paddle.  I don't remember the precise instruction to begin rowing, but it was something like "Begin rowing together."  Of that command, "together" was the important part, because on "together"  Rower 6 was supposed to get her blade in the water and begin an even stroke, starting with her hands over her toes and pulling back, using core muscles, until the oar handle was near her chest.  Everyone else was supposed to match Rower 6.  That was easy for me, as Rower 4,  all I needed to do was watch her blade and keep in time.  However it was a challenge for Rower 5, who needed to watch Terry's back and work from that information.  Brave Naily (sp?)  was selected to be Rower 5 based on her confession that she had rowed before.  That it was when she was thirteen gave her no mercy.

  The coxswain does not call out each stroke, he just told us when to start, and we were to continue until directed otherwise.  Rowing is a full body exercise, and at least for this beginner, took all my concentration as well.  As long as the oars are, as close as the seats are, it's very important to keep in precise rhythm.  There was no time for breaks, and as Mark was in Cambridge, MA (population: 105,162, Cornish Pilot Gigs: 0) there was no way to take pictures.  The group in action in the top photo was caught on a paddle in December 2012.

   I have this photo from when we took a break mid harbor.  Our oars are stored at rest beneath the gunnel and Jonathan is demonstrating good rowing technique.

      It was an beautiful day, and a wonderful time.  Belfast is an amazing city, and always a great place to visit.   On our run we went part way across the harbor and then back to shore.  Come Boating runs are for an hour, with about 40 minutes rowing.  Sometimes a rowing session might go out to the monument, or if the tide was right, up the Passy.  There are three levels, Community Boating for beginners and Exercise and Power rows for more advanced rowers.  Jonathan told us to check out Gig Races on youtube, and mentioned that racers aim for forty strokes a minute.  I think we may have done ten strokes per minute, which was exercise enough for me.  but here's a link to a short youtube video of the 2008 Championship, held off the Isles of Scilly.


Sunday, May 19, 2013

On the Wanderbird - Belfast Maine, National Maritime Day.

Looking for a little glamor from the Gatsby era?   You might find it on the Wanderbird.

     The Wanderbird is an expedition vessel, set with classic amenities.

     How about this delivery truck to set the mood?
     Or this deckhand to welcome you on board?
    Once you're onboard the Wanderbird, whisks you and up to eleven other guests away on adventure; along the Maine coast, off to Labrador, and even further afield.  There are even Mothership Kayaking Adventures, with kayak tours led by Karen Franceour of Castine Kayaks.

    Wanderbird started life as a fishing trawler, but you'd never guess that.  She feels more like a well appointed yacht.  
     There are six passenger cabins, each with a private bath.  Here are a couple cabin shots.  Wouldn't it be great to be choosing between them?

Notice the logbooks on the pillows!

And on voyage, there's seating in the galley, the salon, or outside on the deck.

I wasn't able to get any great pictures of the whole ship, too many other boats were in the way.  But it was wonderful to have the opportunity, even for just a few minutes, to go aboard.  Of course there are more photos of the ship at their website.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

National Maritime Day - Belfast Maine

Happy National Maritime Day!  I spent it in Belfast Maine where they hosted the region's first celebration of National Maritime Day.

It was an amazing day, with so much that happened.  Today I'm going to feature pictures of the Fournier Tractor,  familiar to many as the big red tugboat berthed beside the Belfast City dock.

Today it was open for tours.  To get aboard, I needed to clamber over the huge tires on the sides.  More nerve-wracking than it looks, because if your foot slips it's a long way to the dock or the water.
 A few picture from onboard.  Crews Quarters:
A peak at the engine room:
We've seen the Fournier Tractor, or its siblings, many times on the Penobscot; we recorded it carting the last pieces of an oil refinery to Texas.  And this afternoon I got to watch it do many other tricks:

Spinning in a circle (Note the folks on the docks are holding on so the wake won't knock them over):
And even moving sideways:

It was an awesome display!

A little more information about the Fournier Tractor:

A video of a pilot operating the Fournier Tractor  (but unfortunately not spinning it)
The specifications for the Fournier Tractor

Friday, May 10, 2013

Signs of Spring on the Passagassawakeag

When does Spring arrive?
        March 21?
        The first Robin in the yard?
        The first Merganser on the Penobscot River?
        Or when every street and side road is being torn up for repair?

   By any definition, spring had arrived in Belfast.  Main Street had just been paved and the dock area was filled with construction equipment, ready to trench, pave, and redo ramps.   A load of  telephone pole-like pilings lay across our normal beach access, a trench was being dug before a side beach.  But the access to the paved ramp was available.  So, after checking with some workers to make sure our car wasn't in the way, we loaded our kayaks onto our handy carts and headed to the ramp.

   Good news!  It turns out the launch fees posted at the ramp don't apply to kayaks!  (Though I would still normally use the beach so the paved ramp is available for motorized boaters.)

   Belfast Harbor was filled with patchy fog and bright blue skies beyond.  And there was so much to see on the water:  new pilings;  a new Cornish pilot gig, the Malcolm G,set for action;
  the tugboat, Fornier under repair;
  and a busy Front Street Shipyard launching vessels.
  Once under Route One, the scenery was decidedly more rural.  To the south, a mostly abandoned railroad snakes through trees, while to the north, neighborhoods of varying eras line the shores.  This is one of my favorite neighborhoods.
   The wires above the river, and almost visible to the left, are thick enough to accommodate cormorants. 
    Further down is this lovely cupola-ed colonial with its massive rock companion.  That stretch of river also seems to be the new anchorage for the Shanty.
   We followed the river up further, below a railroad bridge, until it ended, as many streams do, in shallow water and fyke nets (for catching baby eels.)
   Our ride upriver and downwind had been nearly effortless, it would be more work going back to the parking lot.  I'm not a huge fan of wind, but I have to admit, I paddle faster and more constantly when going up wind.  We arrived back at noon, thinking the construction crew might be taking a break.  They weren't.
 In front of the shovel on the ground is a trench which crosses the dock, and I'm not sure where the little house is going.  

Summary:  Launch 9:40AM, finish noon.  One short break.  High 9:40AM.  About 6 miles.  Restrooms beside the dock parking lot (behind the tree on the right of the photo)

Friday, May 3, 2013

Penobscot: River of Gold

How much money can you make with a fyke net and a license for elvers?  No one is sure but rumors abound;  $22,000 in one night according to a Bangor Daily News article, but that pales beside $120,000 reported in a PBS Nature Episode, The Mystery of Eels.

Maine is authorized licenses for up to 744 fisherman and 1242 pieces of gear.   Most of the licenses go to prior year license holders, a lottery is held for the few new licenses available from those who choose not to renew their license (or are banned from renewal.)  This year only four new licenses were issued by the state.

Maine planned to issue a total of 696 licenses, either itself or through the four sovereign nations.  However one tribe, the Passamaquoddy, opted to issue more licenses and cap their total harvest instead.   Resolution of that issue is far beyond my pay grade, but one thing is for sure: there are a lot more nets out on the water.  Where last year there was perhaps one fyke net at the Bangor waterfront, this year there are nine, on the Bangor side alone, and more on the Brewer side.

One crew is finishing up, while a nearby net awaits a lower tide
Fyke nets are placed at various levels of the river, and as the water level drops, cars and trucks appear near the net. The drivers don their waders and line up 5 gallon buckets.  As onlookers gather, the license holders gather their catch from the net, then reset the traps for the next tide.

These don't look like prime locations.  Still at $1600 a pound, even 1/4 pound  is a good day's wages. 

Sustainable?  Hard to imagine.