Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Gifts for the paddler, part 5

Here are two gifts for younger paddlers or would-be paddlers:
Indoor pursuits for outdoorsy kids

Kayak Chaos, an all-ages board game by SimplyFun, challenges players to move their pieces down a river they construct as they go with the help of a deck of direction cards. Along the way, players avoid rocks and delay each other by shifting and flipping portions of the river.
Kayak Chaos costs $28 and can be purchased online from the SimplyFun website.
Thanks to Steve and Brenda Adsmond of Freemont, MI for calling our attention to this fun game!
Kayak Anna and the Palindrome Creek by local author Lina Lukashevich revolves around an 11-year-old girl who buys a kayak at a garage sale (for the palindromic price of $18.81) and explores her local creek, discovering odd creatures, water pollution, environmental activism and friendship.
Kayak Anna is available for $9.99 at All profits benefit Living Water International, a Christian organization that helps people in impoverished communities create local solutions to their water problems.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Gifts for the paddler, part 4

Here are five ways to help your favorite paddler find his or her way this season:
Nautical charts and tidal data

Option 1: Purchase a nautical chart to a destination your favorite paddler longs to go.
Option 2: Buy Chart No. 1, the guide to nautical abbreviations and terms.
Option 3: Buy the AyeTides ap (for paddlers with iPhones), which provides buoy data on tides and currents at thousands of locations around the globe.
Option 4: Photocopy a portion of a chart and laminate it to create a waterproof deck chart. Include a grease pencil for taking notes on the chart.
Option 5: (Best of all...) Treat your favorite paddler to all four!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Gifts for the paddler, part 3

Remember GORP? The acronym stands for Good Old Raisins and Peanuts, and the mix has sustained many a paddler over the years.
Time, however, for GORP to grow up. We think of this as....
Better than GORP

We considered calling it SCRAPWAGOCCC, but that's really hard to pronounce. Here's the recipe:

3/4 cup raw sunflower seeds
1 cup chocolate chips
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup raw almonds, toasted
1/2 cup pecans
1/2 cup walnuts, unsalted
1/2 cup chopped dried apricots
3/4 cup chopped crystalized ginger
2 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup dried tart cherries
1/2 cup raw cashews, toasted

Mix the ingredients together and put the mixture in a Nalgene bottle. That way, your favorite paddler can tip the bottle into his or her mouth rather than handle the mix and get it wet. And your gift will help satisfy one of the essential elements of every paddler's kit: something healthy to fuel the journey.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Gifts for the paddler, part 2

What's the next best thing to paddling? OK, the next best thing to paddling or watching paddling DVDs, but something you can do at the same time as either of those activities?
Wearing paddling jewelry, of course!
R. Pauli Designs Essential Adventure Gear
Rik Pauli makes some of our favorite kayaking necklaces and earrings. Some examples:

Ancient paddler earring, kayak paddler necklace, kayak paddle earring.
Rik, who lives in northern Wisconsin, has been creating gold and silver jewelry on paddling and northwoods themes for 40 years. His necklaces and earrings (posts and wires) feature ancient and modern paddlers as well as canoes and kayaks, and canoe and kayak paddles. He also offers lava stone bookends with images of ancient paddlers.
Necklaces range in price from $36 on a linen sports cord to $48 on a sterling silver box or snake chain, depending on the size and design of the pendant. Earrings are $38 to $58. Bookends are $80 each or $150 for a pair.
You can request a catalog or order by contacting Rik at 866.631.7278 or

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Gifts for the paddler, part 1

Ho, ho, ho. Or is it tow, tow, tow?
What do you buy for the paddler who has everything--or the paddler who only wants things that are out of your budget?
For the next couple of weeks, we'll highlight some gift ideas in the low- to mid-price range, in no particular order, including some you can make yourself.
First up: 
A gift certificate to a local open pool session

Here in the Chicago area, several pools are open to kayakers for instruction or just for practice. Some are offered by outfitters and offer options of instruction and kayak rental as well as open pool time; others are run by clubs or schools and offer peer mentoring. Either way, pool sessions enable kayakers to work on specific skills and keep themselves sharp during the long, cold winter when the lake is frozen over.
Here are some of the pool sessions we're aware of in the Chicago area. If we've missed any, please post a comment letting us know.
Geneva Kayak Center offers instruction and open pool sessions in West Chicago on Saturday afternoons. Buy a gift certificate here.
Kayak Chicago offers instruction and open pool session at UIC in Chicago on Wednesday evenings. Buy a gift certificate here.
The Northwest Passage offers four-week rolling and rescue classes in Skokie. Information here
Naperville North High School offers open pool session on Sunday mornings.
The Chicago Whitewater Association offers 10-week kayak instruction classes in Oak Park and  Des Plaines. Winter sessions begin in January.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The power of a dramatic cloud

On Friday, we found an "It's a bird; it's a plane; no...."-type situation in a store parking lot. People were standing in the cold, looking up, pointing and muttering odd things about crop circles and alien invasions.
We had no camera, but Alec was able to get this photo with his iPhone, which doesn't quite do justice to how dramatic it looked to the naked eye.

 After the phenomenon dissipated, we hurried home and pulled out our cloud books. We found an image like this one in Richard Hamblyn's Extraordinary Clouds, which identified it as a fallstreak hole "created by the sudden freezing of an isolated patch of supercooled cloud, which falls away to leave a visible gap behind." The dramatic red lighting was due to the sunset.
It's rare, in our urban environment, to find a group of strangers transfixed by a natural phenomenon. This fabulous cloud accomplished that, temporarily suspending the pressure to complete errands and get home. What a lovely way to end a work week.

Friday, December 11, 2009

What's wrong with this picture?

Here in Chicago, the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District is charged, in its own words, with "protecting our water environment."
How reassuring, then, to find this sign on the north branch of the Chicago River.
"This waterway not suitable for: wading, swimming, jet skiing, water skiing/tubing, any human body contact."
Why is this river, which runs right through the heart of Chicago, so polluted? Because it's the recipient of 1.2 billion gallons of undisinfected sewage effluent from our city's wastewater treatment plants every day.
The United States Clean Water Act and the Constitution of the State of Illinois both guarantee clean water. Two years ago, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency called for disinfection as a part of the treatment of wastewater discharged into the Chicago River. Doing so would bring our city in line with the practices of other major US cities. But the MWRD is opposed to disinfection, claiming it would be too energy-intensive and too expensive.
What's being dumped into the Chicago River? According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, sewage-contaminated water contains adenovirus, coxsackie A and B and hepatitis A viruses, echovirus, norovirus, rotavirus, salmonella, shigella, E. coli, campylobacter, vibrio, legionalla, mycobacterium, Giarda lamblia and cryptosporidium. These pathogens can cause respiratory illness, meningitis, encephalitis, infectious hepatitis, typhoid, cholera, Legionnaire’s disease and gastroenteritis.
No wonder this water isn't "suitable" for "any human body contact.”

If this bothers you, contact the Illinois Pollution Control Board. Let them know how you use the river and why you would prefer the water to be clean enough for "human body contact."
Send your letter to:
     John Therriault, Chief Clerk
     Attn: Docket R09-08
     Illinois Pollution Control Board
     100 W. Randolph St, suite 11-500
     Chicago, IL 60601
For more information, check out what the  Friends of the Chicago River have written about this problem and how you can be a part of the solution.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Review: "Waves and Beaches"

Marooned by a combination of a healing arm (Sharon) and a malingering cold (Alec), we haven't been able to paddle lately. That hasn't kept us from reading about the waves we're missing, however. In fact, we're absorbed in two books by pioneering oceanographer Willard Bascom, who died in 2000 at the age of 83.
Waves and Beaches: The Dynamics of the Ocean Surface was first published in 1964 as part of the Science Study Series of "up-to-date, authoritative, and readable science books" by the Physical Science Study Committee of Educational Services Incorporated.

The original paperback cover.

Bascom's scholarly surf credentials are extensive. He began his career as an oceanographic engineer in 1945, when he joined the World War II Waves Project of the University of California at Berkeley. The initial goal of the project was to analyze the underwater shapes of beaches to understand how aerial images could help the military predict surf. Later, the project continued for scientific purposes. Bascom's day-to-day work involved going out in huge, breaking waves in a "dukw" (amphibious truck) and taking depth measurements with a lead weight on a line, then correlating those readings with wave heights measured by markers and transits. 
Bascom, who had previously worked in mines and tunnels, had never before seen the Pacific Ocean. "Somehow, in innocence and ignorance, I was persuaded that fifteen-foot breakers smashing down on a thirty-two-foot tin boat were nothing to be disturbed about," he writes. "In reality, of course, we underestimated the height and unexpectedly encountered breakers over twenty feet high." The local Coast Guard considered these conditions unsuitable for anything other than emergency rescues. "But they had the advantage of appreciating the risk," he notes dryly. 
His literal immersion in the science of surf was the start of a remarkable career in oceanography. He went on to direct the Mohole Project for the National Academy of Science and become president of Ocean Science and Engineering, Inc. And fortunately for us, he wrote this amazing book (among others).
Waves and Beaches begins with chapters on wave theory and properties. He covers sea waves, storm waves, shallow-water waves and the longest waves of all: tides. In the process, he explains the physics of waves--why they break when they do, how their speed and force relate to their height and frequency--and how they are affected by shoreline and underwater features. 
If you don't get hung up on the complicated calculations and instead read his explanations, you'll find this book surprising accessible and, at times, surprising. Bascom disputes the existence of "undertow," for example (though he takes rip tides very seriously and explains why they occur and how to survive if you're caught in one).
His explanations of surf are fabulous:
"As a wave crest moves into water whose depth is about twice the wave height....the crest 'peaks up.' That is, the rounded crest that is identified with swell is transformed into a higher, more pointed mass of water with steeper flanks. As the depth of the water continues to decrease, the circular orbits [of the water particles] are squeezed into a tilted ellipse and the orbital velocity at the crest increases with the increasing wave height....when not enough water is available in the shallow water ahead to fill in the crest and complete a symmetrical wave form, the top of the onrushing crest becomes unsupported and it collapses, falling in uncompleted orbits. The wave has broken; it is surf."
Reading this book, it's hard to believe it was written more than 50 years ago. It feels remarkably contemporary, both in its science and in its spirit.
Sadly, it is now out of print, but you can still get a copy online. It may seem insane to pay $20 or more for a book that says "$2.50" on the cover, but it's well worth it.
We'll write about the other book, The Crest of the Wave: Adventures in Oceanography, Bascom's autobiography, in a future post.