Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Something sad found floating in Lake Michigan

The other day, while paddling between the Wilson Avenue and Four-Mile water intake cribs (about four miles from shore), we saw something floating in the lake. From afar, it looked as though it might be a cushion.

It turned out to be a dog, drowned and bloated. We paid our respects, took this photo, and paddled away feeling sad about the poor creature's demise.

What happened, we wondered. Did large storm waves wash it off a boat or a pier? Did it chase a stick into the lake and never return to shore? Does somebody realize what happened to it? Where will it wash ashore?

Lake Michigan is large and surrounded by a huge shoreline. It shouldn't surprise us that dogs, cats and even people drown and are found in the water or on the beaches. This poor fellow is hardly alone.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Warm water surfing in the Great Lakes

Paddling out through the surf zone.
Last night, the kayaking listservs were abuzz about the building waves on Lake Michigan. Paddlers arranged to meet at 63rd Street Beach in Chicago, Portage Beach in Indiana, and the New Buffalo beach in Michigan to play in the waves.

Forecasts varied, but most indicated waves up to 5 or 6 feet at the south end of the lake.
We met our friends and fellow Geneva Kayak Center coaches Aaron Litchfield and Chris Hoffman at 63rd Street Beach on Chicago's south side. The waves were three to five feet and nicely formed. The wind had dropped to 15 to 20 knots.

Sharon catching a wave back in.
Here on the Great Lakes, waves are created mainly by wind. Its strength, duration and fetch (distance it travels) determine the height of our waves. That means the ideal time to surf is immediately after the wind decreases but before the waves settle down. (You can learn a lot more about this at Go Kayak Now.) Today was made even more ideal by the warm water and bright sunlight. When the sky is overcast and the water is cold, everything feels more ominous and dangerous. Today, it was just pure fun.

Alec, Aaron and Chris paddling out to catch another ride back to the beach.
After a couple hours of riding waves toward the beach and paddling back out, we decided to explore the clapotis along the north side of the 57th Street Harbor break wall. Reflecting waves combined with incoming waves to create chaotic heaps of water. The four of us felt confident paddling in this area, since all of us are comfortable in pretty rough water, but it was not a place any of us would have gone alone or without other skilled paddlers.

Clapotis near a break wall creates chaotic conditions.
In fact, once you get comfortable with clapotis, you tend to find yourself seeking it out.

Aaron and Alec playing in another area of clapotis south of the 63rd Street Harbor.
It's a treat to get some surf practice in summer. Soon the water will be cooler and the days shorter. We'll still go out when the north winds blow, but we'll be decked out in dry suits and toting hot tea. And in early October, when the surf season is in full swing, you'll find us at The Gales: A Storm Gathering, a new symposium dedicated to rough water kayaking. This is great opportunity for anyone who wants to build skill and confidence in these kinds of conditions.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

KeelEazy: a quicker, easier keel strip?

Applying a keel strip to a composite kayak is a good idea. It protects the keel from wear and tear, especially when launching and landing. It's also a good introduction to working with gel coat. But it requires some skill, materials and time, and it adds some weight to your boat.

Everything you need for a traditional keep strip, which costs about $40 per boat.
Josh Tatro laying out and marking where the keep strip will go.

Masking off the area.
Applying layers of gel coat over fiberglass tape. 
Sanding and cleaning up the edges between layers of gel coat.
 From start to finish, it takes about seven hours spread over a couple days. And that's if you're familiar with the process.

So when we heard about KeelEazy, a peel-and-stick PVC keel strip, we were intrigued. It costs $4 per foot (for the 2-inch width), is available in black and white (as well as other colors if you buy 100 feet of it), and sticks to fiberglass, plastic and metal. It's also supposed to be easy to remove and replace if necessary.

So we did a side-by-side test. We applied a traditional keep strip to one boat, and KeelEazy to the other. The materials were certainly minimalist.

Heat gun, alcohol, glove, scissors....action.
 It went on very easily, even over curved surfaces, and it was easy to cut around the skeg opening with a razor blade.

Clean the keel with alcohol. 
Round the ends of the KeelEazy strip.
Attach and start peeling off the backing.
Keep pulling and peeling.
Cut around the skeg opening. And you're done!
It took about half an hour from start to finish. The only hitch we encountered was difficulty getting the backing to separate. In the You Tube video, Chris Mitchell has no trouble, but we noticed he was wearing a coat. We were in our hot back yard. So we popped the KeelEazy in the freezer for a couple of minutes...

Just chillin'.
....after which it was easy to separate.

It's been about a month since we applied both keel strips. We also applied a strip to a plastic boat in the Geneva Kayak Center rental fleet to see how that fares. So far, the KeelEazy has stayed on. It's non-marking, slides easily across other boats during rescues, and seems to be durable.We'll report back toward the end of the season, but we're optimistic that for a little more money, kayakers have the option of saving time, effort and weight.

KeelEazy and traditional keel strips, side by side.