Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Rough water on Lake Michigan's Chicago shore

Steady north winds peaking at 50 knots generated huge waves yesterday. The city closed miles of the lakefront bike path, and the park district deployed vans to discourage gawkers from getting too close to the water. The marine forecast promised waves of 15 to 20 feet . We got just close enough to get these after-dark shots.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Paddling precautions for colder weather

Lake Michigan waves colliding with Promontory Point.
As the air and water get cooler and the days get shorter, we get more comments of the "you're so brave" and "be careful" sort as we unload our boats and prepare to paddle on Lake Michigan.

Sharon dressed for the day.
Is it actually riskier, or does it just feel that way? In one way, it's objectively safer: there isn't any boat traffic. We have the lake to ourselves. Sure, there's nobody on the lake to help if we need assistance, but we're happy to see empty harbors and nothing but water all the way to the horizon. In some ways, we're safer knowing that we're relying only on ourselves and assessing the risks accordingly.

Before setting out on a recent morning, we deliberately assessed the potential risks and our preparedness. There are many good tools for doing this. Our favorite was developed by Shawna Franklin and Leon Somme of Body Boat Blade, and is helpfully posted by Keith Wikle at GoKayakNow.

Here is how we employed this framework on a cold, somewhat windy day in late November.

Big picture: Stable.
Wind: 15 to 25 knots, and not predicted to increase. Out of the northwest and predicted to shift to the north. Along shore, not off-shore, and shifting on-shore.
Rain/sun: Overcast with possible rain.
Visibility: Good.
Other hazards: Cooler temperatures (high in the mid-40s).
Verdict: Green

Landscape: Mostly hard shoreline causing reflected waves (clapotis).
Outs: Several beaches and harbors along the way.
Landings: Small spilling surf at beaches or easy harbor take-outs.
Wildlife and other hazards: None.
Verdict: Green

Waves: 3 to 5 feet from the north.
Boat traffic: None.
Verdict: Green

Physical strength: Good, but Sharon just had oral surgery and was feeling low energy.
Mental strength: Good, with the same qualification.
Skills: Strong.
Equipment: Both of our sea kayaks were in good condition, as were our paddles and spare paddles. We carried boat repair and first aid kits, rescue equipment, spare clothing, communication and signaling devices, food and water, and hot beverages. Visibility was good.
Health concerns: Only as noted above.
Suitability of group to conditions: Well within our comfort zone.
Verdict: Green with a tinge of Yellow

It can appear time-consuming, but after a while the process of assessing, deciding and packing becomes efficient. We began the assessment at home, where we checked the weather and chose where to paddle partly on the basis of it. When we arrived, we looked at the lake and determined that it did not alter our plans. We decided who was bringing what as we packed our boats. And then on the water, we reassessed how we felt that day. This kind of dynamic assessment helps ensure that your assessment keeps up with changes in information and conditions.

Sharon is out there somewhere.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

KeelEazy revisited: How did it hold up?

Two and a half months ago, we wrote about applying the new KeelEazy strip to one of our boats as well as to the Delphin, a plastic boat in the Geneva Kayak fleet. We found it was quicker and easier to apply than a traditional fiberglass keel strip, and we promised to report back later in the season.

Alec, pulling his boat up on a break wall.

We don't primarily paddle in a rocky or barnacle-encrusted environment, but we don't baby our boats, either. We land on sand and gravel beaches, pull out boats up on rocky break walls, and travel to places where we do a little rock gardening. That's why we are interested in having keel strips on our boats; they offer needed protection.

We can't completely account for the abuse that the Delphin endured over the past couple of months, but it was definitely paddled on the Yorkville whitewater course.

How did they hold up? The strip on Alec's composite boat has done pretty well. It peeled a little bit in the area that had to be cut out to accommodate the skeg, and it buckled a little bit on the rocker in the stern. (As we wrote in the original post, the weather was very warm--above 90 degrees; the ideal temperature for applying it is 70 degrees.) The areas where it peeled or buckled attracts small pebbles. But it has protected the keel and hasn't peeled at either end. It's gotten a little scratched and gouged, but it has held up admirably.

The area where the KeelEazy had to be cut around the skeg peeled a bit and attracted sand and pebbles.

Although the KeelEazy buckled near the stern, the wear on the strip was comparable to the wear on Sharon's fiberglass keel strip.

The small strip we put on the Delphin didn't do so well. (We had only a few extra feet, so we couldn't apply a full keel strip.)

We applied the extra length to the keel of a Delphin in the GKC rental fleet.
Two months later, the KeelEazy had peeled off at the end and was gouged all the way through. (The impact of whatever happened was strong enough to gouge the boat as well.)

We ran our observations by Chris Mitchell at KeelEazy, who suggested the following:

  • If your boat has a tight radius on the stem (the portion of the keel where the boat curves up toward the deck), the strip may buckle. In that case, cut it and fold the flap over; you can use a drop of Super Glue if necessary to adhere it.
  • Plastic boats will generally accept the KeelEazy well, provided they don't endure serious abuse. He's put strips on the bow and stern of whitewater boats to protect them, too.
  • It's a good idea to use a solvent to clean any boat prior to installation; alcohol (which we used on our composite boat) or acetone (one plastic) work well. Mineral spirits will leave a residue.
  • Because KeelEazy is a thermal plastic, avoid stretching it too much in the heat because it will seek to return to its previous shape when it cools.
  • If you have trouble with a section -- as we did with the skeg area -- try cutting that section out and replacing it before you replace the entire strip.

So what do we think? If you aren't willing to spend the time to apply a fiberglass keel strip, which is a significantly messier process, the KeelEazy is a good option. It really takes only 15 minutes and no special tools. In the two-and-a-half months we tested it, it proved as durable as a traditional keel strip. Either can be damaged, of course. A traditional keel strip can then be repaired; the KeelEazy can be removed and replaced.