Leg Leashes!

Generic leg leash worn loosely around the ankle. Too loosely.

Generic leg leash worn loosely around the ankle. Too loosely.

In January 2019 I had a leg leash fail on me in big water. It was a short leash, like the length made for surfski. Trying to move around a 21’ canoe I did not have enough length to maneuver, and the tension pulled the leash off my leg. It shot off like a giant rubber band. In that instant I witnessed how quickly a technical failure could lead to dire circumstances in the ocean. I knew if my canoe and I separated by one meter the wind could take it away. I would not be able to swim to catch it on its westward journey perhaps a thousand miles to the next land. I also would not be able to swim to the beach. I could see the beach. It was upwind from me. I raised my paddle to alert the other paddlers in my group I had a problem. I waited until they were close enough so if I lost contact with the canoe they were right there to help. We got the canoe back over. The last kilometer I paddled then to our destination was the longest ever mentally for me. Why? Two days earlier I had learned of a drowning death of a paddler in my circle. Someone who should have been paddling with us.

When I stepped onto the beach my goal as a paddler had shifted: to stay alive. As long as we are alive, we can paddle. One cubic meter of water weighs around a ton. We will never be stronger. We have to be smarter. We have to be wise. When in doubt about the conditions, just don’t paddle. The ocean will be there tomorrow, and we should be too.

That night at the villa, I pondered two problems: (1) how to resolve the leash wrapping around the hull that makes us outrigger paddlers take a leash off after a huli and (2) resolve the loose, slippery cuff problem.

105 days later my down coach Guy Ringrave was separated from his OC1 in big water in southwest France, and he also drowned.

It is at once horrifying and unacceptable to see my friends lose their lives paddling in the oceans we love. We must change our culture and include safety training as invaluable.

I had not feared drowning because it had not been real to me. I started my season this year by using a rope I trusted as my leash. I sewed webbing by hand. I stopped using the cheap leashes for good. I don’t know how Guy was separated from his canoe but there are only so many scenarios. I just can’t believe he’s gone. This should never happen to any of us. Guy’s family posted through Woo that they would continue his outrigger business in his spirit.

in this spirit I continue to paddle with the deepest respect for the ocean and wind. I want to make this increasingly popular sport safer for all.

And finally I found someone who could help take my rope (Dyneema) and jacket it into a retractable cord. I’ve spent months agonizing over details to make a superior leash. It is not meant to save your life. It is made to keep you with your boat, which is a flotation device that at all times is functioning to keep you alive while you enjoy the wonders of our water world.. Pay attention to the weather report and always keep communication on your person. Don’t attach it to your boat.

I present to you the Meta Leash. The first video is a short review, comparison of its features. It is smaller, lighter and stronger than any other leash on the market. It has continuous engineered strength and is stronger than steel, outlasting it in a marine environment 3:1. It’s core is Dyneema, jacketed in rubber (1600 pound, 730 kg average strength). It fits better above the calf and can also be worn at the waist. It is superior in every way to any other leash. The second video shows you how to recover from a huli WITHOUT having to remove the leash.

The Meta Leash is for sale on my website shop. If you have any custom needs or concerns, email me.

iPhone (or Android) Paddle Coach

iPhone mounted on Kahele for real time analysis using app Rowing Coach 4.0

iPhone mounted on Kahele for real time analysis using app Rowing Coach 4.0

A coach recently suggested I put a speedometer on my OC1 as the next step in my training. The price point of the NK Coach gadgets is a budget breaker, and I had to wonder what would I really get out of this data? At first I thought I would just build my own, since I’m a small electronics geek. I knew also that all of this capacity is built into our smart watches and cell phones. It just seemed that no one had written an app for paddlers that would solve the problem, and I have a huge iPhone 7 plus I don’t carry on the boat. Or was it the way I was looking to solve the issue the real problem? Once I entered the keyword “stroke” into the Apple app store, everything changed. There are stroke counters there, but they are geared for rowers. Aha!

I already have an accelerometer app on my iPhone, which gives you a visual graph showing how, in x,y and z coordinates, you move your phone around. I own accelerometers that cost about $5, and I can program them to recognize a specific motion in x,y and z coordinates. This is how your watch knows the difference between a step and a stroke. So, the question then was, just how differently were these rowing coach stroke counters calibrated for the accelerometer in my cellphone? Would they recognize a paddle stroke? No way to know other than to give them a try.

I paid $8 US for Rowing Coach 4.0, put it on my Apple watch and went out for a paddle. I was so confused that I just ended up deleting it and trying another app, named Rowing Coach. This one turns on water lock, and I even tried running it in the background with Waterspeed in the foreground. However, the stroke count was so off, the data was just useless.

I’m not sure why I decided to go back to Row Coach 4.0 and give it another try, but I did - with one major difference. I installed it on an old iPhone that has no cellular. Was it possible I could still use the iPhone as a computer, could I access the GPS and accelerometer chips and get the app to perform? I turned it on and went for a walk, giving it a little shake as if it were a paddling stroke. Sure enough, it worked. And what was really great is it had a high contrast white background with black lettering - very close to what you see on electronics used in direct sunlight conditions, like my VHF radio.

The next step was to mount the iPhone to my canoe. I put it inside a Pelican box, added some cushion with a foam block and a rubber thing under it, and went out for a paddle. Let’s just say, I did not understand the app when I first tried it. This is a REAL TIME ANALYSIS APP that works like the display on a C2 Rower. It expects that you are working in 500 meter sessions. It is very well-tuned and picks up every single stroke accurately. As quickly as it can track the satellites and do the math, it is telling you your stroke length - your distance per stroke or glide. Within minutes I had real time data of how far I was moving my canoe against the wind, with the wind, across the wind. If you stop paddling for several seconds, it will restart at 0.00. This is realize is part of its real time functioning.


So how did I go from wanting a speedometer to wanting to know distance per stroke? I came across a podcast on Nick Murray’s TC Surfski site, in which Michele Eray discusses coaching and using the Vaaka cadence sensor for feedback on stroke performance. Speed, she says, is not meaningful. It’s how you move the surfski stroke by stroke, your cadence. Well, I’ve certainly seen long slow strokers cross the finish line ahead of rapid paddlers (and vice versa), and I decided that she’s an Olympian she probably knows what she’s talking about.

Row Coach 4.0, attached to your vessel (I’m sure it works for surfski, SUP, bathtub, etc.) is a great real time tool for power and cadence analysis. If you click on the little settings wheel in the upper left corner, you will go to a menu where “RECORDING” is listed. This is where a stroke by stroke log is kept, and you can scroll through it to get an idea of where you are at. It is very extensive. I played around with it running for 2 hours, had plenty of battery left and am a better paddler for it. I was even able to see just how far a well-time stroke could get me on some good downwind bumps. So, this is really a versatile tool.

Basically, if you want to go out and use 500 meter bursts for training, this is a great tool for setting a race pace. The reason you would put it on your watch is so that a coach watching your progress on a linked iPhone would get the data from the watch. So, basically, I was just clueless.

You can put this app on any current iPhone or Android, and if speed is all you are after displayed on your phone, you can use Waterspeed for that. I was a little clueless about what I could do with a cellphone as display. But on the other hand, of all the paddlers I know, I’ve never seen anyone using a smartphone as a real time display. If you have an old one in a drawer like I did, put it to use!

This app is smart enough to ask you how much you weigh and the weight of your boat, so it can filter out noise or be used on a heavier boat. It also has a real time GPS page with speed, but this display is rather small on the phone. Plenty to play around with.

A quick philosophical point: use data analysis to fine tune your technique, then put it away. There is so much data coming so fast it’s hard to keep your eye on the waves, and after all, it’s the waves that we’re after. See you on the water.


Apple Watch Review for Paddlers

I was coming up on logging 200 miles of paddling on an OC1, and with a brand new Kahele replacing my vintage Puakea Kaku, I knew I was not going to improve without the better canoe and hard metrics. It was time for a smartwatch. I had spent the last year using a $12.99 knockoff G-Shock. That could tell me how long I had paddled, and I could get a decent idea of my per Km rate, per mile, what have you. What it also told me is that I could paddle comfortably with a watch. The obvious upgrade was a Garmin, and the stars pointed to the Fenix 5.0, top of the line, etc. What had put me off about the Garmin was that it really isn’t for paddlers. It’s a runners watch. Then a mishap at Woo downwind camp in January 2019 really made me rethink the Garmin. This was in fact a failure of the watch band. Witness this great downwind video, with Adam showing off his style; however there is a subplot. Witness that the video starts with him wearing the Garmin watch, but soon it vanishes, never to be seen again. Adam was able to pinpoint the exact video frames showing the failure of the watch band and the atch dropping into the sea, hardly what you want a GoPro for. Goodbye expensive watch!

So, I put serious time into researching watch bands. Due to the numerous Apple watch bands on the market, this placed the Apple watch onto my radar, which I had never entertained because I don’t know any serious paddlers who use it. More research proved that apps had been developed for the Apple watch that were expressly for paddlers, and when I discovered that the Apple watch 4.0 is virtually a standalone PHONE, I took it seriously. That is, after I did a fair amount of research on sport watch bands and apps. A visit to the Apple store involved some hard questions for the salesperson, who showed me how to put apps on the watch, showed me the Nike sport band - which has a similar quick release button that resulted in the failure of Adam’s Garmin. I was also shown the Walkie-Talkie feature and, most critical, the Phone and SOS features. The salesperson advised me to go to Amazon to look for any number of third party watch bands that would suit my purposes. I bought the Apple watch 4.0 44mm (Nike), and let’s just say I’m thrilled.

I chose the Nike face because I want a bright large screen. You’re stuck with the Nike app (which I don’t use) but you can choose the others. I added Waterspeed, weather and at the bottom a stop watch. Choose whatever face you want. You may want to do this via your iPhone.

I chose the Nike face because I want a bright large screen. You’re stuck with the Nike app (which I don’t use) but you can choose the others. I added Waterspeed, weather and at the bottom a stop watch. Choose whatever face you want. You may want to do this via your iPhone.

SUPcase  does not stand for stand up paddling. Anyhow this is what I purchased, a SUPcase watch band for around $23 on Amazon.

SUPcase does not stand for stand up paddling. Anyhow this is what I purchased, a SUPcase watch band for around $23 on Amazon.

The Apple watch has excellent water resistance. Please know this is not a review for divers but for people like me, who get wet a lot but do not submerge to any depth unless of course we huli, where a waterproof band is not required. The Apple watch has high water resistance AND a water lock feature, which you can manually turn on OR your water sport app will turn it on. This feature is built into the two apps I will review, Waterspeed and Paddle Logger. I will go into this water lock feature in a little more detail because I didn’t know about it and thought the app was frozen after I first used it.

Credit goes to iDB for this image and you can read more about how to care for your Apple watch  here .

Credit goes to iDB for this image and you can read more about how to care for your Apple watch here.

When you swipe up from your home watch face (there are many you can choose from), you get the layout on the left. The water drop icon activates water lock and also makes it so you can’t swipe the screen. When you’re on dry land and you want to deactivate the water lock, turn the digital crown per the directions and some mystery function ejects water. Don’t ask me exactly how this works; suffice it to say my Apple watch spends a lot of time in salt water and everything is good. No need for a waterproof model such as is manufactured for divers for us paddlers. The SUPcase I chose protects the edges and face of the watch as a “bump guard.” Most importantly to me it does not have a little quick release button that could fail, and it has a traditional clasp, so it is easy to take on and off. There are no pins where the band connects to the central section snugging the Apple watch proper. I did add a screen protector film as well. I use a cleaning solution such as I use for my electronics once I get off the water. You have to insert the watch in a sequence and it is next to impossible to push it out when you are wearing it. Many competitor watch bands have some negative reviews for failed pins. This one just doesn’t have them at all.

FireShot Capture 071 - Waterspeed for Sailing,Windsurf,Kite,Paddle SUP with Apple Watch GPS_ - www.waterspeedapp.com.png


My first choice app for paddling

Waterspeed bundles a lot of data into their app. You can choose your water sport and go from there. You are best off going to their site to check out all of the features. I will summarize why this is great for me: as a novice who is transitioning to intermediate paddler I need to know more than just where I paddled, how long and how far. I elected to review my data in kilometers, mostly because my goal is to train for a 50k open ocean race. I now train in the ocean and practice 1 kilometer sprints and various techniques. Later when I review, Waterspeed breaks the data up into 1 kilometer splits. Heart rate data is included as is some basic wind speed data. You can replay the mapping as a video and you can also edit out the pieces that are not relevant. For example if I forget to turn the app off, and it shows my path walking around the beach - that can be removed. I can edit out my time on the water prior to race or sprint start and edit out the end. Etc. I paid for the pro version, which costs about $4 per quarter. You can see some data on your watch, and when you are paddling you can see your actual speed, distance etc. But for analysis, you want to use your iPhone or iPad to see everything on a bigger screen. So, just sync the app’s diary and it will only take a few moments for the data to appear on your other devices.

The scissors are the edit icon. This is a race log. So the slower parts of this log (waiting for the race to start and a slow paddle afterwards), can be edited out and the actual km/hour rate recalculated. Or you can use the slider button and scroll through the visual data, zoom in and even play it back. Lots of data!

The scissors are the edit icon. This is a race log. So the slower parts of this log (waiting for the race to start and a slow paddle afterwards), can be edited out and the actual km/hour rate recalculated. Or you can use the slider button and scroll through the visual data, zoom in and even play it back. Lots of data!

This is an overview. Here you see the play button, which allows you to watch the visual log. Here you also see the export button. Not only can you export images you can export DATA as a CSV file. This is really nitty gritty, and I have not needed to use this data just yet. But it’s there.

This is an overview. Here you see the play button, which allows you to watch the visual log. Here you also see the export button. Not only can you export images you can export DATA as a CSV file. This is really nitty gritty, and I have not needed to use this data just yet. But it’s there.

This is the editing screen with its options.

This is the editing screen with its options.

Let’s take a look at the other app on the Apple Watch market for paddlers, Paddle Logger. A novice friend of mine uses this, and this fits her needs. She basically just wants to see where she has paddled, how long and how far. I tried this then paid to “unlock” the pro features, which turned out not to include and heart data, no splits, etc. This costs about $3 or $4 per month, and when I really could not find improved data, I emailed the developers, who told me it did not have what I was looking for, so I cancelled the subscription.


Let’s get down to what is really awesome about the Apple Watch 4.0: it really is a phone. Granted you must already have an iPhone and using this as a phone will cost you another $10 per month on your data plan. BUT you do not need to carry both at the same time. I have an iPhone 7 plus which is basically a phablet and way too big to carry in my PFD along with my radio and my emergency beacon. Since I always paddle reasonably close to shore in the US, there’s a good chance I can make a call from out on the water if need be. If friends also have Apple watches, we can use the built in Walkie Talkie feature. Then it comes down to the fact that your contacts, music, etc. are all on it. You can ask Siri to start Waterspeed, order a pizza, talk to Mom, text your boss you’re “sick” because there is an awesome swell - whatever you want and expect from an Apple product. I am beyond sold on the Apple watch. The paddling apps will only get better. In closing I’m going to plug the app that I don’t use for a feature that Waterspeed SHOULD have. This is called PIT - paddler in trouble.

Don’t paddle if you can’t make it back to dry land. If you get into trouble, have a plan.  PIT  might be one of those plans that works for you.

Don’t paddle if you can’t make it back to dry land. If you get into trouble, have a plan. PIT might be one of those plans that works for you.

PIT is a function of this app (yet to be released) which allows you to set a timer for the duration of your expected paddle. If you don’t shut it off before the timer counts down, it will ask you if you’re ok and if it gets no response it will text whomever you have set it up to dial. There are other guardian type apps out their that do this as well. This is a GREAT idea. But greater even still is knowing the weather, knowing where you are paddling, paddling with others and ALWAYS inspecting your gear for possible failure (leg leash, my friends) before you head out. As much as I love this feature I will text a buddy I’m going to be out for an hour than end up paddling for three. So, I’m going to do my final wrap up on this by THANKING PADDLE LOGGER for showing me the workaround. This is the built-in SOS function on the Apple watch. So, if you have an app running and your phone is in water lock mode, how do you make an emergency call? You press the lower button and HOLD IT down. An emergency call will be placed. The short video shows how the SOS feature overrides the Waterspeed app (or Paddle Logger or whatever). The long video is me going over my watch. It’s a little long and tedious, but if you’re going to drop $500, worth the time. I did not find any videos on the Apple Watch for paddlers when I looked, and so I write this entry not to sell watches but to make paddling SAFER and spread the good vibes. This watch not only makes me safer, but I have to say I’m already a minute faster per Km from the data feedback. So there you go. Stay safe people. The water is a blast, but the return to the beach is always our goal so that we can do it all over again.

Slow motion footage of SOS activation.

Guy Ringrave, Downwind Coach to the World, Lost at Sea

On April 25th, 2019 I received news of the loss of my downwind coach, Guy Ringrave, founder of Woo and host of the Guadeloupe downwind camp I attended for the past two Januarys. I want to be writing about downwind to make you excited, to try it, to do it and not once again be writing about the mortal dangers of paddling. I honestly did not think my chances of dying while paddling equaled or exceeded 20%, but now two out of ten of us who attended the 2018 camp have been swept away by the sea, our second home, in a mere six month period. To lose a respected instructor of downwind in addition to a paddler friend from camp has made me question what I’m doing on the water. And yet I keep going out. I am an addict, just like my lost friends, my Woo family members. But I am an addict who carries a VHF radio at all times and now the emergency beacon as well. And in addition I just added a phone-enabled Apple Watch.

I keep going out on the water because of incredible paddlers like Guy. Because the ocean is incredible. Because I love it.

With Guy Ringrave in Guadeloupe, January 2019.

With Guy Ringrave in Guadeloupe, January 2019.

I had already thought through what could have gone so wrong when Ali was lost, and I have thought through repeatedly now, What happened that Guy was separated from his canoe? It is now June 2019 and the U.S. Coast Guard no longer requires that PFDs be worn, only that they be on the vessel, but I am still wearing mine. Paddling will never, ever be the same for me.

Let’s leave no paddler behind.

Yesterday we paddled a heavy OC12 into two foot waves with a short length of only about 8 feet. They curled toward us, James Joycean white-maned waves, and then we churned around, and in that bulky set of canoes, we surfed. I am forever blessed by my time in the ocean and the privilege of knowing so many incredible watermen and waterwomen. I will never forget watching the whitecaps roll along the Carribean Ocean with Guy, and he knew I loved them as he did. He told me then, “You will never stop thinking about downwind.”

And thanks to Guy, I won’t.

Marine Communication Safety: a review of the Standard Horizon HX300 VHF radio and ACR Personal Locator Beacon PLB-350C

The ACR Aqualink PLB-350C adjacent the Standard Horizon HX300

The ACR Aqualink PLB-350C adjacent the Standard Horizon HX300

When I was first invited to paddle OC2 in the New York harbor with an experienced friend, I saw him put on his PFD and put his radio in a pocket. He put his cellphone in a waterproof Pelican box and connected it to the front of the canoe, under the crisscrossing bunjees. He plainly stated that communication must always be carried. I went home that day, in the summer of 2017, and put considerable time into reading reviews of VHF radios. Ultimately I selected the HX300 for its size and features. Over the past year and a half I have frequently paddled with it and have always had it with me on my OC1 in the Hudson River and Long Island Sound.

My review is overdue and prompted from the news of the drowning death of my associate paddler, Alistair Collier of the UK. I spent a week paddling with Ali at the Guadeloupe downwind camp hosted by Woo last year and am utterly disheartened to hear of the paddling community loss of this wonderful gentleman. I have certainly come across the blogs of others covering tragedy, and the focus of this entry is the prevention of any other. Ali’s close friends informed me he did not have any communication device on him and for reasons as yet unknown, the safety boats lost track of him early on during his final race.

I never would have thought a safety escort boat would not be paying attention. We must be prepared for worst case scenarios. I write this entry now not as an idle review but to urge you to be the most responsible person in your canoe.

Your safety is in your hands. The first step you need to take as a paddler is the commitment to safe paddling. When you can save yourself, you have a chance of saving others.

Now for the dry technical stuff.

My biggest concern was size. The bulkier the radio, the bulkier the assembly of stuff on my person, the bulkier my PFD, the harder it is to get onto the canoe. After considerable deliberation I finally chosen the HX 300, which easily fits inside the large front pocket of my Mocke PFD. At 5.25”x2.5”x1.5” this was as compact as I could get with its features.

Standard Horizon HX300 inside the Mocke PFD front pocket. Note the orange whistle also.

Standard Horizon HX300 inside the Mocke PFD front pocket. Note the orange whistle also.

Another major consideration was the USB charging port and the orange back light.

The orange light could be indispensable in night conditions.

The orange light could be indispensable in night conditions.

I have now been using the HX300 for a year and a half. The battery life is great. I actually don’t know how long it lasts before it dies because it has not even gotten close to dying. What little recharge is required takes no time with the USB connection. This is also invaluable for travel outside of the U.S., because of the USB ports-to-other country-voltage chargers prevalent on the phone/computer market.

I recently returned from 2019 downwind paddle camp in Guadeloupe, where channel 71 (canal soixante dix-un) was used by our French coaches for their communication. I tuned in just to have it, just in case. I do not recall seeing any other paddler in the group with a communication device.

For those researching VHF radio use for travels I urge you to make the purchase and ask the locals how it is used in your paddling location. In the U.S., in the New York harbor, we use channel 16 to reach the Coast Guard. Typically I leave the radio on and listen to the intermittent chatter. It is quite reassuring.

If you are thinking your phone will take care of you, keep in mind that you might be in a dead zone for signal, especially in a foreign country or on an island like Guadeloupe. Also keep in mind that you will need to know the local dial code to reach police, etc. A VHF radio could get you in contact with another vessel in close proximity to you right away. “Mayday,” is the universal distress call, which I recently learned is French:

Owing to the difficulty of distinguishing the letter "S" by telephone, the international distress signal "S.O.S." will give place to the words "May-day", the phonetic equivalent of "M'aidez", the French for "Help me." 
—"New Air Distress Signal," The Times [London], 2 Feb. 1923



universal distress call

If no vessels are close enough to hear your call for distress and survival is questionable, your investment in a personal locator beacon, like the ACR Aqualink PLB-350C is your way to alert the global emergency response teams you are in peril. I purchased the ACR for my trip to Guadeloupe in 2018, and I kept it inside my paddle shorts pocket at all times. I chose the product that is a little bulkier because it incorporates technology that allows you to test that it works periodically. I needed the peace of mind. When I heard about Ali’s untimely fate my first day of camp in 2019, both of my communication devices became my closest allies, ensuring to me that my idea of the greatest time in the world - playing in the ocean - was also respectful of the ocean’s power. We love the ocean, but she has no emotions for us.

Safety has long been an aspect of my dayjob. The general rule is that the day you become so comfortable that you no longer respect your environment, that is the day you are open to getting hurt or worse. When a man at camp told me to do whatever the leader said, because the leader was a safe guy, I respectfully declined and used my own leg leash instead of the one provided. Something as simple as a minor equipment substitution can throw our game. Do what you know is right for you. Rehearse with your safety gear, practice hulis and distress maneuvers with your club. Be your own best guide.

And now for more technical information.

I fumbled with the the ACR antenna when I first got the equipment. The antenna wraps around the body and a male notch on the antenna fits into a female notch on the body of the unit.

The antenna.

The antenna.

When the antenna is up, the red emergency button is exposed. Once pressed a signal is sent to an emergency satellite system, and the dispatch process to search and rescue teams proceeds. Each unit is registered to its individual owner. Mine is registered with NOAA. You must fill out documentation that comes with your unit to get it registered. The search and rescue team will know who you are, where you are and be able to notify next of kin. There are additional packages for texting and so forth depending on what you choose.

The bulk of the unit is the built-in battery, which has a multi-year life expectancy. The only thing it does is send the distress signal and provide your GPS to the search and rescue team.

I’m pretty sure I read something like this when I was reading PFD reviews, but you won’t care what the thing cost when it saves your life. This unit runs about $400. I bought both units online.

Here is a video of what happens when you press the test button:

You won’t be allowed to obsessively test the unit. Doing so would drain the battery. So the computer in the unit will only allow you periodic tests. Don’t abuse it.

The Aqualink comes with a strap and a place to secure it. It also comes with a clip system. The HX300 does not have a strap that works without a clip, which ads to its bulk. I’ve left the clip off and just kept it secure in the PFD pocket.

The straps, clips and belt clips.

The straps, clips and belt clips.

In closing, please be an ambassador of the water. Play it safe for yourself and for all others.

Rest in peace, Ali.

Ali Guad.jpg

Kahele Blues


I have the Kahele Blues because it is winter in New York City, and I’m not able to take my new Kahele out and surf in the spitting frigid rain. This is a slightly overdue review of the Kahele, which I picked up at the start of October from Crazy Paddlers in Clearwater, Florida. Slightly overdue because my first thought upon my return to New York was to find a boathouse for my expanding outrigger canoe collection. Having now added both new boat and beach house to my worldly possessions, I will soon return to the trusty keyboard to lavish praise on the Kahele. Let’s just put it this way for now: I have won the lifestyle lottery.

Racking my Brain about Boat Racks: Customizing a factory rack for Lockrack and an outrigger canoe

The season started off with a plea from the Wanda Canoe Club on the Hackensack River in New Jersey. Our old boathouse was falling apart and had been condemned by the local village of Ridgefield. We had decided to buy a shipping container, and it had fallen upon me to find a rack solution. Already familiar with Unistrut - a widely used, engineered rack system meant for making racks on the fly - I had proposed this material to the club. Frankly, while I had seen it used in miles of mechanical chases on buildings I've worked on, I had not thought to use it for my own needs.

WANDA_ContainerView_01 copy.jpg

A fellow paddler just happened to be getting some boat repair work done by Cliff Roach of Goodboy Paddlesports, and soon Cliff and I were in discussions about how to use his aluminum systems with Unistrut inside the metrically engineered container.

It turns out that small steel beams spanning the top of shipping containers are bolted into place, so it only took a few minutes to attach some Unistrut hardware when we Wanda Loons took our first good look at the container interior in May. I also took measurements and verified in a 3D drawing that we could indeed fit 20 vessels of approximately 22' in length each inside the container. As much as I had seen the Goodboy racks all over the east coast, after a trip to Lowe's - to the electrical section - I made my own V-rack out of Unistrut. (Sorry, Cliff!)

2018-06-16 14.37.49-2.jpg

Right away I was concerned about the wobble. I gave some of the Goodboy roof racks a tug and noticed they wobbled also. V-racks wobble. Period. I had heard a story about a paddler crossing the Verrazano Bridge in a heavy wind and their concern the boat would shear off their car like broken propellor. I shared this concern. What if?

But with proper strapping, everything would surely be ok. A lot of strapping. An hours worth of fiddling and strapping and fiddling. Can't we be on the water by now? I slipped in the rain while fiddling with a strap and came down very hard on an elbow. Straps be damned!

Introducing the South African made Lockrack.

It was so promising yet so expensive and clearly made for paddleboards and surfskis - not for outriggers. I just couldn't get all the measurements I needed to verify whther it could work with an outrigger - until I clicked on etrailer.com. A Lockrack vendor, they have A LOT of photos and some decent videos featuring the product line. One even featured a Subaru Crosstrek - my car!

The Verrazano Bridge spans from Staten Island to Brooklyn, where the waters are pinched heading into the New York Harbor and the wind doesn't give a damn about your canoe!

The Verrazano Bridge spans from Staten Island to Brooklyn, where the waters are pinched heading into the New York Harbor and the wind doesn't give a damn about your canoe!

Lockrack's customer service is virtually non-existent, but the folks at etrailer pick up the phone and answer questions, sometimes by making webpages with answers. Still I could not get exact measurements from Lockrack or etrailer. Which rack would work for me?

So, I pulled measurements off a photo. What else was I to do?

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Lockrack makes a surfski model, and at first I was convinced this would be the closest match to an outrigger for rack sizing. However, after watching the Lockrack video for surfski I realized the rack arms were made to hug the low profile seat area. I was also concerned that the Lockrack is meant to go with factory crossbars, which are less than ideally spaced for 20'+ long boats.

The one obvious difference you will notice between a V-rack and a Lockrack is that on a V the hull is down and on the Lockrack it is up. Well, if you scroll way down to the start of this blog you will find my extensive below-the-waterline repairs. Gravity is great when you're paddling, but in storage or transit, I think it is best for the hull to be up. So, how in the world would I make this great Lockrack idea work for me?

Unistrut saves the day again.

Unistrut saves the day again.

The answer was Unistrut. You can see by the photo above how the factory rack actually has a very narrow ovulate crossbar with only about 30" width - the sides being taken up by bulky connectors to the siderails. I wanted to maximize the width of the car for easy boat loading and leave room for my ama or another outrigger or paddleboard altogether. I set the length of the adjustable Unistrut rails to 6' and added cross-pieces. The universal adapters were not required, and I was increasingly skeptical of Lockrack's new "X" version racks - that split apart to adjust to even wider paddleboard or boats. They just looked flimsy, so after a lot of head scratching I finally went with, of all things, the 2x SUP carrier - because of the size. I replaced the 10mm bolt that came with the package and used 1/4" x 20 x 1 1/2" pan head torx bolts to attach the Lockrack main bars to Unistrut nuts. These bolts and nuts will set you back about $12 if you buy them in packs, and if your Lowe's get as ransacked as mine you might be better off buying the misc hardware from McMaster-Carr.

Unistrut nut and stainless bolt versus included hardware for Lockrack. Nut and bolt cost about $1.50 each. You will need 4.

Unistrut nut and stainless bolt versus included hardware for Lockrack. Nut and bolt cost about $1.50 each. You will need 4.

You will notice my hatch is fully up. No more banging of the forehead due to a low hatch pushed up against a longer rack bar.

You will notice my hatch is fully up. No more banging of the forehead due to a low hatch pushed up against a longer rack bar.

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A 2' 2-step Werner ladder also fits neatly in the Subaru Crosstrek 2018 cargo bay. No more standing-on-the-wheel-well acrobatics and straps for this paddler!

A 2' 2-step Werner ladder also fits neatly in the Subaru Crosstrek 2018 cargo bay. No more standing-on-the-wheel-well acrobatics and straps for this paddler!

I could not understand what the black washers were for until I installed the Lockrack. They are basically spacers, required to allow the moving arms enough clearance to slide in and out. So you definitely need them.

Unfortunately, I live in a New York City neighborhood where people dig through the trash for recyclables and will take just about any kind of metal off the street (a band of thieves was brazenly stealing NYC public garbage cans earlier this year). Leaving the $275 Lockrack on the car was not an option, especially after I saw this salvage man stroll right past me. 

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Thus far I like the Lockrack, but here are a couple of things they won't show you. The inner arm isn't exactly something you can reach to adjust or turn on its side. I had to install the system as one piece. When you go to put the rubber base back in, it's a pain. And thirdly, the "keys" are something you are going to lose. They are cheap, black plastic and gonna roll off your car and into the sand. Goodbye. So, I plan on modeling one and 3D printing some in bright orange. Other than that, the next challenge is actually getting an outrigger canoe on and in it in preparation for a jaunt to Florida to pick up my new Kahele. 

Waterline up.

Waterline up.

I loaded the canoe in the same way I load a V-rack - by inserting the bow first then walking the stern end up. The racks as positioned landed right at the iako humps - the strongest parts of an outrigger canoe. The Lockrack arms did not fit this canoe snugly and were off by an inch or two. Time to add foam! The black rubber that comes with the Lockrack system is so stiff it's really only suitable for plastic boats, so I had pretty much assumed I'd want to add foam. I already had some Dakine rack pads around, and the Dakine foam (which they say is custom but is nothing more than pipe insulation) wraps reasonably well around the Lockrack arm.

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You can't own enough foam when your canoe is carbon...

This foam is pipe insulation disguised under a Dakine logo on 600D polyester.

Pipe insulation. I mean, custom extruded foam...

Pipe insulation. I mean, custom extruded foam...

I expect I will need to tweak foam and possibly the distance between Lockrack arms when I pick up my new canoe, but after that I expect to use the Lockrack as advertised. I reinstalled the whole system today in just under ten minutes, as well as loaded and unloaded the canoe at about a minute each. I decided to try driving with the Lockrack arms in, and they made an awful rattle, so I took them all out in about a minute and stashed them in the Subaru cargo hatch. The pin that holds the rack arms in place definitely has a chance of shearing off over time, especially with that looseness and rattle. I don't recommend keeping them in while driving at all. I will do a follow-up review once I complete my road trip with the new Kahele. See you on the water!

Epic Weekend: Surfki reprise in Sandy Hook, New Jersey, Atlantic Ocean

Sandy Hook is a large sandy hook capturing a bay on its west side and the sandy surface of the submarine Hudson Canyon in the Atlantic Ocean on its east. When the National Park Ranger told us there were great white sharks in the waters, we immediately loaded up a paddleboard and sought out the salty sea. Gateway National Recreation Area encompasses Sandy Hook and other awe inspiring oceanic sections of New Jersey and New York, and it was to the Hook I headed (with a borrowed Epic V10, courtesy of the Hoboken Cove Community Boathouse) for what was my first surfski session since my immersion with Oscar Chalupsky.


I am a fourth season outrigger paddler and only a second season OC1 paddler, with few options to launch directly from my Brooklyn headquarters via surfski. The Hoboken Cove just happens to be loaded with kayaks and kayakers and puts 6000 people a year into its boats. I'm one of them. I hitched myself to the Cove's staycation and ventured out with them to Sandy Hook for this rare opportunity to get back onto a surfski. It was the Hoboken Cove after all that gave me my first two wobbly minutes in a surfski before I headed out to Michigan in June for surfski immersion with Oscar C.


It's not uncommon. Just who did I think I was, launching a V10 into the Atlantic Ocean? I set myself side-saddle in the V10, took one stroke while lifting one leg in, took another and...off I went. Remembering my paddle was my outrigger, I got into a pattern of bracing against the wind driven surf, making long football field arcs. I got the wobbles turning over the surf and questioned my sanity, but I returned to the beach over and over to drop my legs out side-saddle. With each dry return to the shore, I became more confident. Oscar was right, practice makes permanent. Just remember to practice!

All too often we emphasize distance over drills. I hear from seasoned outrigger paddlers that they lean too far to the left and get sore. Why not just practice how far you can lean? Why not practice bracing? Why not practice simply getting into the kayak or canoe?

Keith Tsang practices sand surfing at Sandy Hook!           (Photo courtesy of Kirsten Brink)

Keith Tsang practices sand surfing at Sandy Hook!           (Photo courtesy of Kirsten Brink)


While we were loading up the V10 a fellow came up and asked me what it was - some kind of sea kayak? - he wanted to know. I explained that it was, and that it was called a surfski. So, you can literally surf in it? he wanted to know. Yes, I told him, yes. At least in our imaginations, for we aren't that practiced yet!

The other Oscar in my paddling life - a volunteer at Hoboken Cove - tempting the great white sharks of Sandy Hook! (Photo courtesy of Kirsten Brink)

The other Oscar in my paddling life - a volunteer at Hoboken Cove - tempting the great white sharks of Sandy Hook! (Photo courtesy of Kirsten Brink)

The kayaks spent the night tucked in grasses on the beach!

The kayaks spent the night tucked in grasses on the beach!

Bathymetry of Hudson Canyon - a submarine canyon to rival the Grand Canyon.

Bathymetry of Hudson Canyon - a submarine canyon to rival the Grand Canyon.

Hudson River Cup 2018

The Hudson River does not quite equal the Columbia Gorge in her ability to lure paddlers, but this year some 45+ paddlers, from OC1, OC2, surfski, SUP and even the salty kayak, dared test her brackish green waters.

Hosted by the Ke Aloha outrigger club of Hoboken, this small craft race jumped its participant numbers, setting the stage for the possibility of an even larger race in 2019 as word gets out. What's in it for the paddler? Well, that would be the washing machine action of the New York Harbor churning beneath the feet of Lady Liberty. It is definitely one of those races where you will lose a few seconds off your personal best due to gawking.

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Where exactly is Hoboken, and why would you want to paddle there, you ask? Well, it has better views of Manhattan than Manhattan has of itself. And if you're a paddler, it means you can take the fastest route between New Jersey and New York straight across the river that divides them. See you on the water!


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Scroll down for the good stuff...

Marine Stickers: My Sticker Makes it Mine!


Why my sister turned into a sticker making nut around the same time I turned into a paddling nut, only the sirens who seduce us to our passions could say. Lest we crash upon the rocks, at least we will we able to identify our stuff from our stickers! These are cut from marine grade vinyl. If you are interested in stickers (which come in different fonts, colors and sizes) for your paddle gear or boat, hit me up by email.



Manu'iwa Milford Gulf OC1, OC2, SUP, 9 Mile Race, 2018

At the start of every race, I question my sanity. There is no harder work than trying to beat the ocean at its own game. Soon the heart rate builds, the power propels the canoe forward, and I get lost in some kind of alpha wave trance with flickers of beta - where my brain analyzes the waves, conjures some distraction then ultimately sinks into a meditative state. I pull myself, stroke by stroke, forward across the water and eventually, around forever minus twenty-two minutes to be exact, I cross the finish line between two yellow buoys.


The Ghost Hope, a Puakea Kaku Elua, origin Hawaii, exact circa per Johnny Puakea: “Back in the day.”

Ted Taylor, head honcho at Manu'iwa Outrigger Club, introduces himself before the race as an Englishman, coaching outrigger, in Connecticut. Nothing like hearing a Hawaiian Mahalo with a UK twang on the sands of an ocean inlet in the USA. Later at the luau, Ted requests a plug on social media (click here for media/photo links). Was this race better than last year's, he wants to know? For me, yes. And it isn't just because I took first place (for finishing in 2018 the race I started in 2017) nor because I took first place in the $175 canoe class. It was, dare we utter its name, because of the Milford Triangle.

The Legendary and Deadly Milford Triangle

The Legendary and Deadly Milford Triangle

I personally find races that follow a coast a little difficult to mentally tag. Coastline unfolds like a rocky rope with nothing terribly remarkable. The triangular buoy set up gave me a mental check and a goal with enough frequency to keep me motivated. It also gave me three different wave and current patterns - four actually - because the southerwestly wind (that some of us surfed after the second buoy turn) tapered off near Charles Island. So the overall pattern was 1: flattish , 2: turn into the wind with bigger waves (ama bouncing up), 3: turn and surf (bow lifting high, ama rolling under the swell) and 4: calm and flat for a dash to home - then repeat. On the second round we all had a learning curve down, and mentally it wasn't just another 4.5 miles but 1.1 mile (buoy turn = Pavlovian reward), 1.5 mile (buoy turn) and 1.9 mile (beer is in sight).


A first place trophy for a first place race!

A first place trophy for a first place race!

I have raced in Milford four times. The first two were OC6 races, and after training on the stinky Hudson River in New York City, let's just say I was astonished by the beauty of the Gulf, a tranquil little curve tucked into the greater ocean inlet of Long Island Sound. This is a five star race, where the quality of the food down to the quality and craft of the prizes are not forgotten. Manu'iwa's own novice Nicky not only came in first for women's OC1, she got to take home one of the first-prize, bottle-opener-paddles she made--and the rest of us got to choose from Monique's thoughtful and unique commemorative tiles. Thanks for a great race and bringing us, no matter our accent or World Cup favorite, together. Mahalo, Manu'iwa. Mahalo, ocean.

This one matches the heart-shaped squeaky toy my dog ripped out of a stuffed Cat-in-the-Hat. Concidence? The secret lies in the Milford Triangle.

This one matches the heart-shaped squeaky toy my dog ripped out of a stuffed Cat-in-the-Hat. Concidence? The secret lies in the Milford Triangle.

Salem flyin' the ama. Well, sort of...

Salem flyin' the ama. Well, sort of...

Nicky rockin' the Hurricane and snatching 1st place!

Nicky rockin' the Hurricane and snatching 1st place!

Surfski! Downwind! 110% Paddling with Oscar Chalupsky

Googling "downwind paddling" gives limited results. In my searches, I found myself reading the same few articles over and over, trying to grasp what I had tasted in Guadeloupe, where the tradewinds that delivered Columbus to the Caribbean still blow. One article I reread was a post on the TC Surfski website. Since I had never surfski'd I reread the post with interest but kept sweeping the internet looking for more opportunities for outrigger downwind. TC Surfski, however, kept popping up. I ended up on an email list, and I discovered in my inbox one day an invite to downwind surfski immersion with TC. I ignored it. Then, after some time, I saw it again and actually read it: beginners welcome.

I signed up.

I bought my ticket to an area of Michigan I had never heard of, via the curiously named Cherry Capital Airport, and prepared for another fool's adventure, this time into a paddling realm I knew only two things about: surfskis go faster than outriggers (less drag) and paddlers fall off of them all the time. I jokingly referred to the upcoming immersion as my "submersion."

Now, what occasionally gets washed. The shirt or the paddler?

Now, what occasionally gets washed. The shirt or the paddler?

I started paying more attention to this chap named Oscar Chalupsky, who was to be our main instructor. I was fascinated by his Youtube videos, though I couldn't really grasp what he was seeing in the waves in front of him, no more than I had vaguely grasped what was happening with the waves in the Caribbean Ocean in January. I had scoured for online resources and possibly books about waves and finally settled on WAVES by Frederic Raichlen. Raichlen swears he won't bury the reader in math in the terse intro then promptly buries the reader in formulas. I wasn't about to turn a page without understanding a single formula, so I very slowly started making my way through the book, starting here:


L (length)L=P(SQ)* 1.56mLength

P (period)L=P(SQ)* 5.12fLength

After a few months I was still poking my way through the math and learning a lot, but I wasn't paddling. I figured if I could ask Oscar what he was looking at when choosing his runs, if I could learn one thing about what he was seeing, what he understood, the surfski immersion would be worth it. I packed my book on WAVES and my neoprene but not my GoPro camera. Who in the world would want to watch footage of my rolling face-first into Lake Michigan over and over again?


Oscar taught me a little something when I showed him this book. Trick question: How many waves do you see on the cover?

Lucky me learning side saddle stability and bracing in the 2ski with Oscar.

Lucky me learning side saddle stability and bracing in the 2ski with Oscar.

As a total beginner the one thing I couldn't take with me was a surfski. Oscar easily remembered my name and playfully growled at me I was to paddle with him in a double to start. One rarely has the opportunity in life to learn from a master, especially from the very beginning. I was very fortunate to have excellent surfski paddling instilled in me from minute one. In the hours that followed, Oscar dutifully deconstructed paddling and provided insight into downwind I will certainly never forget. Thanks to Oscar, I never rolled off the surfski, I got a cool shirt with awesome fine print in keeping with Oscar's sense of humor, and I know something about waves that changed my life. Thanks to local Andrew Amato for capturing this awesome drone video. Stay tuned this summer. I will be deconstructing outrigger paddling Oscar style and fine-tuning the fundamentals.

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Red Hooked Regatta: 3D printing and paddling by the Buttermilk Channel, Brooklyn

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Red Hook is a Brooklyn neighborhood that is off the subway path, torn away from the main Brooklyn heart by the filthy Gowanus Canal. Its skyline is otherwise stitched by the poorly named Expressway, where one can sit for hours admiring the pollution emitted from heavy trucks heading north and south around the lower bulb of Brooklyn. Unbelievably, I witnessed paddlers from my perch high above the Gowanus at a rare in-the-sky train station.

In other words, Red Hook, named for its ruddy soil, is a gem. And it is in Red Hook I have landed, overseeing work we won't bother discussing. Here the ubiquitous paper plate, free and careless in its twirling, gets to taste something other than the barbecue sauce staining it, for the wind gusts across the harbor are unbuffered. I would suggest 3D printing the plates out of iron and bolting them to husky picnic tables made of concrete. The weather I have witnessed at the water's edge in Red Hook, the white caps strolling across the Buttermilk Channel, make this downwind addict ache for a paddle.

Paddle? Isn't this a paddling blog? Indeed. And this May I finally got to put my R&D 3D printed paddle to the test in the mighty Hudson.  (Photo credit: Diana DeDomenico).


That's a 3D printed Brooklyn Bridge blade!

One day I discovered a small t-shirt printing shop, and attracted by the literally "red hooked" shirts for sale, I wandered in and bought some. There was a 3D print of Cheech (from Cheech and Chong) wielding a plastic red hook, and before too long the proprietors and I were discussing Red Hook history and 3D printing. There was even a 3D print of the proprietor. Somehow I mentioned my 3D paddle and the two informed me they were going to be entering the Red Hook Regatta. Being a boat enthusiast, I needed to know more. I quickly added a 3D printed Red Hook key chain to my horde after I was informed it floats. This is now an easy to spot Hudson River friendly key chain. I also informed the 3D printing whiz of the duo that he should take a look at Simscale, so he could not only model a propeller out of the red hooks, as was his ambition, but model the fluid dynamics. Just what is the water doing when your paddle spears down into it? See image below, and see you on the water.

This is what the water is doing on the "catch," when the blade is buried at the start of the stroke. Or at least the computer thinks so. What do you think?

This is what the water is doing on the "catch," when the blade is buried at the start of the stroke. Or at least the computer thinks so. What do you think?


As a seasoned 3D draftsperson in the architectural world of big box buildings, getting comfortable with drawing complex curves on a very small scale was a much greater challenge than I had imagined. I had the fortune of working with a great fellow from South Africa, who worked with me on a project as a BIM specialist. All day long he drew the building we were working on and from time to time we were visited by Autodesk specialists, who introduced us to deeper aspects of their cloud platform. My fellow worker politely informed me that I would have to give up on SketchUp if I wanted to actually print curves. And so, reluctantly, I left the long comfortable and now rather cartoony realm of SketchUp for Autodesk Fusion 360.

Utterly failing to draw and extrude complex curves, I finally found tutorials for fans on YouTube, and when I finally emerged victorious with my first simple fan drawings, I knew I could move on to drawing paddles. At first I printed a 1/4 scale paddle in black ABS just to see how it executed.

Next I found myself up against print size limitations, so I had to engineer the paddle in pieces. Today, we epoxy together the Brooklyn Bridge prototype... STAY TUNED

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Guadaloupe Downwind Camp with Woo

January 2018. Guadeloupe Downwind Camp. Woo.

Let's just start with the action, my first successful downwind:

This is an edited version of an approximate 10K downwind run from Petite Anes to St. Francois. I don't wear a GPS, so the paddle path is general, based on our southerly trek against the wind and waves until we turned west to make the downwind run. My technique is truly lacking here, but I started to get the feel for timing, and

I did not huli.

Which is a little remarkable given some of the action.

I am a novice OC1 paddler, or as my new paddler friend J.P. told me in French, a


.  Fool might be a more appropriate word. What was I thinking taking on the Caribbean Ocean? This was probably my 8th paddle in an OC1


. I had spent more time fixing my canoe than I did paddling it during the 2017 season. (Vintage Puakea Kaku, see previous repair blog entries). I did get to spend a lot of quality time in an OC2 in the New York harbor and signing up for Woo downwind camp stands as testimony to my enduring foolishness. I emerged from camp as a full-blown downwind addict. Where can I get more???

3D Print Pedals for Outrigger Canoe - Puakea Kaku

 Tonight I finally got to install the new 3D printed pedals. I work with SketchUp and exported the file to STL. From there I went to 3D Print Hubs and chose a hub in Connecticut. I went back and forth with the owner of Diversified Manufacturing Tech while I refined the basic design. He suggested the carbon fiber/nylon material named "onyx." I spent considerable time engineering the holes through which the bungee cord and rudder lines would connect, and during attachment I had a friend hold the rudder while I toyed around with the length of the lines, seeking the right amount of tension.
3D printed ONYX pedals, $20.80 total
Not only are the pedals great, Andrew even did a follow up. A lot of customer service for $20.80, and he threw in a tablet stylus as a business promo gift. As someone who owns three tablets, I really appreciate that. So, here is his plug: Diversified Manufacturing Technologies website.

My first SketchUp drawing based on the old pedals
Not knowing the material, I agonized over how many holes I could put into the pedals and still retain stiffness. I definitely could have gone thinner. I definitely could have gone with more holes or etched my name into them. At any rate these pedals will probably outlast me. Fully recycling the older pedals was not much of an option because they are a ply material and warped. The hinges, as you can see, were brought back to life with a few minutes from a Dremel and some 220 and 3000 grit sandpaper. I also hit them with a little silicone marine lubricant. Shiny!
New Pedals and Rejuvenated Original Carbon Pedals and Stainless Hinges
Before: condition of pedals and hardware (the rust had issued from the old non-stainless screws)
24 Hour Float Test with Plastic Cable
A rusty crimp in the hard loop of the old stainless and cracking, failing tube
Slip Knot with a lop and another slip knot - 3x strength

The UHMWPE is supposed to float. Did I have the real stuff or some kind of knockoff? After a 24 hour test, the material proved not to take on water. It is only supposed to stretch or creep under sustained load, which is not our case. I decided also to go with the stainless quicklinks (1/8", 306 SS) for pedal and rudder tail, since the rounded edge would ensure a longer lifespan for the new cable. Paddling is all about avoiding friction, right? See you on the water!
Rudder End Connections

Salty Metal: Replacing Rusted Rudder Cables with Spectra* (Plastic)

Did you know we live in a mostly metallic world? That salt you like to shake on your dinner?
Metal. That saltwater you like to play in? Metallic water. Those rusted rudder cables that snapped on you just when you least expected it? Rusted metal. So what is metal, and why do we think our stainless steel cables are strong, say, in comparison to plastic? If you've landed on this blog, it's because you like me need to swap out your rudder cables, and you've come across an alternative cable, likely named Spectra.

As you can see from this periodic table of the elements, most of our elements are metal. Loosely defined, a metal is an element that bonds atomically with itself in a fluid manner. Stainless steel is an alloy of iron and chromium as well as other metal elements namely nickel and molybdenum (Mo, number 42). What makes your rudder cable strong is not so much the willingness of its metal elements to bond to one another but the number of strands wound into the cable. Metal filaments can stretch and break quite easily, but wound together into a rope, like any other kind of rope, they gain strength. Like just about everything else also, when they flirt with omnipresent oxygen, oxygen steals their bonding strength. The red of rust is the bleeding, if you will, of the iron as it succumbs to oxidation.
Luckily I was playing around with my rudder cables on the dock when I had a rusty connection snap before I got myself into trouble on the water. Perhaps it wasn't so smart to rig up the loop with medical tape, but that's what I did. I was comfortable with knowing very little tension pulled the cables while steering. This comfort also helped me make the decision to switch from steel cables to plastic.
First Aid for Rusty Steering Cable
So, we basically know what metal is. What is plastic and what makes it strong? Spectra is a brand name, just like Dyneema, for UHMWPE or ultra high molecular weight polyethylene. What the heck does that mean? "UHMWPE is a type of polyolefin. It is made up of extremely long chains of polyethylene, which all align in the same direction. It derives its strength largely from the length of each individual molecule (chain)." This material has been around since the 50's and first commercialized in the 70s. Seen any rusty plastic floating around in your ocean lately? Me neither. Plastics are non-metals comprised of hydrogen and carbon, in this case long chains of bonded hydrogen and carbon. In our periodic table of elements, these are simpler elements number 1, H,  and 6, C.
I ended up choosing a reel of generic UHMWPE from a kite string company. You will find any number of UHMWPE lines on the market for spear fishing, etc., without the comfort of a brand name. But does your stainless steel cable that snapped have a brand name you trust? Probably not.
Curious Hand Written Specification
I visually inspected the fiber and found it appeared to be the same kind of product listed as Spectra or Dyneema. It had no give and was nearly impossible to cut with anything other than a fresh razor blade. As someone who has worked with wire rigging and synthetic rigging for the past twenty years, I know the only thing that will prevent any kind of line from failing under use is INSPECTION prior to use. There is nothing about this fiber that indicates it will fail spontaneously. This particular product was cost effective at $12.95 for 50 feet of 1.6 mm on Amazon.
At first I thought I'd be able to wrap the end of it to the broken stainless cable with electrical tape to pull it through the rudder line, but this product is very slippery.
Looks a lot like Spectra and Dyneema
I was on the dock scratching my head when I had the idea of using some of the shrink tube I had purchased to connect the two ends. I'd taken a variety of tools with me and was very grateful to have the clear tube. Success was mine a few minutes later.
The tools, including clear shrink tube at the top ($6.99 on Amazon)

The cable measured true to its specification as listed on Amazon and on the product
 Here's a video of me inspecting the line and trying to cut it. I was only able to cut it with a brand new sharp razor blade. This is good news, since it does not easily cut against an edge and gives me ideas about how to protect it from rubbing for final install. Anyone who has ever worked with mason's line, which looks similar from a distance, will see how taut this line is in comparison and how difficult it is to make it cut or even fray.

The clear shrink tube linking the two materials together for pulling
 My first tug through the cable tube failed, and I was surprised when I pulled the blue line out to find the shrink tube had slipped off the stainless. So, using a Bic lighter, I redid the shrink tube, shrinking the tube longer on the steel side. Plastic rope will melt easily, so I did not want to go overboard heating it on that end. I unspooled a decent length of the UHMWPE so there would be little resistance while guiding it through from the pedals to the rudder.

UHMWPE fiber and stainless pulled through. Success!
Some dirty water came out with it, and not only was the shrink tube joint intact, I could not pull the ends free by hand. I cut the tube and left the end on the fiber line. My confidence in the products was gaining by the minute. Soon I had both lines pulled and terminals protected by clear shrink tube. I'd spent considerable time reading up on tubes and finally went with clear so I will be able to see what is happening with the weak areas of my rudder lines. In the photo above you can see rust on the stainless.
Excess line pulled through at rudder

Excess line left at pedals
Stay tuned for the next post, which will cover sprucing up the steering pedals and rigging the rudder bar and pedals to the pretty blue line. Remember to check your steering line BEFORE you paddle each time, and you can pretty much guarantee you won't experience failure on the open sea.

Milford on the Rocks - OC1 Race July 15, 2017

The GhostHope Kaku, with her razzle-dazzle of matte-white and off-white and blemishes of sunbeam yellow, was as anxious to get on the water as I was. We reviewed the short course of the Milford OC1/OC2, Surfski and SUP race but were encouraged to just go for the long race. I countered to the organizer, Ted, that the Luau would be held up by your humble narrator, but he insisted, saying "Everyone has a first race."

Canoes Lining up on the Milford Gulf Beach
A few words about the Gulf Beach: it's a beautiful sandy arc and home of the Manu'iwa Outrigger Club. If it weren't for the interconnectivity of the sport and our planet's waters, I would scarcely think of visiting these waters, which are fairly spectacular. Charles Island, in the near distance, gives the racing eye a focal point beyond the endlessly unrolling shore and seductive points - you know, those points you look at during a race, thinking the finish is just around those rocks?
Charles Island, Audobon Bird Sanctuary and Eye Relief to the Ocean Racer
The morning was gauze gray, great racing conditions, nice and cool for July. The water was flat with intermittent rolling swells and ambitious schools of fish. During the race orientation Ted of Manu'iwa went on at length about rocks and how far to stay off the rocky shore. He gently warned ambitious racers about the dangers of hugging the coastline and off we all went to line up.
Milford 2017 Race Lining Up
Bright Orange Shirt to make it Easy for Rescue
Having spent most weekends working on the Kaku, diligently razor-knifing away chipped gelcoat and sanding, sanding, sanding, I held back on the race start and steered very clear of the first rocky point, which we clear prior to paddling into the open Long Island Sound. I was a few minutes into the start when I had to slow my 60 strokes per minute down due to an OC1 drifting across my path. An OC4 behind me exchanged dialogue with the craft, and it was discerned they had hit rocks, hulied and had rudder damage. Let's just say, I pulled away from the rocky coast and easily added a mile to the 9 mile race. My goal was firm: finish alive without a huli or a scratch to the beloved Kaku.

GoPro interlude:
It was a wary paddle thereafter, with this novice zig-zagging through some rolling bumps and puzzling about how to paddle through schools of pronging fins. Eventually I caught site of racers on the return, which gave me hope I too would find the green buoy, pivot and return. Ted had nicknamed the green buoy the huli buoy, so I made a long languorous graceful arc around it and finally found my groove. I was going to make it. Many thanks to Manu'iwa! See you on the water.
The GhostHope
Course Map

Gel Coat Blues and Fusion Yellow Rescues

It was time to switch from the West System epoxy + fairing to gelcoat, and after watching my share of YouTube videos and reading reviews, I felt it was time to experiment. Let's just briefly say nothing went very well, and here is why:

1. Gelcoat consists of numerous chemical compounds, and no sooner did I open a can than the fumes got to me in the way of a headache. I certainly did not see a single person wearing a respirator rated OV for organic vapor in any videos, nor did this come up in any literature I read. So, here is my WARNING: USE A RESPIRATOR RATED FOR OV - ORGANIC VAPORS - WHILE WORKING WITH GELCOAT.

Got it? Gelcoat contains styrene, which kind of has an intense plastic odor - because that is what it is.
I had the hole section I'd cut out to use for color matching and was stupid enough to set this up in my kitchen. I believed I had good results with approximately three drops of yellow to one teaspoon of clear gel paste. It is important to note that trying to tint white gelcoat to get a bright color will not work. You will only get a pastel, like the light yellow in my sample. I did not add MEKP to my color samples since there was no need to make them cure. I covered the samples with acetate and stuck them outside, then aired out the apartment. Then bought OV cartridges for my North respirator.
Color Matched Yellow on the Right

Chipping out loose old gelcoat was accomplished with a flat razor blade and an angled razor blade. When it stops chipping, you're done. I hand sanded, beveling the old edges prior to adding in new gelcoat.
2: Another NOTE about things going wrong: Evercoat makes West Marine products, but apparently not the instructions on the different label. It is very easy to follow the Evercoat instructions and very confusing to follow the West Marine instructions. After consulting with three different West Marine techs, it was finally divined that FINISH GELCOAT means waxed, which is not an ideal first coat for just about anything. The wax will rise to the surface and seal the gelcoat, which requires an airtight seal to cure, which does not explain why Evercoat would tell anyone to use wax paper to seal the gelcoat. But, I did it just the same, with regrets.
Wax Paper Wrinkle Indentations in Yellow Gelcoat - Ugly
3: More things going wrong: Following the YouTube instructions of a well known marine repair person (who does not wear a respirator and who shall go unnamed), I used a cheap chip paint brush for my white gelcoat and a small plastic putty knife and squeegee for the yellow. My first surprise was how green the yellow gel looked once I added the MEKP. I went into slop mode and filled all the voids hastily then covered them with wax paper, as the Evercoat instructions suggest. I knew right away this was a bad idea. I had to sand down the high spots and wet sand out all of the stuck wax paper. Not fun. Yellow-tinted epoxy with fairing would have been a better alternative, but you don't know until you fail at some other option. Since I need to get the craft race ready, the final moving touches will be saved for later in the season. Suffice it to say after about 4 hours of sanding I got her looking alright again.
Brushed Gelcoat Holding Brush Marks - UGLY!
I also found out how hard it is to sand gelcoat down. I used 100 grit and gradually went up to wet sanding with 400. A chore I would have gladly skipped. But as Biggie Smalls says, "If you don't know, now you know!"
Goodbye Brush Marks - and an Hour of my Life!
It was time to make a big decision: mix white gelcoat with acetone and run it through my sprayer, untested on a 90 degree day? Or go with something safer. The disputes carry on about whether gelcoat bonds to epoxy and its UV resistance. I had discovered Krylon Fusion at a local hardware store and online found it came in different colors. This was the paint I used as a temporary surface when I took the canoe out for a test paddle a couple of weekends back. I had thought it would be easy to wipe off with acetone as the repairs progressed, but it proved very difficult to remove. After reading numerous reviews and finding out it is weather resistant - end engineered to bond to epoxy, I decided to go this route with Fusion paint for plastic. And here she is, a little cosmetically uneven, but race ready.
The GhostHope - Race Ready
Remember that hole in the bow? Looks like this now.There is some minor fairing to tackle at this point, but it is now time to paddle and retire the sanding skills for a few weeks. See you on the water.