Sunday, November 18, 2007

kayaking below sea level

“Watersheds are difficult places to map, and for that reason (among many others) they are the most fascinating places in the world to explore – debatable lands.” William Bliss, 1935, from the book “Rapid Rivers”.

The Seattle Times today names Seattle as one of the many cities in US to have made efforts to meet the targets of the Kyoto treaty. On a national scale, the current White House doubts there could be such a thing as global warming (“the science is unproven”); hence the refusal to make any move to reduce emissions in case it might “harm US jobs”. According to Max of the Associated Press, “world’s top climate experts” warn that carbon dioxide levels already in the atmosphere commit the world to an average rise in sea levels of up to 4.6 feet above those experienced before the industrial revolution. That’s the rise they expect if polluting factories were shut down today and cars were taken off the roads; we’re already committed to 4.6 feet.
Imagine a gradually rising sea level flooding some homes while others further inland become waterfront property, in the meantime the weather changing a bit and up to 70 percent of all plant and animal species have become extinct, as predicted. Check the plant nursery catalog… we might have to change the type of grass that makes the lawn.
Let’s look at another idea… a slightly different scenario described by the so-called “Ancient Mariner” in William Bliss’s whitewater kayaking (and white-water canoeing) book “Rapid Rivers”. Back in the 1930’s he forecast the mountains of England and Scotland protruding from the sea as; “… a wheen scatter o’ rocky islands!” Anticipating this rise in sea level he prudently bought up foreshore along sections of coast in Australia and South Island New Zealand on the assumption that since the sea level in the Southern Pacific Ocean is currently higher than that of the north Atlantic, and because the retreating ice around the north pole leaves it much thinner than the ice at the south pole, the imbalance would eventually cause the earth to flip pole for pole and cause the sea level to, well dare I say “level out”? At which time… the foreshore he had purchased “down-under” would become land which he would own up to the new high-water mark, considerable tracts since he chose areas with shallow sea, while the land he had sold in Scotland to finance his purchases would rest deep beneath the waves. That land would be worthless. I expect he’s dead by now, seeing as he was old in the 1930’s, and the flood hasn’t happened yet, otherwise I’d love to ask what he thinks about it all now. You’ll have to read “Rapid Rivers” to get more of his story; most of the book consists of gripping accounts, (or perhaps “quaint” would be a better adjective) of first descents of British rivers in the early days of white-water paddling. 
Rapid Rivers by William Bliss, published 1935

But more about rising sea levels; London already built a flood barrier across the Thames to prevent storm surges, which, fueled by the combination of low atmospheric pressure, high tides and wind pushing the North Sea into the land-funnel of Dover Strait, and into the Thames Estuary, occasionally threatened to put London underwater. Since devastating floods in the 1950’s the Netherlands built dikes along the coastal islands, and barriers between, to protect the lowlands of Holland against the same threat. In Holland, pumping the enclosed land dry has caused the land to shrink, not in area but in volume. In places the land is already more than 14 feet below sea level. Given a rise in sea level of 4.6 feet I can imagine Florida either substantially flooded or else, barricaded by dikes, surviving like Holland below sea level. Likewise vast areas of Georgia, the Carolinas… well, you can figure out where the low spots are!
A canal in Delft

Ten ago, 1997, Sea Kayaker Magazine published an article about kayaking below sea level. (I just posted it to my web-site.) 1997: the year of the Kyoto Protocol. We are at a watershed; our decisions now make a difference. In another ten years of global warming, 2017, when the residents of Asia’s large cities are predicted to be at great risk of flooding, we might be able to kayak below sea level in our own back yard.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Old kayak displays current thinking

Little in sea kayaking is new. A few years back in the Shetland Islands, chasing old kayaks, I was led to this one, almost certainly from before the Second World War. Although painted in sombre green, a suitable war-time camouflage color, the underlying paint is bright yellow. Of course that might be just undercoat...

Interesting to me were the two bulkheads, sealing off the two ends. Bulkheads in sea kayaks are often said to be a more recent idea. The front bulkhead, positioned quite close to the cockpit, would have been ideal for someone of my leg length to use as a foot-brace (there was no other foot-brace fitted). The rear bulkhead was fitted immediately at the back of the cockpit, so in a rescue situation all water could be spilled out of the upturned kayak simply by raising the bow. Each compartment was sealed by a deck hatch.

The curator didn't know much about the origin of this kayak except that it was one of a number used to train Norwegian resistance fighters in the Shetland Islands in how to travel inconspicuously around the fjords during the Second World War. These visitors were then secretly returned with kayaks to Norway. Maybe something more is known about their activities in Norway? During wartime a number of similar kayaks were built on Shetland, but this is the only one known to remain.

The kayak was also fitted ready for a mast and rudder, and all that would be necessary to sail it.
The cockpit, compared to many earlier European designs, is quite small.
A detail you can't readily see from the image is that the hull was carvel-built and then covered with canvas. The deck on the other hand was canvas over a wood frame

Can anybody tell me more?

The grease van heads south...

So with the grease van, parked down the street, we sipped cool beers in front of the fire, broke out some wooden instruments and warmed up, Nacho's friend trilling out the notes on his silvery-toned mandolin. But as we warmed up, so the van cooled down... the grease congealed and the van wouldn't start again until coaxed with hot air and patience until the wee hours, when it coughed into action and slipped away into the night leaving a faint smell of late night restaurant kitchen hanging in the chill air.

Check out their route... the Vegetable Oil Road Trip blog has a great description of their sea kayak trip around Cape Flattery on the Olympic Peninsula... classic northwest route! And they're heading onward toward warmer climes....