Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Blog about Fog.

Canoeing recently toward Seattle's Salmon Bay in misty conditions, I began to experience an unsettling feeling of déjà vu. Not being able to define what was causing it, I was left with a sense of unease. Had I turned off the car lights before I left? Then quite suddenly it sprang to mind. I was transported to Deception Pass, then moments later to Sun-moon Lake in Taiwan. These places, while far apart, were being pulled together in my mind by the mist in the air.

Mist obscure locks Seattle Salmon Bay
Salmon Bay Seattle in fog

 Our visit to Deception Pass had been to capture images for a magazine article. At Sun-moon Lake I was teaching a class on kayaking technique. Here in Ballard we had come out for fresh air and to see what interesting ships might have docked since our last visit. But despite the very different circumstances I felt  a very visceral connection between the three times and places.
Winter mist near Ballard Bridge Seattle
Ballard Bridge and Fisherman's Terminal

 Yet the mist in the air was quite different in each case. Why should I sense such a strong connection? Maybe with the veiling of the view, I had become more aware of scent, differences in temperature, and the dampness of these three occasions. Our sense of smell is very evocative, so that alone can tie memories together. But these experiences were so different from one another.

Colorful lake ferry boat in Taiwan
Colorful ferry boat frames a canoe

 Sun-moon Lake: It was rainy season in the mountains of central Taiwan. We were surrounded by muddy slopes of woodland, dense giant bamboo and prolific ferns. The rich, mournful toll of bells carried across the water from a nearby hilltop temple that remained hidden by mist the entire time I was there. It was wet but not steamy. There was the distinctive smell of lake water and a sense that the color green was all around. That is apart from the colorful kayaks and the paddlers' clothing, emerging from the fog as if materializing from a fizzing clump of random pixels, and the colorful ancient ferry boat by the dock. (More on Taiwan)

Kayaks emerge from the mist
Kayaks emerge from fog, Sun-Moon Lake

Deception Pass by contrast smelled of the salty Pacific Ocean and the water was chill. The snaking yellow-brown cords of bullhead kelp added a dank smell to the sweet resinous scent of the evergreen trees: trees I sensed as shadows against the sky. When the mist dissolved we could see rock, sections of churning water, parts of forest, but seldom all at once.

Bullhead Kelp and twisty currents in canoe pass WA
Current and kelp at Canoe Pass

The fog teased our eyes with a glimpse of this, a snapshot of that.

Heron flies above the water near Deception Pass WA
Low-flying heron

Of course it was great weather for photographing kayaks on the water close up. (for the German "Kanu" magazine) The light was bright, hinting of a sunny day with a cloudless sky, but was diffused by the fog layer which eliminated the challenge of harsh contrast so often found here between dark shadow beneath the cliff and sun reflecting from the water. 

Nigel Foster surfs against the tide, Canoe Pass
Canoe Pass WA

Eventually the fog began to dissipate, revealing more and more of the background, and the sun shone thinly by the time we landed for lunch.

We land for lunch near Deception Pass while the fog dissipates
The sun almost shines!
Now cruising silently along Fremont Canal, I felt more than enough winter chill in the air to make me wish I'd worn socks on my feet in the open canoe, yet there was barely a breath of moving air. Massive steel hulls towered above deep reflections. Across the water a woodland of stubbly masts stood in the mist above the smaller fishing boats clustered around Fisherman's Terminal. The ring of hammer against steel echoed across the water and light flared from a welder's torch. I felt the dampness of mist in my beard.
Stubbly masts in the mist
Fisherman's Terminal Seattle

You can find modular kayaks and accessories at Nigel's new store
nigel foster kayak store

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Cut your kayak in half, and modular alternatives

Scotland 1934

In the 1930's John Marshall, a boat-builder in Scotland, designed a kayak along the lines of McGregor's "Rob Roy". This "Lochaber Canoe" measured 13 feet 6 inches long with a 32 inch beam. Marshall built it in three sections.

John Marshall (right) with a Lochaber Canoe. (Photo from his 1937 book Canoes and Canoeing.)

The cockpit section was a canvas-covered wood frame about six feet long, with room for seating and cargo storage. By unlacing the deck, camping gear and supplies could be loaded either end against the bulkheads, leaving room for the kayaker. This gear doubled as a foot brace at the front, and as a back support behind the seat.
Plans for Lochaber Canoe, from book Quest By Canoe.
Each pointed end section was a sealed flotation chamber with a canvas hull and varnished wood deck. All three kayak sections were held together by a wire that ran from the front bulkhead, over the bow, and following a groove the length of the hull, over the stern and back to the rear bulkhead behind the cockpit. The whole arrangement with bulkheads and sealed flotation chambers was quite different from the folding kayaks in use at the time. More manageable on land than a Rob Roy, the Lochaber kayak could be taken into pieces and reassembled quite quickly for easy transport.

"Quest By Canoe" by Alistair Dunnett, 1950.
Two Lochaber Kayaks were used by Alistair Dunnett and Seumas Adam in 1934 to explore the western islands of Scotland by sea, a story later recounted by Alistair Dunnett in his book "Quest by Canoe: Glasgow to Skye", published in 1950. There are not many of Marshall's Lochaber canoes of these dimensions left. Possibly only one. I believe there is one at the Scottish Maritime Museum at Irvine, Scotland.

Newfoundland 1979

Planning a sea kayak trip in Newfoundland in 1979, Tim Franklin and I were perplexed as to how to ship our kayaks there from U.K. We tried to gain permission to have them flown by the military on a Hercules transport plane to Gander. The military made regular flights there with mostly empty planes. We were unsuccessful. In the end Air Canada came to our rescue. Their passenger flights to Gander from London Heathrow used TriStar jets. Baggage loading was containerized, but they offered us the option to fly our kayaks as accompanied baggage on our regular flight. To make this possible they they would provide a special container, longer than the ones they normally used. This would be the maximum length they could fit through the loading doors on the TriStar passenger jet: that is ten feet.

Nigel Foster and Tim Franklin with 2 Vynecks cut in half, 1978

Our kayaks (of my own design, the Vyneck) were almost 18 feet long. There was only one way to make them fit, and our friend Graham Goldsmith at Gaybo, whose workshop built mostly fiberglass competition kayaks, and who later owned Perception UK, came up with a workable solution. He marked a line across the deck in front of the cockpit, back along the gunnels and across the hull in front of the seat. He drilled and bolted metal plates at intervals, crossing the line, then removed the plates and cut the kayaks in half.

Vynecks on the mini van, ready to drive to the airport, 1978

The sections were much easier to handle than full-length kayaks. We wheeled them from car to Air Canada check-in at London airport, where they fit easily into the container with all our luggage, including the fiberglass repair kit we would use to join the kayaks once we had aligned them straight using the metal plates. The day after arriving at Gender we reassembled the Vynecks in an aircraft hanger at the airport before someone gave us a ride with them to Gander Lake. From there we set off toward the Gander River, and eventually the ocean, where we began our sea kayaking adventure.

Tim (left) shows Newfies our kayaks, cut sections now joined again.

We left the metal plates in position for extra strength, and the joins functioned perfectly. However, it seemed impractical and expensive to cut the kayaks in half a second time for a return journey so we left them in Newfoundland. By chance mine was discovered in a barn a few years ago and fully restored. It now lives again in Newfoundland.

A different bolting solution

Cutting a kayak in half the way we did it is not the only way. A more typical method is to cut the kayak at the front and rear bulkheads, adding extra bulkheads to each open end. The sections then bolt together bulkhead to bulkhead. It takes some time and care to bolt together and make watertight, or to take apart again, and you have to reach deep into the cockpit to reach, but it is a solution used nowadays by several fiberglass kayak manufacturers.

A tandem kayak is eaier to carry in two sections.
A tandem kayak in two sections. You can see the bolts and holes on each bulkhead. (from book Nigel Foster's Sea Kayaking, first edition 1991.)

21st Century Technology

Now in the 21st century Swedish kayak manufacturer Point65 has produced a line of specially designed modular rotomolded plastic kayaks. With this molding process each section is built as a single watertight piece. There is no need to add bulkheads. Individual modules snap together with interlocking shapes providing structural integrity, while two easy bindings ratchet tight to lock them. Now you can assemble a solo kayak at the waters edge in seconds, convert it to a tandem with the addition of another section, add more for cargo or additional paddlers and yet carry in manageable pieces and transport the sections inside a car.
Bow and stern sections of a Point65 Martini, with a mid section in the car.

 In the same way that Alistair and Seumas assembled their kayaks and set off on their paddling adventure in Scotland in 1934, 79 years later in summer 2013, Paul Everitt (going-solo.co.uk) launched solo at the Swedish border with Norway and headed toward the Baltic Sea. He was later joined by his girlfriend Kelly Durst and they paddled tandem for the rest of the season.
Paul Everitt (right) with his Point65 Mercury tandem in Sweden

Modular is not for everyone, but the easy portability and storage, and the quick snap-together/snap-apart system, offers great possibilities for many who would otherwise not be able to kayak. It offers flexibility to go solo, tandem or more, with just one kayak, simply clipping together extra sections when needed.

Rolling a modular Point65 Mercury with 4 seats.
nigel foster kayak store
(you can find modular kayaks there)

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Green Island, Blue Current.

Formosa (Taiwan), Lu Tao (Green Island) and the Kuroshio (blue current)


Looking east from the road as we approached the town of Taitung on the southeast coast of Taiwan, the Philippine Sea appeared as concentric bands of color. Beyond the broad white ribbon of surf and foam the water appeared muddy grey, but a short distance farther offshore was another clear dividing line. Beyond that was dark blue. That, Jahfong explained, was the Kuroshio, or "Black Current", which runs north along the coast of Taiwan. In English, he added, it is called the Blue Current. 

Fishing boats at Taitung
We were bound for Ludao: "Green Island", which lies about 20 miles offshore. 

Green Island from Google Earth.

Although the ferries to more distant Orchid Island were already cancelled due to big seas, for now the Green Island ferries were still running. Jahfong took extra care cushioning and strapping down our three kayaks to the foredeck. In this weather nobody would be allowed on deck once we left harbor.

Getting ready for the ferry

Having bounced across the current to Green Island with no damage to the kayaks, Jahfong's next challenge was to strap them securely enough to a flat-bed truck for the journey to a small primary school by a tiny harbor where we would launch on our island circuit. 

Island transport
A timely launch next day was thwarted by our previous evening's visit to the grill. Or to be precise, by the green bottles of Taiwanese beer. Too many green bottles. "Don't mention the beer!" So we were late leaving.

The Philippine Sea

The island is volcanic in origin, and the day was overcast. The black cliffs and jagged offshore rocks looked foreboding as we pushed our way through turbulent channels between sea stacks along the coast into the failing light of evening. The evening may have been somber but the water still glowed an incredibly deep dark blue! 

Volcanic rock worn into an archway

Jahfong knew of a small gap in the raised grey coral reef that rings the island; a gap we threaded to reach a calm pool with a shore of white coral sand.

Jahfong choosing a safe route

Here, he explained, was the place the earliest settlers on the island made their home. In a valley cradled by steep cliffs and heavily vegetated slopes, and with spiky sea stacks offering a little protection from the full force of the ocean, it was a natural choice.  

Youzihhu, site of early settlement


Remains of buildings in the valley still have tiles on the roofs, pinned down by boulders against the force of typhoons, which occur about four times per year here.

On our way again the following day I was to experience the corners of the island. There  is very little tidal range or any tidal flow here. However, the Kuroshio current is steady enough to produce the effect of a tide race around each of the main three points of the island that jut out into the Blue Current. 

Taiwan Current Data

With the current running constantly in the same direction, it would only take a little inattention at the north end of Green Island, and we could be on our way to Japan!


Back at the little harbor by the school, I learned that Yali had just now become the first woman to paddle all the way around the island!  Congratulations!

Jahfong and Yali. Blue water shielded from glare.

Before returning to the Taiwan mainland I gave a slide presentation to the school... "Encounters", with some basic translation. The older children had prepared questions for me in English, which they read out to me, and I did my best to answer.  

After the talk at the school

Jahfong and Yali, visiting over the years, have offered the schoolchildren the opportunity to learn to kayak. The children in their final year then have the chance to kayak around the island with them in three stages, in tandem kayaks, missing out the sections with the strong current. It is very fitting that growing up on an island, they should have the chance to know it from the water as well as from the land. It has become something of a rite of passage and point of pride, an achievement valued by children and parents alike. And of course it is a very special kind of headmaster who has the confidence to support such an ambitious annual adventure.  

Reflecting back on the ferry. Yali and Jahfong waving

I felt sad to leave Green Island. There was so much more still to see. The ferry rushed out into the blue current, spraying white foam to either side and sending flights of flying fish skipping and gliding away across the water. Thanks Jahfong and Yali for planning such a fun adventure!

(Taiwan Kayak School)