Tuesday, October 20, 2015

At the Island

We wanted to leave before the storm.

The preamble was familiar.

The low sky while the storm gathers strength.

The splay of clouds where the front twists back in on itself,

the odd calm as the sky and sea attain the same hue.

This would be an inhospitable place to wait it out.

The widespread cobble.

The island a thicket of rosa rugosa, staghorn sumac and poison ivy.

We launched and made our

to the larger island to the east where

We pitched the tents in the hollow at the foot of the dunes and waited for it come ashore.

A sea kayak blog for readers everywhere...

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

On the island on the edge of the sound

The island presented everything short of failure. The casino had burned down. The hotel had been razed. The water table in the freshwater cistern lay below sea level so the drinking water well was fouled with salt water. The walls and floor of the saltwater swimming pool had collapsed; all that was left were twisted iron pipes, a few spigots, some broken-down granite stairs descending to the shore. The woods were cut by walking trails which wound through the abandoned fruit-tree groves and past the terrace between the foundation of the big dining room and the staff quarters, the formal gardens and the broken steps up the hill into the nightclub and the casino.

The field where the golf course stood had reverted to the empty sloped contours and hollows of the grassy drumlin. The grass and shrubs hadn't been mowed since last summer. The granite columns that supported the ballroom and dance floor, a big-windowed palace on the side of the hill with views of the  the bay and the jagged profile of the sound's offshore islands, were chipped and broken. The nearby twin island lay a few scant yards from the gravel bar where the barge had burned and foundered and bspilled its cargo.

This bedrock island gives way to soft sandy sea bottom one side, deep narrow channels marked by day beacons and green cans and red nuns, on the other. Some of the markers designate a boating channel. Others, the transit for the barges delivering coal to the power plant by the water treatment plant where the condemned houses and public park and seasonal penny arcade and carnival lay fallow.

We landed on the island. The caretaker cottage was boarded up. With the wind blowing hard, we'd have the island to ourselves for as long as we wanted. We'd launched from the corporate beach for the most direct route to the island, and because we were on the water so late in autumn fall, we could leave the car in the parking lot for as long as we needed to. This is the state's gold coast. The yacht clubs in the adjacent coastal towns are expensive, elegant, exclusive. Staff wear vaguely military uniforms. Rules committees meet often to discuss infractions of clubhouse and yacht-racing rules. The downtowns of the nearby ports have evolved into blocks of expensive preserved antique charm. The nearest summer cottage island patrols its dock and shores to repel intruders who don't have permission to land.

To the east, beyond the shipping channel and the liquified natural gas offload platform, the big submerged ledge where the freighter and the pilot boat sank and settled, in the big winter storm, and far beyond the inshore fishing grounds, and the submerged bank of the terminal moraine of the remnants of the ice shelf...

...beyond all this lay the vast shallows of the offshore fishing grounds, that wispy curve of the last twist of the Gulf Stream where it collided with the Labrador Current. And finally the continental shelf and the depths of the open ocean.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

At the Point: the Bay


The glacial erratics tumbled from the bluff and headlands east of the village.

They and the scarp and point are all that remain of the moraine that once reached the continental shelf.

We walked the ramparts to the lighthouse. The coast guard moved the light from the crumbling embankment a decade ago, razed the gunnery tower, then turned over the property to the local conservation trust.

The fishing village and the salt hay farm are gone.

The narrow dirt road to the point is busy, during summer, with the comings and goings of cottage owners. They litter the brush with discarded beer bottles until autumn, when they close up their houses.

Robins overwinter here. They feed on staghorn sumac and take shelter in the plum bushes during the heavier storms.

The martens had already bored holes into the face of the cliff. The air was cold and damp. The forecast called for snow. It would melt quickly. This barrier beach is warmed by the ocean, and lies far from the mainland and its colder forests.

Inland of here lie coastal bogs and scrub pines hollows. The falling snow will accumulate the already thick snowpack, and won't melt until April.

We pried open the hatches of the kayaks and unloaded the tent and and dry bags and stoves. After we set up camp in the dunes, we used the handheld compass the to mark ranges between High Pines Ledge and Standish Point, between the Gurnet and the Pilgrim monument, between the Bug Light and the Saquish mooring field, where the rip was forming. So began the first of our five nights on this narrow remote point.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

A place where nothing happens

 A New England spit barrier beach in late winter. Nothing ever happens here. That's why I go here once a week to hike, fish, or paddle. Bluefish, striped bass, flounder, snowy owls, migratory shore birds.
A blog for sea kayakers everywhere...

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Greenland Paddle Building:/6:Final Smoothing and Shaping

Greenland paddle making
Here Dee removes from the still-rough paddle the bridge forms which guided the router along the paddle's various contours: flat and thin at the paddle's tip; higher, thicker, and more rounded towards the shoulder of the blade and the shaft.

It's at this step, removing the bridges, that the utility of doweled bridge forms becomes obvious. Not only do dowels and moorings make the bridge forms easy to remove by hand or with a hammer, they also allow the builder to use the same jig and forms for as many paddles as he or she has time, interest, or energy to build.

Moreover, by carefully controlling the depth of the router bit, a shaper can roughcut a paddle to the extent one chooses: chunkier and less refined for custom shaping later with hand tools, or as close to spec as you like if you are certain the jig holds your perfect paddle's shape.

Greenland paddle making
Factory-made paddles are designed and cut according to broad generalities around length, torque, angle. But build your own paddle and you can customize it to your particular needs around shaft thickness, blade thickness, etc.

Once Dee has removed the bridge forms that guide the router through its cuts, it's time to work and shape the paddle by hand with a variety of handtools: rasps, files, block planes, a SurForm tool. To speed matters up, Dee will use a random orbital sander and 80 grit discs to remove excess wood. Doing so will smooth the blank for better laminar flow but also smooth the paddle shaft so that it won't cause blisters.

making a Greenland paddle

the tip sanded smooth as a baby's bottom using sandpaper grits progressing from 80 grit to 200 grit. Note the wood's open grain. Tung oil will seal the grain and close it.
Brian Nystrom photo.

In the bottom photo, see Dee making her initial passes with a SureForm tool to bring down the ridges and high spots left behind by the rapid cutting with the router. The router chops in the paddle's fundamental shape: rounder and flatter near the blade, more peaked, etc., towards the shoulder.

Note the wood chips on either side of the jig. Note, too, that the blank is firmly clamped to the jig and to the table, so Dee gets plenty of purchase to pull her hand tools against.

At this point Dee is working by eye, checking to be sure that her SurForm cutting is even and symmetrical. She needs to be sure that the SureForm's cutting screen is sharp, and its gutter clear, so she won't tear the wood. After about an hour's sanding through progressively smoother grits from 80 to as high as 220 or higher, the paddle will be ready for first use.

making a Greenland paddle

Above: the freshly-sanded tip brought down to 220 grit smoothness with sandpaper and coated with its first layer of tung oil. Cedar is porous and really soaks up the tung oil. Apply subsequent coasts on successive days.
Brian Nystrom photo.

Once Dee has tested the paddle in the local lake, she'll bring it back to the workshop to rinse and dry. She'll then coat it with numerous layers of tung oil wiped on with a rag. Perhaps she'll mask off the bottom six inches of the blades to prevent tung oil from entering the grain there. This allows her the option of epoxying the paddle tips for added strength, or of dabbing on fiberglass cloth after adding, if she wants, colored tint to the epoxy.

Above: Silbs, in a skin-on-frame, slips from the bullrushes, propelled by a laminated Greenland paddle from Mitchell. Hardcore Greenland style aficionados can be a prickly bunch. While they often insist on such historical authenticity as throwing sticks, etc., they also tend to eschew such modern-day safety basics as decklines.
(Greg Fojtik photo.)

Dee is a source-hunter if ever there was one; likely she'll add to the epoxy at the blade tips either a light reflective compound for night paddling or day-glo paint for better daytime visibility. While color additives may put a Greenland purist's knickers in a twist (many of the type eschew such accepted standards as decklines and watertight bulkheads), warning colors on a paddle's tips are nice to have on those hot summer afternoons when Dee leads a pod from her local paddling club through a busy harbor.
copyright 2008/North American Kayak Fishing

Greenland Paddle Building/5: The SurForm Tool

Above: the business end of a Porter-Cable random orbital sander. Random orbital sanders are excellent tools. Their discs are easy to switch from one grit to another. But be sure to buy your sanding discs, in grits from 80 to 220, on mail order from places like Ohio Supergrit, because opping in to pick up discs from your local hardware store is a good way to go broke.
Greenland paddle makingHere's a couple of overviews of the next-to-the last steps before refining the blades and shaft with a random orbital power sander, draw knife, block plane or rasp. Doubleclick the images to enlarge them.

In the top photo, Dee works with a surform tool to bring down the high spots left over after routing. In a small pile on the left side of the photo you can see the dowel bridges which she has removed to clear the blank for further shaping. You can also clearly see in the jig plate itself the series of round moorings Dee drilled into the jig to hold the bridges.

Look carefully at the removed bridges in the left of the top photo. (Doubleclick to enlarge.) You'll note that the dowels are long and thick, for strength. Routers are heavy. Dee didn't want her bridge channels to snap under the router's weight.

The photo below shows the paddle blank at an earlier stage of the initial router rough cuts. You'll note that, at this stage, the blank is still rather thick -- the blank has only been shaped on one side. The blank needs to be turned over and the bridge channels put back in their moorings. Dee will then shape the other side.

Greenland paddle makingSimplicity and symmetry are the truest utility, in the end, of Greenland paddles. The paddle is symmetrical on all four faces. The symmetry not only facilitates fast paddle making, it also makes the paddle simpler to use. There's no power face to look for when rolling, sculling, bracing, bow or stern ruddering.

Of course, the paddle feels strange first time you use it. It's as if there is nothing in the water to provide speed, propulsion, or stability. Yet, over time, most Greenland paddlers are just as fast as other paddlers. Typically they also suffer fewer stress injuries to their wrists, elbows, and shoulders. And often they find rolling with a Greenland paddle to be effortless.

Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6
The jig

copyright 2008/North American Kayak Fishing