Sunday, August 10, 2014

Bug's Big Adventure

This was the first weekend day in a long while that we didn't have any obligations, so we decided to take advantage of the perfect weather and have a family adventure. Many options were discussed including kayaking at various locations and biking on the Providence to Bristol trail. I wanted to kayak and, fortunately, the rest of the family agreed.
To my pleasant surprise, H mentioned kayaking out of Hingham Harbor and checking out Grape Island. We had talked about camping on Grape several times, but the camp sites were booked full since early in the season. The weather was perfect for the paddle and the tides were favorable, so it seemed like a great idea.
We planned on launching around 10 or 10:30. That put us on the water when there was plenty of water and give us more than enough time to explore before low tide turned the harbor into miles of sticky mud. Plans are funny things....
We got a very late start. We all slept in a little. We tried a new way to tie Big Red to the roof. We had to revert back to the original way of mounting Big Red. We forgot the sunscreen and had to make an extra stop on the way to the beach....
We managed to get on the water before noon. We still had plenty time to play. We brought along a bunch of sand toys for Bug to use on the beach at lunch. She also had her new paddle along for the ride. It is a "daddy" built greenland paddle. It is not terrible effective as a paddle, but it put a smile on Bug's face and made her feel like she was part of the team.
Bug's new paddle also makes it easier for me to paddle. She used to bring along half of a real kayak paddle and drag it in the water... That could create a lot of drag. The new paddle doesn't create nearly as much drag and it is double sided, so she can actually paddle with it.
The paddle over to Grape is about 2.5 miles and is mostly along the shore. It was a nice relaxing paddle. Bug pointed out all of the boats and birds and planes. H paddled along nearby in her kayak. There were a few bumpy spots, but nothing major. Bug wasn't sure what to make of the bigger waves, but seemed to enjoy them once she realized we were safe in the kayak.
Lunch on Grape was nice. There were a number of people waiting for the ferry to bring them home. We spoke to one of the park rangers who told us that the island, despite what the reservation site says, is rarely full. Apparently, you can all over the day you want to camp and they can usually accommodate you. It is cheaper to pay for the unused site than cancel a reservation....
After lunch we were going to play on the beach. Bug was all set to play near the kayaks, but H wanted to go on an adventure to see what was just around the corner from the kayaks. After some protestation from Bug, we made our way around the corner. H sat down on a nearby bench and figured Bug would stop and play in the sand.
Bug didn't get the memo and wanted to continue the adventure to see what was around the corner... We walked around the corner. There was plenty of interesting things to see as we walked around the corner. We saw crabs, all sorts of shells, interesting trees, more kayaks, and even some other people. After a while, Bug started getting tired and wanted to be carried as we continued the adventure around the corner. By that time, it was shorter to keep going than to turn back. After a nice walk around Grape we returned to our kayaks.
Our trek ate up all our time on the island. The tide was receding and we didn't have a lot of time to get back before the mud flats took over the boat landing. On the paddle back we went around the back of Slate Island before crossing over the closer to shore. Bug curled up in the front cockpit for a little nap. It was a pleasant paddle back.
We got back just before the mud flats raised their sucking maws. A few people who came in after us were not as lucky.
We finished the day off with some nice cold brew coffee and excellent burgers. What a great day!

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Rain, Rain, No Way

This weekend was our annual Boston Harbor Island paddle. I was jonesing for a big boy paddle. I love getting on the water with the family, but sometimes a boy needs to stretch his blades....
The weather forecast didn't look promising. On Friday it was a chance of thunderstorms. On Saturday it was a 50% chance of thunderstorms. Late Saturday it was a 60% chance of thunderstorms.
I checked on Saturday with PB to see what he wanted to do and he figured we would stay the course. The forecast looked a lot like the forecasters were essentially tossing their hands up because they couldn't tell what was going to happen. In addition, we could always stick to the inner harbor and be safe. It was the answer I wanted to hear. Without a second opinion, I may have whimped out and canceled the paddle.
Sunday morning was reasonably sunny, but a little windy. The wind was actually good. PB and I needed the reminder that paddling to the outer harbor was a bad idea. There is enough stuff to see on the inner harbor for an interesting day on the water.
The weather forecast was enough for a number of people to decide against paddling. The only ones rugged enough to join us were TM and CMO. Four boats is a very nice size pod for a day on the water.
We launched from windmill point and crossed the gut to the outside of Peddocks. We made our way along the outside of Peddocks under clear skies and almost no wind. The island shielded us from the blow. Peddocks is a deceptively big island. It is like two islands: the half with the fort and the half with the houses. There were people out on the beach enjoying the morning as we paddled along the shore.
When we rounded the end of Peddocks, we hit the blow. From the tip of Peddocks to Grape we paddled in wind. It was a strong beamy blow that churned up the water into a pleasant chop. It was my favorite section of the paddle. The Q is happiest in choppy water. The wind did cause some weathercocking, but that just added to the fun.
As we neared Grape ominous storm clouds filled the sky. We knew something was coming, but there was no thunder. We had lunch by the ferry dock on Grape Island with the camper waiting for the ferry. Just after breaking out the food, I got a text from H making sure we were off the water. Then the rain came down.
It rained, but didn't thunder for about 30 minutes. Once the sky dried up, we continued on our way back to the cars. The rain washed away a lot of the wind and chop. There was still a beam wind that pushed the back of the Q around, but it was far less than what we saw coming from Peddocks to Grape.
Our return trip took us around Slate and over to Bumpkin. We figured if the thunder did arrive we could hang out at the shelters on Bumpkin. There was no need to worry. We paddled under clear skies the whole way back to the put in.
I did try a couple of rolls before landing. I came up both times, but they were ugly. My blades dove both times. It is a clear sign that I need more practice....
The rain didn't really come until we were sitting having coffee and pastries. That was a perfect time for the storms. It meant less hosing down at home...

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Big Red

After two years, we upgraded Bug's kayak. The barge was an OK first kayak for introducing a two-year old to paddling, but it was far from a great kayak.
Now that Bug is a little older and more independent, she wants her own seat and we want to get a little more adventurous.
Looking around for an upgraded was frustrating. Most of the double kayaks we saw were firmly in the recreational category. We wanted a touring double. These turned out to be a rare and expensive breed. Seaward makes a few models. NDK makes one model. VCP makes one model. They are all expensive and hard to find. We weren't sure if we could afford the leap, but kept looking.
We visited our local REI to buy a tent on what turned out to be a garage sale day. Sitting on the lawn next to the front door was a big red double sea kayak!! It was a cast off from the previous years training fleet and marked down to $1000!!! A quick inspection showed no obvious damage. A quick online search for information about the make and model, a Wilderness System Northstar, gave us generally positive reviews. It was an offer we could not refuse.
The kayak is deceptively heavy. H insists that it feels lighter than the barge, but at 90lbs it is heavier. The weight is distributed over a longer area. The barge was a pudgy 15 feet long; Big Red is a sleek 19 feet long. Big Red's size and weight make transporting a challenge, but it seems more manageable than the barge was.
Big Red came with a rudder that needed to be reattached. This has been the biggest issue to date with the kayak. It is likely a stupid installer problem, but I cannot seem to find clips for attaching the wires to the rudder that are worth a damn. We have had the kayak on the water twice and both times the clips pulled apart within minutes. The latest set have held well enough so that I could use the rudder for most of the trip, but only just.
Aside from the issues with the rudder, I have found Big Red to be a pleasure to paddle. Bug has her own cockpit up in front that we could put a spray skirt on if we wanted. Both cockpits have comfortable seats with plenty of adjustments. The foot pegs in the rear cockpit are a little squishy, but that is typical with ruddered kayaks.
The hull is slightly swede form and that makes it relatively easy to manage with, or without, the rudder. Both times I have paddled Big Red, I have done so without the rudder for large parts of the trips. It isn't as easy to manage as the Q-boat, but it isn't impossible either. I found that a good sweep turn will suffice for most maneuvering. A stern rudder will keep Big Red straight in most conditions. I even used a "bow" rudder to effect a turn in ideal conditions.
The rudder works well and does make it easier to manage Big Red in cross winds.
Big Red feels stable in leaned turns, but I haven't been too aggressive yet. Bug doesn't have a skirt and we have not spent a lot of time practicing what to do in the case of a capsize. We have been in some minor chop and it felt stable throughout. Bug loved the way the nose felt as it dropped off the waves.
Big Red has three bulkheads, but only two truly dry compartments. The front and rear hatches are walled off from the cockpits by foam bulkheads. The third bulkhead is between the front and rear cockpit. There is a third hatch that opens into a space between the middle bulkhead and the rear cockpit. The space is not fully sealed off, but it does have a nice storage bag in side for holding gear. The hatches have hard plastic covers with neoprene covers underneath. The combination keeps the hatches dry, but the neoprene covers are a PITA.
For a $1000, Big Red is a great kayak. Even at full price it is a good kayak. I'm looking forward to many more years of family adventures in Big Red.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Big Red Rides the Slocom River

There are very few group paddles that we feel are OK to take along Bug. The Slocom River paddle felt like it would be an OK trip, so we e-mailed the coordinator to double check. She said it would be fine, so we packed up Bug's new kayak, a big red Wilderness System's Northstar double, and H's kayak for a fun adventure.
The night before we did a camp out night at the Y, so we our schedule to get to the put in was tight. We had to take down the tent, feed the cat, and ourselves before getting on the road. We actually figured we would be late and aimed to be just late enough that the group would leave without us and we could catch-up. My thinking was that it wouldn't hold anyone up. If we showed up before they left, say five minutes late, everyone would wait around for 10 minutes while we got our act together.
It turned out our plan didn't matter. Carleen and Cat, very nicely, decided to wait for us. As a result, the whole paddle kicked off 30 minutes late. The paddle was split into two groups, level 2 and level 3, by design. As it turned out, we were the only level 2 paddlers. Carleen graciously gave us a guided tour of the river.
It was a great day on the water. The weather was perfect: warm, sunny, and dry. There was a slight breeze, but nothing troublesome. Bug had fun on the way down the river. She looked for ducks and sang us a few songs. She also dragged her paddle in the water which made steering interesting. Fortunately, Big Red handles fairly well for a double and it was easy to keep on track without deploying the rudder.
At lunch we chatted and Bug made mud pies on the beach. We spotted little fish, crabs, and snails.
The wind was a little troublesome on the way back. It was just enough of an angle that Big Red weather cocked. I deployed the rudder and once I adjusted to using a rudder, the weather cocking stopped being a problem. I focused my paddling energy on forward motion and my feet on directional stability.
About half-way up the river, Bug put her paddle down, snuggled into her seat, and fell asleep. It didn't look like the most comfortable nap spot, but I'm sure her four year old body can be comfortable in places my forty year old body cannot.
There were a couple of places on the way back that the river gets pretty shallow. Carleen did a good job of keeping in the channel. I don't want to have to discover how hard it would be to drag Big Red out of a mud bank....
We all had a great day on the water. Carleen was very generous to take such good care of our little pod. The trip was a great length for all of us. Bug didn't get bored; H and I both went far enough to feel like it was a good paddle without going far enough to feel pooped. It is days like this that make me happy.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The Best Ride Ever

Last fall Bug decided that going on a bike ride meant "me on me bike, daddy on daddy bike." The trailer was no longer a first class citizen. Family bike rides became a little more difficult. Bug insisted on using her coaster bike. We still brought the trailer along in case she got tired, but getting her in it was a struggle.
I started looking at trailer bikes for those longer family rides. After a bunch of research, I decided that the Burley trailer bikes were the best. They were a little more expensive, but the hook up seemed a lot more secure. I liked the way it hooked up the bike like a fifth wheel. The seat hitches seemed flimsy in comparison.
All of this was purely theoretical. When I tried to buy one, the sales guys (they were all guys) told me that Bug wasn't tall enough. Trailer bikes are 20" bikes. There are not alot of good solutions for kids between four and five. They out grow the trailer, but don't quite grow into a trailer bike. They also don't have the stamina to do long rides on their own.
A few weekends back we met a family that had one of the Burley trailer bikes and loved it. Their boy was the same height as Bug, so we figured she had to be tall enough for it. Still it was a big money commitment, so we didn't rush out to buy it. It could wait until later in the summer when the opportunities for long bike rides was greater. Waiting also gave Bug more time to get used to riding her two wheel peddle bike. She has the balance part down and the peddle part down, but she hasn't quite put it all together yet.
The following week, I was sitting around and H said I should go to the bike store.... I bought the Piccolo which has gears. I know that at this stage the gears are superfluous, but over time they may prove to be useful. Bug and I were thrilled.
The bike shop put the required rack on my bike and showed me how to hook it to the rack. The attachment is like a 5th wheel on a pick-up truck. It vertically mounts to a heavy-duty rack and has a single pivot joint. The attachment has a level of redundancy. First is a quick release latch that provides a basic connection between the trailer and the rack. To fully attach the trailer, you screw the trailer into the rack. It is a sturdy connection.
I got it home and adjusted it to fit Bug. There are two adjustment points: the seat goes up and down and the handle bars slide up and down the tube. The seat adjustment has a quick release and the handle bars are hex bolts. It was pretty easy to do. It took a few minutes to get it adjusted and for us to get on the road.
Before heading out we had the safety talk. Bug must keep her hands on the handle bars, her bum on the seat, and her feet on the peddles. If she wants to stop, she needs to tell me and wait until I tell her it is OK to put her feet down. We are a team. Daddy is the pilot; Bug is the co-pilot.
We started out slow by doing a few short rides up and down our street. Then we branched out to a trip around the block. Bug did a great job and was utterly thrilled. She squealed with glee almost the entire time.
For a true test, the family went down to the Minuteman Trail for a Sunday afternoon ice cream run. From the parking lot we use to Lexington Center is about three miles. It was a good distance for a road test. Pulling the trailer bike is different than pulling the Chariot trailer. The trailer bike is more active. I can feel when Bug moves around and when she peddles. If she leans, it can be a little destabilizing. When she peddles it is a nice boost. The boost is particularly nice on hills.
Since getting the trailer, Bug and I have expanded our horizons. We have taken two trips from our house to the library. It is about five miles each way and involves some back roads. Taking the trailer bike on the road is a little nerve wracking because you never know what the cars are going to do, but I feel more comfortable with the trailer bike than I would have with the Chariot trailer. Bug is positioned where a car would expect a bike rider and she can see around better. Still I would not take it on a anything other than a quiet back road.
Bug loves the rides. She sings and laughs most of the way there and back. I love the rides too. I get a little bit of exercise and get to spend time with my daughter. I also get a chance to teach her some road safety first hand without worrying about her doing something too impulsive.
It is an expensive toy. The Burley version is about $100 more expensive than other models. I think it is worth it. The interface is substantially more solid. The addition of the gears also helps adjust the amount of assistance the child provides and gives them a chance to learn about shifting. Longer term, the Burley also has a conversion kit that turns the trailer into a regular bike.
Regardless of the money, it has been worth it for the sheer joy it has brought Bug. It gives us a fun, healthy way to spend time together outdoors. You cannot put a price on hearing your child happily singing "I love biking with Daddy. Playing with Daddy is great."