Thursday, December 28, 2006

Battle of the Boats

I've been batting around a comparison of the trusty Endeavor and the quirky Q-Boat for a few weeks. While the Q was in the garage being fitted with a keel strip, I had the opportunity to take the Endeavor for a ride and compare how it handled with the Q. I figured that there would be subtle differences in how the two kayaks felt, but I discovered that the differences were marked.
Given the dramatic differences in hull shape, I should not have been surprised. The Endeavor is a West Coast take on British kayak design. When it was built it was the only skeg kayak in Seaward's line-up of West Coast rudder kayaks. I'm not one who is religious about the skeg/rudder debate or the West Coast/British design debate, so I'm not saying that the design of the kayak is inferior. In fact, I think the Endeavor has a great hull design. It is a soft chined shallow v shaped hull that is 23" at its widest. It has a moderate fish form and the oddly small cockpit is placed close to the center of the kayaks 17.5' length. Like most modern sea kayaks, the Endeavor has three hatches. The fore and aft hatches are covered by neoprene that is supplemented by solid fiberglass covers. The day hatch is covered by a standard round rubber hatch. The deck is pretty high and, despite the tiny cockpit, the kayak has a ton of volume. You can easily pack enough gear for for an extended trip.
The Q-Boat is a modern take on the traditional kayaks. It is hard chined with an extremely low back deck. The front deck is of average height for a modern sea kayak. It has a pronounced fish form and most of its 18' length is behind the cockpit. Despite having most of the length in the rear of the kayak, the Q-Boat carries most of its volume in the front. The back of the hull tappers quickly and the the back deck is very low. In contrast, the front of the kayak looks gigantic. The hull is marked by a very square bow (Valley calls it a clipper bow) that has no rocker until just aft of the cockpit. Aft of the cockpit, the rocker becomes very pronounced.
When I got in the Endeavor after having paddled the Q-Boat for a few months the first thing I noticed was the volume. I felt like a cork bobbing around. In the Q-Boat you are very close to the water. The extra volume also makes it more difficult to edge the kayak. The added volume resists tipping which is reassuring in rough water. It also makes it harder to roll the kayak, but more on that later.
The Endeavor, despite being 6" shorter, tracks better than the Q-Boat. However, the Endeavor is also more difficult to correct, without using the skeg, when it does start to weather cock. The Endeavor also feels slightly faster than the Q-Boat. This could be due to the increased rocker in the Q-Boat.
The increased rocker of the Q-Boat pays off in its incredible maneuverability. The Q-Boat handles more like a 16" kayak than an 18" one. She responds to leans and subtle corrections easily and predictably. The Endeavor, while not being too stiff, takes more work to maneuver. She is nimble for a midsized kayak, but is not ideal when you want to dance around in the rocks.
The volume of the Endeavor makes it a rock solid performer in rough water. The volume provides enough resistance to tipping to provide a nice buffer. the soft chines also provide plenty of feedback when the kayak starts to list. A little corrective leaning goes along way. The straight ahead performance of the Endeavor is also reassuring in rough water. The hull slices through big waves easily.
The Q-Boat is also a great rough water boat, but for entirely different reasons. Because it is so nimble, the Q-Boat is easy to keep upright. The trick is that you have to keep it upright. The hull does not help much. The hard chines provide almost no feedback on the listing of the kayak. The limited volume offers little resistance to being knocked over. However, once you learn the feel of the hull and how the chines work in the water, it is easy to keep the kayak sitting upright in big water. The clipper bow slices big waves easily when moving forward.
The other factor that makes the Q-Boat a good rough water kayak is its ability to be braced and roll. The Q-Boat, because of the hard chines, is easy to brace. The hard chines act like little kayak bottoms when they are in the water and provide a ton of stability. The low volume and low back deck make rolling easy also.
The Endeavor has a lot of secondary stability, so it does not require you to brace as much as the Q-Boat. However, that added stability makes it harder to lean the kayak for turns. The volume and high rear deck of the Endeavor make it harder to roll than that Q-Boat, but that does not mean it is hard to roll.
The Endeavor can carry a lot more gear than the Q-Boat. The Endeavor's bulkheads swallow gear and keep their contents very dry. The Q-Boat's front bulk head is good sized and can carry a decent load. The Q-Boat's rear bulkhead is about as useful as the trunk in a Spitfire. It is narrow and shallow. The skeg housing takes up 50% of the space. I don't mind the lack of space because the back hatch is not a very dry place.
Ultimately, both the Endeavor and Q-Boat are very good kayaks. They are both built like tanks and are obviously well-designed. However, they are geared for different types of kayakers.
While it can be playful, the Endeavor is a long-haul kayak. It is geared for going out and eating up miles in whatever conditions the sea can throw at you. It also make a great platform for kayak camping.
The Q-Boat is a play boat. It is geared for playing in rocks, practicing Greenland kayaking skills, dancing around in races, and that sort of thing. At 18", it can keep up and go long distances with ease. It can also be used for short camping trips. But that is not where it shines.

Thursday, December 21, 2006


One of the great things about blogs is that you, the reader, get to provide feedback in the form of comments. If I write somethong you like, tell me. If I write something you hate, tell me. If something in a post sparks a thought, comment on it. If you just want to see your name in print, write a comment.
Seriously, the comments add to the knowledge, if that is what you want to call it, that is built up in a blog. For example, I'm sure others had insight into the rescue review in the last post and I'd love to hear it and I'm sure other's would too.
Go ahead... Post a comment. You know you want too;)

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Rescue Review

It is important to digest and dissect rescues. They offer great learning experiences.
The trip last Sunday offered a number of lessons.
Lesson 1: Eric Tries to Rescue Bob and Ends up Getting Rescued
I am not certain my decision to go in after Bob was the soundest decision I could have made. I say that after having been smashed, but even before that it was a questionable decision. I wasn't feeling at my best after being off the water for a few weeks, out of the Q-boat for a solid month, and not having paddled in anything more serious challenging than a salt pond for nearly six weeks. In the moment, with the adrenaline running, I felt I could do the rescue. The wave that squished me was pretty extreme.
Paul's rescue was flawless. He talked to me enough to determine I was OK, but not too long to delay the rescue. He quickly assessed the situation, made the plan clear to me, and executed the rescue. His call to toss me a line and tow me to safety was excellent. The conditions where the rescue started were big, steep swells that made maneuvering tricky. Paul's kayak could easily have whacked me if he had attempted to secure my kayak. Once he had towed me out of the rocks and swell, it was much easier to put me back in my kayak. Fortunately, I was properly dressed for being in the water and the few extra minutes were not critical. Even if I had not been properly dressed for immersion, Paul's choice to tow me out was probably still the right one. Trying to do the rescue in the swells could have taken longer or resulted in Paul's going into the drink also.
Lesson 2: Bob Plays in the Rocks and Takes a Swim
One could say that Bob should have had the sense to stay out of the rocks given the conditions. However, that was Bob's call to make. If he honestly believed he was a match for the conditions, he cannot be faulted for looking for some fun.
What happened once Bob got squished is ripe for analysis. We did some after the paddle and I have been thinking about it since. After I was dumped, Matt moved into help Bob. I'm not sure what happened while I was being rescued, but I know that Bob, his kayak, and Matt were still being bounced around in the rocks after I was safely back in my kayak. From what I heard, Bob had found his way out of the water and onto the relative safety of some rocks and was trying to drag his kayak up with him. Meanwhile, Matt was sitting just off the rocks to help. After a few minutes, Bob managed to get his kayak on the rocks with him and drag it to a section of water that was protected enough to allow or a launch.
While everything turned out OK, the whole thing took too long and left at least one kayak in needless danger. Based on what I heard, I think the root cause of the trouble was a lack of communication compounded by a lack of clear command and control. When rescuing me, Paul took charge of the situation. It sounded like neither Matt nor Bob took charge of Bob's rescue. This makes a confusing situation worse.
It looked like Matt was following standard rescue protocol. If there is a swimmer near the rocks and the swimmer is separated from his kayak, the first rescuer secures the swimmer and tows them to safety. A second rescuer gets the kayak. Once both swimmer and kayak are out of danger they are reunited.
Bob's goals and perspective were very different. He reported that felt pretty safe on the rocks. He was out of the water and felt that it would be easier to get himself and his kayak to the protected water on the far side of his little outcrop. He reported that he saw Matt's kayak as a danger to himself because it was being tossed around and could easily have whacked him.
I'm not sure if either Matt or Bob were right about how to proceed, so I'm not going to pick sides. Matt's approach is the correct one in 90% of situations. Bob made a good case for his approach given the particular circumstances.
I will say that one of them needed to take charge of the situation. Bob either needed to clearly wave Matt off, or Matt needed to just latch onto Bob and drag him out. The third option would have been for Matt to simply leave Bob on the rocks once he saw that he was OK. As it was Matt sat off the rocks, in harms way, for too long. It also took too long for the rest of the group to have a sense of what they needed to do.
Lesson 3: What to do with nervous paddlers?
While the rescues were going on, MA and Bob were sitting out in the Bay with Carole. Needless to say they were nervous. The swells where they were waiting were large and the wind was pretty strong. Carole wanted to take them closer to the end of the Bluffs where things were more settled. She figured that there were five paddlers to help out rescuing Bob and we could handle it.
While I'm not a big fan of splitting groups in general, there are times when it is appropriate. I think this was one of them. Getting the less experienced paddlers to safer conditions would have lessened the chances that one of them would have gone in the drink also.
However, the decision was made to keep the group together. This makes sense also. If there had been trouble once they moved off their lower numbers increased the danger of a rescue.
Lesson 4:Staying Warm
Becca's brush with hypothermia is a good reminder of the dangers inherent in winter paddling. In the summer what you wear is hardly a concern. Heat management is not that hard. In the winter, however, heat management is critical and difficult. Picking the right clothes to wear under a drysuit is a matter of safety as well as comfort. You need to be warm enough to keep your core temp up, even in the water, but not so warm that you sweat away the benefits of a drysuit.
Becca's situation is also a reminder that all the members of the group need to keep an eye on each other right up to the point that boats are stowed and dry clothes are donned. Hypothermia hits fast and is unforgiving. The signs to look out for are slurred speech and someone acting more spacey than is normal.
Thankfully, Ken spotted the signs and reacted quickly. To treat hypothermia you need to warm the victim. Get them into dry clothes, put them in a warm place, and give them something warm to drink. If they don't start to show signs of improvement call 911.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Chilling Out

On Tuesday the weekend forecast looked promising and Paul put the bug in people's ears. When the weekend roared in, the temperature was still high but so were the winds. Paul's original plan was to paddle south from Narragansett town beach and make for Pt. Judith. The westerly winds forced us to move the launch point north and the direction up in the air. Paul figured it would be better to get blown into Jamestown than get blown into Tiverton if things got bad.
NOAA had decided to post a small craft advisory due to the high winds. Despite the winds things look deceptively calm. Early recon of Narragansett town beach and Bonnet Shores showed that the winds were blowing the surf out. All the action was along the Jamestown shore and around Beavertail. It looked like a few well prepared paddlers could find some safe paddling and a little action.
Nine of us showed up at Bay Campus ready to paddle. Carole, MA, and Bill were all sporting shiny new Kokatat drysuits. Ken, Paul, Matt, Becca, Bob, and myself were all in our old drysuits. The majority of the suits (7) were GoreTex Kokatats. They are the gold-standard and is priced accordingly. Bob's suit, while a Kokatat, is not the revered drysuit. Instead he has the Tropos paddle suit which costs about $300 less. Instead of a gasket at the neck it has a high neoprene collar to keep the water out. I have a Reed paddle suit which costs around $400. It is made out Reed's Chill Cheater fabric that is water proof and breathable. Becca has a non-breathable, nylon suit.
I also had the Q-boat back from Carl Ladd's skilled hands. He patched up the rock damage and installed one of his new ballistic strength keel strips. It is made of the same stuff they use for truck liners and looks like it could take a rock at high speed without a nick. The keel strip runs the length of the boat and, unlike most keel strips, runs along the sides of the skeg. The black looks like it was built for the boat.
We decided to head south so that the winds would blow us back home after battling our way down the coast. It was a battle too. Once we got up to the Bonnet bluffs the gusts were strong enough to bring the group to a crawl. The waters were pretty lumpy also. We were happy to duck into the relative calm of Bonnet harbor to regroup.
After some discussion, we decided to poke our heads out around the point but not plan on going too far. As Ken pointed out, if things were tough along the bluffs they would be worse beyond the point. So we worked our way along the shore playing in the rocks. Once around the point thing got more interesting. The swells were pushy and you could see that things further out looked very rough. It didn't stop us from testing our mettle a bit.
After lunch we made our way along the coast towards Bonnet Shore's beach where there was a little bit of surf. Before getting into the surf we got back into the rocks. I think everyone lost a bit of gelcoat. I managed to scrape despite the keel strip by catching a bit of barnacle to the side of the strip.
At the beach several of us played in the surf and caught a few good rides. Each of us, save Bob, managed to take a dunk or two. I found myself in the water twice after trying my luck at surfing backwards. I think that I'll wait until summer to try that again. Only one of the dunks resulted in my ejecting the kayak. As with the others who had to eject,I found myself stuck in water that was deep enough to keep the kayak floating but shallow enough to make rolling impossible.
After being washed around in the surf, we turned and made for home.
The trip home along the bluffs offered us a choice of playing it safe or playing in the rocks. The smart ones-Carole, Paul, MA, and Bill-played it safe. I decided to take the middle path by staying close enough to the rocks so that I could get closer if things looked good and get out if they started getting dodgy. Others, including Bob, decided to play in the rocks.
Early in the return trip, Bob, as he was being sloshed around close to jagged, hungry rocks, yelled to me that he was in a very bad place. I agreed and decided that it was a good time to stay a little further off the rocks. A little later I spotted Bob in a much worse place. He was in close to rocks and getting beat up by waves that just got stronger. Before Bob could get out of the ring, the waves KO'ed him.
Since I was the closest, I went in to extract him. Before I could get to him, I spotted a nasty looking wave moving towards me and a nice ledge that was going to cause the wave to break right on top of me. I turned into the wave hoping to get over it before it broke. It was a good plan, but not good enough. Right behind the wave I saw was a bigger one. After getting through the first one, I was crushed by the second one. It lifted the Q's bow to about 80 degrees and tossed me to the opposite side from the first wave. I struggled in vain, but found myself upside down, out of position for a roll, and uncertain how close to the rocks I was. I had a fleeting thought about rolling up, but realized that I was better off out of my kayak. Out of the kayak I could be sure my head was above water and I had a chance of keeping my head off the rocks. Even if I made the roll I wasn't sure I'd be in position to get out of danger. So, I pulled the grab loop and ejected into the cold water.
Because we had such a strong group, I was confident that I would not be in the water for long. I was also glad that I had dressed properly for immersion. My drysuit, although not a Kokatat, performed admirably. However, Paul and Matt performed better. They were on top of me almost as soon as I came up. Paul took over my rescue and Matt headed in to rescue Bob. Because the conditions were so unsettled, Paul decided to toss me the end of his tow belt instead of attempting to either do a T-rescue immediately or hook the belt on my belt by himself. Since I was lucid and calm there was no reason to risk smashing me with his kayak. I caught the line and he towed me into calmer waters where we could more easily get me back into my kayak.
Once I was safely back in my kayak we could turn our attention to Bob's rescue. Things were not going so smoothly for Bob and Matt. Bob was fairly safe because he had managed to get himself out of the water and onto some rocks. At the very least he was on dry land. His kayak, however, was proving to be a bit less cooperative. It was full of water and the swells were not giving up their lunch without a fight. After a few minutes, Bob managed to get his kayak across the rocks to a place where things were calmer and he could safely get back on the water.
For more detailed thought on the rescues see here.
Bob and I were both lucky. We were both prepared for the worst and surrounded by people we knew were capable of handling bad situations. The combination kept us alive and in good enough shape to still enjoy the rest of the paddle.
Back at Bay Campus there was the mandatory rolling and rescue practice. Both Matt and I suffered ice headaches. I think that my rolling practice may just be over for the winter.
Bill did his first roll!! He wanted to try going over in the cold water to see what it was like. I guess he didn't find it appealing since he rolled right back up!! It was an impressive site.
Usually once everyone is back on shore the danger is assumed to be over. The dangers of paddling are all on the water aren't they? Aside from the danger of pulling something from lifting a kayak that is?
Once the weather gets chilly the danger really isn't over until everyone is in dry street clothes and sitting in a heated car on the way to post paddle feeding.
Becca, whose drysuit is not breathable or dry, started talking gibberish once she got back to her car. She was acting spacey and sluggish. Ken realized what was happening immediately, got Carole to get Becca dressed in warm clothes, and got his truck warmed up. Once Becca was dry and dressed, he put her in the heated truck. Slowly, she started to regain her wits and function again.
It took less than five minutes for her to go from able to function normally to incapacitated by the cold. That was in 45 degree air. Imagine how long it takes in 30 degree water...
Fortunately we all recovered and were able to enjoy a great meal at Italian Village in Peacedale. What could have been a run of the mill paddle--which is still a great thing--turned into an exciting, educational mini adventure.