Teaching in Tassie
a kayak building adventure on the wrong side of the planet

Photo Tom Nicholson

Before we speak of Tasmania and my misadventures even further down under, first I must confess the shameful tragedy of Sydney.  Let me spell it out plainly.  On the last day of my class in Sydney, I did a roll and my camera fell out of my sprayskirt tunnel and sank.  This being the third waterproof camera I've lost in such a manner, one can only conclude that I'm a complete idiot, undeserving of sympathy.  Still I lament the loss of so many wonderful photos.  Gone is the photo of me surfing a rickety TK1 over a wicked sandstone reef (not a smart idea).  Missing is the shot of Ben looking sheepishly up from the engine room after his 1930's wooden tugboat ran out of gas in the dead of night on sydney harbor.  Absent is the photo I took of the front page newspaper article that, complete with a terrifying photo read: FUNNEL WEB SPIDERS REACH PLAUGE PROPORTIONS IN SYDNEY.  (seriously)  Alas, at least Tom captured poor Owens' kayak frame where I'd stashed it high in the trees, yet gone is the priceless shot I took of Owen beneath the frame above, looking hopeless after a half hour search failed to turn up any trace.  What good fun!  So, to all my students in Sydney, my sincerest apologies for the lack of photo journal befitting our adventure, and thanks to Tom for driving me to buy another camera before I flew to Tassie.

At the very modest airport in Hobart I met Greg, the current president of the Tasmanian Sea Canoe Club and my student for the week.   After nine days of teaching in Sydney I was tired!   Greg was sympathetic and suggested we go for a nice easy paddle, so the next morning we headed south from Kingston beach, just outside of town.   Even though I live in a similarly amazing place, I was still impressed by all the wonderful spots so close to Hobart.

I really liked the bright red lichen that covers the rocks.

Two hours into our 'nice easy paddle'  we were battling sudden 20 knot headwinds, which increased to 30 knots, then to 50 knots.   We plastered ourselves to the backside of some offshore rocks where we lay pinned.  Here you can see the water ripping free from the surface just a few meters in the lee of this big rock, which is pretty impressive.   The center of the bay was continuous sheet of white, which doesn't happen until the wind hits a steady 65 knots.   This wind was not forecast at all and gave me an instant respect for the extreme caution needed to paddle safely on the edge of the southern ocean.  We waited an hour and a half and then fought our way back home against a mere 25 knot headwind.  "If this is an easy paddle,"  I yelled across to Greg.  "I'd hate to see a hard one!"  

Photo Geoff Murray

The next morning we headed out with Tim and Geoff for a few hours on the water.  I really enjoyed Tim's multi-sport kayak.

Photo Greg Simson

...and I was really impressed with Greg's Trak folding kayak.  I've been skeptical about the Trak, but after assembling one and using it, I think they are pretty well put together.   "There's only one thing,"  Greg leaned close and said, "we have to take it apart before we go home.  Anna doesn't know about this one."

Later that day, people began showing up for the Wednesday night paddle.   This is not your average kayak club, we had nearly two dozen people show up to paddle 8 miles at a very strong pace.  The only place I've seen such a high level of participation and fitness is in BASK (bay area sea kayakers)  with the notable difference that San Francisco has about ten times the population.  

To my absolute delight, as soon as a puff of wind came, colorful sails popped up all around me.  These homemade kayak sails are the hallmark of the Tasmania Sea Canoe Club.   The sail is stepped directly in front of the cockpit and is easily cast off in the event of a capsize.   While the rest of the kayaking world has slowly been homogenized by the influence of British style kayaks, the Tasmanians embrace huge rudders and generous canvas.  With buy-it kayaking now the norm, the Tassies are still very do-it-yourself.  I like the Tassie club for this reason, in fact, they have their own kayak design and boats are still being built off it today!  It's been twenty years since that happened anywhere else.   Noone has made it down to Tasmania to tell them they are paddling bad boats in unsafe ways (sarcasm) and somehow they seem to keep on surviving.   Here I am chasing a classic Tassie rig, the sail on my own boat is a brilliant new design by a club member.  It is a true hollow wing shape that is built and functions just like a mini windsurf sail complete with a mini vang and downhaul,  I was literally blown away by the upwind capabilities of this sail, and after using it I understood just how ridiculous those Vee sails are.  I was so impressed that I talked to Tim about possibly selling them in the States.    The only caveat of these sails is the absolute need for a rudder, for rudderless kayaks, the best thing I've seen is the Flat Earth Kayak Sails by Mick MacRobb another Aussie sailor.  I'll soon be adding one of his sails to my personal F1.

Greg shared this enchanting little trip journal with me, and after reading through it and exploring Gregs tiny watercolor paintings (done on the trip)  I realized just how sterile a photograph is compared to the rich emotion of art.  Here are a few pages from the journal.  I really had to stop myself from copying every page here.  Greg painted wildlife and meals and all sorts of camp scenes.  I loved this little book!

I also really liked this flower in Gregs and Anna's front yard.   (hey, Anna, thanks so much for cooking dinner and giving me a place to crash.  I know Greg now has a ridiculous amount of kayaks, but just remember, kayaks cost nothing compared to Jet Skis, Antique Cars, or any of the other stuff blokes get into.)

With just a day left before the beginning of class, I took some time to explore the Hobart waterfront.   These cray (lobster) fishing boats sit in a very special Harbor that was given to the fishermen of Tasmania by Queen Victoria herself.   Despite a near constant effort to transfer this prime real estate into private hands, the century and a half old law still stands,  moorage is free and administered by the fishermen themselves.

Cray traps on deck.

The wildly over-the-top private wooden yacht, Shenandoah.

It's not surprising that it literally takes a crew working full time to maintain the varnish and polishing the brass.

This is the sort of thing that tempts me in dangerous ways.   Simple, not too wide, a heavy keel with curves in all the right places.  A person can pick up a small bluewater capable sailing yacht like this tophat 25 for around twelve thousand dollars these days.   Another eight grand and some elbow grease and you could make it fit to cruise.  A person with my aptitudes and general disposition might be tempted to do just that and sail over the horizon.  Walk away Brian, just walk away...

Soon it was time to earn my keep.  We rented out the local sea scout hall and set about building some kayaks.   Teaching kayak building halfway around the world was a daunting logistical challenge, and it was extremely frustrating not having my own tools.  (they all run on 110 volts).   Gregs plunge router was hopeless, as was another we found.  Luckily Peter brought an excellent router with one horrible flaw, no intregral dust blower?!  So here we see Lynn vaccuming constantly so peter can see what he's doing.  Not fun.

The moment her tiny Greenland kayak started to look like a boat Lynn adorned it with this gull feather.  For me it became a sort of talisman, and throughout the build I felt compelled to stick it back onto Lynns kayak whenever it fell on the ground.

The class went very smooth, and the Tassies worked extra dilligently, obsessed with completing every task faster than the Sydney class.   Because this is my real job I try to take time to go for walks and take breaks when I need them.  In the loft I discovered a trove of 20 year old kayaks, including a mold, and a half finished boat!

...and in a closet I found a Platypus!

Outside I saw these two voyager paddling past.

Not far behind was this boy and his boat, he never stopped smiling the entire time I watched them.  I think I can relate.

Back at the class... Peter here is an interesting case.  He had previously built an absolutely stunning baidarka, complete with all the little bone plates and joints.  Yikes!   He said he took the class to learn how to build a kayak that wasn't a work of art, something he could paddle.

Lynn and Greg slather finishing oil on their frames in the parking lot, but where is Brian....

Busted! caught red handed devouring Lynns homemade cookies.   Australian are generally an indulgent lot, and my diet for four weeks consisted basically of meat pies, ice cream, beer, and coffee.  Eventually I just gave up on saying no thank you, and drank or ate anything anyone shoved toward me.   I gained ten pounds in one month and at least two of those were from Lynns irresistable cookies.   How can she possibly be so small after eating these cookies?

How small?  5 feet tall, 100 lbs.  We scaled down a Greenland hunting kayak to fit her, and definitely not Tim.

How many blokes does it take to stretch a kayak skin?  Not three!  We had to cut an inch off Tims boat to get the skin on, I have a feeling he sewed it up a bit short!

One of my favorite views during any class, clean white skin really shows off the frame.

Uh oh!  there is wrinkle in Gregs boat that we can't get out!  In over 300 kayaks I've never had that problem before.   "Don't worry,"  I reassure Greg,  "I saw how to do this in a book somewhere."  The dart was small and barely visible in the finished boat.  Not a big deal.

photo Eddie Safarik

Finally there is nothing left to do but go paddling,  my favorite part.

photo Eddie Safarik

True to their reputation, the first thing these guys did when they hit the water was start snapping off rolls.   The Greenland boat wasn't a surprise, but I was very impressed by how cleanly Tim and Basil rolled the F1, which often takes some getting used to.  It really goes to show that if you learn to roll correctly, you can roll anything with relative ease.

Photo Geoff Murray

I hate to pick favorites, but I am in love with Lynns 7% scaled down Disko bay Greenland kayak.  At 15 feet long and 18 inches wide it might be the first kayak she's paddled that actually fits.   It weighs 22lbs and that's with the extra heavy skin!   I fawned over this kayak the entire time we were building so forgive me if I take a few photo moments to gush.


All photos of Lynns kayak by Geoff Murray

A man I can relate to, two days after finishing his new F1 is Tim paddling his F1, no!  We go out paddling and Tim launches his new Think Evo surf ski.  Absolute proof of the illness.

At least Greg is still paddling his skinboat!

As usual, I can't decide what I want to paddle.

Greg in his Disko bay kayak, his daughter in a Mirage.

Tim gives the Greenland a spin, notice his boots on the back deck?  He literally couldn't fit without taking them off.

A charming little cave just a mile from town.

Go to Tassie WEEK TWO