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
the Tasmanian Sea Canoe Club and my student for the week.
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
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
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,
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
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.
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
...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
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
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