Wednesday, July 13, 2005
Tale of a Tektite
I have a nice customer service story to tell tonight - in part 'cause heh heh it's also an excuse to play with my camera (bear with me on this one for a little while, ok? this is my first genuine technological toy ever!).
Paddling gear tends to be pretty expensive. It has to be high-quality, because people are depending on their stuff not to quit working in the middle of a 5-day excursion to wherever; in addition, although there's quite a market for paddling gear, I don't think it's quite as large as the market for - oh, clock-radios, say, so there isn't quite the same scope for mass production.
The nice thing about that is that the manufacturers tend to have a little less of a mass-market approach. For starters, I think a lot of them actually ARE water people so they know exactly how irritating and/or dangerous it is for something to break down at an innopportune time; plus they know that they're charging good money & people will be more inclined to pick their widget over the other guys' widget if they get a reputation for really standing behind their stuff.
The object you see there at the top is my Tektite Navlite. This was probably my second biggest non-Coast-Guard-required splurge as far as gear goes - these things are around $60.00 a pop. Like my even more expensive VHF, I've never regretted spending the money.
Visibility is a major issue for kayakers in New York Harbor. We're sharing the waterways with a whole lot of other traffic - and let's face it, as the smallest & slowest boats in the harbor, we ARE the bottom of the food chain out there. If a Circle Line cruise or The Beast (a big motorboat) passes close enough to you for you to hear the narrator, you'll frequently hear jokes about "And over there, we have some kayaks, or as we like to call 'em, 'speed bumps'".
My approach to the visibility problem is twofold - 1) I do what I can to make sure I'm visible (that's why I paddle a yellow boat & wear a yellow PFD instead of the teal or blue or green that would be more in line with my preferences in color - yellow's just easier to see) and 2) I always assume I'm invisible anyways. I think most of the more experienced paddlers around here would agree with that approach.
Doing your best to be seen is even more crucial at night. According to Coast Guard regulations, kayaks are actually only required to carry a white light which is to be shown in time to avert a collision. With very few exceptions (the most bizarre theory I've ever heard on the matter was from one contrarian who felt that lighting one's kayak at sunset would lull the paddler into a false sense of security...I don't paddle with this guy anymore so I don't know if he still thinks that way, he may have changed his mind by now...seen the light, you might say...nyuk nyuk nyuk...), longtime NYC kayakers are generally of the opinion that that's not enough. At the very least, I'd say most of the experienced paddlers carry at least 2 white lights - one fore, one aft - and light up near sundown. These Navlites are particularly good. A few years ago, before my "retirement" from MKC, I helped organize a test of the various kinds of lights that were available to paddlers (you can check out the full writeup on the Delaware & Hudson Kayak Club site - which come to think of it may have some good browsing besides that).
We found that the big problem with white lights is that from a distance, and at the right (or wrong) angle, it's really easy for the kind of white light you can fit on a kayak to end up getting lost in reflections from the moving white lights on shore (aka "cars"). Lighting yourself more on the motorboat plan - split red-green fore, white aft, preferable one on your deck and one on your shoulder or head - is better because that instantly identifies you as a boat. You're still better off assuming they can't see you period, but at least you won't be mistaken for a reflection. Doing a fair amount of night paddling in the summer, sometimes on my own (not recommended, but I do - I'm just much much more cautious about pushing the limits by myself than with a group I trust) it was therefore worth it to me to spring for the Navlite.
Thing is, a split red/green bow light is a good thing to have, but a BAD thing to have fail on you. One green light fore and a white light aft isn't legal for ANYTHING.
Unfortunately - I'm describing exactly what I ended up with a couple of weeks ago! After wonderfully reliable service for an awful lot of post-sunset paddling, (the LED's never burn out, and I don't know how long it would actually take to run the batteries down because I haven't managed to do that yet), the port-side (left hand, the red one) light starting getting a mite tetchy this summer. I could get it to light by fiddling with it. I opened it up one evening at home (you can't open anything like this out on the water, salt water will find it's way in & that tends to be the end) - and this is what I found inside:
Those are the little mountings on/in which the LED's sit. See how one's in one piece, and one's in two pieces? Well, I was expecting them to be the same & thought that meant that one had just come undone and was a little peeved that this thing that I spent so much money on was so shoddily put together...hmph. But I kept on using it (carrying backup lights just in case) until about 2 weeks ago when it finally failed to light out on the water & I had to put it away & pull out the less-effective backups.
When he heard about my predicament, Goofyman was nice enough to offer me the loan of his navlite if I needed it - after a very frustrating start to last night's trip, including a ponytail holder snapping, requiring a little creativity to keep the mane back (turns out a sock makes a workable Scrunchi in a pinch) and my own Navlite absolutely refusing to light on an evening I'd FORGOTTEN the extras, I took him up on that. So the issue was foremost in my mind as I took a run down along Pier 40, where Randy's shop is - it was late, but I saw lights in New York Kayak & since I have a pretty big adventure planned Saturday (can't talk, that'll curse it, it could SO easily not work out), and figured that if it looked like there were people in the store I'd go in & ask him about it, see if anything could be done quickly.
Well - even better, he was out enjoying a little of the evening with a couple of his regulars & staff (including SeaLevel, fun to see him there!), I didn't even have to get out of my boat. I thought I was gonna blow his unwinding moment with my paddle-up customer complaint, but he was fine - reminded me of the name of the manufacturer (which I'd forgotten) & said that I should just email them & that he was pretty sure there was a pretty solid warranty.
So I emailed 'em today and lo & behold, within about 2 hours I got an email back - and it included three possible causes & solutions AND the information that some of the LED bases were one piece, some were 2-piece, and that that shouldn't make a difference - basically, he said it wasn't likely that it was really broken, I'd probably be able to get it working, and that if I couldn't then I could send it back for repair. COOL!
1 possibility was corrosion from a leaking battery - well, yes, if you never have to change batteries, that could happen & you'd never notice.
Second was just grime interfering with the current - in which case the metal base of the LED mounting could be cleaned off with a bit of brown paper bag or typing paper.
Third - and oddest-sounding - was to check and see if the bumps on the ends of the batteries were dented. Dented? That's unusual...but then again, once again we are talking about the same set of AA batteries being in use for 2 years!
Sure enough - came home tonight and...well, see for yourself!
The one on the right is a NORMAL AA battery! See how dented the other one is? Funny, huh? I was surprised at how noticeable it was, but also quite happy because what I saw so clearly fit probable cause #3. I scrounged up 3 new AA's from my hardware cabinet & was absolutely tickled to find that I am once again the owner of a fully functional navlite. Replacing batteries in a flashlight once every 2 years because of wear & tear seems like a reasonable enough level of maintenance, don't you think?
I love a happy ending.
Anybody reading this owns a Tektite NavLite that starts getting all flickery, there's a good place to start!
BTW it strikes me that this is probably it for the week - weather permitting, I will probably paddle tomorrow - Friday will be pack up for Adventure I'm Too Superstitious to Talk About But For Which I Am Very Happy to Have a Functioning Bow Light, Saturday will be adventure itself, Sunday I will be working on schooner all day...Monday I will probably make it through the day through a combination of willpower, coffee and a lunchtime nap but...oh, I'll try to get something up then...if adventure goes as planned & weather cooperates I may have Frogma Virtual Tour #2 for you one of these days and it should be a good'un - but Monday will probably be short & sweet - either "We made it, trip report TK" or "Nope, went home on the...OOPS almost gave it away!!!!", either one followed by "Bedtime now, g'night!"
And speaking of which...
Bedtime now, g'night!