Friday, May 29, 2009

Sebago Canoe Club Opening Day Saturday May 30th (yikes, that's tomorrow!)

Bored in Brooklyn? No plans for Saturday?

Don't be bored, come boating! Come on out to Canarsie tomorrow for the Sebago Canoe Club's Open House. Canoeing, kayaking, dinghy rides, burgers & lots and lots of fun.

Don't believe me about the fun? Well, here, maybe last year's winner of the Cutest Attendee Award* can convince you:

There you go! Can you argue with that? And it's even more fun when the boat's in the water.

Full details on the Sebago Canoe Club website.

*ok, so there was no actual contest for the cutest attendee. But if there had been, she totally woulda walked away with it, right?

Thursday, May 28, 2009

24 Great Ways to Get On the Water in NYC (plus a couple of spots in Jersey) Without Your Own Boat

One last boat-list! Yes, I think Lord Tillerman's deadline is past, but I'd thought of this right at the start & with summer underway, I thought this might be even MORE useful than my fabulously useful (ha ha, ha ha ha) 5 Things A Sea Kayaker Needs to Pass A Vessel Safety Check in New York State and the even more helpful 10 Things I Won't Leave My Urban Dock Without.

I'd say that at the very least, it will be more widely useful - the ways to get on the water that I'm going to list are all things that I have done or given serious consideration to doing at one time or another; me being a very squarely middle-class, middle-aged person, none of these require either a huge amount of money (some are free, some easily affordable, some I'd consider a bit of a splurge but worth the money) or any particular physical prowess (although a basic level of fitness & coordination will make some of the more active options more enjoyable).

OK, enough (ka)yaketty-yak. On with Twenty-Four Great Ways to Get Out On The Water in New York City Without Owning Your Own Boat. Since it came out kinda long, I've divided by type (Kayaking, Rowing, Canoeing, Passenger Schooners, Speedboats, and a few other miscellaneous craft) to make it easier to follow.

I'll start with my favorite, of course -

I'll be the first to admit that kayaking the way I kayak does eat up a good bit of money over the years. For me, though, it works out - I do it for fitness & for my own sanity, among other things, and it's a heckuvalot cheaper than a gym membership & therapy! :D

But the way I do kayaking is the way people who've long since fallen in love with a sport or activity do it. For people who just want to try it out, the city is now positively rife with opportunities to do so for free (or very low cost), no experience necessary, just basic comfort with being in the water. Here are some of my favorites, starting with my own club of course!

I'll give a very brief description of the programs but for full info, check the websites I'm linking to.

1. Sebago Canoe Club, Canarsie, Brooklyn. $10.00 insurance fee. Our Open Paddle program (2 to 3 hour paddles in Jamaica Bay) kicked off tonight, Wednesday May 27th, and continues on Wednesday nights & Saturday mornings throughout the summer. We're a little harder to get to than some places, but many of the paddles feature guest speakers & our club may be the only one around where a complete novice is going to be given a true sea kayak & be taken out on a guided tour for a couple of hours. If you've made the trip, you deserve the time!

Much more common in NYC are free walk-up programs where people can try out a stable sit-on-top for 20 minutes or so in a sheltered area between piers or in a cove. It makes for a fun part of a nice day in one of the city's waterfront parks, but keep in mind that on not-so-nice days, the lines will be shorter and the volunteers will have more time to talk story and give pointers & might be less concerned about holding you to the official tryout time. Some of these places have boats big enough for parents to take out small children & a lot of city kids get their first taste of boating this way. Many of them also offer longer trips for people who've developed some basic skills.

The grandaddy of all of these programs is

2: Manhattan's Downtown Boathouse - not sure exactly when that group was founded but they'd been around for a while when I started kayaking in 1999 - they've got pictures on their website dating back to 1995. The original Downtown Boathouse was actually downtown, not far north from Battery Park City; that building, an old piershed, is long gone now but the DTBH carries on just fine at 3 locations - 2 in the Hudson River Park & 1 in Riverbank State Park.

Over the last decade, a number of similar programs - most founded by DTBH "alums" - have sprung up in other boroughs (and I'm including Hoboken too 'cause it's just not right to leave them out). In no particular order, here are the most established ones (notice to local paddlers - if I'm leaving anybody out it's an oversight, I'm not shooting for comprehensive here but feel free to add links in the comments):

3. Kayak Staten Island
4. Hoboken Cove Boathouse
5. Long Island City Boathouse
6. The Red Hook Boaters

Those are all great places to go get your feet wet (and your okole too). Want to get a little more serious? All of those places welcome & train volunteers, so that's one way to do it (and I will mention that some of the more stalwart volunteers at these groups are very, very good paddlers); if, like a lot of people in the city, you're busy enough that your leisure time is a scarce & precious resource, you might well find it worth the money it takes to patronize the local outfitters,

7. Manhattan Kayak (where I used to be a partner) or
8. New York Kayak.

Of course there are other places I love & would recommend in a heartbeat but I am trying to keep this in the actual NYC area - so that I can move on to

Where things should move on a little better because I have a lot fewer silly opinions about the rowing groups, just know who's out there, that it seems like a lot of fun & that the Whitehall gigs these groups build & use strike me as possibly the best way for kids who are old enough to start getting serious about boating to start learning the skills a person needs to enjoy NYC's waterways safely - they can even help build boats if they're so inclined! Pretty cool. I seriously mean to try this out myself this summer, one of these organizations is about a 15 minute walk from my office & I don't know why it took me so long to figure out that I could join in on their Wednesday night rows really easily. It would totally be learning something new, too, which would be neat.

I'll start with that one:

9. Village Community Boathouse, located at Pier 40, where Houston Street hits the Hudson. This was the group that sent the gigs that were in the Water Dance of Boats, by the way, and all the "backstage" pictures were taken at Pier 40, which is also the home of New York Kayak & one of the Downtown Boathouse branches.

As was the case with a lot of the free kayaking programs in NYC, a lot of the groups that build & row the Whitehalls were inspired by and/or spun off from one original, which was:

10. Floating the Apple, which was founded by Mike Davis, who passed away last year but left quite a legacy. One of the earliest thoughts I had of ways to get on the water around here was seeing one of their boats as I walked past the old green McGraw Hill Building in midtown. That particular spark of an idea failed to take hold, but it was definitely there. I think that they are open for business at Pier 84 but that website has not been updated in a very long time. I'll see if I can get an update.

Hopping back over to Jersey again, there's

11. Weehawken based WeeRow, and up in the Bronx we've got

12. Rocking the Boat.


Canoes don't quite seem to be the craft of choice around here but there are a couple of places where canoeing is offered regularly, both pretty unique -

13. the Gowanus Dredgers will take you on a canoe trip on the Gowanus Canal.

14. The Bronx River Alliance will show you the wonders of the Bronx River (and I'm not joking, folks, the Alliance has been working their Bronx buns off cleaning up that river and I tell you with a straight face, it is beautiful).

PASSENGER SCHOONERS (plus a nice motor yacht & a cool old tugboat)

Afraid this is where things stop being free - but this is where you stop having to do the work to move the boat - the wind & a well-trained captain & crew see to that - and start getting to stay dry. It's a much more leisurely experience!

I'm going to start with a plug for my old employer,

15. Classic Harbor Lines, now operating the schooners Adirondack & Imagine out of Chelsea Piers. The schooners are designed as sightseeing boats, but in the spirit of the old pilot schooners who would race to meet vessels approaching the harbor (whoever got there first got the job). They're very fast & a lot of fun to sail, and the captains and crews love to show what the boats can do. I LOVED working on the Adirondack. Sails start at $40 for a 2-hour afternoon sail to the Statue of Liberty & go up from there. The least expensive sails include complimentary beer & soda, evening sails add better beers, wine, and champagne. Going up from there...whoa, sake and sushi? That's new since I left! Classic Harbor also offers Manhattan circumnavigations & other more far-flung trips aboard the 1920's-inspired motor yacht Manhattan.

For a grittier but still grand experience, how about a genuine antique freight schooner?

16. The schooner Pioneer was built in 1885 & after a long working life, she's now enjoying a genteel retirement as a prized part of the South Street Seaport Museum's collection, taking passengers on sails in New York Harbor. Sailing schedule & prices here. The museum has two other vessels that operate regularly - the Lettie G. Howard, a beautifully restored fishing schooner now used for educational sails for adults (2008 fall schedule, just to show the sort of stuff they do) and then the coolest old tug, the W.O. Decker - that picture seriously does not do justice to that boat!

17. I'll add one last schooner that's been offering public harbor sails out of North Cove in the World Financial Center for a long time - the schooner Shearwater. Not as fast as the Adirondack (there was one mischievous Adirondack skipper who used to like to sail a circle around the Shearwater, because he could) but a genuine classic luxury yacht, circa 1929. I've always wanted to go out just to see what she looked like up close.

BTW, Bowsprite did a fantastic post on the various schooners that you might see out in NY Harbor recently. Worth a look!

3 More Categories (and I'll try to make these ones snappy 'cause it's past my bedtime now).


Right, you wouldn't think a kayaker would approve but these guys can actually be a really fun way to see the harbor. Great for people with kids who might like a little more excitement than the normal sedate Circle Line cruise. You might even get wet. There are 3 that I know about.

19. My favorite doesn't look like it's resumed public operation yet but they used to share dock space with the Adirondack & every now & then, on a hot day, when we didn't have a sail for one reason or another, some of us liked to sneak off & go for a ride on the Chelsea Screamer. You'd get totally soaked. It was awesome. Plus they actually gave a very nice harbor tour as they were drenching you.

20 & 21. The other two also looked like good rowdy noisy fun - they were basically identical boats with different paint jobs, Shark and Beast. They liked to hire redneck-looking skippers with mullets, and the two speedboats would always meet at the Statue, strong words (although rated PG)would be hurled across the water & then they'd drag-race up the Hudson. We on the Adirondack liked to pretend we thought we were gonna race too, we'd be adding our own challenges, and they'd yell at us to give them our beer, and it was all just good silly salty fun.

22. BTW, both of those speedboats are operated by Circle Line. You could call it the ultimate tourist cliche, maybe, but I think you could also call it a classic.


Each in a class by themselves!

23. Having just put the ultimate tourist cliche on the list, perhaps I can redeem myself with this one - the Working Harbor Committee's Hidden Harbor Tours. I simply cannot explain how frustrated I am with myself that I have never gone on one of these, they just sound great. Maybe this year.

And for the grand finale - It's Free. It's Big. It's Orange. It's #24, the Staten Island Ferry! How could I leave that out?


You might not think of it but it's got some points - aside from being free & sailing A LOT, seriously, you can jump on board on a whim, you can go out on it to see what the harbor looks like when the weather's too bad for anything smaller, and it's got the best views of downtown NYC that money can't buy!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Best Laid Plans

Monday - The Rough Plan.

Monday - The Actual Paddle, roughly.

Pretty nice day out there, y'know?

Days like that are another good reason to always take more water than you think you'll need. That way, when one of your friends says "It's too nice to stop, why don't we keep going?", at least you don't have to figure out where you're going to stop for a refill!

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Hudson River Pageant & Water Dance Of Boats - Gallery Done!

I had gone to see my friend Laurie performing in the Alice Farley-choreographed "Water Dance of Boats", the grand-finale of the Hudson River Pageant earlier in May - between that (which was extremely photogenic) and the Laser regatta I've just had way too many pictures to sort through & not enough time, but I finally finished the Hudson River Pageant gallery! Got the parade, got the Dance, and lots of backstage after-the-show shots!
From Hudson River Pageant

Thought I was actually going to have a nice little video after I figured out how to stick QuickTime clips together last night - I'd cobbled together six and a half minutes or so of parade & boat-dancing, then set my computer to work uploading my creation to YouTube, feeling ever so clever. Many many hours later, YouTube said "Here you go, Your Cleverness" - and it was only the first clip. Bah. So much for my dreams of becoming a video editor. Oh wait, that was never one of my dreams. Phew, what a relief!

I'm uploading the individual clips now. That should go better. In the meantime, enjoy the pix & have a very happy Memorial Day weekend!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Caption Contest At SF Sailing Examiner -

Too strange not to pass along, and I couldn't resist giving the captioning a shot.

Thanks for the oddity, Ed!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Sebago Laser District 8 Winner's Report

Sebago Laser Regatta 171
Blake Marriner has put up a VERY nice Winner's Report about our regatta over on the Laser District 8 site. Thanks, Blake! I think we all had a great time doing this.

I'll add that I've posted pictures too, but right now it's just a completely unedited mess in my Flickr photostream, not quite ready for general viewing. I took out the ones where the camera didn't focus & most of the "incinerating tent caterpillars while we wait for our guests to arrive" series, but that was about the extent of the first cut. I'll be picking my favorites for one of my photo reports with captions over the next couple of days, and I'll post a link here when I'm done. However, If you were there or are otherwise specifically interested in seeing a hundred-plus uncaptioned random pictures of the regatta, clicking on the picture of Blake will take you to Flickr.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Pretty Good Name For A Boat.

At least I liked it.

Taken on board the RC boat.

Pea-Soup Sailing at Sebago's First-Ever Laser District 8 Regatta!

What was I saying the other day, about always carrying a compass because of Jamaica Bay's ability to occasionally cough up a proper pea-souper?

Saturday's was pretty good!

The weather may've scared off a few potential participants (or more like "given them the excuse they were looking for not to drive into the wilds of Canarsie" ;D, c'mon, we all know that Laser racers don't scare that easily), and I think a lot of us were starting to get that slightly queasy what-if-we-had-a-party-and-nobody-came sort of feeling, but then, phew, the doorbell started to ring, so to speak. By nine-thirty or so, we had enough to make a proper race of it, and then, with a couple more late arrivals, we had enough to make for a very nice day of racing at the first-ever Laser District 8 regatta hosted by the Sebago Canoe Club. A good start for an event we hope will get bigger & better!

Here was one of the early first-place finishes by the gentleman who eventually took home the first-place plaque. Sorry about the big wobble at the end, I was the recorder & I forgot to stop the camera as I went for my pencil!

Lots more pictures to come!

p.s. - Joe Joe Joe! Today's picture? NOT MY FAULT! The Puffin made me do it!


Cross-posted at the Sebago Canoe Club Blog.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

List #2 - 10 Things I Won't Leave My Urban Dock Without Having In My Sea Kayak,

Even Though the Coast Guard Doesn't Say I Have To Have Them!

Part 2 of my participation in Tillerman's Group Writing Project, "Lists".

Actually this was the list I'd first set out to do on Tuesday night, but then I decided that maybe before I talked about the things I always have even though they aren't required, it would make sense to talk about the things that ARE required, particularly since there just aren't that many of those.

Tonight it's on to 10 of the non-required things that I always always always have along.

Really, they all just make sense & almost all of them are going to be items that most conscientious kayakers (maybe even conscientious boaters in general) carry, so there won't be a lot of explanation (sorry, Tillerman, this isn't going to be nearly as interesting as you might have thought it was).

You'll notice a little overlap with Tuesdays post, because some of these items are items that aren't required ARE recommended on your VSC. Actually, when I first mentioned this idea to Tillerman, the list name was "Ten Things I Won't Leave My Urban Dock Without, Even Though The Coast Guard Doesn't Care" - but looking over the Vessel Safety Check checklist, I realized that that wasn't quite the case. I think there's a difference between "not caring" and "not requiring". As I mentioned on Tuesday, the Coast Guard isn't out there to play nanny - they require the most key items; everything else, they leave to your discretion. Personally, I appreciate that.

BTW, this isn't everything I always carry - just the first 10 that spring to mind.

So without further ado,
here's list number two!
Whoop toodle de do!

1. A VHF. First & foremost, it's a lifeline. I hope to god I never have to use in to call for help - kayakers are a self-reliant lot & for one of us to hit that red key, things would have to be pretty awful - but if I do, I have it. Less dramatically, but still very nice - in more trafficked areas, it saves you the stress of guessing who's going where when. Recommended, not required, but it's always charged & with me.

2. Extra lights, on deck & lit before twilight. CG regs are one white light, ready to show in time to avert a collision. If you were trying to do that on the NYC waterways, you'd give yourself an ulcer keeping an eye on all the boats around you & trying to figure out when it was time to show the light (not to mention that to show the light, you have to stop paddling). I carry a split red-green light for my bow (that's nice where there are lots of headlights & streetlights & stuff, people see that & they know you are a boat, not a reflection), a headlamp that I wear facing backwards, and a 360-degree white stern light that sticks on my back deck with a suction cup. Might be overkill some places, in NYC it just makes sense to totally over-light.

3. A tow rope. Not even mentioned for the VSC but it's a nice long piece of strong line (mine's Spectra, oooh lar lar) neatly stored close at hand & what boater in the world doesn't understand how handy that can be? Sometimes I even tow things with it.

4. A spare paddle. Paddles break, and although you could theoretically get yourself home paddling canoe-style, it's a heck of a lot easier to just pull out the extra paddle.

5. A space blanket. It lives in the first-aid kit bag (actually another recommended, not required item I always have along). In ten years I've only broken mine out once but that one time - boy, was I happy to have it! I usually have some extra outer layers along - but that day, it was one of those gruesome, humid NYC scorchers, the paddling plan wasn't particularly ambitious & a windbreaker just slipped my mind. We ended going ashore on Canarsie Pol to wait out a thunderstorm we'd been silly enough to get caught while chasing fish. One of us had a jacket which he put on. The other two of us got drenched. Felt fabulous at first but then we started to actually get chilly, at which point it hit me that of course I had my space blanket, which turned out to be big enough to share. Made the wait much less miserable & I was very glad I had it.

6. A compass. I have one that's supposed to mount on the deck that I've never gotten around to mounting. In the multi-year interim, I have a little Silva orienteering compass that lives in my PFD. The NYC area isn't as notorious for fog as, say, Maine, but every once in a while you can get a proper pea-souper.

7. Food & drink. At the very least, no matter how short the paddle, there's always at least an energy bar in my PFD. Smart motorboaters always make sure they have more fuel than they need to get where they're going, right? Food is kayak fuel. And cookies are good for morale. On the drink side - as much water as I think I'll need & then an extra bottle or two so I won't run out & have some to share if somebody else doesn't. I'm not saying I'm always smart enough to remember to drink enough of it - but I don't leave the dock without it. In the winter I add at least one thermos of something hot & sweet (the sugar's good for energy); preferably hot cider, the unfiltered kind, with a cinnamon stick in it. If I forgot to buy cider, then it's hot tea with honey, or cocoa (none of yer watery Swiss Miss crap, either, I make my cocoa with milk and Ghirardelli Chocolate Hazelnut Cocoa). Again, I try to bring enough to share - in this case, it's not just about morale - hot sweet drinks help the body handle cold.

8. A small repair kit. OK, for shorter paddles sometimes that consists of duct tape & a knife. But with that & a couple other items that I usually have, if I happened to hole my boat on a submerged piling or something, I'd be able to patch things up enough to get myself back to the club.

9. A pump. I may not have it out on deck if I'm paddling with a group of friends, but it's always in one of the hatches.

10. Last but not least - and maybe the most specifically urban of all the non-CG-required things I carry - money. Actually, it's my whole purse now that I've gone to Sebago, where there are a lot more people coming & going, gates & doors left open - I've never had anything stolen at Sebago, knock wood, but my purse is only one non-paddling item I take to the club that would both really tempt a person to swipe it & it would wreck a nice day if they did. So I just take the whole thing with me. It's also actually quite a good way to keep my keys close at hand & easy to find on land (you need them for the padlocks on the clubhouse & the containers) but securely stashed, zipped in & very unlikely to go in the water when I move to the dock. In Manhattan, the situation was a little more secure & the locks were combination, so the main thing was cash. I always carried a twenty in a lifejacket pocket & I would joke about it being my urban emergency kit. It wasn't really a joke, though, the idea was that if I got in real trouble, I'd take out somewhere & use the cash to get home. I only ended up having to do that once, with a friend on a trip that went quite badly wrong. Complicated story, Murphy's law was in full & frightening effect that day. I have never in all my life been quite so happy to throw in the towel as I was that day. What a relief it was to get my totally wiped-out friend/client off the water at the South Street Seaport. We got permission to leave the boats until we could retrieve them, we packed up our stuff, grabbed our paddles, I pulled out the "urban emergency kit" and pretty soon we were back at Manhattan Kayak. Good end to a bad day.

And that's it for the list, too! There's definitely more stuff I carry - but it's past my bedtime & I actually think that this list of 10 does cover the stuff I really do always have along, even on the shortest paddle.

At least in my sea kayak.

Due to the complete absence of hatches, surfski's a different matter entirely!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Orion Skyblazer Safety Notice Update & Clarified Instructions

Here's that post I said I was going to do about Orion Skyblazer red aerial flares. This started out as an editorial aside in the Visual Distress Signal of yesterday's post, but then I decided it was worth a post of its own.

This is one of the flares in question. These flares are a popular choice for a lot of sea kayakers - they're relatively inexpensive, they're compact, they float, they're waterproof (although I keep mine in a little drybag of their own, and they come home with me between paddles, along with the VHF & a few other things that will last longer if they're stored someplace dry), each flare is a self-contained unit (the one I'm holding is in what I guess you could call storage mode; that's a double tube & telescopes out to become the launcher for the flare when you need to use it), and the three or four flares that come in a pack barely takes up any space in your dayhatch or deck bag. I've been carrying these as part of my kit pretty much since I got my first boat 9 years ago.

Last year, though, there was some alarming news about a number of injuries suffered when people used these flares. Sales of the product were frozen while Orion researched the matter.

Well, maybe everyone else in kayakland has been more on top of things, but I'd never seen the final verdict until last night, when I was browsing around various Coast Guard safety sites to make sure I wasn't posting too big a load of hooey (I really try very hard to keep the hooey to a minimum when I write about safety issues) & stumbled across an update which I was VERY happy to see. I'd read the warning about the product last year, but for a number of reason, beginning with the fact that the injuries were of the "bruised knuckles or lacerated fingers" type, sounded like they'd hurt but they'd heal, I chose to gamble a bit keep & using those as my night VDS.

So I was very pleased last night to find out that the freeze had been lifted & the flares declared safe to use as long as you follow the instructions perfectly.

Couple of possible hitches there, though.

There are instructions are printed on the side of the tube, but as you can see above, where I'm holding the flare so the instructions show, the lettering isn't exactly Easy Reader size. You just wouldn't want to be trying to read them for the first time in a situation where you actually needed to get some help. On top of that, it turns out that the instructions on the flares manufactured prior to September of last year aren't quite as clear as they could be about how exactly you are supposed to hold the device when you fire it.

They've rewritten the instructions & redone the diagrams & those are available on line for those of us who have pre-freeze flares. Flares expire three and a half years after manufacture, so there will be flares with the old instructions out there in people's kits for a couple more years. The new instructions really are much clearer than the ones on mine, and I'm glad I've reviewed them. Click here to read them for yourself.

In addition to the VDS page I linked to in yesterday's post, Atlantic Kayak Tours' Expert Pages also has some good kayak-specific info on emergency signalling devices. Worth a read. The main caveat you always hear about Skyblazers is that they just aren't as reliable as bigger, more expensive flares - that page discusses that. If you're paddling someplace that's sheltered & heavily trafficked, like Jamaica Bay, and you only get one of your three-pack to work, that will probably do still do the trick (especially if you've already called for help on your VHF & are just using the flare to help somebody pinpoint where you are), but the AKT page discusses some pricier options that would be seriously worth the investment if you were heading off to someplace more remote & less forgiving.

Oh - and remember how I closed yesterday's post with a warning that what satisfies the Coast Guard isn't going to make your BCU instructor happy? The 2nd paragraph is a perfect case in point!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Frogma List #1 of Tillerman Group Writing Project "Lists": Gear A Sea Kayaker Needs to Pass A CG Auxiliary Safety Inspection

UPDATE JUNE 2015: I am adding this update because this post suddenly seems to be seeing some activity and there's been an excellent change in the Vessel Safety Check world since I wrote this in 2009. At that time, vessel safety checks on human-powered vessels were performed using the same form as any recreational vessel, and down towards the end of the post, I refer to things that were on the form that weren't relevant to paddlecraft (engine requirements and such) and also things that weren't on the form that a kayaker should have. Well, the ACA saw what was going on there and went to work with the CG Auxiliary to fix it and in 2011 I was absolutely tickled to see the first Paddle Craft Vessel Safety Check Form. The actual requirements are clearly stated, the non-relevant things are gone, and there's a list of suggested stuff that's so good that I've used the form as a handout in classes. Click here to view .

Ah, doesn't 2009 royal blue look nice on that banana-yellow deck? Matches my decklines too!

Annual safety inspections aren't a legal requirement for kayaks, but this year and last year, I've taken advantage of the free public service provided at Sebago's Opening Day (and this year at our Dock Dedication in April) by some of the members of the neighboring Midget Squadron Yacht Club (a club that's also playing a very important & very appreciated role in our upcoming Laser regatta, providing motorboat support). These folks are volunteers in the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, and every year they come to one or two of our big public events and do official safety inspections for anyone that wants one. Both years, I've passed even though I didn't particularly go to the club thinking "Ooh, safety inspection today, better make sure I've got all my stuff". Not being in the nanny business (thank goodness), the Coast Guard's safety requirements for kayaks are pretty much a bare minimum. Things you'd just be pretty dense to be out kayaking without anyways.

Now it happens that I'd been thinking about writing a short post about my Vessel Safety Check, but I wasn't sure how to approach it. But then I saw Tillerman's latest Group Writing Project.


He's challenged us to write posts that are lists.

Well, your basic Vessel Safety Check is all ABOUT a list. The examiner has a list of requirements in hand. If you get checked off as having the right stuff for your kind of boat, you get your sticker.

The trick, for a kayaker, is looking at the list of federal requirements & sorting out what applies to a kayak, and what doesn't.

So although I might do another list or two (I had some more entertaining ideas than this one), I thought "What a kayaker needs to pass a Vessel Safety Check" would be a perfect topic. It's a useful list, I just did mine recently so it's pretty fresh in my mind, so I'll start with that.

Please note that this is something of a condensed version. Check out the USCG Boating Safety site for a much more complete version. Also be aware that these are the FEDERAL requirements - state by state requirements vary, best thing is to get your hands on a copy of your state's boating regulations (I know for a fact that NY & CT both have nice little booklets that are available for free at most clubs, outfitters, and marine supply stores & somehow I suspect that's true of most of your states with actual coastlines).

On with the list!

Required Item #1. A Personal Flotation Device. Of course! Must be CG approved for the use to which it's being put (Type III is the right sort for sea kayaking), in good condition (no innards showing through splitting seams, all your straps & buckles & zippers securely attached & functioning) and properly fitted.

Required Item #2. Visual Distress Signals: Required on any vessel operating in waters more than 2 miles wide. Human-powered vessels are exempt from carrying day signals but we have to carry night signals. Full details here. VERY worth a read. If you are using flares like most kayakers, be aware that flares have an expiration date & your inspector WILL look at that. Old flares have a higher chance of being duds.

BTW I am going to do a short post about Orion Skyblazers VERY soon, those are the flare of choice for most sea kayakers, there was a safety-issue driven product freeze last year & I have just found some information that absolutely, positively deserves it's own separate post.

Required Item #3: Sound producing device. Most people I know (including me) just have a whistle on a lanyard permanently attached to the flap of one of their lifejacket pockets. My friend Stevie has a StowMaster horn, which is a funny little thing that looks like a stubby little pipe:
Makes a big loud noise! He was behind me one time on a paddle & he blew that thing for some reason. I almost jumped out of my kayak 'cause I thought that somehow a big boat had materialized right behind us without my ever spotting it (and I'm usually pretty sharp about being aware of boats in my vicinity)! Your examiner will be perfectly happy with the standard safety whistles you can buy at any boating supply store, but there are other, louder options that might be nice if you paddle someplace with a lot of fog or something.

Required Item #4: Navigation Lights: Kayaks are only required to carry "a flashlight or lighted lantern that can show a white light in sufficient time to prevent collision." I do have to say, though, that the auxiliary folks who've examined my boat & kit have been very happy to see that I carry lights closer to the sailboat plan. See full details in the navigation regulation section of the Boating Safety page.

Required Item #5: Boat condition: Your examiner will look your boat over to make sure that it's well-maintained & in good shape. Repaired damage is fine (I have a fiberglass patch on the bottom of my boat where I got driven onto a piling & holed doing kayak support for a swim race one time, that hardly gets a second glance); cracks, holes, or other obvious, unrepaired damage won't pass. Your boat has to meet state & local safety requirements too - generally for kayaks, I don't think that's going to be much beyond the well-maintained condition that the examiner's going to look for anyways, but again, it's worth getting a boating regs booklet for your own state & looking that over just to be sure.

And rather amazingly, that's pretty much the minimum REQUIRED stuff for kayaks. I always liked the simplicity of kayaking. How's this for simple?:

Visual Distress Signals
Lights (at least one white light)
Whistle or horn
Boat in good condition.

So simple, it's practically Amish.

Of course, there is a second category of stuff. These are items that your examiner will be quite pleased to see, but aren't required. Nice thing is, the "recommended items" list, pared down to the kayak-relevant subset I've been asked about at my two VSC's, are very standard components of the average educated sea kayaker's kit: A VHF, a first aid kit, and a pump.

They'll also ask about boating safety classes. As kayakers, most of us haven't taken offical CG Auxiliary-run safety classes, but if you've taken classes from a legitimate club or kayaking school, that does count.

Now - that's all I've been asked for in either of my Vessel Safety Checks, but there are a FEW more items I see on the full checklist that an examiner could theoretically ask about, and even if they don't, are good things to think of for your own boating safety. You can see the full list here.

A lot of the list is just obviously not applicable to kayaks. Then there are things that could change from state to state, like display of numbers & documentation - those don't apply here in NY (although my examiner did make a note of my hull identification number), but I don't know if that's true of the other 49 states.

The interesting thing I'm noticing on that list, though, looking closely, is that there are a few items on there that my examiners didn't ask me about either time, but they could have - nautical charts & navigation aids, float plan filing and weather and sea condition, and survival & first aid ALL jump out at me as items I didn't get asked about, but are as relevant to kayakers as they are to any other recreational boater.

They may've just figured I was obviously a responsible, well-equipped, well-trained paddler & that they'd seen enough to give me my sticker & move on to the next boat, but if they'd had more time, or I'd been iffy on other stuff, they definitely could've kept going on me. And I suspect that how many questions get asked has a lot to do with the individual examiner's personal preferences, too.

But getting the kayak-relevant basic requirements, plus a few of the recommendeds, isn't too hard.

Just don't forget - you'll need quite a bit more stuff to make your friendly neighborhood ACA or BCU instructor happy!

Next day addendum - The comments are quite worth checking out today - Carol Anne of It's Five O'Clock Somewhere checked in with some specific examples of things she, a sailor in New Mexico, would be required to produce at a Vessel Safety Check in her state that I, a New York State paddler, was not required to produce in mine. I almost chickened out of writing this post because of those state-by-state differences - I was worried about somebody reading my New York list & not realizing that they might have additonal requirements, but then I figured if I just said clearly, "Hey, these things vary from state to state" that would be fine. So I did, and left it at that, but I really enjoyed seeing some specific examples from another state. Thanks, Carol Anne!

One Last Cherry Blossom Post!

Honest! Then it's back to boats! I swear! Actually I had about as boaty a weekend as I think I could imagine having without actually leaving the dock. Tons of fun, learned a few things, was entertained by a few things, repaired a few things, planted a few things, and did a teensy spot of plotting - just no actual on-water time. Super gusty, there were practically combers rolling down the Paerdegat. I coulda gotten out my surfski & actually surfed. Things had actually settled down a bit by the time the Laser regatta prep meeting was over, and I did actually reconsider my reconsideration of pulling out the ski. We'd had a lot of rain this week & when I walked down to the (fabulous new) dock to scope things out, I noticed that the water had this sort of opaque light-green tone & distinctive reek that's a pretty surefire clue that the holding station at the end of the basin got overwhelmed & stopped holding. Inauspicious circumstances for the first run of the season in a boat that soaks your okole for you. Might try to sneak in a quick spin after the Laser regatta next week.

Well, I got kinda sidetracked from the Final Cherry Blossom Post of 2009 didn't I? As long as I'm digressing -

Check Out The DOCK! Is it not fabulous and new? It's U-shaped, I'm standing at the end of one of the arms of the U. We're gonna be able to launch a 10-person tour simultaneously. The ramp is at least twice as wide as the old one, and much longer, so it won't require Sherpa genes to get your boat up the ramp on your own at low water anymore (er, um, not that you should be paddling on your own or anything like that).

OK, now back to my last Cherry Blossom post. I know I got a little obsessed on that last week - that was partly because we had a much harder work week than I'd expected last week, plus I had to go to a City of Water Day planning meeting on Tuesday, so I was partly just being lazy & slapping up videos. But I was also just really excited that I made it, I've been living in Brooklyn for a long time & although I do go see the cherry blossoms almost every Spring, I've never managed to make it to the festival. I've always either had a conflict, or forgot about it until the week after it happened, or both. I think my list of Things I've Really Wanted To Go See While I'm Living In NYC But Never Managed To is down to:

The Coney Island Mermaid Parade (June 20th this year, I'll be missing it again, although I should mention that went to something on Saturday that I think might be an acceptable substitute - less crowded, too!)
The Coney Island New Year's Day Polar Bear Swim (unlikely to happen, that's one TQ doesn't think sounds as interesting as I do & as long as our New Year's Day date is a paddle, I'll compromise on that one)
The Working Harbor Committee's Hidden Harbor Tour.

I'd like to have another go at the annual tugboat races, since stupid kayak-storage politics, run afoul of quite unexpectedly & while still in a woozy state of recovery from a bad bad flu that day (the only reason I wasn't working on the Adirondack that day - I wasn't fit to sail yet), managed to dump some serious rain on my tugboat parade the one time I did make it.

This year I FINALLY got to the Sakura Matsuri festival, though, and I was really happy about that! I promise that after today I'll resume my more typical topics, though, I think I've satisfied my yen (ha ha) to recount the fun of the day with a full Flickr gallery!

One more video too. Ever hear a koto ensemble? Pretty neat sound, although captured by a digital camera that's not designed to do justice to something like this. I hadn't actually planned to go hear this one. I was going to go see the wisteria colonnade up by the Eastern Parkway, which would be beautiful this time of year (even the wisteria spilling into the subway cut from somebody's backyard on my way to work is breathtaking this time of year), then return to the tent for the folk dancing & stay for the Samurai Sword Soul performance & the grand finale Kimono Fashion Show. Well, I headed for the the wisteria but I never made it there because there was this amazing sound pouring out of the tent & I just got drawn in. Recorded it until I literally couldn't hold up my camera any more. Maybe you had to be there - but here's what I can share.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Another sign I'm ready for summer -

I dreamed about paddling my surfski last night!

Funny dream, too. It reflected reality insofar as the air was warm, while the water was still quite chilly. It was the first surfski run of the season. I went off to do my standard post-work 8-mile run to the bridge & back, but all the sudden, a few minutes outside the basin, I realized that I'd set out dressed in the same getup as I'd been wearing on the Clarion - swimsuit & shorts - and I'd totally forgotten my lifejacket! Eek! That was fine for a 2-foot deep river but for urban paddling, apparently my never-go-out-in-NYC-waters-without-a-lifejacket rule is so hard & fast, it even extends to the REM phase of sleep - the minute I realized that I turned around to head back to the club.

Then I heard some sirens go off & I was afraid it was the Coast Guard coming because I wasn't wearing a lifejacket. It was the harbor patrol on their way to something else, but I decided that since I was not far from the basin, I would just walk back. I didn't have a tow rope & the ski is a little awkward to carry, but it was a flood tide & when I got off the ski & let it go, it went floating along in just the right direction, so I decided to walk along keeping an eye on it. This goes fine all the way back to the basin, where it turns the corner a little ahead of me. I lose sight of it & run to the other side of the bridge over the basin, afraid that I'm going to have to swim after it to keep it out of the channel (the universal Sebago reaction of complete disgust at the thought of swimming in the Paerdegat also carried over into dreamland).

Well, when I get it back in sight somehow my poor old beat-up surfski had turned into a 32-foot sailboat and there are three or four guys in a motorboat moving in on it because they think it's untended!

I'm mortified at having to explain why my boat is drifting up the Paerdegat with me running along the shore behind it instead of being on board, but I manage to convince the powerboaters that the sailboat's really mine & everything's completely under control (even though I'm actually totally confused about what had happened to my surfski & not feeling like I had things under control at all). I get on board, turn on the motor & am motoring along trying to figure out what I am supposed to do with this thing that I suddenly can't land at the Sebago dock when I woke up & realized that the whole thing was just a dream.

Not sure whether that realization was more of a "phew" or a "awwww shucks" variety!

Beats me how I manage to have a dream where my thirdhand, extremely used surfski turns into a bona fide cruising keelboat, and yet still manage to make it into an anxiety dream.


Did give me a great idea for the weekend though. Sunday, the sailing co-chairs are having a practice to make sure everybody involved directly in our May 16th Laser regatta knows what we need to do to make everything go smoothly. I'm in that since my volunteer assignment is something where it would be TRAGICALLY obvious if I screw up. I was planning on getting in a paddle afterwards anyways - but I think if conditions are good, I might just modify my plans from pulling out the trusty Romany - it's about time the surfski saw the light of day in 2009! Woohoo!

Will DEFINITELY wear a wetsuit, and although it may mean the ski never gets that magic moment alone it needs to turn itself into a small cruiser, I promise I won't leave my lifejacket behind!

Saturday evening addendum: Oops. This kinda puts the kibbosh on the break-out-the-ski idea:





Singing Silver Swords of Sakura!

OK, so the first ones here are bamboo. Oh well! A couple more short clips of the goings-on on a rainy day of the Sakura Matsuri Festival 2009 at the Brooklyn Botanical Garden:

"Kinda Kendo":

Fencing for fun in the rain. "Kendo?" a passerby asked the duellists. "Kinda..." they replied, with a laugh.

Samurai Sword Soul Snippet:

A lot more choreographed than the first - Just a quick bit of the opening of Samurai Sword Soul performance. Oh - notice the front-row seats here? It definitely pays to not be afraid of the rain! :D

The fighter with the staff is Japanese actor/comedian/martial artist Yoshi Amao - he was the emcee for the Brooklyn Botanical Garden's Sakura Matsuri festival 2009. He was the "instructor" in "Advanced Japanese" clip I posted earlier this week, and he's also the founder & producer of Samurai Sword Soul. They have classes - maybe my next hobby will be samurai sword fighting!

That will of course happen the day after I get bored with boats, which is to say probably never. But it does look like fun, doesn't it?

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Ready for Summer.

You know you're ready for summer when you develop an allergy to socks.

(I wish I was kidding!)

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Natural History Moment

And now, from the Division of Learn Something New Every Day, Department of Molluscidae:

I never thought of barnacles as having any particularly interesting secrets.

But then, Rosie enlightened me.

tee hee hee.

Monday, May 04, 2009

That Was The Week That Was.

Last weekend was fantastic. My first trip out to TQ's new place since he moved - it's farther away but I found a bus that makes it possible to get there for a weekend (although I think I'll try to arrange for future trips to be long weekends).

He's inherited a great pair of dogs - the way he got them was very sad, the friend to whom they belonged was far too young to go, but they've settled in well with TQ & on Saturday, we took them for their first longish canoe trip - 10 miles on the placid Clarion River. Great fun.
Oh, I know I'm going to get grief about the lifejacket - the river's about 2 feet deep, slow-moving, has already warmed up a bit, and on this hot, hot day, people were swimming & splashing all along the shore. I couldn't believe we were paddling in t-shirts & shorts while it was still April but I would've done well to jump in the water for a cool-down myself, it was a fabulous day & would've been even better if I hadn't ended it with one of those needly heat-caused headaches.

My dad happened to be in the area for yet another tower-bell thing, so on Sunday he came out, we fixed him brunch & then took him for one quick walk to see TQ's property, and another to see some of the cascades in the area. Here we are looking out over TQ's land.

So that weekend was great -

And this weekend wasn't too bad either - hey look, I still managed to place in the overall-women's division at Empire Kayaks May Day On The Bay Race, despite the fact that I've basically been chained to my desk for the last month.

Of course it turns out there'd been a challenge laid down to Sebago by the North Atlantic Canoe & Kayak Club - too bad it didn't get passed on, surfski would've been a gamble since I haven't been on it all winter, but it was a nice placid day & the ski might at least have given me a shot at at LEAST giving the woman from who took first a LITTLE trouble!

Although there still would've been this matter of she'd actually trained.

It was a fun day, though. I'd been undecided up to the last minute, but I did have a very good time, and Walter & I left talking about how it would be fun to try to have a little more interaction with other clubs in the area.

The week between was really pretty bad - hence my absence. As I may have mentioned here, our budget presentation to the Board of Directors was on April 23rd. I had been given another rather large reporting project due on the following Wednesday. Sort of like telling somebody who's in the middle of a marathon, "OK, so when you finish this marathon, I need you to report to the local track for the 400K." The report was based on something I'd done before, but they wanted things split out differently, and it ended up being a lot more time-consuming than I'd expected. I'd run some of the background reports during the budget process, when I was between assignments, but I basically had Monday & Tuesday to put things together. Those were a couple of late nights. Wednesday, I delivered what I'd done; the folks in charge of the project decided that some of the numbers weren't as useful in the new form as they'd been in the old form so Wednesday night was another late one putting those back the way they were. Thursday we had another review, and they left me with more changes, and thinking it was going to be another horribly long night - but then they called to say that they'd decided to just skip the numbers part & talk marketing plans, etc.

These things do happen sometimes, and I was awfully glad that they'd made their decision before I'd put in Late Night #4 - but it was still a bit of a bummer to discover Late Nights 1 through 3 were wasted. I was particularly bummed because I'd gambled my garden on getting a couple more hours of sleep during those days - the mini-heat-wave went through Tuesday, when it was up around 90; I was going to get up early on Wednesday morning to go water but I woke up around 4:30, looked out the window & saw that it had rained & went back to sleep. Wasn't sure it had rained much, though. Thursday there was rain in the forecast, so again I gambled that the rain would turn up before all my plants were totally dead.

The rain didn't get going until I think maybe early Friday morning. I was really afraid that I was going to go to the club to find a bunch of dead seedlings. Not too late to restart, but things had gotten going so nicely.

Fortunately, though, my fellow Sebago Diggers knew that I'd been crazy busy at work & I think more thanks to them than to the rain, my garden is fine! Hooray!

The unsettling part of the week, though - in fact going back a couple of weeks, and I think part of what had me singing "New York I Love You, But You're Bringing Me Down" was that co-workers have, in the midst of all our work craziness, had some unexpected losses among their friends. Accident, disease & illness took those young people. So hard. Listening to my co-workers (all very good people) of course reminded me of the former owner of the dogs (heart attack at 40) - and then of course all the former co-workers who didn't make it out on September 11th. That's getting to be a long time ago, but it still hurts to think about.

The person there who tends to stick out in my memory more than most was a woman by the name of Susan Getzendanner.

If I remember correctly, she had at one point gone through a really bad divorce. She'd fought through the aftereffects of that, though, and by the time I was working with her, she was a cheerful & confident business manager. She took her job very seriously, but there was more to her life than work - she sang with a Gilbert and Sullivan group, and once a year she would go trekking in Tibet.

Despite holding a pretty high-level position at the bank, she made sure that her time in Tibet was HER time in Tibet. If you were working on a project with here, she'd start giving you warnings about a month in advance, saying "If you have anything urgent, please make sure you've let me know so that we can wrap it up, as I am leaving for Tibet on x-and-such day. Anything that is not done by that day will have to wait until I return." And she stuck with that. She was a hard worker, but she made sure that she carved out that time for herself.

She was among the lost on September 11th. Another fellow former Fiduciary employee & I talked about her quite a bit after that - we somehow pictured her as being able to face what was happening with a lot more peace in her mind, because she'd MADE that time to live for herself, even if people didn't always understand how she could.

How much more terrible it would have been if she'd been putting off that time for herself for some point in the future - stashing money away for a grand tour of Asia the year after she'd retired or something, taking vacations closer to home & staying on the pager leash like a lot of people do.

Since then, I've always thought that I should try to live my life a little more like she did. Not that I want to go trekking in Tibet (for starters, I'm in children's publishing now & the pay scale falls a bit shy of the high-net-worth-individual private-banking pay scale; secondly, obviously my dream vacations are more along the lines of the sort of thing TQ & I do - our kayak, camp & catch up with old college friends vacation last fall was just about perfect, as was our week in R.I. the year before) - just that I want to make sure that I keep time carved out for me.

It's easy to forget that, and it's harder than ever to do these days. I seem to spend a lot of evening hours in my cubicle, hours that I would rather spend paddling or gardening - but when I know so many people who are out of work & not getting so much as a nibble, I guess I feel like what I sometimes have to do to get my work done is worth it.

Or at least it's what the times demand.

My weekends are still mine, mostly. I'm not sure how long I could stand it if work started slopping over into weekends on a regular basis.

But I am feeling like a good goal for this summer would be to try to get my job under enough control that I can actually get out paddling after work at least once a week or so.

A little more sailing would be good too.

Wish me luck, OK?