Friday, August 29, 2014

Minor Repair to a Paddle Blade

This is a common repair, but one which should be tended to right away before water intrusion rapidly deteriorates the blade further. If you know how the blade was damaged, most of the mystery is solved as how to best prevent its recurrence. It becomes a question of whether the wood was damaged by some accident or checked. Checking is a natural opening of the fibers usually along the grain. It can, however, start following one grain and make an irregular diagonal jump to follow another grain depending on the forces working on the wood. Checking usually occurs because the wood was not completely seasoned, and is now contracting, or because of weathering from not being properly protected from the elements. In something as thin as a paddle blade, the check will normally be evident on both sides of the blade.
A 4 1/2" crack that split the wood and varnish.
The blade is cracked when an external force is applied, the wood is bent, and the fibers on the convex side of the bend are unable to endure, and a crack occurs there first along the fibers. Initially, the crack may only be visible on what was the convex side, but, of course, if the force continues, the wood will fail completely. My paddle blade only showed a crack on one side, splitting both the varnish and the wood, but not being evident at all on the other side. We don’t know how it happened, but apparently pressure caught the blade in an unsupported position and flexed the blade.

Using a Dremel tool with triangular bit, a "V" groove was cut
half-way through the paddle.
On plain paddles, the crack would normally go all the way to the end of the blade, since the wood is diminishing in both thickness and strength as the blade tapers. To start, I carefully highlight the crack with a pencil so it is easier to follow while sawing. The crack is sawed through to remove any broken wood fibers, and also to open the crack enough to effect a repair. I use a saw blade just wide enough to remove the damaged fibers and no more. Scotch tape is applied over the crack on one side, since epoxy won’t adhere to it, and slightly thickened epoxy is then forcibly brushed into the crack to remove all air. As described below, masking tape is put on either side of the crack on the working side of the blade.

The groove was epoxy filled, sanded smooth, and while probably
not necessary, a single layer of fiberglass was applied to the entire
back of the blade.
On this blade, a Bending Branches BB Special Bent-Shaft paddle, the RockGard epoxy edge that is applied around most of the blade’s edge, protected the blade and kept the crack from running all the way to the end. Since the blade was not cracked through, nor to the end of the blade, I routed a “V” groove about half-way through the blade. Masking tape was used to outline the crack both in width and length. This does two things---it greatly minimizes mess and the sanding time required later, and since epoxy shrinks a bit as it cures, it allows the epoxy to stand a bit above the surface of the paddle. This makes it unnecessary to come back and add a touch more epoxy later. Once the epoxy becomes tacky, so it will no longer run, the masking tape is removed. Don’t let the epoxy cure with the tape in place.

Finished with several coats of spar varnish, the repair is
hardly noticeable.
Other than varnishing, this is really all that is necessary. However, I have a long history of always wanting to do something extra. This habit has gone on long enough that it is now impossible to ignore. So, I applied a single layer of epoxy and fiberglass to cover the entire back of the blade. I doubt the materials required added as much as an ounce to the weight of the blade, but backed up the repair and strengthened the blade so that I can now either paddle with it or use it to dig trenches. Once everything is sanded smooth, just apply as many coats of varnish (minimum of four) as your patience will allow.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

River-Running Sphinx Moth

The sphinx moth, also called a hawk moth or hummingbird moth, is huge, and its behavior closely mimics the hummingbird. It flies erratically, darting about so rapidly that it is often difficult to follow with the eye. Part of this, however, is that it feeds most commonly in the evening when light conditions begin to fade. They are big, often having as much as an 8-inch wingspan, and feed on flowers with a proboscis (feeding tube) that is anchored in its tail end and still extends as much 10-inches from its head, so certainly an amazing creature. They love pink, red and orange Four O-Clocks, a self-seeding and very, very prolific flower that will take over a flowerbed. They also love petunias and evening primrose.

There are many varieties.  This one is a pink-spotted sphinx moth
because of the pink spots on its lower wings to either side of its body.
This one visited Jean in the yard, so she brought it inside for me to see. Here it appears to be helping me find camping spots on a Mississippi River map.


Monday, August 25, 2014

Running The Amazon

Running The Amazon, by Joe Kane, pub. by Alfred A. Knopf, NY, 1989, 277pp.

No one had ever done a source-to-sea expedition of the Amazon. A few had paddled or rafted short sections, but a previous attempt at running the entire river in 1976 ended when the expedition leader died within the first three minutes of having his boat in the water. About a half-dozen other attempts were made, two more people died, and none succeeded

The river gradient is five times greater than the Colorado River, and drops 13,000 feet in one 300 mile section. The American Whitewater Assoc. classification for rapids has six levels. Level six is labeled ’extreme.’ It reads, “These runs have almost never been attempted, and often exemplify the extremes of difficulty, unpredictability, and danger. The consequences of errors are very severe, and rescue may be impossible.” The Apurimac ran from threes to many sixes or off the scale.

The river’s source is in a snowfield high in the Andes Mountains. At 18,000 feet on the side of Mount Mismi, South America’s continental divide, their first challenge would be altitude sickness. The Apurimac River would shortly begin after a few miles of following the snowmelt stream. It led them into Black Canyon, one of the world’s deepest gorges, at more than twice the depth of the Grand Canyon. At one point the canyon rim perches two and a half miles above the river, or over 10,000 feet deep. The roar of the cascades is so great that the native Quechua name for the river translates to “The Great Speaker of God.”

The expedition started with a team of ten, nine men and one woman, the team doctor. It ended with four members by the time they had completed the 4,150 mile run. They introduce the reader to the river, jungle, small, sleepy native villages, drug-smuggling plantations, being shot at by guerilla gunmen, violent storms, equally violent confrontations among team members, and pretty much everything else you could expect from such an expedition. This is definitely a good read.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Picture of the Day

Credit: Alex Comb, Solo Canoe
It starts as a canoe, and ends as a pulling boat, but
what can be more beautiful and serene?

Friday, August 22, 2014

Stumpy Lake - 2

The cypress swamp showed nature in full bloom.
In the southwest corner of the lake, I encountered a channel that led west. Investigating it carried my deep into a cypress swamp. The air was filled with the songs of birds, and wildflowers grew everywhere. I went as far as I could until I was just about to run out of room to turn around.

Parts of the lake were carpeted with millions of floating seeds.
As I paddled up the west shore, I drew close to a couple of kayakers. I was about to speak to them when the man ran the bow of his kayak into low foliage of a small, young cypress tree sitting right on the edge of the shore in front of a cabin. Any chance of a conversation was ended when a man came running out the door of his cabin yelling. I first thought he was wanting them to get away from his property, but instead I heard him warning that there was a water moccasin in the cypress tree. The paddler backed away as he looked about, and said that he didn’t see anything. The man approached the tree and said that he had just been out there a few minutes before and saw it entwined in the branches of the tree. After looking about, he agreed that it didn’t seem to still be there. A bit put off by the wildlife in the immediate area, the paddling couple decided to move on down the lake.

Gliding through the cypress swamp.
E-Z Launch.  This is a single boat launch.  The one at Stumpy
Lake could handle two boats at once, one off either end.
There were no good places for launch and take-out from the shore, but they had built a beautiful metal pier, float, and launching wharf. The wharf, attached to the end of the pier, is called an E-Z Launch, made by E-Z Port. The company made a name for itself making launch floats for PWC, or jet skis, allowing them to be literally driven onto the float and pushed off. This launch is for paddlecraft, and includes a seat the slides out over the canoe/kayak to enable disabled or elderly people to get into a canoe. This one was a double launcher, meaning it was long enough that two craft could be placed on the ramp and loaded, then launched simultaneously. Your canoe would be placed on several cross pipes covered with PVC. Once loading, you’d pull on the side rails and pull yourself onto the sloping ramp and into the water. It is fantastic for plastic boats. I saw several launch, and they shot out onto the water’s surface like a launched watermelon seed. I used the launch, since there were no alternatives, but found it greatly lacking for my light Kevlar canoe. The cross bars are far enough apart that the boat flexed alarmingly, and buckled as it passed over each pipe. There’s an area where the canoe is half on the launch and half water-borne where it is totally unsupported in the middle. The canoe clearly exclaimed that it was not having a good time. Returning, you’re supposed to just run the bow up onto the ramp, use the side rails to pull yourself up the incline and onto the flat section, and then disembark. I chose to just get the bow onto the ramp, and then stepped onto the side rails. Once I got up far enough, I stepped onto the end of the ramp, and just scooted the canoe up between my legs. I’m glad no one was taking pictures. There was nothing graceful about it, but I didn’t want to stress the canoe any further. Again, fantantastic idea and great for plastic boats, but for ultra-light craft, I’d recommend finding some alternative. Had it not been for heavy growth alongside, placing the canoe in the water alongside the float and boarding from the pier would have been the best option.

With Buddy loaded back on the Ram, I grabbed my packed lunch and waterbottle and settled at a picnic table for a quiet, leisurely lunch. It was a short trip, but everything I could want from a paddle.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Stumpy Lake, VA

I didn’t have a lot of time, but Stumpy Lake was nearby and accessible for getting on the water. I was a bit concerned about the name, and when I met a fisherman launching ahead of me, I took advantage of the chance to question him about it. He assured me there was plenty of water unless I got close to the shores. In fact, I found plenty of water everywhere, and only rubbed one stump slightly.

Stumpy Lake, quiet and beautiful.

A very low single-lane causeway bridge connecting the highway
and a golf course and residential area.
The lake was a nice pale green color, and it was evident why fishermen were launching throughout the day. The lake was surrounded and peppered with mature cypress trees. The sun filtered through the beautiful foliage and dappled the water’s surface. An added advantage is that only hand-propelled craft are permitted on the lake. Paddling slalom in and out among the cypress reminded me of my days paddling Trap Pond in Delaware with David Sockrider.

Two female mallards, one by a cypress tree.

As usual, I paddled the entire circumference of the lake. Near the dam, seeds were being transported on the breeze. They were a bit smaller than a grain of white rice and surrounded by a tuft of down a half to ¾ inch in diameter. At times it looked like a snow storm, and toward the south end of the lake, the water was covered by large blankets of white. I wanted to be able to identify what I was seeing, but local workers in the park had no idea what they were. Indeed, they hadn’t even noticed them. So, I contacted the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation. I described the seeds, and said that if I was home on the plains, I’d swear they were cottonwood tree seeds, but didn’t think there would be cottonwoods in the tidewater regions of Virginia. I am grateful to their chief biologist, J. Christopher Ludwig, who responded with the following: “I am fairly sure your seeds are from the Salix Caroliniana, the Carolina Willow, a fairly common tree on the borders of the lake. By the way, Willow and Poplar are in the same family--Salicacease--so your guess on cottonwood was right on.” So that told me two things I didn’t know before---the cottonwood is a poplar, and willows and poplars are of the same family. Cool!


Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Plumbing the Plimsoll Line

The Plimsoll Line

I saw this on the side of a rusty barge in the Elizabeth River. If you’ve been paddling around commercial rivers and harbors, you most likely have seen this on the side of ships and barges, but unless you are involved in shipping, you probably haven’t understood what it represents. This is called a Plimsoll Line or Mark, named after Samuel Plimsoll, who in 1874, 1875, and 1876 introduced three pieces of legislation before the British Parliament that became known as the Merchant Shipping Act. The goal was to standardize the amount of freeboard a vessel should have under different sea conditions. (Freeboard is the height of the side of the ship from the waterline to the vessel’s deck.) Plimsoll’s name stuck because his standards became British law, which in turn became the international standard in 1930 with the International Load Line Convention.

The Plimsoll Line was necessary because insurance companies, ship owners, captains and crews have interests that are naturally diametrically opposed to the interests of shippers. The owners, captains, and insurance companies would like to see the vessel arrive intact at its destination. The crews seem to favor not drowning at sea. Shippers, on the other hand, want to load the vessel as heavily as possible. It’s all about money. The more they can get aboard, the more money they make. If loading it too heavily causes the ship to sink, well, the load is insured, so they get paid anyhow, so regardless of what the shipping companies say about their devotion to safety, I know from personal experience that some shippers will often use threats of contract cancellation, tantrums, intimidation or anything else to force a captain into taking on more load. The Plimsoll Line gives the captain final authority. When the relevant line is reached, and the shipper doesn’t concur that loading is finished, the captain can call the owners, insurers, or the Coast Guard, any and all of which will back his decision to stop loading.

Plimsoll wasn’t the first to realize that there was a problem. Overloading destroys a vessel’s stability, and this problem has existed since the first raft was pushed into the water. The result can be capsizing (rolling over) or being overcome by seas because of inadequate buoyancy. This results in the vessel flooding and sinking, or foundering. The first known regulations date back to 2,500 BC in Crete, and the Romans and other civilizations followed suit.

Here’s how you read the Plimsoll Line. On the left side of the symbol, there is a circle with a bisecting horizontal line. In the summer, a vessel must have freeboard that extends from the line to the level of the vessel’s deck. The two letters represent the authors of the enforceable standards under which the vessel operates. Here, the letters AB represent the American Bureau of Shipping. LR would be Lloyd’s Registry (British), IR for Indian Registry, and so on.

Since fresh and salt waters have different densities, a vessel with a given load will settle deeper in freshwater. The two lines to the left of the vertical staff are for freshwater, and the lines to the right are for saltwater. TF is for tropical freshwater, and F for fresh. On the right, T is tropical saltwater, S for summer saltwater, W for winter saltwater, and WNA is for winter North Atlantic. Besides water density, the lines take into account the likelihood of encountering heavy seas at different times of the year, or in different regions. The end result, hopefully, is that the ship, captain, crew, AND LOAD, will get safely from point A to point B.