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Topical tips and Question and Answer.

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Jammed skeg
A small pebble or a little soft mud may be all it takes to jam your skeg in its slot. It can be fiddly to clean out on a beach unless you have the right tools handy; perhaps a thin flat screwdriver to dislodge pebbles and a pair of needle nosed pliers to ease the skeg down. It's not as easy when you are afloat. A solution is to drill a small hole in the back corner of the skeg, then tie a loop of thin strong line through it so it dangles about an inch from the hull. Tugging gently on the line and shaking is often all that's needed to free a jammed skeg on the water, although you may need assistance.

Bulkhead footrest

There are huge benefits to using a bulkhead as your foot-braces. First you have freedom to move the position of your feet whenever you want without losing the contact necessary for control. Secondly you limit the space that could fill with water should your kayak swamp.

There are a couple of different ways to modify your kayak;

1. If your kayak has a sturdy enough bulkhead, (a foam bulkhead in a plastic kayak is not sufficient) consider cutting foam spacers to fit against the bulkhead to fill the empty space. The very lightweight Styrofoam used for building insulation, usually pink or blue in color, compresses very little under load and offers an inexpensive option. It's available in different thicknesses. Your existing foot-braces may be used to help secure the foam in place, and the foam can be removed to allow someone with longer legs to use the kayak.

2. A more radical option is to cut out your existing front bulkhead and fit a new one in the correct position for your feet. hold it in place lightly and test before glassing it permanently. Ideally leave a little room for adjustment in case you should in the future wear shoes with thicker soles... you can always pad out the extra inch with foam, and this will offer you a more comfortable and warmer pad than a fiberglass or plywood bulkhead. You might want to pay a professional to do this work for you.

Of course if you're ordering a custom kayak, a custom-positioned bulkhead may be an option on offer.

What difference does the paddle shaft diameter make?

Most paddles differ very little in diameter. For forward paddling it doesn't make much difference if the diameter is 1/8 inch more or less, except a narrow shaft will impact the palm more than a broader one. So, for forward paddling, if you have a small hand, a narrow shaft is fine but if you have a larger hand, a fatter one will be more comfortable. However... for directional control, using strokes such as a bow rudder or a stern draw, you can be more precise with a fatter shaft than a narrow one. A fat shaft will offer you more accuracy in your turns... so if that's the kind of paddling you're after, choose as broad shaft rather than a narrow one, so long as it's comfortable in your hand. (Bear in mind we're talking about a difference of little more than 1/4 inch between very thick and very thin)

Sunscreen

Carry a small tube of sunscreen in your pfd pocket or in your day-hatch so you are ready to reapply whenever necessary. You'll find out which types of sunscreen sting your eyes, which will happen when you sweat enough, or when waves wash even waterproof varieties into your eyes.

Protect your gear from the effects of the sun

It's summer in the northern hemisphere; time to don your sun-hat and apply sunscreen. But what can you do to protect your gear from the ravages of ultraviolet light? When you're not using it, try to store your gear away from direct sunlight. An occasional application of a protective spray such as "303 Aerospace Protectant" will help minimize fading and degradation of your kayak, and extend the life of your rubber hatch lids.

Paddle care

Many paddler find it convenient to use two-piece take-apart paddles rather than one-piece.  After all, they are easy to carry in the car, easy to store, and can be carried as spares on the kayak when you paddle with something else. You can also fly with them if you take a winter break to one of those holiday places where you'll make do with a whatever rental kayak is available but might prefer to use your own paddle.

Two-piece paddles suffer less wear and operate better if you take them apart after each excursion on the water and rinse the joint ends.  Salt, silt and dirt otherwise builds up, acting as a grinding paste to wear away at the inside of the tube during use, or if left too long to dry, may lock the sections together so tightly you'll have difficulty separating them. Fresh water is best for rinsing, but if that's not convenient, dip them in the salty sea and rinse the ends there... at least that'll get rid of the main build-up, leaving just a light salting when dry.

As a word of caution, don't be tempted to spray the ends with anything more severe than water. Liquids like oil and wax may harm the paddle shaft.


How efficient are your paddle strokes?

Watch your blade in the water, and listen. Whenever you make a noisy stroke or one that makes a lot of splash, it's an indication that you're wasting energy to move water instead of your kayak. Hurrying a stroke does not necessarily mean you'll make the kayak move more quickly... slow down your stroke until the blade is quiet in the water so you maximize the movement of the kayak and minimize the movement of the paddle blade. Typically paddlers splash most when accelerating and when turning, so maybe those should be the times you focus most on keeping your paddle quiet!


Car-topping your kayak.

Travel safely to the water! Strap your kayak securely to your car's roof bars, then secure extra safety lines from both bow and stern to strong anchor points on the front and back of your car. Towing rings are the ideal tie-points if your vehicle has them, while your fender may be suitable. Tie over the bow and stern of the kayak, threading through the kayak's end grabs.  Now should you have to brake abruptly, your kayak should remain attached to your car, even if the roofrack breaks loose. Finally hang a red flag or rag from the end hanging over the tail of your vehicle to alert following drivers to your load.


Getting ready for the freeze!

The time is here when many paddlers have hung up their kayaks for winter; a good time for a maintenance check. Examine your deck lines, bungees and end-grabs, and replace any that look tired or worn. Make sure all the cables for skegs or rudders are intact, and then flush the cable sleeves with water from a hose to dislodge any sand, salt and silt that might dry and solidify over winter. Check cables are free running. Examine the security and condition of your back-support and seat, rinse adjustable foot-braces and remove hatch lids to allow compartments to air.

If your kayak is stored in a place that could drop below freezing, make doubly sure you have sponged out any remaining water. Spray rubber hatch lids with a UV shield such as 303 to keep them fresh and pliable, but make a note to replace any lids that are showing signs of cracking. Changes in temperature will cause lids to suck in or stretch out if you leave them on the kayak, so remove the lids and store them inside the kayak. Scrutinize your hull deck and seams for deep grazes and impact fractures; you can repair these when the kayak is thoroughly dry. Finally store your kayak in a cool dry place out of direct sunlight, somewhere it will not be targeted by creatures seeking a place to hibernate!  

Minor gel-coat repairs  

With a composite kayak, the gel-coat is the waterproof outer layer. Chips, gouges and cracks that pierce the gel-coat allow water to seep into the underlying fiberglass laminations, gradually causing further damage. Carefully scrape away any loose edges to reveal the extent of the wound. If water has already waterlogged the underlying fiberglass it will feel spongy when probed; you’ll need to let it dry completely before you begin your repair, and scrape away any loose fiberglass.

Use sandpaper or a file to rough up the surface of the gel-coat immediately around the damage. This is to create a rough surface for the new gel-coat to grip onto; otherwise it will chip off easily. I use 400-grade grit sandpaper, but use what you have. Check for hairline cracks leading away from the main damage. Water will soak into these too, but you’ll need to open them up a little wider before you can repair them. Use the edge of a file or a stiff blade to make a groove of each crack to make room for the new gel-coat.

Clean the area with a little acetone on a rag, and then mask the abraded area with masking tape. There should be no shiny gel-coat within the masked area. You will need a warm place for a gel-coat repair otherwise the gel-coat will not harden.   For the repair, you’ll need topcoat gel-coat, hardener, a mixing container, disposable brush a mixing stick and vinyl disposable gloves. Topcoat gel-coat has wax mixed with it. The wax floats to the surface so you’ll need to stir it in before you pour what you need for the repair. Although you may be able to get gel-coat with pigment already mixed in to match your kayak, and a colorless hardener, even so, don’t expect your color match to be perfect, even if your hull is white. Be prepared to consider your repair the badge of an active kayaker rather than a blemish.

Gently mix a little gel-coat with the recommended volume of hardener. Try to avoid creating bubbles while mixing thoroughly. (You can shake bubbles to the surface by tapping the container, but any captured bubbles may pinhole your repair). Load the brush and paint a generous layer of gel-coat across the damaged surface. Ideally this should be not quite thick enough to run. Peel off the masking tape and retreat!

The gel-coat and hardener will react, jellying then hardening. When cured hard, (check by touching your mixing stick to the gel-coat remaining in the mixing container, rather than touching your repair) tidy the repair if necessary using a block and sandpaper. If you progress through to fine grade and finish with a polishing compound you may be able to make the repair invisible, but if you are not that concerned, simply smooth off any bumps. With the cracks and gouges filled, your hull will be water-tight once more.  

Note that any repair work may be messy and could be hazardous, so wear appropriate clothing, read the warning labels on the products you use, and do your work in a suitable place.    

December holidays

Don’t leave it too late to order your kayaking gifts! There are some great books and DVDs out for winter consumption, clothing items to keep you cozy and warm, and why not check out tow-line systems, or maybe for that person so close and dear to you, kayak jewelry?  Or be selfish and buy your partner a new pair of wet-suit booties so you can travel together odor-free for a few weeks! You might also make yourself a wish list in case anyone asks you what you would like.  

Smelly Booties!

Bacteria that cause odors in neoprene booties also lodge themselves in sandal straps. After paddling, stow your booties in a PVC dry-bag to contain the odors while traveling home. Add a little distilled white vinegar to your rinsing water and you’ll disturb the Ph the bacteria need to survive, and rid yourself of the smell. You’ll have to repeat the treatment regularly, but it is inexpensive and effective!  

Wet gear in your car.

Manage wet and sandy gear by keeping a plastic storage box in your trunk. Alternatively, if a bag will load into your trunk space more efficiently than a box, use a heavy duty dry-bag large enough to contain a complete outfit of clothing including helmet, spray-skirt and PFD. Dry-bags hold water in as efficiently as they keep water out. I also carry a small specially designated dry-bag for my booties so mud and odors don’t inundate the rest of my clothing, and dry-bags can fit into flight baggage to shield dry clothes from wet. The dry-bags or boxes also serve when rinsing gear.  

Reading the fine print.

You are not alone if you find the fine print on your chart difficult to see. Constantly switching from sunglasses to reading glasses and back, while keeping the salt spray at bay, can be a frustrating element to sea kayaking. Take a tip from "Hatter" in Sweden; he uses a "ski-pass" retractable cord attached to a magnifying lens. With the "reel" secured in his PFD pocket, the lens neatly stows itself when the line retracts, yet the lens is easily accessed for use whenever he needs to study his chart.