A Few More Pix from the Gulf

1 07 2010
A SCAT team member (Shore Condition Assessment Team) records the severity of coverage on the beach at Perdido Key

A SCAT team member (Shore Condition Assessment Team) records the severity of coverage on the beach at Perdido Key

Kindly Dr. K's Top-Sider and a lump of fresh oil

Kindly Dr. K's Top-Sider and a lump of fresh oil

A typical beach vista

A typical beach vista

Oil-soaked debris, possibly from the explosion

Oil-soaked debris, possibly from the explosion

Crews at work.  There were as many as 600 in our area, stretched over about 2 miles of beach.

Crews at work. There were as many as 600 in our area, stretched over about 2 miles of beach. Looks serene, but it was HOT.

The NPS crew I worked with, a great group.  That's me at lower right.

The NPS crew I worked with, a great group. That's me at lower right.



Pix from the Gulf

22 06 2010

Here are some pix from my first week helping with the clean-up of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.  I’ve spent most of my time on Perdido Key, Florida/Alabama.  This is the one of the hottest jobs I’ve ever done.

My Jackson Kayak shirt makes great beach wear.

My Jackson Kayak shirt makes great beach wear.

Early morning set-up of contractor cleaning operations

Early morning set-up of contractor cleaning operations

Contractor staging point

Contractor staging point

My new friend.  Herons look the same here as on the Potomac
My new friend. Herons look the same here as on the Potomac
Our first turtle next, a leatherback.  My work consists mostly of  preventing damage to these and other wildlife resources during the  clean-up
Our first turtle nest, a leatherback. My work consists mostly of preventing damage to these and other wildlife resources during the clean-up
The evidence of overnight turtle activity, a crawl

The evidence of overnight turtle activity, a crawl

A storm comes in from the Gulf

A storm comes in from the Gulf

The oil on the beach is in multiple layers as the tides leave new deposits every day

The oil on the beach is in multiple layers as the tides leave new deposits every day

CNN records the morning briefing

CNN records the morning briefing

The tip of the spear: picking up the oil, bit by bit.

The tip of the spear: picking up the oil, bit by bit.



Potomac High Water

15 03 2010

A moderate rain falling on the remnants of our record-setting snowfall in the Mid-atlantic region produced a big spike in flows in the lower Potomac this week.  It didn’t quite measure up to the catastrophic predictions but it was still a significant flow event.  It calculated out to about a five-year frequency, i.e. you can expect to see flows at this level about once every five years.

Here are some pix of the rising limb of the hydrograph; the Little Falls gage was around 8.3 on Saturday March 13 for these pictures.  The next day it went up to 13+ and I stayed on the bank.

A party ready to take off at the put-in.  Jenn, is this you?

A party ready to take off at the put-in. Jenn, is this you?

Waves at Skull Island.  These only form at high water.  For scale, the vertical dimension from trough to crest is about 8 feet

Waves at Skull Island. These only form at high water. For scale, the vertical dimension from trough to crest is about 8 feet

Maryland Chute is almost gone at this level

Maryland Chute is almost gone at this level

The big island separating Maryland and Center chutes is getting covered.  Lots of rare creek lines through the island.

The big island separating Maryland and Center chutes is getting covered. Lots of rare creek lines through the island.



Forty Years on the River

2 03 2010

When people ask how long you’ve been paddling it’s not entirely simple to nail it down.  I don’t count the childhood summer camp canoeing on lakes and ponds, as everybody does that sort of stuff and most of them don’t become whitewater paddlers as a result.  I date the beginning of my whitewater career to a single river trip that happened forty years ago this month.

In the spring of 1970 my senior year of high school was winding down rapidly.  Classes were becoming optional, as most of us had been accepted to some college or other and we were in that dreamy twilight zone wherein our grades and conduct just didn’t matter anymore, and we had cars, money, and time on our hands.

My friend John came up with the idea.  His Dad was an Army officer and he rented a 15-foot Grumman canoe cheap from the Army’s Morale, Welfare and Recreation Command.  He wanted to run the Seneca Breaks, a Class 2 mile-long set of rapids on the Potomac several miles above Great Falls. The boat was a 15-foot Grumman, generally considered a good solo boat for gentle whitewater.  So, four of us loaded into it to run the Potomac at near-flood level.  We had some idea of somehow sharing the three Army-issued lifejackets between us.  Not only were we ill-equipped, the Potomac was near flood stage and still cold in the early spring.

We paddled the boat out from shore in flat water above the rapids, got halfway across the ½ mile-wide river and turned downstream toward the first rapids.

Me, in the bow: “John you see that rock, right?”

John, in the stern: “Got it!”

Me, a few seconds later: “We’re gonna turn, right?”

John: “Got it!”

Me, later: “LEFT, LEFT!”

John: “Got it!”

Rock: “What a bunch of dips, CHOMP!”

Yep, we hit the only exposed rock in the whole rapids at high speed, spun sideways, and flipped upstream.  Four newbs were thrashin’ in the brown.

We all survived but it involved rescue squads, fire departments, helicopters, the whole shebang.  Rather than putting me off river adventure permanently it somehow kicked off a lifelong obsession.

After nine months away at school, I took a tandem canoe whitewater course from the Canoe Cruisers Association the following year.  While paddling on local trips I noticed how cool kayaks looked and got interested in them.  I went on club trips and led a few myself.  I hitchhiked up to the 1972 Olympic Trials on the Savage River in May and was captivated by the glamour of that event.  I took the CCA basic kayak course in the fall of 72 and paddled at every opportunity.  Later that year I quit my job and lived in my van for a year, paddling full-time throughout the Appalachians.  Later jobs revolved around the paddling business.  I worked in outdoor shops and later became a paddling Park Ranger.

Thus started a river-oriented life. This obsession has dictated jobs, education, and lifestyle from then on.  I’m still learning about the river and about paddling.  I can imagine few better ways to use up forty years.

John H and me, Ohiopyle 1972

John H and me (right), Ohiopyle 1972



More Po in the Snow (Enough Already!)

15 02 2010

We’ve had a record-setting year for snow in the DC area, and Ithink most of us are sick of it.  It does make some nice paddling vistas, though.  Here are a few pics of my workout today in the Mather Gorge.

It took a while to dig the Jeep and Augsburg out of the snow.

It took a while to dig the Jeep and Augsburg out of the snow.

The Back Channel above Anglers is iced over

The Back Channel above Anglers is iced over

The bluff across from the Anglers put-in

The bluff across from the Anglers put-in

md chute1

It's not the temperature, it's the wind

It's not the temperature, it's the wind

Middle Chute, and it's starting to really snow now

Middle Chute, and it's starting to really snow now

Echo Cliffs on the Virginia side of the gorge

Echo Cliffs on the Virginia side of the gorge



Po in the Snow

21 12 2009

We just got a record snowfall in the Mid-Atlantic and the area is still digging out.  I took a chance that the river might be accessible despite lots of roads still unplowed, and it paid off.  The parking lot was a bit of a challenge but it was good to go.  I was alone until I was almost ready to drive away after paddling when another group of desperate boaters. showed up.

Here are a few pics of the Potomac surrounded by two feet of snow.

The lower parking lot at Anglers Inn

The lower parking lot at Anglers Inn

The C&O Canal towpath was snow-covered but usable, thanks to the xc skiers.

The C&O Canal towpath was snow-covered but usable, thanks to the xc skiers.

The obligatory self-portrait, to prove I was there.

The obligatory self-portrait, to prove I was there.

Cupids Bower, just above Anglers

Cupids Bower, just above Anglers

Maryland Chute in the snow

Maryland Chute in the snow

Another party heads for the put-in

Another party heads for the put-in



Flopentahg = Belly Flops

18 10 2009

The 2009 Shred Ready Valley Mill Flopentahg

Too cold for me, I wussed out.

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The July Maryland Chute Out

31 07 2009

A little footy from the Chute Out.  This is Men’s Class A and Women only.  The light was getting too low to get everybody else.

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2009 Potomac Whitewater Festival Attainment Race

15 07 2009

The Potomac Whitewater Festival was a blast as always.  Check out the start and finish of the Attainment Race.

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The Potomac Festival Is Coming!

15 06 2009

Wave Surfing at Wet Bottom

Come on down to Dodge City.  The 2009 Potomac Whitewater Festival is coming the week of July 10-12.  Events range from the Class V Great Falls Race, to the beginners’ Community Gorge Paddle.  Check it out at http://www.potomacfest.org/

Photo of Ryan Bahn styling at the Wave Surfing event by Potomac Paddlers.

Check out the vid from lastyear’s party.  More info to come.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VXL9fXep4RU



OIA Adds 2008 Participation Data

6 04 2009

The Outdoor Industry Association has published more participation data for kayaking and canoeing in their new Outdoor Recreation ParticipationTopline Report, 2009, adding 2008 data to those published earlier in their 2008 Outdoor Recreation Participation Report.  The news isn’t great, but it isn’t terrible either.

Whitewater kayaking participation is down slightly, but not drastically.  The graph from the earlier data posted below now looks like this:

This report has some demographic data, which looks like this:

For some reason the 2006 data from this report disagrees with the number reported by OIA earlier. In other figures for recreational and sea kayaking indicate that the former is still growing strongly, while the latter is shrinking somewhat.

The better news is that canoeing is enjoying a small amount of growth, as shown below.  Note that canoeing still has higher participation numbers than all forms of kayaking combined.

This supports my iconoclastic theory that open canoeing remains the basis of whitewater paddling, providing the ideal vehicle with which to introduce newcomers to the sport as well as the broad, purchasing base of the commercial pyramid.



Participation Numbers Stabilizing?

17 01 2009

The Outdoor Industry Association has published their annual review of statistics on the numbers of people participating in outdoor sports.  The new document is the 2008 Outdoor Recreation Participation Report, and it includes some numbers for recreational, sea, and whitewater kayaking.  The plot above shows the numbers the OIA has reported for whitewater paddling since they first started tracking the sport in 2001.

For the first few years the OIA reported on two categories of paddlers: participants are defined as anyone who reported being in a whitewater kayak at least once during the reporting period.  Enthusiasts were defined as someone who reported being in a whitewater kayak at least three times during the period.  After 2004 the OIA ceased to track the enthusiast category; they indicated that the number of enthusiasts were too small for defensible statistics.  I added the dotted line for enthusiasts using the ratio of participants to enthusiasts from earlier reporting years.

The current extrapolated level of enthusiasts is about 100,000.  This number is probably still somewhat too high as an indication of the number of “real” whitewater paddlers, that is those who own their own gear and get out regularly, as the OIA reported that the average number of outings per year for those in the enthusiasts category was just over three, the minimum for the category.  Does going boating three times per year make you a whitewater paddler?  I don’t know, I’d call that pretty marginal.  So, the real number of boaters is probably somewhat less.  AW says 50,000 and that sounds closer to me.  Other reports said that there were about 11,000 whitewater kayaks sold in 2006, and years ago Bill Masters of Perception said that about one in ten kayakers buys a new boat each year, so that would support the higher number.  Incidentally, Masters sold some 10,000 boats per year in the late 70s; that indicates the total number of boaters now is about the same as 30 years ago.

Whatever the actual numbers are, the trends are the most interesting information.  So, the bad news is the number of people in the sport is still down about 75% from the high in 2002.  The good news is that the precipitous slide of the last six years may be bottoming out.  This will only be proven in future years, but it has to stop somewhere.

Do we care that this is happening?  Intuitively I say yes.  As an amateur boater with no stake in the commercial side of the sport I’m not losing anything from the downturn, and the decrease in participation means that some of my destinations are less crowded than they once were.  The lower Yough, for instance, has been a famous madhouse on summer weekends through the entire 40 years I’ve been paddling, a place and time avoided by most experienced boaters.  In recent years, though, I’ve been able to walk up to the permit window on prime days and get a launch permit and shuttle ticket on the spot, no waiting.

I do have friends in the industry, however, to whom I wish no pain.  Most of them will agree if pressed for an honest answer that the commercial side of the sport is in serious pain.  The firestorm currently overtaking the broader economy has been a fact of life in the whitewater industry for years.  In addition, it has long been an axiom of all outdoor sports that paddlers, climbers, hikers, etc. make good environmental stewards.  This is reason enough to be alarmed at a drop in the number of whitewater boaters.

If we do care about this situation, how did we get in this fix and what can be done to improve the situation?  That will have to wait for another post.



The New Old Classic Finally Gets Wet

28 12 2008

I finally got the Augsburg out on the Potomac for a little test drive.  It paddles as nicely as I remember it, and the boat is watertight, so you can’t ask too much more than that.



A New Old Classic, Part 10 – It’s a Boat

17 11 2008

The boat is about as close to being done as any project like this ever is.  There are additional details to work out, but it’s paddleable now, so I declare victory.  I haven’t had it on the water yet due to some health issues, but it won’t be long now.

I see only one major mistake I made in designing the cockpit mods.  The rear of the cockpit rim is too high.  If you look at most boats the cockpit rim, especially the back, is down in some kind of well.  This is done to allow greater flexibility for the paddlers waist.  When I made a bigger cockpit hole in the deck this well area on the original Prijon was cut out of the boat.  I dithered on creating a new well in the location of my enlarged cockpit rim, but decided to stick with the simplicity of mounting the new rim right on the deck. This may turn out to be a major error.  Just sitting in the boat on dry ground my mobility while leaning back is seriously restricted.  It may be challenging to do a back deck roll, for instance.  One thing you learn from doing it yourself, though, is that there are very few things that can’t be fixed.  If I have to I could cut the cockpit a few inches of the rim-hull joint, move the whole thing down and re-glass it in place with the rim at or below the level of the deck.  We’ll see.

Here are some pics of the finished (sort of) boat.  In the tradition of other custom-modified factory boats like the Sweet Hahn and McKnight Hahn, maybe I’ll call this one the Kirbsburger.

It’s almost impossible to get seams to perfectly cover the very ends of the boat, so we seal the ends with plugs of solid resin, poured in from the middle.  We tilt the boat on end and mix up a batch of resin with some glass shavings or other way to keep the curing resin from cracking, in the same way aggregate is used in concrete.  It turns out the height of the workshop floor is perfect to align with the cockpit on a stood-up boat.

We use a cup with two strings on it to pour the end plugs: lower the cup holding the resin down into the boat with the top string, then dump it out by pulling the lower string.

Mini-cell walls are fitted, for strength and safety.

A simple foam seat, glued to the hull with 3M #77  (The cans are there to hold the seat down while the adhesive dries thoroughly).  I’ll stick a couple of self-adhesive velcro strips on this and attach a Jackson Sweet Cheeks to it.  Best thing since night baseball.  Similarly, a couple of smaller foam blocks form hip pads and some more velcro will allow adjustable hip pads to be fitted.  I haven’t decided on exactly what to do for foot braces yet.  Also, I’m playing with ideas for an adjustable backband.

Here’s the finished Kirbsburger with its great-uncle from 1972.

The view of the new boat that will seen by any rival Potomac attainers soon.  That is, the stern, leaving  them behind.

So, a couple of wrap-up notes on the project.

How long did it take?  about 7 weeks of calendar time.  It could be done much quicker.  I remember a grueling long weekend in Pittsburgh at Jack Wright’s shop wherein we mostly finished three boats in three days.  The actual labor for this boat was about 50 hours, including my cockpit mods.

How much did it cost?  The materials came to about $1000, and additional tools and disposables added about $300 to the total cost.  A well-outfitted shop would make some of that cost unnecessary.  I could have used cheaper materials and knocked a couple hundred off the material cost.  On the other hand, I could easily have doubled the cost if I’d gone for a foam-core vacuum bagged graphite construction.  Just depends on what you want.

How much does it weigh?  About 28 pounds, outfitted and ready to go.  Could have been lighter, but not bad.

So, how did it turn out?  Overall, I’d give it about a B.  There are some cosmetic issues, and the cockpit design isn’t fully worked out.  For the first boat I’ve built in decades, though, it’s not too shabby.

For any whitewater paddler who has any bits of do-it-yourselfer in them, this is an eminently doable project.  It doesn’t require any real art, just a bit of care in a few steps.  And there’s nothing like the satisfaction of paddling a boat you built yourself.  Go for it.



A New Old Classic – Part 9: Outside Seams

5 11 2008

The outside seam for this boat is a single layer of 10 oz. kevlar tape.  As usual, preparation is most of the task.  The dry tape is trimmed to fit the length of the boat and laid out on the seam.  Masking tape is affixed on both sides of the tape with just enough room to fit the tape.  This allows us to sand, sand, sand the area where the seam will lie without scratching  up the rest of the boat.  Then, to protect the boat against drips, and it always drips, we affix a drape of plastic sheet outside of the masking tape.  Finally, we paint a layer of resin on the sanded area, impregnate the seam tape with resin, and lay it down on the the seam.  Wait a couple of days for one side to cure, turn the boat over and repeat.

We’re almost done.  You could actually paddle the boat now if you had to, but there are a few more details.

Boat gets its protective drape.  The seam area is the space between the two lines of masking tape.

The yellow kevlar seam is in place and curing.  I tilted the boat somewhat to one side so I only had to drape one side against drips.

The seam is cured and cleaned up.

Next and final step:  Outfitting