Tag Archives: Sea Kayaking

A Tale of Two Compasses

By Vladimir Brezina

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Course: 130 degrees magnetic!

I distinctly remember the first time the value of a good marine compass was driven home to me. I was circumnavigating Staten Island for the first time, clockwise, and had reached the gradual turn around the southwest tip of the island at Tottenville. I had never been there before—everything was new. I had a marine chart, but the very tip of the island was folded over on the other side, just out of sight. It didn’t seem necessary to refold the chart, especially as, as soon as I passed around the tip of the island into the Arthur Kill, I would have to fold the chart back again. And hadn’t I just studied the chart and knew exactly what was ahead? And so, as I made the turn and was faced with the choice of several waterways, I boldly set off toward the Raritan River instead of the Arthur Kill. Only when I was almost in the Raritan River did I happen to glance idly at the compass, to discover with a shock that I was paddling 90 degrees off course, west instead of north…

But as I grew familiar with New York Harbor, the compass seemed less relevant. I dutifully strapped it onto the boat for every trip, but I hardly ever looked at it.

Perhaps because I hardly looked at it, I was able for many years to get away with the Suunto Orca. For a folding kayak, I needed a strap-on, rather than a permanently mounted, compass, and the Orca was one of the few available. But it’s very popular, I notice, even among hard-shell kayakers, who have many other choices.

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But when in recent years we started to take longer trips into unknown waters, and I really needed a compass, I found I could hardly use the Orca.

Rather than having an evenly rounded globe of clear plastic, like most compasses, the Orca has a boxy shape, with an awkward bend along the top, just in the wrong place to distort the view of the numbers underneath. And the bend tends to accumulate scratches, making the plastic even more opaque.

But most importantly, the numbers on the Orca’s card are too small. On a kayak, you want to mount your compass as far forward as possible, so that you can keep both the compass and the horizon in view at the same time. But when mounted far forward, the Orca’s numbers can hardly be read, through the scratches and the water droplets that also gather on the compass.

Enter the Brunton 58.1.40241_eA much better compass! It has a rounded globe. The numbers, and especially the letters for the principal compass points, are much bigger than the Orca’s.

Underneath it is nicely shaped to sit solidly on the ridge of a peaked kayak deck, without sliding to one side or the other, like the Orca tends to do.

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And, online, the Brunton 58 is even a little cheaper—around $50—than the Orca ($70).

During the 2014 Everglades Challenge, I certainly appreciated having a good compass. On a number of occasions, when we were hesitating which way to paddle among the indistinguishable mangrove islands, a glance at the compass immediately made it clear.

And, as happens with the best equipment, the compass began speaking to me. (No, this was not a hallucination—although a speaking compass would not have been that remarkable among the bizarre hallucinations on that trip…) Rather than sitting there passively, waiting to be interrogated with difficulty only when absolutely necessary, as with the Orca, the Brunton was such a pleasure to look at that I naturally incorporated it into the round of things I looked at while paddling—the waves, the clouds, the compass… It was quietly pushing information at me, constantly telling me that we were on the right course—or sometimes not.

And having a good compass eliminated the conversations with Johna that always went something like this:

Vlad: “See those two islands, the big one and the little one? We’ll paddle through the gap between them.”

Johna: “You mean the big island with the tall trees?”

Vlad: “No, more to the right. The island with the white tower.”

Johna: “I see two white towers…”

Now I just say: “Steer 130 degrees magnetic!”

Or rather, I would say that if Johna too had a usable compass. During the Everglades Challenge, she still had an Orca.

We left Johna’s Orca behind in Florida at the end of that trip. Now we’ll get her a Brunton.

I Did It!

By Johna Till Johnson
Photos by Vladimir Brezina

On the beach after the race

This was the fifth year that Vlad and I raced in the Blackburn Challenge, the 20-mile circumnavigation of Cape Ann, Massachusetts. The race is named for Howard Blackburn, a 19th-century mariner of uncommon grit. (You can read about him here.) Any human-powered watercraft can participate, and there is usually a wide range, from paddleboards to rowing shells, dories, and dragonboats—plus several flavors of kayaks.

Thus far, I’d placed every time, helped out by the relative smallness of the field of women sea kayakers—there are typically only half a dozen or so in my class.

After collecting two third-place and two second-place finishes, I yearned for a first. Last year I missed it by a mere six minutes. And I just knew I’d gotten faster this year. I’d trained hard—though not as consistently as I’d liked—and still had some stamina left over from completing the Everglades Challenge earlier this year.

So I was pretty sure that this would be my year.

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Containers

By Vladimir Brezina

This week’s Photo Challenge is Containers.

The key to efficient expedition kayaking is the successful management of containers. It’s taken us a while to learn that lesson…

How will all this stuff fit into those two little kayaks??

How will it all fit?(2014 Everglades Challenge)

It’s a matter of the right containers

Camp in the woods(2011 Hudson River paddle from Albany to NYC)

to be able to find things when we need them

Found it!(2012 Long Island circumnavigation)

and quickly set up camp before the evening mosquitoes swarm

Setting up camp(2012 Long Island circumnavigation)

or make dinner on a dark beach before the tide comes flooding in…

Dinner on the beach(2014 Everglades Challenge)

Weekly Photo Challenge: Contrasts, Take Two

By Vladimir Brezina

This week’s Photo Challenge is Contrasts.

Spot the kayak in these photos—

At the bottom of the food chain 1
At the bottom of the food chain 2
At the bottom of the food chain 3
At the bottom of the food chain 4
At the bottom of the food chain 5

The first set of Contrasts was here.

Where Are the Whales?

By Vladimir Brezina

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Last Sunday, the current was predicted to ebb through the morning, then flood in the afternoon. Perfect for a paddle south, through New York Harbor out to sea!

But then where, exactly? Round Staten Island? Or to Sandy Hook? But we’d been there just two weeks before

This summer, we’ve been hearing a lot about whales. By all accounts, whales have been positively frolicking about, just outside the harbor. A whale-watching boat, the American Princess, has reported sightings almost every day. And many of these sightings, of feeding humpbacks as well as pods of bottlenose dolphins, have been off the Rockaways, just a mile or two from shore.

So that’s where we decided to paddle on Sunday.

In the event, we didn’t see any whales. (The American Princess didn’t either, that day.) Perhaps fortunately, neither did we see any of the great white sharks that (we read later) were present in that same area at the same time…

But it was a great ocean paddle nevertheless. Here are a few photos—

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Paddling Cape Ann

By Vladimir Brezina

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Summer’s here—it’s high time to make our summer paddling plans!

And, as in the last four years, those plans absolutely have to include the Blackburn Challenge—our favorite open-water boat race. It’s 20 miles around Cape Ann, Massachusetts. All manner of human-powered boats take part—canoes, rowboats, dories, kayaks, surfskis, outrigger canoes, dragon boats, stand-up paddle boards—making for a fun day out on the water and afterward on the beach.

Last year, we raced in the Blackburn Challenge, then spent another two days paddling leisurely around Cape Ann.

In eager anticipation of this year’s trip, we’ve been looking over the photos from last year…

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Kayaking Maine’s Western Rivers

By Vladimir Brezina

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On each day of our three-day Memorial Day weekend in Maine, while Johna was off pursuing rough waters, I went for a leisurely paddle. Here are a few photos. They are less interesting than usual, because I lacked my kayak model and had to substitute lobster buoys as foreground interest…

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So There I Was… In Maine

By Johna Till Johnson

Freshly Pressed on the WordPress.com home page!

Every good kayaking story starts with “So there I was,” according to Carl Ladd (of Osprey Sea Kayak fame). In keeping with that adage, here goes:

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Setting off along the Maine coast

So there I was, bobbing up and down on the frigid waves crashing into the rocky coastline of Maine’s Sheepscot Bay.  The swells were substantial—four to six feet, big enough to rip someone from her kayak and deposit her and the boat on separate rocks.

That exact thing had recently happened, in fact, to another paddler.

Fortunately neither she nor her boat sustained damage, but it was a strikingly close call. One moment she was riding the surf, high over our heads, after a larger-than-usual wave broke suddenly. The next moment she was struggling in the water, and we all winced as we heard the hollow sound of her fiberglass boat crunch into the rocky shore.

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What a Difference Just a Few Miles Make…

By Vladimir Brezina

Same paddle, same day, morning—

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and evening—

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More photos coming as soon as I can process them…

First Sandy Hook Paddle of the Year

By Vladimir Brezina

This past weekend, it suddenly felt like summer in NYC. How better to celebrate than with one of our favorite paddles? On Sunday, we paddled from Manhattan through the open waters of the Lower Bay

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down to Sandy Hook

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and back again to Manhattan…

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Here is a selection of photos from the trip.

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