Venice for paddlers

Paddling in Venice

Tomorrow I’m off for Venice for a week’s paddling. I’ve never paddled in Venice before, so I’m really looking forward to it. I’ll be going with my friend Jes. Marco from Venice will pick us up at the airport, and he has kindly agreed to lend us two of his kayaks for the week. Marco will attend the 10 Elba Mare Maratona in the weekend, after which he will join us in Venice for the rest of our stay there.

Kayaking in the canals of VeniceWe’ll be paddling in the Adriatic Sea, in the lagoon of Venice and in the city itself. I’ll post pictures and details as soon as I’m back.

The weather forecast for Venice is wonderful. Sunny, clear sky, 25-30° C during the day, 20° C in the night, and moderate winds, 4-6 m/s. Some forecasts indicate the possibility of occasional thunderstorms, so I’ll bring my jacket and my Tilley hat.

I’m organising a trip to Venice in september, in collaboration with Kajakhotellet.dk in Denmark and the sea kayaking coach Marco Ballarin in Venice. We’ll be staying in a camping, Marco will organise rental of kayaks and other gear, and Kajakhotellet will take care of booking and payment and provide additional coaches.

Kayaking in VeniceThe trip is planned for September 10-15, and participation is open to all. The price has not been set yet, that is in part what this week in Venice is about, but it will include camping, kayak and other gear, coaches and guides fluent in English, Italian and Danish, and a welcome dinner. The price does not include air fare to and from Venice, as we do not know where the participants will come from. It will be possible to extend the stay in Venice by appointment with the camping and Marco.

If you’re interested in coming to Venice to paddle in September, then drop me a note at rene@seindal.dk, and I will make sure you receive updates by email when we have a price, a more detailed programme and booking information.

Bird watching

I know most of the sea birds species in Copenhagen from my daily walks with the dog, but since I started paddling I have seen other species you don’t normally see in town.

In the city we have Mallard, Coot, Tufted Duck, Great Crested Grebe, Mute Swan, Grey Heron, Greylag Goose, and several species of seagulls.

The Common EiderThe “new” birds I have seen are the Common Eider (they breed in large numbers on Saltholm), the Great Cormorant, the Canada Goose and the red beaked wading bird I saw yesterday might have been a Eurasian Oystercatcher though I remember the colours a bit differently.

There’s also a particularly large species of gull at the beach park but I don’t know which species it is. I found one dead in the water one day, it must have had a wing span of over a meter.

Paddling home

Today I paddled home from the beach park. Almost as usual, somebody had taken my kayak for use in a beginners course at Kajakhotellet, so I had to settle for something else. First I laid my greedy eyes on a Skim Distance which I haven’t tried yet, but then someone pretending to be a buying customer showed up, and I had to give it back. I don’t know why we free riders must always suffer this discrimination in front of paying clients. It not fair.

The Skim Dex was in use too, and so was the Nigel Foster Legend, and the NDK Romany, and the NDK Explorer had the skeg in disorder, and being a free rider I didn’t fix it, so in the end I had to settle for a Nigel Foster Silhouette, which I have tried before. Life is hard sometimes.

Nigel Foster SilhouetteIt is a good kayak, though, but it doesn’t fit me very well. It has a very low foredeck which forces me to sit with my legs too stretched for my taste, and the two huge pieces of ham I call my thighs has to be stuffed under the thigh braces. The cramped position gave me an uneasy feeling, and though the boat has good primary stability and very good secondary stability, I didn’t quite feel good in it. I feel I have more lateral control when I sit in a position with my knees a bit raised.

Its a pity with Nigel Fosters designs. I have tried both the Legend and the Silhouette, and both are good boats, but neither fit me. In the Legend I feel like I’m sitting in a deep hole, because it has a rather high cockpit rim. I don’t like it when my ribs touches the cockpit sides when I edge or roll. The Silhouette is much lower around the cockpit, but the foredeck is too low for me and my legs.

Anyway, this was about my paddle home from the beach. The beach park is on the eastern side of the island of Amager, and I live at Islands Brygge on the western side, so I have to paddle some 5-6 km north along the Øresund coast, enter the harbour and paddle another 5-6 km south inside the harbour before I’m home. Well, almost home. I still have a 500m walk from the water.

The first part in the lagoon of the beach park and behind the island of Prøvestenen was quite nice and quiet. It was a bit cloudy, and bit windy, but nothing extreme. There weren’t too many people at the beach, since there was little sun.

I saw a funny wading bird with a long red beak, at the beach. I’ve never seen that kind before, so I’ll have to look it up. I also saw two ducks of a new type, maybe pintails because they has a little loose feather on the back of their heads. I’ll have to look them up too. Of course, they might just have been the few punk ducks that didn’t fit in the with the rest :-) Later I saw a flying Grey Heron. They’re very graceful in flight, though less so when they take a shit and almost hits you, as it happened the other day when I walked the dog.

Up at the wind farm at Lynetten, at the entrance to Magretheholm leisure harbour, there are usually a bit of waves. Today they were few and small, but the swells did give a bit of speed. Too bad I didn’t feel at ease in the boat. It did take a bit of the fun away.

The trip shown on Google EarthWhen I do this trip, I usually stop halfway to drink and each some chocolate. So I did today, only to discover two tugboats steaming towards me with something that resembled a piece of an offshore oil platform. I had to leave my chocolate on the spraydeck and paddle like a maniac to the other side of the harbour, where the big cruise ships are moored, to get out of the way.

Actually, I think I had the right of way because they approached on my left, but it didn’t quite seem like the occasion to insist.

Instead I had the pleasure of eating my now slightly salty chocolate just in front of the statue of The Little Mermaid, so all the tourists got a bright red kayak in the background of their holiday shots.

The rest of the trip was utterly eventless, like I’ve done it many times now.

The trolley I use for the final 500m home is this: Eckla Sea Kayak Cart

Saltholm, Flakfortet and the Wind Turbines

Saltholm with the Øresund Bridge in the backgroundToday’s paddle took me a bit around the strait of Øresund. I started at the shop, Kajakhotellet.dk, and first I just planned to do on of the usual tours in the vicinity, but the sea was so calm and the sun was shining from a clear sky, so I changed plans and paddled to Saltholm, an islands about 6km east of the beach park, at Barakkebro, the only allowed approach on Saltholm at this time of year. Most of the island is a nature reserve for birds and seals, and all access to that area is restricted in the breeding season.

The leisure harbour at FlakfortetI then paddled north to Flakfortet, where I have never been before. I spent some time exploring the small island which is now a leisure harbour, and it was fairly crowded due the good weather.

Flakfortet is an artificial island made just before the first world war, as a part of the defences of Copenhagen. It is shaped like a horse shoe with an inner moat, so it can be circumnavigated both on the outside and on the inside. It was almost lost to looting and nature when the military left in the 60s, but survived when it was turned into a leisure harbour. Now there are a restaurant and a kiosk there, and it is a popular stop for leisure boaters.

The wind farm at MiddelgrundenFrom there I went back towards Copenhagen, to the wind farm at Middelgrunden. I zig-zagged down the line of wind turbines, listening to their different sounds. The sea was so calm you could see the reflection of the wind turbines in the water. It was actually quite fun to paddle in the middle of a modern power plant.

From the southernmost wind turbine I crossed back down to the entrance of the beach park and the shop, seeing nothing more exciting than an empty beer can floating in the water.

There are more photos from the trip on Flickr.

All in all, my little trip lasted three and a half hour and I paddled 24km. Below are the trip as rendered on Google Earth and the double circumnavigation of the huge island of Flakfortet :-)

The trip shown on Google Earth The double circumnavigation of Flakfortet

One of the disadvantages of keeping one’s kayak at a shop is that it can be mistaken for a rental kayak. I have a bright yellow Valley Nordkapp PE, and most of the rental stuff at Kajakhotellet are Valley PE boats: Avocets, Aquanauts and some Nordkapps. As I was helping in the shop before my trip, a group mistook my boat for a rental kayak, and I let them do it. People come to the beach and rent kayaks to have a good time, not to have someone make them feel miserable because they took the wrong boat when there was so little left on the racks. I even helped them in the water.

One of the advantages of paddling from a kayak shop is that when someone mistakes you private kayak for rental gear, you can borrow some really great stuff instead. They have Valley, NDK, Skim Kayaks, Nigel Foster Design, Wilderness and much more. I grabbed a Skim Dex (with a keyhole cockpit) from the racks and had a great time.

Skim Dex

The Skim Dex is mostly a playboat. It is really responsive and very manoeuvrable, but it’s tracking is lousy unless you deploy the skeg. Then it tracks OK. If you forget the skeg, you’ll waste a lot of effort trying to go straight, especially if there’s a bit of waves. This is very different from my Nordkapp, which tracks reasonably well even without the skeg, but then, the Nordkapp is not quite as lively as the Dex.

The Skim boats have some really neat little details. The bulkhead behind the seat is slanted a bit so it is easier to empty the boat of water and it gives a little more room in the day hatch. It has two strong straps on the sides for paddle float rescues with handles for easy detachment of the paddle. Just behind the cockpit is has a recessed metal axel which can be used to locking the kayak to something, and with the rope clutch on the side it gives a central point of drag when towing, and a quick release mechanism for the rope.

Miraculously, I did not forget my sunscreen this time, so The Pink Paddler did not return, except for an odd shaped patch on my back. Apparently, my arms are too short.

I have very fair skin and must always be careful when exposing myself to the sun, but if I want to go kayaking I will expose myself to a lot of sun, so I try to get some sun, especially on my torso. The project is, so to say, to get rid of The Pale Paddler without inviting in The Pink Paddler :-)

Thursday’s paddle

Every Thursday my local kayak shop has a come-along paddle, just for a few hours after work. It is free for all, but yesterday we were only five, two coaches, two aspirant coaches and a girl that helps in the shop.

We took one of the common trips, to the local lighthouse and back, which ended at 7 km. Quite eventless, really, no wind and no waves, but a nice social occasion. The only thing that happened was that a group had set up an ad-hoc race track just in front of the exit from the beach park, so we immediately ended up in the middle of a bunch of sailing boats, and we had to creep along the coast towards the airport to get out on open water.

I did get to try two kayaks I haven’t paddled before: the Nigel Foster Silhouette and the Skim Dex.

The Silhouette was a bit small for me. It has a very low foredeck and I could hardly squeeze my thighs under the thigh braces. It was a really tight fit for somebody my size. It left me sitting in a position with more stretched legs than I’m used to, and initially I felt I had less control over edging and turning than I wanted. After a while and a bit of paddling I got used to the boat and became more relaxed.

It is a fast kayak. With my “normal” paddling style it did at least a few extra kilometres per hour than I do in my Valley Nordkapp, which is normally considered a reasonably fast boat.

The Silhouette is very responsive, which I believe is what Nigel Foster intended. It edges well, very well once I got used to the cramped leg space, and it responds immediately to even a small edge. It tracks OK with the skeg deployed. I would have loved it if it had had a little more room for my legs and thighs, but the conclusion is that it is not a kayak for anybody of my size.

At the lighthouse I swapped kayak with one of the others, and I got over in a Skim Dex. Its the first time I try one of the Skim boats, and it immediately felt very nice, but that might have been because I had too little room for my legs in the Silhouette.

The Skim Dex is a brilliant kayak. It is the shorter of the Skim models, and it is very manoeuvrable. It has absolutely no rocker, but put on edge it turns on a dime. It too tracks well enough with the skeg down, but neither of these boats are for expeditions. They are for playing and day trips.

Rockpool’s Menai 18

Yesterday I went back to Varberg in Sweden to try the Rockpool Menai 18. I had made an appointment with Sara from Escape Kajakcenter in Gothenborg, Sweden, that they would bring a Menai 18 and an Alaw Bach to Varberg for trying.

Rockpool Menai 18 on the beach at VarbergThe famous surfing beach at Varberg was just as waveless as the last time, but the kayaks were there and that’s all that mattered.

The Menai 18 is different than the Alaw and the Alaw Bach. They are more playboats while the Menai is an expedition boat. As such it is equipped differently, but it maintains much of the easy handling of the Alaw and the Alaw Bach and the overall lines are very similar.

The Menai is 18’2″ long (554cm),which is a foot more than the Alaw and Alaw Bach, but has the same overall width.

Its hull has the same hard chines at the centre, rounding off halfway towards the ends and ending in a sharp V-shape at bow and stern. The hull stays wider for longer towards the stern, giving the boat a distinctive line from the keel to the stern, as can be seen on this foto of two Alaw Bachs and a Menai 18. It also has two groves along the bottom for better tracking. The Manai comes with a skeg as default.

The cockpit of the Rockpool Menai 18The deck is somewhere in between the Alaw, which has a very high foredeck, and the Alaw Back which has a low deck both fore and aft. The Menai has a higher foredeck than the Alaw Bach but noticeably lower than the Alaw, and much of that space is due to a separate lunch box hatch (6 litres) just in front of the cockpit. In the front the Menai has two groves under the deck lines which makes it a lot easier to put in a split spare paddle, and it has a flat area in the middle for a compass.

Seat and footrest are just as in the other two Rockpool boats. When I tried the Alaw Bach, it had an almost perfect fit for me, but the Menai I tried was much loser around the hips, even though the sides had more padding than were in the Alaw Bach. Rockpool can deliver two sizes of seats. The Alaw Bach defaults to the small seat and the Menai to the large. The small seat is definitely better for me.

The Rockpool Menai 18I also had some problems with the thigh braces. It was hot and I paddled in neopren shorts, and when I pushed my legs up for a tighter grip on the boat, the sharp edges of the thigh braces would cut into my leg in a rather painful way. The braces definitely needs some foam padding, and on later inspection I noticed that the Alaw Bach I liked so much, had the braces carefully padded.

The Menai 18 paddles extremely well, just like it’s sisters.

It is very responsive to edging, turning swiftly as you move, and it can be edged to extremes I haven’t dared in any other kayak. It’ll edge further than I can twist my ageing body. The Menai will respond even to a slight edge and it will turn on a dime if you edge it until the keel is out of the water, and it’ll do that just as the Alaw and the Alaw Bach.

It tracks better than the Alaw Bach, probably due to the longer waterline and the groves in the hull, and with the skeg deployed it tracks very well, while still responding well to edging.

I paddled the Menai for a couple of hours, but in placid waters with very little wind, and unloaded. I have little doubt it’ll be great in rough waters and windy conditions, but I haven’t tried. During my test paddle of the boat I only had two small grievances: the sharp edge of the thigh brace and the too wide seat, and both can be easily remedied.

I have made up my mind now. I’ll be getting a Rockpool Menai 18.

There are more photos of the boat I paddled on Flickr, and an extremely boring but very long video of me paddling the Menai. It does show a little of how well it edges and manoeuvres. Sorry about the pale legs, but its only at the beginning.

Back to Sweden

I went to Sweden last week to try the Rockpool Alaw and the Alaw Bach at the Escape Kajakcenter in Göteborg. At that point I didn’t know that the Menai 18 was in production, so I didn’t try it.

Two Alaw Bachs and one Menai 18.Now I have to go back, either to Varberg or Göteborg, to try that out, before deciding whether it’ll be the Alaw Bach or the Menai 18 for me.

This photo shows the Alaw Bach (two boats above) and the Menai 18 (below) together. Click on it for a larger view.