One Persons Boat [16]

The Nimbus Puffin

By David Winkworth

I purchased a shiny blue Puffin from Canoe Specialists in 1990 for $1295. I had a few thoughts as to what I wanted in a Sea Kayak and the Puffin – at that time – fitted the bill.

It’s always important to decide what you want out of a boat before you buy – Sea Kayaks are fairly high up on the canoe price spectrum and a mistake could be costly.

My plans for the boat were mostly day trips with occasional trips up to seven days or so. I also wanted a robust craft for surfing (if you can call what Sea Kayaks do in the surf that). Fishing and manoeuvrability also figured prominently which for me ruled out the longer craft. I positively did not want a pump so the Puffins “Pod” was an attraction as were the larger hatches. I also wanted a rudder fitted (which I’ve since removed).

The Puffin is unquestionably a North American design. Features like a relatively low (in height) but high volume bow and a large cockpit place it fair and square on the north-west coast of the American continent. I suspect it was designed for the inshore channels of that area but to the designers credit, it performs well in a range of sea conditions – more on that later.

Vital statistics for the Puffin are: Length overall 4.9 m, Beam 0.6m. Total volume is just over 400 litres making it a large capacity craft. A Nordkapp, for comparison has a volume of 320 litres.

The hull is fractionally on the Swede-form side of being symmetrical.

Weight, ready to paddle with rudder fitted is around 32 kgs.

Hull material is polyethylene – whether it’s cross linked or linear I’m not sure but I’m told that the Pod which is a separate moulding inserted in the vessel, is a different plastic type. (Editors note: The hull is cross-linked and the Pod is linear polyethylene). Tubular stiffeners run fore and aft of the Pod to prevent ‘oil-canning’.

Both hatches on my boat are neoprene plus rigid cover affairs and have proved reliable and ‘almost’ watertight, letting only a few drips past after numerous rolls. The forward hatch is large enough to put my head in and look around making loading positively easy. The rear hatch is huge and presents no problem with its rigid cover. I’ve heard of Puffin paddlers using the cover to mix dampers on! Earlier Puffins (and I’m told later ones) were fitted with excellent VCP forward hatches.

The rudder is a “Feathercraft” brand model and is very well made. The blade appears to be a tempered alloy. It’s certainly stiffer than locally made versions. The boat came fitted with toggles fore and aft and a plethora of useless bungy cord all over the fore and aft decks. One wave and anything stored under it would be gone!

One problem with plastic boats is that you can’t just glue or glass anything to the hull, so with the exception of bolting saddles and fittings through the plastic you’re stuck with what you’ve got!

A few basic mods were made to the boat which suited my needs. I ripped most of the bungy cord off the aft deck and replaced it with two short decklines. the boat came equipped with paddle float rescue straps which were useless too so they went. I have a section of netting over the aft hatch which unclips at one end for access to the hatch. Bungy cord around the net means I can retrieve or place objects behind me at any time – and I’ve never lost anything from under the net in the surf! A similar piece of net forward of the cockpit is useful for sunglasses, cap etc. I also use a netting bag which clips to the decklines between the cockpit and the forward hatch for fish and extra gear.

Several years ago I was feeling adventurous and managed to remove and replace the Pod after fitting a netting “shelf” to the inside of the Pod between my legs. This is great out-of-the-way storage for lunch, sponge, camera etc. Take care if you plan to do it – it must be done on a HOT day just before the boat melts!

I’ve junked the black edged moulding around the rear hatch and cockpit. I found with the latter that Silastic would stick acceptably well if the surfaces were roughened with sand paper. Silastic was used to improve the Pod to Hull seal.

Contact cement glued a foam sheet onto the seat after sanding and hasn’t moved for ages. Isn’t it nice to prove Selleys wrong!

I found the tracking and turning characteristics of the Puffin to suit my paddling style in all conditions and so after carting the rudder around in the “parked” position for ages I removed all the rudder paraphernalia last year and save 4kgs weight. A big foam pad in the Pod is sheer heaven for my feet after having them perched on small rudder pedals….have you ever had a cramp in your middle toes?

The Puffin is heavy. It is a robust boat for sure which has proved almost bulletproof in the hire fleets around the world but it is still heavy. It would have to be right at the upper limit of acceptable weight for rigid singles. Mine weighs around 28kgs on the bathroom scales WITHOUT the rudder bits. I’ve found carrying it on my shoulder is OK as long as I use the spray skirt as a pad. The thigh brace edges on the Pod will dig a hole in my shoulder if 1 don’t.

The problem with the weight of the Puffin on the water occurs in the surf and in rough seas. Cruising speed is very little affected by weight but acceleration is! When a waves stops the boat, the paddler must crank it up to get going again. This can sap valuable energy reserves when punching a strong wind or on a long haul. The sluggish acceleration is most noticeable when comparing unladen boats.

Handling is a very subjective topic. What may be acceptable for me could be diabolical for another…. but here’s my two bits anyway… this is a subjective assessment after all.

Well, the Puffin has the “Pod”, so says the advertisements. What is a Pod anyway? 1 suppose you could call it a body hugging cockpit. That’s not strictly right really as there is plenty of room in it but the cockpit volume has been significantly reduced over a fibreglass “bulkhead at each end” arrangement. The makers claim a 40% reduction in the amount of water that can slosh around the cockpit and destabilise the boat. Most of the volume reduction occurs behind the seat – there’s plenty of room for legs and feet.

The thigh braces are comfortable and firm for me – they are moulded into the pod and I fit them well. The Puffin does however seem to favour larger and taller paddlers. The cockpit opening is large – standard for USA – and entry and exit is a breeze.

Does the Pod work? Well yes – you can fill the Pod right to the brim and paddle around normally with excellent stability but I think this is more a result of the hull design. In any case it is a stable boat by anyone’s standard. I find the best feature of the Pod is that you can empty every drop of water from the cockpit simply by lifting the bow and turning the boat on its side ! Try that with a glass “bulkhead” boat!

The Puffin is a soft chined boat with a round/flat bottom. If you can compare it with a Nordkapp, or a Pittarak side by side you’ll notice the difference. There is little or no flare at the bow but the high volume in this area compensates for this and makes it a fairly dry craft.

The hull is moderately rockered and I find it a good compromise between turning ability and directional stability. I find it lean-turns well although it is less stable than some other boats I’ve paddled when right on the edge.

Braces, rolls, re-entry and rolls are no problem. One point – when loaded for a trip the stability increases so much that lean-turns become a chore – it simply wants to sit flat! Response time for braces is increased when loaded too.

The Puffin, with a low bow and not too much above the waterline behaves well in wind, with only “moderate” round-up tendencies in beam wind.

Like most boats of similar length, it is at its most directionally unstable with wind and wave from the stern quarter. If you use a rudder this can easily be corrected.

In surf an unladen Puffin is good fun. Like all Sea Kayaks it will broach if you let it and from then on it’s a sideways ride to the beach! With its’ round/flat hull it can be hard to get out of a broach. In rough surf, the Puffins stability is an asset. The paddler can really relax and enjoy the waves.

Heading seawards through the surf is no problem although there is some slapping on the down sides of waves. In rough seas the Puffin is a good, solid performer. It makes no sudden, unexpected moves and its’ stability means the paddler can concentrate on other things.

In downwind situations in big seas, again the Puffin behaves well. This situation is potentially the worst that a kayaker can face and although you may find yourself racing across a wave under a foaming crest, you’ll generally get some warning from the boat. A quick brace will normally stop you failing down the face of the wave. Great fun!

OK – Summary Time!

The Puffin is user friendly with decklines, big hatches and predictable handling at sea. It is heavy but only on your shoulder. it is also a safe boat with the Pod (maybe it’s only as safe as the paddler is sensible!) and being plastic is virtually indestructible.

The Puffin is, I feel, an ideal first boat for newcomers to Sea Kayaking – no wonder they are in use in the hire fleets everywhere!

The Puffin may not lead the way but it will be there at the finish!

In answer to the big question – Yes I would buy another Puffin however my paddling needs have changed and my boat is up for sale ($750 with spray skirt). Can someone give it a good home?

President’s Report [16]

By Patrick Dibben

We are drawing towards the end of our club year which finishes in August and it seems to have been a great year for the club.

Since last writing we have had an excellent talk from Paul Caffyn which was held at Canoe Sports at Narrabeen with around fifty people attending.

In the short time Paul had in Sydney he wanted to visit the Maritime Museum at Darling Harbour so on the Sunday he joined Bruce Easton, Alex Preema and myself for breakfast at my place. The Rainbow Warrior was at Darling Harbour so I arranged permission with Greenpeace and the Darling Harbour Authority to paddle to Darling Harbour, tie up to the Rainbow Warrior and climb on board for a tour of both the ship and the museum. It was a great day and I think Paul thoroughly enjoyed himself – he even got to paddle a Pittarak!

Paul went on to talk in Brisbane at Gail Austin’s shop where there were about ninety people present. My sister, who is a journalist in Brisbane, wrote an article which appeared the day before his talk in the Sunday Mail. After the talk Paul had a couple more articles in other papers and an ABC interview before returning to New Zealand.

We had quite a good influx of members since January and especially after the Paul Caffyn talk. On behalf of the club I would like to welcome Gordon Caswell, Rosalyn Cleworth, Deb Collins, Graham Cummings, Shantha David, Gary Edmond, Catherine Isles, John Isles, Richard McNeall, Ron Mudie, Peter Pederson, Ian Ranford, Richard Rees, Jacqui Shrimpton, Adrian van Bellen, Emma West and James Williamson. Apologies if I’ve missed anyone. The club now has just under one hundred members!

Our AGM will be held on the 21st of August at the Tambourine Bay Sea Scout hall when we will have another Paddle/BBQ/Talk extravaganza. This time we have Larry Gray – he will have a video and a tightly edited slide show of his travels including his Greenland trip. Not to be missed!

We will have the AGM just before our the talk at 5:30 pm. Please give some thought to standing for a committee position and if you need to know more or feel you have the time to help out in some way please give me a ring before the meeting. It has been suggested that people who would like to stand for a committee position could write something on what they would like to achieve for the club and this could be published before the meeting to help members decide on who they are voting for. This sounds like a good idea.

There was a minor drama for a while regarding our public liability insurance – the company that handled it had been undergoing a restructure/takeover and had not sent out the renewal notice until a couple of months after it expired. The renewal notice then had nearly a 100% increase in the fee! This would have forced a large increase in membership fees. I checked out the possibility and advantages of affiliating with another club to obtain cheaper insurance but this did not help. I then got quotes from lots of different brokers until finally finding one which specialised in sports insurance. We now have a policy through the Insurance Exchange of Australia which gives better coverage than before for the same cost. The underwriter is Union des Assurances de Paris (UAP), one of the largest insurance companies in the world.

Since we have not had a secretary since Ken Macdonald resigned I have been handling all the correspondence. As far as incoming mail goes and excluding membership enquires we have received only a few items to report on.

Peter Carter from the Investigator Canoe Club in South Australia has been sending copies of their newsletter and I wrote to him thanking him and giving him an update on our club. I will forward copies of our newsletter to him.

Darcy Ortiz from Canada has written seeking information on sea kayaking in Australia as he will be arriving in September and will spend several weeks in Canberra and visiting Sydney from there. I am forwarding a copy of this newsletter plus a personal reply. I have put his details in the Notices later in this newsletter so you can, if you wish, get in contact with him.

Earlier in the year I received a letter from Steve Hemsley with some suggestions on how to hold a Sea Kayaking race. He has some good ideas and if you are interested in organising a race then Steve would be a good person to talk to.

While I am not personally interested in racing sea kayaks I was thinking it might be fun to organise a City to Surf to correspond with the real City to Surf. Since the club cannot afford to provide effective support via rubber duckies etc for safety reasons participants would need to paddle in teams of, say three, and paddle together. Is anyone interested?

I have been in contact with Christopher Cunningham, the editor of Sea Kayaker magazine in the US and our club is now listed their clubs section. See the Notices section of this newsletter on how to subscribe.

I have also been in contact with the World Cleanup Day organisation. They were quite keen to have us involved. Is anyone interested in helping out on this or perhaps the next Cleanup Australia ?

David Winkworth is holding another Rock & Roll weekend in November, this time at Patonga near Gosford. There is a council camping ground there which is right on the water with both flat water and ocean. This could form the basis for a annual get together and if the shops are interested they could make this a trade show. Is anyone interested in helping organise this? I will make a group booking for the club for this campsite so let me know if you are interested in this ASAP.

I am organising a BBQ on Shark Island in Sydney harbour this coming Sunday (see the Trips List) so if you have any suggestions, ideas etc; you can catch me there otherwise feel free to ring me.

News [16]

Australian Circumnavigation

Andy Mitchell from the US. who was attempting to circumnavigate Australia has ended his attempt after a successful paddle from Sydney to Thursday Island. It is believed the attempt was reconsidered because of the time involved to complete the trip. Andy was paddling an Arctic Raider.

The latest edition of Wild magazine reports that David Hooton of Gorokan, NSW, has reached Hamilton Island, 2,100km into his circumnavigation attempt. David started from Terrigal on the Central NSW coast and is doing the trip to raise money for the Central Coast MS and Handicapped Group.

Murramarang Coast [16]

By Bruce Easton

We all met at Racecourse Beach car park where we planned to finish the trip. Two cars were left here in the car park for safety then we did the car shuffle to Batemans Bay where we planned to leave from. (35 kms in 45 mins).

A quick trip through the surf and we were off! The swell was running around two metres so we had a bit of adjusting to do to our first camp. We meandered along the coast past numerous bommies checking out the detail of a very interesting coastline. On clearing North Head we were out into the open ocean. We had pretty open plans but Oakey Beach looked like a good place to camp besides which the swell wasn’t quite so scary on the right-hand-side of the beach. Nonetheless timing was critical to a safe landing! On arrival we met a small group of campers but lots of excellent sites were available.

Once set up I went out for a bit of surfing practice then back for a sumptuous dinner.

Day 2

The surf seemed bigger & getting away was going to be interesting. A good crowd had developed on the beach to watch the fun and games. Jacqui was nominated as the “offering to the water gods”.

Once set-up I waded out to give her a good shove & send her on her mission. Success! Ros our novice was next and appeared quite nervous but survived without event and was very pleased with herself. I was next in the venerable Klepper and though concerned I might not be quick enough to get out before a larger set broke, I reached the other two unscathed.

The paddle up to Durras North was great. We saw a seal and a pod of dolphins passed nearby as well as numerous penguins.

Lunch was at Dark Beach which was again an interesting landing with the swell up. It was interesting to see so many fishing people and quite a few surfers in these remote places. No doubt they were perplexed seeing us out in the ocean.

Again we were able to ‘free camp’ at the northern end of Durras North Beach just beyond the caves. The entry on the beach was sheltered by the headland and relatively straightforward. No doubt because we were a small group free camping was possible but a larger group may not have so much flexibility and may need to use commercial camp sites or plan carefully. Water was not easy to come by.

Day 3

We played in the surf and practised before packing up and making for Pebbly Beach and lunch. A great spot for a camp we indulged in the vein again!

More dolphins surfacing near Ros’s boat and passing under the bow added a fitting touch to more spectacular coastline. We had planned on a camp at Pretty Beach but surf was too big so we decided to round Snapper Point and look at Merry Beach. While a good swell was hitting it the left hand side offered an easy landing.

The friendly lady at this camp ground on hearing we had arrived by Sea Kayak gave us a $1 discount each. We found a nice site near the boats with a great view for a very pleasant evening.

Day 4

An easy launch off the beach into a glassy but rolling sea and the swell having dropped under a metre. Again we sighted dolphins and numerous penguins.

We put into Bull and Pup beach for a look as it is an aboriginal reserve. It has a few obvious middens of interest and a great bommie for those keen on surfing. We then headed on to Brush Island for lunch.

We decided to brave it and try the surf at Racecourse Beach which proved to be an anti-climax with all of us landing uneventfully.

Jacqui and I emptied our gear and we tool the two Pittaraks out for a 1/2 hour of fun before finishing the car shuffle to Batemans Bay and returning home after four days of great weather and fantastic company, beautiful coastline and a relaxing and indulgent four days.

This trip comes highly recommended …. just ask !!

This trip could be completed by an ambitious and well prepared group of paddlers as a two day trip. This would presume good weather and sea conditions and a self sufficient small group capable of paddling 20 kms each day.

  • Day 1. Depart Batemans Bay around Surfside Beach staying overnight at Durras North.
  • Day 2. Head North to arrive late afternoon at Kiola boat ramp (North side of O’Hara Head)

You would need to arrange a car shuffle and/or have two groups paddle from each end and meet for the camp at Durras North.

Montague Island/Mystery Bay [16]

Weekend 27 & 28 Feb 1993

By David Winkworth

A couple of weeks before the Montague Island weekend, an informative typed sheet arrived in the mail from Arunas Pilka giving all sorts of details on the proposed Sea Kayak Club weekend at Mystery Bay.

Having mucked around in this area for several years, the Winkworth family decided that this was not an outing to miss…. besides, circumnavigation of Montague Island was something I had not yet done.

And so we arrived at Mystery Bay on Friday afternoon in fine weather. Mystery Bay is a pleasant little village just south of Narooma. It is so named because some explorers did the vanishing act here many years ago.

A shallow semi-protected bay with an ocean boat ramp is the focus for the village that looks NE to Montague Island some 10 kms off the coast.

The camping area, well shaded by spotted gums sits right on the bay and most of the paddlers were in camp for Friday night. Saturday morning saw the group assemble on the beach – late as usual – in a refreshing NW wind. Pittaraks, Puffin, Voyager, Greenlander, Seafarer, Klepper, Folbot double and Pittarak double were present – sorry if I missed anyone’s craft.

We headed NE for the island over dirty green seas with a stern quartering wind and sea. About halfway to the island we crossed a current line and coincidentally the wind abated making for very pleasant paddling conditions to the island.

We were denied permission to land (Montague is a Nature Reserve) but it mattered little. In a small cove on the western side of the island intrepid paddlers produced all types of luncheon fare from deep within their craft as they drifted on the clear water.

We then paddled north around the island into a sizeable swell. Rebound made it difficult to get close to the seal colony on the northern tip of the island – there were only about a dozen seals and I’ve always thought that if I was a White Pointer this is where I’d make my home!

Our group spread out down the east side as we generally headed for home – funny how you pick up speed towards the end of the trip!

Off the southern tip of the island Jacqui Shrimptons healthy respect for sharks was proven as she thrust both arms and paddle skywards….  “Sharks!!! There are sharks here!”

“Are you sure Jacqui?”, I ventured?

“Yes, I am”, came the affirmative.

I paddled back and sure enough Jacqui had a dozen or so grey escorts underneath her boat. They soon departed and we enjoyed a pleasant return trip to Mystery Bay. Estimated distance was 25kms for the day.

Back at the bay Frank christened his Pittarak double and Sue became a Sea Kayak devotee after a trip in the bow seat. “That was fantastic” she beamed.

Pancakes were on the menu for Sunday breakfast, thanks to Arunas and what a mighty repast it was. Good value.

The weather & sea had improved for the Sunday – a glorious summers’ day. After a short exploration paddle along the rocks to a small beach it was time for some surfing practice. The water was warm, the waves well formed and although I didn’t see it, I’m told that Franks double tried to cut his single in half on a wave. That incident may make it into kayaking folklore!

Some boat swapping, a leisurely lunch and plenty of chat completed the weekend. Who knows maybe a major expedition was taken through its embryonic stage this weekend. Stay tuned.

Mystery Bay: well worth a return visit by the Sea Kayak Club – pleasant camping, good scenery, interesting paddling and generally good fishing too although the fish were safe on this trip.

Going Paddling – Going Fishing [16]

By David Winkworth

For quite some time I’d been thinking of a trolling rig for my kayak but it wasn’t until last summer that I finally put one together.

The beauty of a trolling rig was that I could paddle all day, and fish at the same time ! The fish I wanted live around rocky shores so I could enjoy the scenery too. Not having to worry about bait was a bonus.

I’ve used a rod to catch trout from the kayak but this was not really a practical rig for the ocean – I wanted a zero maintenance affair which I could leave on the boat all summer. Also having to negotiate surf with a $100 rig on the deck would be inviting disaster.

So I settled on a handline of some sort but this created other problems for the kayak such as how to get it in quickly, tangling on the deck etc.

Also, the fish I was targeting are powerful and live around the rocks – so there had to be a safety release in the rig.

What I ended up with is detailed in the accompanying sketch. Here are some notes on the bits:

  • Cork: – for storage of the line and as a float that I can retrieve if I have to let it all go in a hurry. Also it stores in the cockpit more easily than a plastic reel.
  • Fastex Buckle: – foolproof and positive. Just squeeze it in an emergency and everything shoots over the side to be retrieved later.
  • Cord: – I use fine venetian blind cord about 2 mm diameter. It is fawn in colour. The best thing is it lies limp and flat on the spray skirt whenever you pull a fish in and never tangles. It’s also easier to grip.
  • Nylon Trace: – I use about 150 lb breaking strain nylon. It’s hard to tie knots in this stuff. Good tackle shops will show you how or rig up a piece for you with metal crimps. Watch for signs of wear around the lure from teeth. Murphy’s law dictates that it will break just as the big one is up to the boat. The trace is pretty springy but at only 4m long is quite manageable.
  • Lure: – I use what is known as a ‘Christmas Tree’ lure. It is a chromed metal head with a skirt of fine metal filaments covering a single hook. It’s main advantage is that it doesn’t cause too much resistance when paddling. Good speed is needed to provoke a strike from these fish. Use a stainless hook and keep it sharp. There are hundreds of other lure patterns to try too.

The quick release system is quit important I believe. If you’re going to chase fish around rocky shores and bommies sooner or later you’re going to hook up to one that literally pulls your boat backwards or at the very least stalls your forward paddling efforts. If there is a reasonable swell running, you could be in trouble where there is no room for error. With this system you can release the lot and wait for the cork to surface somewhere (like the barrels in Jaws).

OK, what can you catch around the rocks? The main species would be tailor, bonito, salmon, kingfish and slimy mackerel.

All of these fish are often up near the surface except kingfish. You may have to get a bit deeper for them with a deep diving lure. They put more stain on the line, so it’s not a lure you want to tow for hours.

The morning hours are probably when you’ll do best and any turbulent rebound areas are worth second passes.

I put a loose slip knot in the cord in front of the cockpit which pulls out when any fish strikes. Without that, you may tow a small tailor around for ages and not know it’s there. Big fish are so subtle – they can stop the boat !

Now for the scary bits. When you pull in a bonito or a striped tuna you’ll notice that they leave their lunch behind in a lovely long burly trail down to the depths. When you bring these fish up try not to put your hands in the water. Unhook and stow the fish & get going. Sharks will think you little pinkies are fish fingers.

If you hook up a mako shark, even a small one, cut the line. These sharks jump all over the ocean and more than likely will jump into your cockpit with you.

Right…..you’ve caught all these fish – now where to put them. Definitely not in the cockpit and operating a keeper bag on the rear deck is dammed difficult. I settled on a mesh bag that clips to the deck lines on the foredeck. A draw cord neck allows easy access.

I usually smoke my fish with a hot smoke metho burning affair. This works best with ‘oily’ fish. The best eating fish are bonito, tailor and kingfish. I usually condemn the salmon and slimies to fish cakes and cat food respectively. Tight lines.

Sea Kayaking Course [16]

NSW Canoe Board of Education

By Dirk Stuber

Approximately twenty people from three states attended the course on the 3 & 4th of April at Jervis Bay. The aim of the course was to assess candidates for the Instructors and Sea Proficiency Awards. The course was designed, organised and led by John Wilde Our club was well represented with five member participating.

The weekend was divided into a number of teaching and skills training sessions. The trainee instructors taught on a range of subjects such as kayak design, advantages and disadvantages of folding boats, essential equipment for safe paddling and group teaching skills. Saturday night was devoted to an informative discussion led by Mark Shrimpton on aspects of group leadership.

The skills training sessions where conducted on the water. The trainees instructed the participants on a variety of techniques ranging from basics of good paddling technique to the essentials of sea rescue. The trainees were assessed by John Wilde and Mark Shrimpton.

I highly recommend this course. The quality of instruction is very good. The knowledge and skills taught give the paddler a fair idea of what level of proficiency is required to cope with any situation that develops on the water. Also you meet paddlers from other states and backgrounds, discuss equipment ad nauseam and you usually have some fun.

Congratulations to Michael Maleedy and Arunas Pilka for gaining the Sea Proficiency Award and for Jacqui Shrimpton for her participation in the instructor assessment.

The course is held in April, costs $80 and I’ll see you there next year.