The Old Sea Dog’s Gear Locker [42]

By Norm Sanders

Of Polarfleece, wooden kayaks and, once again, rudders…

The OSD has long been a fan of Polarfleece. This remarkable fabric is light, warm when dry and, miraculously, almost as effective when wet. Another plus is the fact that Polarfleece is made largely from recycled PET bottles. The OSD uses a Polarfleece top under his Hot’N’Dry Cag in the winter to ward off the chills of the Southern Ocean. He also has Polarfleece tracksuit bottoms for lounging around camp in the evening and even a Polarfleece neck gaiter to protect his Adam’s apple from chilling blasts while riding his antique motorcycle.

Now, however, he is overjoyed by finding a source of bulk Polarfleece at very reasonable prices at Spotlight. He and Mona wandered into the new Spotlight in Queanbeyan and were dazzled by the size of the shop and the variety of fabrics on display (of course, the OSD and the lovely Mona are from The Bush and are always amazed by the services on tap for those pampered residents of the leafy suburbs).

Spotlight has rolls and rolls of Polarfleece in many colours, designs and weights. A Polarfleece, cotton mix is the cheapest, at $4.99 per metre (1.5 metres wide). Top of the range is double sided, non pilling at $16.95 per metre. The OSD, being moderate in all things, bought a bunch of in-between Polarfleece for $8.99 per metre. This he made into two items:

  1. A summer sleeping blanket, 2 metres by 1.5 metres. Polarfleece doesn’t unravel, so making the blanket merely requires cutting the material to whatever size is required, with no hemming necessary. This blanket is lighter than the OSD’s summer sleeping bag and packs smaller. The OSD puts a light cotton sheet underneath to cover his Ultralight Thermarest. The OSD first tried the Polarfleece blanket on the recent Murray trip. It was fine for the first night, but when the weather turned colder, he found the single blanket inadequate. However, he discovered that he could double the warmth by folding the blanket lengthways. Unfortunately, this made the blanket quite narrow and required the OSD to lie absolutely straight and still, a difficult task.

    The situation was saved by the OSD’s other innovation:

  2. A Polarfleece poncho, 1 metre by 1.5 metre. The OSD simply took 1 metre of Polarfleece, turned it sideways, so the 1.5 metre dimension is fore and aft, and cut a hole in the centre. As the very patient Mona, who is a skilled fabric artist, pointed out, the OSD made a mistake cutting the hole in the exact centre. This is because of the fact that more material is required for the back than the front. The hole should be about 7 cm off centre (and about 15 cm in diameter – the cloth stretches.) The OSD’s poncho is thus longer in the front than it should be, but he finds this an advantage when sitting in his Crazy Creek Chair because it covers his knobbly knees. The poncho packs as small as the OSD’s Polarfleece jumper, but has the added advantage that it can be opened up and spread over the blanket for additional warmth.

Another advantage of the Polarfleece blanket is its ability to be used as a warm, lightweight, snuggly bed covering at home. This is the only bit of the OSD’s vast collection of kayaking gear which comes out of the closet between paddling trips.

There were two wooden kayaks on the above mentioned Murray River Epic: The OSD’s Inuit Explorer prototype and Mark Windsor’s beautifully finished Chesapeake 17. Wooden boats are growing in popularity among those who reject the sameness of the peas-in-a-pod plastic and fibreglass kayaks. Also, there is a definite buzz in paddling a personally built boat. In addition, they are easily customized to fit individual requirements. They can be lighter than the artificial equivalent and definitely feel livelier on the water, with no give to the hull. However, the OSD has a word to the wise: make sure the design is a proven sea kayak. Nothing is more discouraging than pouring a whole bunch of time, money and personal energy into a craft which turns out to be a dog on the water. As the OSD has mentioned in previous columns, he favours Pygmy Kayaks for kits and Chesapeake Light Craft for plans.

Both of these firms have good web sites: for Pygmy and for Chesapeake Light Craft. Pygmy does have plans for some of their kayaks, but the OSD feels they would be difficult to build as the original designs were computer based for kits with precision, laser-cut panels. The Chesapeake Light Craft kayaks have been developed for amateur builders and seem foolproof. For one thing, they use sheer clamps to nail the deck to the hull, rather than stitch and glue. This makes for a far easier and stronger join.

Very few wooden kayaks have rudders. The OSD feels that this is probably because wooden kayak builders by their very nature are more willing to learn how to paddle well and reject the thought of agricultural-looking gadgets defacing the sterns of their creations. In addition, the fact that many wooden kayaks have hard chines may have something to do with it (chines are the sharp angles between a V bottom and the topsides of the hull). The chines add directional stability, in contrast to the old-fashioned shallow arch designs so prevalent in the kayak shops which have less lateral resistance.

The OSD gave considerable thought to rudders on the Murray trip. This came about as he watched a recent convert to sea kayaking while she paddled her brand new Stingray (the Stingray is a re-badged TLC, that excellent kayak produced by Gordon Carswell of the South Coast Mafia – Gordon has decided on a more macho name).

Anyway, the Stingray paddler was happily cruising along with her rudder down. The OSD politely pointed out that rudders, if required at all, were only needed when paddling off the wind. The paddler agreed to pull up the rudder and immediately discovered that she kept turning to the left. The OSD observed her technique for a while and then figured out what was happening: Her stroke was unbalanced. She held the paddle almost vertical on the left side, but used a semi-sweep on the right. The unbalanced leverage made her turn. The rudder compensated for the sweep, at the cost of drag as the blade turned sideways. If she had continued to use the rudder, she might have been using the inefficient stroke for a long time. However, she quickly learned how to paddle correctly and looked great by the time we reached Echuca (with rudder safely stowed).

Most people who rely on rudders don’t realize the importance of sweeping strokes. Experienced paddlers constantly correct the direction of the kayak by using more or less sweep on each stroke. The trick is to make small corrections before the kayak begins a determined turn. Once the kayak really starts to swing, no amount of sweeping will bring it back. It is then necessary to use a brief checking stroke on the opposite side or a stern rudder stroke.

The OSD says: “Stow your rudder and start paddling! You have nothing to lose but your un-balance.”