Thursday, June 22, 2017

How to Fix a Broken Kayak Handle

    As with everything in life, something is bound to break sooner, or later. Whether or not your kayak has solid plastic handles, or cheaper woven nylon handles, (and depending on old age and/or frequent use) your kayak handle's strength over time will weaken at some point and break at the most inopportune time when you need it the most.

    Such is the case with my friend's kayak handle - a cheap woven nylon handle with a hard rubber grip portion that started to tear near the anchor point. Her kayak is an inexpensive sit-on-top model, a Future Beach Angler 160, with basic components - cheap parts that helped keep the price down making it affordable to own. The only problem with this kind of kayak is that there isn't a dealer nearby that can do this type of work. And, to ask a kayak shop to do this, is very expensive. She is on a limited income, so I stepped up to the plate, and decided to tackle this job myself.


Above photo 1: This handle has seen better days. The rip in the nylon is 80 percent torn. It has served its purpose. But now, it's time for an upgrade!

    I worked in the auto body industry for 7 years before getting hired with the state of Connecticut. So, I have a lot of unique power tools that are perfect for this type of job. It will require some bolt cutting, gas torch use, and plastic welding to attach an aftermarket handle.

    First, I had to cut the handle off so I could get to the screws better. After I cut the handle off, I tried to turn the screws. I used good amounts of WD-40 on both screws and couldn't get the screws to budge. In fact, I put so much torque on the screwdriver's tip, that it mangled the tip of the screwdriver - but it didn't do anything to the screw head itself.


Above photo 2: The mangled tip of the screwdriver after losing the battle with the screw's head.

    My next plan of attack, was to cut off the screw from the bottom, on the inside. I removed the storage hatch cover and took a look inside to see what I'm up against. At first, I thought it was a couple of bolts with lock nuts holding it in place. But instead, they were held in place with a molded fastener - like the nut was in a molded cup built into the kayak's hull itself.


Above photo 3: The view from the inside of the hull. Before cutting these two "knobs", I unplugged the drain cap to the right of the front "knob".

    Here's what I used to get into that tight area: a mini Electric Body Saw. It's like a Sawzall, but it's about 75% smaller than its big brother, which is the perfect tool for the job. It's lightweight design will enable you to get into this tight area while utilizing just one hand to operate it. And, it's only $35!


Above photo 4: This tool sells for just $35, and is probably one of my most widely used tools in my shop. It comes in handy for a variety of projects.

    Whatever bolts the manufacturer used in the assembly process, they were "iron clad", as they were a pain to saw through. They eventually cut through after spending nearly 10 minutes per bolt. I chose to not only cut the bolts, but also the  bulbous plastic lump as well. Trust me, you won't miss it.


Above photo 5: Be persistent in the cutting process, eventually the bolts will give in. You might experience some cramping from trying to get the best angle when tackling that forward bolt.

    Now, I have to prepare the handle's area by filling in the old bolt holes with the plastic welder. I started out by melting down the raised "walls" on either side of the old handle (photo 6).
    Once they were leveled flat, I began filling in the old holes with plastic shavings that were saved from a previous project (photo 7). If you don't have enough plastic material, the plastic from old milk crates makes for a good substitute. The color won't matter because you won't see it once the new handles are installed.


    Above photo 6: Taken before I removed the handle. This shows the raised "wall" area on either side of the handle.


    Above photo 7: Both "walls" on both holes were knocked down to make way for the filling the old holes. After sanding the area with 36 grit sandpaper, I used a propane torch to "smooth" out the rough area. 


    Above photo 8: The old holes were filled in using a plastic welder. I tried to level it out as flat as possible. The above photo shows the area is now ready for re-drilling the new holes to make way for the new handle.

    I wanted the next handle to be as comfortable as possible for her to use. The old handle wasn't as good when it came to lugging the kayak up steep boat ramps. So, I bought this one from a Hobie dealer. It was longer in length, thicker in diameter, and much better quality too. It will also reduce the pain in the user's hands when lugging the kayak over long distance walks to the water.


Above photo 9: This handle came from a Hobie dealer and it wasn't cheap at $20, but comfort is king when it comes to lugging the kayak a good distance to the water. But, that will be up to YOU on what you choose to do when it comes to replacing your old handle.

    I have a bunch of spare bolts, nuts, lock washers, and washers at my disposal for this project. You may want to visit your local hardware store to pick up the parts you'll need for this project. I chose to utilize both the two holes in the front and back of the handle. You will also need a drill, to punch through the webbing material, as well as the plastic hull.
    I chose to fold the end units inward, so they're facing each other when I go to drill the handle bases in. It should look like this when you're done:


Above photo 10: The finished product!  I wanted to keep a small "curve" in the handle by keeping it confined to the recessed space provided. 

In the end, you will have a great looking handle on your kayak that will last for years to come. And, this project will give you a sense of pride in knowing that you did this by yourself while saving your wallet from being raped at the local kayak shop.

As usual, keep those lines wet & tight!  - J

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Custom Kayak Cart for the Beach

   There's a lot of kayak carts on the market today aimed at your kayak, but which one do you choose? Some manufacturers have carts that use ratchet straps and a frame-style cart. While others use a plug-in style cart that utilizes the kayak's scupper holes. That choice will be up to you on what you can afford, and how quickly you want to get out on the water.

   Frame-style carts

    You've seen them. It's usually a bulky contraption with foam padding and basic wheels (a combination of hard plastic ball-bearing free rims and thin airless rubber or hard foam tires). Some of these tires may be air filled. While some of these frame-style carts will either break down for easy storage in your forward hatch, or fold up for storing under your front or rear lashing areas for carrying. A few problems arise with these setups.
 
    First, they're cumbersome to setup under the kayak - especially if you have a fully loaded fishing kayak. Then, you'll have to position it just right so it doesn't fall over, or slip out from under the kayak, while going over uneven terrain. Don't forget to ratchet it down good so it doesn't slip out from under the kayak (but not too much that it warps the hull)!
 
    Second, there's the problem of storing it while you're out. If you choose to leave it at the launch site while you're out, they might, or might not be there when you get back in. Good luck getting back to the parking area.
    You could store it up front in your forward hatch - if it's big enough. For those of you that have kayaks that are 10 feet long, or less, you may not have a cargo hatch area big enough to store a collapsible cart. Or, your cart may not collapse at all. You could try to "lash" it down using the bungee cord material (aka "shock cord") that's usually located either up front, or out back. That's fine for the front, but it may take away from carrying your fishing gear (or, crate) out back.

    Plug-in style carts

    Plug-in style carts are just what they seem. They usually "plug" into scupper holes for easy transport to, and from where you decide to launch from. The nice thing about some plug-in style carts, is that when you get to where you want to launch, where you chose to put the cart after you've pulled it out, is usually the same place you'll put the cart into the scupper holes from the top to take with you. In some rare instances, if you plugged in the cart into the scupper holes located in the seat area, then you may have to find another way to take your cart with you, so it doesn't get stolen.

    Homemade PVC carts

    If you've been on some of the many online forum sites, or even YouTube for that matter, you've seen many different ways someone has made their own kayak cart out of PVC. I'll admit I'm guilty here. I made a few for a friend that resulted in a rather overly bulky cart that was a big pain-in-the-butt when it came to stowing it, or it was a bigger pain when it came to securing it to the kayak for bringing it somewhere. And the cost of materials usually resulted in spending more money, and time, on a project that ended up going to the scrapyard at some point.

 
    So now what?  Well,.....it goes like this:

    I have a friend that has a relatively decent kayak that cost a mere $400, but it is on par with some of the big name kayaks out there. So, over the last few years, I've tried the homemade route on at least 5 different versions of a custom made cart - all of them a failure, to say the least.
    One day, while flipping through a Bass Pro Shops flyer, I noticed a Adjustable Kayak Cart that could be adjusted in width from 10" to 22" wide, and it was nicely priced at $55. It was made by Ascend Products, a top name in kayak accessories with everything from anchor trolley kits, kayak carts, kayaks, clam shell cleats, paddle leashes, etc. - just to name a few.
    I went outside to their kayak, and measured the width between the scupper holes, and finally found a cart that would fit their kayak perfectly.
 
    Over the last few years, our kayak fishing club has had some newer launch sites added to the itinerary that are difficult to get to the shoreline. Though, they are "hidden gems" to our club member's leader, they also require the use of beach wheels on some of the beaches. Because, NO ONE wants drag a fully loaded kayak across deep sand.
    So, I checked into adding a set of Wheeleez beach wheels to their cart. Unfortunately, the Wheeleez hub size on some of their hubs were either too big (10" tire), or too small (6" tire) to fit the cart's axle hub. And a set of their tires was way out the budget range we were looking for. Up to $250 for the larger 10" tires, and up to $180 for the smaller 6" tires. Plus, their hub size was too wide for their kayak cart's axle.

    While reading through my "Kayak Angler" magazine, I came across an ad for Malone Auto Racks. They're a major supplier for everything related to transporting your kayak. Custom built trailers, kayak racks for storage, kayak carts, etc.. American made products from Portland,Maine and in business for the last 18 years. I went to their website here: Malone Auto Racks .
    I checked out the brand new 2017 catalog online (clicking on "Catalog" will open up a new window) and on page 35, Malone now offers their own version of inflatable beach wheels called, "Soft Terrain BeachHauler Wheels", Part# MPG513, and are sold in sets of 2.


Above Photo: Soft Terrain BeachHauler wheels. Photo courtesy of MaloneAutoRacks.com

    After speaking with regional agent at a recent trade show, he said that the set of 2 wheels w/hubs would be selling for $100. We brought an Ascend kayak cart with us and tried on one of the BeachHauler wheels. It was possible with the unique "deep dish" design of the rim. The Ascend adjustable kayak cart's outside axle length is only 4" long with a small press in button at the end to help keep the hub in place on the axle.


Above Photo: Deep dish rims like these will be a different color on the BeachHauler wheels. Photo courtesy of MaloneAutoRacks.com 

    Although it was an extremely snug fit, this is EXACTLY what we're looking for! This would bring the price for the cart & wheels to just under $160! And the best part? Even YOU can "build" this project will no tools needed!

    So, if you're looking for a set of beach wheels, and a great way to transport your kayak over deep sand, then check out these two great options - Ascend Product's "Adjustable Kayak Cart", and Malone's "Soft Terrain BeachHauler Wheels".


    As usual, keep those lines wet & tight!  - J

 

Monday, February 13, 2017

How to Use a Plastic Welder to Fix a Cracked Kayak Hull

    There are a lot of things that can go wrong in life when dealing with your kayak's hull. Take for instance, a recent "upgrade" I tried to do with my kayak.

The story:
    About three years ago, I had an Eagle Cuda 350 (Sonar/GPS), a small, gray scale, entry level fishfinder with GPS. It served me well for about 3 years during the day, but I mainly used it at night to help me find my way back to the boat launch area. But, there came a time when I needed it the most, and it failed to start - even after I had just finished charging the battery.
    So, I finally caved in and got a Lowrance Hook 5 DSI fishfinder/chartplotter/GPS. It was like stepping into the future with this new unit. It has a much larger 5" viewing screen, color display, a micro SD card with 6000+ lakes pre-loaded for all 50 states, and a state-of-the-art GPS system. It also came with a much larger transducer measuring in at 2" wide and 4" long - way bigger than the previous version. The way I had my transducer set up, it shot through the hull. This setup provided protection from the rocky bottom and other underwater obstructions that couldn't be seen by my eyes -  day or night. The transducer sat in 2 foam spacers that were doubled up together and affixed to the inside of the kayak's hull using Marine Goop. I would fill the spacers with water, then press my transducer in slowly to squeeze out the excess water and air bubbles, to give me a solid reading every time. But, with the bigger transducer, it wasn't going to fit my spacer setup. So, in order for me to make a new spacer, the old spacer setup had to come out.
    I figured I would use a scraper first, to see how that goes, then switch to something heavier duty later. I knew Marine Goop was pretty durable, but instead, it was harder than a rock. The fact that the air temperature in my unheated garage is around 30 degrees doesn't help. The scraper just wasn't cutting it. So, I switched to a heavy duty chisel, and a small ball peen hammer to help scrape away the spacer blocks. At first, it was going pretty smoothly, but then the inevitable happened - I thought I was making headway, but I ended up driving the chisel completely through the bottom of my kayak, tearing a 3" gash in the hull! While I'm usually patient at doing things to my kayak, I'm pressed for time for an upcoming saltwater show in early March, so my impatience led to me trying to cut a few corners, and it cost me by compromising the hull.

The solution:    
    But, being a former auto body technician, I have a remedy to this unlikely situation. While most people would've freaked out, and possibly thrown away their damaged kayak in the garbage. There is a cheap alternative that will save you a ton of money and it's called a Plastic Welder.

So, let's get started:
    If you've never heard of a plastic welder, they're usually used in auto body shops to repair front and/or rear bumper covers on today's newer cars. Some plastic welders can cost several more dollars, but this one that I have costs around $17, and it's a decent 80 watts, more than enough to get the job done. It was purchased at Harbor Freight


    The nice feature about this model of the plastic welder is the flat triangular head that makes it act like a very small iron (much like its big brother that you use to iron your dress shirts with). This will enable you to smooth out the plastic better.

    Because I've already sealed the crack in my Hobie kayak's hull, I'm going to use a scrap piece of plastic that I found at the transfer station. The piece in question came off an old Honda Quad (a fairing vent, I think). 
    
    Anyway, let's pretend that this is a crack in the kayak hull. Yeah......., it looks pretty deep.

   
    Above photo: from the front.


    Above photo: from the back.

    Okay, after assessing the damage, you want to get a screwdriver, and from the back (or, bottom of your hull) you want to press the raised edge back in so that it's "level" again. The nice thing about a kayak's hull is you can flip it over to work on it.

    Then, once you get it as close to level that it was, you take a razor knife and slice a thin piece off the exposed raised edge. This should form a "valley", or a V-like channel that you're going to fill in.


    Above photo: Prepping the "valley" for a fill in.

    Using the previous piece of plastic that you trimmed off earlier with that razor knife, you're going to use that piece to fill in the crack. Lay the trimmed piece in the valley, and with smooth strokes, melt the piece into the valley. 
    You'll know when the plastic welder is hot enough when the plastic begins to melt under the head of the iron. 

    (As seen on the Plastic Welder's carton in the above photo)
* DO NOT, FOR ANY REASON, TOUCH THE CHROME AREA ABOVE THE HANDLE! *

    * Note: DO NOT leave the iron in one spot! Keep moving it around so it doesn't burn through!


    Above photo: Melted plastic piece inside the valley.

    If you need more plastic to really completely fill in the damaged area, you can use an old milk crate. It's made of the same material as your kayak. But, instead of stealing a milk crate, you can buy one here (to match your kayak's color): The Container Store - Milk Crates

    To get the plastic shavings you need, you can use different size drill bits make the shavings you need. Small drill bits will make thinner and stringy shavings. While larger drill bits will make thicker and longer shavings. Color shouldn't be a big concern. You're filling in a crack that nobody will see.

    

    * Tip: In the photo below, when filling in the valley with the desired plastic, to keep the plastic "clean" and not to have it discolor the area by turning black, you should use the small wire brush (provided) to clean off the iron's head frequently. As the plastic melts, the built up melted plastic will burn on the end of the iron's head causing it to turn a blackish color, further discoloring your damaged area.


    Above photo: Patched area discolored from a dirty iron's head. Clean the head with a wire brush frequently, so as to do a nice clean patch job.

    To strengthen the back (or, inside hull) of the damaged area, repeat the same process.

   
    Above photo: After the welded patch is complete, you have a nice weld that is waterproof inside & out.

    When you're finished, unplug the plastic welder and set it on the angled metal rest provided, (preferably on top of a piece of scrap wood board) and keep it away from anything flammable while it slowly cools down.


    Above photo: Using the metal rest provided, this will make it easier to keep the iron clean.

    If you need more practice, use some old milk crates. Pretty soon, you'll be plastic welding everything in sight - helmets, kayaks, bumper covers, water jugs, etc.. Be sure to save the scrap milk crates when you're done cutting them up. You never know when you'll need them. I have lots of containers with scrap & colored shavings from all kinds of "donor" plastics, such as ATV/Dirt Bike fenders and scrap milk crates. So far, I have shavings in the following colors: Red, Yellow, Orange, Black, Grey, and Olive Green.
    I hope this "How-To" article is helpful to you and your friends in making the right decision to save money on a simple fix, rather than to spend several hundred dollars on buying new equipment. That way you'll have more money to spend on better fishing equipment.

    As usual, keep those lines wet and tight! - J

Friday, November 11, 2016

Communication Breakdown

    If you haven't guessed by the title above, this article isn't about Led Zeppelin, but a look at some of the ways we can't communicate with each other while we're on the water when something goes wrong. There's nothing worse than not being able to communicate with anyone should something go awry. Here's a prime example:

    A few months ago, I rolled my kayak in the surf at Rocky Point Park in Warwick,RI. I was leading an outing there with our kayak fishing group. I had been here previously in the past and it's been relatively calm for the most part. But, this outing was "doomed" right from the start. I should've exercised better caution and canceled the outing, but the four of us launched anyway - in rough seas and high winds. After about an hour and a half of fighting the incoming tide, I decided it was time to head back in. After not pedaling the Hobie fast enough, and not turning the rudder hard enough, I ended up flipping over the kayak.
    Anyway, during the time I was bobbing in the water next to my kayak, I wondered if anybody else in our group saw me go over. I had my friend's marine radio on me, I remembered that I was the ONLY person smart enough to bring a radio. It would've been a waste to use the radio when no one else has a radio on them that day. I had my safety whistle. But who's going to help me, if they can't hear me?
    I ended up getting my kayak righted and back in the saddle in under 5 minutes - by myself. Another kayak angler in our group came over to help with the recovery of my items that were floating in the water. Fortunately, he was only 100 yards away.

    So, how DO we communicate with each other while out on the water?

    Well, for starters, you could get yourself a good quality floating marine radio. There are many brands on the market and most are reasonably priced, depending on your budget. They will often have decent range of up to a mile or more depending on conditions. A floating marine radio will be sealed with some type of O-ring gasket to help keep the batteries dry and the water out. Some will have up to 10 Weather channels, as well as, an emergency channel (ch.16) - which is monitored by the US Coast Guard. And, trust me, they're listening all the time, and will be there quickly if the situation is serious enough. If the Coast Guard isn't nearby, they will often request that any boaters nearest to that location, to please respond, assist, and monitor that situation until the Coast Guard arrives.
   
    There's plenty of radio chatter of other boaters looking to zero in on where the action's at, maybe looking for other friends in the area, or what's hot for lure & bait combinations.

    Having your marine radio fully charged is also a big factor, too. The last thing you want to happen in an emergency, is your radio's battery failing at the worst moment by not working when you need it the most.
   
    You will also need to keep it close by at all times. My radio, a Standard Horizon HX 290, came with a small cord attached to the clip, which is removable from the radio housing. I have the cord attached to a D-ring hoop inside my life vest, so all I have to do is slide the clip onto the radio, and attach the radio to the inside pocket on the front of my life vest. If it should become un-clipped from my pocket, the small cord will keep it tethered close by.

    If you don't have a marine radio, you should probably stick close by to someone who does. Though, we don't normally use the "buddy system", it probably wouldn't hurt. It would make life a little easier for you both.

    Another choice would be to use your cell phone. But, you better have a good quality dry bag to keep your cell phone dry. It should have some type of "clear window", so you can see who you're talking to and/or texting. If that cell phone comes into contact with saltwater, you'll have an instant hand warmer in a hurry, as saltwater & Ni-Cad rechargeable batteries don't get along together.

    These are just a few tips on what you should have with you while out on the water. Your choice of what brand of radio you want will be based on what you can afford. These are just a few of the popular brands on the market today: Standard Horizon, Cobra, Uniden, and Sitex. Having a floating marine radio with you will mean the difference between having a good time on the water, or just not being prepared for the inevitable.

    As always, keep those lines wet & tight!  - J


Monday, October 10, 2016

Be Seen and Be Safe


    A lot of people don't think about safety when purchasing their first kayak. They figure they'll just go out and take their time, nothing fast, and paddle normally. That's usually the case with most people. They're impatient because they can't wait to get out and enjoy the water.

    When I got my Hobie Outback kayak in September 2009, I wanted to go out so bad, but couldn't because I didn't have the proper gear - no life vest, safety mast with flag, and no white light. Having used my Dad's big boat (a 23 ft. Grady White) on a few occasions, I knew he had his safety gear on board up front inside the cuddy cabin, and even he wasn't stupid enough to go out without the required gear!

    So, what does all this have to do with "being seen"? We often take for granted, that when we're out on the water, our kayaks are close enough to shore that the bigger boats will go around us. This isn't always the case. Most responsible boaters will avoid us and steer clear of what we're doing - whether it be fishing or paddling. Then, there are some who just don't care and will often "show off" for their friends by trying to splash you, or worse, try to flip you over. YOUR safety is obviously none of THEIR concern.

    There are a few ways to deter such incidents and I will go in order of necessity. These are the most important as far as your safety is concerned. Let's start at the top.

    1.) Life Vest - A lot of people don't realize the importance of a good quality life vest. This could mean the difference between a life saved at sea, or the unfortunate knock on the door by law enforcement informing your loved ones that you won't be coming home today. My life vest is a bright yellow. They come in a variety of colors, so pick out the color you like best, and keep it on whenever you're on the water - regardless of how hot it is outside. Unexpected surprises are just that - a "surprise" when you least expect it!
   *In early 2016 in Connecticut, there were 6 fatalities concerning kayakers - and ALL were not wearing life vests or dry suits, as the water is still a chilly 50 degrees in April/May.

    1b.) The author is seen here wearing a Stohlquist life vest on Pachaug Pond in Griswold,CT.


    2.) Safety Mast with Flag - Why? Because it will mean the difference of being a "target" out on the water without one, or being seen by other boaters with one. When I'm out on the water, usually saltwater, the seas can go from 1-2 ft swells (mild seas), to a hairy 4-6 ft swells (rough seas) in a matter of hours, thanks to the weather. For every drop you encounter inside the lowest point in a swell, you & your kayak, literally "disappear" from another boater's view. With my mast that I made, I cut the PVC pole to 50", because when it sits in its holder on my gear crate, it is literally 12" above the water, then the mast makes it sit 62" high. The pole is mostly white, with the top 8" marked out with reflective red & white tape, then below the tape I have a 9" x 12" orange safety flag that aids in keeping me visible in all directions. The purpose of the reflective tape, helps amateur boaters that use a spotlight at night, aids me in standing out in the black of night (I also have 1"x 2" white reflective strips above the water line, from front to back, on the sides of my kayak, and around the top of my gear crate as well).
 

    2b.) An earlier version of the safety mast I made using a 12"x 12" safety flag from Cabela's. Notice how the flash makes the reflective taped area glow. Great for unlit parking areas when an oncoming motorist pulls in, because they will see the mast first.



    2c.) The difference is clear. My tan kayak (flag). My friend in a red kayak in the back (no flag). Photo taken by Mona Rodriguez, a kayak fishing club member, from shore at Monahan's/State Pier #5 in Narragansett,RI, over a quarter mile out.


    3.) White Light - Now, during the daytime when the sun is out, you won't need this feature. But when it's foggy, sunset, or pitch black dark outside, federal requirements say you NEED this light on. If you feel that you don't need this feature at night, you may have a surprise visit at the parking area by the local Game Warden looking to hand out a fine of $75 (or, more) for Improper Lights or Failure to Display Lights, depending on your state's boating laws. YakAttack & Scotty both make lighted safety masts with flags, but their flags look more like a sock, and the white light puts out a dismal yellow color. They are priced around $65 - $75. The big problem here, is their "masts" aren't very tall at 30" in height. While USCG regulations require you to have a 360º white light visible in all directions, you need to insure proper placement in order for that to happen, otherwise your body may block the light from being shown when lit. I can show you how to make a lighted safety mast with flag for under $50. The most expensive part is this kit from Attwood Marine (Wal-Mart) which is around $30. Unbelievably bright for an LED light, and the 3 AAA batteries will last a long time. The nice thing about this kit, is the light can be taken off, because you don't need it during the daytime.




 
    Part 1 - Lighted Safety Mast:
    http://kayakfishingcountry.blogspot.com/2012/12/how-to-make-your-own-lighted-mast.html

    Part 2 - Adding a Flag to your Lighted Safety Mast:
    http://kayakfishingcountry.blogspot.com/2012/12/adding-orange-flag-to-your-lighted.html

    This is what the mast should look like when it's done. If you can't find the flag, you can find a similar flag at Home Depot, but you may have to cut it down. Look under "safety flags" at Home Depot. You can also buy one online at the link provided below.
    Go here for safety flags: http://www.homedepot.com/s/safety%2520flags?NCNI-5

    Photo 1: Finished product.
    Photo 2: When the light is lit.
    Photo 3: Flag in use at Rocky Point Park in Warwick,RI (daytime).
    Photo 4: Sunset at Fort Adams in Newport, RI (night time).



                                                  

[Photo credit above: Mona Rodriguez]




[Photo credit above: Mona Rodriguez]

    The whole point to this article is in order to "Be Safe", you must first "Be Seen". As always, keep those lines wet & tight!

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

The Dangers of Blue Water Kayak Fishing & the "DC Flip"

   If you're new to my blog page, I'd like to introduce myself to you. My name's Jeff, and I fish out of a 12 foot Hobie Outback Mirage kayak. I've have made numerous upgrades to my kayak that makes it better than stock, but is tailor-made and outfitted to suit my tastes. I started out fishing freshwater alone on local lakes and small ponds that only allow electric trolling motors. But the problem with this was, the ponds and lakes I fished at were frequented by others as well, and often depleted the supply quickly. So, in 2011, I joined a saltwater club in neighboring Rhode Island and signed up with the kayak group in this club so I wouldn't have to fish alone.
   I got to learn about all the great places to launch in RI, and 98% of them you don't have to pay a fee to park or get in. If you leave your home early enough, you can avoid a parking fee, as these other places usually start charging a fee to park after 8 am. I will admit though, there are still a lot of places that I still have not had the chance to see, or fish. Some of these places are known only to the locals and are not listed in the state rules & regulations guide for Rhode Island.


   So, what does this have to do with "Blue Water Kayak Fishing" & the "DC Flip"? Well, for the past 2 years, the club has been talking about doing "kayak self rescue & re-entry" class, but the problem was, finding an instructor that was skilled in the art of re-entry into an overturned sit-on-top fishing kayak, and finding a suitable place to engage in this type of activity. Most of the videos on YouTube show a re-entry done on an unloaded kayak in a swimming pool, small pond, or a private lake.
   A few members suggested that it be done in "real world conditions" in the surf, where the reality needs to set in, that this type of kayak fishing, done in saltwater, needs to be classified as "extreme". And, as with most extreme sports, there is the reality of a potentially high risk of danger involved that will be addressed in this article. Others, had made suggestions about using our own kayaks, but said they should be "unloaded", so they can go through the motions one-on-one with whoever is doing the instructing. One member suggested that we have EMS & a Marine Patrol Unit on standby should something go wrong.

   On a recent incident, on Saturday September 17, 2016 at Rocky Point Park in Warwick,RI, I led an outing here because in the past, the conditions here have been nearly perfect on past excursions when I'm with friends. But this last outing was different. The forecast called for winds at 7 mph from south, and picking up to 13 mph from the south in the afternoon with high temperature of 89 degrees, and water temps at 87 degrees.
   When we arrived at the park entrance, which is heavily protected by many trees, it seemed like a good day. As the other members started to show up, my friend Mona went to greet some of the others who had shown up before we got there, and she & Kraig took a short walk down to the shoreline to check out the sea conditions. Kraig & Mona came back to report that the winds were coming in from the south and the seas looked to be a bit choppy, or as we like to refer to them as "whitecaps".
   Once we got all the kayaks rigged and loaded, we made our way down to the shoreline, via paved roadway (the other half of Rocky Point Avenue which is gated off at the entrance). When we got down to the shore, the wind seemed a lot more than the 13 mph the weatherman had predicted earlier that morning, almost blustery in a sense. I probably should have exercised better caution and called off this day's launch. But, we're New Englanders, and we are somewhat suicidal when it comes to fishing the extremes, so we lined up for our photo op - all 3 of us (Kraig, Greg , and myself. Steve would've been the 4th, but he had already headed out). Greg noted that he felt like the newest member of the "Suicide Squad" heading out into conditions like this, as it was choppier than we expected.
   Everyone went their separate ways. I headed out north towards the old pier, and the small reef. Steve was already circling the area near the pier. Kraig headed southeast towards the islands. And Greg went south hugging the shoreline and eventually anchored near a large reef area. The shoreline area holds a lot of fish like bluefish, porgy/scup, striped bass, black sea bass, and maybe even a kingfish.
   Steve headed in early, as he had other obligations to attend to. He mentioned earlier that he would only be out on the water for an hour and a half. At around the same time Steve headed in, I thought I had a bite, but ended getting my Kastmaster lure hung up on a rock in about 20 feet of water. After several unsuccessful attempts of trying to free the stuck lure, I abandoned all hope of getting it back, and eventually cut the line with my dive knife (a small knife in a sheath that is attached by a lanyard around my neck). After about a half hour of fighting the incoming tide, and the strong winds from the south, I decided to make my way in. I will mention here that that winds felt stronger coming back because for every wave I rode over, the second wave came up over the bow of the kayak's nose and got me more wet than I had anticipated for that day. I finally made it back to the beach where I wanted to exit at.

   I will note here, that this area of the beach has a cement ramp that leads right to the water's edge allowing you to put in, or exit with ease. It has been a fixture at the location since the early 1900s, which by the way, was once a beautiful amusement park in its day. RIP: Rocky Point 1847-1995.

   Anyway, I lined my kayak up with the beach ramp, and proceeded to my make turn towards the ramp. As I did this, my timing between the waves, the combination of the wind and strong tidal current, as well as, not turning the rudder sharper and paddling faster, caused my kayak to lean heavily on its right side. I tried to counter correct this by leaning to the left to try and balance it out. At this point, I knew the inevitable was coming - that point in time when you KNOW you're about to rollover (aka do the DC Flip*).
 
   * The "DC Flip", is named after kayak fishing member Dennis Carusoe (DC) after his kayak rolled off the southeast coast of Block Island,RI one afternoon in 2013. He stated that he was hit by a rogue wave and described it as, "....having your chair yanked out from underneath you". The wave caught him off guard, and within a half a second, he found himself upside down in the water, struggling to get his kayak righted up, and back in his kayak - an ordeal he later described as, "it took forever to get back in!" (roughly an hour, with the help of kayak fishing member Robert Oberg) .

   The last thing I remember doing, and it was a true "guy thing", because that moment when you know you can't save the kayak from going over, you put your opposite hand down to try and "break the fall", and of course, not realizing that you're on the water - it didn't do any good. WHOOSH! I was in the water before I realized it had even happened!
   I remember hitting the water on my right side, in theory, I was supposed to exit outside of the kayak's right side. Instead, I wound up underneath the kayak - after I expelled half my lung's capacity for air after saying, "AW CRAP!!!!". After what seemed like 2 seconds of panic, I needed to get the kayak off of my head. The force of my life vest was working against me as I tried to push the kayak up, but found myself pushing my whole body deeper under water. The life vest was doing its job of keeping me afloat, but I was running out of time, and more importantly, out of air while being trapped under the kayak! So, I pushed myself down under water, and felt for the edge of the kayak, then pushed the kayak's edge away from me. As I did that, my body floated back up to the surface, and my head was above the surface so I could breathe again.
   Once I was back out from under the kayak, I needed to get my bearings on which side of the kayak had the rescue rope attached to it. My rescue rope is made out of 550 paracord, but it's double up giving me at least 1100 lb of strength. I had it attached on my kayak's left handle. I ended up on my kayak's right side when I flipped. So, I began to float over to the left side. Once I got there, I had to undo 1 clip on the side, then throw it over the hull, and float back over to the other side again.
   The idea of the rescue rope was to be used as an aid in helping you turn the kayak over by tugging on the rope. This was my first time using such a rope. Because it was a "prototype", I had it made to 60" in length. It did not work the way I intended it to. Instead of flipping the kayak over, I ended up climbing on top of the hull. When it didn't flip like I intended it to, I decided to "help" it flip over. I grabbed the rope closest to the hull, while holding the clip end firmly, and leaned backward into the water. When I did this, it righted the kayak back over in a hurry. Next, I had to re-attach the clip onto the handle and store the rope away onto one of the storage trays next to the seat.
   Getting back in using the rescue rope as stirrup didn't work out the way I had planned because the stirrup was too short. It was 30" in length - not long enough for me to get my foot on the loop. So, I had to go with another option.
   I had to level my body flat in the water, like a Superman pose. I put my left hand on the left side of the kayak for balance. With my right hand, I grabbed the right side handle on the other side. While kicking with my feet, I pulled my body across the top of the kayak, and within a few seconds, I was back in the seat of my kayak in no time!
   Once I was back in the seat, I began picking up my fishing poles, which were tethered to the rod holsters by a leash. Then, I went about circling the area for my hat, my bait cup, my paddle, and 2 jugs of saltwater (for a demo project). All my gear in my gear crate was safe - thanks to the latch system I made. My ordeal cost me my 3 lb anchor (unsecured), my small dive knife (it must have come unsheathed while climbing back in), and a small bag of bait (I hope the fish are happy they got a free meal).

   All of this happened so fast, that my friends couldn't believe I performed a near perfect "self rescue kayak re-entry" in under 5 minutes flat. In fact, Greg thought that because there no action in the water, that he thought I'd try my hand at a self rescue re-entry attempt - just to break the boredom. Now, everybody emailed the incident on our private email board about what happened that day. And, now they've asked me if I'd be interested in doing a clinic in the future about righting a kayak and performing a self rescue re-entry. I said,"yes".
 
   There are some other things that I didn't mention earlier. About 2-3 days after this incident occurred, I began to notice several bruises appearing in places that I normally don't get bruises. While the re-entry was a success, it didn't come without it's injuries. Some issues that arose during the rollover:
   1.) While trying to undo the clip for the rescue rope, the force of the waves hitting the kayak on the other side were making the kayak pound against my head, leaving a noticeable welt on my forehead.
   2.) I noticed several bruises, scratches, and a small cut on my left forearm that had started to bleed.
   3.) The urgency to get back in the kayak was at the top of my list. The only other option was getting slammed against the reefs by an upside down, 110 lb kayak.
   4.) Sharks can smell blood underwater from up to 2 miles away. The small cut on my left arm gave me the incentive to hurry and get back in the kayak.
   5.) Though there were other kayak fishing members nearby, I also had my floating marine radio, and a safety whistle that could be used to attract attention.
   6.) YouTube has a ton of videos on how to do a "Sit-On-Top kayak self rescue attempt". Study each video carefully. I watched them over & over - like a hundred times.
   7.) Don't panic! Stay calm, and remember what you watched on YouTube about the self rescue attempt. It will all come together naturally like clockwork.

   So, now begins the hard part on the location on where to do this clinic for the "SOT Self Rescue Kayak Re-Entry". But, that's a subject that we will bring up at our year end dinner meeting in November.

   As usual, keep those lines wet & tight!  - J.
 

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Kayak Fishing Safety - What to carry while on the water.

    One of the first things that somebody asks me when I do some seminars for the big Northeast Saltwater Show is: "What safety precautions should I take before hitting the water?" To most boaters, we are kind of like "speed bumps" out on the water, so I'll give you some tips on how to be more visible on the water - day, or night.

    1.) Life Vest

     First, and foremost, make sure you have a quality life vest. I wear a life vest made by Stohlquist, which I paid around $135. I've had it since 2010, and is a bright yellow. The Stohlquist life vest is made for kayak anglers. I have the freedom to move my arms in any direction, and there are plenty of straps to adjust the fit of any person. It also has reflective striping on the front & the back of the vest, along with two large pockets on either side of the zipper.
    There are several kinds on the market (Stohlquist, Coleman, Ascend, etc.), so be prepared to pay between $80 - $150). Check out sites like Bass Pro Shops (BassPro.com), Cabela's (Cabelas.com) and Austin Canoe & Kayak (AustinKayak.com)
    Be sure to try on different life vests when choosing a vest that suits your seat style so that it's compatible with your seat's back cushion.
    My life vest has a small flotation cushion that sits on the back of my shoulders. The bottom of the cushion is perfectly aligned with the top of my seat's back rest. Something to keep in mind.


    Photo 1.) The author shown with his Stohlquist life vest, Standard Horizon Marine Radio, Safety Whistle (attached to the zipper on his life vest), and homemade safety mast & flag while fishing at Rocky Point Park in Warwick, RI in August 2015.


    I don't believe in those "inflatable" life preservers. Though the inflatable vest maybe somewhat cheaper, the floating cushion is more durable than its "airy" relatives. Here are some key things to consider when choosing the right vest:
   * The air chamber on an inflatable vest could become dry rotted over time, causing the vest to explode, or it may develop a pinhole leak when you least expect it.      
   * The small CO2 cartridge may have a slow leak and may not deploy upon hitting the water, or at all, when pulling on the emergency cord.

   There are 2 types of inflatable life preservers on the market today:

A.) Auto-Inflate - The air chamber inflates as soon as you come in contact with the water via small CO2 cartridge. *Note: Don't forget to change out the CO2 cartridge if it was used that day. Always carry spare CO2 cartridges.

B.) Self-Inflate - Same as above, except you pull on a small red (or, yellow) cord, and your vest inflates in a matter of seconds.


    2.) Marine Radio (Floating)

     Depending on where you're fishing, always carry a Marine Radio with you at all times. Even if you're not fishing saltwater. Most marine radios will float, has an emergency number (channel 16) that's monitored by the US Coast Guard, a small clip on the back of the radio to clip onto your vest, and has at least 10 WX (weather) channels. Nobody likes having "mother nature" turn ugly, so it's best to stay on top of things on a moments notice. I fish mostly saltwater these days, so the marine radio, made by Standard Horizon, comes in handy in letting me know when it's high tide/low tide, swell level info, wind speed, and other info that could decide whether or not you have a good day of fishing, or a lousy day of fishing. It's also a great way to maintain communication between you & your fishing buddies should something go awry.


    3.) Lighted Mast with Safety Flag

     "Why a safety flag???"  And, "what's with the light???"  "Do I really need these???"  In response to these questions, the answer is "Yes!"
     The main purpose of the flag is to provide greater visibility on the open water - especially during deep swells. When you, and your kayak, drop to the deepest part of the swell, you literally become "invisible" to other oncoming boaters, which could result in a head-on collision, or worse, a fatality on the water.
     The white light is instrumental when you're using your kayak in heavy fog, or fishing at night to avoid being hit by other boaters.

    On 12/15/2012, I wrote 2 articles on "How to make a lighted mast", and "How to add a orange safety flag". Clicking on these 2 topics will open up new windows to the previously written blogs.

    * Note: The light kit I used in my lighted mast blog is made by Attwood Marine - a leader in the field of marine accessories boat both large & small boats. I chose the LED light kit because the light produces the brightest and whitest light possible that's visible up to 2 miles away.
    * * Note: While the flag I used came from Cabela's, it's not listed in their catalog. You can try Home Depot. They sell one 18" x 18" flag that costs around $5.00. I would trim the flag down to 12" H x 18" L

    4.) Safety Whistle (aka "Sound Producing Device")

     The US Coast Guard's Navigation Rules state you must have some type of sound producing device at the ready to avoid a collision on the water. While the US Coast Guard seldom does these types of inspections, your state's Game Wardens, or Conservation Enforcement officers, will sometimes do a random check at the local boat launch parking area to see if you have the necessary equipment on your person.
    I chose a pea-less safety whistle as my sound producing device. To have it "at the ready", as instructed, I chose to attach it to my life vest's zipper (as shown in the pic above), because it's there when I need it. I got mine at Cabela's in a 2-pack for $6.00.


    5.) Navigation Lights (Red/Green Light and 360º White Light)

     This is one topic that is always a concern for those of us who fish in a kayak. At the New England Saltwater Show 2016 at the Providence Convention Center in Providence,RI, my kayak was featured in our "Kayak Committee" show booth. Early Saturday morning, the Coast Guard Auxiliary men and women, as well as the Rhode Island Conservation Enforcement Officers, decided to stop by and check out the "kayak with the nav lights" on display. Apparently, a "overly concerned" patron at the show, alerted the USCG staff that my kayak was "illegally" displaying navigation lights that are "meant for motorized vessels". After a thorough inspection of the navigation lights in question, all the USCG members present agreed, that I DID NOT violate any rules of the road, since my Hobie Outback kayak is Pedal Driven, I am ALWAYS "under power" when I stated that I mostly troll - meaning that I am in constant motion - without the use of a motor!
     A lot of people are installing the navigation lights because more kayak manufacturers are making kayaks with electric motors already in them, and the kayaks without motors, are being converted to a electric trolling motor assistance.
 
     So, what does this mean for you? Well, the USCG rules state that all you need at night is "a White Light that's visible 360º in all directions."
 
     From my point of view, you will need to get that white light up pretty high. High enough to clear the top of your head. If any part of your body is in the way forward of the light, you run the risk of blocking the white light's functional duties of doing its job, and keeping you safe at night from other boaters.
     YakAttack makes a lighted safety mast for around $85-$90, but in my blog above, I show you how to make a better (and brighter) lighted safety mast for roughly around $45.



    Taken from the USCG's "Rules of the Road - A Boater's Guide to the Federal Requirements for Recreational Boats"

Vessel Under Oars - A vessel under oars may exhibit the lights for a sailboat . If it does not, it shall have ready at hand an electric torch (flashlight) or lighted lantern showing a white light that shall be exhibited in sufficient time to prevent collision . 

Anchored Vessels At night: All vessels at anchor must display anchor lights . If your vessel is less than 164 feet (50 meters) in length, then its anchor light is an all-round (360º) white light visible where it can best be seen from all directions.

Reminder: If you are operating your sailing vessel or kayak at night using machinery, or sail and machinery, then your vessel or kayak must display the lights required for a power-driven vessel.

* Note that a sail vessel or kayak under machine propulsion is considered a power-driven vessel.

Power-Driven Vessels - If your power-driven vessel is less than 39 .4 feet (12 meters) in length, then it may display navigation lights. 


    6.) What to wear (as far as clothing goes)

    I like to wear bright clothing. In the early Spring, I have a blaze orange hoodie that I wear over an Under Armor base layer system. For pants, I wear my hip waders, or sometimes, I'll wear my Frogg Toggs rain suit bottoms. They're water repellent, and windproof as well.
    * If your budget isn't a problem, then a dry suit maybe for you. but be warned as the dry suits aren't cheap. Be prepared to shell out $900- $1200 for a good quality dry suit.
 
    In the Summer, I love wearing the long sleeved fishing shirts. I have many colors. Most are rated at 50 SPF which is nice for those of us that can't apply sunblock on our own backs. Sometimes, I'll wear a neck gaiter made by Buff Wear, and pull it up to cover my face from sunburn.
    For pants, I wear expedition pants from Eastern Mountain Sports. They're lightweight, dry extremely quick, and zip off part of the pants at the thighs that turn them into shorts pretty quickly.
    I wear glasses, so I wear Wiley-X sunglasses with bifocals, anti-glare, shatterproof lenses, and most of all - polarized to cut down on the glare from the water.
    I like to wear a wide brimmed fedora-style Aussie hat with a mesh top that allows the sea breeze to cool off my head.
    I also wear a good quality pair of neoprene ankle boots with zip up sides from LL Bean to keep the sunburn at bay, and the sand out of my shoes.
    Not shown - I wear Buff Wear kayak gloves, also rated at 50 SPF. They are padded and reinforced around the palm and finger areas for durability. I like the fact that my fingertips are exposed, making it easy to pick up small items.


     7.) Self Rescue Kayak Ladder 

    Though we often take our "sit-on-top" kayaks for granted at how stable they are on the water, we often overlook the possibility of tipping over, or worse, on saltwater being "caught off guard" by a potential rogue wave.
    Have you ever thought about how you're going to get back into your "SOT" kayak after such an event happens? Some of us practice getting back into our kayaks on a small pond or lake, but most of us don't.

    Fortunately, for you, there are a few solutions to remedy this problem:

    * Please keep in mind that these 2 ideas are meant for "Sit-On-Top" kayaks only.
 
    First, you can make your own side stirrup, or have one custom made using paracord. Paracord is extremely strong, durable, and comes in a variety of colors to match your kayak. If you're not handy enough to make your own, my kayak angler friend Mona Rodriguez (of Mo's Designs) can make you a custom paracord stirrup. She's also very good at making custom made paracord rod leashes too. Most orders will take about a day to complete. She can be reached via email here: SmidgensPride@yahoo.com
 
    Second, you can buy an already made one online. Although, they are a bit more expensive than the previous version, you can see in action here at: http://www.kayakselfrescueladder.com/ . There is a short video on the page that gives you a demo on how it works, and how it's used. For purchase info, go here: http://shop.kayakselfrescueladder.com/


     8.) Rod Leashes

    Imagine the scenario where you're out on the water, your rod is laid out across the top of the hull, and you turn around to reach for some bait, then you turn back and find your rod missing! If you've never had that happen, then consider yourself very fortunate. It's only a matter of time......
 
    Here's a scenario I witnessed while fishing off Block Island,RI in 2012. A small group us were highly experienced kayak anglers were fishing off the island's southeast corner in an area known for heavy Striped Bass activity, but also known for its deep swells from shifting tidal currents. Dennis Carusoe decides to head out farther from the group, approximately a mile offshore, to chase some fluke. At some point around noontime, he opened up his center hatch to reach for a sandwich. When, all of a sudden, a huge swell came up from behind him, (a feeling he later described as "having a chair yanked out from underneath you") followed by a second swell that eventually flipped him and his gear overboard. One minute his safety flag was visible, the next time, it wasn't.
    Bob Oberg, who was nearby, saw that Dennis was having difficulty in righting his kayak, as well as getting back in, lost most of his gear - three $500 rod/reels and several hundred dollars worth of gear from his gear basket.
    My case in point? Secure everything with a leash if you don't want to lose it. You attach your leash to your reel base (the part that's attached to the rod), and the other end can be clamped to a pad eye - you can purchase those here: Nylon Pad Eye .


     9.) Gear Basket

    This is my all-in-one lure holder. It carries everything I need - all in one place. I also have an additional 3-rod holder mounted on the back. I made a holster out of 2" pvc pipe for my Lip Grippers (a very useful tool to use while removing hooks from our toothy friends). I also have a Scotty Mount attached on the front/side of the crate. This is where I mount my lighted safety mast. In the last photo, I added an additional "mini" storage crate made from two other milk crates. To keep the cover, and the smaller storage crate sealed tightly, I added two small plastic kitchen knobs and some mini bungee cords. Everything attached to the crate is held in place with automotive zip ties (white).

    To make your own custom gear basket, if you have the room to do so, you can go to my previous blog here:  Adding a Custom Gear Basket to your Kayak

    You can see it here:



Not shown: These pix were taken a few years ago. I have since then added a used phone cord to my Lip Grippers - they float, just not away from me.



                                                                     

 
     10.) Personal Kayak Cart

    Depending on the region where you live, at some point you will get tired of dragging your kayak across the dirt/gravel/sand, and will have to break down and get a personal cart for your kayak. This will save you wear & tear on your kayak's underside, as well as, save your back and your legs in the long run. While there are numerous ways to make a kayak cart out of pvc pipe, there are also several ways to attach the said cart to your kayak. I will admit that I've tried making one out of pvc piping with failed results. There are two very good approaches to this dilemma.
    If you have a sit-inside kayak, with NO scupper drain holes, then this maybe the ticket for you:
http://www.basspro.com/Ascend-Canoe/Kayak-Cart/product/12092409343771/

    For those of us that have a sit-on-top kayak, a cart that plugs into your kayak's scupper drain holes, this maybe the *solution for you:
http://www.basspro.com/Ascend-Sit-On-Top-Kayak-Cart/product/12092409343777/

    * Note: Some people left negative reviews on this cart option due to the fact the top & bottom bars have locking clamps, but also have two small locking buttons that must be pressed in at the same time in order to shorten the width of the axle to avoid them locking in place at the factory-set width. Once you have set up the axle width you want, then press the locking clamps down to hold it in place. 

    I live on the east coast, near Rhode Island, so I frequently launch in some pretty sandy spots. My kayak of choice is a 2009 Hobie Outback Mirage. When it's fully rigged up, it weighs around 120 pounds. My standard kayak cart broke a weld at the bottom, so I spent the extra money ($365), and got myself a wider kayak cart with Wheeleez beach wheels. They are overly wide at 12" and 10" tall, but they make dragging my kayak across deep sand a breeze. They also make it easier to transport over uneven terrain.

     So, that's what I carry, and wear, when I'm out on the water. I like wearing the full coverage clothing in the summer to prevent sunburn, and to prevent that burning sensation you get from applying sunblock to sensitive areas (ankles, toes, nose, face, ears, etc.) that cause your eyes to tear up and burn for hours.
     You can get away with making most of the items on this list yourself. Others will require you to get the real thing. Either way, you will have fun doing the little projects because it's something you took pride in doing yourself. Who knows? Maybe your friends will want you to make one for them as well!

     I hope this helps you in the future, if you decide try fishing at night, bring a friend, and make sure your have a dry bag for your cell phone. Your GPS isn't just for the road!

     As usual, keep those lines wet & tight!