Category Archives: Revelation

First paddle of the Winter 2016-17 season

Jim and I went for a paddle. This is my first paddle since early November when I had discovered that I’d started up paddling a bit too soon after the carpal tunnel surgery. I’ve erged a bunch since then, so I felt like I was ready.

It’s my first time wearing the dry suit since spring, and it was a bit of a struggle to remember what to wear. I remember my feet being cold last year, so I wore two pairs of socks under the dry suit and neoprene socks and paddling shoes over them. It turned out that it was a tight fit and still wasn’t warm enough – possibly the lack of room negated whatever advantage the extra pair of socks gave. I think I may have to try Jim’s idea of using a chemical heater and one pair of socks.

The funny thing is that when I was paddling I was sure I could feel my feet getting wet, but when I checked my socks afterward, they were only a tiny bit damp. Most of my other under clothes were damp as well, but that was definitely from sweat.

The current was ripping. We did a pretty consistent 10 mins/km upstream, and 5 mins/km downstream. My foot strap let go when I got in the boat and with all the clothes and the excess fat, I couldn’t reach it to fix it so I had to put my GPS on my wrist, but then it was hidden under my pogie so I couldn’t see it unless I stopped. Wearing the GPS on your wrist means your speed is crazy up and down depending on whether your arm is going back or forward when it takes a reading, but also it means that it recorded a stroke rate.

Other than my hands, I was remarkably comfortable. I’m out of shape and out of practice, but it sure felt great. I’d rather paddle than erg any day.

I did it!

I’ve been thinking of getting a tattoo for years and years. Mostly I wanted something that celebrated my Canadian heritage, so I have been thinking in terms of a Canadian flag almost all that time. But when I went to the Canadian Surfski Championships in 2015, they gave me a nice sticker with their logo for my boat.
It was nice, but it didn’t really grab me. But in 2016, they gave me another sticker with an improved version of the logo.

I started thinking that this would be the solution for my tattoo – it celebrates Canada (with the maple leaf on the bow of the boat) and it celebrates my love of paddling. Plus it comes from an event that I loved both times I went, and I hope to go again.

I’ve been putting off getting a tattoo for all these years – I knew that getting one would require sitting out paddling and maybe even other exercise types for a week, and I rarely do that. Plus with my relationship to pain, I was reluctant to subject myself to anymore But when Vicki and Laura had tattoos last week, it struck me that I had all the elements needed – I have Vicki’s assurance that it didn’t hurt as much as I thought, I’m not paddling because of my wrist surgery, and the weather sucks so I’m not bike riding much either.

So I wrote to Bob Putnam, the organizer of the Canadian Surfski Championships, to make sure he wouldn’t think I was stealing his intellectual property and he wouldn’t mind if I used his design without the sponsor logo and the words on the bottom. He turned out to be very enthusiastic about the idea, and he even sent me two designs that they were still deciding between for the 2017 Canadian Surfski Championships. These designs were even better than the 2016 logo – he’s made some changes that make it look like it was influenced by west coast Indian art.

I chose the one where the maple leaf was more obvious, printed it out and took it to the tattoo artist. I’d even found a web site where I could convert it to an outline because I thought that would make things easier for the artist. Also because a friend told me that fill needles are painful and I might want to just get it as an outline.

When Bob had sent me the designs, he had mentioned that I might want to move the maple leaf to where the sponsor logo normally goes. And the tattoo artist had agreed – he said that trying to fit it on the boat would make it too hard to get the corners sharp and stuff. He also talked me into getting at least some fill.

The process was painful. Not as bad as I’d feared, but there were a couple of points where I just wished he’d finish. But I could see how well it was going and I was extremely pleased. Here’s what it looked like when he finished and wiped the blood away. I’m thrilled. It’s everything I’d hoped it would be.

Another camera option

In my on-going search for a decent action camera, I forgot to mention in my earlier blog post one option. I own a camera that is somewhat waterproof (IPX7), has nearly 80GB of storage on it, and can shoot 4K/30fps and 1080p/60fps. It’s my new iPhone 7 Plus. I added a waterproof case (IPx8), and it should be fine for the splashing and brief immersions of your typical kayak race. I did a bit of testing, and I can film 2 hours of 4K video without depleting the battery below 50%, nor did it more than half-fill the free space on the phone. So 4 hours might well be possible. Plus it has the advantage that I already own it.

The drawbacks, however, are kind of big:

  • The shooting field of view is fairly narrow compared to most action cameras. They usually use a pretty wide field of view. I’ve seen add-on lenses for earlier iPhones that go over the phone but they cost as much as a GoPro, so that’s not going to help.
  • The form factor doesn’t lend itself well to being worn on the head for Point Of View shots.
  • The waterproofing is good, but it’s not rated for “full immersion to meters below the surface for hours at a time” like most action cameras.
  • Most importantly, if you ruin it somehow, either by getting it wet, losing it in the depths of Lake Ontario or smashing it on a rock, you’re out a $700+ dollar phone. And if you do any of those things or even just run down the battery and suddenly need the phone for making an emergency call, you’re shit out of luck.

I think I need to test it out, but I’m thinking this isn’t going to be my primary camera.

Still looking for a good camera (or three)

One of the things I’ve really gotten into in the last couple of years is making movies of my kayaking, especially races. I’ve received a lot of positive feedback from them. Unfortunately, I have yet to find cameras I like.

The basic problem is that my requirements are not the same as most people who use “Action Cameras”.

First and foremost, it appears that your average GoPro user only wants to go out and do a few stunts. Or they’ll be doing something where they can use their hands to turn on and off the camera. Or they can stop what they’re doing to change the battery. None of those use-cases require ultra-long battery life. My use-case is that I want to be able to turn on my cameras as I leave the dock to go warm up, finish my warm up, do a 2-3 hour race, warm down, and then come back to the dock and turn off the cameras. Mostly the cameras are not within my reach, but even if they were I couldn’t spare a hand to deal with them during a race. So basically my number one priority is that they have at least 3.5 to 4 hours battery life. I have only found one camera that comes even close to that battery life, and that’s the Contour Roam 3.

VelonCC, an organization of professional cycling teams, makes “Inside the Peloton” videos that show highlights of every day’s stage in major cycling races, using GoPro Hero Session cameras mounted on some of the rider’s bikes. But the Hero Session, like just about every other action camera, only has 90-minute battery life, and so I wondered how they are showing the finish sprint at the end of a 4-hour stage. I asked them, and they claim that they program the cameras to turn on and off during different times. I downloaded the manual for the Hero Session and I can find no mention of timed start times. VelonCC also claims that they don’t have special firmware to allow this timing. So I don’t know how they actually do it. Maybe there’s a secret menu that isn’t in the manual. Maybe I’m missing something in the manual. I don’t know. They also seem to be extraordinarily good at guessing who is going to be involved in major events of the stage and when those events are going to be happening. I have my suspicions – I suspect they’re lying about the timing and they’ve got people in the caravan using remote controls, or they have some special device or firmware to allow the timing.

Secondly, I require my cameras to be waterproof. Naturally, most cameras are waterproof or come in waterproof housings. Unfortunately, my attempts to deal with the battery length issue have lead to me compromising the waterproofing. I had a Polaroid XS100 camera that produced a really nice picture and was simple to use, but I attempted to bodge a battery extension using sugru and an external USB battery. Unfortunately after a few uses the camera stopped working – I assume it got water through the sugru and shorted out. I also had a GoPro Hero 3+ Silver camera and a third party extended battery, which was just about perfect. It produced a really nice 1080p/60fps picture, a bit washed out in color compared to the Polaroid, but nice and smooth. And the battery life was pretty close to the required five hours. Unfortunately when I was at the surf-ski vacation of my life in the Gorge, the hinge on the case broke. I thought I had fixed it, but afterward, the camera would stop recording after 5 minutes or so. I thought I was recording when I wasn’t because it had shut off almost as soon as I got underway. I guess my fix wasn’t adequate and allowed water in. I tried both with and without the third party battery and it still does that, so it’s toast.

I also had a cheap Chinese GoPro knock-off called a “GeekPro” (because intellectual property is something that happens to other people, not Chinese companies). It looks a lot like a GoPro but is just different enough that the GoPro extended batteries don’t work on it. I worked out a bodge using a tiny flat cable from a wireless charger for Android phones. In bench testing, I got nearly 7 hours battery life. However, as soon as I tried it on the water it reverted to the 90 minutes that the built-in battery is good for. I assume that means my bodge isn’t waterproof. But it hardly matters because the picture quality is terrible – if you include any bright sky you get weird bands of color and everything is horribly over-saturated.

By this point, I was getting leery of any solution to battery life that didn’t come from the camera maker, and like I said I didn’t really like the picture quality of the Roam, so I bought a Veho Muvi K2. It promised a 2 or 2.5-hour battery life shooting 1080p/60fps. It also says the waterproof case is good down to 100 meters depth. What they don’t tell you in on the web is that it has a terrible tendency to fog up inside the waterproof case. They provide a bunch of silica pads to put inside the case, but even so, it fogged up terribly. I used in two races where I had it mounted in the front of the kayak pointing back at me, and both times I could see the lens fogging up as I paddled away from the dock. The third time I used it I hit the camera on some rocks while portaging and loosened the mount to the point where it fell off into the water about a kilometer afterward. I made a grab for it, but it sunk before I could reach it. I don’t miss it.

As I alluded to a few times above, I’ve decided that 1080p/30fps just isn’t good enough for capturing the action in races. The Contour Roam has the battery life and waterproofness I want, but I really don’t think much of the picture quality, and at least part of that is because it looks choppy and pixelated in high action like at the race start. I’m thinking 1080p/60fps is the bare minimum. After watching Bradley Friesen’s YouTube channel, I’m wondering if I shouldn’t be doing 4K video. Unfortunately, 4K video seems to only come in 30fps. Some of the new Action Cameras do a 2.7K video at 60fps which looks intriguing – and some of them use the size of the 4K sensor to do image stabilization at a lower resolution (basically they’re doing some sort of cropping in the camera). Those are all things I’d like to experiment with.

There are a couple of new cameras like the GoPro Hero 5, the Hero 5 Session and the Garmin Virb Ultra 30 that do all the fancy 4K stuff and the image stabilization at 1080p/60fps. But so far none of them have any option, either first party or third party, to extend the battery life beyond the nominal 90 minutes or so. Maybe there will be in the spring by the time I need to start recording kayak races again. There is also a whole slew of cheap-ass 4K Chinese GoPro clones appearing on Amazon for around $100. It’s unlikely they will ever have any options for extending battery life because although they look like GoPros, they don’t include the proprietary GoPro port that earlier GoPros used for expansions. Another option is to forget about 4K and image stabilization and buy older GoPros. GoPro themselves have an eBay shop where they sell “factory refurbs” – I could buy 2 GoPro Hero 3+ Silvers for what a Hero 5 Session would cost me, and I could use the extended life battery I bought for the one that got wet. I’d just have to be more careful about the hinge.

Oh well, at least I don’t have to make a decision on this before spring. Maybe things will be more settled by then.

Long Lake Long Boat Regatta 2016

Today was the Long Lake Long Boat Regatta, or LLLBR for short. LLLBR and me go way back – back in 2008 Dan Murn convinced me and some other of the novice Rochester racers to come, and he convinced the organizer, Brian Mac, to put on a short race for our benefit. First and probably last time I beat Tom Murn in a race.

I don’t know how they do it, but somehow they usually have awesome weather for this race. Yeah, we’ve had some windy ones, but I don’t think we’ve had bad rain or thunderstorms. (Sorry, I probably just jinxed it for next year, haven’t I?) And the leaves are turning and it is just beautiful up here. This morning it was quite cool, almost cold, and as usual I didn’t know what to wear. I showed up with my v-cold long sleeve shirt and v-cold paddling pants. As I prepared the boat it warmed up a tiny bit and first I switched the long sleeve v-cold top for a short sleeve v-cold top (in retrospect, a good move) and then later just before getting in the boat I stripped off my paddling pants exposing my v-heat shorts (in retrospect, not such a good move). You see, a few years ago Jim told me I should be a little bit chilly when paddling into the wind so I don’t overheat when I turn back downwind. Which is great in practice, but I swear we never had anything but headwinds or beam winds for the entire race. Got some following waves, but never actually got a respite from the wind in my face and blowing cold spray onto my legs.

I put my Muvi camera on the front of the boat, since when I’d tried it as a head mount last weekend it had given me a wicked headache plus I hadn’t started it. The FAQ for this camera notes that people had have problems with the waterproof case fogging up, and they provide a bunch of silica gel packets for include in the case to help prevent that. I decided to be safe and put two fresh packets (right out of the foil sealed packets) today, but it didn’t work. As I approached the starting line, I could see the damn thing fogging up, and it never cleared. I’m cursed by movie cameras that hate me. If it wasn’t for all the great feedback I get from my loyal followers I’d give up. (If anybody wants to start a fund to buy me a GoPro Session 5 or two, I’m sure I’d produce much better videos without so many technical issues, hint, hint.) The Countour Roam camera on the back continues to have great battery life, be simple to operate, the only problem is it doesn’t do 1080p at 60fps and I don’t think the video is smooth at 30fps.

Oh, and because all racers like to start their excuse making early, I should mention that I’ve been dealing with terrible allergy symptoms for a couple of weeks. Sneezing, stuffy nose, and a slightly sore throat. Yuck. The only factor I felt like was still in my favor was that although my nose was stuffed, it didn’t seem to be interfering with taking deep breaths through my mouth. So I figured I might be ok, or I might have a terrible coughing fit somewhere out on the course and have to DNF. I was giving even odds, but nobody would take the bet.

So at the start, there were some surprises. Todd and John Hair didn’t show up. Jim was paddling in touring class in a v8 for the challenge. Matt was in a double with some guy who hasn’t been paddling in a Surfski much but who evidently in his first outing last week did the third day of the 90 Miler – so maybe not much time in kayaks, but a way above average paddler. There were only three of us in unlimited class, me, Mike and a guy in a V10 GT who looked like the sort of guy who deserved to be in a GT class boat. I knew if my breathing didn’t fail, I could probably beat Mike, and obviously the GT guy was going to beat us. So really my race was against my own lungs, and if they were good, my goal was to beat Roger. Roger had beaten me in our last showdown in the Adirondaks by riding my stern wake the whole way and then coming around me just as I picked up a weed on my bow. I didn’t want to let that happen again. Actually, I was sort of hoping that I’d beat Mike, but it would be really close. Mike is coming back from injury and down time and he’s getting faster, and I want us to be head to head rivals again.

At the start, Jim was off like a rocket, followed closely by the GT guy. There were a couple a c-4s and a guy in a 18x touring class boat. Suddenly Matt’s double came roaring up the outside and quickly joined Jim. It looked like they dropped GT guy pretty handily. I was on the side wake of one of the c-4s and another c-4 was well off to my right. The  guy in the 18x had a gap on me, and I tried a couple of times to close it but he was holding me off. I found out later his name is Eric (I think) so I’m going to refer to him as Eric for the rest of this blog. In a quick glance back, it looked like Mike was on the stern wake of the same c-4 I was on, and I couldn’t see Roger which was a bit surprising. The other c-4 looked like it was actually a tiny bit faster than the one I was on, so I accelerated a bit and left the first behind with the thought of maybe glomming onto the faster ones wake.

But then I hear this horrible wheezing sound and realize Roger has managed to catch up to me, and now he’s got designs on catching Eric. He and Eric were in the same type of boat, and I believe they both live in the Adirondacks, so I bet there is some sort of rivalry going on there. Fine by me. As Roger went wheezing by, I jumped on his stern wake and graciously allowed him to tow me up to Eric. I wasn’t exactly getting a free ride here – even with the wake, my heart rate was still up over 160, in the “red zone”. But so far my lungs were holding on. We got into a nice conga line, but then we hit some wakes from war canoes in the other direction and some other waves and then the faster c-4 actually barged into the line and forced me off Roger’s wake and suddenly they’ve got three boat lengths on me. Oh oh. I tried to take it in good humor, saying to the c-4 guys “hey, I’m paddlin’ here” like in Midnight Cowboy.

At the turn I turned a bit tighter than them and managed to recover one of those boat lengths, and so I put in a massive effort to close the gap up and get on Roger’s stern wake again. We had a fairly good gap over the c-4s, and Mike was still hanging onto the stern wake of one of them.

I thought after the turn we’d be heading down wind since we’d been going up wind before the turn, but somehow that didn’t work out that way. If anything the headwind was stronger going this way. Eric is a powerful guy and every time the wind picked up, he seemed to put the hammer down – I’m pretty sure it was a deliberate attempt to gap us. We stayed mostly together back under the bridge, and then we hit some waves and we broke up again. I put in a supreme effort to get back on Roger’s stern wake again, but he wasn’t closing on Eric. So I stepped up my game and came around Roger and blasted my way up to Eric’s stern. I realized I was probably towing Roger back to his rival, but that’s not my problem. 

But then we hit some more waves and wind and I started coughing up phlegm. The allergy symptoms had finally started affecting my race. Suddenly I lost Eric’s wake again. But it looked like I’d managed to gap Roger as well. Ok, now it’s a matter of just trying to maintain my pace and not blow up, and maybe I could get back to Eric after the turn when we’re not fighting our way into the wind. Yeah, I’m an optimist. 

There was confusion in my mind about the second turn. The way Brian had described it in the pre-race meeting had left it ambiguous in my mind as to whether we were supposed to go around the island, or just the boat parked in front of the island. Jim and Matt and GT guy and the war canoes had all been so far ahead I couldn’t really tell whether they’d rounded the island or not, but GT guy’s line really looked like he’d circled the island. So I was lined with the shore line ready to go around, and so was Eric, but he actually yelled something to the people on the boat, stopped paddling to listen to their response, and then abruptly turned directly towards them. Ok, I guess we’re not going around the island. Probably just as well, because as it was it looked like the race was going to be longer than advertised. We were expecting a 16 km (10 mile) race, but if my calculations were correct, it was going to be more like 17.5 km.

After the turn, the expected tail wind didn’t happen. It felt like it was a direct beam wind most of the time, with occasional blasts from in front just to make this hard. The waves were from behind but they weren’t giving me any push. My coughing got worse, and Eric continued to pull away. But the two c-4s from earlier came through. Unfortunately Mike wasn’t on their stern wakes any more, but fortunately neither was Roger. Once again, the one I’d been on the side wake of near the beginning came by close enough that I could get on the side wake again, while the other one was a bit ahead but way off to the right side.

The stern paddler on “my” c-4 was nice – she offered me words of encouragement as well as to her own team. The stern in the other c-4 just seemed to be yelling at his paddlers for not working hard enough. I didn’t last long on the side wake, but dropped into her stern wake and got a really nice ride. My heart rate climbed back into the red zone again because it was hard work, but that little bit of help from their stern wake was all it took to get me seeing speeds up near 11 km/hr again. They were slowly and surely catching the other c-4 and it looked like they were bringing me up closer to Eric. I had a little discussion with myself and said that if we did catch Eric, I would not pass him because it would be unfair to beat him using a canoe wake, but I’d be quite happy to glom on to his wake again and finish at the same time as him. As it happened, we didn’t end up catching Eric, so it was a moot point. I was also trying to gasp out some words of encouragement for my tow truck, but I don’t know if they heard me because I was also coughing a fair bit.

So in the end, Jim won touring class, surprising nobody. GT guy won unlimited, surprising nobody. The c-4 that was towing me beat the guys who’d cut me off way back near the beginning. Eric was powerful and strong and beat me and Roger, coming second in touring class. I’d accomplished everything I’d hoped for at the beginning of the race, beating Roger, beating Mike, and beating seasonal allergies. I’ve got a bit of soreness in the old bronchial tubes as a result, but I also had a great day on a beautiful lake in the sunshine and got to hang out with friends afterwards.

Jim said before race that we should dedicate this day to the memory of Bill Feeney. I think we did him proud.