Tuesday, July 21, 2009

1=0, 2=1

There is a great adage regarding equipment. You may have heard it. “The best [insert piece of equipment here] you have is the one you have on you.”

Normally I have heard this in regard to cameras. Today, I am thinking about knives.

Those of you with a little more than a passing association with me probably know that I carry a knife or so with me whenever I can. On top of having a plethora of edged and pointy objects on me, I like to keep the knives I use ridiculously sharp. I have sharpened friend’s kitchen knives under the guise of doing them a favor. Truth be told, I’m probably sharpening their knives because I have been in their kitchen at least once, and I am loathe to use a dull knife.

The best knife you have is the one on you. In this case I am thinking specifically about the knife that is strapped to my PFD. I put some thought into which knife to use for this application. It had to be a few things.
1. Immediately available. The PFD has a lashing point on the right breast, as well as adjustment straps on the shoulders and waist. After much thought, I chose to mount whatever knife I chose on the left shoulder adjustment strap, in a cross draw position with the blade edge down.
2. Low profile. In my quest to keep things simple, and to make re-entry into my kayak as easy as possible should I decide to or unwillingly take a dip, the knife cannot be too large. Smaller knives also provide for more of a safety margin – they are much easier to control.
3. Easily retained – not just by the sheath, but while in use. The best knife you have is the one you have in your hand, not the one on its way to the bottom of the ocean. Again, a knife with a small form factor is easier to manipulate.
It should go without saying that it needs to be sharp. Pointy is not entirely necessary or desirable while in the water. It should also be inexpensive enough that if I do lose it, I am not too torn up.

I already have several knives and used a couple of them to get an idea of setup and see if they would work. In keeping with the low profile and small form factor, I tried out a couple of knives that might fit the bill. First I tried my Krein Dogfish. Tom Krein is a knife maker out of Arkansas, and his Dogfish design was picked up by CRKT for mass production. The one that I have is a semi-custom – the blank was machine cut for Tom, and he ground and finished the blade. The Dogfish is one of my favorite knives – wharncliffe style blade made of S30V steel (a very high tech knife steel) with a bottle opener worked into the butt end. It is a skeletonized knife, and Tom worked the lightening cut outs so that the knife looks like a fish. The knife has a wicked, wicked edge, and it handles wonderfully. As a knife to work out the kinks of putting a knife on a PFD, this helped, but I never intended it to be a safety knife. I normally keep this one on a lanyard around my neck under my shirt.

The next one that I had laying around was one of my Strider EDs. Strider Knives Inc. is one of the premiere knife making companies in the United States. They don’t really do “production” knives in the sense that Buck, Gerber, CRKT or Kershaw do productions. Nope, Strider is a low yield shop, with the majority of their effort going towards fulfilling orders for various governmental contracts. Pretty much everyone who works for SKI is a military veteran. The lead designers for SKI are Mick Strider and Duane Dwyer. Since they are a low yield shop, and all of their knives are made from premier materials and fitted and finished by hand, they aren’t exactly inexpensive. The ED is at the bottom rung of their prices. Again, it is a skeletonized knife, and someone at SKI took that idea and made it reality. The original design of the ED incorporated lightening cut outs patterned to look like a skull or a skeleton. Again, the ED is a very basic knife with outstanding ergonomics. Made from S30V, again with the wicked edge, but this time in a spear point blade style.

I liked the ED on the vest, but even though it and the Dogfish are both very small knives, it still felt too large for any external mounting location. Since the knife has to be immediately available, there is no strapping it to the inside of the PFD.

I thought for a minute. And then remembered a knife that I owned and sold a couple of years ago.

In my never-ending quest for new and interesting bits of stuff, I stumbled across HideAway Knives (HAK). The woman who designed the HAK wanted a self defense tool that was easily manipulated and retainable without having to use grip strength. Her idea was for a ring knife, similar to a Karambit style fighting knife. The design allows for the knife hand to retain the blade while remaining free on the palmside for open hand techniques. In non-fighting terms, this allows your knife hand to remain free to grasp other things.

The HAK that I originally owned was made from Titanium and was a very aggressive “tiger claw” style. I ended up giving it away a couple of years ago, as I basically did not have a use for it (titanium has very poor edge retention).

I ended up trading one of my EDs for a newer HAK claw. The basic HAK utility design is similar in shape to a box cutter blade, and the claw adds a recurve to the blade. The recurve increases the available cutting edge without having to increase the overall length of the blade. Multiple recurves on a blade are serrations.

As a safety knife, a recurve HAK is outstanding. The knife is passively retained, the package is very small, and all you do is grasp and pull. My only concern is that the knife is made from 440c steel, which is not corrosion resistant. Of course, that is easily remedied through basic preventative maintenance, which in this case is a rinse after salt water exposure and a wipe down with Marine Tuf-Cloth.

Now, before everyone goes out and decides they want a HAK, understand a few things. First and foremost, the company that produces the HAK is effectively no longer a viable business, due to all kinds of poor business decisions and drama. I was lucky in that I am part of a larger community of knife collectors, and so I basically just put out a wanted add. You can still purchase utility HAKs from Fenix Outfitters (as well as other nifty bits).

The closest knife that I can think of that isn’t a HAK that would fulfill all of my needs in a PFD safety knife would be the Fred Perrin La Griffe or derivatives. Emerson knives makes a production version of the La Griffe, and Sypderco has produced a limited run called the “Swick.”

My HAK is specifically a safety knife. While I could use it as a utility knife, I will not. The sole reason it is on my person is as an emergency tool in life threatening situations. The idea is that it only gets used if I am in or underwater and I need to cut through something immediately. No sense in using it for utility tasks, as that would take it out of its sheath and potentially take it out of useable reach.

More later on utility knives and multi-tools.


Tuesday, July 14, 2009

My first day on the Big Briny

Yesterday I awoke at 4:30 AM, ready to get down to Pacific City for my first shot at fishing from the Outback on big water. My plan was to get out the door by 5:30am, and with judicious use of the accelerator on my car, get to Cape Kiwanda by 7:30am, and launch soon after that. Ocean conditions looked perfect for a newbie – 3 foot swells at 7 seconds, winds 5-10 knots with 1 foot wind waves. Just about as calm as the Pacific Ocean gets off of the coast of Oregon.

Well, I happen to be a very good friend of Murphy. If it can go wrong, it will go wrong at the worst possible time. Yesterday morning was no different from any other morning when I wake up at a ridiculously early time in order to go do something I am excited about. Things still needed to be packed, and it happened in a rather haphazard way. I did not actually get out of the door and into the car until 6:30. Since it was so late, I decided to go get coffee. While at the coffee shop, I realized that I had forgotten a towel and a second set of clothes. SO back to the house I went. Managed to get 3 miles away from home before my mental checklist alarm went off. I did a quick inventory in my head of what gear I had grabbed in the rush out of the door. You cannot go fishing, I told myself (and my mother, who was along for the ride), without a fishing rod and reel.


Luckily, I happened to be approaching an intersection that I could turn around at easily. So, three miles back home. Traffic is picking up. I am getting progressively more and more irritable. Fishing rod in hand, I jump back in the car and head out. For real this time.

Back into traffic. Again, luckily, it was Monday morning at 7am, so it wasn’t super heavy. Highway 26 to Highway 6 to Highway 101 southbound. With a pit stop at the Safeway in Tillamook. And then, at about 9:30 am, Cape Kiwanda and Pacific City. We park, survey, and I start to get down to business. From several threads on one of the forums I frequent, I know that there are at least two other kayakers in the area fishing. But I am three hours off of their launch time. So I start to get ready to drag my ‘yak down the beach, and figure it out myself.

And then Murphy smiles at me. A pickup truck with a kayak in the bed pulls up next to me. The guy driving says to me “From the looks of the car and the kayak, I would guess that you are Madoc?” I give a description of what should be the most obvious way of identifying my when I am trying to coordinate plans with people that I have never met in person.

Turns out I am encountering a new friend, Wali, otherwise known on the forum boards as “Fishes From Tupperware.” So now I have a paddling buddy, and an experienced one at that. FFTW moderates a forum on the Northwest Kayak Anglers website entitled “Don’t Ask Me How I Know.” Sort of appropriate for me.

Wali and I watched as the two Kayakers who had launched first thing in the morning came paddling back in. They had been pretty successful, with close to the limit of rockfish and cabezon. They had some pointers as to where do go, as neither Wali nor I had fishfinders mounted on our kayaks.

The launch was fun and easy. Again, the Pacific was very calm and easy on me for my first time. We paddled out a hundred yards or so, and I dropped the mirage drive into position. We got 200 yards off shore and dropped our lines in. Wali immediately had fish on, and it turned out to be a small Ling Cod. To small to be a keeper, but a good start. Not having a sonar unit between us meant that we were fishing by feel. The standard method of fishing for groundfish from a boat along the Oregon coast is by jigging. Your lure is also the sinker body in this case. The standard set up is a 1 ½ oz. upwards to 9+ oz. jig heads – a large hook with a lead head molded over the eyelet. A rubber lure is threaded over the hook, and the jig is tied off to the end of the line. You drop the lure straight down until it hits bottom, and bounce it along the bottom. Without having a sonar unit, you have to guess what surface you are fishing over, mostly based on the feel that you get when you are bouncing the jig off of the bottom. It becomes very clear when you are over sand or over rocks. The fish that we were after live amongst the rocks.

We tooled over to towards the haystack rock, laughing at the Common Murres. They look like penguins, but they fly. My jig got snagged right as Wali called out another fish on. I worke to get my line untangled – somehow it had decided to wrap around the pole a few times, and then my drag and freespool weren’t working right. I finally got is all figured out, and realized that I wasn’t snagged, I had a fish on as well. I reeled in to find a 13” Cabezon on my jig. Too small to keep. But my first fish landed on my kayak, the first fish I have landed on the ocean using gear that I set up, and the second ocean fish that I have caught in waters around Oregon. It may not have been a keeper, but it was worth a picture. Wali had pulled in another underling. He tried to take a picture of me and my fish with his camera, but true to form, it wouldn’t work. So we both pulled out our phones and snapped a couple pics for posterity.

Here is my little cabezon

We drifted around a little bit more, and then headed to the kelp bed on the beach side of the haystack. Bull Kelp is pretty neat stuff, but fishing around it calls for gear that I did not bring. Specifically, weedless jigheads. My first drop I end up snagged on a piece of kelp. I am surprised that I didn’t snap my line trying to get unsnagged. It took me five minutes, and I ended up uprooting the kelp that I was snagged to.

Meanwhile, Wali was on another fish. This time it was a cabezon. And it was a keeper. 16 inches is the minimum length for retention of a cabezon in Oregon, and Wali had one that was at least 24”. A really piggy of a fish. We kept playing around the kelp, and Wali hooked up a black rockfish. We weren’t sure of the legal retention limit for it, so I pulled up the regs on my phone. It turns out that there is no minimum limit for black rockfish, and I told Wali that. While I was waiting for my phone to bring up the info, he had decided to release the fish. Oh well.

We had to pack it in around 1, and started heading back in. The tide had come in while we were out, and the waves had picked up a little bit, but nothing too scary for a newbie. We watched a guy launch from the beach on a surfboard. To go fishing. I can only imagine how that works.

I managed to get right behind a small breaker (they were about 2 feet, is that even a “breaker?”) and ride it in. Hopped out in about six inches of water, and hauled the yak up the beach.

So, some lessons learned.

1. Pack the night before. I had plenty of time the night before (I always have time the night before, and I seem to always wait until I am under pressure to leave to pack).
2. Bring the right gear. Not only is a checklist necessary, but knowing the correct gear to have is important. I mostly had the right stuff, but there were a few corrections that I need to make. Weedless jigheads and more lure bodies. Larger jigheads – bigger fish eat bigger things.
3. Don’t freak out when you are running late.
4. Don’t forget to remove the gear that you don’t need before launching. I had the rechargeable batteries for my fishfinder in my gear livewell. I forgot to take them out, as well as forgot to plug the drain holes in the well. This morning I found the corroded batteries in a half inch of seawater. $50 mistake right there. Lesson learned.

Wali, Thanks for being there. That was a great first trip.

More soon,

Friday, July 10, 2009

Muscle Spasms suck

I was hoping to get out to Pacific City yesterday or today to try my hand at launching in the surf and perhaps catching a fish or so. No joy. Yesterday I woke up with cold, stiff muscles. One of the first things I do is brush my hair. My long hair. Which involves lifting my arm over my head, and tilting said head. Who knew that brushing your hair would result in muscle spasms throughout your back.

Stupid muscles. So no report on hulis or fishies.

Staying Alive, Staying Alive, Ah, Ah, Ah, Ah Staying ALIIIVEE

My thoughts on personal flotation devices (PFDs).

After your common sense and conditioning, a PFD seems like the number one piece of safety equipment that is necessary for being a kayak fisherman. Since the kayak, at least mine, is a single person watercraft, it falls to the operator to ensure their own safety. The kayak isn’t going to throw me a life ring or jump in and try and save me if I go over. And from what I understand, flipping your kayak or getting knocked off (called a “Huli,” which evidently is based on “huli maka flip,” Hawaiian pidgen for falling over or making and ass of one’s self) happens. If you know it is a real risk, then you prepare for it. Huli maka flip on land, and you just embarrass yourself. Huli in water over your head, or in the surf, and you have a host of other problems

So, what PFD to choose? Since I am a noob at this, I asked my friendly sales people to help me narrow down the decision making process – by pointing me in the direction of vests designed for SOT kayakers or kayak fisherman. My love of pockets, webbing and Fastex buckles naturally had me gravitating towards vests designed for rescue personnel. “OOOOH, look at all of those pockets and zippers and attachment points!” I was saying to myself. And was quickly, and thankfully, steered away from them. Not that I wouldn’t love to have a Rescue PFD, but to be perfectly honest, I absolutely don’t need it. And part of this whole kayak buying business is about defining my needs vs. my wants (of course, buying a kayak is totally unnecessary, but hey…). Another great source of inspiration comes from my brief experience using an SOT for a couple of days in a very friendly lake a few summers ago, as well as hoisting myself out of many a pool without using the ladder.

My choices boiled down to the Astral V8 or the Stohlquist Fisherman. Both have about the same price point, and both come in a drab green color. Which I like. Perhaps not the best choice as far as visibility goes when the CG is out looking for you, but it fits my fashion sensibilities and reflects less in strong sunlight. Which is something I’m not sure very many people think about when they purchase a brilliant yellow or orange safety vest – especially for fishing. Quite a bit of what you do depends on what you can see, and if your clothing is highly reflective, it may cut down on what you can see.

Those of you who really know me, and may know a little bit about PFDs already, may be asking why I didn’t choose an inflatable vest? You know, the HSLD types that inflate using a CO2 cartridge. As cool as those are, not for me. You see, falling into the water is just the start of the problems. Falling into the water, possibly surrounded by various lines, cords, and et cetera, is an added risk, you know, of getting tangled. Underwater. Potentially in rough seas. Pulling a rip cord while possibly fighting lines, underwater, with the risk of getting hit in the head by a kayak, is just one more thing that can go wrong. There are vests with pressure triggers, but again, that's just asking for trouble. A passive floatation vest will float you even if you are unconscious. Which you hopefully aren’t. The other down side to inflatables is that they are limited use items. Fall in, need it, pop! Get home, and then what? Buy a new cartridge, dry and repack the vest. One more step.

The Stolhquist is loaded with pockets specifically laid out for fisherman. Basically it seems like a fishing vest plus flotation. Which is awesome. External surface of the pockets are smooth faced, there are two lash points on the chest, a rod holder, and the pocket covers, when fully unzipped, act as a rigid workshelf. One of the coolest vests that I have seen, and very well thought out. I mean, you have all of the pocket joy available for little fiddly bits, with an ergonomic layout. It’s like this vest was made for me, right?

Not quite. I actually bought the Astral V8. Two relatively useless pockets – an open top chest slot pocket on the left side and a snap closed mesh pocket on the lower right hand side. One lash point on the right chest. Totally slick faced, vented body, and very low profile.

Most of you who know me in my day to day know that I am almost never without a knife or three, two or more flashlights, and various other little bits of gadgety goodness. Heck, when I saw the Reef sandals with the built in bottle opener, the gadget fiend part of me just about wet myself. I go by the mantra that one=zero, and two=one. Expect failure at the least convenient moment. Murphy’s law and all that.

“So why,” you ask, “did you buy a PFD that has virtually no ergonomic storage?” Great question, and it comes down to setting limitations and having a clearly defined purpose. My PFD is first and foremost a personal safety item, and secondly a handy space to cover with gadgets and stuff. With that clearly in mind, I made the purchase. The V8 is slick faced. Zero pockets protrude from the front of the vest – the mesh pocket on the right is off to the side, and I wouldn’t really use it for much more than keeping a bottle of sunblock kind of handy. So there is little to snag on the side of a boat or kayak if you do have to make a re-entry while wearing it. The other thing that I have learned while fishing and carrying groceries is that, if I have a pocket with something in it that I need right now, the hand that can reach is occupied. So pockets, while wondrous creations that allow us to carry all kinds of goodies, are sort of a hindrance in this situation. And I already have a fishing vest.

The lack of pockets brings me to the next issue. Without convenient lash points or pockets, how can I carry all of the useful bits and pieces? The short answer is, “streamline.” I do not need super redundancy on the PFD. I will ideally be sitting on a kayak with plenty of storage space. I “need” the minimal gear on the PFD to remain safe in the water, and to have that gear immediately available while in the water. This equipment is, in order of importance to me
1. Knife - Having “only” one lash point for a knife on the vest is desirable. The knife that I choose for that attachment has to be the correct one. I am right handed, so the mounting option is the correct one for my handedness, and is in a location where I can reach it with my off hand as well. If you take a look at the picture, I have mounted the knife on the left shoulder strap, altogether foregoing the lashpoint.
2. Emergency strobe - The emergency strobe is not a flashlight. It is an emergency strobe. The PFD is such that if I am conscious and in the water and have to activate the strobe, it needs to be on the vest, and ideally on the highest point of the vest – so that it is visible from as many angles as possible. The V8 has nylon webbing for shoulder straps – this webbing is an ideal attachment point for a clip on strobe beacon. Check out high on the left shoulder strap, and you will see a Glo-Toob beacon light. Loads of settings, right now it is on slow strobe.
3. Whistle – Simple. Pea-less design attached to a lanyard just long enough to reach the mouth. Check out the orange thing on the right shoulder strap.
4. Reflector – this is going to be a signal mirror. Strobes are great at night, but mirrors you can point at search vehicles. Since mirrors are flat, this can fit in the pocket on the vest. You can just make it out on the lower right pocket.
5. VHF radio – this is not a “necessary” piece of survival gear, but is a mighty good thing to have on hand - just a hair off of "necessary". Once again, there are shoulder straps on the V8, and they have webbing keeper loops built in. These also happen to be sized right for radio clips, or more securely, a radio pouch. Right shoulder, I threaded a Tactical Tailor Small radio pouch over the adjustment straps. My Rino 530 was the stand-in for the VHF in this pic.

So there you have it. My minimal piece of survival gear, minimized. What you need, where you need it. And, to satisfy my super-redundancy wants, there are other ways of carrying gear separate from the vest entirely.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

I’m a Belt and A Suspender Kind of Guy.

Today I want to talk about staying warm and dry. Or mostly warm and mostly dry.

I took the Outback for a short cruise on the Willy yesterday evening out by Sellwood park. Tested out the upgraded turbofins, and the sailing rudder upgrade. Major difference. More on that later.

I put in wearing just some flipflops, cotton ripstop pants and a cotton tee. I knew in advance that I would get wet, that I was only going out for about an hour, and that the water temperature and air temp were warm enough for me to be running around like an idiot in cotton. For those of you who don’t know already, cotton is one of the absolute worst fabrics you can wear while in the out of doors. It absorbs moisture and holds it next to your body, instead of wicking it to the outside surface of the fabric away from your skin. Great for wet t-shirt contests, bad for playing outdoors in anything cooler than 70 degrees.

Luckily, nothing bad happened to me (the turbofins got chewed up by a gravel bar that I didn’t know about until I was on top of it, but minor damage). But I did get wet. The chop on the river last night was up, as well as the wakes from several powerboats (PBs from here on out). Pointing the bow of the boat into the chop or wake results in quite a splash coming over the bow, and being diagonally to moving water has it coming up over the sides. Which isn’t really a problem – the ride on a SOT kayak is a wet one, and the Hobie Outback, because of its hull design, is wetter than most.

Which brings us to the belt and suspenders bit. Bearing in mind how wet I anticipate getting on a regular basis, and knowing a bit about outdoor gear, I fully intend on purchasing a drysuit in the near future.

But, being the impatient, instant gratification type that I am, I want to go out on the ocean now. Or as close to now as possible. I plan on hitting up Pacific City tomorrow in the early, early am.

The surf forecast and ocean forecast looks okay for me. I anticipate getting knocked around in the surf, and getting wet.

But it is going to be cool. So I need to dress appropriately. Since I do not have a drysuit, I need to figure something out. Instead of spending money that I should be saving for the dryuit on something like a wetsuit, I plan on using gear I already have. Which means waders and a hardshell jacket. The upside is that I know that this combination works to protect me from rain and wind. The downside, and this is a huge downside, is that they really don’t do much for you when you get dunked. A Drysuit has gaskets at the neck, wrists, and possibly ankles (if it doesn’t have attached drysocks). My waders are chest waders, which means I am good to go in water cresting at about four and a half feet. If I huli, it is probable that my waders will fill with water. Which is bad. Luckily, my waders came with a belt. The idea behind this is to cinch down on the waist, so if you do get dunked, your waders aren’t going to ballon open and fill up. Instead, your torso down to the belt line gets soaked, and everything below may experience a little bit of a trickle.

I haven’t tested that theory. In fact, I have done everything in my power to avoid testing that theory.

We will see.