Saturday, October 30, 2010

Alex Matthews, Adventure Kayak Magazine Reviews the Maelstrom Vital 166

Timing is everything!

I was at an outdoor store buying some new waterproof Merrell hiking boots (please don't ask me the model, I go by look and feel) and likely to be late for my next appointment where I'd have to sit and read something for a long time.

Yes, the totally vain Baffin Paddler was off to the salon to get highlights. I dread that stuff! So I grabbed my new boots and the Adventure Kayak mag that was staring at me from the rack across the room without looking at the cover or the (very brief) stories inside.

A few minutes later, covered in foil and smelly highlight stuff, I glanced at the cover of the magazine I'd just bought on impulse. Hmmm, Alex Matthews on the cover. I'm a fan. I like his articles, reviews and book on Sea Kayaking Rough Waters­.

Great, in the Adventure Kayak 2010 summer/fall issue, he reviewed the new Maelstrom Vital 166. Hey, that's my new boat!

I got a little nervous. I just posted my reaction to how the Maelstrom Vital 166 handled heading out into bigger wind and waves, and I was wondering how a man would find it. Maybe I'm too light. I was especially interested to find out what Alex Matthews thought about it. I was disappointed in the way the Maelstrom Vital headed into the waves. I thought I spent too much time rising up on the waves and crashing down on them, making headway difficult.

His take, ''When we were out in conditions reported as 30 knots gusting to 42, we found the Vital to be a wet ride, and it had a tendency to throw its bow high when riding over waves. This results in the bow deflecting and being blown off course. Speed seems average for a sea kayak of this length and design - a good compromise between speed demon and not damnably slow.''

There is more in Alex Matthew's review of the Maelstrom Vital 166 in Adventure Kayak. But they are pretty brief in their articles. I find I need more.

I'm a fan of Sea Kayaker Magazine. I hope they also review the new Maelstrom sea kayaks. If they do, or have already done so, please let me know.

Happy paddling and finding your perfect paddle mate(s)!
The Baffin Paddler

Friday, October 22, 2010

Comerford Reservoir, Connecticut River, New Hampshire: Paddling with Dams is Damned!

Looks nice doesn't it!?

The Comerford Reservoir, on the Connecticut River, borders New Hampshire and Vermont, in the United States.

Plenty of water, a nice sandy beach, easy boat launch, grass with picnic tables, lots of free parking, not much development along this stretch of the river towards the Moore Reservoir, and mountain views.

But what did I leave out of this shot just off to my left of the beautiful public access to the water?

A major development. The big monster. The dam monster. The Frank D. Comerford Dam.

There are much bigger dams of course. But they are all monsters for "us". Those of "us" who want to use the water once in a while, and know, "When is it safe for "us"? When can "we" use the water that you control? Could you let us know when it's OK?"

And guess what. I was paddling towards an even bigger dam, the massive 178 foot high Moore Dam on the Moore Reservoir.

"During boating season, water levels could vary from up to nine or ten feet."

Hey wait a minute! Isn't that when "we' want to use the water?

Isn't nine or ten feet a pretty significant change in water levels?

I'm only here from Canada visiting for one week with my 17 foot sea kayak. How much research do I need to do if I want to paddle this river, or any river? Where can I find the information I need to know about dam locations and flow rates? The uber friendly tourist centres around here provide me with maps of the area and tell me where the launch sites are, and some of them are very near the dams, danger signs, and very much in between dams.

"TransCanada hydro Northeast provides many day-use public access ramps and picnic areas around the reservoirs."

Gee thanks! Aren't you nice! And all this, at my own risk, according to your DANGER signs. Such a deal.

Paddling with dams is damned!

Here's a link to some flowcast information from Waterline. It is a national electronic publication that provides river flow forecasts and water level reports over the telephone and on the Web. Reservoir and hydropower control centers supply this flow data to Waterline, and all published flows are approximate.

But if you look at the numbers, they can really fluctuate throughout the day. I don't know what CFS means (yet). And forecasts are estimates only. "Actual flows will often vary and can change quickly at any time. Always be alert and wear an approved flotation device. Never go in or near the water until you know and accept the risks you are assuming by being in this area.

Ummm, really. What you are telling me (us) is that I can never go into "your water." How did you take it away from us so easily and in so many places?

No matter how much information is provided to the public, it's still hit or miss for us when dams are nearby.

On rivers we have to learn where and when it might be safe to paddle in between dams. I find it a lot of work and worry to research. Do you? And it keeps me off of some stretches of water I'd like to paddle more often.

On lazy summer or beautiful fall days, I never know what to think when I launch from public places they've created "for us" near one of their dams, and some of them can control a pretty wide berth of water and land. And there you are standing underneath one of their giant DANGER signs, far from the dam or right next to it. The ones that warn you that the water levels can suddenly change without warning. What kind of message does this send to the public, boaters, and paddlers?

For example, when you arrive at the "launch by the dam on the Comerford Reservoir", people are sitting on the picnic table. Families with children and dogs are swimming in the water right next to the dam with the big Danger sign next to their picnic table on the little sandy beach.

This bothers me!

How do we know when we can paddle or swim on our rivers? It seems that dams are controlling most or all of them. They are a necessary evil, and they are here to stay. So we need to know more about them. Where are they located? What kinds of flows are coming out of them at any time of year.

And, it's not easy to find out.

Is it really fair and reasonable to us, the public, boaters and paddlers, that water flows can change suddenly without warning because of them?

"If something happens to you, It's not our fault. We put up warning signs in some spots. On other parts of the river affected by what we do, well, that's your problem. Good luck! And, just try to contact some of us to find out about daily flows, predictions, or recommendations for the paddle you planned on "our river" and again, good luck! On most days, you'll be OK, except spring, other times of the year like summer and fall when you really want to paddle, you just never know. Maybe try cycling instead! We own the river now. Why don't you just boat or kayak on a lake or the ocean?"

That was my mock conversation with dam owners and operators, that I can't get a hold of or talk to when I want to plan a paddle on a river with a dam. Can you?

Looks pretty, doesn't it? The Comerford Reservoir. Yes.
And it was a nice calm paddle the day I visited the Comerford Reservoir with no problems at all on a beautiful September day, despite the warning sign at the dam launch. And because of the dams, there was a lot of water for me to paddle on.

What's next for the BaffinPaddler?

The BaffinPaddler is researching dams in Canada and the United States.

It hit me at the Comerford Reservoir on the Connecticut River in New Hampshire, launching from the sandy beach and park with picnic tables and a parking lot for the public, next to the dam and a giant danger sign.
I've been thinking and wondering about dams for awhile as a paddler. I need to learn more.

I think we need better resources on the Web for the public and paddlers with information about dams that are useful to us when we want to plan a paddle or visit the water controlled by dams. Dams are a pain, and we're stuck with them! Researching a paddle is so much work!

A few paddlers have told me about hitting some scary or difficult water in between dams on rivers that would normally be quiet on lazy fall or summer days and they stopped paddling certain parts of rivers they liked.

We need a reliable Web resource about dams for paddlers with links to information that will make our paddle planning easier.

How do you feel about dams?

Happy and safe paddling.
The Baffin Paddler, Hydroelectric Dams, Stay Clear, Stay Safe

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Maelstrom Vital in Wind and Waves

I finally got my new Maelstrom Vital 166 out in some wind and waves to test it in something other than calm lake water and compare it with my Boreal Baffin.

This pic is from the launch in a protected bay. I couldn't really take a shot in the bigger waves and wind. I forgot to attach the float to my waterproof Olympus Stylus Tough camera (they sink without it), and the boat turns sideways too quickly on windy days before I can grab a pic. And I still can't roll yet. A head cam or a cam mounted on the boat would be great! I'm checking them out.

When there are whitecaps and lots of kite surfers out moving at speed on a big stretch of water, it's a good sign for boat play. And when you have a shallow protected bay without too many rocks to launch from on a sunny fall day, it's just perfect!

To be honest, I was disappointed in how the Maelstrom Vital headed into the bigger waves. It's one of those boats that jumps up and crashes down on the waves. It's annoying and doesn't let you make much headway against a strong wind.

I quickly found myself thinking about my Boreal Baffin. It cuts through the waves nicely and doesn't waste your time bashing and crashing on waves that you shouldn't have to bash and crash on. The next time the wind and waves kick up, I'm bringin' out the Baffin, I thought.

Another thing I noticed was, that when I wanted to turn into the wind with the Malestrom Vital 166, I had to work harder. The Boreal Baffin will turn into the slightest puff of wind, almost without effort. But try to convince the Baffin to turn away from a strong wind, and you may have an argument!

Once I turned the Maelstrom Vital into the wind, it was true. No problem. It does well in a cross wind, whereas, the Boreal Baffin weather cocks at an annoying level and almost always needs the skeg. Could we get these two boats to breed and make the perfect boat to play with!?

Turning the Malestrom Vital away from the wind was quite easy. It seems to like to surf. "This is what I'm made for!" OK, I get it. But you aren't much fun heading into the waves, and I REALLY LIKE THAT IN MY BAFFIN!

The Malestrom Vital will take you far and away quickly in wind and following waves and it stayed pretty true without much effort or skeg in 20 km wind. The Boreal Baffin will usually twist me sideways much faster.

All in all, I find both boats very stable and fun paddle mates. And it begs the question, "Who do you choose to paddle with on any given day?"

The next time the water gets bumpy, I'd love to haul the Malestrom Vital 166, Boreal Baffin, and find a Valley Avocet to play with in the same water and compare.

It looks like I'm still looking for "my" boat!

Happy paddling and finding your perfect paddle partner(s)
The BaffinPaddler

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Love the Valley Avocet!

I love the Valley Avocet . . . for fun. But didn't buy one . . . yet.
I'd like one . . . if they make improvements to some basic design elements!

I'd like Valley to work on making their seats something I'd like to sit in!
So far, I don't know anyone who likes their seats! And it's a well known complaint. Come on Valley! When I buy a new boat, I shouldn't have to redo the seat before I can paddle the boat, although lots of high end paddlers do just that with every boat they buy.

Read what Gnarlydognews in Australia has to say about problems with Valley seats and how he "fixes" them.
DIY: Replacement carbon-fiber seat in Valley kayak - August 7, 2012

I already have two boats: The Boreal Baffin and Maelstrom Vital. And I'm perfectly happy in the factory installed seats in each one. Although in the Boreal Baffin, I had to add a bit of foam for a tighter fit. The Baffin is a bit big on me. I'm a 5'6", 125 lbs. girl.

I also didn't like the short awkward coaming around the cockpit of the Valley Avocet.
It was next to impossible for me to get my skirt on this thing. Not something I have time to fiddle with in bigger water, or that I care to waste my time on.

The handling of the Valley Avocet is insanely sweet!
You can put the Valley Avocet on insane edges and it's so easy to manoeuvre. Put it on an edge, and you can easily spin it like a top! It feels so light. I like boats that are great at getting sideways and quick to move when you want to. When you don't have bigger or faster water to play in, it's great to have a boat you can easily amuse yourself with in calm water. As of the 2010 paddling season, I still can't roll my Boreal Baffin or new Maelstrom Vital 166, but I'm not tempted to learn rolling in the Valley Avocet. Just play with it.

You can't get me out of the Avocet once I get in and get a skirt on it, except the water is totally running into the cockpit from the ill-fitting skirt and difficult to fit short coaming and keyhole cockpit.
 You hardly or don't even need a paddle to keep the Valley Avocet upright on a pretty decent edge.
The good news is: Valley boats are coming back to Ottawa Spring 2011
I'll give the Valley Avocet another try this coming spring when Ottawa Paddle Shack brings them back to Ottawa. Trailhead had them for awhile but didn't keep them.

Valley Sea Kayaks has also set up shop in Rhode Island, U.S.A., so bringing them into our National Capital area of Canada will be a little more affordable. And we'll have the boats in thermoform to try. I'm not at all sold on anything thermoform though. But at 34 lbs, the thermoform Avocet will be a pretty light boat, and at least worth a trial!

And I'm not the only paddler who questions and is leery about thermoform. I don't like all the flex I feel on the hull! I looked at a thermoform boat last year and said, "no way", I don't trust it. But here's a great article on the pros and cons of the material and a video of a guy pounding a thermoform kayak hull with a hammer from H2Ohio.  The article is from 2008, so the question to ask in 2011 is how much more have they improved on the material and design of thermoform in the last two years? Or have they?

Here's the thermoform hammer test on a kayak hull
Pretty scarey guy with a hammer! But an impressive test. Try doing this on your fibreglass or plastic boat!
I may have to reconsider thermoform? I had no idea it was so tough.

There will be lots to explore and check out in paddle season 2011! At least for me. New destinations, boats, materials, and gear! I'll be making a list!

Read other Valley Avocet reviews on

How many boats do you love paddling? It's always nice to find another.

Happy boat trials!
The BaffinPaddler