Urban Packrafting: London’s Regent’s Canal

See also:
Wandle: An Urban Packrafting Nightmare
Urban Packrafting: Kebab Death Weir Tunnel
Kayaking through London

rk1Urban canals have long been rediscovered as quaint, idiosyncratic backwaters for boat dwellers, joggers and cycle commuters, or have seen adjacent industrial wasteland redeveloped into glitzy apartment blocks or waterside business parks complete with mouth-watering eateries and amusing sculptures. The old cliche of filthy neglected ditches where joy-riders dumped scooters and drunks hurled traffic cones or shopping trollies is outdated, at least in central London.
doctorwhomaidaThese days, if cyberDoctor Who needs a grotty urban canal to stand in for a toxic sewer where evil Cybermen are spawning (The Invasion; 1968; 00.57), they’d probably have to go abroad or something. All of which means that, once you include London’s excellent transport links, the capital’s fascinating canals make for great packboating.

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The 200-year old Regent’s Canal is inner London’s best example, arcing nearly 9 miles across London from near Paddington eastwards to the old docks at Limehouse on the Thames. It starts at the dreamy, willow-rimmed mooring of Little Venice, passing Regents Park’s neoclassical mansions and the chattering apes of London Zoo before turning for Camden Lock Market where Jimi Hendrix bought his first Rosetti Airstream. Here the canal drops down a few locks to unrecognisably redeveloped Kings Cross, home of Google UK and where giant Victorian-era storage tanks have been converted into luxury flats. East of here, your water-level view flits between bohemian, suburban, light industrial and even rural parkland, until you arrive at the marina of Limehouse Basin by the Thames. On the way you’ll have portaged 13 locks and two tunnels (marked in red on the map below).


The Regent’s Canal
Britain’s canals helped kick off the world’s first industrial revolution. Canals linked or added to long-established river navigations and enabled inexpensive and reliable cross-country transportation of heavy or bulky commodities. At this time the decrepit road network was still suffering from 1500-years of neglect following the Roman era and couldn’t handle the demand and was too costly.
Around 1805 the Grand Union Canal linked the burgeoning industrial heartlands of the Midlands with Paddington – then a village on the western edge of London. The advent of the Napoleonic Wars, including attacks on coastal shipping, necessitated secure inland transportation links to help provision the war effort. (The Wey-Arun Navigation linking London with Portsmouth, was another one). The Regent’s Canal followed London’s northern perimetre
 to link the Grand Union with the tidal Thames to Limehouse (above) near the new West India Docks. Lock-controlled ‘wet docks’ were regarded as more efficient and secure than London’s old bankside wharves. The map on the right is from 1830 and shows that even a decade after the canal opened, most of it passed through open countryside.
I pinched most of this information from Jack Whitehead’s detailed version. Railways gradually brought about the demise of commercial canal transportation. 

Time to go. I was on the bus before sunrise.
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Bear with me, I’m still waking up.
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Cables and cladding at Edgware Road tube.
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New apartments, offices and the Fan Bridge at Merchant Place in Paddington Basin, the ‘Paddington Arm’ terminus of the Grand Union from Birmingham.
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The canal ahead of the lifting Fan Footbridge is cordoned off so you can’t actually put in here. Along with the similar Rolling Bridge nearby, a cynic might say these are eye-catching engineering solutions to non-existant problems. The bridges make scheduled performances on weekends.

The Paddington Arm of the Grand Union. Regents Canal actually starts by the former barge turning-point known as Brownings Pool; today’s Little Venice.
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Just up the way below a footbridge is a strange retracting weir whose purpose may be to keep the scourge of duckweed from spoiling Paddington Basin’s clear-water vibe.

You can put in anywhere around here but…

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Maida Hill Tunnel
Before you start assembling your boat, know that in about 5 minutes you’ll need to backtrack from and portage around the 250-metre-long Maida Hill Tunnel which is closed to ‘non-powered craft’. And it’s not a quick 250-m hop either. Because of a private towpath along Blomfield Road, and closures for repairs, currently it’s nearly a mile before you re-access the water below the Casey Street footbridge east of Lisson Grove. Knowing this, you may prefer to do as I did, and walk to (or start from) Casey Street Footbridge, about half a mile north of Marylebone tube. See map below.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe temporary towpath closures (left) are to repair electric cables stemming from the power station at the end of Aberdeen Place at the tunnel’s eastern end. When it reopens the portage distance will halve, but that may be a while.
So, you can paddle up to the western tunnel entrance from the Little Venice end (paddleboarder, below left), but you can’t get out here onto Blomfield Road because of a locked gate to the moorings. You have to backtrack to Little Venice, but it’s probably still worth it for a peep into the short if forbidden void.
maidasupIn 2018 the Canal & Rivers Trust (formerly British Waterways) provisionally opened the 250-metre-long tunnel to paddle-powered craft. (Consultation document.) According to their own regs, any straight canal tunnel of less than 400m can be paddled. At Maida Hill you can clearly see the other end, anything coming at you will be silhouetted or lit, and the whole drama takes a couple of minutes to paddle, including taking pictures.
rk-crtmaidaBut to saves costs the tunnel is narrow and without a towpath (barges were legged through by ‘walking’ off the walls). Passing isn’t allowed or even possible, even in a slim kayak. Or a boat operator may not notice low-in-the-water kayaks, even with the mandatory headlight. Tour boats run via the tunnel daily from 10am between Camden and Little Venice.

‘Thank you for your enquiry. We do not allow kayaks through the Maida tunnel unless it is part of a special event”.
Three months notice is preferred for your special event and solo transits are not allowed anyway.
The website additionally warns:
Non–approved unpowered craft shall not transit the tunnel eg. rafts and other types including inflatable arrangements designated for ‘fun’ use.

rk-cornClearly, they’re no more clued-up about modern IKs and packrafts than the BCU, or assume we’re all intoxicated pillocks goofing about on inflatable unicorns.
rk-concernsWhat could possibly befall a typically open and unsinkable IK, canoe, packraft or iSUP board in the tunnel? Do they assume such boats are inherently more dangerous than a beginner capsizing mid-tunnel in a tippy hardshell?
Maybe the CRT has had problems with ‘inflatable arrangements’. Who knows, but I’ve also encountered this anti-inflatable prejudice on PLA media about padding the tidal Thames. I suppose it’s too much to expect these officials to know the difference between an Intex bin bag and a €3000 Grabner, but the common denominator must surely be the required BCU licence (or a more expensive and limited pass direct from the CRT). I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s a canalised version of road-tax paying car drivers [cruise operators] vs freeloading pushbikes [kayakers]. The resentment the trafficformer feels towards the vulnerability of the latter generates irritation.
Here’s a suggestion: mount some traffic lights at each end on a 5-minute turnaround, and perhaps some low-level motion-activated illumination inside. That way the Maida Hill Tunnel could be safely and easily open to all users. Apparently, it’s currently being considered.


Long story shortened a bit, I enjoyed my exploratory walk and finally got to air-up my MRS Nomad below Casey Street footbridge looking down on the Lisson Grove Mooring (aka Marylebone Wide).

The canal surface was thick with a lush carpet of floating pennywort or, as I prefer to call it, Hydrocotyle ranunculoides. This lurid green matting covered the canal from bank to bank just about the way to Limehouse. At times it was so thick birds easily stood on it, but it didn’t noticeably impede my paddling…rk-boat

… because an MRS Nomad doesn’t exactly slice through water like Poseidon’s scythe.

Once on the water I paddled back west, under the Lisson Grove or Eyre’s ‘tunnel’…

… for a peek at the eastern, ‘Doctor Who’, end of the Maida Hill tunnel. It didn’t look that far or that deadly.
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Then I paddled back, passing nesting coots…

… and preening fowl. By 8am I was on my way to Limehouse.

Under the Chiltern Line rail bridges and Park Road (A41).

And into the bucolic enclave of Regent’s Park, passing elegant mansions and accompanied by a phalanx of pushbikers and joggers dashing and dodging other joggers and pram-pushing nannies.
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At London Zoo all was quiet. Not a squawk, a yelp or a roar.
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Regents Park was built around the same time as the canal, and one reason the canal didn’t simply cut directly east from Paddington towards the City along today’s A501 Marylebone Road (called ‘New Road’ back then, blue below) is because the well-connected park developer objected under the Tudor Statutes of NIMBY. The dirty canal diggers were forced to burrow like badgers through Maida Hill before swinging off on a northerly arc, all adding hugely to the cost and completion time. Funding the canal was a real stuggle. 

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At now-filled in Cumberland Basin (red, above), by the famously top-heavy Chinese pagoda restaurant the canal, appropriately, takes a left turn into the borough of Camden.
Soon I arrive at Camden Lock Market but it’s too early on a weekday morning for the place to be busy with beret-wearing tourists.
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There are three locks here in less than 300 metres, so I line the boat along the bank like a Yukon voyageur.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI paddle away from trendy Camden and soon pass under the deafening Eurostar rail lines at St Pancras before entering what they now call Gasholder Park. Old Kings Cross is long gone and some of the gas storage tanks have been turned into flats. Welcome to trendy Kings Cross.
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In the Eighties when I squatted near here, trendy + Kings Cross were not recognised combination. This was probably the seediest corner of central London, the real thing: junkies, prostitution, porno studios – a far cry from quaint, touristy Soho.
One time we used the gas tanks as a backdrop for an article I’d written about a bike running on Nitrous Oxide or laughing gas. Fans of Mad Max will know about that. Mike Leigh’s High Hopes (1988) was filmed around the corner. Funnily enough, the story of a lefty-slacker moto messenger, his woebegone mum and some pantomime-vile yuppies. Oh happy days!
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A lifeboat houseboat. No worries about rising sea level or tsunamis here.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The Word on the Water floating bookshop. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I can’t quite square where I am with what lies around. I think perhaps it was all once a huge goods yard behind high walls. I swing into Battlebridge Basin but the museum isn’t open yet.
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I move on but it’s high time to…

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Up ahead is the 880-metre-long, Islington Tunnel. Again, as straight as a pick-axe handle but closed to hand-powered boaters for similar reasons as Maida Hill. I was kind of hoping a barge might rock up and let me hook on for a lift, but the only things I’ve seen on the water are wildfowl, plastic bottles and Spirodela polyrhiza. The museum organises  boat tours through the tunnel two days a week. Maybe they’d agree to some slipstreaming.
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The photographic record is incomplete, but the portage follows helpful plaques set in the pavement. Cross the A1, Upper Street and head for Duncan St. It’s about a kilometre and would be somewhat of an arseache in a hardshell.
I find myself at the eastern portal…
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… and in need of a waterside snack at City Road Lock. It’s only 9.30.
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By 10 I’m refreshed and on the move again. I put back in below the lock with a plop.
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The canal turns north into Haggerston where, just after the Whitmore Road bridge, there’s a handy knot of cafes on the left. A better choice than City Lock if you want more than coffee and cake. It’s all yummy mummies round here, not the snarling bottle-throwing punks I’d feared.
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Kingsland Basin to the north, with a somewhat baffling kayak slalom course. Soon you pass under the Kingsland Road bridge, edging ever closer to south Hackney.
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The canal is actually about 4 feet deep. near here I can see traffic cones and other junk on the bottom. But a prod with the paddle reveals two centuries of anaerobic silt, so don’t expect to be able to stand if you fall in.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

A populist ambush. These Eastenders are such wags.
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Swan narcissus. There’s a fairy tale in there somewhere, a swan that fell in love with its image and was turned into an ugly duckling.
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Another trickling spillway below a lock. I’ve lost track where.
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Nosferatu guarding someone’s tent. Sure beats a shopfront on the Strand.
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More gas holders near Cambridge Heath Road. You always find them near waterways as the huge tanks need to float on water.
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They’re actually like an upside-down cup resting buoyant on water and are as much about producing an even pressure as storage. Gas from a nearby factory is pumped in to the cavity above the water depending on demand, and the weight of the lid keeps the low pressure steady as it’s released out into the network (in an era before regulators).

New graffiti; 28-speed revolutions.
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It’s that Nosferatu again. You just can’t get rid of him.
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I’m approaching Victoria Park near Bethnal Green or South Hackney, it’s hard to tell. The precise name of your neighbourhood is very important to Londonders.
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By Old Ford Lock (named after a car they dragged out of the canal) are the first canalside public toilets I’ve seen. Good to know. A nutty, bin-rumaging vagabond in a top hat has a quick chat and warns me of heavy weed ahead.
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Is that a real turtle on the sunken kayak or a rubbery Hacknean joke?
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On the left the Hereford Union which leads two clicks up to the rejuvenation Olympic Park and the River Lee Navigation. We’ll be exploring there shortly.
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More of yer Acne ‘umour?  Someone report these ratbags to the CRT, pronto!
You won’t see such frivolity in la-di-da Little Venice.
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Architecture-spotting: new, old, industrial, domestic, elegant, ugly – is all part of the fun on the Regents.
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I probe a weed-clad lock. Locks are creepy places.
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Canary Wharf ahead – the former Docklands of London which was the Regents’ very raison d’etre.
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And here we are at Limehouse Basin and the first actual moving boat I’ve seen since Paddington.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

A lot of weed to clean off.
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All wiped down and rolled up.
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I set off to walk along the Thames for a bit.
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The river looks really quite choppy and a strong spring tide shoves an abandoned kayak upstream towards Wapping.
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Bored [sic] as a coot? Not on the Regents Canal!
Thanks for reading.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Posted in Inflatable Kayaks, MRS Nomad S1, Packrafting, Travel Reports | Tagged , ,

Packraft sailing; MRS Nomad S1 + WindPaddle II

MRS Nomad Index Page

I’ve been waiting for the right kind of wind to have a proper go at WindPaddling my MRS Nomad. Sunday was not that day with SW gusts up to 25mph. Yesterday was more like it: direct from the west at 10-15 meant a chance to run down the full length of Loch Ossian with the wind erring towards the road for the walk back or if it all went wrong.
You forget that starting at the upwind end all is relatively smooth and calm, but soon the fetch kicks up and stays that way. Progress gets a bit lively so you need to be on top of things which includes stashing the paddle safely. I found tucking it across the boat under some red side lines (right) worked well and are more often useful for manhandling the boat. Lunging after a lost paddle would be bad; so would letting go of the sail’s ‘reins’ and having the boat run over it. The sudden drag and deceleration might see the racing boat slew sideways and flip you out. And before you come up for air, your packraft is skimming across the loch like a crisp packet.
I don’t know if gusts vary in direction but you also need to constantly modulate the reins left to right to keep on course. It’s said downwind sails like the WindPaddle have a narrow windspeed window which tops out around 15mph. After that, they start fluttering left to right in an effort to shed the load, as mine did a couple of times. Going out in stronger winds may be too hard to handle or very exciting. As it is, the maximum hull speed of a packraft must be about half that and, just as a cyclist’s energy to overcome wind drag grows exponentially, so too you can only push a paddle boat so far. A packraft is about as hydrodynamic as a training shoe.
With the gloomy skies I was initially a bit nervous. Controlled by the wind and without a paddle in your hands felt disconcerting; a sunny tropical locale would have fixed that I’m sure. As usual with packboat sailing, it’s never just sit back and skim along like yachts seem to do; you have to keep correcting. At nearly 3m with the skeg fitted, the MRS is longish which must help keep it on line. And as mentioned before, with the WindPaddle you can steer at least 30° off the wind.
According to the GPS, 9.3kph (5.8mph) was the peak speed, though most of the time I was zipping along at about 7.5kph. It felt faster as wavelettes broke to either side and occasionally over the bow. With the big Corry paddle, at maximum paddle exertion on flatwater I can hit 6kph for a couple of seconds. So once you relax, sailing can be a fast and energy-saving way of covering distance, and the WP stashed easily under the DeckPack.

I was expecting to walk back but gave paddling a go and stuck with it, hackling along at 2kph with rests every 10 minutes. Fifteen minutes sailing downwind = a 50-minute paddle back.
I still think for the price, weight, bulk and ease of fitting and use, a WindPaddle is a worthwhile packboating accessory.

Posted in Gear, IK & Packraft sailing, MRS Nomad S1, Packrafting, Scotland | Tagged , , ,

Tested: Anfibio DeckPack

See also: Packraft Deckbags

In a Line
Easily fitted, low-profile 22-litre bag with waterproof zip

Cost: 99 euro from Anfibio Packrafting Store  (supplied free for review)

Weight & Size
Bag: 224g; straps 11g each (verified)
59cm wide, 43 cm long and ~15 high when full

Where tested
Northwest Scotland

tik • Waterproof construction and zip equivalent to IP67
• Light
• Variety of position options, providing you have the mounts
• Four 58-cm straps included

cros • On the bow (where most tabs are) can be a bit of to reach
• Not convinced it works well as a floor bag.


What they say
Waterproof zippered packraft bow or stern bag for easily accessible essentials on the water. Fits any Packrafts (and a lot of other boats) by full perimeter daisy chain (for variable fastening).
With the Anfibio DeckPack you can transport your essentials safely and securely in all conditions. Splash-sensitive valuables like a camera, keys or documents as well as emergency equipment and spare clothing are always at hand on the bow, the stern or on the floor beneath your knees. The DeckPack can also be quickly converted into a daypack for excursions on land or the use as hand luggage on your journey.

Review
The problem with packrafts is there’s nowhere to put your stuff other than the bag it comes in, usually a backpack. I wrote more about it here, before making my own small Pakbag.
Otherwise, I like a 20-30L holdall, like my old Watershed Chattooga, despite its fiddly roll-top seal, or my current Ortlieb Travel Zip (right) with a handier TiZip and mesh-zip external pockets. These bags sit accessibly, but out of the way, under my knees, and on previous packrafts attached to a tab mount glued to the floor for when you flip.
Anfibio’s DeckPack is another way of doing it, resembles Alpacka’s Bow Bag and costs about the same. It’s a vaguely semi-circular, PU-coated bag of around 22 litres which, unlike the Bow Bag, has a perimetre of daisy-chains (continuous attachment loops, a bit like Molle). It fits most obviously on a packraft’s bow as shown above, as this is where most packrafts have four tabs and where the weight trims the boat best. But you could as easily mount it on flatter sterns (as on my Nomad) if you already have a big backpack up front. Anfibio also suggest it can go inside on the floor too. Arranged as shown by them right, I don’t think the zip would be easily accessible without pulling the bag up, but that may not matter. Using the supplied straps, the pack can also work as a shoulder bag or daypack, when away from the boat.
On my NomadIt it just so happened that the bow mounting tabs where just right to fit the bag without using the supplied straps. Mini carabiners or more rust proof fishing snaps (right) enabled a snug fit. So would reusable zip ties – also rust proof. But mounted on the bow it was a bit of a reach on my long boat unless I shuffled off the seat.
In fact there are enough hull mounts on my Nomad to position it further back (left) using two straps. Here it acts as a splash guard extension and was much more accessible on the water without making getting in and out too awkward.
It works similarly well on my IK too (right) – something I’ve been trying to work out for years.
I submerged the DeckPack in the bath and, pushed underwater (ie: under some pressure) air bubbles slowly leaked out via the zip head – hence my estimated IP67 rating. Without pressure, there may be no leakage and so the DeckPack doubles as a secondary buoyancy aid – always reassuring on single-chamber packrafts.

Once I realised it would work well on the IK, I ended up liking the Anfibio DeckPack a bit more than I expected, but here are a couple of suggestions:
• Drop the price and make the straps (right) optional. Most paddlers will have their own mounting means or ideas.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA• A curved, meshed exterior zip pocket would be really handy for knick-knacks or having a GPS in a readable position. Or, run a line of daily-chains alongside the main zip, so you can DIY a mesh pocket to the outside without interfering with the main zip or bodging as I have done (left). It would make the DeckPack even more versatile and save over-working the waterproof zip to access stuff while on the water.


MYO Seatback Mesh Pouch
As mentioned above, zipped mesh pouches on exterior surfaces are dead handy. You can put stuff in them, they drain or dry fast and they enable handy access without digging in to a main bag. It’s one of the things I like on my Ortlieb Travel Zip (right).
On ebay I found 9″ x 7″ zip mesh pouches for makeup at about 3 quid each and quite well made. I zip-tied one around the side hem to the buckles on the back of my packraft’s foam backrest (aboe and right). It’s a handy place to stash the inflation bag, some cord, snaplinks, zip ties and the top-up adapter for my K-Pump. I may even try to fit one to my Anfibio DeckPack.

Posted in Alpacka Yak, Gear, Gumotex Seawave, Inflatable Kayaks, MRS Nomad S1, Packrafting | Tagged , , , ,

Tested: Anfibio Fly ultralight paddle

anfibiologoOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn a line: Cheap, light and fully adjustable but may have too much flex for heavier paddlers/ boats or against headwinds

Cost: 99 euro from Anfibio Packrafting Store
(Supplied free for review)

Weight: 451g (verified); length: 178-210cm

Where tested: Sardinia sea and lake kayaking; loch packrafting in Scotland

tik
• Very OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAlight
• Inexpensive
• Collapses into 5 parts of 49cm or less
• Single lock clamp to vary length and blade offset
• Telescopes down to 178cm – good for short paddlers or kids
• Would work as an adjustable tarp pole

cros
• Feels flimsy
• Small, flexy blades
• Thin 24cm shaft diametre
• 210cm is minimal useful length for chubby packrafts


What they say
pad-flyThose who pay close attention to boat weight and packability should also make the right choice with the paddle. The Anfibio Fly has a minimum weight of just 460g making it an ideal ultra-light companion. It can be broken down into five segments none longer than 49cm so can be easily stored in any daypack. Despite its minimalist features, the Anfibio Fly is well featured for a wide range of uses.


Review:

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Fly set at 178cm and a big-bladed, 220cm Werner Corryvreken

Held up and powered by your arms all day, a paddle wants to be light, but it also needs to be rigid so none of that input is lost in power-sapping flex. Combining the two effectively usually means spending hundreds while still compromising a little on durability.
The Anfibio Fly is about OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAas light and compact as a usable paddle gets (a Supai Olo is lighter still). Paddling my packraft downwind I found the 5-piece Fly’s OK, but the thin shaft and small, bendy blades lacked the solid feel of a conventional, full-sized OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERApaddle. Add my ‘Maori-war-party’ paddling style (as I was told, once), and the Fly’s flex didn’t produce the sort of confident propulsion needed in a principle paddle. Even the much lighter and less energetic g-friend didn’t take to it – though that was in our 17-kilo kayak.
Used back-to-back against my Werner Corrywrecken, I paddled about 15% slower (5kph vs 6kph max). My other Aqua Bound Manta Ray 4-parter (left) may weigh all of 880g, but without spending at least $500 on something like a Werner Ovation (from 460g), this is simply the mass needed to get the job done at a reasonable cost.
A day later I was paddling into a 10-15mph wind with the solid Corry. It was hard on my arms and hard on the paddle; I needed to rest every 10 minutes and progressed at about 1mph. I’m sure I would have damaged the joints and maybe even broken the Anfibio Fly in such conditions, and yet at some stage, you may find yourself having to do paddle like this to get to shore.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn calm conditions or as a back-up it will be fine and would suit a packrafting trek in a light packraft like an Anfibio Alpha XC where you’re crossing small calm lakes or briefly following benign rivers where you don’t need to power through rapids. The thin-diametre shaft, light weight and length adjustment down to a flex-minimising 178cm would also make the Fly an ideal children’s paddle.

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Posted in Gear, Inflatable Kayaks, Packrafting | Tagged , , ,

A Packboat in your Car

 

Overlanding with Packboats

Packboat is my made-up word for easily portable boats that roll into a bag but deploy in minutes, in contrast with hardshell kayaks or canoes in aluminum, plastic, or composite. I’m here to suggest that if lugging a cumbersome hardshell on your overland rig isn’t for you, then a packboat weighing from 2 to 40 pounds and never bigger than a backpack might well be, while adding another great way to explore the outdoors…

Read the rest

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Posted in Alpacka Yak, Gumotex IKs, Gumotex Seawave, IK & Packraft sailing, Inflatable Kayaks, MRS Nomad S1, Packrafting | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

MRS Nomad S1 – a few mods

MRS Nomad Index Page

After paddling around in the S1 I can see some ways of improving it. So I did.

Replace the inflatable backrest with a plain foam backrest. The backrest which came with the boat had already been repaired twice and, unless it’s at the back of a packraft, who needs an inflatable backrest anyway? It’s more about support than weight-bearing comfort, like a seat base. As on my Seawave, a foam backrest (£12 on ebay; 200g) does the job and is one less thing to blow up. The press-pivot clips from the old backrest fitted on easily, and even though it only has 4 straps, not 6, it works fine. I trimmed about a foot of excess from each strap.

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I bought some mesh zip pockets about 6” x 10” off ebay costing next to nothing from China. I zip-yied one to the back of the backrest. A handy way to ensure the air bag, K-Pump adapter and a couple of zip ties are always in the packraft.

mrsfootrestI fitted an Anfibio footrest cushion. You lose some inflating time there, you gain it here but the Nomad’s seat is too far from the bow for efficient bracing, even for me, and moving the seat has it’s limits.  I’ve since found the broad flat resting edge makes a more comfortable footrest than having them jammed in the bow. For flatwater I may not even need the thigh braces.

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Top-up pump. The Nomad’s large volume takes a lot of tempering (topping up) to get it firm, but I can only do so much by lung. With a bit of hose on the end, the £3 pump
nomappump(left) should kpumpminihave enabled a higher pressure, It’s the same one Alpacka were selling with some boats at one stage. But it didn’t work – or would take forever. I think it just hasn’t got what it takes.
By comparison my bulkier K-Pump Mini also with a hose nose, effortlessly packed in enough air to firm up the Nomad like a drum. So if it’s that important, the K-Pump it will have to be.

nomazipsQuicker detach seat base. I replaced the knotted-in laces with long, thin unzipped zip-ties threaded through the holes to make the seat easier to remove for land use or for drying and cleaning the boat. Any similar plastic wire-like thing will do, as long as there is no puncture risk. But it’s still not clip-off easy. I have a better idea.

I replaced the blue MRS air bag with a brightly coloured Anfibio one. Visibility is the rationale: because packrafts lack 2bagssomewhere to stash this important item (but see below), with a neon green bag I’m much less likely to forget it when packing up (done that before). It could also be handy to wave as a rescue aid if stuck on a stormy skerry in the North Atlantic (not done that yet).

For the same reason I stuck some hazard tape on the skeg. I also threaded a reusable zip tie througn a hole in the back so it can be securly attached to the boat when packing up, but in fact, unlike my IKs, on the Nomad a skeg is not essential to make it track well.

mrsskeg

I added some side lines. Handy handles when manhandling the boat, and also useful to tuck in the paddle securely while controlling a sail. Or course having the mounting points pre-fitted makes all this much easier.

 

 

Posted in MRS Nomad S1

Olympus TG-5 camera for kayaking

tg5I’ve been using Panasonic’s Lumix FT2 wet cameras for 13 years or more, a simple, slim, one-handed, all-weather P&S which didn’t have to be mollycoddled. In 2011 we even used them to make a packrafting movie. Later models seemed to lose the functionality of the FT2 so as they died or sank, I replaced them with used cheapies off ebay until they got hard to find. Desert, pocket or sea, I’ve always liked the Lumix range’s preference for a wider 24mm-ish lens. Ridiculous zoom levels were far less important because picture quality dived. But after a really old FT1 burner unsurprisingly failed to survive a few minutes of snorkelling the other month, I decided to try a used Olympus TG-5 (left) after some paddle boarders rated them.

Ft7Commonly the current Olympus TG-5 and Panasonic FT7 (right) get rated as the best waterproof cameras you can buy. But they seem expensive for what they are. And when you consider the tiny zoom lens tucked inside the inch-thick body you’re never going to get great shots, especially in low light or at full zoom.
Even then, my FTs always needed to be tricked into slightly lower (correct) exposures by half-clicking on the sky, pulling down and composing to click. lumixevcIt was only when I got a Lumix LX100 that I realised a: how handy an EV Comp dial (right) is; I use it on almost every shot. And b: how relatively crappy some of my FT pics were. I used the FT less and less.
With all the essential controls on the body, not buried in a menu, the compact LX is very nice to handle, but of course isn’t suited to paddling. It’s not so suited to desert travels either (I do that too). Like all such cameras, each time you turn it on, the telescoping lens sucks in dust which sticks to the sensor and appears as dots on most lumixhooverimages. It drives some owner-reviewers nuts. You can’t reach the sensor as you can on a DSLR even if the dots can easily be erased in iPhoto. Or, here’s a great trick: zoom in and out as you hoover the lens (left). I did again a year after a pro clean and it really works.
There nothing I can do about the LX’s zoom motor which got slower and slower and eventually needed a tug to extend and a push to retract. I eventually flodded it and got a weather-sealed Sony 6300 mirrorless (here’s a great list) to reduce the dust and some water issues. The 2018 LX100 II got some improvements, but weather-sealing wasn’t one of them.

lympusBack to the TG-5. Watching one of the vids below I learned it has an unmarked control dial in the same, top-right position and which can work as an EV Comp dial. That alone is worth the price of the camera.
Having been inspired to RTFM for once, I now realise the TG-5 is actually much closer to the LX than I  though, not least in terms of the staggering number of things it can do – most of which go way over my head. olyjjcYou can even clip on wide or tele converter lenses (a bodge, imo, if photo quality matters) but more usefully, you can fit a clear filter over the lens window. Being bigger than an FT lens window, I can easily see it catching a scratch. For that you need the Olympus olyhoyaCLA-T01 adapter (£20; or a £6 JJC knock-off; above right) to which you then screw in a regular 40.5mm filter: UV, polarised, whatever (left). With a piece of screen guard stuck over the LCD, the Olympus Tough can now be treated Olympus Rough, with both screen guard and UV filter being inexpensively replaceable.
I see it also has an easy to use custom self-timer, a blessing for us paddle-blogging singletons. Normally I’ve had to settle for 3-shots-at-10 seconds, or simply shoot video and extract a cruddy still, but on the TG you press the sequential shooting (‘6 o’clock’) button and click: delay, # of frames and frame interval. The LX does that too, but it’s buried in menuland. Olympus : tickolychar.
The battery is a slim 1270Ah which does masses of shots and you can charge it in the camera which is one less thing to carry. But for 20 quid I bought 3 clone batteries plus a travel-friendly  USB rather than a main charger (right) which will work off a laptop, battery pack, USB wall plug or a solar panel.
olycompOnce I’d have said GPS position, elevation and a compass in a camera were gimmicks. Now I’d admit they add some redundancy when a proper GPS unit goes flat, as it did on me the other day. And the Olympus accesses this data by simply press the Info button with the camera off (left). Up it comes for 10 secs, north by northwest. The TG-5 will also take great pictures.

tik Red; easy to find on the river bed
EV Comp dial in the usual position
Battery charges in the camera
Easy to turn on and zoom one-handed (good on a moto)
Spare 3rd-party batteries from £4; USB charger from £8
Good hand grip
Rated at 15m of water so ought to survive some splashes
Slim and light (260g with chunky wrist strap)
GPS, elevation, compass, and even a tracking with the camera off
Easy to access and configure custom self-timer
cros A baffling new menu to master – sigh
LCD text is a bit small
Expensive, but discounted to ~£330 new
TBA…

More impressions as I get to use it.

 

Posted in Gear, Inflatable Kayaks, Packrafting | Tagged , , , , ,

Wandle: An Urban Packrafting Nightmare

See also: Kebab Death Weir Tunnel

We had a good look, then shot this underground weir and were spat out the other end, grinning and alive.

wanlong

Years ago I recce’d South London’s Wandle ‘River’ from longlogoMerton Abbey Mills to the Thames at Wandsworth – a varied urban run of just a few miles – and all from the safety of longtunmy pushbike. It’s not far from where I live but I decided the Wandle held too many elements which played to my watery phobias, not least near the end where the current sucks you into a series of sunless tunnels (left) under a shopping centre and former brewery. Sounds like a perfect setting for a macabre Gothic horror story.

But not everyone is so timid. Tim from Longshore International went down there with a couple of his boats. Full story with a description of the real hazards and more photos on the Longshore Blog.

 

Posted in Packrafting, Travel Reports | Tagged , , ,

Packyaking in Whitianga (NZ)

MRS Nomad Index Page

nzwhitmapAt a Dive shop in Whitianga on the North Island’s Coromandel peninsula half a day from Auckland, I asked the teenage girl left at the till which way the tidal currents flowed around here. She smiled at me like I was an idiot and explained slowly.
‘Well, when the tide comes in it like, comes towards you, and when it goes out, it sort of goes away.’
Before I got into sea paddling that’s what I would have said, but I explained what I meant, that tidal flows moved to and fro in a given direction along a coast, not just in out, in out, like a Can Can diverdancer’s legs At any constriction or headland it’s a good thing to know when planning or timing a paddle. She looked it up on the internet.

‘Anticlockwise.’

‘Thanks.’

pacificohTides apart, did I really think the surging expanse of the Pacific would be calm enough for a humble 10km coastal packayak round the cliffs of Cook Bluff to the famous and much fridge-magneted tourist icon of Cathedral Cove (painting below)? No, but now on my wavelength, Dive Girl went on to offer me tomorrow’s gloomy forecast: 4-metre swells, 35 knot gusts and occasional showers of razor-billed flying fish.
nzwhitibayA good day for a cliff walk then. Coming back next evening from Cooks Beach, I  was a little appalled to see Mercury Bay awash with white-capped rollers, as if some tsunami was on the go. Surf’s up, if you have the nerve.
It was right here in 1769 that Captain Cook and his crew – on the hunt for the fabled Terra Australis – first raised the British flag on the New Zealand shore while engaged in observing the transit of Mercury.

cathcov.jpg

Maybe I’d get a chance the day after, my last. But even in the calm morning the storm’s after-swell was still pounding the nzlonebaycliffs and beaches of Mercury Bay. Who knows how it was at the Cove of Broken Dreams which, they said, was still closed from the land side, anyway.
Luckily, the cliff-rimmed natural harbour of Whitianga was sheltered from all this Pacific aggression. And better still, the tides were ideally timed to be swept into the inlet, before getting spat out on the mid-afternoon ebb like a retching gannet’s breakfast.
nzwhit - 3Settling up on a grassy strand near the marina, I realised I’d left my pfd at the hostel – this after noting a warning sign advising that all in <6-m long boats required them. Oh well, if spotted hopefully the harbour master will zoom up alongside me on his jet ski and lend me one for the day. As it was, I was heading inland where there’d be no one.
Once tempered up via my hose extension, I scooted over the yacht-clogged harbour mouth, ferrying across the strong current filling the shallow inlet, tilting marker buoys as it went. I was told later that, partly as a result of dredging a channel for marina access, that Whitianga’s natural harbour was fastest flowing in New Zealand.
nzwirshelfOn the west side, under a wave-carved overhang (left) I hopped out to temper the MRS again. I like an inflatable as firm as possible but am finding, perhaps due to its larger than normal volume for a non-pump inflatable, that the S1 commonly needs a second pump up a few minutes in.
I’m now wondering if something about half the size or volume of my 600-g K-Pump Mini would be handy to get the Nomad up to operating pressure in one go.handpump This ebay pump (right) cost me just 3 quid posted and is actually similar to the mini pump Alpacka initially offered with their $2000 Alpackalypse. With a pump like this, after high-volume air-bagging, you could beg18judiciously pump to a highish pressure on the shore – assuming the cheapo ebay pump can hack it. Yes, a pump’s another thing to carry/lose and the comparatively bulky K-Pump will do the job in a few short strokes. But unlike a paddle, it’s not ‘mission critical’, as they say in the movies.
Fitting a PRV and being able to pump away until the PRV purged (as I do with my Seawave IK) would be even easier, because you could also happily leave the boat out on a hot beach without fear of it exploding into a thousand ribbons of ruptured TPU. PRVs are unknown on packrafts so maybe I’m over-thinking it, but double-tempering is a bit of a faff even if, as humans go, I have a good pair of nicotine-free lungs.
nzyachtAnyway, I padded southwards, weaving among the lifeless yachts and cruisers, reminding me of our Hayling Island paddle last summer. Let me tell you, in this world there are a lot of massively under-used boats bobbing around and gathering algae.
Once past a sinister big black tug, the bay opened out and I was in the clear. Nearby, alongside an jetty below a cliff leading to a dwelling hidden in the bush, I spotted this pioneering-era carving.

nzwhit - 2

nzwhit - 1Beyond here the shore looked oddly mangrovey and inaccessible. Mangroves this far south at nearly 37°? I’d only ever seen then around Darwin where I’d once eaten a so-called oolie worm which feeds in their trunks. Sure enough, turns out hereabouts is the southermost extent of mangroves.
I’m not so keen on this sort of drab coastline, but live and let alternative lifeforms live, I suppose. In fact it was fun to probe the passages below the shady groves as it was due to reach 30°C today.

s1nzmangro
It took a bit more idle nosing about before I finally located the channel leading southeast to the two small rivers which fed the harbour inlet. The channel narrowed as the nzwhit - 7supposedly slack tide swept me into the tangled maze of salt-loving woodland. Curving left and right, south and east, as the scaly boughs closed in, it occurred to me that this far down in the bay wouldn’t be a great place to get lost and then stranded in thigh-deep, oolie-ridden silt for the next few hours. Who knows how quick the tide turns. Anticipating this, I’d clocked a hilltop landmark over on the western hills to help orientate myself, then pushed on in as far as I dared, getting maybe 500m from a shore before spinning around into the still-rising tide and scuttling back out into the open.

nzwhitbaymapp

The tide really ought to have turned by now, carrying me back the way I’d come, but the forecast nor’westerly was on time and in my face. Luckily the Nomad’s generous stub nose stopped me making a mockery of the harbour’s 5-knot limit so it was a long hour’s slog back to the harbour mouth, bent against the breeze and slapping waves. A similarly windy afternoon on the Wairoa River a few days back must have got me into paddling shape, so the effort was all put down to good exercise.
Once past the marina, I’d hoped to slip below the jetty, under the harbour master’s cabin and out into Mercury Bay itself. Maybe cruise below Shakespeare Cliffs and then land on Buffalo Beach, like a proper Pacific navigator. But it was not to be. Chances are I’d have just embarrassed myself, tumbling through the surf and into the shore fishermen’s barbed hooks.
My timenzwhit - 6 was up in NZ. Next day, rolling my cleverly adapted UDB (more below) to the bus stop, all was as calm as a kiwi’s cozy nest. I was reminded how sea kayakers must feel when they haul all the way up to the Summer Isles to be met by tent-bothering gales, only to find great conditions as they pack up.
nzwhit - 12It’ll be there next time and for sure the east side of the Coromandel looks like the fantastic place for some fabulous sea paddling. The beachside hostel I stayed at laid on hefty old SoTs for free and there were plenty of kayak touring outfits in town and around. Give it a go if you ever find yourself down here.

nzwhit - 9


nzwhit - 10trolleyFor this trip moving from airport to airport and in a bid to spare my creaking back, I mated my trusty Watershed UDB to a chopped-down lightweight folding trolley I’ve used on previous packboating trips. With chunky zip ties and a strap, the shortened frame fitted securely to the rugged UDB’s back harness tabs.
My load was way under the airline limit, but the thinking was that, once packboating my planned river for a few days, the UDB and small trolley would still be compact, compared to a regular wheeled travel bag.
ort140
It was all a way of stopping myself buying the painfully pricey but actually only 500g heavier Ortlieb Duffle RS 140 I’ve been eyeing up. Fitted with an IP67 TiZip (not as good as the UDB’s brass drysuit zip), it’s the biggest ortliebrolledone they do, so ought to take my Seawave IK and gear. Lacking a backbone frame of Ort’s RG duffles, the 140 actually rolls up even smaller (right) than my DIY contraption.
A handy side benefit (which might also apply to the airtight Ortlieb), was that being able to inflate my UDB into a rigid airtight sausage made it easier to wheel around (but not as comfy as a full-framed wheel bag). I got some odd looks giving my bag a blow job by the arrivals luggage carousel, because at departure check-in I had to tug the zip open a bit to ensure it would air-off safely at 32,000 feet.
In my hand I carried my nifty Ortlieb 30-L Travel Zip.
Posted in Gear, Inflatable Kayaks, MRS Nomad S1, Travel Reports | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,