Sunday, March 28, 2010

Half Moon Bay Pillar Point Harbor

For a harbor protected by breakwater, Pillar Point in huge! There are two breakwaters, one inside of another. The water is totally flat and protected.  Just outside of the outer breakwater, you will encounter some rolling waves, which add its own fun. On some days, I can image that the waves can be large. The well known big wave Maverick Surf Contest is held near here. If you decide to stay inside of the breakwater, there is still plenty of space to do about an hour's worth of kayaking. It's like a medium size lake, complete with beaches. Just be careful when you land to pull your kayak way up the beach as rising tide can carry your boat away - without you.


Here is a good description of the launch location pinpointing an exact put-in:

http://gotoes.org/California/ViewBoatLaunchRamp.pl?site=14

If you are wondering what the weather or sea is like at Pillar Point, check out the web cam here:

www.samschowderhouse.com


Kevin T

Sunday, March 21, 2010

DiCAPac Waterproof Camera Case Review

I went kayaking with several people today and they all commented on my DiCAPac waterproof camera case. The concept is great - make a clear plastic bag that is triple sealed so it is waterproof at up to 30 feet! You can use it for snorkeling and maybe even scuba diving. For kayaking, the DiCAPac also works well; there is no worrying about water splashing onto the camera and ruining it. Plus, the DiCAPac bag traps air and makes the camera float so you don't have to worry about dropping it into the lake and seeing it disappear forever.

I started the search for waterproof camera equipment with waterproof cameras.  I already have several digital cameras so I was looking for one that I would mostly use for kayaking or occasionally for snorkeling. A camera for this purpose would have to be relatively inexpensive, maybe around $100 or $125 dollars. I was also open to the idea of a nice camera that I would use for everyday shots but can also be used in water. For this I was roughly willing to pay up to $200.  However, I researched the top waterproof cameras but none has all the features that I wanted.

I wanted a waterproof camera that is
  1. Reasonably priced - for something that will be submerged in water and has a high risk of being damaged, I didn't want to spend hundreds of dollars and sudden find it with water damage
  2. Takes good pictures - the lower priced ones don't take good pictures according to Amazon reviews.  The one costing three hundred dollars takes good pictures, but it costs three hundred dollars. It is also bulking.
  3. Guarantee to be waterproof - reviews have said that the camera companies are not willing to replace damaged waterproof cameras, probably because they operate in dangerous environment for electronic equipment - underwater.  Some of these underwater cameras require an annual replacement of the waterproof seal which cost about $50 - too much ongoing expense.
  4. Waterproof depth - the lower cost camera are only waterproof to 10 feet, which doesn't have enough margin of error to make me feel comfortable
The FujiFilm Finepix Z33WP

This is the cheapest camera of the bunch, but the reviewers say that it doesn't take good pictures. This the equivalent of a point-and-shoot camera. I guess that if I wanted a marginal point-and-shoot camera, I might fork out around a hundred dollars for this, but I wanted to have a good camera.  A huge turn off was that the video capture take a few seconds to start after you press the button. A few seconds may sound like a small number, but in reality, it is the difference between actually capturing the moment or missing it.  Another big minus is that it is only waterproof to 10 feet. This means that if I accidentally drop it in the pool and it sinks to the bottom, I can kiss my $120 good buy.

Olympus Stylus Tough 8000

What I've read about in the reviews of the Olympus Stylus Tough 8000 says that it is slow. I've had an Olympus digital camera before, and yes, the shutter delay is huge.  It was impossible to take kid pictures with it because I never ended up taking a picture with the kid in it! By the time the camera shoots, the kid has moved away.

Pentax Optio W80

The issues with the Pentax Optio W80 is that it has no built-in image stabilization, which is pretty much a standard feature in modern cameras.  Without it, you would need to hold the camera really still to take a picture or have it come out fuzzy. For a $175 camera, you would expect to have image stabilization.


Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS1

With a camera at this price range, the photo quality is getting in the good range. However, for an expensive camera, the waterproof depth is only 10 feet.  That is not practical at all. According to the specification, if I go snorkeling and I want to dive down to take a close look at a coral, this camera will start leaking!

Canon PowerShot D10

Finally, the Canon PowerShot D10 is the Cadillac of the bunch. It has good picture quality and is waterproof to 33 feet. The reviews are mostly positive. However, it is bulky - not something that can fit into the pant pocket inconspicuously. And it's expensive.  Did I mention that it's expensive? 

Back to the DiCAPac waterproof camera bag

So here I am, without a good choice for a camera that can be used around or in the water.  Out of a whim, I decided to search for a camera bag that is waterproof, and I found the DiCAPac. The name is really awful but the quality of the case is good. I use it with an old Sony camera and it is working well. I tested splashing water onto it with no problems.  I tested trying to squeeze the air out of the bag after it's been sealed and no air leaked out. I assume this mean no water will leak in.

There are a few annoying issues with using the DiCAPac camera case.
  1.  While it is easy to push buttons through the clear plastic , it is really hard to turn dials. My Sony camera has a dial for changing functions, and it takes a lot of effort to change from photos to video. This is not a deal-breaker, just a minor annoyance.
  2. When I turn on the camera, I have to be careful to make sure the camera lens come out directly into the lens area in the bag.  If the lens is stuck, the camera will retract the lens and turn itself off. This can translate into a lost moment.
  3. When taking a picture, I have to make sure that the camera is fitted in the center of the DiCAPac. If it is not in the center, either the flash will get blocked or the camera will take a picture with dark corners, like shooting from inside of a tunnel. See the photo below for an example of this - note the lower left hand corner. Avoiding the dark corners takes some practice. I have gotten a system where I pinch the left side of the bag to make sure the camera is not too far the left.  This could be a problem if I wanted a passerby to take a picture of me.
Despite the issues, the DiCAPac appears to be a workable solution, especially given that it is very inexpensive and has a waterproof depth of 33 feet. By putting an old camera into this waterproof bag, I won't be too saddened if somehow the bag leaked and I damaged the camera. In the mean time, I am still waiting for that ultimate waterproof camera that is inexpensive, takes great pictures, and is waterproof beyond what I can reasonably dive.

Here are some underwater picture I took with a Sony DSC-P200 enclosed in my DiCAPac case at Kealakekua Bay (also known as Captain Cook's Monument) on the Big Island of Hawaii. The pictures have gone through some color and sharpness adjustments using a photo editor.



In the following picture, notice that a part of the DiCAPac was blocking the lens. This happens quite often. I have learned to pinch the DiCAPac bag on the left side of the camera to sort of center the camera in the bag. This works pretty well when I was taking pictures in a leisurely manner, however, when I needed to move quickly, I usually forget to center the camera in the DiCAPac.


On my trip, I pretty much had the camera in the DiCAPac whenever I go near water, be it on a kayak, on the beach or in a pool.


When the DiCAPac is taken out of the water, some water droplets remain on the lens cover. It makes some weird fogging effect and sometimes I had to repeat several shots in order to get one without the droplet.  Here is an example of the droplet on the DiCAPac:


Another issue is when I ask someone else to take a picture of us, I have to teach the person to pinch the DiCAPac bag in the correct places to center the camera.

You may be wondering if the camera ever got wet inside the DiCAPac. The answer in no. I didn't feel any sort of dampness at all when I remove the camera from the DiCAPac after being underwater. I took care each night to keep the DiCAPac open all night to make sure there is no accumulation of moisture.

With all its shortcomings, the DiCAPac has been a good investment. Instead of paying hundreds of dollars for a mediocre underwater camera, I just put my regular digital camera in the DiCAPac. Without it, I would not have been able to capture some amazing moments.


Kevin T
Inflatable Kayak Report

Friday, March 19, 2010

12V Electric Pumps for Inflatable Kayaks

The one inconvenient thing about inflatable kayaks is the inflation of the kayak.  Since I bought my kayaks last summer, I have bought multiple electric air pumps to help ease the trouble.  Each inflatable kayak came with its own foot pump, but since I have 6 inflatable kayaks, it would be impossible to pump them all up manually, even though I tried.

Please note that none of the kayaks come with any suggestions on which electric pump I should buy. In fact, Sea Eagle customer service reps even told me that they do not recommend using any electric pump. Using one would void the warranty, yikes! 

There are several kinds of 12 volt car electric pumps out there. 
  • The standard automotive pump  - really high pressure but low volume, mainly used to pump up car tires. The 40 - 50 PSI put out by this kind of pump is too much and you risk blowing the seams of your kayak.
  • High volume pump - pressure is low but put out a lot of air volume, very safe for inflatable kayaks but takes relatively long to fill the chambers and cannot completely fill it
  • High pressure, high volume pump - able to fill the chambers without topping off; ideal for inflatable kayaks

Here is the chronological description of my adventure with kayak electric air pumps:

Automotive 12 Volt Tire Pump

I started with a standard 12 volt electric pump for car tires. However, I soon found out that even though they can generate lots of pressure, they are notoriously slow.  The one I had would take 10 minutes just to pump up a medium size pool float!  It would take a long time to pump up a kayak.

Coghlan's 12V High Volume Electric Pump

I then bought a Coghlan's high volume 12V electric pump.

While it does pump out good volume of air, unfortunately, due to the limited power going through the 12V socket (cigarette lighter), this pump does not fully inflate the kayaks.  I had to finish each one of the kayak using a foot pump. As you can imagine, there is a lot of inserting this nozzle, that nozzle, stepping up and down on the pump, etc, and by the time I am done, I would have worked up a good sweat and back ache. Because the 12V socket is usually in the center of the car, I had to buy several 12V cord extensions such as this one, which are almost as expensive as the pump.

With the Sea Eagle 330, this is as far as I have gone with electric pumps. Since the maximum pressure that the Coghlan's 12V pump put out is not enough to fully inflate the kayak, I figure it would be safe to use on the Sea Eagle 330 without blowing the seams.


Kwik Tek Airhead High Pressure High Volume 12V Electric Air Pump - Bingo!

I did some more web search for high pressure, high volume 12 volt pumps and found the Kwik Tek Airhead.  I hesitated initially because the pump needs to be connected directly to the car battery, instead of through the 12V socket. After failing the previous pumps, I had no choice but to finally decide to try the Kwik Tek Airhead. 

The Kwik Tek Airhead high pressure high volume air pump connects directly to the car battery with a set of alligator clips which means I had to open the hood each time.  As it turned out, it wasn't so bad, and in fact was easier.  The battery being in the front of the car allows me to use just the cord that came with the pump.  The extra power that came through the cord directly allowed the motor to be much stronger.

I bought the first Airhead pump online and it came with one section of the hose bent at a 45 degree angle.  I tried to straighten it but could not.  This particular pump did not have enough pressure to pump up my kayaks to my satisfaction. I was guessing that the 45 degree bend may have been blocking the airflow, so I returned it and bought another one of the same.  The second one did not have the bend, and it worked great, able to pump up my kayaks quickly and effortlessly.  The lesson: Kwik Tek have some quality control issues. Make sure you don't get stuck with one that has a bend to the hose!

My Pathfinder kayaks needed 2.2 PSI of pressure for the side chambers and 1.5 PSI for the floor.  I found that the Kwik Tek Airhead pumps out just about 2 PSI, not enough pressure to make the walls super hard like they are supposed to be.  However, it's hardly noticeable and I don't believe it affects the performance of the kayak in any way. If I wanted, I could top it off with my foot pump, but most of the time, I just go out with the walls slightly soft.

So, this is where I am right now. Whenever I inflate the kayaks, I open the hood of the car, turn on the engine, and press the On button of the Kwik Tek Airhead high pressure, high volume pump and let it run for a minute or two, then the chamber is filled.  I am happy with the solution now as I can get the kayak ready in a few minutes without a lot of back pain and sweat. I hope you readers take my lessons learned. If your kayak needs high pressure (less than 2.2 PSI), and go straight to the Kwik Tek Airhead high pressure, high volume pump. It will save you a lot of time and frustration.

Kevin T


Saturday, March 13, 2010

San Francisco Bay Area Kayak Put-In Locations

The San Francisco Bay Area is probably one of the most diverse places to kayak. You get the San Francisco Bay, of course, but you also get all of the coast on the ocean side, then there are the numerous lakes spread out in the South Bay, East Bay, and the North Bay. The Sierras is just an hour or two drive away and there await multiple rivers for some incredible white water kayaking.

Whether you rent or own a kayak, prefer ocean or river, live here or just vacationing, the following are excellent resources for finding out where to kayak in the greater San Francisco Bay Area.

1. The California Boat Launch Ramp and Put-in Index

This Google Maps add-on shows exactly where you can go kayaking, down to the very last foot in put-in location in the map section. Because the map is zoom-able, it is very easy to find a place to put in in any given area or to check out the actual spot using satellite view. Some of these put-in locations have kayak/canoe and equipment rentals and guided tours, which should be accordingly describe in the description. This map is being continuously updated (slowly). If it only had a user rating section, it would be perfect! If you find a new place to kayak in the greater San Francisco Bay Area, don't forget to add it to the list.  Actually, it's for all of California, so add new put-ins accordingly.

http://gotoes.org/California/BoatLaunchRampIndex.pl


2. San Francisco Bay Kayak and Canoe put-ins

This site is similar to the above but is for the San Francisco Bay Area only. The technology is a bit older so you can't zoom in, but the database is shared with the above. This one might still have a few place that #1 doesn't, but over time I think all of the put-in locations will be migrated over to #1site.

http://gotoes.org/put-ins/


3. California Creeks

If you like river kayaking or canoeing, this is the site for you! It lists more than 165 river sections for various classes of rapids. The detailed description and the large clear photos are superb! This is a must go spot if you are planning a river kayak trip to a new run.

http://cacreeks.com/index.html


4. California Department of Water Resources
If you plan any sort of river kayaking trip, you need to visit this site. It provides all the critical flow details of major rivers, include current and historical data. Based on those, you can sort of judge a river's level remotely. I haven't totally figured out how to read the tables yet. If anyone is an expert and is willing to show me, please let me know.

http://cdec.water.ca.gov/

5. Fishing Notes - Shows Lake Water Temperature

This site has an automated system to estimate the water temperature of a large number of lakes.  As far as I can tell, the estimates are pretty accurate. It makes a difference when choosing a lake for kayaking that includes diving in for a quick swim:

www.fishingnotes.com

This is it for now. I will continue to update this list as I gather new information. 

Kevin T

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Introduction

I guess you can call me an inflatable kayak-aholic. I currently own a total of 6 inflatable kayaks and over time, I have owned 7 inflatable kayaks. The motivation for starting this blog came from not being able to easily find information about inflatable kayaks or finding information that is recent.

I currently own the following kayaks, none of which is really anything fancy or overly expensive. They are good, sturdy, solid performing inflatable kayaks that can go down Class 3 rivers, cross a lake with ease, go in a bay or calm ocean waters, and most of all, allow the kids to dive into the water in the middle of a lake (and then climb out, and then dive in again, and so on).

So the following are my inflatable kayaks. Some readers will be disappointed that these are nothing fancy, not ones that cost thousands of dollars. I've already warned you about that. I am just an everyday happy-go-lucky guy who happens to love water sports, have two young kids that I want to spend time with, and what better way to do it than inflatable kayaks?

Here's my collection:

1. Red Star Pathfinder II tandem kayak
2. Red Star Pathfinder II tandem kayak
3. Red Star Pathfinder I solo kayak
4. Sea Eagle 330 tandem kayak
5. Stearns IK-95 solo kayak
6. Stearns IK-95 solo kayak

If you count all the seats, you will see that these kayaks can fit a total of 9 people. There is a reason why I own so many kayaks. I found that kayaking is a new sport for most people. My wife, kids and I always enjoy kayaking with other families. Renting a kayak costs $20 - $40 per hour. Considering that a Pathfinder II tandem kayak costs around $300, it is well worth buying instead of renting, even if it means having extra kayaks for guest families!!

In this blog, I will eventually review all of the kayaks I own, and compare them against each other. I will also chronicle the struggles I had with finding the exactly right equipment such as electric pumps, paddles, and waterproof camera cases (yes, waterproof camera case!!). Instead of doing a chronological description of what happened, because of laziness I will just describe what I am going through currently, and have flashbacks of earlier experiences, kind of like the TV show "Lost". I have always told my wife that I was lost watching "Lost", and that's why I don't watch it anymore. I hope it doesn't happen to you, but the beauty of a blog is that you can pick and choose what you want to read at any time.

Kevin T
Inflatable Kayak Report