Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Kayak Safety Gear or not ?

As one of the owners of Clavey, this story is not easy to tell, but alas...Last winter I had an unusual experience I thought I would share with the rest of you in the hopes that none of you will repeat it.  It was a beautiful winter morning and I decided to head out at about 5:30am to check the surf at one of my favorite breaks in the Point Reyes National Seashore. I loaded my boards and wetsuit in the van and, as an afterthought (because I had a new Necky Chatham 16 Carbon kayak on top of the car anyway) I threw in SOME – but not all – of my kayaking gear. I got to the parking lot and was greeted with a wonderful sunrise but minimal surf. I sat there drinking my coffee and petting the dog and then decided, because of the lack of surf, to take the new kayak out for a spin. I put on my Mysterioso tops and bottoms, a pair of Soft Seat Guide shorts, my PacLite Pullover, a MsFit Tour lifejacket, grabbed my favorite Werner Kalliste paddle and hauled my kayak down to the shore (what am I missing??). I slipped into the kayak, put on my neoprene skirt and headed out into the 2’-3’ shore beak.

Once past the breakers I began paddling the 1.5 miles down to the mouth of my favorite estero just to see how the sandbars were setting up for the winter. The paddle down was calm with a nice tailwind (air temperatures in the 50’s and water temp about 52°). I was paddling with a right-handed feather because that was what the paddle was set at and, while I can paddle comfortably with a left or right feather, my “bomb proof roll” is only good with a left feather. To tell you the truth I did not even notice I was paddling with a right feather. When I got to the estero mouth there were some fun little waves breaking about a quarter mile offshore. I paddle over to the south side to check it out and then headed back to north side where I had seen the waves.

As I began heading back I decided on a whim to see how the Chatham surfed. I caught one wave, had a nice ride and then decided to catch one more. On the next wave I got caught sideways and upon trying to exit the whitewater I rolled the boat. No big deal, I’ve gone over plenty of times. I set up to roll and failed. I tried again and again to no avail. I could not figure out what was wrong and I finally had to exit the boat. Now is where the real fun began.

I surfaced, grabbed boat and paddle, and looked for my safety gear (paddle float and bilge pump) that, I quickly realized, was not there. So there I was with no wetsuit and no paddle float in breaking waves quite a ways from shore. I was surrounded by harbor seals and their pups and could not help but think about the great white sharks that frequent the area this time of year. I tried a number of times to get back in the boat by balancing my body on top and slipping my legs in but the swell kept pushing me over. At this point I was getting a bit chilly and started to imagine my obituary in the local paper “kayak store owner drowns in home waters because he did not have the brains to carry the right gear that he pushes on people very day” I made the decision to get to shore, got on top of the kayak like a surfboard, and paddled like hell towards dry land. It took me about 15 minuets to get to the beach.

Once at the beach I felt quite relieved and surveyed my situation. My Mysterioso had done a pretty good job of keeping me warm for a while but by this point I was COLD. I ran around on the sand or - as people who know me and my crooked chicken legs will tell you more liked hopped around - until I was a bit warmer and got some blood flowing. I then dumped the water out of my boat and got back in for the paddle back to the car. As I paddled back I kept trying to figure out why I could not roll and then (LIGHT BULB!) made the connection between the blade feather and my diving paddle when attempting to roll. I changed the feather on the paddle and, before I paddled into the beach through the waves, made myself do a couple of practice rolls just to make sure I had not forgotten the move.

When I finally got back to the car, changed into dry clothes, and got the heater going full blast I looked at the dog and the still empty parking lot and thought that it could have been a long day for my loyal friend.

I was lucky. I have spent most of my life in and around water and I still had made some very basic, life threatening, mistakes. Perhaps it was the comfort level I had that led me to this lapse in judgment or maybe it was just plain forgetfulness. The good thing is that I know now that I will never paddle again without the right gear. It’s just not worth it.

Lets go over my list  of shame: paddling in remote rough water ALONE, not enough insulation (can we say wetsuit!), unfamiliar gear (wrong paddle feather, new kayak), no paddle float, no bilge pump, no backup clothing stashed in a dry bag, no food, no communication device and I did not tell anyone where I was going – can there be anything ELSE!


Basic Cold Water Kayaking Gear:

Insulation and Drysuit or Wetsuit

Paddle Jacket

Booties and Socks

Spray Skirt

Skull Cap

Paddle Float

Bilge Pump

Dry Clothes

Communication Device

Common Sense

-Tom "safety-first" Meckfessel

Monday, December 1, 2008

Rafting on the Rogue River (with a permit)

How to get your Rogue River permit (including real photos of the Klamath River).

There are few different ways to get on the wild and scenic section of the Rogue River, arguably one of the best multi day float trips in the world.  Assuming you’ve already got the boat and the gear (and if you don’t, you can get it at ), know how to row your boat and can get a permit from the BLM, well then, the number of days you can escape for is your only limiting factor. Of course, if you said no to any of the above, you should probably book your first trip with a commercial outfitter - you don’t need a boat, any experience or common sense and you’ll still have an awesome time.  

As a long standing member of team Clavey, I’ve got my choice of gear from here at HQ.  And to say Clavey has pretty good gear is like saying the President has pretty good security.   So, right around June I decided I’d grab and Avon Expedition and our Clavey Rig and start looking for a launch date on the Rogue for sometime in July.

There are four ways you can get a private boaters permit on the Rogue:  

#1 The Float Space Lottery.  The Rogue River Lottery application period begins December 1, 2008 and continues to January 31, 2009. In order for your application to be entered into the lottery you must follow all rules contained within the Application Letter.  I’ve never gone this particular route but the gist is that when (if) you win so many spots (boaters) they give you a specific launch day.  That’s your launch day.   Hope you and your friends can take the time (that specific time) off.  

#2 You can call for available spaces.  After the lottery process, there are still float spaces available. These available spaces are given away over the phone beginning the first business day in April.  They go pretty quick and they go to people who are a little more clairvoyant in their planning than I am. 

#3 Confirmation deadline.  10 days before their launch date, anyone who already has a permit has to call in and confirm their number of space.  Any spaces confirmed to be unused will go to the first callers the next business day.  This is the way I always think I’m going to get permits and never do.  I call and call and call and call and finally the phone rings and somebody answers and I ask if there might possibly be four little tiny inconspicuous openings on such and such a date and the other end of the phone will be silent for a moment as if they don’t already know the answer and had to look it up in the book.  The answer, of course, is no.  And this leads us to...

 #4 Show up anyway and hope someone who already confirmed they’ll be there was lying.  This is where I’ve had my best luck.  Show up at the BLM office on the Rogue anytime during the day or night and you can grab one of the numbered slips of paper off the little box at the door, write down your name and the number of people with you and drop it in the box and the next morning one of those fine hardworking rangers from the BLM office will call your name, tell you you’ve got a permit for all the people in your group, take your money and send you on your way to the launch.  Or one of those lazy government freeloaders with their cushy jobs and their guaranteed pensions will tell you there are no permits for you (It is of course not their fault, and you can see I don’t blame them).   And it this last example, why I have so many fun photos of the Klamath River.

After weeks of calling with no luck we decided to make the 8 hour drive north with the off chance that we could scrape four permits together at the Ranger’s office in the morning.  My girlfriend promised me she’d be ready to leave the house no later than 5pm.  That put us at 1am, 2am at the outside.  No problem. Get there drop our name in the box, get some sleep and get back to the ranger station in the morning, just in time to hear our name called and our permit issued.  Unfortunately, my girlfriend isn’t always as punctual as one might like and instead,  we managed to roll out of the driveway a little after nine.  

After eight hours of listening to Nicole snore (she does like her beauty sleep), we rolled into the Smullin Visitor Center at the Rand National Historic Site.  My high beams hit a guy getting out of his truck and walking to the box.  It was 4:53 am.   By a matter of under a minute, he and his party of four got the only four permits that would be freed up for Saturday...or Sunday.  

And thus #5.  Run the Klamath River instead.


Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Petaluma River: From the Source to the Sea

So technically the Petaluma isn’t really a river, it’s a tidal slough. And being a slough, it can’t really have a source, per se, so we actually started at the Petaluma Marina. Also, it doesn’t really flow to the sea, it flows into San Pablo Bay which, in turn, becomes San Francisco bay which, of course, eventually opens up into the Pacific Ocean. So while we maybe didn’t really paddle all the way to the sea, we did actually paddle all the way to the Black Point Marina which does actually sit at the mouth of the Petaluma River at San Pablo Bay. Probably ten to twelve miles all said and done.

Our trip began the way so many of our trips begin - with me driving back home to the house to get my bag of gear I left in the garage. So our plan to put on the water at 9am slowly became our reality of putting on around noon. Luckily the tide was on a solid ebb and the wind was at our back, but still we were on the water for almost three hours of fairly leisurely paddling downstream. The tide when we put on was probably between 3 and 4 feet so while we didn’t get the great view of getting on the water at a 6+ high tide, we didn’t get the mud flats view of the low tide either.

If you’re not into half marathon paddles, you can either, stop at Papas Taverna and take out, or start at Papas and continue. In our kayaks, which were definitely “touring” boats, the first leg of the journey took an hour and the remainder, from Papas to the mouth, close to two. You can, of course, make a round trip of any of the river but chances are, at some point, you’ll be fight the wind or the current.

Tom and Jeff took our two carbon kayaks from Necky, the Chatham 17 and the Looksha IV respectively. I took the Eddyline Fathom. All three boats, being plenty fast (and all three paddlers, being plenty lazy), we kept up with each other just fine. That being said, allow yourself more time if you’re in a more recreational or sit-on-top kayak.

If you’re looking for a fun, easy river with lots of birding that allows you to take advantage of some natural cheats (like wind and tide), we can highly recommend the Petaluma.

For more info on the Petaluma River, checkout:

As a side note, the three kayaks we used on our journey, the Carbon Chatham 17, the Carbon Looksha IV & the Eddyline Fathom are all now for sale at “wow” prices.

2008 Chatham 17 Carbon Demo $2695
2008 Looksha IV Carbon Demo $2695
2008 Eddyline Fathom Demo $2095

-Scotto Galbreath

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Avons on the Illinois River, Oregon

The first Illinois rafting trip since June launched November 15th. Flows were projected to be around 3500 CFS. Alas, the rain did not come and we ran the Illinois at an epically low flow of around 500 CFS. With little daylight and water, the going was slow. The pools between the rapids became ponds. Nevertheless, the Illinois NEVER disappoints. Besides, it's hard to complain when you come off the Illinios with a sunburned nose.

We camped out South Bend (approximately a 17-mile day) and got up real early on Sunday to reach take-out. Immediately we hit Prelude Rapid (which at this low flow had a rock sticking up in the airplane turn) and then Green Wall. The top drop at Green Wall was particularly interesting at this flow. Slot "b" was not even an option!

After running through Green Wall we continued for the next three miles with some great read-and-run water. We then hit Submarine Hole, which honestly just looked like rocks. Where'd the water go? Oh, yes, mostly into the undercut wall on the right. Thankfully, the slot on the left was just wide-enough for an Avon Adventurer (although somewhat deflated :)

Overall, another stellar Illinois trip. Participants on this trip included four guides for Idaho River Journeys, a few Portlander types, and the SOU Whitewater Club.

Here are two videos Alan Douglass was able to capture. The first is of Skip Volpert of IRJ running the 10' Avon dubbed "Rosie" through Green Wall. The second is of all three Avon rafts running / pushing through Submarine Hole. Enjoy!

Skip at Green Wall:

Avon Rafts through Submarine Hole:

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Kayaking the Caves of Mendocino

Kayaking the Caves of Mendocino

Three hours north of San Francisco is Mendocino, home to some of the coolest sea kayaking you’ve ever done.  My girlfriend Nicole and I took off for a weekend on the water early in October of 2008 and were rewarded with some of the best weather the California coast has ever seen.  

The Pacific Ocean looked like a sheet of glass as we slipped into the water at Van Damme State Park and after just a few short paddle strokes to the north, we hit the first of over a dozen caves and arches we would see that day.  After playing around in there for a little while we headed back into the sun,  rounded the corner and began a fun little run north into the “inside passage” - a fairly protected, ever narrowing channel that dead ends into a tide pool a mile and a half or so from the beach at Van Damme.

After a little lunch and a little harassing of tide pool creatures, we slipped back into the water and south to Buckhorn Cove.  Something they’re not going to run out of anytime soon, there on the Mendocino coast, is bull kelp. And once we got through all that kelp we were able to surf a neat little wave that built via the swell pushing through a tunnel at Buckhorn.   We could see some fairly cool looking arches on the south end of the cove but were too lazy to fight the kelp to take a look and headed north again to see what we could find on the way back to the car...more of the same cool caves and tunnels.

The next day only got better.  We parked the car on the north side of the bridge and carried the boats down to the quickly flowing waters of the Big River.  Paddling past some surfers taking advantage of the wave that breaks at the mouth, we made our way around the town of Mendocino and through the dozens of tiny islands that surround the Mendocino Headlands.  We were expecting a let down after yesterday but instead were met with another typical California day on the water, you know, where each day is better than the day before.  Caves and  tunnels and arches.  Oh my!  Again, we didn’t paddle all that far, probably five miles all said and done, but the adventure and beauty and fun packed into those miles were considerably greater than the last few hundred miles before it. 

The key, we found to the Caves of Mendo, was to really hug the coast.  Fifty yards out and who knows what kind of good stuff you’ll miss.  Every time there was a little cove, be it 100 yards across or only 10 yards across, we made sure to make an exploratory probe and eight times out of ten we we’re rewarded with another neat little cave, arch or tunnel.  

And remember, there’s a considerable difference in headroom between low tide and high and a lot of these caves have yet to install proper lighting and can be a little dark so be sure to bring a headlamp and a helmet.  Also, because we often banged up against walls and skootched over rocks as the swell caused the water to rise and drop, we were glad to be in a couple of plastic kayaks and not some shiny glass yaks.

For a great guidebook on this and other classic paddle trips check out: Guide to Sea Kayaking Central & Northern California by Roger Schumann & Jan Shriner.

Posted by Scotto

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Scotto and Jeff's Excellent UK Adventure

As the US Distributor for Avon riverboats, we visit the UK factory every year, where the finest rafts in the industry are built.
Here's our week in the UK: Arrive in London at 10am local time Check in to the hotel and try to stay awake for another 12 hours, utilizing the patented Clavey method of walking from pub to pub (beats jet-lag every time). Unable to stay awake any longer, we crash had no later than 9pm and expect to sleep through the night. Wake up around 3am and mumble obscenities until coffee is finally available.

Around 11 am on our second day Mark Hart, our Avon rep, picks us up. We then drive for four hours to the Welsh city by the sea, Llanelli, stopping only once for bad coffee and stale pasties. By late afternoon we arrive at the Stradey Park Hotel, which both Jeff and I can can give the big two thumbs up. After taking a brief stroll about the town we meet back at the Stradey for dinner with Mark and Huw Griffiths, the managing director of Avon Inflatables. Huw will inevitably ask the waitress the same question he asks before each dinner we've ever had with him, "What kind of meat pies do you have?" Having then stayed awake until ten, we expect a complete and full nights sleep.

Day three. Wake up at 4am. Mumble obscenities. Wait for breakfast. Regret trying the off-colored sausage. Drink about 18 cups of coffee waiting for Jeff to wake up (bastard). Then, late morning, we head over to the Avon factory for some negotiations based on the exchange rates of the dollar , the British pound and the Euro. When you're talking money with the Welsh, sometimes temperatures can start to rise and words can start to get a little loud. When this happens Jeff and I fall back on our tried and true fail safe strategy - badmouth the French. This always brings the Avon guys back to the table with a new affinity toward us regardless of pricing.

Once we get the meetings out of the way, we take our annual tour of the Avon factory to see all of our boats that are being built as well as all the cool boats being built for the Ministry of Defence. There's not a lot they can't build right there at the factory. The place is clean, organized and efficient. And even though there's a fair amount of solvents and glue used in assembling inflatables, not a whiff of fumes anywhere in the building. I'm not real good at judging the size of things, but by my best guess, the Avon factory is probably about a million square feet. Maybe more. After our tear-filled goodbyes and promises to write, we get back in the car for the four hour drive back to Londontown, Once back at the hotel, we throw our bags back into our rooms and head out for a Clavey Pub, Curry, and Crawl. Sleep through the night (finally). 

Day Four is filled with free museums and expensive gifts for the family. It doesn't really matter what you buy, when the value of the dollar is half the value of the pound, all gifts are expensive. After the culture and the cavalcade of gifts, we head back to the pubs for a healthy meal and a beer. Maybe two. Three beers at the most, I swear (ask Scotto about the cider too). Mmmm...sleep.

Five in-flight movies and ten hours later we're back in California...totally unable to sleep.

Here's some fun facts about the Avon factory in Wales:
  • Avon is on of the largest employers in the town of Llanelli (which God only knows how, is pronounced Klen-etyl-ee).
  • Avon builds whitewater rafts alongside all the boats they build for the Navy, Coast Guard, Marines and Special Forces.
  • All negotiations and meetings come to a screeching halt at 10:30 sharp for morning tea time.
  • The local beer is Double Dragon "The National Ale of Wales" and is the best way to wash down a Welsh meat pie.
  • Avon has the single best ventilation system of any boat factory in the world.
  • The average Avon employee has been with the factory for 22 years.
  • The sun only comes out twice a year, turning Avon employees' pasty white skin to an uncomfortable burn in the time it takes them to run from their cares to the protection of the factory.
  • Sticking with the bacon and avoiding the sausage is the best move at the Hotel's breakfast bar.

To see more photos of the Avon factory, visit

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The surf is UP - What to do with it?

Rain, rain, and rain. That's the weather forecast for much of the Pacific Northwest in the next 10 days. What's that mean for boating? Look for the Illinois River in Southern Oregon, up 3000 CFS three days ago. Check out the Smith River in Northern California, up 12,000 CFS two days ago. When it rains, the rare coastal runs are where it's at. The little-known "Lobster Creek" into the Rogue River or "10-mile Creek" into the South Fork of the Eel become top destinations. Of course, "top" does not mean popular.

In Southern Oregon, a few great little-known runs include the Applegate (tributary to the Rogue), Carberry Creek (trib to the Applegate, first raft descent last year, III-IV+), and Grave's Creek (put-in creek for the Rogue, various runs between II-V).

Moving north towards Portland, don't miss the "Miracle Mile" on the North Fork of the Middle Fork of the Willamette (it's harder to run than say ten times fast, V), the Santiam always is running due to dam releases but the extra rain pads the flow, and the Clackamas is a great fallback. Moving up the Columbia Gorge you'll hit some bizarre weather but some even crazier rivers. The White Salmon, Washougal, Wind, and Hood make some of the best whitewater around.

For Northern California, look at every tributary for the Klamath. The Scott River (IV-V) , Indian Creek (II-III (P)), Elk Creek (III-IV), Clear Creek (various sections, II-V), and the Cal-Salmon (IV+) are some great places to begin your topo investigation. Recently, the McCloud (into the Sacramento, III/IV) had releases. For a weekend adventure, pair it up with the Box Canyon of the Sacramento (class IV).

It's raining. It's boating season. Surf is UP!

Surfin' it up on the White Salmon:

Monday, October 27, 2008

Trip Report: The Orletta section of the White Salmon

This last Sunday, October 26, my brother Skip and I decided to put our new 10' Avon to the test. With no recent rain, most of the steep creek and epic raft runs of the Pacific Northwest are still dried up and waiting for the first big storm. When this is the case, the Middle White Salmon (MWS) is a great back-up run. It is fed mainly by spring water so it always has a decent flow.

A great addition to the MWS is the two-mile stretch above the typical put-in at BZ Corner. This is known as the Orletta section because access is via the hike down Orletta Creek. When there is more run-off, the Green Truss (class V / V+) offers an exhilerating run for rafts and a slightly easier put-in. For this Sunday, however, Orletta was the way to go.

It took roughly half an hour to get our boat from the road to the actual river. This was due in part to our lack of insight into the Orletta Creek drainage. In hindsight, it is heinous to carry an inflated raft down the drainage. However, we thought that to save time we would, 1) not bother to "scout out" the hike-in, and 2) carry everything down in one trip. So, we blew up the boat and threw all of our gear inside the inflated raft. Thus, we made it as heavy as possible.

Here we are going underneath the highway, not realizing what was ahead (courtesy of Ryan Morgan):

Here we are, realizing that we are boneheads for not scouting Orletta Creek (courtesy of Ryan Morgan):

After finally reaching the river, we realized that we had left our water bottles in my truck. After sweating prefusely to reach the river, this made each of us fairly disappointed in our poor planning. Nevertheless, we pushed off and headed downstream.

The Orletta stretch offers some great class IV whitewater. At this low flow, it was fairly technical but in our nimble boat we made it through everything just fine. After two quick miles of continuous whitewater, we reached BZ Falls. We scouted it briefly but the decision was easy: neither of us wanted to swim and explore the nasty-looking undercuts at the base of the falls. We ghost-boated. Skip pushed the raft off as I waited downstream. The raft had a great line, I jumped in the river, climbed inside the raft, and paddled the boat to shore.

Rosie, the Little Boat that Could, about to run her first waterfall:

Below BZ Falls is the typical MWS run. It offers mainly class II riffles with a few class IIIish drops. Until Husum Falls, which is a very clean 8' drop at the take-out. We styled it and paddled to shore where our take-out rig was.

Going over Husum Falls (courtesy of Ryan Morgan):
We had a great time paddling the White Salmon and we are looking forward to taking this boat on more of the classic runs of the Pacific Northwest.

-Will V.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Kayaking and Rafting with kids…a progression

First off, rafting. I’ll cover kayaking in the next post.
I was reading in the paper the other day what a battle it is to keep kids fit and expand their interests beyond video games and sedentary pursuits. While I can’t speak for what other parents are doing, I can relate what my family has done to keep our child engaged in healthy outdoor activities (because I’m one of the owners of a rafting and kayaking store, I’ll stick to those activities. But we are also avid hikers and bikers). We’ve discovered that starting them young (before they can walk even !) was a key. Of course there are considerations that will make it enjoyable for the young ones, i.e, plenty of snacks and appropriate clothing, games to play etc. It’s not a good idea to start out on a 20 mile paddle in rough water either. Or a multi-day rafting trip. I remember when our daughter was two and a half we thought she was ready for a 4 day Rogue river trip. In the first Class 2 riffle she got splashed and said…”I want to go home !” . My heart dropped, but it only got better after that.

Equipment keys: A good lifevest (yes, I know they will outgrow it very quickly, but you can always pass it on). I am amazed how some parents that come in the shop are reluctant to buy a comfortable and safe vest because “they just outgrow it”, yet they’ll buy the best vest for themselves and the family dog. Don’t wait until the morning of put-in to have your child wear the vest for the first time, only to have it turn into “I don’t wanna wear it!”. Avoid that battle by wearing them around the house…everyone, Mom, Dad, Siblings, the Dog. That way your child gets used to it. They associate the vest with something fun. And when they outgrow that vest, pass it on to another sibling, or friend. Or give it to a community group, or sailing club or a thrift shop. Someone else’s child will be safe on the water.

Invest in good thermal clothing, and splash gear. Admittedly, I have access to pretty good pricing for kids gear, but my daughters’ Kokatat splash jacket and pants have really made the difference. She also uses Mysterioso fleece for layering. You can use also paddling clothing for skiing, cycling etc.

What kind of trips can you start with ? Well, if you’re fortunate enough to have your own gear, there’s a variety of options for you. But I would start on something relatively easy, like a day trip with good access. You may be a solid Class 5 boater, but you’ll be amazed at how gripped you’ll get on Class 3 if your family is sitting in the boat. A day trip is good so your kids can get used to the rhythm of a river trip. A good friend of mine used to organize a get together on the Trinity river in N. California for river guides and their kids. It featured Class 2-3 water, car camping and general mayhem for kids and parents. If someone wanted to stay at camp, or make the day little shorter, it was no problem. Since then, we’ve graduated to longer trips. But the kids always look forward to seeing their river buddies every year. (drop us a line if you want the details on this run)

That’s enough for now. But I’ll be sharing more rafting stuff later. I think I’ll post some stuff on kayaking next.