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September 27, 2012 / ji11

Valley Gemini ST

The new Valley Gemini twins are just starting to hit dealers, and I happened to have lucked into custom ordering one early enough that it’s arrived, possibly as the first one on the west coast.

Mine was ordered with custom colors.  I am unsure what colors will be readily available, though likely standard Valley offerings.

At the time of this post, there is still nothing on the Valley page about the Gemini SP and ST.  There are slowly, an increasing number of reviews out there on these kayaks, but still not a lot of detail that I know I was looking for, so I’m writing this in an effort to fill the gap. This is not meant as a performance review.  It’s an attempt at getting more specs out there for those wanting more information about this kayak.

First, lets talk weight. Early reports from Valley boasted these boats to come in at a slim 37.5 lbs.  We didn’t get an exact weight, as balancing a kayak on a scale is challenging, but the numbers we got were 42-43lbs, including the pod and hatch covers.

What I did learn from the dealer where I got mine, is that Valley weights do not include the hatch covers or pod, so we removed these and weighed them separately.  These came in as 4lbs 1.5 ounces on their own. All in all, it’s pretty close if not on the mark.

The length is 14′ 10 as advertised, and that may be one of the few measurements currently available.
The Cockpit is 34″ long, measuring from the outside of the combing, with a width of 19″.  The combing is roughly 2″ wide, if you want a rough estimate of the inner dimensions.  I’m using a Snap Dragon skirt, size Large.

The front hatch is round, with an approx 9.5″ wide opening and the bulkhead is open to the nose.

The rear hatch is oval, and the opening measures approx 11″x 16″.  The space in the rear hatch is generous. The skeg housing shares some of the space.

The removable pod is an interesting component.  I’m on the fence about how useful it is for me that it is removable.  Time will tell.  The space is big enough for a few items to keep handy, but not large enough for a water bottle stowed away. The opening is approx 5″.

The hatch covers are snug, though the pod cover didn’t feel as snug as the others.  The seal looks and feels like it’d be secure, but I have yet to put them to the test.

Behind the seat there are two loops where you can attach items, and on the deck behind the seat is a place to attach a cable lock.

And, of course the seat

and foot pegs.  No measurements were taken here, though this is set for me at 5’5″ with a 32″ inseam. Still lots of room for taller folks.

All in all, I am happy with the fit and finish of the composite Valley Gemini ST, and I’m looking forward to getting it in the water.

March 13, 2012 / ji11

On the Border Incident

On March 10, 2012, I and 16 of my friends went to On the Border for dinner. We had attended another event earlier and called roughly 45 minutes*  prior to arriving due to the large number of people we had moving to the dinner event.

When we arrived,  we were informed by Matt that our table would be ready in 15 minutes.  15 minutes later when the bulk of our party arrived, we were told they had given our table away because they had another large party walk in and they weren’t sure that we were actually going to show up.

We found this very odd considering different members of our party received different information.  Regardless, we gave the staff the benefit of the doubt we waited for a table.  At one point we saw a large group of people leave, and asked the hostess where they were coming from.  She advised there was a party room in back that had just vacated.  We asked if we could have that room just so we could sit and order, and we told the hostess even if we had to share a server, we’d be patient with the arrangement.  We were told we could not have that room.

After waiting an additional hour we noticed they sat two large groups that had arrived after us, one being a  group of ten that didn’t have reservations.  At no point were we asked if we minded being split up in order to be accommodated.

At this point we asked to speak to the manager. We were handed a card with the name Wendy Williams on it, and were told that she wasn’t there and she would be in the next day. A member of our party, Eric, told the woman at the hostess stand that wasn’t acceptable, and there had to be a manager on the premises. She said she would go find out what she could do.

Other members of our party gave up on getting a table in the dining area and started grabbing any open tables in the bar area to get some of our party seated.  We had people who were really needing to not only sit, but to eat something.  We’d been waiting at this point quite awhile.  Our party ended up sporadically throughout the bar area.

Though we self seated, we were still awaiting the arrival of a manager. Ten to fifteen minutes later a guy named Dale walks up to Eric and asked if he was the person who asked to speak to the manager. He told him yes and he explained that he was the restaurant manager.

Eric immediately asked who Wendy Williams was then and he replied, “She no longer
works here, I’m the manager”.  Eric explained that we have now been waiting the 45 minutes (pre reservation time) and then another hour and fifteen minutes. So two hours into the ordeal we still had not been seated.  His response was “I’m working on it”.  Eric advised that he didn’t really feel as though they were doing so.    Dale replied,  “As you can see, you people are not the only ones here and I have other guest to attend to”.  At that point two other people from the party had to step in because Eric was visibly offended by Dales lack of tact.  One of our party members  told Dale he really needed to fix the problem and the other said to Dale that he felt like he just didn’t care. At this point Dale turned and left without an apology or anything.  He just turned and walked away.

Members of our group had started ordering their food, unaware of this exchange.  Had I myself known how the evening was going to wrap up, I’d have never stayed.  We stayed mainly because we had people in our group that had waited so long for a seat, and to order, that they just needed food.  Going elsewhere at that point would have reset the clock on waiting.

We found places to squeeze here and there and finished our dinning experience.  For what is it worth, our actual server, Casey, provided good service despite the inability of the rest of the staff and management to do so.

As we were finishing our meal, another woman approached our table and stated that her name was Candace, she was the manager and she finally got a table for us.  We asked her who Wendy was and she replied that sometimes the staff calls her Wendy,  or Candy.   This was really hard to believe, so   Eric pulled the original business card of Wendy from his wallet and showed it to her.  He asked “is this you?”  to which she said no.  I asked if Wendy Williams still worked there, and she said yes, that Wendy had been there that morning (contrary to Dale’s assertion said she no longer worked there). All the lies between the management just floored everyone in the party.

We finished our dinners said our good byes to each other and started for the door.  As we approached the door one of the guys at the host stand who previously identified himself as Matt loudly said Faggots to us as we walked by.   Eric immediately turned around went up to him and asked his name and he said, “Matt”.    Eric told him that he would be calling the corporate office and Matt replied  “Fuck You”.

To put this in some perspective, our group was comprised entirely of  professionals, both men and women over the age of forty. In no way did we walk in causing a scene or acting immature.  Within our group was  a retired Fire Chief, the V/P of Training for Comcast, an Accounting Manager for Chevron, Engineers, and the list goes on and on.  We were out having a nice evening with friends and really, until this moment, did not put all of the pieces of the evening together and see what was really happening.

What we came to realize was that this person, Matt, was the same person who gave our table away when we first arrived which, with this parting comment and unapologetic attitude put the whole experience into light for us. It was also clear that management condoned and supported Matts’ behavior, as when confronted with the situation, nothing was done.  We never did see Dale again that evening.

At this point in time, I have called On The Border Corporate offices and received two calls back.  Eric has spoken to the owner, but apparently the gentleman who called me also called Eric but refused to hear his version of the story.

I was told this event was being investigated, and ‘appropriate action’ would be taken.  I appreciate that there are HR issues involved in revealing what those actions are, but I somehow, at this point in time lack confidence that such action will occur.  Or, more accurately, I was hopeful until I heard another member of the On the Border team, this time corporate, refused to hear Eric, who was the party most directly involved.

I would suggest at this time to anyone interested gay rights, or just plain decent customer service, avoid “On the Border” restaurants at all costs.

*note that times listed are estimates.  I did not have the foresight to clock each event, but I believe this to be a roughly accurate accounting of time.

November 3, 2011 / ji11

Kayaking with Humpback Whales in Santa Cruz, An Accident Waiting to Happen?

In late October, a naturalist friend of mine asked a few friends if they wanted to kayak out to witness the unusual phenomena of humpbacks feeding close to shore in Santa Cruz Harbor.  Loving kayaking and marine wildlife, I jumped at the opportunity.

Before heading out, this small group of experienced kayakers were briefed on behaviors of birds, sea lions and fish that we should watch for in order to determine the likely location of the whales so we could keep a healthy and legal distance.  Armed with cameras, we launched from the wharf and paddled out.  On that day, there was a handful of kayaks out along with a single paddle boarder and further out there was one identifiable (to me) commercial sailboat that is regularly in the general area.  It was a beautiful late afternoon with the sun low in the sky.

Relatively calm seas made for easy paddling as we sought signs of activity.  It didn’t take long to start seeing the whales.   What an utter thrill it was to see the spouts, round outs, head rising and lunge feeding.  It was difficult to determine how many individuals there were, but I’d guess at least 3.  The paddlers out that day were communicative and cooperative, staying near each other and tapping on our boats to keep the whales aware of our location when we were not entirely sure of theirs.

It was a fascinating and educational experience to watch the birds behavior and track where we thought the humpbacks might surface next, and thrilling to witness the sea lions following behind.  I couldn’t help but notice though, how it seemed strange to be in the midst of something where we had no part beyond curiosity.

Kayaking offshore is already an activity that takes attention.  Taking pictures and video was a challenge while paddling and giving attention to other factors in the environment, so not many photos were had that day since none of us had a hands free camera.

I did stitch together a series of short clips I got and post it here

The first of the whale sightings days prior, net a great photo my friend posted online.  It received an insane number hits in the first few days it was posted on facebook.  I was lucky to be on the water days after the photo hit the internet.

Since then, I started tracking #kayaking and #whales on twitter and coupled with the video of the kayaker in Redondo Beach who witnessed Blue Whales and the activity in Santa Cruz, the internet is absolutely buzzing about whales and kayaking.  Traffic in the harbor has exploded as well.

With the economy being the way it is, one can hardly blame the Santa Cruz Tourism folks for using this opportunity to encourage people to visit.   Being an exciting thing to do and see I can also hardly blame others for wanting the experience.  I really feel very fortunate for having been there myself, before more people learned of what was happening.

Being a follower of social media, I understand the power of a message once it’s viral.  Now there is a growing concern about the safety of the whales and of the kayakers in Santa Cruz because of all the attention the close interactions with the whales has gotten.  With more and more people wanting to be on the water, the increased traffic has become problematic.  I’ve heard word of at least 2 whale/ sailboat collisions as well as first hand accounts of people witnessing kayaks and paddle boards capsize in the harbor from being so near whale activity.

Experienced kayakers have told me that despite best efforts of steering clear of the whales while viewing them, even some of the have had too close for comfort encounters.

Now,  I’ll admit that I’m one of those who saw the photo of the kayaker right near the whale and wanted to be him, but the reality of the situation sinks in when you are out on the water. While humpbacks are not hostile to humans, they are enormous creatures who could easily, albeit accidentally, kill a human.  When you’re on the water and a giant spiral of anchovies starts dancing on the water 20 feet from you, when your intent was to be much further away,  this is abundantly clear.

Photo Credit: Jenna Slovis(Image taken with a telephoto lens)

While I was initially really excited communicating what was happening in Santa Cruz via photos on Facebook, I’m now concerned after hearing stories of just how crazy things are now getting in the harbor.

Some reputable kayak outfitters are now ceasing whale seeking activity and refusing to rent boats for this purpose, and are hoping that others follow suit.   While we all love the whales, and I am sure no one means them any harm, it is possible to love them too much.  Humpbacks are designated as an endangered species and we should be giving them their space as they feed so that neither whale nor human is accidentally harmed.    It’s clear, by experience,  that in seeking out these creatures it is really very challenging to determine where they might surface and to maintain a clear distance on the water as conditions are constantly changing.

I will be thinking hard about getting back in the harbor with the whales again.   I’d love to be altruistic and say I’d refuse to ever go again, but I think that would be dishonest.   If a similar opportunity arose that I had, with few experienced kayakers, an educated naturalist, good conditions and no traffic, I might go for it,  observing from a safe and legal distance.  If the opportunity arose and it looked to me like a hazardous situation for humans or whales, I’ll choose to observe onshore.

Do go and visit Santa Cruz.  Definitely seize the opportunity to witness these giants feed along the coast while they are here.  They are close enough to shore for excellent viewing from shore, or the wharf.   Right now though, it seems a good time to back off of the water.

A lot of people, including myself  have had amazing viewing on the water and have largely avoided injury.  Kayaking off the coast is great fun and largely safe, but with so many people rushing in to see the whales, and it being so challenging to both see them and honor the 100 yard distance, the danger of injury to both whales and onlookers has become very real.  Sailboats tracking, motorboats, kayaks and SUPS all looking for whales and not being as vigilant about each other, along with whales and sea lions popping up randomly to feed is a recipe for disaster.  It would be terrible if someone was injured or worse.

October 13, 2011 / ji11

365 Project 10-13-2011

The sign said “Family Bathroom”, but I still didn’t expect this:

October 12, 2011 / ji11

365 Project 10-12-2011

Sea lions at Elkhorn Slough

October 11, 2011 / ji11

365 Project 10-11-2011

Cleaning out the garage.  I haven’t owned the car these parts belonged to for a long time now.

October 10, 2011 / ji11

365 Project 10-10-2011

First tooth gone.