Thursday, January 31, 2013

BLOG 37. Best Socks in the World!

Cliff Jacobson

The Crescent Sock Company has been knitting fine socks in the sleepy little town of Niota, TN since 1902.  They are the oldest operating hosiery mill in the United States and one of the biggest sock suppliers to national chain stores.  Most people have probably worn a pair of Crescent socks at one time or other.

When Crescent discovered the growing market for high quality wool socks, they decided to get into the act. With over 100 years of sock-making experience and a mill right here in the United States, they believed that they could design and manufacture the best wool socks in the world, and sell them at a price that defied the competition.  The new socks (called FITS) were designed from scratch—engineers thinking well outside the box. 

When you first see a pair of FITS socks you may question if they’ll fit a human foot at all. They appear too small; the heel cup hangs curiously down and the ankles and center foot appear too narrow to conform to human feet.  But these socks fit “perfectly”—not too loose or too tight; they follow every curve of your foot, never compressing or wallowing in space.  They stay firmly in place no matter how you walk or run.  Unlike conventional socks, the toe pocket is turned horizontally to match your toes; there are no visible seams anywhere. The Achilles area—a serious wear point on most socks—is aggressively reinforced. 
FITS "Medium Hiker"

The company shtick reads: “They are constructed from two-ply, compact-spun, ultra-fine Merino Wool, providing the ultimate blend of softness and durability. Our F3 Technology delivers a unique form fit thanks to a deep heel pocket, specialized toe seam, and contoured leg — which keep FITS socks firmly in place. This means no more bunching, hot spots, or friction, regardless of the task at hand.”  

There are a number of different (and colorful) FITS models, each designed to fulfill a special purpose (hiking, running, casual wear etc.).  My favorites are the light and medium hiker crew socks which work for casual wear and serious hiking. I am so addicted to these socks that, for nearly a year, they have been the only socks I’ve worn.  I generally wear a pair for three or four days before I wash them. After many months, there is no visible wear; they look and feel like new; they haven’t stretched out and they continue to fit perfectly.

I just love these socks!

Cliff Jacobson 

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

BLOG 36. Bobby

BLOG 36: Bobby
Cliff Jacobson

I first heard about Bobby in 1983, while canoeing the Hood River in the (then) Northwest Territories of Canada. In those days, there was a lot of exploratory mining north of 60 (the sixtieth parallel).  Bush camps and drill rigs sprung up in every suspecting spot and there was a constant drone of float planes to service them. For years following the mining rush, there were jobs galore for anyone who could tolerate uncivilized living.
Headwaters of the Hood River.  Start of our trip
Just prior to boarding our Twin Otter for the flight to Point Lake and the start of our Hood River canoe trip, Yellowknife Base manager Bill Gawletz pointed out a small knoll on our map, just east of Takijaq Lake, which was along our route.

            "This here's "Kid Creek" Camp," he said.  "We fly in there twice a month. They've got a radio and a chopper and can get you out if you have trouble.  The guys have been holed up there for two months now, so they're probably pretty bushed. Tell 'em I said they should feed you good."

Two weeks of strenuous travel brought us to Kid Creek Camp.  Located on a high hill, the stark white canvas tents were visible two miles away. Four men waited patiently on shore, eager for the diversion of new conversation.  A  mining engineer in his fifties appeared to be in command.  Nearby, was a muscular college kid from Saskatchewan who did the heavy work, a clean-shaven helicopter pilot named Brian, and a bushy, white-haired cook.  They said that Bobby, their young Inuit maintenance man and jack-of-all-trades, was gone for the day.
Hood River. Cliff Jacobson, Sue Harings and muskox

We meandered up to the cook tent where we were treated to blueberry and pumpkin pies, fresh-baked biscuits with jam and honey, coffee, tea, hot chocolate and candy bars galore. We offered to pay but they wouldn't hear of it. What they wanted was news from the south, and for the next two hours we deluged them with it.

Ultimately, the conversation got around to Bobby who was off in the bush fixing a drill rig.  They said he was  the best mechanic in the Territories--a quiet, likeable kid who could fix anything.  "We have a lot of fun with Bobby," chimed one man. Then he told me this funny story which I've roughly quoted:

            "Bobby's never been south, not even to Yellowknife. He's never even seen a paved road or tree, except on TV.  So we got to kiddin' around with him one night--told him that in California the trees are so big you can drive a car right through 'em, and so high that we'd have to string aircraft warning lights on the branches if we flew down there. Then, with a dead straight face, Dave here says there are frogs in those trees the size of husky dogs. 'Giant tree frogs, Bobby!' We've all seen 'em. Honest!"

Bobby bought the part about the giant frogs but not the huge trees.  And here's a guy who flies around on bush planes and can take a Cat apart with a screwdriver and crescent wrench!"

            "Tell 'em about the busted Skidoo," prodded one man. The story went something like this:

Bobby had  two vacation days coming, so he decided to combine these with the weekend and drive his Skidoo 120 miles to Bathurst Inlet to see his girl friend. "Be back in time for work, Monday," he grinned, matter-of-factly.

I hail from Minnesota, snowmobile capitol of the world, and when I told this story to the Polaris crowd, they just gawked with wonder.  Seems that no one in their right mind would snowmobile 120 miles across a frozen waste land without a support party. But the idea didn't bother Bobby at all. He missed his girl friend.  And hey, If the machine broke down, he could fix it.

The men at Kid Creek camp knew Bobby carried a very complete repair kit and was highly skilled.  So they gave him their blessings and said they'd see him in four days.

 Zero eight hundred hours Monday came and went.  So did 1000, 1200 and 1500. The men were worried. It was 32 below and blowing snow.  Quizzically, they looked at one another.  Bobby  knew the route to Bathurst by heart and he could handle any mechanical problem that might come up. Besides he was born and raised on the barrens and had a wealth of Inuit skills to fall back on. "He probably stopped and built a snow hut," assuaged one man. It was already too dark to fly, so there was nothing they could do.  If Bobby didn't make it by noon the next day, they'd radio for an airplane.

Mid-morning, Bobby nonchalantly tooled in on his snowmobile, as if nothing had happened.  He had broken an axle about 40 miles from camp.  The snow was blowing pretty hard so he built a windbreak, then set up his canvas tent over the machine, intent on repairing the damage.  When he saw he couldn't fix the axle, he hack-sawed off a piece of his rifle barrel and threaded and fitted it in place.  Bobby said it only took about four hours to get the Skidoo up and running again, but the wind was blowing so hard he decided to stay till it let up.

"Hope you guys weren't too worried about me," he said, with a toothy grin.  Then he shuffled his feet and softly told them it was okay if they docked his pay.

Cliff Jacobson

Sunday, January 13, 2013

BLOG 35. WindPaddle Sail Review

BLOG 35. Wind Paddle Sail Review
Cliff Jacobson
Cliff with WindPaddle sail: Kautikeino River, Norway. 14' pakboat

If you’ve ever attached a make-shift sail to a canoe, you know the problems.  Without a secure attachment to the rails, the sail may tear, the mast may break or the surging canoe may capsize. 

The common way of rigging a field sail on a canoe is to scroll a small tarp around two paddles.  The bow person anchors the paddles against his feet and takes firm hold of the shafts, closing or opening the scrolled sail as the wind demands.  The stern person rudders to hold the course.  This works marginally well as long as the wind is from behind and not too strong. Tacking is out-of-the-question—makeshift rigs go with the flow. 

Two summers ago, Alv Elvestad, owner of Pakboats (best folding canoes on the planet, in my opinion), invited me to join him on a canoe trip in Norway.  Our plan was to paddle (in solo canoes) three whitewater rivers in Norway and Finland.  There was plenty of open water along the route so Alv decided to bring some sails for the canoes.  I was skeptical because I’d sailed canoes alone when I was a kid, but this was with a dedicated lateen rig and secured lee-boards. I couldn’t imagine how one person could sail a solo canoe without a secure rudder and cleated lines.
Choose your color: red, yellow or blue!
When we finally encountered a long stretch of open water and a nice tail wind, Alv produced four “WindPaddle” sails, one for each of our solo canoes.  There are several models; ours was the “Adventure Sail”, designed for canoes and kayaks 14-18 feet long and winds of 5-30 knots. 

PaddleSails feature a tough, spring-like batten around the perimeter that holds them in shape. Coil the batten (the technique is easy but requires practice) and the full diameter of the sail (42 inches for the Adventure model) shrinks to 15 inches, or about the size and thickness of a large Frisbee. Pull the elastic release cord and the colorful nylon sail snaps into its full size and shape. 
Yes, you can tack with these sails!

Installing the PaddleSail on a canoe is easy.  Just snap the two security lines to the gunnels or a thwart ahead of the paddler. Place the continuous sheet line (cord) behind your neck—this may be the safest plan in high winds—or clip it to your seat. The unbreakable perimeter batten maintains the circular sail shape and allows the sail to be rotated for tacking. A large plastic window in the sail center provides a view of the road ahead. You sit (on the seat or floor) and hold your paddle (rudder) with both hands. The sail takes care of itself. If the wind force becomes more than you can handle, just lean forward and allow the sail to collapse and spill the wind—the sheet line slips easily off over your head.

Unlike most “instant” canoe and kayak sails, the WindPaddle sail opens instantly (like in two seconds!) from it’s coiled/compressed on-deck location, and it folds compactly for storage just as quickly. The center of force of the sail is low, about the same level as the paddler, which makes the sail extremely stable and the ride smooth and predictable.  A simple sail height adjustment, coupled with the continuous sheet line, allows the sail to be rotated.  This permits serious tacking.
In summary: The PaddleSail is the best touring canoe sail I’ve used on a canoe. It is lighter, faster into and out of action, and it provides better control than any makeshift or production “quickie” sail I’ve used. It takes up very little space in a pack. Most important, it is extremely safe in high winds.  On our Norway trip, we sailed our solo canoes down a curvy river for about four hours in variable winds of 5-15 miles per hour.  It was easy to tack around the curves and eddies.  We grew to love the PaddleSails and couldn’t say enough good things about them.

Specifications (Adventure Model):

Touring and Expedition boats 14’ – 18’
Target wind range – 5 – 30 knots (has seen 40+ knots!)
Target paddler – intermediate to expert
Off-wind sailing envelope - +180 degrees
Sail Data: Deployed diameter - 42" (106.7 cm.),  Coiled/folded diameter - 15" (38.1 cm.),  Sail area - 9.62 sq. ft. (0.8937 sq. m²)
Weight - 13 oz. (0.37 kg.)
$169.95 USD

Check out the PaddleSail at  It is made right here in the U.S.A.

Cliff Jacobson

Thursday, January 3, 2013

BLOG 34. A PFD Rant

BLOG 34. A PFD Rant
by Cliff Jacobson

The new PFD’s are wonderful, especially if you paddle Class III water and above, jump waterfalls in your kayak or race slalom in technical rapids. For high-adrenalin activities like these you need a life vest that sticks to your body and won’t “ride up” in rapids.  But that tight, hypothermic-defying fit you cherish when canoeing big water can be hot and uncomfortable for casual cruising.  A PFD that sticks to you like glue will be hot, sweaty and confining in July heat.  What to do?

If you have a big water capable PFD, there’s not much you can do other than loosen the straps and pray a cool breeze will waft through. Or, you can buy a less exotic PFD that’s designed for quiet-water sports.  Discount stores have racks of ‘em; they’re built for anglers and casual paddlers who don’t venture into rapids. These relatively inexpensive vests are less size-specific and better ventilated than whitewater models and they’re quick and easy to put on. They will keep you head up and afloat in reasonably calm water, but they ride-up too high for reliability in rapids. And if your body doesn’t have a text-book perfect shape they may chafe your armpits or chin when you paddle.
A comfortable "quiet water" PFD.  Kopka River, Ontario

Frankly, I’m not crazy about today’s PFD’s. The top models are all designed for extreme paddling, not for the gentle kind of canoeing and kayaking most people do. They’re hot and clingy and some are a pain to put on. Three decades ago there were many wonderful PFD’s that were comfortable, cool and reliable in rapids. Names that come to mind are Harishok, Flotherchoc, Seda and Omega.  They were tubular built, that is they used accordian-like layers of thin, closed-cell foam encased in breathable nylon. The foam tubes were narrow and short, which permitted unrestricted “accordion movement” in all directions, unlike today’s “flat panel” vests which bend best at the panel stitch points. The tubular PFD’s were much cooler and more comfortable than modern flat-panel types. The narrow tubes allowed the vests to be quite thin; you felt more like you were wearing a thick sweater than a Michilen-man coat.

The tubular PFD’s of the past are long gone.  Modern vests have flat panels that limit ventilation and reluctantly follow body curves. The old tube vests had a vertical zipper in front, which could be drawn down if you got too hot. Now, there are side zips, zips that angle across the chest and models with no zippers at all.  Remember when car radios had a round knob to control volume? Handy and efficient, wasn’t it?  But then the engineers got involved and complexity set-in.  What was once a simple radio has become a multi-function touch screen that needs a manual or in-house training to decipher.  Sometimes simple things are best.  So it is with life jackets.

Cliff Jacobson