serene – 1, part 27

inal entry of the Serene – 1 series. There wouldn’t be any major updates, add – ons for the kayak since most everything is completed, and I need to shift my times and efforts into some higher – priority tasks. In a sense, an important milestone has been reached, the designing, building and equipping of my newest beloved kayak. A fascinating process at the beginning of which, I didn’t even think I could make it, and I didn’t know where it would lead to, a nice useful watercraft, or… a disaster!

Serene – 1 is the best kayak of mine until now, outperforms all others in term of performance, lightweight and agile, pretty much fast, with some sacrifice in primary stability. Yet, it is not without some weak points that could be further improved, and that would be the concerns of my next boat project (still have no plan for that at the moment). I’d tried to get out with the best design, the best building as I could, learning lots of new things about a hull’s hydrostatics and hydrodynamics along the way.

But let me make a clear point about this, even the best cruising hull, the best equipments won’t improve your mileage by 15 ~ 20 percent, for a whole – day paddling. After all, it’s you, your horse – power output, your determination and physical endurance, which are the factors that could make a key difference. To be honest, sometimes, I have a strange self – satirising feeling that I’m quite like Popeye, the Sailor man cartoon character, especially before embarking on some longer journey! 😀

Serene – 1, part 1
Serene – 1, part 2
Serene – 1, part 3
Serene – 1, part 4

Where to go from here, now!? I have so many ideas on boat and boat – building, so much that I fear that I wouldn’t have enough time to carry them out all. But sometimes, I should be pleased with what I’m having, me, a nice little boat, and the immense water space to indulge myself in!

Time on water is the time well spent 😀, constant hard struggles, always keep a cautious eye on wave, wind and weather, be prepared for bad things, and reserve the other eye to enjoy the many different shades, different faces of the water. That’s truly serene for my mind then!

serene – 1, part 26

ontrary to my initial thinkings, the second Greenland paddle has proved to be the most satisfactory among mines. Despite its short length (190 cm), I’ve found it the best balance between length, blades’ width, weight and force. And that’s explainable, cause I have small arms and quite a short arm span, in body building, could be called a “bottom – heavy” type, my upper part is not too strongly built, unlike the lower part. And that has some advantages as well as some disadvantages in kayak paddling.

I could often balance the boat better in shaking situations, compared to the “top – heavy” type, but also, I usually find myself understrength when prolonged heavy paddling is required. Overall, I’m very pleased with my new pair of Greenland paddles, especially the second one. And that’s an attractive appearance, my boat with the two paddles, all of one same nice wooden style! 😀 On my paddling route, I usually meet and have some talks with the captain of a 2000 – ton dry – cargo vessel named UT Glory.

He proposed buying my kayak, and before I could make a polite refusal, he insisted: you know, price is not the problem! 😀. Well, at least someone who really want to have a nice little boat like her that much! It takes some moments choosing the right words to answer him, that I won’t gonna sell her, Serene – 1, my self – designed, self – built boat! And for sure, he wouldn’t be able to find anyone who could produce just a simple, hand – crafted kayak in Vietnam though, as far as I know.

Serene – 1, part 1
Serene – 1, part 2
Serene – 1, part 3
Serene – 1, part 4

Apart from some plastic, fiberglass kayaks used for “tourist attraction”, kayaking as a real hobby in Vietnam is virtually non – existent. That explains why the kayak – building, kayak market in VN is virtually zero, though designing, building one is not any big thing, I would say. Why so!?

Frankly speaking, I think VNese is busy drinking and talking bullshit! Seriously speaking, I think VNese has salt in their mouths, but no salt in their blood! Truly speaking, I won’t hope they would do anything besides trying to cheat someone for some dirty purposes! That’s all facts!

tôi thấy kayak vàng trên cỏ xanh

hơ, nhạc Việt Nam luôn “ngập tràn tình yêu bao la” với sông nước, với biển cả: tôi yêu biển và tôi yêu em, anh không xứng làm biển xanh, nhưng anh muốn em làm bờ cát trắng, ngày mai em đi, biển nhớ tên em gọi về, ôi, chẳng có dòng sông mặt biển nào ngăn cách, mà sao, có người từ lâu nhớ thương biển, ngày xưa biển xanh không như bây giờ blablabla…. nếu mà ngồi kể đến sang năm cũng chưa hết. Ngạn ngữ phương Tây có câu: đừng tin thằng thợ hớt tóc hói đầu! 😀

serene – 1, part 23

he spray skirt works very well as anticipated: tight fit with the boat and my body, easy to snap onto the cockpit coaming, flexible enough for some torso rotation and other paddling movements. The velcro stickers seal the water well, and two pockets could hold the camera, and some other miscellaneous things. At least, it’s much better than my previously – bought skirt, which is of quite an amateurish design. Next is the important job of building a wooden Greenland paddle.

The rationale of a Greenland paddle, as I understand, is that: the smaller blades put less strain onto your arms (while propelling the boat at a slightly slower speed compared to the larger wing paddle), and at the end of a long paddling day, you would end up covering almost the same distance, with less fatigue sustained, and this is specially true for lighter boats like Serene – 1. At least that’s my theory, and let see how this would turn out in practice. Well, to really know, you need to build one and test.

I start by jointing thin (1.5 cm) strips of wood to form the paddle, which would have the length of 210 cm, 75 cm for each blade and 60 cm for the loom. I choose to joint wood instead of starting from a single big piece, (it depends on the specific situation), but sometimes, glued wood is stronger, consider the strength of epoxy. The blade would be 8.5 cm wide, and the loom would be slightly oval in cross section: 3.3 x 2.8 cm. Next comes the job of meticulously carving down to the final desired shape.

Serene – 1, part 1
Serene – 1, part 2
Serene – 1, part 3
Serene – 1, part 4

The Bosch machine planer is very useful, most jobs could be done handily with it, I only need to use the hand planer on the edges. Much wood is removed, the paddle is quite light now. For a paddle, weight and balance is important, I check the object balance from time to time while working.

The plastic – blades, aluminum shaft paddle I’ve been using for a long time is kind of… a toy paddle 😀, it’s very fragile, I’ve always been worrying about breaking it in some power actions. But it is super super light. Need to finish and see how this Greenland paddle would prove himself in practice!


hi chiều dần nhẹ buông, nước triều lên mênh mông lai láng, dòng sông trở nên rộng mở, bỏ lại thành phố với bao nhộn nhịp, nhố nhăng, nhảm nhí etc… sau lưng, ta đi chèo thuyền, vừa đi vừa hát: Chiều buông trên dòng sông Cửu Long, như một cơn ước mong, ơi chiều! Về đâu, ơi hàng cây gỗ rong, nghiêng mình trên sóng sông, yểu điệu…

Cái cảm xúc hoành tráng, trang trọng như trong bài nhạc ấy, không hẳn là dành riêng cho dòng sông, như một sự ẩn dụ, cái rộng lớn, tuôn chảy của dòng sông cũng như cuộc đời. Một dòng sông, dù lớn hay bé, chưa bao giờ là đủ rộng với tôi, nhưng phải đối diện với không một chút ngập ngừng sợ hãi, thì mới có thể hiểu được muôn ngàn sắc thái của nó.

Lúc êm đềm lăn tăn gợn sóng, lúc giận dỗi thét gào, bạn nghĩ bạn đã hiểu về dòng sông!? Biết là một chuyện, hiểu là một chuyện khác, nhưng cả hai vẫn chưa phải là bắt đầu. Cái hành trình cuộc sống không phải chỉ là chuyện biết hay hiểu (như thế thì Google có thể hiểu biết nhiều hơn tất cả chúng ta), là một quá trình self – actualization gian khó!

serene – 1, part 21

t’s good to see every parts of the boat work as intended. The hatches are completely watertight. When I left the hull out under afternoon sunlight for an hour for it to dry, the air inside warms up and expands, when I open the hatches, I can hear the sound of escaping air. That confirms not only the hatches, but the whole hull is airtight, and so they are obviously watertight. Then carrying gears inside could be housed with minimum protection against water (e.g: some normal plastic bags).

For the last two weeks, I only tested the boat on flat water, small river branches which are calm most of the time. Next would be some longer and rougher paddling. Been too busy lately and couldn’t keep up the planned pace of at least 40 km per week, and so my endurance has been falling drastically 😢! Also, I’m quite lazy at video shooting and editing, after all, you can’t make it as good as a professional cameraman, and upto one point, you don’t see a necessity for much showing off any more.

Sometimes, I wish I could just put everything aside, pick up the paddle and go, go light and go now! Nothing comparable to the paddling experiences, you and only you in the wild, and you don’t have to depend much on those delicate electronics to have a joyful journey, they’re just some more burdens. So maybe I my next trip, I would just leave the GoPro at home, a single small still – camera is stilled needed though. 4th image below: can only be happy when in open air and on bobbing water! 😀

Serene – 1, part 1
Serene – 1, part 2
Serene – 1, part 3
Serene – 1, part 4

With that “go light” determination in mind, all next fittings, equipments for the kayak would be kept to the minimum and simplest possible. The boat is now lightweight enough, I don’t need to carry the kayak cart along my trips anymore. If required, I would just port the boat on my back.

There’ll be no seat, just a small block of foam used as the back rest. Also no signal pole, just some head – mounted lights I guess. No marine compass fit on deck as originally planned, I would just use the Garmin instead (plus a tiny hand – held magnetic compass as backup).

đồng hoà, june 2015

Mắt được thấy dòng sông ra gặp bể,
Ta, với mẻ thép gang đầu, là lứa trẻ sinh đôi!

omeone eventually turns on the tap, and the rainy season is officially here, it comes so late this year. I haven’t had the best physical preparation, been quite busy for the last couple of weeks, but can’t wait anymore to start the long – planned trip. Saying to myself: just do it, go out there, play it “safe and sane”, and for fun, for whatever the nature might throw at you. I started my trip to Đồng Hoà, the small town – let opposite of Vũng Tàu on the other side of Gành Rái bay, 4:30 AM, June 16th.

The lunar phase is Waxing Crescent (unlike last year, it was Full Moon), tidal coefficient is in [80 ~ 90] range, a high value (not extremely high), but I don’t really care about them anymore. The general plan is going through Lòng Tàu river to Gành Rái bay (40 km) then 20 km on sea to reach Đồng Hoà. The next day would cross Đồng Tranh bay, then make it through Soài Rạp river back to Sài Gòn (55 km). The area is a complex joinery of many rivers, in essence, going around the Cần Giờ mangrove biosphere reserve.


Leg 1

The trip starts smoothly as I expected, speed increases gradually as the tide was coming to help: 6.5, 7.0… 9, 9.5… 11, 11.5, 12… top at 13 kmph, that’s really good. The tide is not as strong as last year, but my HW – 3 kayak goes faster. The Lòng Tàu river is narrow and deep, fast running water with some large, dangerous – looking whirlpools, but that’s all. I finish the first 20 km one hour sooner compared to last trip, which is quite obvious since I paddle now a better kayak, not a 14 footer anymore.

The next leg completed at 9:30 AM, that’s superb! I stop at the river mouth, having a break and lunch for 1 hour, before continue on. The hydrofoils run this route every 45 minutes or so. It’s so fun (and thrilling) to watch it coming straight on you, looking from the head, with those “legs” lifting the whole body above the water, exactly like a giant spider. Dangerous spiders indeed, have been causing numerous accidents, fortunately, those Soviet – made machines can be heard many kilometers away.

Leg 2

The next 10 kilometers goes on as smooth, it’s very pleasing to roam the immense, peaceful water space of the estuary. I was thinking I could finish the day within 10 hours of paddling, but life turned out to be not that easy. As soon as I round the Cần Thạnh horn, wind and wave gradually pick up, they get stronger and stronger, and they came straight from where I was going to. I knew that the weather wouldn’t be good these days, but I just didn’t think my next couple of hours to be that hard.

Waves soon reach 4 feet high, and even more, luckily, the wave lengths are still a bit long, they are not too steep. A perfectly – fun environment to play against the waves and winds, as I could rarely be in the same situation again, to horn my “acrobatic skills” with a kayak. I was quite tired already, but still eager to take the chance to enroll in that “advanced kayaking course” 😀. The sky was divided into two halves, one white and and black, from Đồng Hoà direction, a tropical gale was coming.

Leg 3

The last 3 kilometers, I was in the gale, the wind gusts were so terrible that I couldn’t even hold the paddle upright, making advance was really really hard. But I had nothing to fear: I’m quite closed to my target already, the lowering tide seems to make the distance looks further, but actually the water is shallow, less than 2 meters, I could easily beach the kayak at any moment if something goes wrong. I reached Phương Nam Pearl resort at 4:30 PM after 12 hours of paddling, exhausted!

It took 7 hours to complete the first 50, and it took 5 hours to complete the last 10 kilometers! I spent some last daylight hours to wander the beach, the lowered tide left millions of small fishes imprisoned in those water ponds, jumping and sparkling like silver. And the sea birds were gathering for their ‘clamorous’ party, in the mist of heavy rain and strong wind. The resort offered me a 70% discount since it was not weekend, and I need some comforts to recover in preparation for my next day!

Day 2

Leg 4

I begin the next morning slowly with breakfast and coffee, thinking that I could finish the 55km return trip in about 12 hours. It turned out that I’m completely and severely wrong. Departed at 8:30 AM, 10 km across Đồng Tranh bay into the Soài Rạp river mouth, there were some waves, but nothing particularly difficult. I’d thought that it should be calmer on the river, but Soài Rạp is completely different (compared to Lòng Tàu river), it’s just so wide, and the weather deteriorates toward the afternoon.

The next 20 km up the river, I found myself playing the “acrobatic game” again! Waves were large, even larger than yesterday, surely wouldn’t give you a safe feeling at all. And the winds signal that another gale could come at any moment. When it did come at 1 PM, I made a quick decision to immediately take shelter in the mangrove forest, white breaking – waves were all across the river, and I can’t risk wasting my strength since I still have 30 kilometers ahead of me to complete.

Leg 5

It was where the Vàm Cỏ branch joining the Soài Rạp river, turbulences, and the gale was so brutal, I had to wait 1.5 hours before being able to go on. 6 PM, passed Vàm Sát branch, paused for dinner (sliced bread with canned tuna, some bananas). 7 PM, passed Hiệp Phước ferry, it was dark already, and it’s not immediately obvious for me to recognize that my speed stalled significantly. A quick check on the Garmin shows that, even though I was paddling hard, my real speed was under 1.5 kmph.

That means there’s a 5.5+ current here! I’ve never seen such a powerful opposite current! The Garmin map shows a very sharp S – shape river turning, which explains the strong current, and the tide was at its extreme too! I felt very… despondent, only 15 kilometers from my destination, but that would mean many more hours of paddling. I had to continue on anyhow, some desperate paddling struggles, my shoulder was in great pain, and my arms swell up like two bunches of bananas.

Leg 6

The last several kilometers were very painful, I have to stop for a break often, very inconvenient to navigate in the dark along the Hiệp Phước port area, where there’re many freighters traffic. I reached home haft past midnight, after 16 hours of paddling, not exhaustion, but a ‘worn – out’ condition to be correct. But never have I had the idea of giving up, on the other hand, I was feeling very very pleased as I’d completed what’s settled to be done at the beginning of the journey.

The Garmin – recorded route viewed on Google Earth, first 6 images: the 6 legs of the trip, last 2 images: day 1 & 2 of the trip, the 6th image: the route terminated some kms from my home cause the Garmin battery ran out, I had a pair of backup, but too tired to replace then. Thanks to the Garmin, navigating is easy and convenient. But don’t forget the paper maps, I always check the routes on papers, note down the distances, headings, tide table etc… learn them by heart before any trip.

The rainy season has just come back, at its full throttle these days. It rains cat and dog every afternoon, and there’re gales a few times in a day. Those gales usually won’t last very long, but could be very dangerous since the wind gusts could momentarily reach 7, 8 or more on the Beaufort scale. Just three days ago, a large fishing boat capsized with 37 people on board, right on this Soài Rạp river during a gale, resulting in 2 deaths. So, I proceed my trip with lots of cautiousness.

But after a gale, it’s always very calm, the water looks tranquil as if nothing has happened. And so is my mood, a kind of internal serenity for my mind that I surely wouldn’t trade anything for it. Now sitting here writing these lines, but all I would like to say is that: there’s no wifi on water whatsoever, but I’m sure you would find a better connection there!, not just a disconnection to the madnesses of modern society, but a true connection to the nature, to your inner self…

You may have noticed from the pictures that I had a life vest on the back of my kayak, but in the gale at the end of the first day, it was blown away, and I continue the rest of the trip without a PFD (Personal Floating Device). During the gale, it is very hard to make a steady picture shot, and something went wrong with my GoPro (it shoots still images instead of videos), and I couldn’t have just a second to fix it, was worrying about a potential capsize, so I missed many of the interesting moments.

The GoPro 3 has some drawbacks, it couldn’t produce fine image quality in lower – lighting conditions, such in a gale, and when water dust has covered all over its glass box, the resulted video is very blurry and obscured. But I don’t really mind, those fascinating moments were in my memory already, like having a higher adrenaline level in your blood, those playful hours facing the big waves, trying to keep your boat balanced, and make advances, meter after meter, to your destination.

This is only my first longer trip, 2 days of hard paddling, 12 hours for the first day, and 16 hours for the second, 115 kilometers in total. Nothing comparable to the feeling, you and yourself, the long road ahead, and a commitement to complete it no matter what. This is the first time I tasted the real hardship that nature could throw at me, gales and waves, strong current… unlike my last year’s trip to Vũng Tàu, in which I was just lucky to have it done smoothly within 12 hours with good weather.

There’re lots of things learned from this trip: some improvements to be made in kayak building, some more adjustments for equipments, gears, preparation for food and drink… the experiences and skills to handle rough conditions… and above all, the understanding you achieve, not only on wind, wave, current, navigation… but on yourself. That’s all about the purposes of longer journeys, you don’t win the mileage, you don’t win the nature (gales or current), you just try to… win yourself!

Đồng Hoà and its nearby sister town Cần Thạnh are both very small but peaceful towns, unlike the much bigger Vũng Tàu city on the other side of they bay. Small communities living on fishing and planting (mango), and tourism. I usually go there on motorbike, for one single day, every few months or so, just to stand by the shores and watching, listening to the sea. Out there, the great blue sphere of ocean, white breaking waves, my “playground” for many years to come!

It’s simply just pleasing to wander the shores when the tide was lowering, or to watch the sun rising with a cup of coffee. You could also go to its fishing harbour to buy some sea foods, or visit the “commune house”, a small local “museum”, which preserves a large whale’s skeleton, and exhibits some models of fishing sail boats that were used by the local inhabitants (images below). Pieces of tradition and history could still be found here and there along this narrow but lovely strip of land.

⓵⏎ Một câu thơ cũ (Chế Lan Viên) với phép ẩn dụ có phần lạc hậu. Mắt được thấy dòng sông ra gặp bể: ý nói mở rộng tầm mắt và tâm hồn để thấy những điều rộng lớn, thực ra có nhiều thứ còn rộng lớn hơn nơi dòng sông gặp bể, tuy nhiên cũng đã là một trời khác biệt so với những kiểu “lòng người như cống rãnh” của thời bây giờ. Ta với mẻ thép gang đầu là đứa trẻ sinh đôi: ý nói sự cứng rắn, mạnh mẽ của con người cũng như gang thép, thật ra như tôi thấy, ý chí con người còn ngàn lần cứng hơn.