Thursday, 3 November 2011

Friendly Floatees at Night Mk II

Ooooops! I kind of forgot to tell you about the latest nightcaching event in Melbourne which will be on tomorrow: Friendly Floatees at Night Mk II

Hope to see you there
Philipp


Tuesday, 4 October 2011

The Nocturnal Yak


If someone mentions the word "yak" you normally think of a large cow-like animal which can be found somewhere in the Himalayas. For some strange reason Australians seem to be a bit obsessed with these creatures but that shouldn't concern you for now. I am actually talking about a different type of yak - a kayak. Yes I know what a punt but I didn't come up with it - if you want to blame someone for that, choose covert.
Anyway. If you are just buying a yak, you have a lot of options of types, shapes, materials and prices. The local anaconda, bcf or ray's outdoors might help you with choosing one that suits you however they probably fail if you tell them you need the yak for geocaching. "Geo-what?". Exactly. How should they know if they never heard of it and this is where this little post comes in.

I think I did place one of the first if not THE first combined night-water-caches but it took me six more years to finally get a proper kayak. Now I want to share some of the experiences I made in the past months with the new toy :) I started with a little recreational kayak (Miss Piggy) which has been superseded  by a new one (Mr Kermit).

  • Sit-on-top or Sit-in
    That's the question of all questions when it comes to a yak. As the name says you are sitting on top with the first and in the yak with the latter. Both have pros and cons but in the end there is no right or wrong when it comes to the usability for geocaching. In the end you have to make your own choice.

    Sit-on (SOT):
    + easier to handle for beginners
    + unsinkable / if you capsize just flip it and you're good to go
    + easier to get back on if you fell off
    - you are exposed means warm weather use only or you have to wear a neopren
    - limited storage (except for fishing yaks)
    - higher point of gravity means less stable

    Sit-in (SINK):
    + higher storage capacity
    + protected from elements which allows cold weather use
    + better performance in choppy water because of lower centre of gravity
    + option to roll instead of falling off
    - has to be drained with a bailer if you capsize (but most of them are unsinkable as well)
    - difficult to get back in if you capsize

    Personally I prefer a sit-in kayak since I like to paddle all year around and I like putting stuff into the yak without having to worry if they can fall of the deck.

  • Type
    You got a lot of types to choose from. The last four aren't exactly kayaks but are still interesting if you have one of those anyway:

    • Recreational (both) - short and wide, very stable but slow
    • Whitewater (sit-in) - extremely small and very manoeuvrable but slow and uncomfortable
    • Ocean Kayak (sit-in) - long kayak which is around 5m and has a rudder
    • Ocean / Surf Ski (sit-on) - very long, very fast, very unstable >> you will get very wet (The difference between the ocean and the surf ski is just that the nose (bow) is a bit different)
       
    • Waveski (sit-on) - similar to a surf board but you sit on it and use a kayak paddle
    • Stand Up Paddle Board (stand-on) - bigger surf board which can be used with a special paddle
    • Canoe (sit-in ... sort of) - often designed to be used with two paddlers, bad performance in surf
    • Dinghy (sit-in ... sort of) - dead cheap, very slow, small river / lake use only

    All kayaks are purpose build but unfortunately there isn't a geoyak. The watercaches in Victoria do vary from the easy island in a pond over a paddle along a river to a paddle literally kilometres off-shore. This is what makes picking a yak for geocaching so difficult because in the end it is a compromise. If you go for a cache you don't want to spend a lot of time with setting-up the boat. Take it of the car, toss it into the water, done. On top of that the point of entry might be a bit away from the car park which means less weight is handy as well. That said basically all longer (heavy / bulky) yaks are out of the picture. Covering some distance on the other hand asks for a longer yak which makes me to recommend a recreational kayak for geocaching.

  • Material
    It's basically the choice between carbon-fibre, glas-fibre and polyethylene (PE) hulls and this one is easy: PE it is. While geocaching you well get close to get a lot of solid objects and obstacles. Your yak is in constant danger of being damaged. PE hulls will take a fair amount of hits before they have to be repaired. In the field duct-tape does the trick for a quick fix and the repair itself at home isn't hard either. Just check youtube or if you've ever fixed the base of a ski or snowboard: that's the same principle and material.

    On the other hand glass-fibre or even carbon kayaks are lighter and faster but you wont be happy with the dents and punctures. Both aren't really fixable in minutes.

  • Rudder
    A rudder has an impact on pricing and going backwards can be a bit more difficult if it's not retractable. That's about it with the things speaking against one. Longer kayaks have one anyway but especially shorter yaks do profit in terms of handling.
    But the real advantage is the ability to use a Windpaddle. If you try this with a yak without rudder, it will be a pain.

  • My Choice
    Sit-on-top or Sit-in: Sit-in >> night means cold. Cold means sit-in.
    Type: Recreational >> easy to handle and affordable
    Material: PE >> I am very experienced in fixing that from my snowboard
    Rudder: With a rudder >> keeping course in choppy conditions without it isn't much fun

    Easy handling is important for me so I did go for a Emotion Comet (Meanwhile Emotion Kayaks have released the Comet8 which is a bit better than the old one and still reasonably priced). It is short enough to fit into a SUV and small & light enough so a single person can handle it. Just recently I replaced it with a Point 65 N Martini which is a split-yak and has a rudder. You can take it into pieces so a 416cm tandem yak fits into a 463cm car. In the solo configuration you still have a rudder and a lot of storage space. 
Alright - to sum it up you don't need a fast kayak. Steady and robust wins most caches. Of course you can get yourself a long and fancy ocean kayak but keep in mind that there are these sneaky hides where a big boat is something between you and the cache.
You got yourself a kayak but what else do you need? There are a lot of accessories available but in terms of geocaching not all of them make sense. Trust me: You don't need a fishing rod holder. Just to give you an idea I marked the stuff I own in green.
  • The Essentials
    No questions: You do need a paddle and a PFD (Personal Floatation Device) / life vest. With that and the kayak you are good to go. In Australia you need to have a PFD by law - any fine exceeds the cost of them by far.

  • Additional Safety Gear
    There are a couple of things you can add to your kayak and your safety. Depending on where you are paddling, some of them are required anyway due to regulations. 
    • If you have a SINK - a bilge-pump or bailer. That's the thing to get water out of the yak. A cut-open 3L milk bottle does the trick.
    • Paddle-Float. Again this is something you'll only need if you have a SINK. It's for self-rescue in case of capsizing.
    • Paddle leash. Losing propulsion can be really annoying.
    • SPOT or PLB
    • Flares and Smoke

  • Spray Skirt
    This is another thing which you only need for a SINK. It makes paddling way more comfy since you won't get wet by the water dripping from the paddle, it's warmer and if it's choppy you won't see much water splashing into the cockpit. Of course if you have a spray-skirt you can roll your yak as well. 

  • Anchor or Leash
    I must admit that I can't think of many caches where an anchor would be handy but a leash is definitely a must-have. Every now and then you are forced to leave your kayak behind and then you don't want or can't pull it out of the water. 

  • Boat Trolley
    Normally a yak doesn't come under 20 kg which means it can be a bit of a pain to carry it all the way to the water. Most trolleys can be disassembled and put into the yak so you don't have to leave them behind or bring them back to the car.

  • Storage
    Well you are a geocacher so I don't have to tell you anything about waterproof containers. Just pick the one which is right for you to keep your keys / phone / wallet dry. I use some small peli-cases.  Make sure to fix them to the yak so they don't disappear when capsizing (trust me - it happens more often than you think).
    And yes: a cup-holder is a very handy thing for a yak :o) Fortunately my yak came with two per cockpit
    .
  • DashboardThis is something I still want to build. The idea is to have something in front of me where I can clip on my GPS, the SPOT, a pouch for the camera and something to scribble / a map. There are some you can buy off the shelve but the fun is to have something self-made. Have a look at fishing-yaks: These guys are experts for mounting all kinds of stuff to their boats.

  • Light
    Yes I didn't forget about this one :o) By law you have to have a white light if you paddle at night. After just strapping a torch to the deck, I decided that's kind of stupid because I can only be seen from the front and the life-span of the torch doesn't really extend by being splashed all the time.
    What I came up with is a simple light-pole made of PVC water pipes screwed to the kayak. You can also build something which goes into the cup-holder. Another big advantage is that you can attach a flag to it which makes you more visible in daylight as well.
In the end you don't need a fancy piece of equipment for the watercaches in Victoria. If a kayak and the usual gadgets don't get you there, you'll need some other stuff anyway like for diving or snorkelling. The most important thing is that you feel comfortable in your yak while doing other stuff e.g. playing with the GPS or taking pictures. And if it gets dark you do want to be familiar with your yak and everything in/on it. But always remember: Safety first. No cache is worth dying for.

Happy Paddling
Philipp


Links
Watercaches around Melbourne
Maritime Kayaking Safety
Windpaddle




Light Pole

Pole Base

Pole Top

Night at the beach

SPOT

Trolley



Monday, 5 September 2011

Placing a Nightcache



So what makes a good nightcache? It's not any different to a normal cache: location, location, location! It is that important that groundspeak wrote it three times in the Hiding Your First Geocache Guide. Also the guidelines emphasise that as well:

"When you go to hide a geocache, think of the reason you are bringing people to that spot. If the only reason is for the geocache, then find a better spot." – briansnat

For the purpose of this exercise I'll show what I did while placing The Black Mesa Invasion - GC2Y70N.

(1) Location Scouting
Finding a location can be very easy - or very difficult. Easy would be to just stumble upon it: You could read about it in a book or you come across it while hunting for another cache. If you look for certain features of your location it is difficult. E.g. you are searching meadows with scattered trees and a little lake ... it's not that easy and most of the times a cache has already been placed there.
I make excessive use of these three websites for scouting: Google Maps, Nearmap and Parks Victoria. If you find something which could be good, check for caches in the area first. The guys at GCA created a very good feature on their maps page: Just tick the box "Proximity" and it shows you a blue circle around every cache which has the 161m radius. If you have areas with Multi or Mysterycaches the only thing you can do is find them and use this tool. All good? On to the next point.
How did I find Blue Rock Lake? Pretty simple: I went for another cache in the area and took a little detour afterwards. Right away I knew that I so have to place a nightcache in that unreal scenery.

(2) Finding the Path
A nightcache can't be a traditional cache (well it can be in theory but that's very tricky and I haven't seen it). This means you are placing some sort of multiple stage cache and that really works good if you can match the stages to the location. By "story line" I don't mean you have to create a Pulitzer Prize book - I mean if you do that'd be even better. No, I just want to say that the stages should be in some sort of logical order. It's not really fun if you run back and forth in a suburban park where a nice round-trip would have been possible as well.
See? So far that isn't any different to placing a normal cache but now comes the twist: Before you place anything visit the area during daytime. It gives you a much better overview and feeling for the whole place. You can place a nightcache during at night but I wouldn't recommend that.
Alright: You got your location and you have a rough idea which way you want to lead the nightcachers. Let's get some material in the wood.
Since Blue Rock is a bit away from Elwood I wanted to place the cache in one day. I used whatever pictures I took from my first trip and Google Earth to determine six to eight places for a stage. I also marked some things which looked interesting and worth checking out for a stage. I decided to go for a one-way ticket because I wanted to have the cache-box in a more remote area. In the end I used only half of the points .


(3) Preparing Stage and the Box
There are not many nightcaches which work without any additional material and just have the cache-box - lighthouses or some city lights would do the trick but normally you have to install some sort of stages. If you use reflectors - here is a link how to build them. It's not exactly rocket science but it's work which is easier done at home.
Also the cache-box itself needs some preparation. A nice standard is a small ammo can, a 2L sistema box, some spray cans and a self-made stencil. Now here is a short how-to-make-you-own-stencil: Design something on a piece of paper - if you use a computer and need a font use the DIN Schablonierschrift. Take that piece of paper and laminate it. The fun part is to cut your stencil with a carpet-cutter. Yes this takes a while :o) After you have punched all the holes into it you can start to prepare everything. Spray the backside of the stencil with hairspray (DON'T spray the cachebox!) and "glue" it to the surface. This way you get a sharper edges. Now you can use the real paint and spray the stencil.
Very easy - this is how the cache-box looks like:
For the stages I used the plaque-style reflectors with pre-printed hints like "A = 25" on it (I have access to a tag-printer). This way I only had to number punch one tag in the field after measuring the coordinates for GZ:



(4) Building
You got all the reflectors or stages. You got a cache-box and you have a plan. This should be pretty straight forward, shouldn't it? Maybe. Maybe not. It could be that all goes to plan and you can place all stages and the cache at once but it doesn't have to be this way. It could be that one stage doesn't work as you planned it for whatever reason. Now it's the time to be prepared for adjustments. I suggest to have tools in you backpack which allow you to create a stage from scratch. Being familiar with your tool-box in the field is a real plus.
I had to create one tag in the field to make sense out of the prepared tag so the cachers get a set of coordinates. In order to be able to create that tag, I had to place the cache-box first. Effectively I placed the whole cache in a reverse order (Final - Stage 7 - Stage 6 - ...).

(5) Problem Solving
No matter how well you prepared in advance and how nice your cache turns out to be, there could be something which prevents it from getting published. It could be a final of a far away puzzle-cache or some local legislation you didn't know about. Keep in mind that it might take several trips to get your cache on the green side. If you don't want to do that, then don't place a cache at that location. Contacting your local reviewer in advance is always a good idea for any bigger cache project. This way you can prevent disappointments and you'll see that they are very helpful as well. To find their account just click on a cache close to you and scroll down to the publish note.
Fortunately I didn't run into a trouble with this cache but the very next Black Mesa cache had a conflict with an existing cache. There was no way to get around driving out there again and moving one stage. 

Done!
That said - this is only how I placed that cache. There are a million ways to create a good cache. If you like a certain cache and you want to place something similar, there is nothing wrong with that. E.g. it took me a long time to come up with my current reflector/tag design. It's simple and it works - why not using it for your nightcache?

Happy cache placing
Philipp

Saturday, 20 August 2011

That was quick

Here is a little update. I just published a new challenge with the words mentioned below. It got archived within 2 minutes. I must say I am quite impressed by the speed of groundspeak's censorship. Since the spam-tactics obviously don't work, I choose to be a bit more constructive. Here are the things which don't work with challenges:
  • There are no rules and guidelines which state what is acceptable as a challenge and what is not. Archiving challenges is more an arbitrary act than anything else. At least there should be a reason why this challenge got archived. The big advantage of Groundspeak over every other listing-site is the reviewing process.
  • Links don't get parsed and you can't use BB code / html.
  • Uploaded pictures can't be deleted even before you publish it.
  • Fake logs can't be deleted.
  • There is no map or listing to search for them.
  • Once you completed a challenge and it got archived, you can't delete your log anymore.
  • The challenges count as a find but they are clearly not a geocache. They shouldn't count or make it a separate statistic
  • There is no identifier who did set-up the challenge
  • There is no email notification what happened with your challenge
  • There is no opt-out option for everyone who doesn't want to participate which removes everything challenge related for the this cacher
  • ...
I will continue to publish challenges but they will be really really dumb like "find a seashell / some sand on the beach".

Friday, 19 August 2011

Vote them down - Geocaching Challenges

"That's just wrong in so many ways." This sentence was the first thing which came to my mind when I had a look at the new Geocaching Challenges. The huge difference between any geocache and these is that they weren't supposed to be reviewed. So you could basically come up with any stupid task and make it a challenge. The idea was that by a voting and flagging system the boring and dumb challenges get filtered out.

Too bad the whole concept is a flaw. Geocaching itself is defined by Groundspeak as the following:
Geocaching is a real-world, outdoor treasure hunting game using GPS-enabled devices. Participants navigate to a specific set of GPS coordinates and then attempt to find the geocache (container) hidden at that location.
That clearly doesn't work well with the non-physical nature of challenges.If geocaching is too boring for you then you might want to try waymarking or other outdoor games and sports. But let's face it - there are two reasons why this whole debacle happened. First Groundspeak didn't want to create a second waymarking which gets barely used because it is not part of geocaching.com. The only option was to implement it into the old geocaching website. And second they wanted to release it before the Geocaching Block Party which is tomorrow (20.08.2011).

Instead of releasing an elaborate concept, they made it somehow work and unleashed a beta-version which has so many programming and conceptual errors that I don't even start to name them. Right after the release a lot of old-school cachers (a cache is a box at a nice location) went berserk and raided the feedback forum like a London mob. Within minutes the suggestion to remove challenges from the site gained over 1400 votes and a very short answer from Jeremy:
It is staying on Geocaching.com. If you don't like the new activity, don't participate.
That answer didn't went down so well with the crowds and I must admit that I am one of them. I don't see the point of defacing this hobby. Maybe Garmin will use their chance and make opencaching.com work within the next few days - now is the perfect opportunity to release something which works, listens to the community and is in the spirit of the game. But again: this is probably not going to happen. Do we have to accept this stupid change?

Of course not! Here are a three things everyone (with a premium account) can do. If Groundspeak doesn't want to listen to their customers like a little prima donna we have to make them feel:
  • Change your geocaching avatar to the following pictureWith the avatar showing up before every log that will deface the site pretty fast.

  • Vote down each and every challenge you can find - just click on the thumbs down button. The idea of this feature was to filter the good from the bad challenges. If every challenge is bad the whole thing will be reduced to absurdity.

  • Create a new challenge every single day with the following text. Try to use a harmless title for the challenge so it makes it more difficult to pick (like find 5 seashells at this beach).

    Your Challenge is to Create a Challenge... one a day, every day, until Groundspeak realise how utterly ridiculous this is. No doubt this Challenge will be censored and archived quickly, so you have to act fast. You may log this from anywhere in the World at any time as there is nothing I can do to check or stop that anyway... and there in lies the heart of the issue.

    Each Challenge should contain the following text...

    "Groundspeak. This idea had so much potential and possibility, but the execution has been beyond woeful. This is not Geocaching. This is not "Go somewhere, Do something". This is rubbish. Even the old locationless had accountability, and the old virtuals were much better as they had owners and checks in place and got you out to interesting places. You need to roll back this blight and go back to the drawing board... do it properly, and re-release it when it is ready."

    I am sorry I had to resort to a Spam Attack, but as you are DELETING all negative feedback in favour of "We are right, you are Wrong" tactics I found little other option.

    Regards, a PAYING member of your community who does not want to see this game destroyed.
  • Log CX3 with a frog-eating picture. I know this is very childish behaviour ... but hey it's fun! Google might be able to help you find some.
Dear Groundspeak: Thanks but no thanks. You can have your challenges back. I don't want them.




Sunday, 17 July 2011

Pocket Query Maps

So here is a little feature which might not work for long: Displaying PQs on Geocaching Maps. If you want to have a look at your PQ as a map, just klick on the link next to the PQ. If we take the "Melbourne Watercaches" the link would be http://www.geocaching.com/map/beta/default.aspx?pqk=GzsgU6lpmUiDB0eMjjLGCg

And there starts the problem: If you click on that link, you won't see anything because it's the link for the beta maps. You'll only see this map, if you use my log-in.


That isn't really helpful if you want to share this map with a friend and besides the actual cache-type of the caches in the PQ isn't shown either. Bummer. But there is a work-around :o) The old maps are still working!
  • Go to your PQ site and copy the URL of the PQ you're after:
  • Enter "http://www.geocaching.com/map/default.aspx?guid=" into the address bar of your browser .
  • Paste the URL you just copied behind that
  • Delete the part "http://www.geocaching.com/pocket/bmquery.aspx?guid=" - effectively you just entered the guid behind the old map link.
  • In my case I ended up with http://www.geocaching.com/map/default.aspx?guid=53203b1b-69a9-4899-8307-478c8e32c60a which also works if you don't use my account :)
In my opinion the old map is way better than the new beta stuff. I did a PQ to filter caches, so I don't want to see each and every cache on the map! The old map also shows inactive caches, it shows your caches and the ones you already found and on top of it you can see the cache-type as well. The only strange thing is the blue rectangle but hey - you can't have it all.

 
Happy mapping!

Monday, 27 June 2011

RUN!

This is not about nightcaching ... but it's still important. I am going to participate at Run Melbourne and I am fundraising for Big Brothers Big Sisters. My aim is to run 10km with more or less of training (at the moment: none) and raise 1000 AUD



You can support me and donate at runmelbourne.everydayhero.com.au/philipp :o) If you donate more than 100 AUD I'll throw in a nightcaching Australia geocoin for you. Please contact me if you do so!

Now you might say "Wait a minute. What is this Big Brothers Big Sisters about?" Well that's a fair question. Why should you spend any money on a charity you don't even know about. Well here is what they are:


Big Brothers Big Sisters is a Not-For-Profit that matched adult volunteer mentors with vulnerable and disadvantaged young people. They target the children who need us most, including those living in single parent homes, growing up in poverty and coping with parental incarceration. Starting something begins with finding a great match between a Big and a Little. Making these matches, and performing all the background work involved with them, is possible because of donations from people like you. It's also why we're able to offer such a wide variety of programs that pair children, ages 6 through 18, with role models in one-to-one relationships.


If you want to know more visit www.bbbs.org.au (and no: I don't know why there is a flying milk carton on their website).

Thanks and keep the coins coming
Philipp