Say yes to the dress!!!

Charlotte Gannet wearing a wetsuit and having lunch.
Charlotte Gannet wearing a wetsuit and having lunch.

OMG! What am I going to wear? Most girls know this panic before going on holiday. Especially, when wearing the outfit for 5 weeks, do you go for functional or fashionable? So let me take you around my kayak wardrobe and the thoughts behind it.

Well, let me start with fashionable. Of course, we are on prime beach fronts, but the deserted island we like are inhabited by two and a half sheep. So a fancy suit is maybe not high on my priority list. I am more looking for functionality.

So do we have options? Yes of course. For the non-kayakers, some regular outdoor clothing and a pair of green English wellies might sound like a good option. However, cold water and weather combined with sea spray and incidental capsizes should be taken into consideration. So to add some safety to our endeavours, the only valid options are dry-suits or wetsuits.

The drysuits keep the water out and seem to be the more fashionable statement at the moment. This fashion comes at a cost of about 600 euro and up. A wetsuit is made from neoprene and comes at a cost of approximately 65 euro. But costs aren’t everything, there are more things to consider….

Suit comfort
A drysuit keeps me perfectly dry. Water can’t come in, and it can’t go out. Excellent in cold weather, not so nice in hot weather. Imagine a wearable sauna. Getting in and out of a drysuit is like a rebirthing experience, the narrow cuffs around the neck, wrists and ankles are really very tight.
A tight-fitting wetsuit stretches with all my movements. But it doesn’t dry very fast, on cold day’s I got to wiggle into a cold and wet suit. Luckily my body heat warms it up pretty fast.

More suit comfort
A drysuit is a nightmare if you need to pee while kayaking. The zipper sits not anatomically in the right position in the suit. A wetsuit can be altered to have a zipper on the right spot and thus making peeing easy.

Suit abuse
I can throw my wetsuit over barbwire and there won’t be any holes in it. I don’t recommend doing this with a drysuit. One hole in a drysuit and the suit has to be fixed by a specialist. I can sew my wetsuit with a sewing machine and alter the suit myself.

Suit management.
A drysuit is great, it dries very easily even when it’s a bit salty. A wetsuit doesn’t really get dry when using it on the sea. It is the salt in the water, you see, it doesn’t get dry. And there is not enough Scottish sunshine to dry the suit.

Suit safety
A drysuit is very safe, it keeps me warmer when I’m lying in the cold Atlantic for an hour. But kayaking a sport where I supposed to be in a kayak…. So it is very good against hyperthermia but not so good when overheating by kayaking in 30 degrees.
A wetsuit is sufficient when I’m planning to stay in the kayak and not too much in the water. I can make the suit wet when the weather is hot and not too wet when the weather is cold.

Charlotte Gannet jumping on Little Green holm, Orkney. Happy that she is wearing a wetsuit.
Charlotte Gannet jumping on Little Green holm, Orkney. Happy that she is wearing a wetsuit.

Suit looks
I look so much better is a slinky black wetsuit instead of a bulky loos fitting drysuit.

Charlotte Gannet

To pee or not to pee, that is the question…

Alexanders pen drawing after Rembrand's 'Man making water'
Alexanders pen drawing after Rembrand’s ‘Man making water’

Men are already ‘designed’ in a way that it is easy to make a device that lets you make water in the boat. A cheap, one euro PVC insert from your local DIY store, some old bicycle inner tube and a plastic sanitary towel bag, does the trick.

This is an image, I reproduced from an etching by Rembrandt. It’s a nice introduction to the next story. Actually, this story is not about men but about a woman making water. We perceive the British as polite, and at the same time, after crossing the Minch or any another four or five-hour crossing, they ask curiously “But what if you have to go?”. They look at Charlotte with that question because for girls it is much more difficult to pee in a kayak then for men. So for those whose imagination is triggered, this is the story.

However, for Charlotte, and for woman in general, it is a different story. Even before we went to Scotland, paddling from the Dutch Wadden back to the mainland, on a 25 km crossing we discovered that it is important that you can relief yourself while kayaking. The first step into a successful pee in the kayak for women is a suit with a zipper on the right anatomic position. Not many suits have that luxury for women, You need to be handy with a sewing machine and a zipper of around 35 cm. With the zipper installed, it was easy, the weather was absolutely calm and the water flat. We rafted the two kayaks together and Charlotte threw one leg over my kayak opened up the zipper in the suit and peed between the boats. We concluded this would not be an option in anything above a force two Beaufort.

We know a few female club members, who just drinks less and solve the problem of going by not going. But on a five-week trip, this is a dangerous and unhealthy solution.
We looked for a ready-made solution in outdoor shops, I mean, there must be more girls with this problem, right? We found the Uribag and for our first couple of years, Charlotte used this device.

The Uribag

But the uribag was not always successful, urine could escape over the rim of the device because of the sitting position.Unfortunately, the thing was a little bit big and had to be stored in the deck bag, between all the fishing gear. After using it for four years, when rounding the Mull of Oa, it slipped off the deck and disappeared into the deep. A big disappointment, not only because it littered a beach on Islay but also because the Uribag is not cheap (about €24) and we were far from any form of an outdoor shop to buy a new one. Panic, what to do now?

The only solution was for me to become the creative handyman. With an old Marmite jar found on the beach, a small plastic bag and an elastic band I crafted a replacement. The plastic jar was first modelled with a knife and later sculpted with some heat from a lighter. It was a crude device, modelled after its predecessor. Charlotte, however, was impressed and the device was more successful than the first one!

This made my engineering curiosity flame up. Back home, I decided to do some research. At first, it was not so easy, I learnt some very strange things and visited some very dodgy websites…
The solutions I found was for woman visiting festivals trying to avoid dirty toilet seats by peeing standing up and ill ladies confined to their beds. Useful, but not where I was looking for.

Then one day I spotted a glider, soaring high in the sky. I realised that the girl-pilots were spending a long time in a seated position. So I restarted the research like a true scientist and learned some new few useful things.
Broadly, the glider-girls use three systems; nappies, external funnels and internal funnels. Charlotte thought of the nappy idea; ‘Seriously, nappies? No way!!!’
That plan was dismissed immediately to be too bulky to carry around, create a lot of waste but foremost, ‘I’m not a baby/I don’t have that fetish!!’.
Our Uribag and later the Marmite Bag where the external funnel types. Festival girls and ill ladies use this as well. This device, you place over the Labia majora. More or less the ‘take it all’ approach. This makes the device large, and in the sitting position might give you some leakage through the creases between your legs.

All the external funnel devices you can find for girls to pee standing up

For the next device, the internal funnel, you need a bit of knowledge of the female anatomy. Get out your biology book and open it on the chapter describing the human female bits. (the Internet can also help you in your research)
This smaller device only covers the Urethral orifice. This is a much smaller device and it sits between the Labia majora for a bit. Some small plastic draining pipe in the right shape, a bicycle inner tube and an sanitary towel bag are all you need to create your own pee-device for girls.
After some prototypes and practice trails by Charlotte in the shower (I don’t think Google will allow these pictures), this looked like a successful design. According to Charlotte, it takes a bit of getting used position it on the right spot and to letting the pee flow and trusting the device.
But the proof of the pudding is in the tasting. (Strange use of words in this context) So we went on a larger trip to try out this new design and it worked. It really did!! No leakage and no fuss. It was great. Charlotte recommends this pee solution to all girls in a kayak.

In the picture gallery below, you will find how you make your own pee device for kayak girls. Be sure to practice the handling of the device in the shower!! Have fun!! Let us know how you get on with using it!!

Charlotte and Alexander Gannet

Revamping the German reddish brunette.

Until now most of the blog post, where stories about our summer kayak adventures. However, in the spring and autumn, we like to slow travel by car. Taking the bicycles and hiking boots somewhere into the landscape of northern France. To get some sleep in a French forest or field we use our car as a small mini camper.


Our Caddy Mini Camper for Breakfast

As you have read in Charlotte’s story “The divorce“, we had to give up our old and tired Peugeot Partner. This meant we had to buy and convert another vehicle. This was one of the reasons the flow of new stories was slow. There was a lot of work to do, in the few of weeks before our autumn trip.

Our Peugeot Partner, a small commercial van, was a simple camper conversion. There was an outer tent, consisting of a woven and PVC coated tarpaulin which rested on the rear barn doors with a frame of bend electric PVC pipe. There was also an inner tent to keep the warmth a little bit in the car. However, the cargo area of the car was hardly insulated and a clear night meant suffering and wearing all the clothes you can find. We also had an air mattress that was resting against the cold metal of the wheel arches and on top of a rubber mat. Especially in the autumn, this could result in a cold night in the car.


Mini camper van in the woods, our old Peugeot partner close to Saint-Malo this spring

When we returned with her from our Orkney kayak trip in August, we were driving with a screaming clutch. There were some other repairs required as well, and we felt that the car was not worth the costs of the reparation she required to run again. We also dreamed of an update on our camper van interior.

Charlotte did a lot of research to find a new car and we ended up with a choice. A Volkswagen Caddy was advertised as a small commercial van but when we showed up at the garage, it was an import from Germany that was not yet converted. In the end, we choose to keep it as a Multi-purpose vehicle (MPV) version which means that we have now windows in the back and are able to carry more people. The advantage of this type is that the rear benches, without any tools, are easily removed. And the colour, a reddish-brown, is excellent for stealth camping.

So for the mini camper, we had a few requirements:

  • It should be fast and easy to install or remove.
  • Loads of storage space. No more moving stuff to the front seats when making the bed.
  • It should be compact when not in use. An IKEA flat-pack concept for storage would be nice.
  • Getting a nice, comfortable and warm bed. The inflatable mattress should be a thing of the past, no more midnight leaks or cold asses. Not to mention the heap of plastic that remains when the bed is beyond repair.
  • An easy way to transport our bicycles, in a safe and compact manner.
  • We would like to make it nice looking, but also use as much reclaimed materials as possible.

With this in mind, we build our new mini camper and tested it in the last week of October. The building story became a bit long with a lot of pictures, so we created separate pages, just follow these links if you would like to see the results.

In the first two weeks, we had to design and build the removable compact camper unit. The work was mainly carpentry and a lot of measuring and re-measuring. I work at a University and they were redoing the World Soil Museum, so I did some dumpster diving and salvaged a lot of plywood. The plywood had served as the backdrop to their soil profiles. Except for some fixture holes on the back, there was very little damage to the sheets. We were able to cut most of the camper unit parts out of this material. All the hardware, metal threaded inserts for furniture and the Allen key bolts were salvaged from old office desks. Then, for the top, we used the phenolic plywood flooring with a slip-resistant pattern, which we salvaged from our Peugeot Partner.

All in all, we ended up with a double bed, 113 centimetres at the feet end, and a 120 cm wide from the hips up. We are not that tall, so with some narrow pillows, the 185 cm of length is more than enough for us. We bought a 120×200 cm HR foam or cold foam mattress with a thickness of 8 cm. After slicing it up in three pieces and bagging it into tricot sleeves, we took some old Jersey bedding sheets and made colourful covers. We sew the covers with the sewing machine, nice and tight and put zippers in sites. By having zippers we are still able to wash the covers. We salvaged some sturdy straps with Velcro from our home mattresses. These straps are used to transport the mattresses in an upright position.

For some privacy and insulation, we used yoga mats bought at the Decathlon sports shop, to create window covers. They were fixed in the windowsills with mini bungee cord and some home-made fixtures. We also created a ventilation bracket for the tailgate. This keeps a gap between the door and car while the door can still be locked.

To transport the bikes, I created a wooden bicycle stand. Which is secured to the car floor with a steel rod. With some help from a friend who is an excellent welder the bikes are firmly fixed to the chassis

So with most of the work done, it was time to test drive our labour. We went for a week to the French Ardennes. The weather was great, nice, dry weather during the day for all kind of activities, and a wide range of temperatures during the night. The pictures below give a good impression of the weather and our favourite camping spots. Very good for a nightly sleep test.

We are very happy with the result. We had a frosty night but it was not cold in the car. Of course there is still a wish list, but for now, we had fun.

Alexander Gannet