Kayaking Upgrades for Land Rover Defender

I know most of you readers are envious of my big black truck and are puzzled as to why you didn’t make the brave buying decisions I make, but let me tell you that having 2 tonne of British awesomeness isn’t without its problems. For a start, it’s a British car and that means design by committee with a union watching over things to make sure sensible decisions don’t go ahead. I won’t bore you with a description of the air-conditioning unit that seems to have had three different teams working on it without a plan or the headlights that actually make things darker when switched on. Nor will I dilate on the inferno that blasts up from the gearbox, scorching the ‘hand’ brake that nuzzles your left shin at all times. Rather, I will explain how I solved the problem of single-handedly putting a 26kg kayak onto the six foot 6 inch roof.

I went without racks for a long time due to illness first then loss of income next but a small windfall and the onset of Spring prompted action. But what to do? There are several solutions and few of them really work on a vehicle of this height. Here’s my methodology:

1. Put on a set of normal racks like Rhino, Thule or Pro-Rack and then mount my existing kayak cradles on them. This necessitates aero bars. Easy start but then there’s the problem of getting the boat way up there.

2. Get a Hullavator. Good call and this means it will bring the boat down to chest height. Problem is the cost of $719. This plus the racks is an $1100 solution. There’s also the problem of having to push in the side mirror every time I use the kayak. This mirror is the bane of my driving life and took ages to adjust properly. Now that it is, I don’t want to disturb it.

3. Get a roof-top cage and make a set of kayak cradles. Then fashion some sort of boat roller at the back to slide the boat up. This would have the advantage of giving me a rack system that is much more versatile for general 4wd trips. Problem is that these tradesman racks are around $700 or more and then there’s the problem of me manufacturing stuff. Not a brilliant plan.

4. Just go with option 1 and only go out with two people. Poor plan. I paddle a lot with Owen Walton who is somewhere between 4 foot and 51/2 foot tall, maybe a bit more. I am 6’1″ and struggle to reach the top of the truck. Bad plan.

Then Rhino come to the rescue with this thing:

Basically it’s a metal stick that clips onto the roof rack and allows you to lift the prow of the boat up so you can swing the stern to the cradles. I’ll show you:
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Pretty neat, huh? At first I thought the bar would be a bit flimsy but once load is applied to it, it held firm. I can actually hang from it and I weigh 100kg. I don’t think I’ll be doing that too many times but the bar by itself can be used to hang a camp light or a solar shower so it is quite versatile. The whole setup cost me $500 and now I am sorted.

The next upgrade isn’t directly kayak related but fits the lifestyle. Most serious 4wds have a side awning attached. I know you can do all this with a tarp and I have a good tarp but for sheer convenience you can’t beat a pull out awning. So I got one while it was on special. There are lots to choose from and I guess they’re all good but I got the Tigerz11 for two reasons. First, it was on special for under $200 and second it is 2m x 3m making it one of the biggest out there. It’s as good as the Rhino or ARB versions and dead easy to set up. See:

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You can get side screens for this awning as well so it’s a pretty handy overnight setup with a swag or two or for just a day on the beach.
My truck grows in awesomeness with each upgrade. I can tell you are all now staring at your current rides with some measure of disgust wondering where you went wrong. I went for a paddle with Owen last week and he picked me up in his Triton. I was appalled at the level of opulence and asked him if he was getting a bit soft in his old age. With no income and the prospect of becoming homeless shortly, at least I will have a decent emergency home and I’ve been told the Defender TD5 will run on used vegetable oil from takeaway deep friers. With a MacDonalds in every town, I should be able to roam the country for ever.


Posted by on August 30, 2013 in Kayaking Life


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Solar Power Considerations

I just read an article on yahoo about the effectiveness of solar panels on the home.  Here it is if you want to read it. Don’t worry too much if you don’t because it’s not that great. While not untrue it is poorly researched and misleading. Lots of people, particularly kayakers in the klan and NSW Seakayak Club frequently drill me on all things solar so I thought it was time for a bit of a lengthy blog article to clear things up. Please bear in mind that the figures I use are for NSW and while the principles are all the same, each state has different government incentives so there may be some variances. There are two main areas of solar: grid-connect and off-grid. Off-grid can be a house or facility running entirely on solar/battery combinations or it can be a recreational setup like a 4wd, caravan or campsite, the principles are the same. Grid-connect is where you are connected to the electricity grid but have a percentage of your power sourced via the sun. Let’s look at each.

Grid Connect.

There are two types of system depending on the metering: Gross and Nett metering.

Gross metered solar generates power all through the day and exports every watt back to the energy retailer who then pay you per kilowatt/hour. Think of it like a farmer who harvests a crop and sells all of it at market. This means you still have to pay your electricity bill but hopefully the money you earn from the sale of your power will cover it. The success of this depends on the feed-in tariff per kilowatt/hour and up till October 2010, the NSW government had set a price of 60c/kilowatt hour. This was called the solar bonus scheme and was like having a money tree. Of course, this price was insane and the government quickly ran out of money so the tariff dropped to 20c. Still good but people panicked and the industry nose-dived. With the new Liberal government in March 2011, the scheme was abolished and the price per kilowatt was set at what the market could afford which is presently around 8c/kilowatt hour. At this rate, Gross metered systems were producing very little money so the industry reverted to Nett metering, the traditional method of connecting solar to the grid.

Nett metered systems are physically the same as gross metered except the meter measures both imported and exported power. So the solar you generate, you use. It’s like a farmer harvesting a crop, taking what he needs for himself and selling the rest at market. Now, 8c/kilowatt hour is not a lot but if you are being billed at 25c or 57c/kilowatt hour and you are generating free power at the time then you are saving 25c or 57c from your bill. Saving 57c and earning 60c are nearly the same thing. So Nett metered systems increase in value to you as energy prices rise.


Solar only works through the day.

This means that solar systems on Nett metering require a lot more thought to get the best from them. Most houses use more power in the afternoon than morning as most people are at work and kids are at school. In the afternoon the sun is heading West so it makes sense to aim your panels West or North-West to offset your peak usage whereas Gross metered systems are better placed North to generate maximum power as your consumption is not a factor. You will lose a little performance on the West but you will have a bigger impact on your bill. When you have a Nett metered system, it is important to understand your load pattern for the house. Understand that at certain times you have free power and set things to run then. Swimming Pools, washing machines, dishwashers etc can all be controlled this way. Obviously not everything can. You want dinner in the evening and in Winter in NSW it gets dark around 4:30pm but your system will still offset a big chunk of your bill if you manage it properly.

Everyone is obsessed with rebate. People always want to know what the government rebate is to buy solar. I tell them to forget it. In Australia the rebates have ended except for the generation of STCs. (Look these up). The rebate was there to help the industry grow. As the price of solar systems fell, the rebate reduced annually and now is gone but systems have never been cheaper and even without rebate people are constantly surprised at how affordable systems are. In Australia, you can buy a 3kw system (the average) for around $5000 using quality gear and 10kw systems for around $15,000. That is damn cheap. If you have a business and you don’t have solar on the roof then you are poorly managing your business. It is an easy way to hammer fixed costs with only a 2 year ROI.


How about we stop obsessing about the Germans. Their stuff is NOT better than the Chinese. It just isn’t. This idea is a legacy from the Second World War, particularly in Australia. German gear is not hand tooled by wizened German machinists it is put together by Turks and Bulgarians in EU controlled factories somewhere in Europe or even South America. Many German brands operate out of China anyhow. If you believe Chinese gear is made by slaves in a corrugated iron lean-to on a dirt floor then you are WRONG. Chinese solar factories are state-of-the-art and are often generations ahead of the rest of the world. If you look at the top 50 panel makers world-wide, and these lists are published on the net, almost all of them are Asian and the majority are Chinese. Here’s some brands for you:
Suntech, JA Solar, Trina, Yingli, Renesola, Hanwha, Samil, Aurora, Optik.

The list is endless. Systems don’t get defected because of panels or inverter. They get defected because of dodgy installation. Make sure you have the best isolators, the best cable and the best conduit. Make sure everything is UV rated or you will be changing it every few years. The installers make or break your job not the country of origin of the stuff. Make sure the placement of panels is sound. Some companies slavishly insist on North facing systems even though for most people this will have a poor outcome as the peak generation will be around noon when nobody is home. Shade is vital to avoid. What you thinks is only a little shade can have a big impact on performance.

The next big thing in the industry is battery backup systems. These retro-fit to Nett systems to capture excess solar generated but not consumed and then fed back to you at night. So instead of your exported kilowatt-hours being worth 8c they are work 57c on Time-of-Use billing systems. I was working with these just prior to leaving the industry. This is getting close to off-grid so I’ll cover some considerations there.

String versus Micro Inverters

Here’s another thing you might have to navigate. The industry is moving from string to micro inverters. There are pros and cons for each.
With a string inverter, you have one  central inverter with either one or two channels generally. Each channel can take a certain number of panels connected in series. This number depends on inverter voltage input and panel voltage output. The number of panels is critical. String inverters are pretty universal but have some problems. First, if you shade panels in a string it can reduce the total voltage to the inverter and make the inverter switch off. Second, all the panels in the string have to face the same way or you get big losses. This limits your options when measuring roofs. Third, if a string inverter fails the whole system fails.
With micro-inverters, each panel has its own inverter bolted to it. This means you get 240v out of the panel/inverter combo. You don’t have to worry about stringing panels so this means you can place panels anywhere you please without compromising the whole system. Because you have 240v ac output, you don’t have as much conduit to run, the system is much safer and more easily compliant. Furthermore, if you shade out some panels the whole system is not compromised. In theory, because you have more inverters you have many more points of failure. True but a failure won’t bring the whole thing down and micro inverters from top brands tend to have 25 year warranties so failure isn’t your problem. Generally, micro inverters are used on complex roofs where you can’t get string lengths right or you have shade afflicted areas.

Poly versus Mono versus Thin Film

Solar geeks will fight to the death over this but at the end of the day the difference between Poly and mono crystal panels is negligible to zero. Mono had an historical advantage that is now long gone and all development seems to be going into hybrid poly crystal. I have used both extensively and generally only deployed mono where colour was an issue.
Thin Film panels had huge advantages and huge disadvantages. They are non-crystalline so angle-of-incidence of sunlight is not as important to them. This means they operated longer in the day capturing more light and generating more power. They were also shade tolerant. However, they are not as energy dense as a crystal panel so a 100w Thin Film is roughly the same size as a 250W crystal panel. This means you need more than double the roof space. Thin Film do not have the advantage of economy of scale so prices haven’t come down much compared to crystal so they are expensive. These days you need a strong case to use them.

Off Grid

Lots of people want to get off the grid. I do too and will eventually but it’s not that easy. For a start. you are essentially having a battery operated house and batteries run flat and eventually die. This is the core issue with off-grid. You have to be constantly energy conscious and everything you buy and use has to be counted or your house will run out of power till the next day or worse you start to reduce the life of your batteries.
When people ask me about off-grid, the first thing I ask for is a list of every single item they plan to use and what the current draw is. Often this alone puts people off but without it, you can’t calculate how much battery power you need and without that you can’t work out how much solar you need to charge it. Everything starts with the load. Off-grid systems are more complicated and a lot more expensive. Generally, it is much better value to stay on the grid but have a decent grid-connect system to reduce costs. However, if you cannot be connected to the grid and have no choice then energy will be something you have to deal with daily.
Much more common is recreational or mobile solar and battery systems for your 4wd or camper. These are much simpler and obviously less expensive but the load principles are the same. If you are looking to set up your trailer or truck here’s the process:

Calculate load.

OK. So a car fridge is anywhere from 1.5A to 3A at full compression. Engel fridges use a Sawafuji compressor which has low draw but makes the fridge expensive. Fridges like Waeco and Evakool use Danfoss compressors which are tried and true, cheaper but have higher draw. Typically around 2.5A.
What else are you going to do?
LED lighting. Very low draw for camp lighting. Not even an amp. Charging computers/phones etc. Very low draw.
So let’s say we have a total peak draw of 5A and that is pretty generous for a camp. What battery to use?
Currently the leading deep cycle battery type is the Gel or Absorbed Glass Mat. Both are lead-acid and have the advantage over wet lead acid that they won’t leak and can be tipped over. Handy in a 4wd or boat. They still have the normal lead-acid problem of poor depth-of-discharge (DOD). This means they can only be discharged to a 50% of their rating before they start to fail. So a 100Ah battery in lead acid is really only 50Ah. This means a 100Ah battery will deliver 5A of load for 10 hours depending on battery condition. This is called “autonomy time”. Now, a car fridge doesn’t draw peak load all day long, only under compression, so you probably won’t be pulling 5A all day so a 100Ah battery will give you about a full day’s delivery and this is why the 100Ah is the leading battery size for 4wd and trailers.
There are new batteries coming out right now that are lithium based such as Lithium-ion and Lithium-Iron (LiFePo) or Lithium Ferro Phosphates. Lithium-ion is actually old hat now but LiFePo are the battery to have. While dearer than AGM, they have a theoretical 100% DOD and rapid recharge time making them far superior for 4WDs. A 100Ah of this type will draw 5A for 20 hours in theory but in practice around 18 or so.

To recharge any of these batteries in a 4wd most people isolate them from the cranking battery but charge them off the alternator. That’s OK but really doesn’t do much for the battery. An alternator doesn’t maintain sufficient charging control to keep deep cycle batteries full charged and can reduce life in them. It is far better to have a DC-DC smart-charger installed which will keep the battery at optimum condition. If you are charging with solar, then you need to know the current output of the panel. A 100W -120W panel will typically produce around 10A. So 10A going into a 100A deep cycle battery at 50% discharge will take 5 hours to recharge. That coincides with the average solar day of 6.5 hours. This assumes a sunny day so you need to have a non-solar backup because everyone knows that when you go camping it almost always rains. Here’s my system. I have yet to install a DC-DC controller but so fay this system has let me run an Evakool car fridge for days on end as well as charge my electronics and proved LED lighting. The batteries for a Defender are under the passenger seat so I have connected as nice fat cable with Anderson plug so I can keep it out of the battery compartment for convenience. Works very well.

Dual Battery system for Defender

Dual Battery system for Defender

Batteries with ANderson plug and lead

Batteries with Anderson plug and lead

Defender with Folding 120W panel on Anderson lead

Defender with Folding 120W panel on Anderson lead

This is very basic for an overview and there are numerous variables when calculating for accuracy and mission-critical applications but the principles apply across the board for things such as a kayak bilge pump. Pretty simple. Get your pump. Find the load current when pumping (should be on it’s label). Find your battery. For a kayak it’s generally around 3Ah. Halve it because it’s lead-acid and divide this number by the load current. This will give you the autonomy time in total hours of constant pumping. Now a bilge pump works under load for about 30 seconds at a time so you can calculate the number of full cockpits your battery can run the pump. Pretty easy stuff.


Posted by on July 17, 2013 in Kayaking Life, Paddle Gear


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Trials and Tribulations IV

As everyone knows, I’ve been living the good life the last few years. You know, cancer, radiotherapy, divorce, family deaths. That sort of thing. I haven’t had a serious paddle since November and then it was completely embarrassing. I went from being a competent and experienced paddler to a plodder with no stamina. Many skills I was starting to master just upped and left and there was nothing I could do to stop it. Radiotherapy is a bastard of a thing. For a start it probably gives you cancer rather than fights it and there’s little real evidence it does anything positive at all. You are fatigued all the time and your skin burns off in repeated outbreaks of whatever the hell happens there. On top of this, my new (2002) Land Rover Defender still doesn’t have roof racks and I can’t carry anything. So why not just buy some racks and go for a paddle?

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Posted by on June 10, 2013 in Kayaking Life


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Trials and Tribulations III

Greetings all. Another update.
After the shittiest year ever I have emerged intact and as bulletproof as ever. The cancer diagnosis seems to be a premeditated device to scare the shit out of me. After four excisions, and several variable diagnoses it turns out that the last operation got everything out and I am all good. I have had 8 CT scans in 6 months  and only recently did they tell me I was clear. The PET scan showed no trace of any cancerous cells in my whole body. I am cleaner than almost everyone else it appears because unlike most people I actually KNOW I am clear. I am probably radioactive and will ultimately develop superpowers but I am as clean as a whistle. The super power I choose is a bomb-proof roll.

The problem is now I don’t have an excuse. I am free to kill myself kayaking and I totally plan to do this. SOON. New truck, clean body, new attitude and right mental attitude. I am working on condition now and I am now going to send those klanners from the Hunter Kayak Klan back to school.


Posted by on March 3, 2013 in About Kayaks


Klanocopia 2012

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From November 2nd to 4th the Hunter Kayak Klan held its fourth Klanocopia and it was bigger than ever. Once again organized by the super-capable and materially over-equipped, Shawn Armitage, the event this year ran like clockwork. As usual, training was provided by Expedition Kayaks’ Rob Mercer, Mark Sundin and Sharon Betteridge assisted by Shaan Gresser and the impressive but probably mad, Fernando and once again it was at Umina Beach on Broken Bay.

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Posted by on December 9, 2012 in About Kayaks


Trials and Tribulations 2

Earlier this year I posted a tale of woe about how my life has taken a turn for the disastrous. This is an official press release update for my  readers and fans. You both know who you are.

Dad died in April. I put him to bed as normal and he couldn’t settle. I went in to check on him and he had a heart attack. I quickly called 000 and commenced CPR. During this, broke nearly all his ribs and knew that recovery was both impossible and undesirable but as instructed I continued till the Ambos got there. It was all over in a few minutes. I was calm and clear through the whole thing but the adrenaline was certainly pumping. The Ambos and police were quick and very professional. I can’t heap enough praise on them.

With Dad gone, life had completely changed again. I was completely alone for the first time ever and for months was daunted by the prospect of this. I stopped training and felt completely lost. It was clear the separation with Samantha was final and although she was a great help throughout the funeral, she entered into a new relationship with someone and moved out of our family home with him. I’ve never felt this isolated and depression looked like overtaking me so I absorbed myself into my work and traveled throughout the state. For some time I was on the road working every day and living in country hotels. I drank a lot and my fitness slumped.

Now, there’s that scene in the Terminator when they think they’ve killed it and it re-routes its internal power and fires back up again. This happens to me all the time. I have an internal black box with an optimism drive that kicks in when the chips are down. Gradually, I started to become accustomed to the solitude. After all, despite being married for 24 years, I have been on my own for most of it. Solitude is OK as long as it doesn’t get confused with loneliness. I eventually realized that I wasn’t really lonely and settled into a working relationship with my house and my cat. The need to replace Samantha dissipated and now I quite enjoy my routines. My kids turn up at various times, stay for however long they like, destroy the place and eat all my food. I am wealthier now than ever before and spend money on whatever takes my fancy.

Divorce is never pleasant but with some distance now since separation, I see the benefits. Samantha is obviously happier. I will progress toward that quite soon, the kids have adjusted to it. I can focus on my goals which were pipe-dreams while I was married and that is a pretty big thing when you are months away from 50. There’s nothing more debilitating than living your life unfulfilled and knowing that you will never will. The secret to a successful divorce is compromise. Sam and I made a pact that we would negotiate everything and we did. Not once did we fight over material things. I paid my way in child maintenance and she never complained. She took some material assets and I took others. The result is that we both have our stuff and functional lives and lawyers got nothing.

So that is how things are now. I have emerged from a horrible period and about to embark on some pretty decent adventures. I have no idea what is going to happen to me and that’s how I like it. Apart from cancer. That’s another story though. I promise that from now on it will be about kayaking and adventures.





Posted by on October 9, 2012 in Uncategorized


Sunglasses for Paddling

Eyres Mistral with floating strap.

Apart from a comfortable seat and foot position in the kayak, my next biggest pain in the arse is paddling eyewear. I am totally blind in one eye and can’t see properly out of the other. I wear glasses with some stupid script all day and usually have prescription sunglasses as well. Read the rest of this entry »


Posted by on October 6, 2012 in Paddle Gear


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