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22.Bailing Bailing | 327


Bailing | Outrigger Canoeing 'A Paddler's Guide'

A va`a bailer, ka wa`a (Hawai`i) or tata (French Polynesia) is a vital piece of safety equipment for the va`a paddler. Throughout Oceania, bailers were designed and constructed in a number of ways but they were always carved from wood. No mechanical bilge pumps are permitted in racing va`a, with the exception of sailing va`a. There are no commercially available hand held bailers, so it is common practice for clubs to make there own – usually cut out from large plastic bottles and similar in shape to a traditional bailer.

Ideally, each va`a needs a minimum of two bailers and these should be attached to the va`a by a lanyard so that in the event of capsize the bailers remain with the va`a. Bailing is one of the single biggest neglected concerns and it is a skill that many outrigger canoe paddlers lack. Bailing is seen by most to be a waste of time, incorrectly believing that it’s better to keep paddling to keep up the speed. However, the very thing that will contribute to an ultimate decrease in the speed of a va`a is the 30, 40, or 60lbs plus of water sloshing around underfoot.

The Importance of a ‘Dry’ Va`a You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that carrying any significant weight over and above the va`a and its accessories equates to increased drag, The hull sinks deeper, increasing the wetted surface area and leading to increased friction or drag. Yet many crews pull up after a race, tired, complaining the va`a felt like a brick, with the hull floor ankle deep in water. ‘Ah, but we do bail!’ you say. OK, but how often? The next biggest neglect of crews is to not bail frequently enough, bailing only when the water is up around their ankles. 1” (20mm) of water spread over the length of a six person va`a weighs around 100-kg (200lbs+), the weight of a passenger.

A dry va`a is paramount. Starting that way and keeping it like that is crucial. Bailing regularly must become part of your team’s regime when training so it becomes second nature. Bailing is as much a part of canoe paddling as is getting wet. Crews with skilled ‘bailers’ ensure the va`a remains light which helps to keep the crew fresher for longer. Some years ago when the sport had been in Australia for around ten years, questions were asked about fitting battery driven pumps into va`a, similar to the standard equipment on Australian Surf Boats. Fortunately, the argument over the need to keep bailing manually and traditionally won. However, in Hawai`i, manually operated bilge pumps and through the hull self bailing devices are permitted on sailing canoes in order to maintain high levels of safety.

328 | The Importance of a Dry Va`a


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Keep the va`a as dry as possible. Bail small amounts frequently rather than large amounts occasionally to keep the average weight of your va`a as light as possible.

Bailer Design and Types Every va`a must have a minimum of two bailers attached by a lanyard and hung on a bracket adjacent to seats # 3 and 4. Bailers are an essential item of safety and a va`a should never leave shore without them! The ability to bail well is a learned art and you will need to have the right type of bailer to do the job. A bucket sized bailer is more of a hindrance than a help. More, in this case, is not necessarily better. It’s just too big to be effective. It may be of some use if you completely swamp or capsize. Under normal paddling conditions, bailers are used by one individual (usually seat # 4) removing unwanted water to keep the va`a as light as possible, while the remainder of the crew continues to paddle. Bailers should be small and easy to manage as their main use is in the collection and removal of relatively small amounts of water - but not always. Efficient bailing requires an efficiently shaped bailer. It must have a thin lip so it can literally scoop the water up from the hull floor as you drag it along the bottom and it needs to have a handle so you can get a good grip on it. Bailers shaped from plastic (5ltr chlorine bottles or similar) which when shaped, hold around 2ltrs are ideal. Carry a minimum of two, positioned on a hook forward of seats # 3 and 4 and on the right hand side of the va`a.

Bailer Designs and Types | 329


Bailing | Outrigger Canoeing 'A Paddler's Guide'

Todayʼs bailers are best shaped from plastic containers similar to this. Using a sharp knife, a bailer approximating the traditional shape can be created. The thin flexible lip is excellent for sliding along the floor and ʻscoopingʼ up the water.

Have a look at the design of the traditional bailers fashioned across the Pacific from timber and use them as a guide when you create your own. The bailers you use should be sufficient for paddling Moloka`i or lining up for a sprint race. You don’t need bailers to be proportionally larger or smaller relative to how rough the ocean is. A large bucket just isn’t efficient or effective. It cannot be effectively scraped along the hull floor as the lip tends to be too fat to get that last half inch of water out. At the other extreme, when trying to bail out mega amounts of water, the bucket is simply too heavy to be practical. You want to be able to scoop up the water quickly and off load it quickly In addition, a bucket sized bailer becomes even more of a problem with covers on. Often, the covers reduce the space to such a minimum that it’s hard to get the bucket to squeeze into the space and nearly impossible to get even a quarter full bucket out! The very point of using the smaller sized bailers which are efficient and shaped ergonomically is so you can biomechanically undertake the task well, while allowing for a good stroke rate! Speed is the key to good bailing. You have to do it quickly, so the job is done and you can get back to paddling. Traditional hand carved bailers. 330 | Bailer Designs and Types


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Which Seats Bail Water collects or ‘pools’ primarily in seats # 3 or 4 conforming to the hull’s rocker curvature. Water will move to the ‘belly’ of the va`a and this can vary between va`a designs. For example, Hawaiian Class Racers are straighter in the mid section. The water collects between seats # 3 and 4 in almost equal proportions, so who bails depends on hull trim - crew weight etc. However, in Force Fives and Bradleys, the water tends to collect further back at seat # 4 as with the Mirage. Seat # 4 is generally your primary bailer. Tahitian designed va`a also vary according to design.

Bailing Practice Bailing must be fast and efficient, and the entire process can be practised beach side. Simply add water to the va`a and practice all of the procedures you would go through if on water and paddling.

Bailing using a larger bucket in calm conditions, seat # 4 sits up the gunnel and paddle is simply place on the floor to the right and braced with the leg. Below this, bailing from seat # 3 Prior to bailing, you must call out ‘Four seated on the gunnel. Bailing Practice at bailing on the next (next hut)’ or something the local swimming pool.

Communication

similar - which means, that when the next hut is called you will be bailing. When the hut is called, call out ‘Four bailing!’ and proceed to go through the process. When you are finished and you are back paddling, call out ‘Four paddling!’ or similar so the others know there is a full crew paddling once again. Without this level of communication, it is extremely frustrating for the paddlers forward of seat # 4 who can’t see what is happening - but they will feel the va`a slow and the drag increase!

Who Bails | Bailing Practice | Communication | 331


Bailing | Outrigger Canoeing 'A Paddler's Guide'

With Covers - Unzipping Holding the paddle in your left hand, unzip carefully, without rushing, to avoid jamming the zipper! You may need two hands, one to hold the flap aside depending on the design. Once unzipped, brace your paddle and with your left hand keep the cover open and pulled upwards to prevent water coming in over the left gunnel. Reach in with your right arm and grab the bailer from its hook.

What to do with the Paddle When Bailing? Without covers, your first task is to secure your paddle. One method is to place the paddle upright, blade on the hull floor, on your left-hand side. Use your thigh to brace it against the side of the hull. Don’t just drop it on the bottom of the va`a. This should be the procedure whether paddling with or without covers, though you could also brace the paddle on the right hand-side depending on conditions. The calmer the seas the easier it will be to manage your paddle, but even in calm water it will tend to want to slide along the va`a floor and fall. There are practical reasons for having the paddle on the left, as you will want to keep your weight on this side and it is generally an easier position from which to jam the paddle against the hull as you apply pressure.

Positioning Yourself to Bail You can either remain seated or sit up on the left gunnel of the canoe. You will automatically create instability in the va`a by ceasing paddling and bailing, so you will need to be concerned with the ama and keeping the canoe stable. Sitting on the gunnel will cause the ama to compress and while this makes for a stable va`a, it will slow it down even further. Sitting on the edge of the left gunnel, the right hand bails while the left holds the paddle and covers open. This is a Tahitian va`a and the space within the 'cockpit' area is tight. 332 | Zipping | What to do with the Paddle | Positioning Yourself to Bail


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Scoop the water up quickly and with minimal movement, throw the water more or less directly upwards, using the wrist to flick the water out. Avoid using big arm and shoulder motions. Do not ‘pour’ the water out over the side. This is slow and inefficient. Throw it out. Be sure to not throw it behind you and onto seat # 5. Consider wind direction. Bailing should be done with the right hand, while the left hand is on the gunnel and or holding the cover open. Bailing with the left hand could create greater instability as you would need to lean right in order to reach in and bail.

Speed is the Key Bailing is something you need to do quickly, very quickly. In some respects, Speed is essential to successful bailing. you’re less concerned with how much You must use a properly shaped bailer you take with each scoop, though clearly which can be scooped along the hull it must be a significant amount, than the floor, passed between paddler, seat and speed with which you do it. Fast bailing covers with ease and ʻflickʼ the water rates will clear the va`a quickly, whereas skyward. Large ʻbucketʼ sized bailers being slow and methodical just means the are hard to manage and va`a has a cover open longer, potentially snag on the covers. allowing more water to pour in over a longer period of time. Bailing frequently means that the covers are only going to be open for short periods of time as you will only have a small amount to get out. Don’t delay too long! Bailing should not last for more than 60 seconds, around 4 huts or so. More than this and you can assume you have allowed too much water in the canoe or perhaps your technique is too slow and needs work.

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Bailing | Outrigger Canoeing 'A Paddler's Guide'

Bailing when punching upwind can sometimes result in more water entering the va`a than you can bail. Wait until conditions improve. Photo Harvie Allison

When to Bail Some crews will wait to hear the steerer call for bailing. Others will rely upon the paddler in seat 4 to bail when they think it appropriate. Knowing when it is appropriate to bail is a skill. Communication is very important. If you are paddling on a long upwind stretch and taking in lots of water, you will need to bail frequently. It may pay for the steerer to veer off from head on wind to reduce the pounding while you bail and also lessen the load on the paddlers. With covers - do not leave them open for too long if very rough. Better to bail frequently and over a short duration, than waiting until you need to bail lots of water, which will take longer. Without covers - in extreme circumstances, you may need to be bailing continually until out of the worst of it. If you are on a short upwind section, you may be able to leave the bailing until you turn to come back downwind or across wind as the loss of a paddler upwind can cost you a good deal of speed. When all is considered, bailing when paddling upwind can often be the best time to bail if conditions are not too extreme. Bailing when paddling downwind presents some interesting ideas; if following a big sea or even chasing steep runners, the added weight of some water at the front of the va`a can actually assist the inertia and ability to ‘drop in’. However, there comes a point when there can be too much water, so you will need to gauge this carefully. During change-over races, when a fresh paddler enters the canoe at seat # 4, they can check if bailing is required. Some crews prefer to have seat # 4 bail just prior to exiting the va`a, so that when they exit, the va`a is ‘dry’. 334 | Speed is the Key | When to Bail


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When Not to Bail There are certainly inappropriate times to bail as in the case of paddling with covers on. Every time you open the covers, you increase the potential for taking on more water. If you are in an extremely rough section of water, in short steep fast moving confused water, paddling upwind or being hit side on for example, opening the covers to bail could allow more water to enter the va`a than you can possibly keep up with. This could actually create a dangerous situation. In this instance, it would be best to wait for smoother water or a point when the va`a changes course so the angle at which the water is striking the va`a is improved. Steerers may need to alter course to keep the va`a drier for a period of time, so the covers can be unzipped and bailing can be done! This is especially true if paddling without covers and you are taking on huge amounts of water. Maintaining your course and bailing can be a waste of time in this instance. You may have seats # 3 and 4 bailing in extreme cases. Bailing the va`a when you only have a quarter of a mile to travel, you’re neck and neck with another va`a and the hull is full of water probably means you’ve left it too late. Bailing at this point will probably cost you the race and odds are you have failed to keep up with your bailing duties. Now the entire crew is paying the price, which emphasises the need to bail early, when you only have a small amount of water underfoot. In the first 20 to 30 minutes of the start of the Moloka`i race the va`a remains ‘dry’. Then you hit Lauu Point and take a pounding through the slop, all of a sudden you’re taking on water and you need to think about bailing. Where your competition is, is irrelevant because there is a long way to go and a dry va`a is a light va`a, your paddlers will definitely thank you for it.

Factors Affecting Water Entering the Va`a Entering paddlers always bring water in with them. The type of clothing worn in particular will have a strong bearing on just how much they bring in with them, neoprene and super absorbent materials especially.

Baggy or super absorbent clothing worn by paddlers entering the canoe from the water in a change-over race can bring in excess water. Tight fitting, quick drying, low absorbent materials are preferable. They will also make it easier for you to get into the va`a as the water you bring in on your clothes will be weighing you down as you make your change. You can experiment with various clothing to see just how absorbent they are.

When Not to Bail | Factors Affecting Water Entering the Va`a | 335


Bailing | Outrigger Canoeing 'A Paddler's Guide'

Other factors affecting water entering the va`a include;

Pounding up wind | Poorly fitted covers | Poorly designed covers | Covers not zipped up properly | Relief paddlers entering the va`a | High winds | Rough Seas | Not zipped up properly

Entering paddlers bring water with them. The clothing they wear can make a big difference as to how much this is. As an individual and as a crew take this into consideration.

Without Covers Water enters the va`a gradually from spray and from any angle. Upwind is particularly critical. When paddling downwind, the va`a can bury at the front and water often pours in around seat # 1. Additionally, if the va`a stalls in the trough of a wave, the water can pour in at seats # 3 and 4. Note: Steerers can reduce the amount of water entering the va`a by taking a line which reduces swamping. This is often achieved by angling the va`a roughly 10ยบ offline of directly on coming waves when heading up wind.

Bailing After Capsize After a capsize in rough conditions, once you have recovered the va`a but the hull is still full of water, you may need to re-capsize the va`a and recover it once more to see if you can release more water from the hull. If you have covers on and this is the case, it can be extremely difficult to remove the water during the righting process (see Capsize).

336 | Without Covers | Bailing After Capsize

Bailing an Outrigger Canoe  

Bailing is a critical skill. Knowing when to bail and with what, are all important to training and racing success and safety.

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