Microplastic Field Research from a Sea Kayak: The Tools I Use for Trip Planning

 In Stories from the field

Tia Westermann

This blog is written by Tia Westermann, a Danish biotech student that would have been sailing on a Tall ship this summer. Unfortunately, due to the current situation all these trips were cancelled. That did not stop her going on the water. She combined her study with her passion for the sea and developed a method to measure microplastic in the surface water from her sea kayak. This is the fifth blog about her adventure. Previous blogs can be read here (4), here (3), here (2) and here (1).

Specialized maps of the fjords

When planning the individual kayaking trips during this project, there are a lot of logistics which need to work together. This includes a fair amount of guess work and hoping, as I am still new to kayaking and, especially, kayak camping. For example, I have packing for regular travel down to a standard list and a 20l backpack, while packing for these trips still includes several documents, a couple kit lists from the internet, and help from my trusty sea kayaking group on Facebook. So, naturally, it takes some time to figure out these things. There are a couple online and offline tools that I use to plan my trips and generally make my life easier.

Routes and Campsites, and My Appreciation for the Outdoor Community

Where I go on these trips, people have kayaked before. I like to use the motto “you can learn anything on YouTube” as a funny quip, but this extends to learning how to kayak camp using the inexhaustible knowledge of outdoorsy people on the internet. Nothing beats local knowledge when planning a trip, and I have a couple of go-to resources which collect that vital knowledge for me.

The first place I consult when planning the route for a trip are the kayaking maps of the fjord. These are a combination of naval charts and regular street maps, and collect all the information kayakers need from both. They are made by a local kayaking club, and I don’t think they’re that common around the world despite how useful they are. I suppose they are an extremely specialized type of map, usable only by a relatively small group of people.

The kayaking maps I use also have a website, which I use in conjunction with the maps for its route suggestions. This means I’m not starting from scratch every time I have to plan a route, but I get the insight of people who have been to the area before.

Picking the route

After picking my routes, I go to the Danish Nature Agency’s online resource for campsites around the country, and look into the options along my chosen route. I’m currently sailing 10 – 20 km per day, and look for campsites, ideally with access to water and toilets, that fit the distances I want to sail. This is generally quite easy: there are a lot of campsites ranging from primitive tent lots to nice shelters with covered tables, and I’m not fussy.

That’s the gist of my route done, and I then search on google and Facebook to find tips and ideas from people who have kayaked the same route. I also mark my waypoints for navigation, and collect it all in a reference document I can get to on my phone while I’m in the kayak.

The Packing List and the Art of Food Planning

I like meal planning. It’s a bit of a guilty pleasure for me. So I spend quite a bit of time on looking into recipes and crafting the perfect menus for my trips, dehydrated food and healthy snacks and all. I have an Excalibur dehydrator at home, and I have great aspirations for making my own dehydrated meals. Now, the thing is, I run out of time, and may not always be as much of a meal planning ninja as I like to think I am. Especially not when it comes to making dehydrated meals, which I don’t have a lot of experience with.

As such, food is one area where I’m trying to improve when it comes to logistics. I’m doing pretty well on breakfast and snacks, and eat pre-made dehydrated meals for dinner. I also have a bad habit of eating snacks for lunch. I use the Backpacking Chef’s recipes for dehydrated meals, and otherwise google and find recipes from vegan and vegetarian bloggers that seem good for camping.

Even though I don’t make all the food I bring from scratch yet, I do focus on avoiding added sugar and eating healthy, balanced foods. I’m also very aware that eating pre-made food this way generates more waste, and I’m trying to find a good solution for reusable vacuum packaging for the dehydrated food I experiment with making.

On the Water: Navigation, Field Notes, and Cameras

Looking for the launch point

When I’m in the kayak, I primarily need to navigate, take notes, and snap pictures and videos of pretty things. For navigating, I’ve been testing a couple different apps on my phone, and have been having issues with incorrect location tracking. Right now, I’m using Wikiloc, and trying to get it to record correctly and find out how to add waypoints. I also have a coordinates app to see my coordinates at any given time as a backup. Of course, I also have a compass, and know which direction I’m meant to go, in case my phone fails. For field notes, I use a waterproof A6 notebook with stone paper, and a regular ballpoint pen. The notebook claims I can use it underwater, but I have not tested that. If I capsize, I promise I’ll try it out while I curse the waves for giving me an involuntary bath.

I’m doing my best to document this project throughout the summer, and that includes pictures and video. I’m finding it quite difficult to use the camera while sailing, but I think that’ll get easier with time as well. I have a GoPro with a head mount, handheld floating mount, and chest mount. I had grand ideas about changing mounts while sitting in the kayak, and I’m getting to that. For now, handheld and head mount work pretty well. I also have my phone in a waterproof cover, which lets me use it while sailing. That way, I can take pictures with that as well.

Debriefings and Looking Forward

After each trip, I write up a thorough debriefing which I can then use to help me plan the next trip. This means that I can easily take all the things I learned from the previous trip, and use them to my benefit on the next. This includes logistics planning, and all other aspects of the trip: what went well and what didn’t, what I wish I’d had and what I didn’t use. I also know that planning is just that, and when I get out on the water, there’s impromptu problem solving around every bend. I love that part of it – it keeps it exciting, it lets me learn from everything I do, and it can be the spark of some of the best stories.

Over and out,

Tia W.

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