Saturday, July 20, 2013

This and That and a Couple of Those

We've been out  flying kites from a kayak. I've been wanting to try this for years. From way back before we started hanging cameras from  kites.  I've wondered about using big kites for back-up emergency propulsion on small boats. I'm sure I must have mentioned it on this blog over the years.   Probably more than once. In an uncharacteristically altruistic gesture, I'll spare you any further details of my thoughts along those lines. This time.

We're planning to use the kite to get some new images looking down on the little cays and rocks  scattered among these islands.   We had a "low" wind day and decided to try it with the Hobie Tandem Island, first. We sailed the boat up to a nice little picnic spot in the Dick Penn Cays.
 We already knew that trying to handle the kite with the mast up would be problematic.   So we took the mast and sail down. This is the only photo I have of the Hobie with the mast down and lashed to the hull.  I had just fired up the GoPro camera after launching the kite.

With the boat still tied off to the nearest Mangrove bush and me standing on the little Cay, it was easy to imagine how well this was going to go.  Note the word imagine. We did manage to get a few decent photos of the rock we were standing on at the time.

And once again we were able to get more information from the aerial view than we have had in 8 years of sailing this Little Five Cays area.  We could see that these cays are all part of a limestone ridge that runs along this side of the island.

In this next photo, we've jumped over a few dozen taken after we climbed into the kayak and pedaled our way up between the last rock and the main island.  For the first time, we're seeing the remnants of the ancient shoreline that once existed here.   See the little yellow boat in the bottom right?  That's us.

The detail we get from this perspective sure makes short work of determining what the tops of these little cays look like.  This is also very useful information from a boating standpoint.  You can see how very shallow the water gets on the lee side.

I'm not going to go into tedious detail about our experiences handling the kite from the kayak.  I won't document every zig and zag and expletive or facsimile thereof.  I will say that it was impossible to work our way downwind for very long at a time. The moment we turned in that direction the relative wind at the kite dropped, and so did the kite. We tried working our way back and forth across the wind, but had basically the same results. Any downwind movement of the boat and the camera started toward the water.  It went underwater at one point while we were retrieving it. This made me take a good hard look at my camera rig design. If it weighed half as much, perhaps we could have made this work. We had to maintain position to fly the kite, and the only way we could move and keep it flying was into the wind.  So we found ourselves slowly pedaling the kayak further into the wind, and further offshore. Finally we realized that this approach was not going to work for us. We needed to be able to skirt the shoreline to get the images we wanted. We needed more control. We couldn't just keep working to windward.  The next land in that direction was Middle Caicos, about twenty three miles upwind.   And it's not the part of Middle Caicos we want to visit.

It might have worked better if we had stronger winds to work with.  If we started out in 15 knots, we could let the kite pull us up to 4 or 5 knots, and still have 10 knots of relative wind at the kite.  I suspect the force from the kite is not directly proportional to wind speed, so 4 knots is probably optimistic. This does bear further experimentation. We have not given up on the idea.  But the downside of this is that when we have 20 knots of wind, the shallows near the beaches get stirred up, and the visibility looking down into the water isn't so good .  We'll just have to get back out there on another sunny, windier day and try again. It's a brutal little hobby, but it sure beats some of my previous ones. Another day on the water sailing with kites and cameras?   Please don't throw me into that brier patch.

This is after the camera 'splashdown' when we pulled everything back on board and headed back over to the Little Five Cays to put our mast and sail back up. This was primarily a sailing trip, after all.  That ridge looks completely different from water level, doesn't it?   These low level aerials have really piqued my interest.  Now, I want to see everything from a bird's eye view.

After this somewhat exasperating experience I'm thinking that what we need here is the skiff, and not the kayak.  We need to be able to control the boat and the relative wind.  The skiff can race downwind faster than the breeze, or hold position into the wind creeping forward, or drop the anchor and hold the boat and kite stationary.  I can stand up to handle the kite.   It was surprising how difficult that was while seated flat and unable to turn around. This kind of control just isn't there when trying to pedal and steer the kayak. We're still learning. 

This little kayak/kite adventure was the only chance we had in the last week to get out on the water. That doesn't mean that we don't constantly get to see other boats out on the water.   We get a lot of information  from  the marine VHF radio  and watching the boat traffic in and out of the Caicos Marina and Shipyard. For example, when we hear several large outboards suddenly ramp up to top RPM, we might look up and see one of the Marine Police boats flying out onto the Caicos Bank.

They almost always turn westward and then over toward some matter needing the attention of the Marine Police. Quite often in the South Dock area.

We're not bird watchers in the way that I tend to think of bird watchers. Not really. Not the hard core type who carry binoculars and a notebook with them every where they go. But we do like to observe the birds this time of year.  The end of nesting season,  I suppose.  Which means there are a lot of rookie pilots fluttering around out there. We noticed that this bold little American Kestrel didn't seem too worried about me stopping and pointing a camera at her from about 20 ft. away.

And I try to remember that having a raptor so accustomed to us that she no longer flies away when we walk by was once a novelty.  And might be of some interest to people living in a city who would probably never see such a bird in their yard.  This is the smallest falcon in the Americas.

Sometimes we'll see something unusual happening out on the water, and try to guess the story line.   For example one day last week La Gringa was out snapping photos and saw that one of the fishing boats was leaving the marina.

Then she noticed a small boat with three people in it as they came flying out of the marina in pursuit of the fishing boat.  We wondered what was going on with that.

Until we saw one of the three climb from the small boat onto the larger one.  I speculate that someone had literally 'missed the boat', and was able to just barely get back on board.   Some commutes are more interesting than others.

We watched the buddies that had gotten him to his boat waving to him as the captain of the larger boat continued on his way.  I realize you probably can't see the details of this little micro drama in these photos.   The boats were just too far away for good images.

I see that I have rambled on for a while now about boats, and birds. How about a photo of birds on boats for a change?

We were at a restaurant, Sailing Paradise, over in the Blue Hills/Wheeland area of Providenciales when we saw those two. The pelican would fly off and dive on a school of small fish, and the Laughing Gull would stay with him the whole time.  I think the gull was scavenging the fish that the pelican was dropping when he scooped up a mouthful.   Taking advantage of the bigger bird's sloppy eating habits. The pelican didn't seem to mind.  I guess he enjoyed the company.  Or maybe it's just the Laughing Gull's reported sense of humor.

I really don't have any story to go with this next photo.  It was while we were at Sailing Paradise when La Gringa spotted potcakes of a different color relaxing in the shade of a table.  She was convinced that this was three generations of potcake.  We don't normally see black ones, but obviously there was some Labrador Retriever involved in the gene pool here.   It was a hot summer day, and I could imagine how cool that limestone must have felt to an overheated dog.  It almost made me want to plop my own bare belly down for a good afternoon snooze in the shade.  Almost. All the good spots were already taken.

But I have other ways to cool off.  Some of them actually accomplish something useful in the process.   Fighting corrosion, for example.   This is an array of four fan-shaped pressure washer nozzles arranged on an inverted 'water broom' type manifold.  Hooking this up to a 4,000 psi pressure washer gives me a way to knock a lot of salty mud off the bottoms of things.

We've had some emails asking what we're doing to try to protect this latest  victim, er, automobile from the corrosion issues that destroy everything that we drive out here.  In addition to picking a vehicle with a good corrosion resistant reputation, we had it thoroughly undercoated by the local Chevy dealer, Butterfield Motors. We didn't buy the KIA from them, but had them apply a hard, two-part protective coat recommended by Randy over at TCI Paint and Supply.  Those guys stock some good stuff.  I did a fair bit of internet research over the different types of undercoating available and finally settled on the hardest stuff I could find applied to a new, unrusted frame.  

I use this presssure washer arrangement to blast upward under the vehicle in an overlapping spray pattern.  It only takes a few minutes to run it back and forth under the little SUV.   I don't know if you can see it in this photo, but the water spraying out from behind that rear bumper is loaded with dirt.  And salt.

It would be a lot easier on a paved driveway.  I'm thinking of putting bigger wheels on it in the meantime. Offroad tires. On the pressure wand, I mean.  Not the car.

We were somewhat saddened earlier this month when our favorite bartender told us that he was leaving the Turks and Caicos Islands. We got a last photo of us with  our friend Senor Jose' Manuel Gomez Peralta before he returned to his home and family in Puerto Plata in the Dominican Republic.  

We'll miss our informal Thursday night Spanish lessons. But trying to look on the bright side,  we now have a great excuse to sail Twisted Sheets down to the D.R. There's a fairly fancy new marina in Puerto Plata called Ocean World, and Jose' says his home is just a few blocks away.   Nice to have local friends who know their way around these places.  We're hoping to get Jose' to show us around, one of these days.  If he doesn't mind hanging out with Gringos.

I'm also doing some re-wiring on the skiff, and we hope to get that out onto the water with the kite and camera the next day we have both time and weather coordinated in our favor. In the meantime, we'll continue to observe life in the suburbs of Providenciales.  The mundane, day to day world where the garbage truck sometimes fails to make it up the hill. And La Gringa catches a photo of the crew relaxing in the shade.  Actually, sleeping in the shade. I guess a little clean dirt on the old t-shirt isn't that big a deal considering the other stuff they deal with all day. We wondered who they were waiting for. We figured that they'd be calling a mechanic who would show up with a pickup truck full of parts and tools.   Or perhaps a tow truck large enough to pull one of these things loaded with trash.

Nope.  They sent another garbage truck. Obviously, however, they had the parts and expertise needed to get both trucks moving again. I probably forgot to mention that these were sitting upwind of us during this little local micro drama.   

Not that anybody around here actually noticed all that delicious smelling garbage.

I was all ready to upload this post and just needed for La Gringa to go through it and take out a few hundred of the extra commas I always seem to strew liberally throughout whatever I write.  We were discussing the differences in getting a short post out every week on whatever we have,  as opposed to waiting until we actually  have something interesting.  And she made an observation.   She says that the DIY stuff seems to have fallen by the blogging wayside. And looking back at the last few posts I can see that she's right, as she annoyingly often seems to  be. So even though it's going to delay getting this uploaded I thought I'd better throw some DIY stuff in here.

One of the things about the kite-based aerials  is that you have to make most of your own equipment.  I love this stuff. I get to tinker with little bits of metal and strings and to look for new ways to do things. In  building our first pendulum style  camera rig I just looked up what other people had been  posting on the internet. I used bits and pieces of stuff I already had on hand. I found myself  modifying and adding as the perceived needs arose. This is what the first pendulum rig evolved to before I decided to start over with what we'd learned building this one.

I used PVC tubing for the main part because it was handy.   The camera mount is made from pieces of the  aluminum HD television satellite dish that was sacrificed to the spirits of the wind. The thing through the top of the black piece of  fuel line is a stainless bicycle spoke. The folding wind vane was made out of a piece of broken fishing pole I'd saved for years despite spates of criticism and ridicule. There's a clear plastic tail vane cut from some bubble pack packaging.   That clear plastic stuff is pretty tough.  There's a lot of recycling going on here since it's all scraps and pieces that were originally intended for something  else. Something specifically other than kite aerial photography, that's for sure.

This thing attaches to a kite line by wrapping the line several times around the bent bicycle spoke.  The flexible fuel line lets the rig hang vertically as the angle of the string changes.

You can see that the wind vane setup got a little complicated.   I got carried away with the sheer joy of excessive mechanical complexity. I wanted to be able to swivel it upwards for transportation and storage.  I also wanted to be able to set it at different angles to control the field of view.  The entire pan and tilt bracket swivels around and I can pin it to one of five different holes.  This lets me control which general direction the camera is pointing, because the vane is always going to be trailing down wind.  And the experiments using   wind to stabilize the camera went very well.   Our early attempts at Pine Cay  didn't have this, and the camera was swinging all over the sky.

You can also see that this mount has a rudimentary tilt mechanism built in.  I drilled several holes in  this so that I can attach different cameras to it.   And it's worked fairly well.  You've seen some of the results.

But, it got more complicated, and heavier. There comes a time when you look at a contraption like this and say "wait a minute.  What was I originally trying to do here?"  And it becomes time to stop and redefine the mission.  So now we've learned what works, and what doesn't, and things have changed and we're now ready to try out our second prototype.

I think the best approach to this is  standardize on small POV ( Point of View) cameras like the GoPro.  For now.   This lets  me get rid of the ability to mount several different types of cameras.  I can move back toward simplicity and light weight. I also discovered that the tapered carbon fiber fishing pole piece I used for the first wind vane was lighter and stronger than PVC, with tapered for less wind resistance.  So I went with carbon fiber fishing pole all the way for the next one.  Here are the first and second prototypes side by side for comparison:

I eliminated the pan and tilt and wind stabilized mount that had six pieces of aluminum, four pop rivets, four heavy little sets of nuts and bolts, and a separate pin for the wind vane. The new one  has two pieces of aluminum, and a little wire pin (yep, bicycle spoke) that secures the mount in the carbon tube andt doubles as a place to tie a safety line from the camera.  I cut out a lot of hardware, and the new version weighs about a third as much as the old one.  Weight is important with wind borne things. Sailboats, airplanes, or kite rigs.  Managing mass matters.

The second generation is the one on the left.   They both have their wind vanes folded upward. The vane did such a good job keeping the camera oriented in one direction that I think  I can get rid of the bicycle spoke,  fuel line, and associated hardware at the top of the first proto. That bike spoke was meant to keep the rig aligned with the kite string, which is pretty much aligned with the wind.   The vane does a better job, right at the camera, and seems to help a little in isolating the string motion.  This is helpful when the string is bouncing all over the sky.  Needs testing.

With the new one, I can take a ring of some kind and put a Larks Head hitch around it.  Then I  snap the fishing swivel onto the ring. This is a lot faster than winding line around the bent bike spoke. Makes  the camera more secure, too. The wire fishing tackle swivel  secures the Lark's Head on the ring, and lets the rig  rotate with any torque forces. I put a little more effort into keeppng the top part lighter, and to concentrate the  bulk of the weight at the lower end. You know, the old bit about mass and inertia, a body at rest and all that old high school physics stuff. Who woulda thunk I'd ever actually USE any of that?

The little wind vane arrow swings down into position into a short section of   channel.  I was turning it away from the wind while it was hanging here in the garage door, and the moment I let it go it swings instantly back to the same spot. I can position the camera throughout the hemisphere of its viewing angles by just using the standard GoPro mounting hardware.

Dooley is accustomed to  me tinkering around with stuff, screaming my own rough equivalent of "Eureka!"  and then heading out for some testing.  He doesn't much like being tied up, though. He says I treat him like a dog sometimes. In that photo, he was ready to be done with the tinkering and off for the testing.

Oh, one other thing that's  been on my bench for this project is a thing to let me walk the kite line down easily. This is the fastest way to access the camera.  La  Gringa holds the winding bobbin end, and I just hang onto the kite string and walk all the way to the end.  It pulls the rig down quickly.   But it's got its pitfalls, especially on windy days. The string burns are really painful. And it will even cut through a glove eventually from the friction. So I made a little hand pulley from some other scraps.  I have a lot of scraps in my life lately.

The wheel was cut with a rotary hole saw from a piece of driftwood Starboard that we salvaged over on West Caicos. I used a drill press as a lathe in order to get the groove. That plastic is really slippery stuff.  I plan to use some for drawer slides on the sailboat.  The axles were cut from an aluminum pole spear  that won't even notice being a few inches shorter.   Those two stops in the handle keep it from falling out, and also provide just enough clearance to slide it to the side far enough to slip it over the kite string.    Did you notice that all of this kite stuff is made from non-rusting aluminum, stainless steel, and synthetics? We're learning.

There's a lot more of this kind of stuff going on,  I just don't bother to take photos of it all anymore.  It's going on almost every day. And I think this is enough for one post so I'll stop with this for now.  We have plans to go over to Middle Caicos tomorrow, and of course I'm taking one of the kites along.  Hopefully we should have some nice new photos from a different perspective to show you shortly.

Every sunrise comes packed full of new possibilities.


Anonymous said...

Awesome. What is the height of the kite, it looks super high or is it just the perspective?

We used to tear a piece of paper and attach it to the string in the tear and watch it flutter its way up the string all the way to the top.

I tell you something, with those pictures, you could attach it to your new vehicle drive around the perimeter of the island snapping pics, then stitch them together and make your own google earth of the island.

Quickly checking my google earth, it zooms into an alt. of 150 ft before changing to street level.

Your pictures are stunning at that height compared to theirs.

Anonymous said...

The fish eye distortion is because of the GoPro camera's super wide angle lens. I think it psychologically reinforces the concept of height, even though we know it's a distortion. This perspective from roof top to a few hundred feet is a specialty thing, requiring unusual hardware and something that can fly a payload. Manned aircraft can't legally operate in that area, and they're moving platforms and expensive. We've gone through ultralight aircraft, helium balloons, and seriously considered R/C helicopters. We're finding that within it's limitations, the kite approach is simple, portable, and really clean.

I've been watching the tutorials on building a multirotor, though.
I need a marine version.

Anonymous said...

I'm thinking rc airship. Pretty much the same effect of the kite + boat. Where you use the wind steer/counter steer the boat etc.

With an air ship it will float on its on, steer it accordingly, kill the engines etc. etc. Just of course make sure they are massive enough engines, to power the thing back against the wind when required. And if it goes down it won't or shouldn't go down like a stone, like a multirotor when its engines fail all at once, rather smoothly and softly if due to a leak or whatever, or at least allowing enough time, for a prepacked parachute you can install/make to fire at 'x' rapid descent.

Man, sounds like a lot of fun to find something workable buildable, salvageable, height proof, wet proof, fog proof, dooley proof, :-)

here's a nice remote airship on quick looking, something like that with monster engines or simply thrusters to steer it and bring it back home vs. continuous helo rotor critical lofting

Anonymous said...

How about adding something like canvas to your DIY materials inventory? Could you make a drag-chute type of anchor to counteract the kite on those low-wind days?

The trick would be altering the underwater surface of the "anchor" to fine-tune its resistance to your needs...


Anonymous said...

tethered remote control airship on that kite string, steerable, controllable - secured.

Gringo is that current kite got some sort of rating? Like can you feel it pulling you in gusts or is it small enough no way it could lift you? What about a kite boarder kite for the boat, that should have pulling power?

Maybe a pic or short video of you launching the actual kite will give us all some idea of it?

Anonymous said...

Please post a photo of the kite. I have been waiting to see this kite and how big it actually is.
Jim Ashworth
Lil Provo
New Jersey

Anonymous said...


How about a rocket for light wind days?

Anonymous said...

A friend sent me this you tube link to a DJI Phantom Quadcopter video. Nice boating scenery and a good operator. There is other contenet but the first 5 minutes is good.

Anonymous said...

Thanks. I couldn't get the link to work,but have seen other DJI footage. Seems to be pretty popular, with payload limits the only complaint.

satbeachbill said...

Your kite shots are cool. I'm surprised you haven't tried a remote helicopter yet, like the one that shot this footage:

satbeachbill said...

Here's the helo with GoPro mount:

Anonymous said...

Again, that YouTube link just doesn't work for me.

we've looked into the multirotors. The DJI Phantom, like the Parrot AR drone, just doesn't have what it needs for this environment. They can't handle the wind, and one dunk in sea water would make the platform itself pretty much a total write-off.

There are no real commercially available, affordable, marine grade multirotors out there yet. Plenty of people who will build one for a price, but they're not that complicated to build. Making them waterproof seems to be the challenge.

Anonymous said...

GE's finally showing the house, and the old shipwreck. Not very well, but now we can see you!!


Karen said...

Those kites shots are amazing!! Just beautiful.

Hugo said...

This is great!