Category Archives: Nature, Photography, Videos

How to make your own car-top kayak rack

I designed and built what I think turned out to be a pretty decent car-top carrier rack for my kayaks.  Here is a photo of the final product mounted on the roof of my PT Cruiser.

I built the rack out of PVC pipe bought from my local home improvement store.  I designed the rack so that it can be attached to the roof of my car using standard ratcheting straps that loop around the car roof with the doors open.  The ratchets are inside the cab of the car.

Before I built this rack, my best solution for hauling my kayak to the river was just to strap the kayak itself to the roof of my car.

One problem with that scenario was that I could only haul a single kayak that way.  Another problem was that the ratcheting straps outside the cab would vibrate and buzz loudly when I was driving down the road at highway speeds.  But the rack I designed and built solved both of these problems.

Below is a photo of the rack after I glued all the PVC pieces together.  I designed the left side of the rack with a single upright that sits up into the seat hole in the first kayak which will hold it at the angle I want.  Then the other two kayaks lean up against the first one.  The right side of the rack has 2 uprights to cradle the bottom side of the third kayak.

I used T’s rather than 90’s for the 4 corners so that I could feed the ratcheting straps through the pipe and keep the straps out of the winds, thus keeping them from vibrating and buzzing.

I’m not going to give specific parts lists and specific measurements because this rack needs to be custom sized for your kayaks and also custom sized for your car.  But cutting these PVC pipes and gluing them together is very very easy.  So this is a project that just about anyone should be able to take on.

The below photo shows how 3 kayaks fit perfectly into this rack.

But I actually own 4 kayaks, and occasionally I will want to haul all 4 of them to the river.  It turns out that my SUV has a roof wide enough to hold all 4 kayaks, so I designed my kayak rack to be expandable from 3 kayaks to 4 kayaks.  So now I can use the rack on my car or on my SUV.

You can see in the below photo that the rack is now wider.  The PVC pipes on the left are all 2 inch pipes and the PVC pipes on the right are all 1 and 1/2 inch pipes.  The 1.5 inch pipes fit nicely inside the 2 inch pipes with not very much wiggle room, so that worked out nicely for this application.

If I was making a single size rack that didn’t expand, I would probably just use the 1 and 1/2 inch PVC pipe for the entire rack.  It feels to me like it is strong enough to do the job of holding up these 10 foot kayaks, but also flexible enough to bend a bit around the contour of the car’s roof.  In my case, the 2 inch PVC pipe I used for most of the rack doesn’t give very much and it ended up denting part of the roof of my car a bit when I torqued the rack down using the ratcheting straps.

Here is a photo of the rack holding 4 kayaks.

The detail photo below shows you the single upright on the rack that fits up into the seat hole of the first kayak and basically holds the first kayak upright at a slight tilt from vertical which is good for leaning the other kayaks up against the first kayak.

The photo below details the other side of the rack where the two uprights are there supporting the bottom of the third kayak.  This photo also shows my solution for holding the kayaks down.  I used black rubber bungee cords.

The photo below details the attachment points of the bungee cords.  I bought a bungee cord that was the right length to go all the way around each kayak.  And I drilled holes into my PVC pipes to attach the bungee cords.  These bungee cords hold the kayaks down tight to the rack and they also keep the kayaks from moving very much left and right.  And also, thankfully, these bungee cords don’t vibrate and buzz at highway speeds.

IMPORTANT:  This photo shows the PVC sitting down directly onto my roof.  Do not do this!  The PVC is plastic, but it’s a very hard plastic and it WILL damage your paint job!  Make sure you put something soft or rubbery between the PVC and your vehicle!  My suggestion is to buy 2 inch wide self-stick Velcro in bulk rolls and apply the soft side to the bottom surface of your PVC rack!  Also don’t ratchet it down so tight that it dents your roof!  The idea is to use PVC that is flexible and conforms to the contour of your roof!

This photo shows you the inside of one of the PVC pipes.  You can see the ratcheting strap and also the bungee cord attachments.

And here is the final rack.  I tested it at highway speeds and it worked quite well.

Another photo of the final rack.

And one last photo of the final rack.

And just for fun.  Here are a couple drawings I drew up during the process to help me decide on the design and to help me come up with a parts list to go buy.

Thanks for your interest!  Please leave questions or comments below!  Or use the “Email Us” link at the bottom of the website!

Kurt

Bats need houses too!

I got a wild hair today and I built a house for my resident bats that do such a good job of keeping the mosquito population under control.  Building a bat house is pretty easy and it only takes a few small pieces of wood.  What follows are easy step by step instructions for building a small and simple bat house.  It’s so easy you can do it yourself!

I searched the Internet for some plans and ended up drawing up my own design based on a few of the simpler designs that I found on the Internet.  Here is a photo of my plans.  (Click on any image to see the full resolution version.)

01 - bat house plans

It might be hard to read, but basically it only takes a 12 inch by 12 inch piece of plywood for the back, plus a couple smaller plywood pieces for the front and one more for the roof, plus several thin slats.  Here is a photo of all the wood for my bat house project, except for the roof, which I cut last after the rest was put together.

02 - parts cut

You can see the 12 by 12 plywood piece for the back, plus a 12 by 5 plywood piece and a 12 by 4 plywood piece for the front, plus 4 wood slats that are 1/2 inch by 1 inch and around 10 inches long.  I cut the slats to their proper length during construction to fit the front of the house, so right now they are just a little long.  The plywood I used was some thin veneer that I had laying around that was leftover from another project.  But you can use plywood of any thickness for this project.  The thickness of the front and back will determine the final size of the roof piece, so that’s one reason to cut that piece last.

The picture below shows one slat is cut along it’s short 1/2 inch side at an angle for the roof.  I did not measure the angle … I just eyeballed it on my bandsaw.  Then I took the one that I had cut and I used it as a template to draw the angle on the other three slats.  That way they will all be the same angle.

03 - one slat cut

The photo below shows all four slats laid out on the 12 by 12 back piece.  You can also see a piece of screen that I had laying around that I cut to use as the landing pad for the bats.  The bats need a surface to land on that they can hold onto with their tiny claws.  A surface that is soft or rubbery or something like this screen will do fine.

04 - slats laid out

Below you can see the front pieces laid down on the slats.  Nothing is being attached together at this point.  I am only test fitting everything to make sure it’s all the right size.  The reason the front is in two pieces is that a bat house needs some ventilation in a way that does not allow rain to pour in.

05 - front pieces fit check

Above you can see how the four spacer slats stick out beneath the front pieces.  I marked them and cut them off and below you can see them now at the proper length.

06 fit check reverse angle

Now that everything is verified to be the correct size, I’m ready to attach my landing pad.  I used an office stapler to attach the screen to the plywood.  In the photo below, you can see that I started on the back side and attached the screen.  Then I rolled the screen around to the front side of the plywood and stapled it every couple of inches.  I used staples because my material is metal screen.  If you use foam matting or rubber matting or something like that, glue will probably work just fine.

07 - screen started on back side

Below you can see the landing pad completely installed from the front side where the bats will land.

08 - screen finished

Now it’s time to assemble the spacer slats onto the back plywood piece.  I’m going to assemble the slats onto the plywood back now, but I will hold off assembling the front pieces and the roof.  This is because the back needs to be installed onto my tall light pole first and then the front pieces and the roof can be installed.  Otherwise, installation of the bat house on the light pole will be much harder after the whole thing is fully assembled.  I used Liquid Nails to glue the wood pieces to each other.  I also am going to use screws for good measure.  This bat house will be outdoors and I want it to hold together for many years.

09 - slat being glued

You can see below that I used wood clamps to hold the wood together tight and then I installed some screws.  Between the glue and the screws, plus a coat of primer and a couple coats of outdoor latex paint, I’m hoping this bat house lasts for many many years.

10 - slat being screwed in

Here it is on the light pole that I want it to be installed on.  There were a couple bolts sticking out of the light pole that I had to accomodate.  I’m going to put some smaller holes and then wrap picture wire around and around several times in order to hold the bat house in place on the round pole.

11 - fit check on pole

This photo shows the larger holes for the light pole bolts plus four smaller holes that I drilled for the picture wire.

12 - holes for pitcure wire hanging

Now I screwed the front pieces on, but I did not turn the screws down tight.  I put the screws in just enough to make holes that I can find again later after it is painted.

13 - start screws in front

Now I found a piece of plywood big enough to use as the roof.  I cut it out and centered it in place and then I marked it’s final location as the photo below shows.

14 - mark location of roof

Then I laid the bat house next to the roof so I could mark where the slats are located so I can put screws through the roof directly into the center of these four slats.

15 - mark location of slats on roof

Then I installed the roof, but not tight.  Just to make screw holes that I can find again after it’s painted.

16 - start screws on roof

Now I took the front and roof pieces off again so I can paint everything separately.

17 - take it apart for painting

Then I primered everything.

18 - primer

Then I painted everything.  I actually put two nice thick coats of paint because I want this to be nice and waterproof and last for many years, hopefully.  You don’t really want a bat house to be brightly colored.  It should not really stand out.  I had a dark brown paint handy so I used that.  Painting through the screen was not easy, but I did it.  Next time, I think I would probably paint the wood under the screen before installing the screen.

19 - dark paint

Then I hung the back piece as I described earlier using the picture wire to wrap around the pole several times.

20 - back is installed on pole

 Then I screwed the front pieces and the roof on. That’s all!  The bat house is complete and ready for occupants!

21 - final product - bat house

Thanks for taking the time to read these step by step bat house directions!  Let me know if you have any comments or feedback and definitely let me know if you used these directions to make your own bat house!  Leave comments below on this blog post or send me an email by clicking the email link below in the page footer.

Thanks!

Kurt

My unexpected (but fully paid) vacation: Day 9

This is my little digital journal from the government shutdown.  Today is day 9 (Friday Oct 11th), not counting the weekend.  Click here to see all of my government shutdown journal entries.

Today I got up at 7am because I wanted to get canoeing pretty early.  I could have set my alarm to get up before sunrise, but I’m on vacation so I just got up whenever I woke up today.  I checked Facebook real quick and then ate some breakfast burgers, since they make for a pretty quick meal.

Then I drove about 30 minutes to Pine Island Conservation Area.  Here it is on Google Maps.  My original NASA boss, Gary, told me about this place many many years ago and I’ve been wanting to check it out and have just never made the time.  This government shutdown is allowing me to do all sorts of stuff that I’ve been meaning to do, though.

There was a map station at the entrance and according to the map there were two separate canoe trails.  A 2.3 mile loop run and a 3.0 mile run.  The loop was obvious on the map, but the 3 mile run was not completely obvious to me at the time.  After studying it later at home, I’m fairly certain that the 3 mile run and the 2.3 mile loop overlap on the Indian River side.

I started on the south side of the sanctuary at the start of the 3 mile run.  My thinking was that I would quit after the 3 mile run run if I was tired.  My problem was that I actually started in a lake next to the run instead of starting in the run.  I didn’t actually realize that I was in the lake till I got to the opposite end and noticed that it didn’t take a sharp right turn as the map showed.  Oops.  No harm, though.  It was a nice warm up run.  The lake was dead calm.  This photo was taken on the lake at about 9:30am.

pine-island-canoeing-1-selfie

Had I used my GPS app on my phone and zoomed out a bit, it would have been obvious that I was not in the correct body of water.  But I didn’t do that.  Oh well.  Lesson learned.  So after I took my tour of the south lake, I got my canoe put in at the start of the 3 mile run and immediately started encountering manatees.  Huge manatees.  Manatees in large groups, no less.  I did my best to avoid them, but these things had no respect for my personal space.  They acted like they owned the place.  🙂

I didn’t see more than a couple jumping fish and some birds in the south lake, but in this canal there were tons of wildlife.  I saw alligators, manatees, ospreys, large cranes, and even a bald eagle.  As soon as I got out into the Indian River, there were tons of fish running in schools and lots of fish jumping out of the water.  This is a fisherman’s paradise.  I, however, am not a fisherman.

The breeze was starting to pick up and work against me while I was traveling north on the Indian River, but I stayed close to the shore where the breeze was minimal.  By the time I got up into the north part of the sanctuary and at the start of the 2.3 mile loop, the breeze was calm and I felt pretty good so I kept going.  I hadn’t really been paddling very hard.  I was just taking a nice leisurely pace.

The north part of the sanctuary has multiple marsh ponds connected by small channels.  There was one spot where I wasn’t even sure I was going to fit my canoe through.  This is a great way to see natural Florida marshland.  This is probably the same landscape that the first settlers saw way back when.

The largest pond at the north end of the sanctuary was a bit of a challenge since the wind was working against me.  I was travelling north and the wind was pushing south.  But I knew as soon as I turned around the northern border, I would be travelling south on the Indian River with the wind at my back, so I pressed on.

So after making the turn around and ending back in the Indian River travelling south, I was expecting the wind to push me south and I was planning on just lazily riding it home.  But apparently the wind died just as I arrived.  It was dead calm.  I don’t believe this happens on the Indian River very often.  It was pretty weird.  The glassy smooth water did allow me to see lots of fish, though.

My rear was starting to hurt from sitting in the canoe, so I stood up and paddled and I could see even more fish.  I know stand up paddle-boarding is a popular activity these days, but is stand up canoeing also a thing?  Did I just start a stand up canoeing thing?

You can see a fish in mid-air in the photo below.  You can also see that I’m in about 1.5 feet of water.  The lakes and canals in this area are fairly deep, but the Indian River is very shallow unless you are out in the middle where the boat channel is located.

pine-island-canoeing-2-jumping-fish

In this glassy smooth water, I also saw some dolphins feeding.  I didn’t get close enough to them to get a good photo, though.  I saw some small stingrays in the Indian River too.  Here is a photo I took of a small stingray resting on the bottom.

pine-island-canoeing-3-stingray

So when it was all said and done, I actually ended up canoeing on both trails, plus repeating a large portion of the 3 mile run, plus a lake.  By my estimate, I canoed 7 miles or more today.  I started a little after 9am and finished a little after 4pm, so I was out on the water for 7 total hours.  It was a long day, but I was not paddling hard during any of my day.  Most of the time I was just taking it easy and paddling gently.  Although, that being said, I’m sure my shoulders and back muscles are going to be killing me tomorrow.

The weather today was really nice.  The high temperature was 85, I think.  It was mostly sunny all day long.  I think I applied SPF 50 sunblock three separate times today.  I think I got a bit of sun on the back of my neck, though, because the last time I applied it was sweaty and I don’t think it took very well.

Here is a Google map of the Pine Island Conservation Area marked up showing my path today.  This is not a GPS trail … I did not use my GPS today because I wasn’t sure the battery in my phone would last that long and I wanted to make sure my phone was available for emergencies.  This is just a satellite image that I manually marked up with my path.  Click on the image for a full size version.

Kurts-pine-island-route

So that was basically my entire day today.  Afterwards, I stopped for some ice cream.  Then I got home and rinsed off all the canoeing stuff, then I took a shower and ate a grilled swiss cheese sandwich.  Then I relaxed on the couch for a bit and now I’m writing this blog post.

It’s sorta funny that sitting at the table typing into my computer, I still feel like I’m standing in my canoe and it is gently rocking back and forth.  It’s just a bit dizzying.  I wonder how long it will take to wear off.  I wonder if it will impact me getting to sleep tonight.  I’m about to find out because it’s 10:30pm and I’ve had a long day in the sun, so I’m going to bed now.

So that was day nine of my unplanned furlough slash vacation.  My to-do list had 21 items on it last night when I went to bed.  Tonight it now has 20 items on it.  I’ll take it.

What will Monday hold for this furloughed government employee? Stay tuned! 🙂

Kurt

VOB file fixer quickly and easily fixes incorrect video length

I’m blogging about this because I had a terrible time finding a solution to my problem and I want to help other people who are having the same problem.

A while back I was digitizing old VHS tapes using my DVD/VCR combo player/recorder.  I was creating raw DVDs from old VHS tapes and then taking the raw DVDs and copying them onto my laptop for editing.  But sometimes the VOB files that were created by the DVD recorder would have terribly incorrect lengths when viewed on my PC.  For example, a 30 minute VOB file would show up and play as a 10 second long VOB file on my PC.  This incorrect time was keeping my PC software from being able to view and edit the VOB files.  Apparently this is a fairly common problem with some DVD recorders, since this VOB length information is not actually used by many consumer electronic devices.

It took me a while, but I was finally able to find a simple and free utility called MPEG Streamclip that was able to fix the VOB file length data without having to completely render the entire VOB.  This program has a terrible user interface and it also has a couple of quirks.  For example, it gives me a couple errors regarding some Apple Quicktime software that is not installed on my system, but it did what I needed it to do anyways.  But what do you expect for free, huh?

MPEG Streamclip screen shot

When you tell it to open a VOB that has incorrect length information, it realizes the problem during the open operation and prompts you to fix the timecode breaks or not.  Once it fixes the timecode breaks, you can save as MPG (not Export … Save As) which doesn’t perform any processing nor rendering of the file because the VOB was in MPG format already, or you can export into a number of different video formats.

broken and fixed VOB file

One other thing.  MPEG Streamclip does not require admin rights to install on your PC.  Just download the zip, unzip it, and run the executable.  Here is the website where you can download the utility.  Have fun!

http://www.squared5.com/

Kurt

Postscript: In January 2017 I got a new PC and MPEG Streamclip refused to run until I installed the Alternate Quicktime package that it pointed me to.  This Alternate Quicktime package does require admin rights to install.

Redneck Car Wash

We witnessed this while at a public park in North Carolina today.  There was a boat ramp nearby and I saw this man drive right up and back his pickup truck right down the ramp and into the water with no boat trailer.  The rear wheels were totally submerged and the front wheels were probably just a little bit in the water.  We found out later that the guy was trying to rinse out the bed of his truck.  Well, needless to say, he got stuck there.  After maybe 10 minutes, someone drove up and backed their SUV up to his truck in an apparent attempt to help him get his truck out.  I got distracted for a minute and when I looked back, the man’s half submerged truck was completely gone.  Yes, it was no longer there.  It had somehow rolled completely into the lake and was totally submerged.  A couple of hours, two fire trucks, four police cars, two tow trucks, and one fire rescue unit later, I was able to record the following video of the rescue crew pulling the submerged truck out of the lake.  Enjoy.  I just hope the guy who owns the pickup will be able to laugh about this experience later.  🙂


redneck_car_wash