Tuesday 23 May 2023

My journey with Vagabond Kayaks has ended

 I've long had a mantra, "Nothing lasts forever". In pretty much every situation, it is a good thing - including a bowl of dessert. And so my journey with Vagabond Kayaks had ended.

This is my 'farewell letter' sent to my suppliers, dealers, distributors, operators and posted on Vagabond's website for the many Vagabond customers who love their Vagabond kayaks.

To the many people that have been part of my Vagabond Kayaks journey,

 What started with a dream and a business plan first written in January 2016, evolved into Vagabond Kayaks. Vagabond was created by me and Celliers Kruger and where he brought his technical experience and beautiful kayak designs to the party, I breathed personality and brand into Vagabond through my passion for our products, people and sharing of adventures and experiences. With essential funding from our investor partners, Celliers’ work creating the kayak designs and moulds began in mid-2017. My tasks only kicked in the few months before our July 2018 launch in creating the brand, website and content. My responsibilities escalated four years ago when I took over sole management and running of Vagabond.

 As you well know, Vagabond, like many companies, has been through a number of major storms. Start-up challenges, which are common to all new businesses, looked to be reaching an end when COVID hit. The factory had to close and international container orders were lost as we, the business and our customers went into lockdown. We emerged from this into unrelenting power-supply issues in our hometown, which led to the factory and Vagabond moving to the city of George at the end of 2020. That summer saw South Africa implement restrictions on water access – never good for business – but for us bought time without the pressure of main-season orders while the factory was rebuilt. By late 2021, production delays had improved and Vagabond entered the start of its best season ever through late 2021 and into our autumn 2022.

And then, disaster struck. The factory that moulded our kayaks was closed in late June 2022 and Vagabond has been on ice since then. This has been a saga deserving of a book!

 These past 10 months have been an incredible strain on me through months of legal battles and dealing with my wounded ‘child’. This past local summer would have been incredible for Vagabond. My heart broke over and over with every call and email that I answered from customers enquiring not just about ‘kayaks’ but seeking our beautiful Vagabond kayaks, specifying models and their wonderful certainty that nothing else would be better for them. They were, of course, correct. Once you’ve paddled a Vagabond kayak, there is no other kayak to even consider.

We did test moulding of some kayak models late last year with another moulder – with great success. Unfortunately, they do not have big enough ovens to mould our most popular models: Kasai, Marimba and Mazowe. We were left in limbo.

By January, I had my mojo and forward vision back but my Vagabond partners, the original investors in business, decided at the end of February to retain the assets and run the business themselves.

While my passion for Vagabond and enthusiasm for a vision I’d planned for the way forward burned as strongly as ever, I felt relief at this decision – and I still do. I grieved Vagabond last year through the immense trials we went through so it is with an element of relief that my journey with Vagabond has ended. The weight on my shoulders has been considerably lighter for the first time in many years.

For me, Vagabond has been a journey of learning and growth, stresses and also joys.

Although I had paddled on-and-off for 15 years before starting Vagabond, I had to leap into really learning about kayaks, the market and the industry. I have enjoyed meeting and communicating with kayak dealers and distributors around the world and here at home in South Africa. I’ve been blessed to work with so many incredible suppliers who go above-and-beyond through their own manufacturing struggles, the global shipping crisis and numerous curveballs. I love interacting with Vagabond customers, receiving their messages and photographs of their outings with friends and family, their travels and their explorations. Kayaks bring joy, activity and adventure to people’s lives.

I learned that I love being in the factory – I revel in the action and magic of turning plastic powder into a completed product. Tour guiding visitors through the factory was always a delight for me. I can assemble a kayak, cut and drill into it with confidence to install accessories and I derive joy from using my heat gun and soldering iron to heat weld and repair injured kayaks.

I went in with lots of media experience but no business experience; I have come out of this journey with dozens of proficiencies from import and export to cloud accounting, product costings, stock flow and lessons learned in business management.

The past 11 months, a period that has brought much sadness and distress, has taught me to stand up against bullies and to fight for what is right. Because of this, Vagabond will make it out the other side.

I have just completed handover to my partners and so this is my farewell as the Managing Director and jack-of-all-trades for Vagabond. I am signing off to jump into new adventures.

Your email contact for Vagabond will be office@vagabondkayaks.com . Other details will be updated on the website and communicated in due time. There is a solution to get Vagabond back into the market.

The one question I am regularly asked now is, “What are you going to do after six years of living, breathing, eating and sleeping Vagabond?”.

18-months before starting Vagabond, I started YOLO, an exceptional composting solution for the domestic market with the YOLO Compost Tumbler product. Like Vagabond, YOLO too was affected by the factory closure and I have got it up and running again. I have a lot of rebuilding to do in the market with our compost tumblers and the calf hutch, the latter being a product for the dairy industry. www.yolocomposttumbler.co.za

22-years ago, I created AR Gaiters, a shoe covering that prevents sand and grass seeds and grit from getting into your running shoes. This small business started with me sewing gaiters for myself and then for friends and then for adventure racing teams. My mom took over running AR Gaiters in about 2012 and it has grown organically from there, especially over the last 6 years. It is at the stage where my mom needs help and AR Gaiters has capacity to expand. We have four models of AR Gaiters for the trail running, hiking, adventure racing and orienteering market. I have just built a new eShop with an expanded product range from other trusted suppliers. I’m excited about some new AR Gaiters products that I am developing in addition to our new avenue of offering customised fabric designs for events. www.argaiters.co.za

 My main line of work, before Vagabond, was in writing for magazines, websites, and adventure brands specifically in the genre of trail running, adventure racing, events and travel, with other themes from data warehousing to biotechnology (I have a science background) coming in occasionally. I look forward to writing again.

I will remain living in George. I love it here for the nature, mountains, trails and abundance of scenic paddling spots. If you’re ever in the Garden Route over a weekend, look out for the monthly social paddle outings that I organise for my Kingfisher Social Paddle Group. You’ll find me there with my green Marimba kayak.

While I wave farewell with my Vagabond hat on, I haven’t disappeared; I’m around and the world is small. Who knows where and how our paths may cross.

While this email is a bye, it is also a thank you for being part of my Vagabond world. Whether you have supplied me with nuts and bolts, fittings, materials and graphics, processed forex transactions and booked containers, or you have proudly represented Vagabond to the public by spreading the joy of our kayaks to your customers, or you've sent me stories and photos of your paddling adventures, I thank you for being on my team and playing an important part in my journey.

I wish you successes, rewards and joy on your own journeys.


Sunday 21 May 2023

13 Rules for Being Human

 I love Reels on Facebook / Instagram. Oh yes, they're often totally mindless and a complete waste of time, but I like them. They're distracting and absorbing. For as much junk that I've watched, I have also gained. I've learned some cool woodworking tricks, I've discovered cooking and baking recipes, ideas and techniques and I thoroughly enjoy the biokinetic / functional movement / range of motion clips. How to make mini fried eggs and getting avo out of the skin without resorting to peeling back the skin (which I've always done) are some of the recent gems that I now use regularly.

This one came up a day or two ago. "13 Rules for Being Human" 

The guy who eloquently delivered the rules said they come from "ancient Indian scriptures" that have been passed down. They're also in business books, adopted by motivational coaches and written up on shareable images on the internet in any number of rules from nine to 13... Wherever they have come from, they're pretty decent. The Reel came at a good time for me to listen and consider each one.

13 Rules for Being Human

One: You will receive a body

Two: You will learn lessons

Three: There are no mistakes, only lessons

Four: A lesson will be repeated until it is learned by you.

Five: Learning lessons does not end.

Six: "There" is no better than "here".

Seven: Others are merely mirrors of you.

Eight: What you make of your life is up to you.

Nine: Life is exactly what you think it is.

Ten: All the answers that you seek lie within you.

Eleven: You are whole. You are enough.

Twelve: You will forget all of this.

Thirteen: You can remember this whenever you want.

Rebuilding YOLO Compost Tumblers business

I started the YOLO Compost Tumbler business in early 2017 with Celliers' superb design of the compost tumbler unit and my passion/obsession for recycling / waste reduction. At this time, we needed a composting solution for our home and while Googling concepts for compost heaps, Celliers stumbled across compost tumblers. They made so much sense. We ran with it.

YOLO has never been a big business as it has often struggled with product supply challenges from the factory. This makes it really difficult to market and promote a product when you do not have anything on the shelf to supply to customers. Nonetheless, YOLO has a niche, loyal following and scope for expansion.

YOLO was also severely compromised by last year's factory closure. When I got my assets back, I moved the moulds to a moulder here in George. Through summer, they struggled with loadshedding and keeping up with their existing orders and were not able to get to even test moulding my YOLOs. I moved the moulds in February to another moulder in Cape Town who had more capacity. 

In late March, I travelled through to Cape Town to approve the moulding and assembly of the test units. They were perfect. These were the first units moulded since May/June last year! The first moulded and completed products started going out to waiting orders four weeks ago.

I have a lot of work to do to get YOLO properly up and running and out there again. The first step is having stock on hand - I do have some stock now with the moulders. And then getting word out there more. This means making videos and sharing content more regularly.

I've met with a marketing guy (a YOLO customer who loves his YOLOs and sees much scope for expansion) but have yet to secure his services until I get my stock flow sorted. I look forward to hearing his ideas. Good to have an outside perspective.

YOLO is quieter over winter so I have some a bit of time to prepare and look at a push for spring and summer.

Expansion of AR Gaiters

 In 2004, I started sewing my own gaiters for trail running and adventure racing. I made a few pairs here and there for friends on request. In 2008, I did the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge for the first time and learned how regular mini gaiters are no defense against the desert sand that finds its way into your shoes through the mesh in the front. In 2009 I was back with version 1 of my Desert Gaiters. I refined versions 2 and 3 at the Namib Desert Challenge, Fish River Canyon ultra and another year of Abu Dhabi. 

By this stage my mom was helping me by sewing the AR Mini Gaiters and then the AR Desert Gaiters. It must have been by 2012 that we had the AR Adventure Gaiter, with shin protection, for orienteering and adventure racing. It was around this time that my mom took over handling all the orders and customer interaction too. I didn't have much to do with AR Gaiters for the next 10 years. She brought out the AR Hiking Gaiters by about 2020 after making a number of pairs for her friends with hiking boots.

AR Gaiters has has a slow-and-steady, organic, word-of-mouth growth. The first 10 years were fairly quiet, the next five picked up and the last eight years have been busy. On reaching the point where she was sewing seven days a week, we found cutting and sewing assistance for my mom.

With massive changes in my life, I've jumped back in to AR Gaiters to expand the offering and take over the admin of handling orders and enquiries. I've revamped the website to have an AR Gaiters eShop (www.argaiters.co.za) with our AR Gaiters and complementary products that suit our customers' activities of trail running, hiking, orienteering and adventure racing. The eShop structure also makes it a lot easier for customers to select and order the fabric print for their AR Gaiters.

We've had a few recent enquiries about custom prints and just this past week completed our first custom order with our own design for a customer that was sublimated onto fabric. It came out perfectly. I've got another three projects on the go for custom prints. Very exciting.

I've got a number of plans to roll out over the next few months and look forward to continued growth in our offering of in-house products as well as those from trusted brands and suppliers.

Social paddle group outing

 At the beginning of last year, I started the Kingfisher Social Paddle Group. The focus of this group is to offer monthly paddling outings to people with their own kayaks - primarily recreational paddlers - to explore the waterways between Mossel Bay and Knysna. Each month I schedule a paddle, publishing the location and details on the Group's Facebook page and Whatsapp and Telegram groups.

The outings are usually on the 3rd or 4th Sunday of the month - depending on the weather forecast and my availability. With volunteering at MUT next weekend, I schedule the May paddle for this weekend. Earlier in the week, I saw that the weather forecast looked solid for rain on Sunday (today) so I moved the day to Saturday.

It proved to be a good call. We had spectacular conditions for our small group as we explored the Karatara River, Ruigtevlei and the Hoogekraal River. The reflections of mountains, trees, kayaks and paddlers in the water were beautiful.

Birdlife was good too with sightings of a kingfisher (saw the flash of blue but didn't get a close look), two Knysna turacos, a fish eagle, purple herons, loads of cormorants and other waterbirds. 

These outings are a pleasure to organise. We've got a great group of regulars and others who drop in when available. Logistics are as easy as maybe making a call and then putting out info on where and when. Then people just rock up with their kayaks and we enjoy the outing together.

As we move into the winter months, which are cold and dark early, I'm planning to schedule the outings for Saturday lunchtime so that we can paddle-and-picnic. This will see us nicely through June, July, August and even September until the sun and warmth returns.

Scenery on the Hoogekraal River.

Paddling across Ruigtevlei

Louis (left), Joan (centre), Stan (right).

Emerging from the Karatara River into Ruigetvlei

An easy put-in from a bridge over the Karatara River.

After yesterday's paddle, I headed out with my mom to drive the Robinson Pass, which links Hartenbos with Oudtshoorn. We made a stop at the Eight Bells Inn for scones and tea. This was a belated Mother's Day outing as last weekend it was rainy and my mom was sick-as-a-dog with a bad cough. We had a super drive - with the dogs - and a beautiful afternoon together.

47 Days of Running: Pre-birthday challenge 2023

Yesterday was Day 17 of '47 Days of Running', my annual pre-birthday 'challenge', which I started in the year I turned 35. 

This annual pre-birthday game sees me running (or another activity) every day, in the days leading up to my birthday, for the number of days of the age that I'm turning. Yes, I'm turning 47 this year. 

2020 was the last year that I enjoyed a 'Days of RUNNING' as I struggled with not-my-knee right-knee inflammation and pain for almost two years.

Last year's 'Days of Running' had a yoga focus as I was mostly walking and trotting with some parkruns; too scared to do too much in case my knee flared up again.

What the last year had taught me is that my knee has primarily been a physical manifestation of stress, of which there has been a truck-load the last three years.

In April last year, I went to a chiropractor for the first time and it was my first big leap towards recovery (following months of biokineticist exercises). Earlier this year I did a number of high-intensity track sessions, in preparation for a biathlon. Interestingly, this was another big leap forward. I'm now running more - further, harder and faster - and benefitting from every step I take. I'm not doing any big distances (mostly trail up to about 12km); it will take me some time yet to find my footing and confidence psychologically to know that I can run hard and not be laid up for two weeks dealing with inflammation of my knee, which has no problem.

While I've designated this year's challenge as a Days of Running, a majority of the days are running but I've also got my usual walks with dogs (Rusty is getting older now and running at my pace for a few kilometres is now too much for her) plus a number of proper runs each week. Achieving some kind of balance with the weekly GTR Social Run on Mondays (8km), the Thursday timetrial (5.5km), some parkruns and runnings of the FKT-route of the month (10-12km). 

For the April/May FKT route, I took seven minutes off my time over three runnings of the route, I'm doing really well on climbs and I'm definitely running fitter and easier. Steady and consistent is my mantra.

This coming weekend is the MUT (Mountain Ultra Trail) event, a feather in my hometown's cap. I'll be volunteering again as a marshal at The Cross and looking forward to seeing 1000-odd runners through my checkpoint, especially those on the 100km and 160km routes. I know a lot of the trails around here and I can just say that this is no easy run - even the 10km and 25km routes pack a punch.

Monday 8 May 2023

Family visit from uncle and aunt

I haven't seen my uncle and aunt in person for over 18 months, so it was a treat to have them visiting for a couple of days. They have been living in Margate, moved from JHB, since the beginning of 2022. 

I booked a surprise trip for us on the Outeniqua Powervan. I've been on it twice before; for my mom's birthday in 2021 and then when my friend Karen visited in October last year. We had perfect weather and enjoyed a beautiful trip with a breakfast picnic stop. I kept the trip a secret until we drove up to the Transport Museum.

With my aunt Brenda, uncle Gus (mom's brother) and my mom Liz.

View for miles

Picnic munchies

This little mouse came to see what we were eating.

We also did a nice outing over the mountains to have breakfast in Herold.

A real win was two nights of playing Bananagrams. My uncle and aunt had never played before. They loved it so much that they bought a set to take home to play with their friends. I am the undisputed Bananagrams champion. I had some really winners. Yeee-ha!

I've always loved Scrabble but I think I like Bananagrams more because you are responsible for your own grid, no-one can take your place, speed counts and you don't need to count letter scores.