21 amphibians on the Semois

It’s spring, the time for our yearly packrafting weekend with our Flemish friends of Hiking Advisor. This weekend we are found on the Semois.
We took our drysuits. As an experiment we’re going to use them as rain clothes as well, when needed. Of course it’s needed: whens leaving it is raining, so we dress in our sweat suits and walk to the Semois.

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We put off the backpacks, eat and inflate packrafts. The green meadow is brightened with yellow, red, green and blue rafts. The first “rapid” can be seen from here which nourishes the doubt for some of the novices.

The weir at Cugnon is located a few kilometres downstream. After inspection and explanation of Joery and Willem a big part of the group crosses the weir over water. “It’s quite okay, how big is the chance that you have to swim over there?” At the moment the question is asked, it looks like a very remote chance. A few minutes later someone’s swimming in the water.

During the break we ascent the viewpoint and caves of Saint-Remacle. It’s only a short stretch to the bivouac zone from here.

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We learn some things: Taking charcoal with you for barbecuing is a great idea for a weekend trip. There are many ways to bivouac, with a tent, a tarp or just using a packraft, some wood and a piece of aluminium foil.
Raindrops and the first mosquitoes are scared away by the camp fire. Being together around the fire we discuss cultural differences and exchange practical advices. Now we know why Debbie takes a Dutchman to the woods.

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We wake up in fog which disappears quickly when the sun starts shining. We continue our sailing in beautiful weather. Between Dohan and Bouillon we eat in lovely sunshine. The last part on the water we build one big floating circle with all 21 packrafts, that just fits in the Semois. Arriving in Bouillon we build a leaning tower of Pisa with as many packrafts as possible.

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Hiking Advisor, thanks again for organising this great event.

The idea of the packraft tripod is based on the one from the Deliverance team. A great idea, tack!

Semois at Bouillon: waterheight 71 cm and flow 19 m3/s

Photographs

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Video

Wax on, wax off

This spring I’ve done a waxing course to learn how to do the maintenance of our skis. A bit of skill is all you need to wax your own skis and doing it yourself is fun and saves some money. During this course you’ll not only learn how to wax, but also how skis are made and how to keep it in good shape.

The only tool which you definitely need and costs a lot of money is a trestle to mount your skis on when waxing. The skis shall not shuffle and the waxing makes quite a mess, so the kitchen table is not allowed to be used. With some scrap wood and a bit of closed-cell foam I’ve made a tool to attach to the workmate:

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All you need to perform the maintenance of your skis fits in a small box:

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The last thing you need is some time. Wax on, wax off (don’t forget to breath, very important)…

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Bibliography

Vasa Sport – Het complete waxboek
3e druk, november 2013
Machiel Ittmann
http://www.vasasport.nl

Ski eller skøyter

Cautiously I step forward. A few meters back the snow changed into a sheet of ice. First it’s still relatively soft, the kind of ice you can kick steps into. Now it is hard and blue. We’re searching for small imperfections where the sole of our shoes has some grip. Another step further. I notice that I’ve slipped when I’m already on the ground and feel the acceleration of gliding over ice. Turning to my belly is astonishingly easy even with the heavy backpack. Automatically I brake on hands and feet like I’ve learnt years ago. I don’t notice any braking. Maybe on hands and knees? Nope, no difference. Suddenly I’m halted in a snow dune. When I look up, searching for Charissa, I see her gliding the same trajectory, halting next to me in the snow dune. Ski eller skøyter, skiing or skating?

This year we’re in Trollheimen for a week of skiing. We want to ski Trekanten, The Triangle. “According to the media all of Norway is going to ski for the Easter holidays. The ones that don’t go are pathetic. Statistics tell however, that less than ten percent of the Norwegians go for skiing.” (Source: Henk Brugman – Een Leven In Noorwegen) Trekanten is the most important tour for Easter for the people living nearby: a triangle through the valleys of Trollheimen. Beautiful views en route and two high passes according to Norwegian standards.

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The first part is groomed and tracks are made. It’s Sunday and most Norwegians can be found cross-country skiing. A small tour to the staffed mountain hut, eat a meal there and then back home. A family trip with dog and children or perhaps as sports activity, like running in the Netherlands. A few times we’re almost blown from the trail, such heavy winds are blowing. Everywhere blown twigs and pineapples can be found. This is the only part of our route that has tracks.

Instead of Trekanten, The Triangle, for us it’s more like Linje, a line.

Suddenly in the evening, it’s quiet. All day long the wind was whistling and howling. Even in the Gjevilvasshytta the wind could be heard when suddenly it’s gone. In the morning it’s still gone when we leave. We ascend through the forest or at least we try. There’s so much ice that our skis don’t have any grip. We put on our ski-skins, not to remove them for the rest of the week. When we leave the forest, the wind picks up again, just like yesterday. This is what will be waiting for us the coming week: old snow with ice and drifting snow gathered in dunes.

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We make a day trip to Grȧfjellet where we meet a herd of reindeer. In these conditions the route from Jøldalshytta to Trollheimshytta is too ambitious for us. We get up early, cross the frozen river and start the ascent along the Langfjellet massif. The snow changes into snow over ice into one big sheet of snowless ice. We should have brought our crampons. The higher we go, the more difficult it becomes. We don’t make it to the pass and return to Jøldalshytta. Instead of Trekanten, The Triangle, for us it’s more like Linje, a line.

Tomorrow he’ll get up early, he’ll ski 45 kilometres back home via the tracks.

When we return to Gjevilvasshytta the next day the wood stove is already burning. An elderly man, Yngvar will spend the night there. He’s skiing Trekanten and was at the Trollheimshytta yesterday. He brought no map as he knows the area well and took the southerly route to the cabin instead of our northerly route. Even with his 64 years of ski experience (Do your own math to find his age …) he found it one of his most difficult crossings. The way from Trollheimshytta to Gjevilvasshytta was as difficult as the one the day before: a small ridge crossing with descend took him three hours. In the beginning of the evening he’s a bit shy for he cannot speak English that easily. As soon as we put our map of the area on the table, he starts talking, very nice. Tomorrow he’ll get up early, he’ll ski 45 kilometres back home via the tracks.

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Though normally we like to travel with our tent, the DNT cabins are our favourites in the winter. During this tour we meet other people in the cabins during three nights. Of course they are all Norwegians, Trollheimen is not well-known abroad. In the guest-books of the cabins we can find only a handful of foreigners each year. Last night we share the cabin with a Norwegian woman who speaks English very well. We learn a lot about Norway, the Norwegians and their culture.

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Photos

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Movie

Bibliography

DNT, Uglant IT
Trollheimen
Turkart 1 : 50 000

Henk Brugman – Een Leven In Noorwegen (Life in Norway)

Woudlopers Orienteering Run

It feels like we’re back at school. Last week we’ve made our homework, today is the day we have to perform. At half past nine the briefing starts, at five to ten we can collect our envelope. At ten o’clock we can finally start, we may open the envelope, the race has started! A week ago we received our homework. This time a 9 minute during YouTube movie. A part of the route could be seen in this movie, but partly the movie raises more question than that it answers. The briefing is similar. Are clues still clues if they only raise more questions?

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In the envelope we find six pages with maps, a double-sided roadbook, two cards for the answers, a balloon and a string of wire with cheerfully coloured plastic caps. Enroute it surely will work out. We take half an hour to put the maps in the correct order, mark the coordinates on the maps and read the full roadbook. Then we’re off. It’s 13 degrees centigrade so we can’t call it a proper winter, but rain and heavy winds make it a bit cold and stormy.

Tired, satisfied and enriched with a great experience we drive homewards.

The start we recognize from the movie. Two special checkpoints in the pocket. At the second checkpoint we also see our first “false checkpoint”. We’ve been warned: in the surroundings of a real checkpoint there might be false checkpoints. When you write down the control number of a false checkpoint, you’ll get a time penalty. We’ll build up enough experience with time penalties the next six hours. According to the roadbook special C is located on a trajectory from checkpoint 3: “Go for 35 meters in 45 degrees / 40 meters in 350 degrees / 35 meters in 270 degrees / 65 meters in 165 degrees.” I wish we had drawn this beforehand. Once we arrive at CP 3 we find out the trajectory goes straight through some woodland and swamp. We make a quick calculation and conclude that we should end up back around CP 3. Unfortunately there are four checkpoints near CP 3, we choose the wrong one.

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After some time of running, reading the map, interpreting instructions and sometimes a swig of water and a biscuit Charissa asks how long we’ve been busy since the start. I look at my watch: “Two and a half hours” Really?!? That long? We thought we were only racing for an hour. Half way through the race we have to shoot at bottles to get extra instructions and we have to sniff at trees. Unfortunately we don’t recognize the decoy. The deadline slowly comes closer. It’s not possible anymore to reach all checkpoints, so we take a shorter route to the end point.

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Regularly we meet other people with maps in their hands, crossing the forest running. Are they lost or do they have a better strategy? How high will we score as newcomers? The deadline is set at four o’clock, time penalty when you arrive later. We take our last sprint. Slowly we start to feel the tiredness of our bodies. Twenty-three minutes later our time is stopped. Even the last kilometers to the starting point we continue running not to cool down too much.

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Back at the start we changed our wet clothes and eat spaghetti with the other participants. Advice is exchanged, errors recognized. This is the moment the rain and cold are already forgotten and the tall tales start to emerge. The verdict: 13th overall and 4th in the mixed class. Tired, satisfied and enriched with a great experience we drive homewards. Is it already possible to reserve for next time?

Photographs

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Film

Analysis

Of course we’ve reviewed our race and see what we can do better next time. We’ve ran twenty-seven kilometers in six hours and twenty-three minutes. That’s not much less than other teams. Some days after the race we received all results, which can be converted to a few nice graphs. One of the conclusions we can derive is that the teams that have a high score have few errors and are fast. No surprise, just build up the experience.

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Another conclusion is that at the start almost everybody finds all checkpoints and makes few mistakes. In the second part a lot less checkpoints are found and more errors are made.

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(More graphs can be found at the pictures.)

Bleau without bouldering

New year’s day 2015. The snow has just melted when we’re driving to Fontainebleau. The rain joins us however.
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We’ve took our crash pad with us, but it stays in the car. We’re happy to make a nice stroll through Trois-Pignons: circuit des Belvévères. The next day it’s still raining and we go bouldering in the local boulder gym. The rain leaves and fog appears. The sandstone in this area becomes soft when damp. After the rain en fog of the last few days the rock is nowhere near dry. We can’t boulder, so we put up our slackline near l’Éléphant and run the T.G.L.

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19 Parcours Larchant T.G.L.

Click here to see all photographs.

Film

Bibliography

IGN Carte de Randonnée, 1 : 25000, 2417OT: Forêts de Fontainebleau et des Trois Pignons

Chez Bertrand, la deuxième fois cette année

When the last rainshowers leave the area, we start driving to our neighbours in the south. Last spring we started the GR571, Vallée des Légendes. Coloring leaves on the trees and a good weather forecast for the next days is a nice excuse to continue this route.

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We leave the car in Trois-Ponts and walk along the Salm. A sneak preview for what we will encounter when we want to packraft this creek later this week.

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The first night we do a painful discovery: our stove breaks down. We eat lukewarm macaroni and have no option to cook hot tea the next day.

We continue to Gouvy the next morning and return to the car. For the second time this year we eat at Bertrands, the well-known, local frieterie (sort of mobile snackbar) in Trois-Ponts. Like aways, it’s very busy.

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The next day we arrive at the railway station at ten. Twenty past ten the train to Vielsalm will leave. Nineteen past ten an announcement is made. “Le train à Luxembourg […] de dix heures vingt […] Excusez-moi” We don’t understand everything that has been said. Something is said about the train we would like to catch, but what exactly, we missed. We wait for another five minutes and then walk back into the railway station. Previously three other people were waiting there, but now the railway station is empty. We find someone from the railway who tells us the train will not come.

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Maybe a bus will leave in twenty minutes. According to the timetable route 142 will leave, but the sign near the busstop only indicates route 42a. We’re lucky, the bus arrives and this one will head for Vielsalm.

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According to Ardennes’ terms the Salm is quite small and fast flowing. Contrary to most other rivers no canoes can be rented here. Fallen trees are therefore not cleared. For a few hours we enjoy the packrafting. We find seven floating soccer balls and have to step out of the packraft for six times to walk past fallen trees. One time the cows like us that much that they start running with us for two hunderd meters.

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Water flow at the Salm: 3.2 m3/s. Barely enough for packrafting. We didn’t get stuck, but scratched the river floor quite some times.

Click here to see all photographs.

Bibliography
GR571, Vallées des Légendes Amblève, Salm, Lienne
Topo-Guide du Sentier de Grande Randonnée
ISBN 2-9600450-6-8

IGN Carte Topographique, 1:50 000, No 55: Durbuy
IGN Carte Topographique, 1:50 000, No 56-56A: Sankt Vith

Monkey climbing over the Swalm

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Sunday afternoon, halfway through October. 23C has been measured at de Bilt, the highest temperature since people started to jot down this list in 1901.

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It’s a beautiful afternoon to raft on the Swalm. One of the few patches of nature in the Netherlands with the least amount of human intervention.

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The Swalm feels like monkey climbing in elementary school. A high level of flexibility is desired.

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Click here to see all photographs.

Route
It takes forty-five minutes to get from the railwaystation in Swalmen to the border with Germany. Expect a lot of fallen trees, you’ll need to get out of your boat quite regularly. The sailing will take longer than expected.
The water level was 37 cm when we ran it.

Skiftende bris*

*) Changing wind

 

Hiking without plan is different from roaming around without goal. Without plan we leave for Norway, a journey in two chapters as we go to Børgefjell NP and Lomsdal-Visten NP. This time no ease of footpaths, coloured dots of paint or luxurious cabins of DNT. Swedish Sarek is also called the last European wilderness, but these two Norwegian national parks are almost as wild as Sarek.

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Børgefjell

When the train pulls over, we immediately search for the train guard. “Two tickets for Majavatn please.” The timetable says about Majavatn: Stopper ved behov, only stop when asked for. Half an hour later we disembark, indeed, we’re the only ones.

We head for Jengelvatnet, fishing paradise in Norway. Enroute we meet the biggest group of people we will encounter for the next three weeks: five fishermen just return from the lake. During the remaining of our tour we sporadically meet some people. Most of them two persons, Norwegians and staying in the park to fish. We try to catch some fish as well, but reserve too little time for it. In between pitching our tarp and having a soup we fish for half an hour. The rumbling in our stomachs remind us of the freezedried meals we haul each day in our backpacks.

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Not only the fish play hide and seek. We see raindeer dung all over the national park, but no raindeer to be seen. We find the first herds when we head for the Bȧtskardet col. We sleep on the col, while being visited a few time by the herd. They’re startled by our tarp, bark to tell this threat to the others. Then they run away.

We leave Børgefjell via the Simskardet valley. A dirtroad links the parkinglots to the main road. We walk over the dirtroad when we notice a drowsy fox. A fox! We didn’t expect to see this shy and sly animal here. Seems like he prefers walking the dirtroad over bushwhacking just as we do!

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Changing national parks coincides with the change in weather.

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Lomsdal-Visten

Changing national parks coincides with the change in weather. We crossed Børgefjell in beautiful weather. Lots of sun, sometimes a bit of rain. We’re welcomed in Lomsdal-Visten with four consecutive days of rain. Sometimes we find a cabin we can use, sometimes we’re stuck in bad weather. Our first idea is to cross the park until we reach the sea. We spent a long walking day reaching Litlskardvatnet lake. After all the rain the karst land with only a few centimeters of soil is so saturated the border between swamp and creeks fades. No-where we can pitch our tarp. As soon as you lie down, you’ll push down the earth so far you’ll create your own pool. Searching a long time for a place or discussing it is also no option. The wind blows ferociously, freezing us in our wet clothes. There’s no other option then return on our own steps. One and a half hour it took us to climb, we’re back down in an hour. We cook in our tarp and immediately fall asleep.

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The next day we try again. One and a half hour of climbing, the river still high and fast flowing. The clouds lower over the lake. We doubt but know too little of the remainder of the route and the weather to continu. We decide to return and try via another valley.

In Lomsdal the raindeer gather at specific places as well. We meet a merry herd of around seventy animals between Grønfjellet and Storklumpen. Only the last day we see a moose, again in a downpoor. The camera stuck deep in our backpacks in defence of the water, we’re just in time unpacking the camera to get one picture of the large animal with its wide antlers.

A few minutes later we find ourselves before an abyss. Fifty meters of sheer drop. Looks like we’re stuck on a large rock band. We go to the place where we last spotted the moose and find his tracks. Tracks that guide us down over a steep path. It reminds us that this is his place and we’re only visiting.

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They burst out laughing: “Ah, that’s why you’ve returned today, you don’t trust the craftmanship of the Norwegian hunters!”

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At the end of our adventure we arrive at the super market in Trofors where we’re addressed in Norwegian by two persons, an old, grey guy and his friend with only one arm. Jeg snakker ikke Norsk, I don’t speak Norwegian. Instantly they change to English and ask us if we have been in Lomsdal. Yes, we’ve been hiking in Børgefjell and Lomsdal for three weeks. “Three weeks? Only hiking?” Indeed. The old man looks at our backpacks. “Light weight?” Yes. Very not-Norwegian: small backpack, light, no resting day to hunt or fish. He says he’s going to Lomsdal as well the next week. We remember that it’s the tenth of September today, the opening of the hunting season. They burst out laughing: “Ah, that’s why you’ve returned today, you don’t trust the craftmanship of the Norwegian hunters!” After discussing the beautiful wildlife here for some more moments we say our goodbyes. Goodbye to this spontaneous talk and goodbye to the precious and wild nature here. It feels like the journey returning home has already started.

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Click here to see all photographs.

Film

Route

Part 1: Majavatn – Breidskardfjellet – Søre Bisseggvatnet – Nordre Bisseggvatnet – Simskardet – Bȧtskardet – Breidskardelva – Strendene

Part 2: Strendene – Stavassgȧrden – Litls Kardvatnet – Stavassætra – Oorlogsmonument – Storklumpen – Feitskardet – Stavvatnet – Tinden – Øvergȧrdsvatnet – Trofors

Climbed mountains: Col of Kvigtinden, Litl Kjukkelen, Breidskardfjellet, Storklumpen, Tinden

Bibliography
DNT, Uglant IT
Børgefjell Nord
Turkart 1 : 50 000

DNT, Uglant IT
Børgefjell Sør
Turkart 1 : 50 000

Nordeca
10114 Vistfjellan
1 : 50 000
ISBN 978-82-8278-114-5

Taming the green Llama

‘Bitter water’, I think, when I swallow a mouth full of water from the Markkleeberger See. Why is the reptile part of my brain so fast and so powerful? Why does it take a while for the more intelligent parts of my brain to kick in and take over? We’re at the Kanupark Markkleeberg where they pump 10000 litres of water per second through a concrete gully. No man can drink that fast.

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Just a few more white crests before the current spits me out in the small and quiet lake. This morning we started our packraft course by practising different paddlestrokes. After the basic paddlestrokes our instructor, Jurgen, took us to the grassfield to practise with throwbags and to explain how to rescue someone. Of course we not only practise on dry land. The sun starts to shine forcefully on our drysuits, we’re allowed cool down in the water. In the afternoon we use the boats again to put into practise what we’ve just learnt. Not only the paddling part, also the swimming part we’ve just learnt.

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Kanupark Markkleeberg is situated near Leipzig. It used to be an open coal mine like more that can be found in this part of Germany. The coal mine has been flooded with ground water and converted into a recreational area. The Kanupark was meant for the Olympic summer games of 2012, but those were eventually held in London. Now the parc is a training location. It consists of 130 metres of training course and 270 metres of competition course. The training course is mainly in use to learn how to kayak, the competition course is used for commercial rafting and by playboats.

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The training course is well suited to learn how to packraft. It is well equipped with eddies, stoppers, drops, etc. The competition course is mainly about surviving. There’s one point where one can rest in this 270 metres of constant boiling and pushing water. Good for a well-filled day of water fun.

Film

*) Licking the lens is a well-known trick to have fewer drops of water stick to the lens.

Thigh straps for packrafts

In order to get better control of our packrafts we mounted thigh straps. 01 Good (but a bit old) manuals how to make and mount thigh straps can be found at: The Roaming Dials – Thigh straps how to and Things to luc at – Pimp my packraft. 02 Contrary to what’s written on those websites, we did use Alpacka’s grab-loops. We’ve talked to EU’s only retailer who ensured us that the grab-loops (when properly glued) can hold 175 kg. They mounted multiple thigh-straps and never had a problem with them. Make sure you use the correct glue and you glue it the proper way! 03 In 2012 we’ve mounted grab-loops as well, see article: Adding tie-downs to a packraft. For the current grab-loops we used the same procedure, except for one minor thing: Just before applying the grab-loop to the boat, we heated the grab-loop a few seconds. The glue becomes a bit sticky again and will immediately adhere to the boat. This will make life easier while working in the front of the boat.