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Bending Branches

Starting Out

Tying One (or More) On, Safely—A Car-Topping Primer

By Tamia Nelson

Some things are best seen from a distance. Erupting volcanoes, for example, or waterspouts. Or flying canoes, come to think of it. There's nothing like watching 85 pounds of ABS and aluminum headed for your windshield at 65 mile an hour to concentrate the mind.

This happened to me on the way home from a river trip once. The canoe belonged to the guy just ahead of me on the Interstate. His name was Charlie, and he was a whitewater ace. He was also a pretty good rope mechanic. He taught me how to tie the trucker's hitch, for one thing. But he liked to use odds and ends of rope to tie his boat onto his car. The day his canoe made its maiden flight, he'd been in a hurry. He didn't double up his ties, or check his knots. Half an hour after leaving the take-out, Charlie's bow tie-down let go, and the (single) belly tie popped off only a second later. That's when I saw a low-flying Blue Hole with my name on it.

Charlie braked. I swerved. We both watched the Blue Hole in our rear-view mirrors. It hit the asphalt and did a spectacular somersault before skidding to a stop in the middle of the fast lane. Fortunately, no one else was coming. I parked on the shoulder and ran back to give Charlie a hand pulling the Blue Hole off the road before anyone nailed it.

The canoe had a few new gouges at the stem and stern and a bit of a crimp in one gunwale. Otherwise, it was OK. End of story? Yes. But it might not have ended so happily. I've seen what happens when heavy objects smash through people's windshields at highway speeds. It's not a pretty sight.

Fortunately, though, it's easy to tie a canoe or kayak down so it will stay put in a hurricane—or on the Interstate. It's like mooring a big boat at a crowded berth. You need to run lines to both bow and stern, and you need a couple of additional lines in the middle. These are called mooring "springs" on big boats, but we'll call them belly ties here.

If you want a bomb-proof lashing job—and you do!—you'll need two of almost everything. Two independent bow anchor-points. Two independent stern anchor-points. And two belly ties. There's one exception to the Rule of Two. If you're hauling two boats, you can get by with one tie-down line at both bow and stern. Be sure to tie a non-slip loop in the line at each grab-loop (or deck eye) on each boat, however. If you use climber's carabiners to make connections, figure-of-eight loops works well, and both boats will remain securely tied even if one section of line is cut.

On the Road

Whatever you do, don't make Charlie's mistake. Odds and ends of old clothesline aren't good enough here. Use at least ¼-inch (6-mm) nylon or polyester (Dacron) line. Some folks prefer webbing for belly ties. It's kinder to plastic boats and fine finishes. And be sure to pad any places where tie-down lines pass over rough surfaces or edges, too. (An edge doesn't have to be very sharp to chafe through a rope. It only has to be an edge.) Work your way around your boat, tightening every line until it's just snug. Then do it again, making everything taut.

Just how tight is "taut"? Here's one test. You've got your tie-downs tight enough if you can grab the bow or stern of your canoe or kayak and rock your car without shifting your boat in its cradles. Don't overdo it, though. You don't want things so tight that you leave grooves in your boat (or your car roof).

Research Kayak Roof Racks and Canoe Roof Racks in the Buyers Guide

Or perhaps you'd like to find a kayak trailer or canoe trailer.

And how should you tighten your tie-downs? I use a trucker's hitch, but you'll find lots of gadgets in the catalogs that do the same thing. Just be sure you understand how the gadgets that you use work. Practice tying one on before you leave the driveway!

You're not done yet. After you've been driving for ten minutes or so, get out and check that everything is still secure. Retighten as needed. Check again every couple of hours you're on the road. And if you ever hear anything that sounds like a Ping! or a Pop! or a Bang!, brake gently and pull off onto the shoulder immediately. Then find out where the trouble is and fix it. (Always carry extra rope.) Whatever you do, don't just cross your fingers and hope for the best. Your boat may be airborne before you know it, and once that happens, it's too late for anything but prayer.

It sounds like lot of trouble, doesn't it? It is. But it's worth it. After all, I might be driving right behind you on the Interstate! 'Nuff said.

Copyright © 2001 by Verloren Hoop Productions. All rights reserved.

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More Articles

 • How to Car-Top a Canoe
 • More Car-Topping Tips
 • Towing Canoes
 • Flying Your Canoe
Roof Racks and Trailers
View Roof Racks and Trailers in Buyers' Guide

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