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Paddling Articles In the Same Boat

Our Readers Write

From Pesto to PFDs

By Tamia Nelson

October 29, 2002

Our mailbag continues to delight, not to mention amaze, amuse, and instruct. Reading our mail is a perk of the job, in short, and it's a pleasure that grows in the sharing. So here are a few of the many letters that are too good to keep to ourselves. (Some have been edited for continuity's sake.) First, however, it's time to visit…

The Department of Corrections

In my article on pasta for paddlers I commented that "pesto…means 'sauce' in Italian." Wrong! Fortunately, a sharp-eyed reader set me straight. Sauce is salsa. Pesto comes from the verb meaning "pounded." So a proper pesto is a sauce made by pounding the ingredients, rather than chopping them.

OK. When you're negotiating the shoal waters of a language that's not your own, you have to use your noodle! And while we're on the subject of pasta, John Lohde of Ancient Florida Eco Tours had a great suggestion for constructing a portable pasta-safe:

Loved your article. I operate a small kayak eco tour biz and I am always looking for culinary surprises for my clients. In days gone by I was a backcountry ranger with the National Park Service and spent a lot of time in the bush. To protect stick noodles from breaking I always did an additional step after breaking them in half as you described. I saved the core from a roll of paper towels. I would bag enough to fit in the cut-down roll. After storing it in a ziplock baggie I stuffed the pasta into the cardboard core and transported it with more confidence. On the water I do the same, but I add an additional baggie for added insurance.

In the end the pasta is still breakable but you have to work at it. One other neat benefit: the empty paper towel roll makes great fire tinder.

Keep up the good work!

•  •  •

We'll do our best, John—and thanks! As important as good food is to paddlers, though, thirst is a dangerous thing, and clean water's important to everyone. Not surprisingly, our earlier articles on the subject continue to generate mail. Canadian paddler Brian Wilson makes the point that infections which would pose little or no risk to paddlers close to home can be life-threatening in the back of beyond, and that solo travelers are especially vulnerable. It's a point that's well worth emphasizing:

Is It Safe?

In summer 1999, Canadian Forces Search and Rescue, responding to an Emergency Locator Transmitter (ELT) signal, located an unconscious solo canoeist on the banks of the Kazan River in what is now Nunavut. On an extended canoe trip, he had become infected with giardiasis and had gradually lost strength until he realized he was unable to go on, or even stay conscious. Before lapsing into semi-consciousness, he had triggered the ELT and so saved his own life. His infection was treated easily, once he was returned to civilization and a hospital, but it could just as easily have killed him in the wild.

•  •  •

Of course, not all of us plan to travel to Nunavut—formerly the eastern part of Canada's Northwest Territories—anytime soon. But there's a nearly unknown country much closer to home: the kingdom of the night. It's a challenging place to explore, though, and paddlers need all the help they can get. Vernon, a paddler from Louisiana, has a couple of ideas for improving the odds:

The Eyes Have It!

Here are two additional techniques that help you see in the dark (REF Department of the Army Pamphlet 350-43)…

OFF-CENTER VISION  The technique of keeping attention focused on an object without looking directly at it. When you look directly at an object, the image is focused on the cone region of the eye, which is not as sensitive at night. Looking slightly to the right or left of the object, or above or below it, focuses the image on the light-sensitive rods. Usually 6-10 degrees off center works.

SCANNING VISION  Similar to off-center vision, but you move your eyes in short, abrupt, irregular movements over and around the object. The visual purple in the rod cells bleaches or "blacks out" after 4-10 seconds, causing the object to disappear. Moving your gaze allows "new" rod cells to come into use, and exhausted ones to recover. Hold your gaze in each position for only a few seconds. It is best to practice this to gain confidence. It is next to impossible to see while your eyes are in motion, and with too much movement you could get dizzy.

•  •  •

I see what you're getting at, Vernon, and it's very good advice. But what happens when you want a change from exploring the night? That's easy. Punt! (Or pole, if you prefer.) Happily, it turns out that this "dying" art is alive and well, as one South Florida reader wrote to tell us. He also suggested a source of ready-made poles:

Poling with a Purpose

Enjoyed your column on poling. "Flats" boats in South Florida (shallow-draft outboard-powered fishing boats) routinely use the poling technique. This makes it possible to fish shallow water without damaging sea grass, and it allows anglers to get within casting distance of fish without spooking them with engine noise.

The good news for paddlecraft enthusiasts is that poles—in fiberglass, Kevlar® and carbon fiber—are readily available. Check any South Florida fishing or boating supplier.

Nor was that all. Joe Schultz told us how he solved a problem with his Sylvester pole, and recommended a poling book into the bargain. I haven't seen the book, but since Joe's recommendation was later seconded by David Sinish, former National Poling Champion, it's a safe bet that it's a good one. (David adds that the current state of the art in poling is now "light-years ahead" of the Beletz brothers. I can see I have a lot of catching up to do!)

I have had a Sylvester pole for some years. I too don't care for the method used to join the two halves together. I wrapped a piece of duct tape around the screws to keep them from coming loose.

I also have read the book Canoe Poling by the Beletz brothers. There is an even better and more recent book about canoe poling called The Basic Essentials of Canoe Poling, by Harry Rock, chairman of the National Poling Committee of the American Canoe Association. Apparently it is out of print, but it can be purchased used.

•  •  •

So poling's alive and well, and that's very good to hear. I'd been afraid that the 'umble tarp was another victim of changing recreational fashions. But I was wrong about this, too, it seems. Walt set me straight—and alerted me to a new source of supply for traditionally-minded paddlers, into the bargain:

Diamond in the Rough

Diamond flies are a staple of the guys who reenact the "longhunters," men such as Daniel Boone and Simon Kenton. Stake one corner to the ground, take the diametrically opposite corner and tie it to an upright at a convenient height, then stake the two adjacent corners down, and Voila!—you've got a tent. You can get three guys and their gear under a 10' x 10' diamond. They're crowded, but dry, or at least they are if they pick their ground carefully. The tarps are usually prepared with linseed oil and red oxide pigment. (They smell like hell.)

My 15' x 15' diamond fly—it was made by Panther Primitives, but any square or rectangular tarp will do—has added loops to allow it to be erected as a "lean-pi," a lopsided pyramid. Rigged as a lean-pi, it will sleep 5 and has door flaps on it. It weighs about 15 pounds, not counting stakes, single rope, and poles. You don't necessarily need poles, though: you can also tie it off to a tree trunk.

Reenacting and canoeing/kayaking frequently have a synergy for me; ways of living in the outdoors as a primitive reenactor transfer easily to kayaking.

See you on a river!

•  •  •

I hope so, Walt! Of course, not everything you find on a river is fun. Sweepers and strainers, for example. They don't always look dangerous, but they can kill. What to do? Well, every paddler knows that a properly-fitted, high-quality life jacket is her most important piece of gear. It won't do you any good in your pack, however, so it has to be easy to put on. And it has to stay on in the water, too. But how many paddlers realize that it can be just as important to be able to take your life jacket off quickly, as well? Alastair Dent, an Australian paddler now living and working in the UK, tells us why:

Whispering Death Averted

Many years ago, I was keen on kayak racing. I owned a couple of boats, and trained mostly in a down-river racer. (These aren't common nowadays— they are very narrow, tippy and fast kayaks, meant for racing down through rapids.)

I trained each day on a river that ran near my parent's farm. In winter, this river ran fast and deep. In summer, it was nearly dry (this is in Australia). The fluctuating water level meant that it was full of trees—big, small, tangled, dead and living. No rapids, but have you ever tried paddling through tangles of trees in fast water? Worse than weirs or falls.

Anyway, being young and foolish, I trained alone. There was a particularly difficult bit—a gap between fallen trees, not quite as long as my kayak. To negotiate it, I had to paddle into the gap, swing the bow over, and paddle hard to get around the end of one of the trees. Not too hard going downriver, but damn difficult going upriver. A sensible person might have portaged around—but I haven't mentioned the 20-foot vertical banks, have I?

Anyway, one day the river was a little fuller than usual, I was a little tired after a morning's work on the farm, and I misjudged it coming back upriver. The bow swung around, and there I was stuck against the tree trunk. "Great," I thought, "I'll have to clamber out onto the tree trunk"…it was a big tree…"and go around again." Then I realized that I was sinking. The current going under the tree trunk was strong enough that it was pulling my entire boat down with it. I had a moment or two to panic, and then I was over. I exited the boat, and realized that I couldn't get back to the surface. My PFD was doing its job—except that I was now under the tree trunk. The combination of the current and PFD had me trapped. I panicked, thrashed at the water—and nothing happened. Enough time went by for me to calm down and think (good thing I could hold my breath for about 2 minutes back then). Then I realized I still had my paddle in my hand. I tried bracing it across the current, so that it pulled me down. It worked! I felt the trunk scrape past me, and I popped up on the other side.

Lessons to learn from this: When I bought the PFD the salesman said that its only defect was that it was difficult to remove in a hurry. I couldn't see why that was a problem at the time…. If I had been able to pull it off quickly, I could have escaped the tree more quickly.

And lesson #2? Don't paddle alone!

•  •  •

A narrow escape to be sure, Alastair, but a happy ending nonetheless. And speaking of happy endings, it's time for me to wrap this up. Look for more of your letters soon. Until then, keep reading—and keep writing to tell us what's on your mind. It's Our Readers Write!

Copyright 2002 by Verloren Hoop Productions. All rights reserved.

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