Is that all? Nearly. While almost any one-gallon plastic jug will do in a
pinch, milk jugs lead the field. Their square cross-section conforms well to
the contours of most boats' bilges, and their sides have just the right amount
of give. The plastic will fatigue in time, however. At the first sign of a
crack anywhere, chuck the bailer in the trash and make a new one. Better yet,
replace your bailers every season, before they crack.
Bailers aren't just for canoes, of course. They also work pretty well in
large tandem kayaks, particularly skin-on-frame craft like Kleppers and
Folbots. But kayakers whose boats have smaller cockpits will find that a
bailer is impossibly awkward to manipulate. Whitewater paddlers can always
head for the riverbank and dump their boats out, but on open
water kayakers need to bail on the move. Here's where the bilge
pump comes into its own. The most commonly seen pumps look like large
bicycle tire pumps. They work, but since they require that you pull your spray
skirt to one side and use both hands, they're not much help in a storm.
Unfortunately, that's just when you're most likely to need them. The solution?
A foot-operated or deck-mounted pump. The deck-mounted pumps require that you
stop paddling, but at least you can leave your spray skirt in place. The foot
pumps permit you to pump while you paddle. (There are battery-operated pumps,
too. "Look, Ma, no hands! And no feet, either." Who could ask for more? Just
be sure the batteries are fresh.)
Once you've got most of the water out with your bailer or bilge pump, it's
time for mopping-up operations. This calls for a sponge. You'll need
something a good deal larger than the sponge you use to scour the kitchen
sink, though. I steer clear of "natural" sponges. They work well, but I'd
rather see them in the sea than on a store shelf. I do fine with the synthetic
sponges I can buy at the local HyperMart. The big, brick-shaped sponges sold
for washing cars are about the right size. They're cheap, thirsty, and
hard-wearing. (Even the best sponges break down in time, however. Count on
replacing yours at the start of every season.) Better buy a spare, too.
Sponges float, and they've been known to jump ship and sail away just when
they're needed most.
Your bailer (or bilge pump) and sponge will see you through most wet days,
but if you paddle regularly, the time will come when, despite your best
efforts, your boat will sink beneath the waves. What then? Again, prevention
comes first. Flotation is a must on all boats in all waters. While most canoes
and kayaks will float when swamped, even without supplementary flotation, they
usually float very low in the water. And some boats test yours, if
you're not sure won't float at all. In any case, air is lighter than
water, and a boat filled with float bags is a lot easier to empty than a boat
filled with water.
How do you get the water out? On most rivers, waterlogged canoeists and any
kayakers whose rolls have let them down are best advised to head for shore.
There they can recover both their boats and their composure. Once in calm,
shallow water, it's comparatively easy to empty a canoe or kayak. Don't try to
lift a swamped boat directly out of the water, however. It's hard on the boat,
and even harder on your body. Instead, let the water support the boat while
you roll it up on edge, letting as much water drain out as possible in the
process. Once that's done, small kayaks can often be turned all the way over,
lifted free of the water, and shaken out. Canoes and big kayaks will have to
be bailed first, though, particularly when they're loaded with gear. Count
each gallon as you empty it overboard. You'll be surprised how much water your
boat can hold. (Each gallon weighs more than eight pounds, too. Add it up. Now
you know why you don't want to lift a swamped boat!) Then, when you've bailed
out almost all of the water, remove any packs, turn the boat over, and shake
it out with the help of your partner. If that's not practical, just continue
Lastly, mop up any remaining puddles of water with your sponge, square away
your gear, and head back out.
But what if you capsize
well away from shore on open water, in a storm, with no safe harbor in sight?
Good luck. If you have skilled companions, and if the sea isn't running too
high, you may be able to empty and re-enter your boat. If not if
you're traveling alone, if the other members of your party aren't expert
boaters, or if the waves are just too big your paddling days may be
over. The moral of the story? If you're planning to go in harm's way, you and
your companions should practice rough-water rescue and re-entry before
you need it. Don't cheat. Load your boats with gear, and choose a time when
conditions are as bad as you ever expect them to be. It won't be easy, and it
won't be fun. Have a seaworthy rescue vessel standing by. And don't be
surprised if you and your boats both take a beating. In open water, even a
"near gale" (a brisk wind that would be little more than a nuisance to someone
walking on shore) can make communication between boaters difficult, and
assisted rescues will be fraught with dangers. If the wind picks up even a
little bit, it's Rescue Impossible and every paddler for herself. That's not
the most comforting of thoughts, is it?
Happily, few paddling excursions end in battles for survival. One thing's
for sure, though: getting wet is part of any canoeing or kayaking trip, and
notwithstanding what Mae West had to say on another subject, too much of a
good thing isn't always wonderful. So when the rising damp gets you down,
don't suffer in silence. Reach for your bailer and sponge instead. Dry it!
You'll like it better!
Copyright © 2003 by Verloren Hoop Productions. All rights