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Paddling Articles In the Same Boat

Our Readers Write

From Dinner in the Rockies to
The Wind in the Willows

December 30, 2003

T he sun is heading north once again. A new year lies ahead, full of promise and possibility. But before we cross the watershed into 2004, it's only fair that our readers have the final say on the year just past. That being the case, here are a few of the letters we found in our virtual mail-bag in the three months since the last "Our Readers Write." We've enjoyed them all, and we're sure you will, too. (NB Some letters have been edited.)

— Tamia Nelson and Farwell Forrest, In the Same Boat

Living the High Life

Dear Tamia,

Long time no hear from me, I know, but I am still here and enjoying your continuing excellent contributions to the good life (camping and paddling of course). Being an old codger who can remember when Mom cooked on a wood stove, I enjoyed your article on cast-iron cooking. Nothing like it, I say. How else could one cook cornbread or johnny cakes, fry potatoes, or make real gravy?

This last July I was fortunate enough to camp in the Rockies with my son, John Jr., at Big Meadow Campground about 30 miles up the mountain, west of Alamosa, Colorado. This area is headwaters for the Rio Grande River, dear to our hearts down here in Texas. The camp is at about 8200 feet altitude (wonderful sleeping — if you have a good sleeping bag rated at least down to zero — and profuse with wildflowers and rufus hummingbirds). A small containment lake lies just below the camp; we kayaked there and also at three other small alpine lakes in the area; we were virtually the only ones on the water and seemed to be the envy of the shore fishermen (so many people lean out and say, "I've gotta get me one of those"). Son John fly fished from his kayak and loved the setup (too bad he caught no trout, but we were not really trying). We'd hike up a mountain trail one day and kayak the next (letting the sixty-plus year old legs recuperate, don't you see?).

Point of this story is that this year he cooked (man, this kid — 45 years old — can cook and loves to, lucky for me) in a large cast-iron pot with a rimmed lid. He'd light about two dozen charcoal briquettes (in a round metal charcoal lighter where one simply puts match to crumpled newspaper under the briquettes), place half in a circle on the ground under the pot (on a piece of aluminum foil for moisture proofing and easy cleanup), and put the remainder on top of the lid. One evening we had elk stew (great) and on another it was hot links simmered with sliced potatoes, onions, peppers, tomatoes, and cheddar cheese. This was great steaming stuff mounded up on his old blue enameled plates, with a glass of wine as the sun went down. For cleanup, he put the pot upside down in the campfire (the sites at Big Meadow have steel fire-pit rings), let the food residue burn out, and just wiped out the ash next morning.

Hope you and Farwell are doing well.

My best regards,

John Caywood
Sherman, Texas

Staying Hitched — A Family Affair

Hi, Tamia!

I enjoyed reading "There Be Pirates." I just wanted to share a thought regarding trailers.

You mentioned locking the kayaks to the trailer (good idea) and locking the trailer to the towing vehicle hitch (good idea). There is one additional step that I take.

Many hitches on trucks are removable, as they slide into a receiver on the vehicle. Most people use a cotter pin to secure the hitch to the vehicle. I recommend using a padlock, instead — otherwise a thief could remove the pin, slide the hitch out of the receiver (with trailer still locked to the hitch), and then slide the hitch into the receiver of his own truck.

I just figured this out this year after about 13 years of towing.

By the way, we have 4 kids ages 5-12 who all love kayaking. Each child has his or her own kayak, and mom and dad follow along in a canoe. Kayaking is one of our favorite family activities — it's something that everyone can do, outside and away from the TV and video games.

We have explored lakes and rivers in the Berkshires of Massachusetts, the Adirondacks in upstate New York, and Connecticut. We are planning a paddling trip in Boothbay Harbor, Maine, in the spring (will combine with a visit to my children's great aunt).

I really can't think of a better way to explore new places with a family!

Again — I thought your article was great. Keep up the good work.

David Barlar

Notes from the Maine Woods

Hi, Folks!

Thought I would drop you a line of thanks for the heads-up on where to find "artificial gutters" for my truck cap. I ordered a pair the day after receiving your tip, installed them as soon as they arrived, and have been taking advantage of them ever since. Thanks!

And speaking of recent travels, shortly after installing the brackets, Joyce and I transported our trusty Malecite 90 miles south for a day spent exploring the Seven Tree Pond area outside Camden. Seven Tree Pond is a small but very lovely pond situated in the palm of the mountain god's hand not far to the north of Camden, Maine. It was the site of an early settlement here in Maine (1760s) about which the historian Ben Ames Williams wrote a historical novel entitled Come Spring published in 1940.

Not long after our visit to Seven Tree Pond, my wife and I joined two old paddle friends from Massachusetts for a one-week trip to Rangeley Lake. It's a lovely area, and we spent a very enjoyable seven days paddling rivers, ponds, and bogs while viewing moose and other wildlife.

On other fronts, I recently took a look at your most recent "Our Readers Write," and I spotted a few items I'd like to comment on.

First off, I was a bit concerned by one reader's suggestion to weld a stainless steel ring through the bow of your sea kayak. While this would undoubtedly foil the efforts of a casual thief, intent upon transferring ownership of the boat to himself, the thought of what would happen in the event that the ring became snagged on something fills one with horror! Back when I was a sea kayak instructor, I used to install a small loop of SS cable through some out-of-the-way spot in my kayak's interior using Nicopress fittings and then run a bike cable through that. Most if not all hardware stores here on Mt. Desert Island have a Nicopress tool, and they also sell the SS cable should readers opt for this approach to kayak security.

Finally, like Allan Blair, I was a latecomer to your wonderful column, and like Allan I was totally bummed out to have missed your earlier stuff. Happily, you guys thoughtfully made your past articles available through the In The Same Boat archives so Allan can easily catch up on a lot of good reading.

That's all for now. Hope all goes well with you both, and as Red Green says on the Red Green Show, "Keep your paddles in the water!"

Your old pal,

(Capt.) Winston Shaw
Mt. Desert Island, Maine

• • •

Tamia replies:

It's great to hear from you, Winston. Glad the brackets did the trick. And Seven Tree Pond sounds delightful.

I share your reservations about steel rings on kayaks — after all, I once managed to snag an overhanging branch with the zipper pull on my life jacket! — but only, as Lord Copper's editor in Scoop puts it, up to a point. Many touring boats run grab loops through a ridge molded into the deck. In such cases the steel ring probably needn't be more than a couple of inches in diameter. There wouldn't be too much danger in that, I'd think. I've watched canoes that boasted equally large painter rings negotiate narrow, vegetation-choked whitewater streams without mishap on many occasions.

That said, I must admit that I prefer webbing loops to steel rings. In fact, I prefer toggles to loops — whatever the material. There's little doubt in my mind that any loop, however small or out-of-the way, necessarily presents some risk of snagging or entanglement, even if that risk is very slight. I once saw a kayaker nearly garroted by his helmet strap, for instance, and I've come close to dislocating a finger on a clevis ring several times. In the final analysis, every paddler has to strike his own balance between risk and benefit when he outfits his boat, and I suspect that each of us will arrive at a slightly different answer.

Through the "Washing Machine" in South Africa

Dear Tamia,

Just a short note to say how much I enjoy your articles on dealing with rivers. I really enjoyed your latest, "Ferry Useful, Indeed," and loved your analogy with ducks to make your point. The dam/lake I train on has many ducks, and they do make "paddling" look so graceful.

I live in Johannesburg, South Africa, and I'm a relative novice at paddling. Started approximately 15 months ago in what I think you would call a river-racing kayak. Spent my first three months mainly swimming with the above-mentioned ducks. The emphasis in South Africa is on river paddling at marathon distance.

I was pleased enough, though, to have completed the Fish River Marathon at the beginning of this month. The race is held over two days, with distances of 45 and 36 kilometers [approximately 28 and 22 miles] to be covered on each day, respectively. The water level is at 27 cubic meters per second [950 cubic feet per second].

I learnt all about being spun out into thorn trees and swimming in bigger rapids than I'm used to. In your articles you mention the dangers of weirs and dams with smooth lips. I can now testify to this, as the Fish has a rather nasty drop at Cradock Weir near the end of the race on the second day. The drop is about two meters, and the organizers provide life-savers at the pool below to haul competitors out of the "washing machine" suck-back. They also insist that one competitor go over at a time, and this results in a queue (which involves hanging onto reeds) to wait one's turn. It's the kind of obstacle that requires one to do it before you are looked upon as really having completed the Fish River Marathon.

When my turn came, I went over the weir, fell out of my boat, felt the washing machine, and was eventually yanked to safety by the life-savers. In the process, besides being slightly traumatized by the experience, I lost my tight-fitting and snug water-shoes, as well as the pair of gloves I was paddling with. I think this illustrates the danger of these types of obstacles and amplifies the point of how dangerous they can be.

Thanks and I look forward to your next article.


Mark Humphrey
Johannesburg, South Africa

Your Flexible Friend —
A Fabric Deadman Anyone Can Make

Dear Tamia,

I have another solution to anchoring a tent in sand. Rather than dealing with rigid deadmen, I've been utilizing a more "flexible" alternative:

  1. Simply cut squares (18" x 18" seems to work well) from an old polytarp. (I usually have several rectangular scraps in my pack on any outing.)
  2. Punch a hole through two opposite corners, then thread a guy line through one corner and tie it off at the other.
  3. Dig a shallow trench in the sandy surface, lay the polytarp square flat, backfill over the square, and tie off the guy line to the tent corner or other attachment point.

Besides serving as an effective anchor, I've found that this also provides for a bit of shock absorption when a sudden gust of wind tries to tear your lines free.

Lightweight, compressible, reusable, and generally recycled from old gear. To me it's a winner.

Alan Reid

And Another Really BRIGHT Idea


I have been perusing some of your past articles, and enjoying every minute of it. With reference to "Sound Off and Light Up," I use an old compact disc as my signal mirror. Actually, it isn't very old. It is one of those CDs we all receive in the mail, offering a gazillion hours of Internet time for a mere penny a second. It works well, and it doubles as a shaving mirror on the last day of the trip.

Thanks for such good articles.

Art Denney

A Do-It-Yourself "Club,"
And Reflections on The Wind in the Willows

Dear Farwell,

Following up on Tamia's "There Be Pirates," I was thinking that to lock one's kayak you could get two lengths of pipe — water pipe would be good; it's sturdy but not very heavy — each piece half the length of the boat, one of the pipes being, say, 3/4" ID and the other being 1/2" ID. The smaller pipe should slide inside the larger. You would then put the telescoped pipes inside the boat and pull out the 1/2" pipe, making the assembly impossible to remove. Where the pipes overlap, drill a hole through both, large enough for a lock to be inserted, and then loop a cable around them and around your rack or other fixed object.

Changing the subject a bit, I've been reading The Wind in the Willows, and I was struck by the fact that there are no major female characters. I've been puzzling over the title, too. Grahame mentions the wind in the reeds along the river while describing the search for Otter's son, but that was the closest he got to the reference in the title. The selection of characters is interesting, as well. Curious that Ratty is the only true water animal.

Thanks for paddling along.

Ric Olsen
Omaha, Nebraska

• • •

Farwell replies:

That's a good idea for a DIY kayak "club," Ric. And you're right about Wind in the Willows. The River and the Wild Wood are a man's world. While this wasn't unusual in books of the period (1908), Kenneth Grahame's private life could also have had something to do with the absence of a woman's voice. His marriage was apparently an unhappy one, and the River may have been his refuge. In a letter he wrote to American President Teddy Roosevelt — quite a fan, apparently — Grahame described the River as a place with "no problems, no sex, and no second meaning." Of course, Wind was a children's book, so maybe it's a mistake to read very much into this remark.

You're right about the title, too. It had never occurred to me to wonder at the discrepancy, but in a recent critical study (The Wind in the Willows: A Fragmented Arcadia), Peter Hunt points out that Grahame's book was originally called The Wind in the Reeds, just as you suggested. When his publisher learned that the Irish poet William Butler Yeats had already written a book with that title, however, they insisted on the change, and "Reeds" became "Willows."

I've always liked Ratty. He's modeled on the water vole, a riverbank species that was once common throughout the UK, though I'm sorry to say that Ratty's kin haven't fared very well in the real world. Happily, conservation efforts are paying off: the water vole is returning to its old haunts.

Let's hope that the new year brings continued good fortune to Ratty — and to everyone else who enjoys messing about in boats.

That's it for now. Keep telling us what's on your mind. After all, it's Our Readers Write!

Copyright 2003 by Verloren Hoop Productions. All rights reserved.

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